27th Feb – Prof Jim Smith – Chernobyl: Science, Myths and the Media

Nuclear power is seen by some as providing a secure source of energy with low greenhouse gas emissions. By others it is seen as dangerous, polluting and expensive. Based on his extensive experience of working on the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, Jim will discuss his research on wildlife populations in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the controversies surrounding the environmental impacts of ionising radiation.

Brief Bio

Jim Smith is Professor of Environmental Science at Portsmouth University and an expert in modelling radioactive pollution in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. He has co-ordinated four multi-national projects on the environmental consequences of the Chernobyl accident and regularly works in the Chernobyl 30-km Exclusion Zone. He is lead author of a major book on the accident: Chernobyl: Catastrophe and Consequences and authored a key opinion piece in Nature in the wake of the Fukushima accident. He is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Expert Group on the Chernobyl Cooling Pond, and has taken part in an IAEA Expert Mission to Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. Jim is currently working on the potential re-use of radioactively “contaminated” lands in Ukraine.

You can hear him on More or Less on this edition of the World Service program.

30th Jan – Dr Garfield Benjamin – Mythinformation: AI, media and trust

Fake news seems to be everywhere. Whether it’s as clickbait or politicians accusing genuine news of being fake. This talk will explore the impact and spread of fake news and the manipulation by algorithms of what we see, hear and share.

How does misinformation affect society? Are humans or bots worse at spreading misinformation?

We will look at some of the myths surrounding the current state of AI and media. Deepfakes – increasingly convincing faked videos – offer one example of how AI is being used to challenge conventional media. When everything we see online could potentially be faked, how do we re-establish trust in our platforms, news and politics? How do these problems relate to broader ethics and regulation of technology? What is the role of traditional press in a digital age? Are deepfakes something we must just live with, or should we be able to hold platforms/politicians to account?

We will explore these questions and look at new ways of rebuilding trust, ensuring our data is not misused, and creating a more positive and responsible online society.

Garfield Benjamin is a postdoctoral researcher at Solent University, where they are working on the intersection of technology and society. This includes a focus on privacy, AI, utopia and posthumanism through interdisciplinary research on social media, computer games, art, literature, philosophy and culture. Garfield previously worked for the Birmingham Centre for Cyber Security and Privacy, after gaining a PhD from the University of Wolverhampton in Digital Technology Theory and Practice, now published as the monograph ‘The Cyborg Subject‘.

12th December – Michael Marshall: Circular Reasoning: The Rise of Flat Earth Belief

In 2013, when Michael Marshall first interviewed the Vice President of the Flat Earth society for his show Be Reasonable, people could scarcely believe that anyone could genuinely think the Earth was flat. Five years later, Flat Earth belief has gone mainstream, spawning thousands of hours of YouTube videos, gaining widespread international media coverage, and attracting countless followers. How did we get here?

In this talk, Marshall will talk through his experiences of the Flat Earth movement, take a look at the leaders and some of their reasoning, and report back from the weekend he spent at the UK’s first ever Flat Earth convention.

Michael Marshall is the Project Director of the Good Thinking Society and the Vice President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. He regularly speaks with proponents of pseudoscience for the Be Reasonable podcast

His work has seen him organising international homeopathy protests, going undercover to expose psychics and quack medics, and co-founding the popular QED conference. He has written for the Guardian, The Times and New Statesman.

28th November – Dr Keith Khan-Harris – Denialism. What’s the Alternative?

Dr Keith Khan-HarrisOne of the most challenging and frustrating questions for scientists is how to combat denialism: Holocaust denial, global warming denial, anti-vaxxers, 911 conspiracism, creationism and more. Debunking denialist claims is essential – yet also rarely effective.We are now living in a world where even the most apparently basic truths are routinely contested.

In this talk, Keith Kahn-Harris, author of Denial: The Unspeakable Truth, argues that to really understand denialism, we have to face up to what he calls ‘the deniers alternative’. Denialism emerges when this alternative is so ‘unspeakable’ that denialism becomes a preferable option. In thinking about how to combat denialism, we also have to consider whether a world without it might not be a truth-filled utopia, but something even worse.

