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SitP: Heina Dadabhoy from Islam to Atheism. [caption id="attachment_2139" align="alignright" width="239"] A ninja warrior welcomes guests to Convergence/Skepchickcon[/caption]Boston Skeptics welcomes our January guest speaker, atheist feminist secular...

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Book Club: The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha... [caption id="attachment_2131" align="alignright" width="197"] The Emperor of All Maladies[/caption]This month's book is The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, an oncologist...

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SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik's talk available on our

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SitP: Larry Gilbertson on GMOs and Biotech [caption id="attachment_2117" align="alignright" width="300"] Feeding the world[/caption]The population of the earth will exceed 9 billion people by 2050. Arable land is decreasing, dietary preferences...

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Video: Boston Skeptics Holiday Shindig with Dan Hart

Posted on : 23-12-2010 | By : maggie | In : Skeptics in the Pub, video

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Boston Skeptic Holiday Shindig with Dan Hart from the Boston Skeptics Video Channel.

You can find more of Dan at http://danhart.net and on iTunes.

Happy Holidays! Sorry for the sad little Charlie Brown audio track. I didn’t haul out all the gear this time due to the snow. But that just means you get to hear how much fun we had in the background!

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #13: Packing for Mars

Posted on : 21-12-2010 | By : Mary | In : Book Club

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"Everything tastes like a PIG!"

Last time at the BSBC, we gathered around sweets and various holiday savories to discuss Mary’s Roach’s latest book Packing for Mars, a humorous and scientific look at the history of space travel and the lengths people will go to in preparation of a possible trip to Mars, the great red planet of dirt that looks sort of like the outskirts of Las Vegas.

When Jim Lovell looked into space and remarked on the beauty of it, he was probably referring to the crystallized urine that had just been ejected from the space shuttle. On a different occasion, however, he was the owner of a urine bag that had exploded in the shuttle, turning the capsule into a latrine. In fact, the bathroom situation in space is one of the trickier obstacles to overcome because of the lack of privacy (there was a curtain, but nothing could hide the clear bag full of shit that you then had to mush antibacterial gel through lest it explode in space), the smell, and the problem with “escapees”. The bathroom problem was such an issue that on shorter missions, the astronauts would just refuse to eat (which was made easier because the food was dehydrated and came in cube form).

A small note about the food: the cubes weren’t so popular with the astronauts, so the nutritionists at NASA pureed everything and put it into tubes to reduce zero-gravity induced messiness. However, when you eat pureed food, not only can you not see or smell it (which messes up how it may taste), but also your brain is confused that something that tastes like a hot dog has the consistency of baby food. Which is why the only food that astronauts liked in tube was applesauce (hence the “Gaz, Taster of Pork” reference picture from Invader Zim).

If you think you can get past the bathroom issues (really? exploding shit bags didn’t scare you off?), there’s also the smell issue since it is nigh impossible to bathe properly and wash your clothes with current technology. I know, we’ve all had that one college roommate, but at least you were allowed to leave the room or crack open a window. In space, no one can hear you scream, but in the capsule, everyone can smell your BO.

Honestly, for me, the book killed any dream I once had of going into space. I’ve heard more than one astronaut expound about the wonders of zero-gravity and the privilege of working with NASA, but Mary Roach really explores the nitty-gritty aspects of space preparation. Since our bodies have adjusted to live on Earth, removing gravity can do very bad things to you. In fact, most astronauts get motion sickness for the first week of space travel because the inner-ear is adjusting itself (and then when they land, there is more motion sickness as the inner ear readjusts). And there is also bone loss to worry about, because the pull of gravity on your bones helps your osteoblasts to keep your bones nice and strong. Otherwise, you lose bone density and that can cause you to break a bone more easily. If you can get past that (and the previously-mentioned grossness), Mission Control is the ultimate nosy parent/micromanaging boss. You are asked about things like your sweat and dandruff levels, and literally every minute of your day is scheduled except for two hours of “pre-sleep” time.

