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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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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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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.

SitP: Julia Wilson

Posted on : 09-02-2013 | By : John | In : Blog Post, Skeptics in the Pub

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In April of 1775, William Dawes rode through Harvard Square on his way to warn John Hancock, Samuel Adams and the Concord Militia that the Redcoats were coming. They’re BACK!!

On Saturday afternoon, Feb 16, 2013, we will be holding a special Skeptics in the Pub with Julia Wilson of the UK science education organization Sense About Science. She is here in Cambridge to help organize a new campaign, Ask For Evidence USA. The goals of the campaign, along the lines of a similar campaign in the UK, are to encourage people* to ask for the evidence behind scientific claims made by scientists, politicians, public officials, the press and random people on the Internet, to teach the basics, such as critical thinking and how the peer review process works, so that they (i.e. we) can ask intelligent questions, and to teach scientists how to communicate with non-specialists and the general public. One of her first events is a Boot Camp** for PhD students, post-docs, and other young scientists, to be held this week at MIT, to teach communications skills. She may well inspire the next Carl Sagan or Eugenie Scott.

This promises to be an important and fascinating talk.

We will be meeting at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square, our usual spot, at 2PM on Saturday, Feb 16, 2013. You can RSVP on our Facebook event page if you want, so we can get an idea of how many people will be attending.

[*] Including the general public as well as scientists, politicians, public officials, the press and random people on the Internet.

[**] Sorry, it’s too late to register for the Boot Camp. :-(

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.

Events Reminder

Posted on : 06-11-2009 | By : Jared | In : Blog Post, Event

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Hi folks! Just thought I’d pop in here to remind you all of a few upcoming events!

First, a few Boston Skeptics will be getting together (as was suggested on our Twitter feed, which you SHOULD be following) to watch The Men Who Stare at Goats. This is the film adaptation of skeptic (and super best friend of our own Rebecca Watson) Jon Ronson‘s book of the same name. We’re going to the 8:30PM screening at the AMC Boston Common theatre (across from the Boylston stop on the Green Line). This is a very informal get-together, so if you’d like to meet up, get there early and look for us in the lobby. At the very least, let us know you’ll be there in the comments section and maybe we can all grab a drink and discuss the film afterwards!

Second, the inaugural meeting of the Boston Skeptics Book Club will be taking place this Saturday, Nov. 7th at 2:00 PM at the Clear Conscience Cafe in Central Square. Join Mary Brock and Liz Gaston in kicking off what (we hope) will be a great forum for reading and discussing the vast canon of skeptical and scientific literature!

Finally, don’t forget about this month’s AWESOME Boston Skeptics in the Pub event featuring the amazing George Hrab! That’s coming up on Monday,  Nov. 23rd (the Monday before Thanksgiving), at our usual place and time. We’ll put up a full post about that soon, but for now you should head over to the Facebook Event page and RSVP so we can give Tommy Doyle’s a rough head count.

That’s it for now, but if you have any ideas for events or speakers, feel free to let us know in the comments! Hope to see you all soon :)

Book Club is coming!

Posted on : 31-10-2009 | By : Liz | In : Event

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Another new Boston Skeptics event is coming up soon! Mary Brock and I will be holding our first book club meeting on Saturday, November 7th at 2pm. We will be meeting at the Clear Conscience Cafe in Central Square.  Mary and I are hoping to get to know everyone and find out what you are looking for in the book club!

We are very excited to get this club up and running. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or email Mary at mary.brock@gmail.com.

What Are You Reading?

Posted on : 17-10-2009 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post, skepticism

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I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately, in part because of a really cool new Boston Skeptics meetup that is currently in development.  I’m new to active Skepticism, so for the past few months I have been avidly reading books related to science and skepticism.  I’m fairly certain I’ve finished more books since January than I did in all four years of college (unless you count Agatha Raisin mysteries).  Right now I’m in the middle of God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens (that one gets some funny looks on the bus), and while it is a good read and very interesting, I won’t lie:  I can’t wait to finish so I can start Simon Singh’s Trick or Treatment.  I often find myself in a conundrum at the bookstore, trying to decide what topic to read about next. Atheism? Evolution? Quantum mechanics? Quackery? Gaaaa!

Help me out: What are you currently reading, how do you decide what to read next, and what are your recommendations for fellow skeptics?

Skeptics in the Yard

Posted on : 09-10-2009 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post, Event

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Our first Boston Skeptics family event is here! Our friend Kerry turned me on to the Harvard Peabody Museum, which is having its Harvard Yard Archaeology family program on Saturday, October 24th from 9:30 am-12:30 pm (RSVP on Facebook).  From what I read here, we will get to meet the archaeologists involved with the excavation of 17th Century Harvard.  The event is free, and takes place right in Harvard Yard.  Bring your skeptical children! Plus, check out this bonus…

Pancakes Are Coming!

Posted on : 30-09-2009 | By : Liz | In : Event

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It’s been a while since our last Skeptics Brunch (and a crazy couple of months for the Boston Skeptics), but we have finally scheduled our next tasty outing! This time we will be meeting on Saturday, October 10th at Asgard in Cambridge.  As usual, we will be there at 11 am and will probably stay for a couple of hours. Be there!

Monday, February 23: Skeptics in the Pub with Tim Farley

Posted on : 04-02-2009 | By : Rebecca | In : Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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WHO
This month’s guest speaker is Tim Farley, who runs the web site What’s The Harm?, where he details the injustices caused by belief in superstition and pseudoscience.

WHERE
Tommy Doyle’s
Harvard Square
(top floor)
96 Winthrop Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

WHEN
Monday, February 23, 2009
7pm

HOW MUCH
Free!

Facebook Event Page
(join the Boston-area Skeptics group to get all invites)