27th September 2017 – Ian Ridpath: UFOs – Fact or Fantasy?

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According to one estimate, around 100 UFOs are sighted worldwide every 24 hours – that’s one every 15 minutes. What’s causing all these reports? Are they, as believers claim, evidence that we are being visited by aliens from other planets? Or is there a more prosaic explanation? This hard-hitting talk by Ian Ridpath, astronomy writer and UFO sceptic, traces the growth of the flying saucer myth since the first sighting in 1947, and demonstrates some of the most common causes of UFO reports. The talk will discuss the implications of formerly top-secret government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, and will end with Ian’s first-hand account of his own research into the Rendlesham Forest incident, a major event outside a US Air Force base at Woodbridge in Suffolk, still widely regarded as among the best UFO cases ever.

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

Ian Ridpath is a writer, editor, and long-time UFO skeptic. As an amateur astronomer, he is particularly interested in the way that celestial objects are misperceived as UFOs. He is probably best known for investigating and solving the Rendlesham Forest UFO case, sometimes termed Britain’s Roswell, which will form part of his talk.

Ian Ridpath’s UFO skeptic pages:
http://www.ianridpath.com/ufo/ufoindex.htm

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23rd August 2017 – Bobby Stuijfzand: An Explosion of Data – Applications and Implications of a Data-Driven Society

Our ability to generate and use data has tremendously increased in the past few years. Data is now influencing many aspects of daily life, from tailoring your internet experience to the managing of traffic flows on smart motorways.

Data is also the key-driver behind major technological advances based on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Advances that, soon, are expected to have major effects on society as we know it (think for example about driverless cars, electronic personal assistants and the internet of things).

So, data is a powerful, promising and omnipresent force in modern day society. But this however, sits quite uncomfortably with many of us. We don’t always know where and when data is being collected, what it is being used for, and what we get back from it.   

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

During this talk, Bobby Stuijfzand will present some exciting applications of machine learning and how it might affect our lives in the near future. He will also discuss the implications of the exponential increase in data collection and usage on our society as well as our personal experience. Finally, he will consider how this increase in data collection might be viewed as a good or a bad thing on a societal and personal level.

26th July 2017 – Jonathan Pearce: How Violent is Islam Really?

This century has seen the emergence of Islam as a religion closely connected to violence and terrorism. With regrettable regularity the latest religiously inspired terror attack fills the news broadcasts around the world whether they be the work of ISIS, the Taliban, Al-Qaeda or other such group. However these events are also vociferously condemned by peaceful Islamic groups as being distinctly against the teachings of the Quran. Islam is a religion of peace and unity for many Muslim across the world.

To investigate whether violence is a part of Islam, and to what extent, Jonathan will examine in turn; the Quran, the history of the prophet of Muhammad, and modern day interpretations given by Muslims. However, regardless of his conclusion, Jonathan will consider what role political expediency plays in accepting the narrative that fundamentalists are acting outside of the religion. It may be more desirable to accept a more moderate interpretation of Islam, even if it is less accurate.

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

Jonathan is a philosopher and author of several books of philosophy and theology. He is a founding member of both Tippling Philosophers and the Skeptic Ink Network.

 

28th June 2017: Lotte Houtepen – Epigenetics in Public Health: The Stuff of Legends?

Epigenetics is one of the hottest and fastest moving fields in the life sciences. It helps us investigate how our actions and the events in our lives can have long lasting effects on our health. Because epigenetics can serve as a biological signature of our (past) environment, it can fill in gaps in our understanding of human health and disease. Which means it has an enormous potential for application in public health. However, the scientific community is still working on unlocking this potential. We first need to know what these epigenetic markers are telling us, before we can speculate on ways to ‘fix our epigenetics’.

One specific epigenetic measure that has gained prominence is called the ‘epigenetic clock’, which can be used to estimate someone’s age with pretty good accuracy. People whose epigenetic age is older than their actual chronological age, often have poorer health outcomes and may even have a shorter life expectancy.

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

Join Lotte Houtepen and Bristol Skeptics Society to discover more about the epigenetics phenomenon, and explore some of the remarkable examples of epigenetic differences in relation to public health. We hope you’ll leave with an idea of what your epigenetics can tell you about your health.

24th May 2017: Philip Moriarty – The Wow and Woo of Quantum Physics

This is the previously postponed talk from Oct 2016

There is no doubt that quantum physics embodies mind-blowing concepts that force us to question the very nature of reality.  And if there’s a contender for our current best “theory of everything” then quantum mechanics wins hands down.

But, far too often, the word “quantum” signals the worst type of vacuous pseudoscientific gobbledegook. It’s exploited by those who are entirely clueless about the underlying physics — or, worse, should know better — to evoke a misplaced mysticism about the ‘holistic’ nature of the universe. Moreover, when consciousness and quantum collide, the nonsense factor goes through the roof…

Philip Moriarty will aim to tease out the science from the mysticism and show that while quantum physics certainly has its weird and wacky aspects, it’s at heart a theory of waves. That means we can very often easily interpret what’s happening at the quantum level in terms of the everyday world around us – he’ll take a look at what coffee cups, drums, and a SlinkyTM can tell us about the broader nature of the universe (and Deepak Chopra’s place in it).

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

Philip Moriarty is a professor of physics at the University of Nottingham.

26th April 2017: Lydia Finch – Cults and Skepticism: How One Ex Jehovah’s Witness Fell Into the ‘Trap of Independent Thinking’

Lydia Finch was born and raised a Jehovah’s Witness (JW), but left the organisation at age 18 over twenty years ago.  Recently, she has directed her attention to the harmful practices of JWs and other cults, such as shunning, child abuse, and the forbidding of blood transfusions.

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

Historically the purview of atheist, secular, and humanist organisations, Ms. Finch wants to expose the workings of these cults to the scientific and skeptical communities and show why although, Jehovah’s Witnesses are considered a small fringe religion, their policies should concern the wider community.

22nd February 2017: Henry Drysdale – COMPare: What Happened When We Tried to Correct the Record on 58 Misreported Trials

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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 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.

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

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.

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