Sunday 26 April 2015

Open Mic Night - May 27th 2015

It's our fantastic open mic night and we've got five brave volunteers who have come forward for your education and edification. You can find details of them and their talks below. This is a really enjoyable event and takes the place of our monthly social, but we will be hanging around for a drink  or two afterwards.

We start at 7.30pm and each speaker gets 15 minutes. It'd be great to see you there and you can let us know you're coming on Facebook  if you use that  social medium.

Why Internet Dating Doesn’t Work – Dr Martin Graff

Romantic relationships play a huge part in our physical, social and emotional well-being.  Successful relationships promote better health and even aid in faster recovery from illnesses.   Not surprisingly, most of us seek to find a romantic relationship.  However, should we resort to online dating to find this?  Drawing on psychological research, this talk focuses on seven reasons why we shouldn’t.  Some of the principal considerations are that we make bad decisions in online dating and people are certainly not what they seem to be meaning that such a matching system is not a good predictor for the sustainability of relationships in a face-to-face context.
Dr Martin Graff is Reader and Head of Research in Psychology at the University of South Wales.  He is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Chartered Psychologist.  Over the years he has carried out research in the areas of cognitive processes in web-based learning, individual differences in website navigation, online interaction and the formation and dissolution of romantic relationships online and offline.  He has also carried out research in the areas of online persuasion, and online disinhibition, and has supervised several doctoral degrees in this area.

From Richard Dawkins to Freud’s Death Instinct - Mike Waller

Dawkins says we are exquisitely refined organisms whose evolutionary function is to transmit copies of our genes. In this context, the evolutionary persistence of depression seems to make no sense. Apart from its psychological effects, it is heavily implicated in many life-threatening behaviours and illnesses. In "Family stigma, sexual selection and the evolutionary origins of severe depression's physiological consequences" (JSECP, 2010,4(2): 94-114) I build on Hamilton's suggestion that a badly impaired embryo might be "programmed" to self-eliminate if its condition would impede the aggregated reproductive prospects of its kin.

Stockbreeders know that family merit is the best guide to successful breeding, a reality unlikely to have been missed by natural selection. If so, individuals perceived as performing relatively badly in respect of close kin might well impose (by way of impaired family reputation) a reproductive penalty on their kin group well in excess of their own potential gene throughput. Here too, deeply unpleasant though the idea is, self-elimination would make sound evolutionary sense. With WHO identifying depression as the illness that, globally, causes most disability, I believe this an idea that should be full explored as a key guide to treatment. 

Mike Waller has had an interesting and varied academic and professional career studying government, management and psychology. A fully paid up Dawkinsite he became interested in the problem of depression. His peer reviewed paper on this subject was published in the Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology (4(2): 94-114) in 2010.

Skeptical about Drug Laws – Phil Walsh

There are a plethora of instances where science is absent when it comes to so called medicines and treatments for a variety of ailments – from homeopathy to bogus cancer treatments which can actually cause harm.....but what about when science is absent from the laws which govern the progress of medicine? This is worthy of equal scrutiny and in this short presentation I hope to give a brief review of the problems encountered when trying to perform research with certain compounds and highlight some which show great potential for therapeutic use but are hindered by the issues described.

Phil Walsh is 31 years old and holds an honours degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and a master’s degree in clinical biochemistry. He has been working in research and development within the immunodiagnostics industry for the past 9 years. His other interests are based in neuroscience, psychology and an unhealthy penchant for podcasts.

The Great Porn Phallusies - Rachel

Rachel is a regular consumer and occasional creator of pornography; she became excited when she realised that the field of pornography was an apparently untapped well of pseudoscience and logical fallacies. Tonight she intends to celebrate naughtiness, challenge assumptions, and look at the facts behind what 'everybody knows' about porn

Rachel says that there will be no explicit images in this talk although there may be some page 3 type content. It will also include some frank discussions of porn, sex, sexual assault, drugs, addiction, and use of adult language.

Skeptical Activism: Why and how to get involved - Richard Sutherland

From naive atheism at age 8, Richard became aware of the skeptical community and movement around 2005 via discovering the James Randi Educational Foundation site and forum, as well as the now defunct UK Skeptics forum. He was then inspired to get involved in campaigning, initially targeting 'psychics such as Gary Mannion the 'psychic' healer. This included getting BBC Children in Need to withdraw support from an event he was attending, and being interviewed for a BBC documentary on Mannion. He subsequently carried out an email campaign to theatres hosting 'psychic' shows making sure that many who did not already started to incorporate disclaimers on publicity material. 

In 2008, alerted by a JREF Million Dollar Challenge, Richard started a UK campaign against the sellers of fake bomb detectors, which contributed to media coverage of the issue, and played a minute part in the perpetrators finally being brought to Justice some 5 years later, and seeing 3 of 5 jailed, and one receiving a suspended sentence. 

He started attending Birmingham SitP in 2012

Friday 24 April 2015

Astrology is Balls

On 17th April on Radio 4's satirical programme “The Vote Now Show” Jon Holmes presented a pre-recorded piece with the aim of seeing if he could find anyone to predict the result of the forthcoming UK General Election.

He first visited the polling company YouGov followed by David Cowling, Editor, BBC Political Research. Neither could give definitive answers.

He then visited, well, let Jon take up the story... [Transcription below]

So, to recap,

1       The job of an astrologer is to keep him/herself popular by making positive predictions which everybody likes the sound of;

2       Astrologers can be very successful if their predictions are so vague that you could read anything you wanted into them;

3       If they are sufficiently vague they can never get into trouble;

4       Being vague is something astrologers should be proud of;

5       Astrology is balls.

You can catch the full episode on BBC Radio 4 Extra for the next few days and on the iPlayer for the next three weeks here.


JH     The polls can't tell me, he can't tell me. Where next? The next logical step, of course. Time to meet Jonathan Cainer the astrologer from the Daily Mail

JC     Of course the trouble predicting an election or the outcome of any competitive sport or activity is that you deeply upset the people who'd rather wish that the event went the other way.

JH     Yes, I suppose you do but that's part of the job though isn't it so you've got to, um...

JC     Not really

JH     Oh

JC     The thing is you... The job of an astrologer is to keep yourself popular by making positive predictions which everybody likes the sound of. If I were to stick my neck out and predict the result of this election not only would I upset all the people who didn't want that to be the result but at the same time I'd lay myself open to terrible mockery should I turn out to be wrong.

JH     But again, isn't that part of the risk of your job anyway?

JC     Not if you can avoid it, I mean Nostradamus made a very successful career out of giving his predictions in cryptic French and Latin puzzles and therefore anyone could interpret anything into (sic) and so he was always right when you wanted him to be right and never got into trouble for saying anything which you could hold him to account for.

JH      Which is basically saying astrology is balls and so I just say what I think people will like. But on your behalf I persisted.

JH      So the answer is that you can't predict the outcome of the General Election

JC      Astrologers have a long, proud tradition of being vague wherever possible and I would be absolutely insane to stick my neck on the line for it.

JH      But look, I wasn't going to give up right 'cause he's got mystical powers, so I asked him again outright, “Who is going to win the Election?”

JC      I'm trying to steer as clear as I can of answering that question.

JH      I can tell that, yep. What's the... I'm Taurus

JC      Are you?

JH      So what's the... what am I typically? What are typical Taurean...

JC      To be a Taurean is to be tenacious; it's to be very fond of...

JH      Asking questions that people don't want to answer?

JC      Absolutely, you wouldn't give up. So this could be a long interview.

JH      It wasn't because I've stopped him there. You know, fat lot of help that was; we're still no closer.

Posted by @christheneck