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New! Boston Skeptics Slack Chat Room We're taking Boston Skeptics to the next level by introducing a Slack chat room for Boston Skeptics to keep and touch, share ideas, and be skeptical in near-real time with each other! Don't have...

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New! Boston Skeptics Slack Chat Room We're taking Boston Skeptics to the next level by introducing a Slack chat room for Boston Skeptics to keep and touch, share ideas, and be skeptical in near-real time with each other! Don't have...

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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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Support a fellow skeptic–being sued for speaking out

Posted on : 14-01-2018 | By : Mary Mangan | In : Blog Post, Member Post, skepticism

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Many of you probably know Britt Marie Hermes. She was trained as a naturopath but had a Damascene conversion when she began to practice and realized what was actually going on. Her story has been told a number of times, but her own words are the most remarkable to read. You can read more about the revelations she had at Science Based Medicine in this post: ND Confession, Part 1: Clinical training inside and out.

She has continued to make science-based noise about the issues of the training of naturopaths, as well as shine a spotlight on harmful treatments. In fact, she tried to warn us here in Massachusetts that we were about to be beset by that terrible naturopathic licensing that gives a veneer of legitimacy to these bad practices.

I really did think that the legislation had died a natural death at the end of the previous session in the summer. Out of nowhere the zombie had returned. She was right. But I wasn’t able to figure out how to combat it. I wrote to the Governor’s office, implored him not to sign it, but over the Christmas holidays it went under the radar and became real. Alas. We need to organize better on policy issues and learn to influence these things.

Still, I was really glad she was trying to help us. And it’s time to return the favor. Britt has been sued by one of the bad actors that she has called out. A woman who runs a cancer clinic offering baking soda treatments (!!!) seems to dislike the spotlight on these practices. She has sued Britt for defamation. You can hear from Britt here. She describes the situation and provides the background for you as well.

A legal defense fundraiser on her behalf is being held by Australian Skeptics. You can see their description of it, and you can donate to the effort: BRITT HERMES LEGAL COSTS FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN.

If you can, please consider donating to this fund. Britt’s voice is important on this issue, and we need to ensure that she is not silenced. But there’s a larger issue as well–all of us skeptics who call out bad actors are at risk from legal harassment by cranks and quacks. This happened to Steven Novella not long ago.

Cancer quackery gets on my last nerve–misleading vulnerable people in harmful ways and taking their money at this perilous time for them. Spend some of your money to stop them from getting away with it.


Edit to add: There are other folks describing more details of Britt’s story or other related issues. I’ll link them here for further context.

Orac includes a good section about other lawsuits by quacks to hit the skeptic community: Defend Britt Hermes from a naturopathic cancer quack trying to silence her through legal thuggery

Kevin Folta delivers the bat signal: Nerd Shield Activate! Defend Britt from Fake-Medicine-Industry Intimidation

Pharmacist Scott Gavura adds: Naturopathy’s fiercest and most-knowledgeable critic is being sued by a naturopath

The Path of Autism Causation Research

Posted on : 09-12-2011 | By : Todd W. | In : Blog Post, Member Post, skepticism


10:23 Challenge (and Brunch!)

Posted on : 01-02-2011 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post, local, skepticism


This coming weekend, skeptics all over the world will be participating in a global homeopathic “overdose” to help spread the truth about homeopathy: there’s nothing in it. The Boston Skeptics will be holding our event on Sunday, February 6th, at 10:23am in City Hall Plaza (outside the Government Center T station). We will have more specifics about the event coming shortly, so check back to find out everything you need to know!


The “medication” that The Amazing James Randi uses for his famous “overdose” is Calms Forte ( http://www.calmsforte.com/home/ to check it out ), so we’re suggesting this brand if you choose to partake in the pill-poppin’ goodness!

Also, get creative and make your own signs for this event! You can also print out flyers from this template: http://www.1023.org.uk/leaflet.pdf

You can and should spend some time over at the 10:23 website ( http://www.1023.org.uk/ ) to get more familiar with just how global this protest is, and for some useful information about not only the event’s history and culmination, but some good talking points!