If you want all the glamor of space travel without actually being cool enough to go into space, you can always try an isolation chamber experiment. You will be privileged enough to be locked up in a room with complete strangers and get along. And deal with silly things like cockroaches, fistfights, and possibly horny/drunk cosmonauts. If that doesn’t do it for you. you can volunteer for three months as a bed-rest patient. Basically, you spend the entire day in a bed that leans back slightly at a 6 degree angle (so blood pools in the upper half of your body) and that’s it. It’s basically like a hospital (even with food and all the bedpans you can use) except without the pleasure of being able to get out of bed.

Are you still interested in space? Seriously? (By this point, NASA should exclude anyone who wants to be an astronaut from becoming one because obviously you’d have to be crazy, and I’m pretty sure sending crazy people into space is against their psych test. It’s Space Catch 22!)

If any of you do get into space, let me know how that desalinated urine is, and update me on the status of Project: Shitburgers and Mouse Stew while you’re at it.

Our next meeting is on January 22nd at 3pm on the Harvard Campus (same location as last time, in the Northwest Building). We will be bringing snacks again to compensate for the lack of having it in an actual coffee shop (but our new venue is totally nice, I promise). And, drumroll please, our next book is: The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette, who also posts on the blog Cocktail Party Physics.

Psst, if you’ve already read our January book or you just want to go ahead and see what we’re reading in February, click here.

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club This Saturday!

Posted on : 09-12-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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Not even the Shockmaster can handle space travel after reading this book.

Blast off with the Boston Skeptics’ Book Club this Saturday, while we discuss Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars. It’s the kind of book that makes anyone who ever dreamed of going into space realize that maybe they’re actually OK with a little low-orbit floating and some astronaut ice cream (not the astronaut pizza though, amirite?).

Come down to Harvard (at the same place we met last time) and join us this Saturday, Dec. 11, from 3-5 pm, and make sure to bring a strong stomach because the topics in this book are definitely not for the easily-nauseated. Can you handle it?

Happy Thanksgiving! Marian Call Live – Part 1

Posted on : 24-11-2010 | By : maggie | In : Skeptics in the Pub, video

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Marian Call Live – Part 1 from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.

Skeptics in the Pub: Holiday Shindig!

Posted on : 22-11-2010 | By : Liz | In : Event, local, Skeptics in the Pub

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Merry Christm…errr, Season’s Greetings, everyone! It’s time to party with the Boston Skeptics: this year, we will be featuring a musical performance from the hilarious Dan Hart, who will entertain us with some wonderfully blasphemous Christmas songs! You know it has to be good when there is a song called “Santa God”… Check him out at danhart.net.

Seriously dudes, Santa God.

After Dan’s performance, we will be bringing back our Yankee Swap, which was a great success last year. If you wish to participate, bring a wrapped present of a geeky, scientific, blasphemous, or otherwise awesome nature (nothing pricey–under $10 is a good guideline). Pressies…I can’t wait!

We will be at our usual location and time: 7 pm at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square, on Monday, December 20th.

Don’t forget to rsvp on facebook!

See you all there! Happy Festivus, everyone.

Video: Marian Call – “Dark Dark Eyes”

Posted on : 06-11-2010 | By : maggie | In : Skeptics in the Pub, video

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The Nov. 1st show with Marian Call was absolutely incredible. We had a comfortably full house, a great audience and I think we can safely say that Marian and guitarist Scott Barkan had a great time themselves.

For those of you who couldn’t make it (and those who can’t wait to see it again) here’s sneak-peek at what’s to come. Maggie is editing together the whole show (minus the really new songs, which she’ll post later once Marian gives the OK) but this one’s going to be special (and was a two-camera shoot) so it will take a little longer. So to tide you over, here’s a video of “Dark Dark Eyes”. Enjoy! And thank you SO much, Marian. You are awesome.

Marian Call “Dark Dark Eyes” from Boston Skeptics & Aggravated Media

Reminder: Book Club Tomorrow!

