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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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SitP: Seth Mnookin

Posted on : 01-12-2012 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Our speaker at the December Skeptics in the Pub is science writer Seth Mnookin, author of The Panic Virus:A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear as well as books about the Red Sox and journalistic ethics. He teaches science writing right down the river at MIT. Seth has been embedded in the front lines of the Vaxx Wars, and will share his experiences with us on Monday, Dec 10 at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square, upstairs at 7 PM as usual.

If, like me, you believe one of the most important things skeptics can do is combat pseudoscience in medicine, don’t miss this event. In The Panic Virus (see a review by our own Todd W.), Mnookin has thoroughly researched the modern vaccine/autism controversy and its history from Wakefield’s 1998 paper through his eventual disgrace and loss of his medical license. He has looked at the issue from all sides and reaches the conclusion that, like many manufactured scientific controversies, there aren’t two equally valid sides to every issue, as conventional journalist wisdom would hold, but one side with evidence, logic and science and another side with a mix of economic interests (the cynical purveyors of alternative, untested or disproven medical theories and practices) and wishful or magical thinking (the desperate people who turn to them for help and the enablers who truly believe they are fighting for the little guys against powerful vested interests.)

In the end, the problems tackled by the book, like so much skeptical literature, also leads to a deeper understanding of why people believe false and ultimate harmful ideas:

In The Panic Virus, Seth Mnookin draws on interviews with parents, public-health advocates, scientists, and anti-vaccine activists to tackle a fundamental question: How do we decide what the truth is? The fascinating answer helps explain everything from the persistence of conspiracy theories about 9/11 to the appeal of talk-show hosts who demand that President Obama “prove” he was born in America.

This promises to be a fascinating and important discussion.

See our Facebook event page for more information.

Book Club: “Bonk” by Mary Roach

Posted on : 19-11-2012 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Book Club

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Book coverWhen my nephew was 5, his favorite board game was Trouble. (If you aren’t familiar with the game, each player has several peg-like markers that they move around the holes on the edge of the board. The winner is the first player to move all their markers completely around the board. If a player’s marker lands on a hole occupied by another player’s marker, the second marker is sent back to the start. In my family, traditionally when this happens, the player says “Bonky Bonk Bonk” and chortles maniacally.) My nephew loved getting bonked, and always played to lose. In contrast, his sister, then six, was ferociously competitive and always won, mostly due to the obscure rules she would make up on the spur of the moment that would guarantee her victory.

Mary Roach has written a book on Trouble, getting into it, staying out of it, game strategies, the history of the game, famous matches and so forth. At least, that’s what I assume is the topic of her book, Bonk, which is our next Book Club selection.

Oh, wait, never mind…

The actual subject of Bonk is “The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.” So, I was almost right.

In this book, Roach tackles yet another staid and boring scientific subject with “her outrageous curiosity and infectious wit” (according to the back cover.) I’m sure it will live up her three previous books we’ve read, Spook, Stiff and Packing For Mars.

We will be meeting at our usual location in the Northwest Science Building at Harvard at 3 PM on Saturday, December 8. RSVP on Facebook, if that’s your thing.

Skeptics in the Pub: Eric Schwartz

Posted on : 09-11-2012 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Eric Schwartz is a biologist from Tufts with an obsession for Monica and Bill. Since we are a very sciency group, he will be singing funny, not exactly G-rated songs about practical aspects of biology, including (maybe) Cialis, Prozac, the aforesaid Bill and Monica, the influence of 2000 year old dead guys on the male reproductive organ, and other songs his mother hates.

Eric will be our special guest at our next Skeptics in the Pub on Monday, November 19, 7 PM upstairs at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square.

RSVP on our Facebook event page (or here if you aren’t a Boston Skeptics member.)

Book Club: “Subliminal” by Leonard Mlodinow

Posted on : 12-10-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club

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Our next book is Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow.

Mlodinow is a physicist and coauthor with Steven Hawking of The Grand Design and A Briefer History of Time.

This book is not Physics nor (snacks) is it Sci-Fi. Rather, it is “a startling and eye-opening examination of how the unconscious mind shapes our experience of the world” (to quote the Amazon publisher’s blurb.) In a guest review on Amazon, Prof. V.S Ramachandran says:

“This delightfully accessible yet intellectually rigorous book transcends traditional (snacks) boundaries between neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, to tackle the riddle of the unconscious mind.”

