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Sarah Foxen

When?
Tuesday, May 31 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Sarah Foxen

What's the talk about?

Every day, we hear claims about what is good for our health, bad for the environment, how to improve education, cut crime, and treat disease. Some are based on reliable evidence and scientific rigour. Many are not.  These claims can't be regulated; every time one is debunked another pops up – like a game of whack-a-mole. So how can we make companies, politicians, commentators and official bodies accountable for the claims they make? If they want us to vote for them, believe them, or buy their products, then we should ask them for evidence, as consumers, patients, voters and citizens.

The Ask for Evidence campaign has seen people ask a retail chain for the evidence behind its MRSA resistant pyjamas; ask a juice bar for the evidence behind wheatgrass detox claims; ask the health department about rules for Viagra prescriptions; ask for the studies behind treatments for Crohn's disease, and hundreds more. As a result, claims are being withdrawn and bodies held to account.

This is geeks, working with the public, to park their tanks on the lawn of those who seek to influence us. And it's starting to work. Come and hear what the campaign is going to do next and how you can get involved.

Updates from the front line

Gregory Ashton

When?
Tuesday, March 29 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Gregory Ashton

What's the talk about?

Late in 1915 Einstein presented the final form of his theory of gravity: General Relativity. This description of nature has so far stood the test of countless rigorous tests and has led to many new insights from exotic black-holes to the shape of the universe itself.  Not long after its publication, in 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational-waves, small ripples in the fabric of spacetime itself. At that time Einstein expected that these would be so small as to remain undetectable. However, advances in technology and our understanding of astrophysics have led many to believe that, on this at least, Einstein was wrong. This motivated the establishment of an international effort, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration,  to detect gravitational waves.

In this talk Greg will discuss the historical significance or Einstein's General Relativity, the relevance of gravitational waves and their potential and describe the current status of the LIGO/Virgo detectors.

Greg Ashton is in the final stages of completing a PhD in General Relativity at the University of Southampton where he studies neutron stars, the compact objects left over after some super-novae events. He is a member of the LIGO/Virgo collaboration, a group of scientists seeking to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves, use them to explore the fundamental physics of gravity, and develop the emerging field of gravitational wave science as a tool of astronomical discovery

No Talk Tonight

When?
Tuesday, February 23 2016 at 7:00PM

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Where?

Who?

What's the talk about?

 We've have to postpone tonights talk until 14th June.

Ethics Beyond Belief

Dr David Webster

When?
Tuesday, January 26 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Dr David Webster

What's the talk about?

David Webster says: "I keep buying books. Books about belief, God, atheism and ethics. But they just waste my time. They're full of fine-grained detail, but you can discern the author's position by the end of a page. They're going to massage evidence to fit their tedious thesis. I opened a range of these books today, lurking in a damp Gloucester with a few hours to kill. They made me feel like a loser. An idiot by association. To be affiliated with the world of contemporary, popular, writing about religion or atheism seems to be implicated in a circus of screeching stupidity."

In this talk, David will ask us to leave The Circle of Stupid, ask ourselves what might actually matter and how we might go about working out real questions about ethics without recourse to metaphysical squabbling.

Dr Webster teaches Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at the University of Gloucestershire, has worked for various Universities, and has studied Philosophy, Hinduism and Buddhist thought at Sunderland Polytechnic (and later when it was a University) and at Newcastle University. In addition to scholarly works on Buddhism and desire, the nature of belief, and other topics in Buddhist studies and the Philosophy of Religion, David has also written about the blues, and death in religions. 
He also blogs at www.philosvids.wordpress.com and at dispirited.org 

 

(Note: we'll be in the back bar in the Copa this month and not upstairs in the function room)

An Unofficial History of the Soviet Space Programme

Micky Lachmann

When?
Tuesday, November 24 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Micky Lachmann

What's the talk about?

When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969 - the Americans entered history as the winners of the Space Race. This isn't their story.

Micky Lachmann is going to talk about their competitors the Soviets, and how they managed to beat the Americans to almost every milestone in Space.

It's a story we don't know very well - the Soviets operated under a shroud of almost total secrecy. But some of the early cosmonauts are still alive and have incredible and often terrifying stories to tell. So this is also an account of going to Russia and trying to find these amazing - and mostly bad tempered - men and women.

Micky studied Natural Sciences and then dropped out of a PhD in tropical fish behaviour to work in science journalism. Over 15 years at the BBC he has worked on - among other things - Walking with Beasts, many Horizon's and is partly responsible for bringing Brian Cox to our screens - for which he is very sorry.

Who can predict the future, and how?

Michael Story

When?
Tuesday, September 29 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

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.

 

"Just for Graphs"

Festival of the Spoken Nerd

When?
Thursday, September 24 2015 at 8:00PM

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Where?

Parabola Arts Centre
Parabola Road
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
GL50 3AA

Who?
Festival of the Spoken Nerd

What's the talk about?

Our friends and former SitP Speakers from the Festival of the Spoken Nerd are back at Cheltenham Town Hall with their new show "Just for Graphs". We thought it would be nice to have a social event including a trip there and a meet up afterwards for drinks etc..

Details of the show are at:

http://www.cheltenhamtownhall.org.uk/event/festival-of-the-spoken-nerd-92354/

Note: this is not a Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub Event, so please arrange your own tickets and we'll see you there.

Iszi Lawrence

When?
Tuesday, July 28 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Iszi Lawrence

What's the talk about?

