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Professor Chris French

When?
Wednesday, March 15 2017 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Professor Chris French

What's the talk about?

In the context of the current huge increase in historical sexual abuse allegations, it is instructive to consider the Satanic panic that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.  Many of the beliefs that fuelled that wave of hysteria are not supported by any convincing empirical evidence.  The evidence put forward to support the claim that Satanic abuse was real and widespread came from two equally dubious sources: children interrogated using inappropriate highly suggestive questioning and memories ostensibly “recovered” from adults during therapy.  There is no physical forensic evidence to support the existence of Satanic ritual abuse.  The truth is that victims of sexual abuse are far more likely to remember being abused than to repress such memories.

Professor Chris French is Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London.  He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as well as being a Patron of the British Humanist Association. He is a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society.  He has published over 150 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. His main area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences.  He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims, as well as writing for the Guardian and The Skeptic magazine which, for more than a decade, he also edited. His most recent books are Why Statues Weep: The Best of The Skeptic, co-edited with Wendy Grossman (2010, Philosophy Press), Anomalistic Psychology, co-authored with Nicola Holt, Christine Simmonds-Moore, and David Luke (2012, Palgrave Macmillan), and Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience, co-authored with Anna Stone (2014, Palgrave Macmillan). Follow him on Twitter: @chriscfrench

Chris was also our first speaker at Gravesend Skeptics, giving his talk on 'Weird Science'.  Not only did he help to get the group started but he has supported both Skeptics and the SAM group for the youngsters ever since.

Dr Lynne Kelly

When?
Thursday, March 2 2017 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Dr Lynne Kelly

What's the talk about?

Without writing, indigenous elders memorised a vast amount of factual information on which survival depended both physically and culturally: knowledge of thousands of animals and plants, astronomical charts, vast navigation networks, genealogies, geography and geology … the list goes on and on. How did they remember so much? And why does this explain the purpose of ancient monuments including Stonehenge, Easter Island and the Nasca Lines? Can we use these memory methods in contemporary life?

This lecture will focus on the transmission of scientific and practical knowledge among small-scale oral cultures across the world, drawing on Australian Aboriginal, Native American, African and Pacific cultures. Dr Kelly will explain the exact mechanisms used and why this explains the purpose of many enigmatic monuments around the world. We have a great deal to learn from the extraordinary mnemonic skills of indigenous cultures.

Dr Kelly lives and works in Australia but is in the UK for a book launch.  Michael Marshall (Good Thinking Society, Gravesend speaker July 2015) heard her when he was in Australia and knowing that she was coming to London kindly asked if she would visit No.84.  This event is in addition to the usual third Wednesday in the month Skeptics, details of which are still at the pending stage.

What happened when we tried to correct the record on 58 misreported clinical trials

Henry Drysdale

When?
Wednesday, February 15 2017 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Henry Drysdale

What's the talk about?

For 6 weeks in late 2015, the COMPare team monitored every clinical trial published in the top 5 medical journals for “outcome switching”: when trialists report something different from what they originally said they would report. Of 67 trials assessed, 58 (87%) were found to contain discrepancies between prespecified intention and reported outcomes.

Outcome switching is already known to be extremely common, even in top medical journals. But COMPare went one step further: they wrote a letter to the journal for all 58 trials found to contain discrepancies; to correct the record on the individual trials, and to test the “self-correcting” properties of science.

The responses to these letters from journal editors and trial authors were unprecedented, and shed light on the reasons why this problem persists. The aim of COMPare was to fix outcome switching, through correction letters and open discussion. They never expected the levels of misunderstanding and bias at the heart of the issue.

Based at the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, COMPare is made up of three senior researchers, 5 graduate-entry medical students, and a programmer. The project was born when one medical student came to the department in search of a project. The idea of monitoring the outcomes in clinical trials was made possible by 4 more medical students, who were recruited to make the vast amount of analysis possible. All assessments are reviewed by senior colleagues, and decisions made at weekly team meetings. There is no specific funding for COMPare: all the students work for free, driven by the desire and opportunity to fix a broken system.

Visit the COMPare website (COMPare-trials.org) for more details about their team, methods, results and blog.

Dr Erica McAlister

When?
Wednesday, January 18 2017 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Dr Erica McAlister

What's the talk about?

Why do we need flies?  Well for many reasons from the disposal of dead bodies to our continued enjoyment of chocolate.