Bio

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and writer. Denial: The Unspeakable Truth is his fifth book. His badly-designed website can be found at kahn-harris.org and he tweets irregularly as @KeithKahnHarris.

31st October – Deborah Hyde – When the Spirit Moves You: a History of Poltergeists

Not content with mere visual manifestation, poltergeists are presences which interact with their environments. Making noises, hurling objects and causing levitation is sometimes just the start! This talk will go into the history of these manifestations to find a selection of clergymen, religious revolutionaries and malcontent teenagers.

About Deborah

Deborah Hyde wants to know why people believe in weird stuff. She attributes her fascination with the supernatural to having spent her childhood with mad aunties. She approaches the subject using the perspectives of psychology and history.

Here is more about her on Wikipedia.

During the day, she’s a film/TV industry coordinator/production manager who has worked in makeup effects and scenery. She also gets on the wrong side of the camera from time to time.

Deborah is the editor of The Skeptic Magazine, the UK’s only regular magazine to take a critical-thinking and evidence-based approach to pseudo-science and the paranormal. The magazine was previously edited by Professor Chris French of Goldsmiths, who stepped down after ten years to take a well-earned break in 2011.

Deborah was Co-Convenor of Westminster Skeptics and Speaker Liaison of Soho Skeptics. Soho Skeptics was an alliance of Little Atoms, The Pod Delusion, Skeptic Magazine, Skeptics in the Pub and independent writers and film-makers.

In February 2018, she was very honoured to have been elected a fellow of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.

PS Deborah has one sane auntie too.

Talks are (usually) on the last Thursday of every month, starting at 7:30, at The Discovery Centre in Winchester.  A ticket is a £5 donation on the door towards speaker expenses, and which doubles as raffle ticket for a prize.

26th September – Alex J. Oconnor – The Good Delusion

Alex J. O’Connor is a philosophical commentator and debater with over 230,000 subscribers to his videos on YouTube. A self-proclaimed atheist, Alex argues against theological apology, as well as discussing a range of philosophical topics such as the existence of free will, the nature of morality, and freedom of speech. Alex is currently reading philosophy and theology at Oxford University.

Alex J. O’Connor offers a means to ground ethics in a way that allows us to determine what people should and shouldn’t do as a matter of fact, whilst dispensing with terms like ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ The concept of good may be delusory, but ethics does not have to be.

Talks are (usually) on the last Thursday of every month, starting at 7:30, at The Discovery Centre in Winchester.  A ticket is a £5 donation on the door towards speaker expenses, and which doubles as raffle ticket for a prize.

29th August – Pixie Turner – Why Diets Don’t Work – and Other Myths About Food and Health

Our obsession with being healthy and living forever has driven us to push our bodies to the absolute limits, but still every year we’re being told how unhealthy we are as a population. Despite a wealth of information at our fingertips, there are still so many things we get wrong about food and health.

Pixie explains the reasons why diets and over exercising don’t work; the problems with eating for aesthetic goals; the science behind orthorexia, food anxieties and emotional eating, and other unhealthy habits formed by misinformation.

This will challenge our misconceptions about what is healthy, and get to the heart of it using evidence-based science.

Bio

Pixie is a nutritionist (ANutr), food blogger, and science communicator. She graduated with a First Class degree in Biochemistry, and went on to complete a Masters in Nutrition with Distinction. She is the brains behind the ‘Pixie Nutrition‘ social media accounts, which aim to infiltrate the wellness movement and debunk nutrition misinformation online. In addition, she has been featured as a nutrition expert on BBC and Channel 5. Her first book, ‘The Wellness Rebel’ was published early 2018, with her second book released March 2019.

25th July – Paul D McGarrity – A Practical Guide to Attacking Castles

A Practical Guide to attacking castles

From the age of sieges and chivalry comes a show about medieval love, adrenaline junkies and an insane quest for glory. Join comedian and archaeologist Paul Duncan McGarrity as he explains how modern life could be so much better if we all take a moment and learn how to attack a castle.