Posted on : 05-11-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post, Book Club

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"Oh, you're dealing with someone far worse than the FBI. You've just crossed...mall security."

Come and join the Boston Skeptics’ Book Club tomorrow, November 6th, at 3pm for a rousing discussion about zombies and World War Z by Max Brooks.

Since the weather is a bit cooler, we’ll be meeting inside the Northwest Building at Harvard University.

Here are some Google Maps directions to a spot in front of the building from the Harvard Square T Station.

Here is a photo of the building (it’s a big file, sorry anyone who has slow internet). The entrance is on the right and we’re meeting in a spot that is near the windows on the left side of the picture.

Please don’t come too late, because the door is not open to the public so we have to let people in ourselves. If you come late, you can try going to the windows on the left side of the picture above, and you should be able to see our group.

If you haven’t read the book, but you’re a fan of zombiefic, come on over! We’ll be discussing all sorts of zombie (and skeptic) related things tomorrow. Also, we will be continuing the snack-bringing tradition, so bring some goodies to share with the rest of the class (and it doesn’t have to be zombie related–you just need to bring the brains in your heads, not cooked or otherwise prepared).

Skeptics in the Pub: Marian Call

Posted on : 17-10-2010 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post

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Join us for a very exciting Skeptics in the Pub event: Marian Call, geek musician extraodinaire!

Photo by Brian Adams (baphotos.com)

Marian is in the midst of her 49>50 tour, on which she is touring all 50 states (beginning with the 49th and ending with the 50th). We are lucky enough to be getting a free show the night after she appears at Boston’s W00tstock! Check her out at mariancall.com and youtube.com/mariancall, and don’t miss out–I saw her perform at Dragon*Con and it was an AWESOME show! You don’t often get to see someone play both a typewriter and a rainstick in the same concert…

Please note: there is a $5-10 suggested donation to the artist.

See you at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square (96 Winthrop St.) on Monday, November 1st at 7pm!

Don’t forget to rsvp on facebook:)

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #11: Who Goes First?

Posted on : 13-10-2010 | By : Mary | In : Book Club

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Human Bender: The Ultimate Self-Experimenter

Last week, the Boston Skeptics’ Book Club met outside for the last time before the upcoming eight months of winter to snack on an endless variety of cookies and pasta salad and to discuss Who Goes First? The Story of Self Experimentation in Medicine by Lawrence K. Altman. This book is excellent for anyone who wants to know the history of science, because many scientists have dabbled in self-experimentation and there are a lot of interesting stories about how modern treatments came into being.

Some chapters in the book droned on a bit (the parasite chapter was rather disappointing unless you enjoy reading about the many ways scientists have ingested flukes), but the good news is that most chapters were no longer than 20 pages and they each covered a different topic, so you can skip through the boring chapters if you want to get to the good stuff.

The book went over areas of self-experimentation including: the origin of the Rabies vaccine (and how Louis Pasteur is not technically a member of the prestigious Pasteurian Club); heart surgery using a catheter (the scientist experimenting with this one had to literally fight off the x-ray tech trying to yank the catheter out); experimentation with different forms of anesthesia (including how to cure a morphine addiction with cocaine); the yellow fever experiments (and more black vomit and other bodily excretions than you can imagine); how scientists deprived themselves of nutrients to develop wartime rationing diets (and why our junk food is so fortified with vitamins); the glory days of science when lab-grade LSD was free to scientists (for research only, of course); and how scientists were able to determine the cause of food poisoning (and the unfortunate “kitten food-poisoning test”).

This book was written in the late 80’s but most of the science is still solid. You can really only tell it’s dated by the optimistic mention of an HIV vaccine being developed and ready before the year 2000.