And most importantly… let’s make this protest fun and safe!

But there’s more…we are following the “challenge” with (finally) brunch! Join us at the Kinsale (2 Center Plaza, right by City Hall Plaza) at 11 am. 10:23 participation is not mandatory for attendance…but do it! :)

You can rsvp on facebook for 10:23 here and brunch here. See you there!

BS Brunch: There Will Be Eggs

Posted on : 10-08-2010 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post, Event, skepticism


Hey guys, come join us for this month’s brunch! We had great attendance last time, but let’s do even better this time! The Living Room has delicious food and an impressive list of mimosas (as well as some bloody Mary varieties) so you should definitely be there. See you at 11 am on Sunday, August 22nd (101 Atlantic Avenue in the North End).

If you are on Facebook, don’t forget to RSVP on our event page!

Video: Travis Roy – July 26th, 2010

Posted on : 31-07-2010 | By : maggie | In : skepticism, Skeptics in the Pub, video


Travis Roy of Granite State Skeptics talked a bit about skeptical activism and also demonstrated how the Power Balance bracelet, and other trinkets like it, is far better at relieving you of your money than anything else. Turnout was lovely and we had several new faces in the audience. Welcome!

BSitP July 26th, 2010 – Travis Roy “Skeptical Activism” from Maggie McFee on Vimeo.

Last Minute: Go see Creation!

Posted on : 14-01-2010 | By : Jared | In : Event, skepticism

Tags: , , ,


(NB: Dont forget to RSVP here or on Facebook for this Saturday’s BS Brunch!)

Hey gang,

Late update, but we’ve just heard about an event you might find interesting. Creation, a new movie about Charles Darwin and his personal struggle with faith in the light of reason, is playing in an advanced screening TONIGHT! The film is based on a book by Randal Keynes, Darwin’s great-great-grandson, and stars Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly as Charles and Emma Darwin. Over at the JREF Swift Blog, Jeff Wagg has some information:

For those in the Boston area, there’s an **advance** screening on January 14, 7pm, at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge. The Q&A panel includes author Randal Keynes, and professors Thomas Glick and Jon Roberts of Boston University. RSVP at CreationBoston@43kix.com

RSVP to that email address if you’re planning to go, and be sure to RSVP on Facebook or leave a comment here in case any other Boston Skeptics want to meet you there! And if you miss the film tonight, the official release will be happening on January 22nd, so you can always catch it then.

Hat tip to SkepticScott for giving us the heads-up!

5 Minute Debunk – Ghost Lab, Tombstone AZ ‘shadow person’

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


5 minute debunkDiscovery Channel has unleashed yet another ghost chasing show into the, apparently ghost-filled, wilds of television. The supposed twist in this show is that the two leads, the brothers Klinge, have a mobile ‘lab’ and are touted as being ‘scientific’ in their methods. Boy did that notion fall apart mere minutes into the show… The only science on this show seems to be that which went into creating the gadgets they fill their mobile lab with. Gadgets they then go on to use poorly including, sadly, what’s probably the most potentially useful of all their tools and one whose properties are so very well understood, the camera.

One of the shows most excited moments involved a ‘hit’ from an image they captured during the night in Tombstone, Arizona. The image, according to their gleeful cries, contains what they call a “shadow person”. Before I go on, I want to point out something that, had truly scientific methods been employed, would have been important but, given how sloppy this was, is now only marginally interesting. That is the fact that the original shot and the recreation were done with different cameras with different focal lengths. As I said, this doesn’t matter in the end as you’ll see, but it will help you understand why the original image looks so ‘flat’ and how far away objects look so much closer. (A quick primer on focal length at Wikipedia.)

But now, let’s let the pictures do the talking (click each image to open larger version). The 5 Minute Debunk of the Ghost Lab shadow person:

What Are You Reading?

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

Tags: ,


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?

Dragon*Con 2009 Report!