This aligns closely with what one of our members said at the SitP yesterday. He described it as more rigorous (snacks) and data-driven than Carol Tavris’s Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me, which covers similar topics. He said Subliminal is more readable despite being less anecdotal. I think we will all enjoy this one.

We’ll be meeting at our usual location at 3PM on Saturday, Nov 3. You can RSVP at our event page on Facebook, if it is working this month.

As usual, Mary will be hosting a discussion of Subliminal on Skepchick the day after our meeting.

[Subliminal hints about snacks courtesy of me. Remember to bring a snack or at least your appetite!]

Skeptics in the Pub: Caroline Fiennes

Posted on : 02-10-2012 | By : John | In : Event, local

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Fiennes' book coverLate breaking news! The October SitP will be 3 weeks early! All contributions will be matched 2 for one, up to a total of zero dollars! Don’t let this opportunity slip by! Think of the Childrens!
Our guest speaker, Caroline Fiennes, has written a new book about using the principles of skepticism to evaluate the effectiveness of charities. It Ain’t What You Give, It’s the Way That You Give It: Making Charitable Donations That Get Results appears to be “terrific and timely”, to quote one of the 2 Amazon reviews (both 5 stars.)

‘Caroline Fiennes explains how to balance heart and mind for serious philanthropy. She emphasises with clarity the importance of evidence and economics for to maximise good deeds per dollar‘ – Simon Singh, science writer

Caroline will have some copies of her book available.

We will be meeting downstairs, in the lounge, at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square on Wednesday, Oct 10 at 7 PM.

RSVP on FaceBook.

Upcoming Events: Music (Mostly)

Posted on : 01-10-2012 | By : John | In : Event, local

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Marian Call will be appearing at the Granite State Skeptics in the Pub in Manchester, NH on Monday, Oct 8 at 7 PM

Shelley Segal will be appearing at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square on Tuesday, Oct 9 at 9:30 PM.

Marian Call will be appearing again at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square on Sunday, Oct 14 at 9:30 PM.

Molly Lewis and the Doubleclicks will be at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square on Tuesday, Oct 16 at 9:30 PM.

And finally, a token non-musical event, the 2nd Skepticamp New Hampshire will be held on Saturday, Oct 27 from 11:30 AM to 4:30 PM. I went last year and it was great fun and very informative. Our own Mary Brock is among the speakers this year.

P.S. I missed another appearance by Marian Call, this time in Salem NH on Friday, Oct 12 at 7 PM. And it will be broadcast Live on TV! Way to go, Marian!

Skeptics in the Pub: Trivia

Posted on : 18-09-2012 | By : John | In : Skeptics in the Pub

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This month’s SitP topic is serious. Deadly serious. It is devoted to the fifth, sixth and seventh most important subjects of proper medieval education: Trivia!

We’ll be meeting in the lounge at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square. (Question 1: where is “the lounge?” Hint: it is the nice name for the basement.) We’ll be meeting at our usual time of 7PM on the last Monday of September, the 24th. (Question 2: What movie won the Oscars for Best Actor and Best Cinematography for 2007? Hint: At the SitP, There Will Be Beer.)

Sign up on our Facebook event page if you do the FB thing. (Question 3: Where can you find a link to a map showing the location of a major skeptical event in the Boston area? Hint: Check the Facebook page.)

Book Club: “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov

Posted on : 07-09-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club

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Our next book is Isaac Asimov’s SF classic I, Robot. This book is famous for introducing the Three Laws of Robotics, and most of the plots of the stories it comprises are about what happens when the laws break down.

Bender from Futurama

Typical evil robot


The book consists of a series of connected short stories about robots, mostly published separately in the 1940s. They are tied together as a series of historical anecdotes told to a reporter by the brilliant roboticist and robopsychologist Dr. Susan Calvin.