Who Goes First? was an enjoyable read and it would actually make a great supplemental textbook for a college class because it really went through the process of science without sounding like a boring lecture about the Scientific Method. Many of these scientists were interested in the Why and How, and they viewed self-experimentation as a necessary evil to find their answers. The scientists had different reasons for why they did what they did, but the mostly boiled down to: reliability (because they could control everything in their lives); dependability (many of them had fine observational tools); the sense of adventure; developing a sense of empathy for their patients/future experimenters; self protection (if you’re in an area full of malaria, you want to be the one who has first access to the vaccine); convenience (no committees to approve, no forms to sign); and experience (in their own specific scientific field).

There are a few problems with self-experimentation though, and a big one is that it’s difficult to design an experiment with proper controls and to account for the placebo effect. In fact, some of the scientists died in vain because the data they produced did not actually prove their hypothesis. Another issue is that most of the self-experimenters were men, thus scientific facts gained from the experiments may not always be true for women. An example of this issue is in one of the later chapters where a man and woman were experimenting with loss of salt through sweating, and when they determined that women did not sweat as much as men (and therefore didn’t lose as much salt), they decided to move forward with male-only subjects, so their data was not representational of the general public. Lastly, if one is going to self-experiment, one needs to document everything and have a good, observational partner. The chapters mainly focus on the successes of self-experimenters and how lucky many of them were to elude death in their trials, but the last chapter does mention scientists who weren’t so lucky, even if they took what they thought were proper safety measures.

Next book club is on November 6th at 3pm and the location is TBD (although it probably will be near Harvard, we are ironing out some details with a place that we have in mind). We will be reading World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. If you don’t think this book is science or skepticism related, well, it’s Halloween and zombies are relevant to almost anything. Zombies eat brains. Scientists work with brains. Skeptics use their brains. It’s a natural connection!

The book sneak preview for the meeting after the next one is: Packing for Mars: The Curious Life of Science in the Void by Mary Roach. See you next time!

Forums – we can haz them!

Posted on : 10-10-2010 | By : maggie | In : Blog Post, news

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That’s right. Forums. Where all you Boston-y skeptics can gab to your heart’s content, make suggestions, dig deeper into the book club books and whatever else you want to do.

But, on top of this, you’re the first group taking part in something that, we all hope, will take off and help grow and nurture grassroots skepticism. The site hosting the forums is called Skather and it will provide forums for us and other groups across the US and around the world. And each of those groups and its members can share and talk between groups. Skepticamps can collaborate, speakers can network, resources can be shared and, most importantly, ideas can be nurtured and grown among not just one group, but anyone who’s interested.

As the site grows, more things will be added (shared calendars of events, for example) and it’s hoped that this will help bring us all together globally just a little bit more. Skather will also be hosting forums for national and international groups who want to take part as well as giving national and cross-national organizers a chance to talk with each other and make grassroots skepticism more effective overall (which is already happening as I type this… big thanks for Travis Roy for kicking that into gear — more on that later).

So please visit and participate. You can sign up the old fashioned way, or simply (and securely) use Facebook Connect to join up using your Facebook account (only the bare minimum of data is used and you have full control over what details are imported). You can rate threads and, if you use Facebook Connect when signing up, even ‘Like’ them on Facebook (and, if you choose, post any new thread you start to your Facebook wall). But, that’s your call, everything is configurable. You can also sign up normally and then link your Facebook account later.

I (Maggie) started a couple of threads to kick things off, but they’re your forums so talk about whatever’s on your mind. I also want to thank Andrew V for being patient with me. He suggested this ages ago, but I couldn’t talk about Skather back then so I’ve kind of skirted the issue until now. :)

Click the ‘Forums’ link up top or head over to http://skather.com and look under USA -> MA for our forum.

** Yes, the forums will be moderated, first by each group’s owner/organizers/moderators and then by ‘super moderators’ at Skather. So if any trolls show up, rate them down and/or let someone know. Skather’s moderation policies aren’t all up yet, but will be soon. They’ll be very similar to those at, say, the JREF and will err on the side of keeping communication open but civil. Hostility and craziness won’t have a place there. **