Dr McAlister is the Collections Manager for Diptera, Siphonaptera, Archnida and Myriapoda at the National History Museum and oversees a collection of between 3-4 million specimens.  Her specific interests lie within Diptera (true flies), Asilidae (robber or assassin flies) and Mycetophilidae (small flies including gnats).  Her mission is to make us all feel differently about flies - and if you're sceptical about that then come and hear why you might change your mind.

Dr McAlister has been involved in a range of international projects where her expertise is helping with research work involving the mosquito, pollinators and viruses.  Additonally she is very much involved in Public engagement both within the museum and externally.  Externally she has presented a Radio 4 series on Insects (Who's the Pest) as well as appearing in many others (Radio 3, 4 and BBCLondon). She presents talks to Natural History Societies, gives talks for Cafe Scientific, Pub Science and has presented a Summer Lecture for the Royal Society.  She has also participated in Ugly Animals, Science Showoff and Museum Showoff.

 

Were we too busy weighing the pig to feed it?

Dr John Gogarty

When?
Wednesday, December 21 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Dr John Gogarty

What's the talk about?

Assessment has become a key word in education but there are concerns that we've fallen into the same trap as the pig farmer, "who was so busy weighing the pig that its feeding was forgotten".   It's also something that Dr John Gogarty has been involved with over the last three decades.

At this event he will give a personal view of assessment and examination over the last 30 years.

 

Kevin Precious

When?
Wednesday, November 16 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Kevin Precious

What's the talk about?

Kevin Precious is a former RE teacher turned stand-up comedian and promoter.  Besides having played many of the top clubs in the land, he also promotes shows in arts centres and theatres under the Barnstormers Comedy banner. He has previously toured the country with a stand-up show entitled 'Not Appropriate', dedicated to the business of teaching.

In between the various comedic activites, he attends his local humanist group - he's an agnostic, folks - where he loves a good old debate about the big questions in life.  Expect jokes and stories then, about his time as an RE teacher, being a humanist, the God-Shaped Hole, and the philosophy of religion... and you can ask him a few questions of your own afterwards, if you wish.

Professor Chris Rhodes

When?
Wednesday, October 19 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Professor Chris Rhodes

What's the talk about?

Across the world, 30 billion barrels of crude oil are produced each year, not only for fuel but to make products ranging from plastics to pharmaceuticals. Nearly all our food production also depends on oil.

However, global existing production of crude oil is in decline by 5% per year, meaning that a compensating equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia must be brought on-stream every 3—4 years. Most of this “new oil” is expected to come from more challenging, unconventional sources, which include fracking shale, deepwater drilling, heavy oil, and tar sands. Within 10 years, it may not be possible to sustain the global supply of oil at present levels. Hence, if we continue as we are, Western civilisation will collapse. Our salvation requires a re-adaptation of how we live, from the global to the local; to a world of small communities far less dependent on transportation. Technology will not save us, unless we cut our energy use and particularly our demand for oil.

Professor Chris Rhodes is Director of Fresh-lands Environmental Actions and is based in Reading. He has written numerous scientific articles and recently published his first novel, University Shambles, a black comedy on the disintegration of the British university system.
 

Why would a former drugs cop want to legalise all drugs?

Neil Woods

When?
Wednesday, September 21 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Neil Woods

What's the talk about?

Ever wanted to know what it’s really like being an undercover drugs detective? Our culture seems to be obsessed with police, drugs, and the underworld - with films and television programmes like The Wire, Trainspotting, Breaking Bad, is the reality any different from fiction?

Neil Woods was a police officer for 23 years, 14 of which were spent undercover. When your day job is spent buying heroin and chasing the most hardened gangsters, can you ever truly switch off from such a life?

With a career spent on the streets, dealing with those who suffer with addiction, what drives a former drugs cop to change his stance and join an organisation comprised of police, MI5, military, and civilians, all of whom campaign to fully reform our drug laws; Neil Woods is Chairman of LEAP UK – Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

His memoir, Good Cop, Bad War, is released mid-August 2016 - it has also been serialised in the Mail on Sunday. Neil is a regular media contributor, featuring on Vice, BBC, Channel 5, he has become a powerful voice in the pursuit of evidence-based drug policy.

An Introduction to Discovering Japan Beyond the Clichés

Rob Dyer

When?
Wednesday, August 17 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Rob Dyer

What's the talk about?

Have you ever considered going to Japan for a holiday? Perhaps... perhaps not.

