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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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Support a fellow skeptic–being sued for speaking out

Posted on : 14-01-2018 | By : Mary Mangan | In : Blog Post, Member Post, skepticism

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Many of you probably know Britt Marie Hermes. She was trained as a naturopath but had a Damascene conversion when she began to practice and realized what was actually going on. Her story has been told a number of times, but her own words are the most remarkable to read. You can read more about the revelations she had at Science Based Medicine in this post: ND Confession, Part 1: Clinical training inside and out.

She has continued to make science-based noise about the issues of the training of naturopaths, as well as shine a spotlight on harmful treatments. In fact, she tried to warn us here in Massachusetts that we were about to be beset by that terrible naturopathic licensing that gives a veneer of legitimacy to these bad practices.

I really did think that the legislation had died a natural death at the end of the previous session in the summer. Out of nowhere the zombie had returned. She was right. But I wasn’t able to figure out how to combat it. I wrote to the Governor’s office, implored him not to sign it, but over the Christmas holidays it went under the radar and became real. Alas. We need to organize better on policy issues and learn to influence these things.

Still, I was really glad she was trying to help us. And it’s time to return the favor. Britt has been sued by one of the bad actors that she has called out. A woman who runs a cancer clinic offering baking soda treatments (!!!) seems to dislike the spotlight on these practices. She has sued Britt for defamation. You can hear from Britt here. She describes the situation and provides the background for you as well.

A legal defense fundraiser on her behalf is being held by Australian Skeptics. You can see their description of it, and you can donate to the effort: BRITT HERMES LEGAL COSTS FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN.

If you can, please consider donating to this fund. Britt’s voice is important on this issue, and we need to ensure that she is not silenced. But there’s a larger issue as well–all of us skeptics who call out bad actors are at risk from legal harassment by cranks and quacks. This happened to Steven Novella not long ago.

Cancer quackery gets on my last nerve–misleading vulnerable people in harmful ways and taking their money at this perilous time for them. Spend some of your money to stop them from getting away with it.

++++++++++++

Edit to add: There are other folks describing more details of Britt’s story or other related issues. I’ll link them here for further context.

Orac includes a good section about other lawsuits by quacks to hit the skeptic community: Defend Britt Hermes from a naturopathic cancer quack trying to silence her through legal thuggery

Kevin Folta delivers the bat signal: Nerd Shield Activate! Defend Britt from Fake-Medicine-Industry Intimidation

Pharmacist Scott Gavura adds: Naturopathy’s fiercest and most-knowledgeable critic is being sued by a naturopath

New! Boston Skeptics Slack Chat Room

Posted on : 17-12-2017 | By : Justin | In : Blog Post

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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 a Boston Skeptics Slack account yet? Don’t worry! You can sign up for one here. (Note: this account will only work for the Boston Skeptics Slack chat room, not any other Slack chat room)

 

October 2017 Organizational Meeting Updates

Posted on : 19-11-2017 | By : Justin | In : Blog Post

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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 from folks who weren’t able to attend. Specifically, we started drafting a charter, roles & responsibilities document, and a brainstorm of topics/activities of interests.

Please take a look at them below and let us know what you think via comments in each Google Doc! For roles & responsibilities, we’re more than happy to have folks volunteer to take on different ones if they’re interested :)

Boston Skeptics Organizational Meeting

Posted on : 22-10-2017 | By : Justin | In : Blog Post

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When: Monday, October 30 @ 7 PM

Where: Cambridge Public Library Community Room

RSVP here

Attention Boston Skeptics members, old and new! We’re holding an organizational meeting for all of us to regroup and brainstorm ideas for the future of Boston Skeptics. This meeting is open to anyone who is interested in Boston Skeptics, whether or not you’ve been to past meetups. Here’s draft the agenda for the meeting, but bring your ideas for events and locations!

