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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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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

Tags:

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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. **

Video: Sean Faircloth – Oct. 4th, 2010

Posted on : 08-10-2010 | By : maggie | In : Skeptics in the Pub, video

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“Sex! Morality! Women! Law!”
Sean Faircloth is Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America.

Click here to open video at Vimeo.

Q & A
View the Q&A on our Vimeo channel.

Reminder: Book Club Tomorrow!

Posted on : 01-10-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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Get out your fleece jackets and your copies of Who Goes First—it’s fall in New England and time again for the Boston Skeptics’ Book Club this Saturday! Unless November has spectacular weather, this will probably be our last time outside before we have to go back into café hibernation.

We’ll be meeting in the same spot as last time in Hahvahd Yahd from 3-5pm. Same deal as last time with the food—bring some munchies to share with the rest of the class if you’re so inclined.

Come on down even if you haven’t finished/read the book. The book includes a lot of history of general science and the stories about how scientists risked their lives in gathering their data. If you have any suggestions for books to add to The List or indoor venues where we can have our winter meetings, bring those as well. See you tomorrow!