23rd November 2016: Kat Arney – Herding Hemingway’s Cats: How Do Our Genes Work?

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The language of genes has become common in the media. We know they make your eyes blue, our hair curly or your nose straight. We’re told that genes control the risk of cancer, heart disease, alcoholism or Alzheimer’s. The cost of DNA sequencing has plummeted from billions of pounds to a few hundred, and gene-based advances in medicine hold huge promise.

There are 2.2 metres of DNA inside every one of your cells, encoding roughly 20,000 genes. These are the ‘recipes’ that tell our cells how to make the building blocks of life, along with all the control switches ensuring they’re turned on and off at the right time and in the right place. But rather than a static string of genetic code, this is a dynamic, writhing biological library. With the help of cats with thumbs, fish with hips and wobbly worms, Kat will unpack some of the mysteries in our DNA and explain the latest thinking about how our genes work.

DOORS: 19:00
START: 19:30
Admission is FREE and there will be a collection during the interval (suggested donation £3-5).
Venue: Smoke and Mirrors

Dr Kat Arney is a science writer and broadcaster whose work has featured on BBC Radio 4, the Naked Scientists and more. She has just published her first book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats (Bloomsbury Sigma), about how our genes work.

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17th February 2016: Credulity on YouTube

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In the age of the Internet, anyone can make their voice heard. Any while that can be great for skeptical outreach and introducing people to the idea of skepticism, there is also a darker, less rational side to the Internet.

Last year we screened a selection of funny and informative skeptical video from YouTube, as suggested by the audience. This year we’ll be doing something similar but with non-skeptical, anti-science, or pro-pseudoscience videos. Alongside the viewing we’ll be holding a discussion on the videos, and YouTube in general.

Come down to Smoke and Mirrors bar from 20:30 to join in the discussion and watch some videos on the big screen.

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Video submission:

The whole evening will be based around submissions from the audience and anyone who wants to share a video they think others would like to watch.

You can submit videos by:

START: 20:30
Venue: Smoke and Mirrors

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Defining Skepticism

What is Skepticism? That’s a big question with a complicated answer – as anyone who has tried to explain the concept to someone unfamiliar with the term can attest – and arguably beyond the scope of a short blog post.

Ask ten different people and you’ll likely get ten different answers. One reason for this is that while Skepticism seems like it should have a hard definition, it actually has several depending on the context. When I refer to Skepticism I’m thinking of Scientific Skepticism or Skeptical Inquiry, however that may not be the case for everyone.

I liken the word ‘skeptical’ to the word ‘theory’, in that while ‘theory’ has a defined scientific meaning, it is used by the proverbial man-on-the-street to mean something else; something less concrete. Evolution is “just a theory!” Creationists often cry. “So is Gravity” we reply, our tongues in our cheeks and our feet on the ground. Likewise ‘being skeptical’, in my mind, means using critical thinking and evidence to evaluate claims, whereas to that same man, it is often equated with cynicism and nay-saying. Or worse, with Climate “Sceptics” and conspiracy nuts.

The Skeptic here is at a disadvantage as there is no agreed ‘scientific’ meaning for the term. In fact if you go hunting for one, you’ll often find it can mean the opposite to what you were expecting. Philosophical Skepticism for example, in a nutshell, is the belief that certainty of knowledge is impossible. This is at odds with the idea that you can obtain empirical knowledge through observation and experiment; the scientific method.

For better or for worse, we shan’t see a change anytime soon. It is up to each self-identifying Skeptic to determine which definition suits them, and the word ‘Skeptic’ will continue to have as many meanings as there are Skeptics; if only because ‘Empiricists in the Pub’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

-James
@jlennoxg