We’ll be meeting at the Cambridge Public Library Community Room, which is located on the library’s L2 second floor underground (as shown below). The Cambridge Public Library is a ~9 minute walk from the Harvard Square T station.

Since we’re allowed to have refreshments in the Community Room, we’re encouraging anyone who attends to bring along a snack or (non-alcoholic) drink to share (anything Halloween-themed is a plus!).

Cambridge Public Library Community Room map

Cambridge Public Library Community Room map

 

 

SitP: Dr. Clay Jones on Folklore in Modern Pediatric Medicine

Posted on : 23-07-2017 | By : Justin | In : Blog Post

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Clay Jones, M.D. is a pediatrician practicing at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Newton, MA, and a regular contributor to the Science-Based Medicine (SBM) blog. He primarily cares for healthy newborns and hospitalized children, and devotes his full time to educating pediatric residents and medical students.

Dr. Jones first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital a decade ago. He has since focused his efforts on teaching the application of critical thinking and scientific skepticism to the practice of pediatric medicine. Dr. Jones can be found on Twitter as @skepticpedi and is the co-host of The Prism Podcast with SBM contributor Grant Ritchey.

Come join us from 7-9pm on Monday, August 21st at the Sunset Cantina at 916 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215 as Dr. Jones presents his speech from the 2017 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism about the role of ancient folklore in modern beliefs about health and medicine, especially in pediatrics.

How to RSVP

On Facebook

OR

On Meetup

 

Gauging interest in “Food Evolution” screening in Boston area

Posted on : 15-07-2017 | By : Justin | In : Blog Post

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Food Evolution is a new documentary that explores the science around GMOs as well as the public debate/perception about them. Boston Skeptics is looking to setup a screening of the film in the Boston area (Cambridge/Somerville/Boston), but we need at least 50 people with confirmed attendance to do so.

If you’re interested, please fill out this survey so we can get a rough headcount of people who would like attend (also share with anyone you think would also be interested!):

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/8LM2BSM

SitP: David Ropeik and the Risk Perception Gap

Posted on : 20-05-2015 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Update! Thanks to Andrea and Francois, we now have a video of David Ropeik’s talk available on our Vimeo channel.

This month's speaker, Davic Ropeik

David Ropeik will be speaking on the gap between risk and risk perception

Our guest this month is David Ropeik, a writer, teacher, investigative journalist and consultant. Formerly a reporter for WCVB-TV, Channel 5 in Boston, he has taught journalism and the psychology of risk perception, communication and management for many years.

Mr. Ropeik is an Instructor at Harvard University, author, and consultant on the psychology of risk perception, risk communication, and risk management. He is author of How Risky Is It, Really? Why Our Fears Don’t Always Match The Facts and co-author of RISK: A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You.

He is a widely cited expert on risk perception in the general press and he blogs for BigThink.com, Psychology Today, Nature, Scientific American, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, and The Huffington Post.

Mr. Ropeik was a television reporter in Boston from 1978 – 2000, where he twice won the DuPont Columbia Award, often referred to as the Pulitzer Prize of broadcast journalism, along many other awards. He wrote a science column for The Boston Globe 1998-2000. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT 1994-95.

He is creator and director of the program “Improving Media Coverage of Risk”, a training program for journalists.

He has taught journalism at Boston University, Tufts University, MIT, and Northwestern University.

Risk perception is a topic close to many skeptics, as we see our friends, neighbors, families and, despite our best intentions, ourselves, make poor self-destructive choices about vaccinations, health care, the environment, diet, consumer purchases, politics and many other avenues of life. David Ropeik has written and talked extensively on how to communicate an accurate assessment of risk to people, helping them better understand why their instincts and fears and doubts might be doing them more harm than good.

THE RISK PERCEPTION GAP

Why we worry too much about some things, not enough about others, the danger that poses, and what we can do about it.