Most of us at the last book club meeting had read it, but not recently. (Except for the first two chapters, I last read it in college, way too long ago. By sheer coincidence, my Kindle died while I was visiting my sister two weeks ago, and I picked it up off her book shelf as bed time reading, and read the first two stories, about Robbie the Robot, a lumbering companion of the child of a techno-geek, and a story about the mining colony on Mercury, set in the distant, barely imaginable future of the of about 5 years ago.)

Asimov was one of the most prolific writers, ever, and was one of the founders of the skeptical and humanist movements. In addition to his clever and imaginative robot stories, he wrote literally hundreds of books and essays explicating science, history and reasoning.

We will be meeting at our usual location, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford St in Cambridge, on Saturday, October 6, 2012 from 3:00 to 5:00 PM. Bring a snack to share, or just your appetite.

You can RSVP on our Facebook event page.

Mary will be hosting a discussion of the book the next day (Sunday, October 7) on-line at the Skepchick Book Club, in case you want to share your thoughts about the book with the world. And remember, as always, there will be a special, relevant recipe for a super duper yummy snack to munch on while discussing the book.

Book Club: “The Violinist’s Thumb” by Sam Kean

Posted on : 04-08-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club, local

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Cover of our bookAs is the recent trend in our books, this one also has a very long subtitle. Its full name is The Violinist’s Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code. Sam Kean also wrote one of our previous books, The Disappearing Spoon

Kean writes the kinds of books Isaac Asimov used to produce, well-researched but fairly light and easy to read with a wealth of information on a wide variety of scientific topics. The last one was on chemistry and the periodic table. This one is about DNA and genetics. (Asimov wrote about one of these books a month. Other people take several years to write them. It takes dozens of writers to replace him. I really miss Isaac Asimov.)

Kean starts by telling the stories of Gregor Mendel, the discoverer of genes, and Johannes Friedrich Miescher, the discoverer of DNA. (I knew nothing previously about Miescher.) He explains the difference between the two concepts and how they were eventually linked into a full understanding of inheritance and how they explained one of the most important underpinnings of evolutionary theory, descent with modification. Based on the excerpt linked above, I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of this book.

We will be meeting on Saturday, August 25 at 3 PM at our usual place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford St in Cambridge. Bring a snack to share, or just your appetite.

You can RSVP on our Facebook event page.

Mary will be hosting a discussion of the book the next day (Sunday August 26) on-line at the Skepchick Book Club, in case you want to share your thoughts about the book with the world. And remember, as always, there will be a special, relevant recipe for a super duper yummy snack to munch on while discussing the book.

Book Club: “The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards” by Jim Steinmeyer

Posted on : 01-07-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club

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7/6: See UPDATE below.

Our month of midsummer magic continues with the book with the longest title in Book Club history: “The Last Greatest Magician in the World: Howard Thurston versus Houdini & the Battles of the American Wizards” by Jim Steinmeyer.

Thurston poster holding Yorrick's skull, surrounded by Cotswald fairies

Proof that A. Conan Doyle was right!

Howard Thurston was the most prominent stage magician of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much more popular than Houdini. He ran away to the circus as a child and soon started up a close-up magic act doing card tricks. At the peak of his career, he required an 8-car railroad train to move his show from city to city. He must have invented feature creep.

Jim Steinmeyer is a magician, a designer of magical tricks, a former imagineer for Walt Disney (possibly the best.job.ever) and the author of many books on magical practice and history. A real life Professor Cuthbert Binns, except he’s not a ghost and not at all boring. I’ve only read the 1st couple of chapters so far, but the book seems highly readable and Steinmeyer does a good job of transporting us to a time and place beyond our personal experiences. This book promises to be interesting and enjoyable.

We will be meeting at our usual time and place, on July 28 at 3 PM in the Northwest Science Building at Harvard. (We might move outside if the weather is nice, but our usual spot between the Science Center and Memorial Hall, in the shade of the huge green pepper, is currently a construction site. Stay tuned for updates.)

You can RSVP on Facebook if you are a member of the Boston Skeptics Facebook group (or maybe even if you are not, I’m not sure how this works, and they keep changing it, so there is no point in learning</end rant>.)

UPDATE:

Just a reminder that if you can’t make it to Book Club, you can still read the book and discuss it the next day on Skepchick, where Mary’s always wonderful summary and notes and recipe will appear.