Posted on : 11-09-2009 | By : Liz | In : Blog Post, skepticism



Last weekend, I attended my 4th Dragon*Con in Atlanta.  This year’s con was my first as a skeptic, and I had an amazing time with the SkepTrack!

This took surprisingly little convincing.

This took surprisingly little convincing.

In the past I have focused on the Joss Whedon-related events, so it was great to get a different experience and keep things fresh (not that Dragon*Con could ever be described as “stale”). I was very impressed with the number of Boston Skeptics I ran into during the weekend!

One part of the SkepTrack that I particularly enjoyed was the accessibility of its guests.  Sure, the stars of Firefly are very friendly (did I mention that Nathan Fillion took my picture last year?), but they are far too in demand to spend any significant amount of time chatting with one random fan.  The SkepTrack celebs, however, were more than happy to chat and take pictures (for free!) with fans.

No Really, Just Trust Us: Science Reporting & Citations

Posted on : 25-08-2009 | By : Joshua | In : Blog Post, skepticism

Tags: , , , ,


Maybe I should cut Boston Globe some slack on this, since their entire science and medicine department got sacked due to budget cuts… except that every single newspaper makes exactly this mistake, including the Boston Globe when it still had a fully-staffed science department. Wait, shit, I’m burying the lede, aren’t I? Damn, maybe those journalists are good for something after all.

You may have noticed that whenever you read a science article in a newspaper, even when they’re just quoting from a press release, journalists will almost never give the title of the study they’re talking about. If you’re lucky, they’ll give the lead author’s name or the name of the journal in which the study was published.

I can kind of see how they might justify this. After all, most academic journals are subscription-only, so most newspaper readers wouldn’t be able to look up the article if they wanted to. But, even for the pay journals, usually an abstract is available online, as it is in the case of the New England Journal of Medicine article that the linked Boston Globe story references. However, failure to give citations is less about whether Joe Average has a subscription to NEJM and more about respecting the process of science. As Ben Goldacre writes here about the media’s propensity to treat science as “absolute truth statements from arbitrary authority figures in white coats, rather than clear descriptions of studies, and the reasons why people draw conclusions from them”.

You can certainly see that at work in the Boston Globe article on vetebroplasty. The writer sets up a tired old “he said, she said” frame, pitting the arbitrary authority of “two recent studies” against the anecdotal wisdom of “many patients – and their doctors”. It’s as if the study authors just randomly decided (is that what they mean by a “randomised trial”?) one day that vertebroplasty is crap, the experience (read: anecdotes) of real-world doctors and patients be damned! Ivory tower! Arrogance!

Of course, that’s not how it works. In reality, the authors of the vertebroplasty studies wanted to figure out whether this popular procedure has any effect, so they designed an experiment to figure it out. (I just picked one study I found in NEJM that was published this month. I have no idea whether it’s either of the studies Boston Globe is talking about, since they didn’t give the article titles, so I just have to assume it is. This is why the titles are fucking important to know.) As per the academic gold standard of the Randomised Controlled Trial, they collected volunteers to undergo either a sham surgery (the controlled part) or the real deal, selected at random (the random part). It’s unclear whether the surgeons were blinded, but that’s usually difficult to do with surgery.

The results? “Improvements in pain and pain-related disability associated with osteoporotic compression fractures in patients treated with vertebroplasty were similar to the improvements in a control group.” This is something we typically see, a non-significant difference between the treatment and the placebo drug or sham procedure. The abstract even includes exact numbers, for those with the statistical knowledge to interpret them.

An obvious criticism leaps out at me: the study has a sample size of 131, which is too small to be really conclusive. But note that this isn’t a criticism anybody makes in the Globe article. The Globe’s not interested in what the study actually says or what its actual flaws might be. It’s only interested in pitting authority versus authority, because that’s easy and doesn’t require any knowledge of the subject area or tedious investigation.

But, hey, it’s not for us plebes to go questioning authorities like academic medical researchers or some doctors or newspaper writers. Just sit back, relax, and take their word for it.