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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: Heina Dadabhoy from Islam to Atheism.

Posted on : 14-01-2016 | By : John | In : Event, local, Skeptics in the Pub

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Heina Dadabhoy

A ninja warrior welcomes guests to Convergence/Skepchickcon

Boston Skeptics welcomes our January guest speaker, atheist feminist secular humanist (and many other positive adjectives) blogger Heina Dadabhoy.

Heina will be speaking about her path from Islam to atheism. She is currently writing a book called A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam, which will be published in March and is available for preorder on Amazon.

Book Cover

A Skeptic’s Guide to Islam



Location: We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, January 25, 2016 on the third floor of The Hong Kong Restaurant, 1238 Mass Ave in Harvard Square, Cambridge. Please come a little early if possible to order dinner, a snack or drinks and chat with your fellow Skeptics.

RSVP if that’s your thing on our Facebook event page. (It’s not required, but does give us some idea how many people are planning to attend.)

Photo courtesy Jamie Bernstein.

SitP: Dr Alessio Fasano and Gluten Freedom

Posted on : 30-03-2015 | By : John | In : Event, local

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The structure of gluten

A little biochemistry…

Gluten is a protein structure found in wheat, barley and rye. It is the substance that gives bread its chewiness and because it is strong and stretchy, it helps bread dough trap the CO2 produced by yeast or baking powder, making it light and airy. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, “Mmmm gluten, is there anything you can’t do?”

Gluten has become one of the most controversial topics in the modern diet. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by one of the components of gluten. It causes abdominal pain and discomfort, constipation and diarrhea, anemia and fatigue. It affects millions of people, and in extreme cases, especially in children, it can cause serious vitamin and nutritional deficiencies because the inflamed small intestine doesn’t function properly. Long term, untreated celiac can lead to many serious complications. Celiac is distinct from wheat allergy, which also exists.

(Wheat allergies involve different components of the immune system reacting in different ways than what occurs in celiac, and are similar to other food allergies. Wheat allergies can be triggered by one or more of the many proteins in wheat, not just those in gluten.)

Many people who don’t have the classic symptoms of celiac or wheat allergies, or who were determined not to have those diseases by various diagnostic tests (which according to the Wikipedia articles appear to have very low false negative rates), none the less claim or suspect they have some sort of gluten sensitivity. Hence the enormous current interest in gluten-free foods. (“Gluten free” gets 107,000,000 hits on Google.)

So is wheat the staff of life, responsible for getting humanity out of the stone age, and in the top five discoveries ever (along with fire, the wheel, beer and video games), or is it the greatest evil ever perpetrated, responsible for more misery and death than cigarettes, automobiles, alcoholism and war combined?

our speaker, Dr Fasano The Boston Skeptics are fortunate to have as our guest for April’s Skeptics in the Pub world-renowned pediatric gastroenterologist, research scientist and entrepreneur Alessio Fasano, M.D., who is director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC). His prevalence study published in 2003 established the rate of celiac disease at 1 in 133 Americans.

His visionary research has led to the awareness of celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders as a growing public health problem in the United States and worldwide. As Visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at MGHfC, Dr. Fasano treats both children and adults for gluten-related disorders, including celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy.

A passionate advocate for collaboration in research and clinical work, Dr. Fasano recently authored Gluten Freedom to provide patients, healthcare providers and general readers an evidence-based yet entertaining book to dispel some of the current confusion about gluten and how it can affect your health.

Dr Fasano will tell us about his research, the causes and treatment for celiac disease, wheat allergies and gluten sensitivity, and I’m sure we have many questions on these topics.

We will be meeting at 7PM on Monday, April 6, 2015 in the back room at The Burren, 247 Elm St. in Davis Square, Somerville. 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.

BTW, someone asked if the Burren has any gluten-free items on their menu. I am informed that the Cod Espanola, the Balsamic Chicken, the veggie shepherds pie and nachos are all gluten free.

Hopefully, we won’t have yet another blizzard!

UPDATE Dr Fasano’s talk is now available on Vimeo:


Dr. Alessio Fasano speaks at the Boston Skeptics in the Pub, April 6, 2015

Darwin Day Brunch

Posted on : 09-02-2015 | By : John | In : Event, local

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WEATHER UPDATE: Due to the impending 4th Blizzard, Darwin Day has been postponed one week, to Feb. 22.

Thursday, Feb 12 is Charles Darwin’s 206th birthday. The Birthday Boy

We’re celebrating with Oodles of Noodlesnoodles and Modern Dinosaurs dinosaurs.

Join us at 11 AM Sunday, Feb 15 Feb 22 at Santouka Ramen in Harvard Square for brunch, followed by a The Voyage of HMS Beaglevoyage† to the Hominids at the Museum of Natural History Harvard Museum of Natural History.

RSVP on our Facebook event page.

Date: Sunday, Feb 15 Feb 22, 2015
Brunch Time: 11 AM
Place: Santouka Ramen
1 Bow Street
Cambridge MA

Museum Time: 1 PM
Place: Harvard Museum of Natural History
26 Oxford Street
Cambridge MA

[†] Boat not provided‡.
[‡] Boat not needed, since it’s just a 10 minute walk, not a 5 year circumnavigation. Spaceship not needed either.

