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New! Boston Skeptics Slack Chat Room We're taking Boston Skeptics to the next level by introducing a Slack chat room for Boston Skeptics to keep and touch, share ideas, and be skeptical in near-real time with each other! Don't have...

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New! Boston Skeptics Slack Chat Room We're taking Boston Skeptics to the next level by introducing a Slack chat room for Boston Skeptics to keep and touch, share ideas, and be skeptical in near-real time with each other! Don't have...

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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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Money for science, not snake oil (snake rubber?)

Posted on : 04-08-2010 | By : maggie | In : Blog Post


The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (ocrf.org) is in the midst of it’s largest fundraising season. And one of it’s new contributors is Power Balance. If you attended Travis Roy’s talk last week or watched the video, you’ll recall that he discussed their rubber bracelets, claimed to use ‘frequencies’ to enhance your strength, balance and whatever else, and demonstrated how their product is nothing but smoke and mirrors… And a rubber bracelet. Or you may have seen Richard Saunders on Australia’s ‘Today Tonight’ demonstrating how in, a simple blinded test, the Power Balance demonstrator couldn’t tell who had the product and who didn’t when it was hidden from his sight. In other words, he was the one causing the effect, not the bracelet, by putting different leverage on the subject depending on whether they had the product on their person or not. When he didn’t know if they did or not, the effect was absent.

I bring this up because Power Balance has just announced that it is throwing it’s pseudo-scientific product’s support behind the actual science of cancer research. As thoughtful as that might sound, don’t assume for a moment that they’ve become a philanthropic organization. It’s still sell sell sell.

They’re having a celebrity poker tourney to promote Power Balance…and the OCRF will get some donations out of it in the end. *barf*

Well, I say you can make a better, more selfless, donation. Give the money you won’t waste on Power Balance’s worthless product (well, unless you just like expensive rubber bracelets) directly to the OCRF or any other worthwhile science-based research fund. Or just make it clear that you see through their crocodile sales tears by tweeting your support for research money that’s not predicated on people having to be scammed out of their money first.

You can donate to the OCRF here: ocrf.org
You can donate to the American Cancer Society here: cancer.org

And if you’d like to make sure Power Balance and OCRF know you’ve cut out the middle scam… Err… I mean middle man… Tweet about it. Who knows… Enough tweets and we could start a trending topic.

Tweet this: (link will take you to Twitter)
I just donated the money I could have wasted on @powerbalance directly to @OCRF http://ocrf.org #MoneyForScience #PowerBalanceScam


Tweet this: (link will take you to Twitter)
I’d rather give directly to @OCRF http://ocrf.org than waste my. Money on @powerbalance #MoneyForScience #PowerBalanceScam

Video: Travis Roy – July 26th, 2010

Posted on : 31-07-2010 | By : maggie | In : skepticism, Skeptics in the Pub, video


Travis Roy of Granite State Skeptics talked a bit about skeptical activism and also demonstrated how the Power Balance bracelet, and other trinkets like it, is far better at relieving you of your money than anything else. Turnout was lovely and we had several new faces in the audience. Welcome!

BSitP July 26th, 2010 – Travis Roy “Skeptical Activism” from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #9: An Anthropologist on Mars

Posted on : 27-07-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post, Book Club



If I only had a brain...

If I only had a brain...

This past Saturday, the Boston Skeptics’ Book Club met in the park (on a very lovely day) to discuss An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. There were seven different stories about individuals with interesting neurological conditions:

  • A painter who went totally colorblind after a car accident and had to relearn his new “leaden” world
  • A man who lost the ability to form memories past 1968 due to a benign brain tumor (which also made him blind and completely unaware of the fact that anything was wrong with him)
  • A blind man who regained his sight after 50 years, only to be unsettled by what he was seeing
  • A surgeon with Tourette’s whose tics disappear when he is operating
  • An artist so obsessed with his childhood town that he was able to paint it from memory 30 years later from a 3-D model he had constructed in his head
  • A young autistic artist (and other autistic prodigies)
  • Temple Grandin, who talks about her “squeeze machine” and her own theories about how people with Asperger’s actually function and see the world

The book was only about 300 pages, and while some book clubbers enjoyed the stories about the individuals as described by Sacks, the overall consensus was that Sacks could have delved deeper into some of the mechanisms behind the neurological conditions. He went on in great deal about the ways that the brain can interpret color (as in the case of the colorblind painter), but he only touched on what may have been going on in the case of the artist who had a photographic memory of his childhood town (he alluded to epilepsy but that was about it). We were also curious about the surgeon with Tourette’s:
What exactly caused his tics to disappear during surgery? Was it because he was in the mindset of a surgeon or did his tics disappear only if he was in a routine (i.e. not a surgical technique that he just learned).

This book is a fun read, even if it raises more questions about the science of neurology than it answers, but it still provides an interesting perspective on how others see the world and deal with their particular conditions.

Our next book is Them: Adventures with Extremists by the utterly awesome Jon Ronson. Until now I’ve only heard his segments on This American Life, but if his books are anything like those then they should be very compelling. We’re planning on meeting at the Boston Commons Harvard Yard (ed–slight change of venue) this time, weather permitting, on August 28th at 3 pm. Also, this time we’re making it a picnic! Because nothing goes better with a good book than some strawberries and cheese (or John’s coffee). Please let us know what you’re bringing in the comments. And of course, bring yourself, no matter what stage of the book you’re at.

For those of you who want a head start on the book after this one, we will be reading a book suggested by our own skeptic Kerry: Who Goes First: The Story of Self-
Experimentation in Medicine
by Lawrence K. Altman.

Book Club Tomorrow!

Posted on : 23-07-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post


So far, the forecast is calling for a partly cloudy/sunny day with a high in the 80’s, so it should be a beautiful day to get together in our normal meeting spot at Christopher Columbus Park and discuss An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks. Meeting time is 3 pm, as usual. I’ll bring the SPF 70 sunscreen! (That is not an exaggeration.)

If you want a little extra, you should check out Temple Grandin by HBO Films (I saw it the other day and it was a pretty good biopic). It covers her early life and how she became such an accomplished scientist and how she learned how to deal with Asperger’s (and a good dose of sexism). If you don’t have HBO but you want to hear more about Temple, Terry Gross did an interview with her earlier this year that is definitely worth a listen.

Come one, come all! Even if you haven’t read/finished the book, you know you want an excuse to hang out in the sun and discuss science. See you there!

Boston Skeptics in the Pub: Skeptical Activism with Travis Roy

Posted on : 20-07-2010 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post


This month’s Skeptics in the Pub features Granite State Skeptics president Travis Roy, fresh from TAM 8. Travis will be speaking on one of the biggest challenges facing skepticism–Skeptical Activism, and what you can do every day to promote critical thinking. This was a hot topic at TAM, so don’t miss out!

If you haven’t attended before, please feel welcome to come meet some new people and enjoy beers, pub food and skeptical conversation!

See you upstairs at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square on Monday, July 26th at 7 pm.  If you are on Facebook, you can rsvp here.

DJ Grothe’s NECSS Keynote

Posted on : 06-07-2010 | By : maggie | In : video


Since I shot all this and it’s been OK’d for distribution online… I figured we ought to have it on our site, too. :) – Maggie

NECSS 2010 – 1 – Keynote – D. J. Grothe from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #8: Parasite Rex

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



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


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



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


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!