From the host of the Ask an Archaeologist podcast and live show comes another hour of hysterical historical fun. ‘A more pleasant way to pass an hour could scarcely be found’

Paul D McGarrity

Paul Duncan McGarrity, the UK’s foremost Stand up comedian archaeologist, as seen on BBC4’s The Big Dig, is taking his critically acclaimed sell out Edinburgh Fringe show ‘Ask an Archaeologist’ on the road as ‘Paul Duncan McGarrity vs The Minor-tour’.

The ‘Ask an Archaeologist’ show does exactly what it says in the title. An Archaeologist (Paul) sits in a room with an audience and answers their questions. Most audiences tend to ask about life in the field, but other questions have been about Brexit, time travel and knitting patterns.

Woven around these queries Paul dishes the dirt on what it’s really like down in the trenches. Topics covered include the dating techniques of Vikings, the awkward truth behind the death of Richard III and Shakespeare’s laddish side.

To complement this unique approach to both history and comedy the ‘Minor-tour’ will be stopping off in on some rather unusual venues, although this won’t be too much of a departure for Paul as he has already performed shows in the grounds of a 14th century abbey and in an inflatable tent right next door to Hadrian’s wall.

http://paulduncanmcgarrity.co.uk/press
@PaulDuncanMcG

27th June – Cerys Bradley – A Unifying Theory of Gay

For decades, science has been fascinated by the LGBTQ+ community. What makes gay people gay? How does sexuality affect one’s behaviour, appearance, or ability to raise children? These are the questions that science has asked and the answers have had an impact not only within the scientific world, but also on public policy and the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens. Given the highly politicised nature of the topic, it is perhaps not surprising to discover biases and prejudices hidden in the construction, conduction, and conclusions of these studies but are they still valuable contributions to science?

PhD student (and lesbian) Cerys Bradley will discuss the scientific research into the LGBTQ+ community as well as its societal implications, and ask “just because science can ask a question, should it?”.

11th June – Ariane Sherine – Talk yourself better

(This talk was originally scheduled for January 2019, and cancelled due to bad weather. Now recheduled for June 11th)

Comedy writer and journalist Ariane Sherine created and organised the Atheist Bus Campaign, persuading Richard Dawkins and the British Humanist Association to support her – and buses with variations on the slogan “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” ran in 13 countries across the globe.

As a result, Ariane received an Inbox full of hate mail from Christians, which eventually led to a major nervous breakdown and suicidal ideation. She ended her journalistic career, and didn’t write again for over three years.

In this talk, she will tell the full story of how therapy and medication saved her life, prompting her to write her new book, Talk Yourself Better: A Confused Person’s Guide to Therapy, Counselling and Self-Help.

Ariane will also be signing copies of Talk Yourself Better after the talk.

What people have said about Talk Yourself Better

“Brilliant – makes the baffling comprehensible.” JEREMY VINE

“What an excellent, long-overdue idea! A super-accessible guide, through the bewildering marketplace of modern therapy, to ease our noble search for help.” DERREN BROWN

“How do we cope with this brutal world? In this witty, revealing book Ariane Sherine runs through the ways. An excellent, funny and thought-provoking read for all who seek answers.” ARTHUR SMITH

“What makes Ariane Sherine’s Talk Yourself Better stand out from the crowd is its accessibility and humour; to be able to discuss difficult things with a lightness of touch and a comedy that does not trivialise is a rare skill indeed. This, combined with the honest – and often deeply moving – stories of clients and practitioners alike, makes this the ideal introduction to for anyone considering therapy for the first time.” BRIAN BILSTON

About Ariane

Ariane Sherine is the comedy writer and journalist who created the Atheist Bus Campaign, as well as the best-selling celebrity book The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. She has written for BBC1’s My Family, Channel 4’s Countdown and BBC2’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, as well as for The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Observer, New Statesman and The Spectator.

She lives in London with her seven-year-old daughter, Lily.