As scientifically as many risks have been studied, so have the cognitive processes of risk perception. Research has revealed that risk perception is a fascinating, complex, and ultimately subjective system influenced more by instinct and feeling than intellect and fact. As a result it produces perceptions that sometimes fly in the face of the evidence and lead to judgments and behaviors that may feel right, but actually create risks all by themselves.

This presentation will summarize how subjective risk perception works and why the Risk Perception Gap occurs, which is the first step toward minimizing the risks our risk MISperceptions can cause.

New Location: We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, May 25, 2015 in the third floor of The Hong Kong Restaurant, 1238 Mass Ave in Harvard Square, Cambridge. RSVP on our Facebook event page. This is our first meeting at the Hong Kong, so it is important that people register in advance so the restaurant will know what to expect and will have adequate staffing. Also, it would be good to arrive a little early if you possibly can to allow time for ordering dinner and/or drinks before the talk begins.

Note: links to Amazon are for informational purposes only. Please feel free to patronize your local library or bricks-and-mortar book store!

SitP: Vitamin K Refusal with Clay Jones

Posted on : 26-02-2015 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Newborn receiving a vitamin K shot

Newborn receiving a vitamin K shot


The Boston Skeptics are lucky to have members like Clay Jones, pediatrician and Science Based Medicine blogger. Clay will be joining us on Monday, March 2 for our next Skeptics in the Pub, to discuss yet another case of people ignoring the best scientific evidence for a medical treatment, to the detriment of their children. Tragically, several children have recently died and many more have suffered serious brain injury from internal bleeding that can easily be prevented by a vitamin K injection shortly after birth.

As Clay ably explains in a post on SBM, most or all newborns suffer from vitamin K deficiency. This is due to a variety of causes, ranging from an immature digestive system that can’t readily absorb vitamin K, an immature liver that doesn’t process vitamin K efficiently, lack of gut bacteria that help digest foods and release the vitamin K in them, and the low levels of vitamin K in human breast milk. (Infant formula is fortified with vitamin K, so deficiency is less a problem but not eliminated in formula-fed babies.) The first three causes are significantly worse in premature babies.

Vitamin K is essential to several processes involved in forming blood clots, and people with vitamin K deficiency are much more likely to suffer from bruising and bleeding, both external and internal. Early vitamin K-deficient bleeding (VKDB) occurs in the first week after birth. It is fairly common, about 1.7% of all babies experience it (or would if vitamin K injections weren’t SOP since 1961), usually in the form of bleeding under the skin or (more scarily) under the membrane that covers bones. The latter can result in disturbing lumps on the skull and terrified parents, but usually resolves itself fairly quickly. Much more serious, but much rarer, is late VKDB, which occurs between 2 and 12 weeks. This can result in serious internal bleeding into the gut and the brain. Brain bleeds can cause serious brain injuries or even death. Babies not given vitamin K suffer late VKDB at the rate of about 4.4 to 7.2 per 100,000 children, 20% of them die and half the remainder suffer long term problems. Before vitamin K treatment became routine, VKDB was an important cause of infant mortality.

Fortunately, both forms of VKDB can be virtually completely eliminated by a simple, single intramuscular vitamin K injection

Vitamin K being administered to a newborn

Vitamin K being administered to a newborn

within a few hours of birth. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, and is retained in the babies muscle and slowly released for several months, long enough for the baby’s digestive system and internal organs to mature sufficiently to process vitamin K from food on their own. Oral vitamin K also works, but not quite as well, and requires daily or weekly doses of liquid vitamin K over several weeks or months, and it is difficult for harried parents to stick to the schedule. Oral vitamin K is standard treatment in some countries, but many of them are switching to (or switching back to) injections.

Increasingly, and frighteningly, more parents are refusing consent for their babies to receive the injection. This seems to be correlated with the anti-vax movement, though their objections are much more tenuous. Similar to the bogus autism-vaccine link espoused by Andrew Wakefield and others, there was a tiny, poorly done study (since thoroughly refuted) that claimed to link vitamin K to childhood leukemia. The anti-K movement lacks the prominent purveyors of nonsense that keeps the anti-vax movement alive. (Even Dr. Joeseph Mercola doesn’t believe vitamin K shots cause leukemia, but he does prefer oral doses, of course.) Clay will tell us, we hope, about other motivations parents have for refusing the vitamin K jab.

