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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: “Bright-sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich

Posted on : 06-05-2015 | By : John | In : Book Club

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book cover

Our next book

Our book for May is Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

The first chapter describes Ehrenreich’s experience with breast cancer and all the useless, belittling advice she received from well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people about how she could overcome it with a positive attitude and strength of character. Implicit in this advice is an enormous dose of victim-blaming. It’s her fault if she has cancer because she wasn’t positive enough, and if she doesn’t get on the program (of magical thinking with no, zero, nada, zip evidence of efficacy), it will be her fault if she doesn’t recover. This sounds to me like a perfect Republican health care plan: blame the victims and quickly get rid of all those annoying, expensive sick people. But that’s just me…

The second chapter describes her visit to a national convention of motivational speakers. Reminiscent of a Jon Ronson exploration, she finds the ultimate goal of becoming a motivational speaker is to motivate our people to become motivational speakers in some gigantic multilevel marketing scheme. Ever since the dawn of the self-help and positive thinking movements (which are deeply intertwined) in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), other people “are there only to nourish, praise and affirm”. (Sounds like a recipe for sociopathy, or at very least, libertarianism.) The whole edifice is built on a foundation of pseudoscientific principles, such as “The Law of Attraction”, pre-scientific understandings of magnets and gravity, and profound misunderstanding of simple oscillators (“vibrations”), and quantum. Its crowning achievements are The Secret and other forms of magical thinking.

If the rest of the book is as interesting (if disheartening) and as readable as the first two chapters, it will be well worth reading and discussing.

Please join us to discuss this book on Saturday, May 16 at 3 PM in our usual meeting place, Harvard’s Northwest Science Building, 52 Oxford Street, Cambridge. Bring your appetite and, if you wish, a snack to share. Also optional, you can RSVP on our Facebook event page. Remember, the first gratuitous Star Trek reference always receives a complimentary phaser blast. (Warning: I did remember to put new batteries in my phaser.)

Mary will be leading an online discussion of the book the next day (May 17) at the Skepchick Book Club. Drop by and make all those insightful comments you forgot to make at the meeting, or if you live too far away to attend in person. (But it’s much more fun to be here!)

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.

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.

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.

Skeptics in The Pub with Katherine Stewart

Posted on : 13-04-2012 | By : John | In : Book Club, Event, Skeptics in the Pub

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Meet this month’s Book Club (and inaugural Skepchick Book Club) author Katherine Stewart. She will be discussing her new book (and signing Kindles?), “The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children” at our usual time and place (7 PM Monday evening at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square.) We’ll be a week late this time, on May 7, 2012, but it’s worth the wait!

At last month’s SitP, we had an author as our guest and we asked a lot of fantastic questions. Let’s do it even better this time! Check out her web site and read this sample (from a NY Times op-ed), or better yet read the whole book. It is interesting and important even if it is scary enough to be a Halloween selection.

See the previous post for more about the book.

RSVP on our Facebook event page.

4th Annual Boston Skeptics Pi Day

Posted on : 06-03-2012 | By : John | In : Event, local

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Wednesday, March 14 is Pi Approximation Day.

Mathematics is a dirty business, but somebody has to do, preferably while covered with a sticky mass of Pie Filling! (The volume of a pie is 4⁄3×π×((Rt+Rb)⁄2)²×h, where Rt is the radius of the top of the pie, and Rb is the radius of the bottom of the pie and h is the thickness of the pie.)

Lots of pies, preparing for the onslaught

Armed and dangerous


Join us for our annual pie fight on Cambridge Common (one block north of Harvard Square) on Wednesday, March 14 at 7 PM. Bring a pie and scuzzy clothes.

A map, maybe.

The weather forecast is for clear with a high of 56, so be prepared for freezing drizzle or heat and humidity.

RSVP

Update: Bad Geometry! I forgot to multiply by the depth of the pie. Also, the Greek letter lowercase pi looks really awful in the default font. Sort of like a poorly drawn lowercase “n”. I said math is a dirty business; there’s your proof.

The Woo Around Us: Dahn Yoga

Posted on : 18-08-2009 | By : Jared | In : Blog Post, skepticism

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Continuing our tour of local purveyors of woo, we come next to Dahn Yoga.  Now, aside from the fact that it often pushes certain woo-ish ideas, yoga can be a valid form of exercise. I’ve generally forgiven it for its excesses because of this, and would have done the same for the Dahn Yoga centers I see both near my job (in the Back Bay) and my home (in Cambridge), too.

But back in February, we were fortunate enough to get the inimitable Tim Farley, of WhatsTheHarm.net, as our speaker for Boston Skeptics in the Pub. Amongst other things, Tim talked about a woman named Julia Siverls who died during a Dahn-sponsored course. This piqued my curiosity and prompted me to look into things a bit more deeply.

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)