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Boston Skeptics in the Theater & Pub | Bill Nye: Science... Come join the Boston Skeptics at the Brattle Theatre on December 3, where we’ll be attending a screening of a new film about Bill Nye, aptly named “Bill Nye: Science Guy.” We’ll go somewhere nearby...

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October 2017 Organizational Meeting Updates Thanks again to everyone who attended our October 2017 organizational meeting. There were a few items we had drafted and captured more ideas around that we would love to open up for comment and feedback...

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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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Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #8: Parasite Rex

Posted on : 25-06-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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Poor little guy never had a chance

Poor little guy never had a chance

This post is late for a good reason for once: I’ve been busy the whole week packing up to move to Waltham tomorrow! And I’m exhausted, so please excuse me if my thoughts are a little loopy. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.

This past Saturday, the BSBC met up for a beautiful day in the park to discuss all things parasitic in Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex. On the surface, parasites are disgusting (to me), but this book goes beyond the surface into the intricacies of parasitic life. In the beginning of the book, Zimmer discussed the origin and history of Parasitology and the history of what exactly scientists thought of parasites. Most scientists despised parasites, either because they were disgusted, thought the parasites were lazy, or feeling smug over their alleged evolutionary superiority, and as a result the science of Parasitology is not as established as other sciences.

Zimmer goes on to write about how parasites figure out where to go in a host and how they evade the immune system so effectively. In fact, labs have started researching the chemicals that parasites use to sooth the immune system because something like that could be used to treat auto-immune disorders (like allergies or Crohn’s Disease) or even help patients who have had organ transplants.

The parasites themselves are interesting, but just as interesting is how different plants and animals have adapted to fight off parasites. For example, sexual intercourse may have evolved as a way to fight off parasites by diversifying the genetics of a population of hosts (versus a population of hosts that reproduce asexually into a series of clones). Also, the book describes how the showiness of males of a given species is directly related to how infected the population is. Some plants, when bitten by caterpillars, will release a chemical that attracts parasitic wasps to kill the caterpillars.

Getting rid of parasites isn’t always desirable. In fact, in a given ecosystem with fish and birds, a parasite might infect a fish and make it flop around on the surface so that it will be easier prey for a bird, the parasite’s desired home. If the parasites were eradicated from the ecosystem, the fish population might thrive, but then the bird population might drop because of the lessened amount of prey. Some scientists are using parasites as a form of “organic” pesticide to tamper with ecosystems, but the results can be as helpful as they can be disastrous.  For example, in Africa the Cassava plant, a primary source of food for many people, was being destroyed by Cassava Mealybugs, so after a little research scientists flew in some foreign parasitic wasps to get rid of the mealybugs and save the day. However, on Hawaii scientists have also brought in parasites to eradicate undesired species, with the after-effect of wanted species being infected and also eradicated.

This book was an interesting read, because the first time I read it I was completely grossed out, but on my second read I really understood how amazing and intricate parasites are (as long as they stay away from me, of course).  And it goes without saying that you probably shouldn’t read this book if you’re going to eat a rare steak soon, or any dish that is especially noodly. I’d probably even stay away from Bubble Tea for a bit. In honor of Parasite Rex, I have composed a haiku:

Blood Flukes mate for life,
embracing and making sweet
love, in your liver.

Did you like the book or did you feel like it was too drawn out, like a Guinea Worm being slowly pulled out of your leg and wrapped around a stick over a period of days? Do you have any haikus or odes to parasites to add? Did the book skip over one of your favorite parasites that you really want to mention? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

The next book is An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales by Oliver Sacks, described as a book about people who are “differently-brained”, like a surgeon with Tourette’s Syndrome who is plagued with tics except when he operates, a man with memory damage who can’t remember anything past 1968, an artist who gets in an accident and goes completely colorblind, and also a chapter about Temple Grandin (one of my favorite women to read about). Our next meeting will be on Saturday, July 24th at 3 pm, and location is TBD pending good weather.

If you find yourself wanting to come to a BSBC meeting but can’t make it because Saturdays aren’t good, please write your day suggestions in the comments! Now that I am moving closer to Boston and my shift is normal, we may discuss doing something on a weeknight or a Sunday, whatever works for the group.

At the request of one of our BSBC’ers, I’m going to list the book for the meeting after next, in case anyone wants to get a head start on it. It’s going to be Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson (I haven’t yet read one of his books but I’m looking forward to it as he is one of my favorite contributors to This American Life).

Alert x 3! BSitP with Simon Perry on June 29th

Posted on : 19-06-2010 | By : maggie | In : Skeptics in the Pub

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In addition to having Scott Sigler ’round after his book event at Pandemonium on June 23rd, we’re doubly honored as we’ll have UK skeptic Simon Perry (Leicester Skeptics, Quacklash) on June 29th at Tommy Doyles.

Simon has joined the ranks of those who’ve moved on to putting the active in activism by taking the fight against woo to the government and medical overseers. The campaigns he’s been involved with have helped shutter bogus (my word, not his, UK legal system!) allergy testing outfits, psychics and sham medicine making curative claims for cancer, among other things.

You may have heard of him, as well, from his involvement with the Quacklash campaign which went after a slew of bogus (again, my word, not his *grin*) claims by reporting them en masse to the trading standards boards and the General Chiropractic Council.

Simon will be talking about the nuts and bolts of such fights as well as sharing some stories of the woo-tastic nonsense that he’s run up on while doing it. It should be fun!

FYI, this is a Tuesday night instead of the usual Monday. Also, we will be taking over the downstairs lounge for this one (with a but more support from the venue this time). So seating will be a little more limited, but also more intimate! =D

You can find SImon at:
http://adventuresinnonsense.blogspot.com and on Twitter as @Simon_Perry

Book Club Tomorrow!

Posted on : 18-06-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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You know I had to include the obligatory Star Trek reference.

I just checked the weather and it looks like everything is going to be bright and sunny, so bring your blankets, sunscreen, and a copy of Parasite Rex tomorrow to the Christopher Columbus Park down on the wharf. We’ll meet at 3 pm on the Plaza (same spot as last time).

For anyone who wants a podcast extra, check out this awesome Radiolab episode all about parasites (and the research being done on how hookworms might be a cure for allergies).

Come and have a licely…er, lively discussion about parasites with the Boston Skeptics! Even if you haven’t finished the book, you know you want to come anyway just for the conversation and factoids. (Just leave your uncooked meat at home.)

Alert! Alert! Scott Sigler is coming to Boston.

Posted on : 14-06-2010 | By : Liz | In : Event

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Scott Sigler, the world’s only skeptical horror author, is coming to Boston on his Ancestor book tour! Come check out his new book at Pandemonium Books and Games in Central Square, and/or join us afterwards for some drinking and socializing at our usual place, Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square. Check out Scott’s website if you aren’t familiar with his coolness. We have to show him how awesome we Boston Skeptics are, so BE THERE!

Don’t forget: Wednesday, June 23rd, 7pm.

Also, don’t forget to rsvp on our facebook page!

Tasty Brunch with Boston Skeptics!

Posted on : 10-06-2010 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post, Event

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Brunch is back! And this time, not only will we have fun skeptical conversation, but also ACTUAL YUMMY FOOD! This month we’re heading to The Living Room in the North End (101 Atlantic Ave), which has a variety of quality food options, a WIDE variety of zippy beverages, and a comfy atmosphere as well.

Be there at 11:15 am on Saturday, July 10th, and don’t forget to RSVP on our Facebook page!