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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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Book Club: “The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan

Posted on : 05-09-2013 | By : John | In : Book Club, Event

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Our book for September is “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan.

This book is recently published and received mostly 5 star reviews on Amazon. A few of the 4-star reviews that I skimmed complained that it was too technical, but I think for most of us, that would be a plus!

I expect the subjects of this book will be similar in many ways to the “computers” of the Harvard Observatory in The Madame Curie Complex and other books we’ve read, people who are long overdue recognition for their achievements.

Mostly off-topic, but one of my favorite current TV series is The Bletchley Circle, which I think is about to begin its second season on PBS (Channel 44, WGBH in Boston.) It is the (fictional) story of 4 women who worked at Bletchley Park under Alan Turing, doing sophisticated analysis of German military codes, predicting troop movements and deriving other important intelligence. (Even after you’ve cracked the enemy’s codes, understanding the messages is far from trivial given their lack of context.) After the war, the women go their separate ways, until one of them, now a bored housewife with a fantastic ability at puzzle-solving (my hero), starts tracking a serial killer. She joins up with her friends, who all have important complementary skills, to discover his pattern, a killing the police missed, predict the location of his next victim and that he has actually killed over a dozen times (and framed other people, some of whom were executed), not just the 4 victims the police are aware of.

I don’t know if this book will discuss amazing but unheralded achievements by these women after the war, or if most of them are just ordinary people who go back to ordinary lives, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the recreation of a time not so long ago when things were very different yet surprisingly similar to today.

We’ll be meeting at our usual time and place, at 3:00 PM in Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge, on Saturday, September 28. Remember to bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack (I’m considering a Steak Bomb from the pizza shop on the corner.) Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page.

As always, Mary will be leading the discussion of the book the next day (September 29) at the Skepchick Book Club.

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #7

Posted on : 31-05-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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Last Saturday, we met up in the beautiful Christopher Columbus Park on the Waterfront to discuss The Madame Curie Complex by Julie Desjardins. The book mostly discusses the history of women in science since the 1880s, starting with Marie Curie. The title comes from the fact that Curie was often written about as a super-woman of sorts, who had time to raise her children and also win two Nobels. She was seen as a matronly martyr, even though that stereotype didn’t resemble her life at all. She was reclusive, brilliant, and seemed to prefer science over everything else. She was a Gold Standard of sorts for female scientists, who were supposed to be brilliant but only in a “womanly” fashion. Many early female scientists discussed in this book were seen as helpmeets or assistants to their male superiors. The women were mostly relegated to data collecting positions, as their “female brains” were supposed to be attentive to detail, while the analyzing and problem solving was something more suited to a “male brain”.

The book also discusses Lillian Gilbreth, the woman behind Cheaper By The Dozen, who pioneered workplace efficiency science with her husband and who continued to be a scientist of “domestic arts” (natch) after his death. The chapter about her is full of how awesome she was at managing her time and keeping her house run like a factory. She was portrayed as a mistress of domesticity, even though in reality she never cooked anything herself and had to make up a cake recipe on the fly for a publicity campaign.

The other women discussed in the book are: the women of the Harvard Observatory, the women who worked on the Manhattan Project, Rosalind Franklin, Maria Mayer (Nobel winner for the shell-orbit theory of atoms), Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and many more.

Overall, I found the book informative but a little long in some parts. The author really enjoys belaboring some points while not focusing too hard on other points. The Manhattan Project section was a little jumbled and she jumped from scientist to scientist until I couldn’t tell who did what, while the chapter on Lillian Gilbreth went on and on about how efficient the woman was. However, it was still an enjoyable read for me, since I like to read about history, especially with a feminist analysis. Others in the BSBC wanted to learn more about the science that the women were doing but I found the history of institutionalized sexism the most interesting part and the book definitely talked a lot about that.

If you read the book but couldn’t make it to our meeting, leave a note in the comments! I want to find out your opinions, whether you liked it or didn’t. And don’t be shy–come out to our meetings! You don’t have to be a regular (or even finish the book) to join us and have a good time.

Our next book is Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature’s Most Dangerous Creatures. Our next meeting date is June 19th at 3 pm, location is TBD for now until we know what the weather is like. If it’s sunny, we’ll meet again at the CC Park, otherwise we’ll probably meet at our usual Border’s Cafe. Come join us for a fun-filled parasitic chat!

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club: Final Details

Posted on : 20-05-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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The weather in Boston looks like it’s going to be pretty nice this weekend, so to take advantage of a beautiful Saturday we’re going to be meeting outside at the Christopher Columbus Park at 1 pm on Saturday, May 22nd. The park is right off of the Aquarium T Station on the Blue Line. We’ll meet by the sprinklers near the waterfront, and I just crudely photoshopped a big X onto the spot where we’re meeting below:

Christopher Columbus Park--X marks the meeting spot!

Christopher Columbus Park--X marks the meeting spot!

Bring a jacket because it can get a little chilly by the water! There are food places in the area for anyone who is looking for a snack. Come out and enjoy the sun with me and the rest of the BSBC as we discuss The Madame Curie Complex. (This time we won’t have to nervously look around for tables to snipe!)

Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #6

Posted on : 25-04-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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Yesterday, the BSBC met at Borders to discuss Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish. We found that the book is a good read, both for scientists and non-scientists, because it provides a narrative to Evolution and Common Descent.

I appreciated the author’s use of humor and anecdotes to describe the origins of our bodies. Some interesting facts that I didn’t know before reading this book:

  • It took single-celled organisms 40 million years to start to group together and form “bodies” of cells, because even though cell-groupings provided an advantage in the predator-prey environment with regards to size, the Earth’s atmosphere did not have a lot of oxygen and life could not support multi-celled organisms (until the oxygen levels changed).
  • Two of the bones in our inner ear evolved from a common ancestor of reptiles, when the back of the reptile jaw started to shrink and move back towards the ear.
  • If you take a section of a mouse embryo responsible for eye development and you graft it onto a fruit fly embryo, the fly will grow an eye in that spot and it will be a fruit fly eye (although it won’t work exactly the same because not all the nerve endings line up).

This book also illustrates how un-intelligently designed the human body is, so it provides a good rebuttal to anyone who thinks that bananas evolved to point towards our faces

Our next book is The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by Julie Des Jardins. From the Amazon.com description:

Why are the fields of science and technology still considered to be predominantly male professions? The Madame Curie Complex moves beyond the most common explanations—limited access to professional training, lack of resources, exclusion from social networks of men—to give historical context and unexpected revelations about women’s contributions to the sciences. Exploring the lives of Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, Rosalyn Yalow, Barbara McClintock, Rachel Carson, and the women of the Manhattan Project, Julie Des Jardins considers their personal and professional stories in relation to their male counterparts—Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi—to demonstrate how the gendered culture of science molds the methods, structure, and experience of the work. With lively anecdotes and vivid detail, The Madame Curie Complex reveals how women scientists have often asked different questions, used different methods, come up with different explanations for phenomena in the natural world, and how they have forever transformed a scientist’s role.

Our next meeting is at 3 pm on Saturday, May 22, and the location is TBD. Since the weather is so nice, we’re thinking of having the meeting in a park, so if anyone has any park suggestions, please leave them in the comments! I’ll keep everyone posted, and if it looks like it’s going to rain, we’ll meet back in our new location at the Borders on Boylston Ave.