The problem of vitamin K rejection is receiving increased media attention. Chris Mooney wrote about it last summer in his Mother Jones blog, and Mooney and Indre Viskontas interviewed Clay about it on the Inquiring Minds podcast. (Interview starts about 6 minutes in.)

We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, March 2, 2015 in the back room at The Burren, 247 Elm St. in Davis Square, Somerville. Please RSVP* on our Facebook event page. If enough people say they will attend in advance, the Burren will provide us with our own wait staff and/or bartender, which will avoid a crush of people trying to get food or drinks. Also, it might be a good idea to arrive a little early if you possibly can.

Hopefully, we won’t have yet another blizzard!

[*] Yes, I know “Please RSVP” is redundant.

Getting Invited!

Posted on : 29-01-2015 | By : John | In : Blog Post

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Chuck

Our Friend Charles Beagleson with a Tortoise and Finches


Facebook no longer automatically invites all members of a group to group events, if the group has more than 250 members. The Boston Skeptics group currently has 557 members, so most of you aren’t getting notified of events unless you check the page (or here) frequently.

But Facebook members can invite their friends! Go to the event page, click on Invite, pick Choose Friends on the menu, and then an Invite window will pop up with a list of suggestions on the left side. Pick Boston Skeptics under MY GROUPS (you might have to scroll down) and a list of your friends who are members of the Boston Skeptics will appear in the middle column. Click on Select All at the top and all your Skeptical Friends will get selected (except those who have already been invited by someone else, so they won’t get spammed.) Of course, you can also invite people who aren’t members, since all (AFIAK) our events are public!

There’s more! We’ve invented a Facebook user, Charles Beagleson, who is a friend to everyone. (At least, to everyone who has accepted a friend request from him.) Charlie will probably be sending you a friend request soon, or you can send him one. Chuck will be sending invites to all his friends for all future events. (If you don’t want to be inundated by the average of 2 events per month, just don’t accept his friendship, or unfriend him if you’ve already accepted. He won’t be insulted. ;-(

SitP: Let’s Find a New Pub

Posted on : 09-08-2014 | By : John | In : Blog Post, local

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Since Tommy Doyle’s closed we’ve been meeting very sporadically (except the Book Club). We need a new regular meeting place. I’ve put up a post on Facebook* where people can make suggestions.

For people who don’t do Facebook, here’s a copy of the post. (You can email me suggestions or comments, or leave a comment here.)


Hey, everybody! Let’s crowd-source a new meeting place.

Since Tommy Doyle’s closed, we haven’t had a good meeting place. We had a couple of get-togethers at Meadhall in Kendall Sq, but it isn’t really set up for speakers, music or movies. Good beer, okay food, comfy chairs, but still lacking

I think what we need is a place with:

  • room for about 60-80 people (with standing room for 20-30 more)
  • near a T station
  • accessible (I think this was a problem at Tommy Doyle’s)
  • a stage or other easily visible area for speakers and musicians
  • comfortable environment
  • good but not fancy food
  • decent bar
  • inexpensive enough that we don’t frighten away students and people on a limited income.
  • friendly and accepting staff
  • management that is amenable to reserving us a space on the expectation that there would be good business on an otherwise quiet evening
  • ability to record the talks (audio and video) if our guest wants us to (I think we can supply our own recording equipment and cameras if needed.)

Any other requirements I missed? Did I get the size right?

Does anyone know the perfect place or have any suggestions?

Should we form an exploratory committee to perform a skeptical investigation (i.e. a pub crawl?)


[*] I think that’s a link to the group rather than the specific post, but it should be easy to find since we don’t get a lot of posts…