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Skeptics on the Fringe – 2011

Our second season of Skeptics on the Fringe saw us turning away people almost every night from our season of talks At the Fringe of Reason.  

We also presented our panel game Devil’s Advocate every lunchtime, and held two sell-out events at the Royal Observatory, and ran a new skepical walking tour Medical Mysteries and Scientific Shenanigans as well our established Skeptical Ghost Tour: Ghosts Busted. 

Reviews of Skeptics on the Fringe 2011

“Three solid weeks of skeptical events. Danger! All of your illusions will be scoured away, the flamethrower of reason will turn all your generous delusions to ash, the bones of reality will be unclothed and exposed…”
Pharyngula – P Z Myers

“Betjeman praised Edinburgh as “the most beautiful of all the capitals of Europe”. If you can arrange to be there next August support Skeptics on the Fringe; it’s not only interesting and stimulating, it’s fun and it’s free.”
Skeptic Magazine

Speakers and topics At the Fringe of Reason 2011

We’re back again with a fantastic line up including some of the best and most respected speakers around. We’re also carrying on the tradition of being an open platform and welcoming some new speakers to the stage.

Saturday 6th – Professor Richard Wiseman: Paranormality: Why we see What isn’t There 

Professor Wiseman has been involved in the skeptical approach to the paranormal for many years making him an expert on the matter.  His brand new boook- Paranormality- looks at the psychology and facts behind alleged paranormal phenomenon. Paranormality follows on from the best sellers “Quirkology” and “59 Seconds” available from all good bookshops at a reasonable price- though we’re sure Richard will remind you.  Constantly. Come along for what is sure to be a fun and entertaining evening with one of the skeptical communities most popular speakers.

Sunday 7th – Rob Eastaway: How to Win a Maths Bet in a Pub

What’s the point of maths? To help you to win bets in the pub of course! The best bets are ones where your opponent thinks the odds are in his favour. Bestselling maths author and broadcaster Rob Eastaway demonstrates his favourite examples, ranging from the newspaper bet to a game of ‘special’ poker, with a stunning Derren-Brown-style prediction along the way. And to add a bit of spice, Rob will be giving the audience a chance to win some money off him too. This talk is suitable for anyone who has ever been (or fancied going) to a pub. With any luck, you won’t have to pay for a drink for a while.

Monday 8th – Professor Richard Knight: Homeopathy and Neurology

Richard Knight is the son of a Unitarian Minister and was brought up in the Manchester area. He read PPE and medicine at Oxford, qualifying in 1977. He trained in various UK centres, specialising in clinical neurology and obtaining his first consultant post in Aberdeen in 1986. He is now a Professor of Clinical Neurology and Honorary Consultant Clinical Neurologist based in Edinburgh. He is the current Director of the National CJD Research and Surveillance Unit, spending half his time in UK prion disease and surveillance and half in general clinical neurology. He has major interests in medical education and is the current Director of Quality Assurance for the Edinburgh Undergraduate Medicine degree course. He is married with 3 children.

Tuesday 9th – Professor Paul Braterman: The Illusions of Intelligent Design

As every sea-squirt shows us, Intelligent Design Theory is the very opposite of science, but we can learn a lot scientifically by dismantling its claims.

Wednesday 10th – Alun Hughes: Placebo: A No-go or Go-go 

Alun will look at placebos and ask if it is sometimes better to do nothing than something and address the age old myths of placebo in animals and children not being effective.

Thursday 11th – Alice Sheppard: Citizen Science

Astronomy has been the subject of wonder and speculation for as long as historical records exist. As with all science, people got some things right – and, even with the best methods available, other things wrong. Since 2007, Alice Sheppard has run the Galaxy Zoo Forum, the discussion area for an online astronomy project with 300,000 members worldwide. Galaxy Zoo has so far produced 21 papers, whose authors and acknowledged contributors include several ordinary citizens. Some of its findings were a direct result of questions or collections of objects created by the users, who became “Citizen scientists”.

Alice takes us through some of the best and worst of astronomical history, and what ancient and modern mistakes are made today. We will hear the questions people have come to Galaxy Zoo with, the ways in which biases were found and dealt with by the scientists and participants, the beautiful and inspiring projects created by untrained people and the scientific thinking they learnt for themselves to apply. We also take a look at citizen science in general, how Galaxy Zoo taught large numbers of people to understand and use science, and explore what this might mean for skepticism.

Alice is one of Cardiff Skeptics’s two founders (the one who does the Internet stuff while Dean does the more important bit). By day she’s an office superviser at a charity for disabled people; by night she writes about science and astronomy.

Friday 12th – Michael Marshall: Bad PR

Marsh is co-host of the Righteous Indignation Podcast and co-founder of the 10:23 campaign. Today he looks at errors and flaws in PR and investigates the “Bad Press”. We’re sure the red tops have nothing to worry about!

Saturday 13th – Stuart Ritchie: The Science of Porn (Or Evidence Based Masturbation)

Stuart Ritchie, an almost completely blind and hairy-palmed PhD Psychology student, takes a skeptical look at the arguments for and against porn.

Sunday 14th – Jennie Kermode: Gender Identity in Modern Society

Is it possible to change sex? Are transgender people and their supporters denying biological reality? Or is there something suspect about popular notions of what makes somebody a man or a woman? You are invited to discover and discuss the science behind gender and ask whether what seems like skepticism can sometimes be a means of
reinforcing unquestioned assumptions.”

“Jennie Kermode is a journalist and sometime academic working in the field of sex and gender. She is chair of Trans Media Watch and has worked with government on a variety of gender issues.”