SitP: Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of Other Pubs

Posted on : 15-10-2014 | By : John | In : Event, local, Skeptics in the Pub

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Join us once again in our search for a new home. This month we are checking out Cambridge Common, on Mass Ave just north of Harvard Square.

No special topic this month. But since it’s Halloween week, maybe we should bring ghost-hunting equipment and see if it’s haunted, like the pub in New York where NECSS has held their Drinking Skeptically on occasion. (There were very mysterious noises coming from the bathroom there, but surprisingly no one seemed keen to investigate.)

We’ll be meeting at 7PM on Monday October 27, 2014. The address is 1667 Mass Ave, Cambridge. It’s about 4 blocks north of Harvard Sq, between Wendell and Sacramento Streets. (On the map, it looks just as close to Porter Square, and it might be easier to walk from there.) You can sign up on our Facebook event page to help us get an idea how many people might show up, though this does tend to tip off the fraudsters ghosts.

P.S. If you have other pub suggestions, please post them on Facebook.

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…

SitP: Pub Hangout

Posted on : 06-07-2013 | By : John | In : Blog Post, local, Skeptics in the Pub

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This month we don’t have a formal program or speaker, so we can get down to the serious business of being skeptical about drinking. Is beer a drink or a food? If (for fans of Mary Roach), you run your shepherd’s pie through a blender, fletcherizing it, does it become a drink? Should you chew Guinness?

Answers to all these questions, or anything else you care to discuss, can be had at the July Boston Skeptics in the Pub, Monday, July 15 at 7:00 PM in Tommy Doyle’s Pub, 65 Winthrop St (Harvard Square) in Cambridge. You can RSVP or comment on Facebook if you wish.

Book Club: “The Ghost Map” by Steven Johnson

Posted on : 26-05-2013 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Book Club, local

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Our next book is the story of a horrible Cholera outbreak in London, England in the late summer of 1854, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. It tells the story of a deadly outbreak of cholera in the late summer of 1854, and how careful gathering of information and analysis of the data led to an understanding of its mode of transmission and effective public health measures to prevent it. The result was the creation of the science of epidemiology.

The book focuses on two men. Dr. John Snow, who help found the Epidemiological Society of London 4 years previously, and was a pioneer in anesthesiology. Snow lived about 5 blocks from the epicenter of the epidemic. Rev. Henry Whitehead was the 28 year old assistant curate of the local C of E church. They both spent every available minute, independently, visiting the victims and gathering information about their circumstances, until the epidemic had run its course. Later, they were both appointed by the local health board to a committee to investigate the epidemic. Initially, they supported rival theories of the spread of cholera, but Whitehead was a nascent skeptic and eventually came to support Snow’s evidence and reasoning, which fit perfectly with his own disproving of the conventional theories of the day, principally the miasma theory of disease.

Both Snow and Whitehead showed great courage and concern for the victims during the outbreak, although we now know they were actually in little real danger. Whitehead did drink some of the water, which many people thought was actually a cure for cholera, and drank in large quantities. Most likely by that time, the cholera in the well had all died since the well contained little of the plankton cholera normally thrives on in the wild, but no one knew that at the time. (The germ theory of disease lay about a decade in the future.)

Snow had been gathering evidence to support his hypothesis that cholera was waterborne to explain earlier outbreaks when the 1854 Soho epidemic occurred. Snow’s map of the location of victims and his investigations, especially of the outlying cases, convinced him his theory was correct. The local council wasn’t convinced, rightly pointing out that it didn’t account for people who drank the suspect water but didn’t get sick. However, in a spirit of caution, they had the handle removed from the pump of the suspect Broad Street well, which while probably too late to stop the current outbreak, did prevent a second outbreak when the father of the first victim, patient zero, became one of the last people to die and almost certainly recontaminated the well. (The cesspool in the cellar of his house was only a few feet from the well.)

Whitehead had been gathering evidence to disprove all the various versions of the conventional miasma theory, and rightly pointed out some logical gaps in Snow’s theory. Together, Snow and Whitehead gathered the needed data and, much to Whitehead’s surprise, made further maps that showed beyond any doubt that cholera was waterborne and the Broad Street well was the culprit. For example, they measured the actual walking distance between the homes or workplaces of the victims and all the nearby public wells, and showed that in almost every case, the Broad Street well was the closest. They also showed the distribution of the cases did not support other hypotheses, such as that the air near the ground or the social class of the victims or the newly built sewer system or the recently disturbed pit containing the remains of many of the 100,000 victims of the London Plague of 1665.

The Kindle version of the book only contains one of the maps, in a very small, almost unreadable format. I don’t know if the print version is better. Anyway, a much bigger version of his original map is here.

Steven Johnson has written 8 books on the history of science, technology and innovation.

We will be meeting at our usual time and location, at 3:00 PM in Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge, on Saturday, June 22. Remember to bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack, preferably one made with boiled water. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page.

As always, Mary will be leading the discussion of the book the next day (June 23) at tbe Skepchick Book Club.

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!

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.