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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 Man Who Knew Too Much” by David Leavitt

Posted on : 20-05-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club

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June 23 marks the 100th birthday of one of the most important mathematicians of the 20th century, a man who if not singlehandedly winning World War II, shortened it by at least a year and saved millions of lives, and was repaid by being persecuted, prosecuted and hounded to death. Alan Turing was the founder of computer science who formalized the fundamental concepts of computability, computational complexity, and the algorithm[1]. He was also a brilliant logician and cryptanalyst and invented the Turing Machine and the Turing Test.

Our next book will be The Man Who Knew Too Much: Alan Turing and the Invention of the Computer by David Leavitt. The Amazon reviews on this book are mixed, but I think we’ll enjoy it. Most of the negative reviews focus on it being too mathematical, but if I recall correctly, most of us found our previous math oriented book, The Calculus Diaries, lacking in actual math. (What can I say, we’re hardcore nerds.) We might end up agreeing with a couple of other negative reviewers who found it not rigorous enough or who focus on a small number of mistakes or misunderstandings, but most of the reviews found Leavitt’s explanations very cogent, and the book itself a good mix of the biography, history, math and the tragic consequences of the extreme homophobia that ruled much of the last century.

Update: If you are unfamiliar with Turing’s life or his work, Courtney has posted an excellent biographical essay on Queereka (which Will has cross-posted to Skepchick.)

The Pilot ACE was a prototype of the ACE, which was the actual computer designed by Turing, but I couldn't, in a lazy Google search, find any pictures of the ACE.

A Computer

We will be meeting at the usual time and place, Saturday June 16, 2012 at 3 PM in either the conference room in the Northwest Science Building at Harvard or outdoors under the Giant Green Pepper if the weather is nice.

Please sign up at our Facebook event page (unless you’d rather not, but it does give us some idea of how many people to expect.) It seems to be working again; I guess last month’s rant was effective.

[1] No, Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Algorithm, any more than he claimed to invent the Internet.

Book Club: Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

Posted on : 03-12-2011 | By : John | In : Book Club, Event

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Henrietta and David Lacks, circa 1945.Our next book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. It is the story of HeLa cells, the first immortal cell line which has been and continues to be used extensively in many fields, including cancer research, vaccine development and testing, AIDS, aging, genetics, and the effects of radiation on living cells. It is also the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American woman raised as a share-cropper on a Virginia tobacco farm who died a horrible death from cancer at age 30 in 1951. It is also the story of her family who only found out about the source of the HeLa cell line many years later. (Informed consent was apparently never sought or obtained.)

The book promises many topics for discussion, including medical history, cutting edge cancer and vaccine research, medical ethics and the exploitation of poor people for medical research, history of the underclasses in America, the importance of science education, and the current health care situation. (Many of Henrietta’s descendants can’t afford to receive the treatments derived from her cells, should they develop those diseases!)

Skloot worked with the Lacks family, particularly with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah to obtain their side of the story and to help them in their personal search for answers.

The book has received excellent reviews, both on-line and from friends, and I am looking forward to reading it.

We will be meeting on Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 3 PM, most likely in the same conference room in the Northwest Science Building at Harvard that we have used recently.

Skeptics in the Pub with Mary Lefkowitz: “Academic Fictions and Fantasies”

Posted on : 13-11-2011 | By : John | In : Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Cover of "Not Out of Africa"Dr. Mary Lefkowitz is Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Emerita at Wellesley College. She is the author of Not Out of Africa, Black Athena Revisited*, and History Lesson. She has also written several books about ancient Greece, including Women in Greek Myth and Greek Gods, Human Lives: What We Can Learn from Myths and many others.

She will be talking about the “Black Athena Controversy”, the notion that Greek culture was stolen or borrowed from Egypt, and her attempts to talk about evidence-based history in the era of post-modernism and political correctness.

If this subject is new to you, as it is to me, having skillfully avoided academia in the 1980s and 90s, I recommend doing some background reading, or at least a bit of googling, in advance. (One of the Amazon reviews of one of her books compared arguing with Afro-centrists to arguing with anti-vaxxers, a conflict I’m more familiar with.)

We’re back to our usual place and time this month, upstairs at Tommy Doyle’s on Monday, November 28 at 7 PM.

Feel free to sign up on our Facebook event page.

[*] which she edited with Guy Rogers, though for some reason the Amazon page doesn’t mention him.

Book Club: Douglas Starr’s “The Killer of Little Shepherds”

Posted on : 11-08-2011 | By : John | In : Book Club, Event

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Our book club meeting this month is again at the usual place and time, 3 PM Saturday August 13 on the lawn just north of Harvard Yard, between Memorial Hall (the big ugly pseudo gothic building) and the Science Center (the big ugly modern building that looks like a flight of giant stairs to nowhere.) It’s supposed to be warm and sunny, but if it rains, we’ll move indoors to the cafeteria of the Northwest building up Oxford Street just past the museum.

The book is about the birth of forensic science (CSI: Lyon, as in Lyon, France, circa 1894.) I’m about 1/2 way through, the prime suspect is about to go to trial, and is attempting an insanity defense. It’s a pretty compelling story, all the more so because it’s true. The author alternates chapters between the story of the criminal, Joesph Vacher, and the history of forensics, mostly focusing on Professor Lacassagne of the Lyon Medical School, who was the leading forensic scientist of the time.

Skeptics in the Pub with Jonathan McDowell: Elegy For A Spaceplane: 30 Years of Space Shuttles

Posted on : 29-06-2011 | By : John | In : Event, local, Skeptics in the Pub

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Jonathan says:

NASA’s Space Shuttle is being retired this month after three decades of ups and downs both literal and metaphorical.

I’ll take a trip down memory lane and review what the Shuttles did and didn’t do, and discuss other spaceplanes past and present. Finally, I’ll speculate about what’s next for the US human spaceflight program.

Jonathan McDowell in the Soyuz T-3 reentry module

Hello, Earthlings!

Jonathan is a long-time member of the Boston Skeptics, an astronomer, and expert on space travel. He writes a monthly column for Sky and Telescope and maintains the Jonathan’s Space Report web site. He previously spoke to us about the history of the Moon Race, in a very interesting, informative and popular talk, especially about the little-known Soviet moon program. Be sure to arrive early so you can get a seat in front!

RSVP on Facebook

When: Monday, July 25 at 7pm

Where: Upstairs at Tommy Doyle’s Irish Pub,
Harvard Square

See you all there!