Skeptic, comedian and voice of the Skeptics Guide To The Universe, Iszi Lawrence is out to delight and inform with her new show The Z List Dead List. The Z List Dead List is a live comedy show about obscure people from History. As a skeptic, Iszi has found a few people from the past that will pique your interest.

Expect woo, violence, sex and death. And a competition.

The show is also a podcast with guest interviews from Jon Ronson, Griff Rhys Jones, Natalie Haynes, Neil Denny, Richard Herring etc. You can find it on iTunes or from www.zlistdeadlist.com

Peter Reynolds

When?
Tuesday, May 26 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Peter Reynolds

What's the talk about?

Peter Reynolds is the leader of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform - the largest, membership-based drug policy lobby group in Britain. CLEAR campaigns for an end to the prohibition of cannabis, most urgently for those who need it as medicine. Peter will explain the background to cannabis prohibition, the latest scientific and medical research and the reality of going head to head with the Daily Mail, the Home Office and those who still promote "Reefer Madness" propaganda.

 

Rob Bailey

When?
Tuesday, April 28 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Rob Bailey

What's the talk about?

Rob Bailey is a Chartered Psychologist, a member of the Magic Circle and a veteran of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where, for 4 years he performed a one-man show as a ‘mind reader’. During that time, he felt increasing unease that although the show was meant to parody psychic powers and encourage critical thinking, he has risked replacing the audience’s beliefs in the paranormal with unwarranted beliefs in impossible psychological powers.

His new show is a response to that: Rob has stripped his routines back to include only genuine psychological principles. He will perform a few routines, followed by explanations (e.g. quirks of bias, memory and perception).

Exclusively for the Skeptics in the Pub audience, he will also discuss his thoughts about the pitfalls of attempting to promote critical thinking by using illusions.

Note: there is some refurbishment going on in the Copa - but we're still there in the upstairs function room.You have to use the back bar entrance (county Court Lane, just off the Promenade between Costa and Jones bootmaker) - if that's confusing, try the entrance you usually use - if it's not open, try the other one...

Ongoing Adventures in the World of Pseudoscience

Michael Marshall

When?
Tuesday, March 31 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Michael Marshall

What's the talk about?

It’s easy to think of pseudoscience existing in a glass case at a museum – something to be examined and critiqued from a safe distance, but not something to touch and to play with. Using examples taken from his own personal experiences in skepticism, Michael Marshall will show what happens when you begin to crack the surface of the pseudosciences that surround us – revealing the surprising, sometimes shocking, and often comic, adventures that lie beneath.

Michael Marshall is the Vice-President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and Project Director of the Good Thinking Society. He regularly speaks with proponents of pseudoscience for the Be Reasonable podcast. His work with the MSS has seen him organising international homeopathy protests and co-founding the popular QED conference. He has written for the Guardian, The Times and New Statesman.

The rise and fall of sexual freedom in the UK

Jerry Barnett

When?
Tuesday, February 24 2015 at 7:30PM

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Where?

66 Regent Street
Cheltenham
GL50 1HA

Who?
Jerry Barnett

What's the talk about?

Sex is, and will always be, the most controversial subject of them all: we are hard-wired to have strong feelings - both positive and negative - on the subject. Likewise, sexual expression has always stirred up controversy. History can be seen as a repeated cycle; each advance in communications technology (from early sculpture to the Internet) has spurred an explosion of sexual freedom, and explicit sexual expression. Each burst of sexual freedom has, in turn, inevitably led to an anti-sex backlash, and a suppression of earlier sexual artwork. Following peaks of sexual freedom in the 1960s and 1990s, the past decade has been characterised by increasing social conservatism, a rise in censorship activity, and rising intolerance of nudity, erotica and sexual expression, including pornography.

Pornography has been increasingly widely available over the past half-century. Once a preserve of the wealthy, technology has made it ever easier to make and access. Following the sexual revolution of the 1960s, porn became ever more available and acceptable in the United States and much of Europe. The UK authorities, however, have done their best to keep it away from the public, and have built a formidable censorship infrastructure. The Internet broke censorship controls and brought porn to the British masses, but now an alliance of interests - including anti-sex feminists, well-paid regulators and authoritarian state interests - are attempting to reverse the trend. We are entering an era where state censorship is becoming the norm, justified by the "threat" of pornography.

And yet, despite decades of anti-porn activism, strong evidence that sexual expression causes harm is still not forthcoming. Instead, a series of increasingly strident moral panics have arisen to create the conditions for censorship. A new language has arisen, of "objectification", "sexualisation" and "pornification", designed to strike fear into the hearts of parents and lawmakers. Small anti-sex groups, with media help, have successfully created a series of front campaigns, targeting porn, strip clubs, lads mags, Page 3, and even music videos.

This talk will examine the state of British censorship over recent decades, the evidence for and against harm, and the arguments used to justify censorship of sexual expression.

Jerry Barnett is a technologist (former software engineer and consultant) who first accessed the Internet in the 1980s, and stumbled across Internet porn about 10 minutes after that. In the mid-90s, bored of corporate life, he founded a web software company. Among his early clients was a pornographer, and he thus became involved in the very early stages of the online porn industry. Over the past decade he has become increasingly concerned about the drive towards censorship, fuelled by anti-sex moral panics, and has become increasingly involved in anti-censorship activism. In 2013, he founded the Sex & Censorship campaign. He is writing Porn Panic, a history of online pornography and British censorship. He is also a photographer, avid traveller to Africa and lifelong science geek.