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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: “Sybil Exposed” by Debbie Nathan

Posted on : 10-10-2013 | By : John | In : Book Club, Event

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Our October book is “Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case” by Debbie Nathan

Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber was a huge best seller in the 1970s which brought public attention to an extraordinary case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or colloquially as “split personalities”.) It was made into a very popular, Emmy award winning, made-for-TV movie starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward. It told the story of Sybil (real name Shirley Ardell Mason), a young woman suffering from blackouts. She went to a therapist who discovered had multiple personalities (as many as 16) and was repressing memories of horrific abuse as a child.

Someone once said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.* Debbie Nathan has examined these claims and found them profoundly lacking. In fact, it appears that Mason, Schreiber and the psychiatrist, Dr Cornelia Wilbur may have invented the whole thing. Quite possibly, it was a case of mutually reinforced self-deception on the part of Mason (Sybil) and Dr. Wilbur, but many of the incidents in the book appear to have been fabricated by Dr. Wilbur and Schreiber. (Having not read the details yet, I suspect this could be a case of pious fraud.)

Read the book, get the full story and join us to discuss it on Saturday, October 26 at 3 PM in our usual meeting place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Remember to bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack to share. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page.

As always, Mary will be leading an online discussion of the book the next day (October 27) at the Skepchick Book Club.

[*] Actually, lots of someones, including (most famously) Carl Sagan, who stole it from Marcello Truzzi, Théodore Flournoy, Pierre-Simon LaPlace, David Hume, and probably many others.

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.

SitP: Shelley Segal

Posted on : 29-04-2013 | By : John | In : Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Australian atheist singer/songwriter Shelley Segal will be appearing at Tommy Doyles’s On Monday, May 6th at 7PM. Come listen to her music, the samples I’ve heard and and the reviews I’ve read sound fantastic!

There are lyrics and short snippets of several of her songs on her web site and a few videos of complete songs. They are clever and imaginative, with some great metaphors (House With No Walls, for example.) Musically, she has a diversity of styles ranging from straight-up folk to jazzy New Wave (Saved reminds me of Joe Jackson’s first album.) I Don’t Believe in Fairies would make a great Halloween song, especially if played on a carnival-style calliope!

As Apocalyptic Love Song says,

“And yes I understand that my whole life is just a blink of an eye
in the history of the earth”

so don’t miss this rare opportunity to see Shelley perform!

And her logo has a lizard…Logo with lizard What’s not to love?

Shelley will be performing at our next Skeptics in the Pub at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square on Monday May 6 (note the date, not our usual last Monday), at 7 PM. You can RSVP on our Facebook event page if you wish.

P.S. I must confess I haven’t actually heard her perform in person, but did get to meet her last time she was in town, when she attended a previous SitP, and she was a great person to hang out and drink skeptically with.

Book Club: “Because I Said So” by Ken Jennings

Posted on : 09-02-2013 | By : John | In : Book Club, Event

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Our next book is Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids, by former all time Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings.

It is a skeptical examination of all the things our parents told us. Hundreds of tiny chapters examine such things as swimming 59 minutes after a meal (a complete myth) and running with scissors (generally a bad idea) and a lollipop in your mouth (injuries are extremely rare. Running with a pair of scissors in your mouth, straight into crocodile-infested waters, right after a heavy meal, well you work it out! The book seems to be fun, well written, well researched, and quite a quick read (I read about a third of it at one sitting.)

We will be meeting at our usual location in the Northwest Science Building at Harvard at 3 PM on Saturday, February 23. RSVP on Facebook, if that’s your thing.

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.

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.)

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 with Dezrah the Strange

Posted on : 27-06-2012 | By : John | In : Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Traditionally, midsummer (which was almost a week ago now) is a time of magic. Of course, fall, winter and spring were also times of magic. But since none of it is real, we as skeptics can celebrate magic whenever we want. So July’s theme is Magic.

First up is our old friend and fellow Boston Skeptic (he joined the Facebook group last week, which is as official as it gets) Dezrah the Strange. Dezrah last astounded us in April 2011, when he walked on glass, slept on a bed of nails (while a block of concrete was broken on his chest by a large sledge hammer), told the mandatory “No, it’s not” joke, and took almost an hour to find the Queen of Hearts I had cleverly enlarged several times and hidden in an envelope high above the stage. (You can see how he did it here.

Dezrah demonstrating psychic surgery, perhaps

Dezrah demonstrating psychic surgery, perhaps

We will be meeting at our usual place, Tommy Doyle’s Pub in Harvard Square at 7:00 PM on Monday July 2, 2012. RSVP to receive any last minute updates.

Stay tuned for our next Magical Event…

Movie Club: The Revisionaries

Posted on : 26-04-2012 | By : John | In : Event, local, movie

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In keeping with this month’s theme of religion in the classroom, The Revisionaries, a documentary about the Texas State Board of Education’s textbook selection process, is showing at the Somerville Theater as part of the Boston Independent Film Festival on Monday, April 30 at 6:45 PM.

For a sample of what to expect, see former Texas SBOE Chairman Don McLeroy on the Colbert Report a few days ago.

The Texas Monthly published a summary of the rave reviews for the film, which premiered last Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

We should try to meet up in front of the theater at about 6:30.

Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office. RSVP on Facebook.

P.S. If you still feel some of those pesky brain cells clogging up your cranium, there is still time to see American Juggalo tonight at the same theater.