Even for those who have, there can appear to be many barriers, some so challenging that they simply never make the trip. But could it be that we have been fed such a narrow view of the country that we're simply unaware of what lies beyond the clichés we see in the popular media?

Did you know that Japan is made of up of more than 6,800 islands?

Islands like the northern most island of Hokkaido, where you can join ice breaker ships exploring the remote ice floes beneath Siberia. The largest island Honshu, where bears, monkeys and boar still roam wild in the Japanese Alps. Or the sub-tropical southern island of Okinawa, with its crystal clear seas and pure white sand beaches – perfect for diving and sun worshipping.

This talk will look at the question “What is the real Japan?”, challenge some myths and common misconceptions, and offer some surprising insights that will open your mind to the wealth of possibilities for travelling throughout this geographically diverse, culturally rich and ancient country.

Japanese tea will be available for all attendees.

Rob Dyer is a writer, publisher and specialist in business development, strategy and intellectual property.  He founded publishing company dsomedia in 1988.

He has been exploring Japan for nearly twenty years, and shares his passion and adventures via his website www.therealjapan.com.

Who can predict the future, and how?

Michael Story

When?
Wednesday, July 20 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Michael Story

What's the talk about?

Since 2011, a team of 200 civilians has been predicting the future more accurately than US intelligence agencies. Formed five years ago under the auspices of IARPA (the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, informally known as 'DARPA for spies'), the Good Judgement Project's 'Superforecaster' teams have been forecasting the specifics of North Korean missile programmes, the movement of Russian troops and the longevity of Robert Mugabe, achieving a 50% lower error rate than the previous state of the art.

This talk will cover who makes these forecasts, how they are doing it, and some techniques shown to make nearly anyone more accurate when predicting the future.
 
Michael Story is a policy researcher and Superforecaster with the Good Judgement Project.  Find out more at michaelwstory.com/

Ash Pryce

When?
Wednesday, June 15 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Ash Pryce

What's the talk about?

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up! Gather ye round the travelling caravan, as Snake Oil Salesman Ash Pryce demonstrates the miraculous curative abilities of psychic surgery, taught to your humble trickster by a wise man in the Philippines (or a magicians' tool book, whichever sounds more wondrous). See with amazement the telekinetic forces at work as you learn how to move objects with your mind, psychically manipulate your finest silverware and read the minds of your peers.  Or maybe, it’s all just a trick??

Whereas the sister show How to Talk to the Dead looked specifically at spirit communication in the past, How to be a Psychic Conman will look at the more incredible, magical side of psychic claims that persist today. The types of demonstrations that blur the line between the honest deception of magic, and the dishonesty of those hoping to make a quick buck out of your deep rooted beliefs.

The show will involve demonstrations and explanations of telekinesis tricks, metal bending, psychic surgery and remote viewing as well as look at government funded research into psychic phenomena, and the shoddy protocols that allowed “psychics” to beat the legendary Zener card experiments in the 1930s.

And if that wasn’t enough, interspersed throughout the show will be numerous on stage demonstrations of mentalism to add an extra layer of entertainment to the proceedings.

Warning to those on the front row… there will be blood!

There's more about Ash at ashpryce.co.uk/

Alan Henness and Liam Shaw

When?
Wednesday, May 18 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

84 Parrock Road
Gravesend
Kent
DA12 1QF

Who?
Alan Henness and Liam Shaw

What's the talk about?

It is one thing to be aware that in the public domain there may be much misleading evidence presented but another to do something about it.  Two organisations that are working hard to identify and correct such problems are the Nightingale Collaboration and Sense About Science.

Tonight two speakers - Alan Henness, of the Nightingale Collaboration, and Liam Shaw, representing Sense About Science - talk about their work, what they have achieved, why they are needed more than ever and their future plans. They will compare notes on their biggest challenges, on areas of bad thinking that have become less prevalent and those that have become more commonplace in the last few years.

Alan Henness is Director of the Nightingale Collaboration, set up by Simon Singh to challenge misleading healthcare claims. A serial complainer, he has been active for more than a decade in challenging advertising claims made by chiropractors, homeopaths, acupuncturists etc and getting the relevant regulators to do what they are supposed to do: protect the public from misleading claims.

Liam Shaw is part of the 'Sense About Science' Voice of Young Science network a thriving community of early career researchers, engineers, scientists and medics who stand up for science by giving talks, writing articles and blogs and engaging with the public.

For more about the two organisations visit http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org and http://www.senseaboutscience.org