Monday 15th – Alex Buque: Mind Tricks

Can we trust our sense? Does our mind play tricks on us? Using examples, tricks and illusions Alex Buque will attempt to convince you that seeing shouldn’t always be believing.

Tuesday 16th – Keir Liddle: The Myths of Mental Illness

1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health issues in their lifetime, an estimated 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem, yet common myths, misconceptions and stigma surround mental health issues often without any foundation. This talk explores and debunks some of the common misheld notions about mental health.

Wednesday 17th – Dr. Steve Makin: From Atkins to Acai Berries

Dr Makin will look at popular health and weight-loss techniques and address just how effective- or ineffective- they are.

Thursday 18th – Helen Arney, Steve Mould & Matt Parker present Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Big Stuff!

A celebration of science, comedy and unashamed geekiness. Arney, Parker and Mould will be joining us for a very special staging of their sell out show “Festival of the Spoken Nerd all tied in with the themes and ideas of Space! 

Friday 19th – Dr. Shona Hilton: The Media and Public Health

As mass technology has advanced so too has its influence in shaping public opinion on health matters. In this talk Dr Shona Hilton of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit explores the media’s influence on health issues. She will highlight how newspaper coverage is linked to public perceptions of the swine flu pandemic, and what impact the reports about celebrity illnesses like Kylie Minogue and Jade Goody’s cancer have had on health behaviours.

Saturday 20th – Miss Twist: The Clothes Maketh the Man?

Miss twist takes a look at how clothes can alter our perception of people and gender.

Sunday 21st – Iszi Lawrence: Experiences of an Awkward Atheist

Stand-up comedian Iszi Lawrence will be discussing “The Experiences of An Awkward Atheist” – How superstition, belief and reason are intermingled in comedy and everyday life. Iszi lawrence is the resident compere of the Lil Fat Comedy Club Witney, has had sell out shows at the Camden, Brighton, Oxfringe and Edinburgh fringe. Her debut four star show ‘Matter of Tact’ was Time Out Recommended and London Lite Comedy Pick.

She also featured in Perrier Award winning The Passion Of The Hodgson and has appeared on BBC Radio 1, BBC 7 as well as local radio inc. Resonance FM. Iszi is also co-host of the Sundays Supplement podcast and comperes Oxford Skeptics in the Pub. She has been an invited speaker to Atheist Think Week and has spoken at several Skeptic societies around the UK.

Monday 22nd – Dr. Caroline Watt:The Psychology of Precognitive Dream Experiences

A founder member of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, Dr Caroline Watt has taught and researched parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh for 25 years.

She has published over 50 peer-reviewed academic papers, served as president of the Parapsychological Association, and has presented her research at conferences both within the UK and abroad. She has often presented her work to the wider public through the broadcast and print medi. Tonight she will be looking at the world of precognitive dreams.

Tuesday 23rd – Peter Harrison: The Science of Lucid Dreaming

An oneironaut, or lucid dreamer, is someone who can deliberately remain consciously awake during a dream and is completely aware of the situation. With the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Inception, lucid dreaming has once again been thrown into the public eye. The topic is surrounded by myths, misunderstandings, and controversy. Most communities focusing on lucid dreaming consist of individuals interested in unlocking their psychic potential, or meeting their spirit guides. For this reason, many people associate lucid dreaming with the supernatural. What many people (skeptics included) do not realise is that the existence of lucid dreaming has been well established by scientists all over the world and is actively studied in many universities and scientific establishments. This is a fascinating scientific topic, unfortunately often lumped together with irrational supernatural beliefs.

Peter Harrison is a science graduate, a magic/mentalism consultant, and a highly successful lucid dreamer. But unlike so many of his fellow oneironaughts, he’s an active skeptic and interested in the science behind the phenomenon. This talk covers the reality of lucid dreaming, the scientific evidence and experiments in this interesting field, and the abundant myths and misunderstandings.

Wednesday 24th – Gordon Rutter: A History of Talking to the Dead

We all know about EVP and ouija boards, but what came before? From the earliest records of talking to the dead to the modern day, this is an attempt to answer one of the most important questions of all – whether we have an existence after death. Attempts to talk to the dead have encompassed a range of techniques from low to high tech, but which is most succesful and on what evidence? The oldest known book, one of the world’s most prolific inventors and the creator of Sherlock Holmes all put in appearances.

Thursday 25th – Professor Dorothy Crawford: How Bugs Travel: From Local outbreak to Global Disaster

An amazing one billion humans board international flights each year, but even more microbes are jet-setting around the world. In this talk Dorothy Crawford will reveal where ‘new’ microbes  come from and how their mode of travel is key to their success. Then using HIV are an example, she will discuss the detective work that uncovered where the virus came from and how it spread globally.


Friday 26th – Professor Chris French: Meaning and Randomness: Seeing What isn’t There

One of the greatest strengths of the human species from an evolutionary perspective is our ability to perceive meaningful patterns and cause and effect relationships in our surroundings. Our cognitive systems have evolved to allow us to make relatively quick decisions that are right most of the time as opposed to slower, more reflective,
decisions that are right slightly more often. In terms of the evolutionary cost-benefit analysis, our cognitive systems are optimised for biological survival not for apprehending “Truth”. One consequence of our evolutionary history is that we are prone to a number of cognitive biases that may well underlie our predisposition towards supernatural and paranormal beliefs. Because we are poor at recognising randomness and often see meaning and significance where there is none, it is not surprising that such beliefs are so prevalent and persistent.

Saturday 27th – END OF THE FRINGE SHOW

Banshee Labyrinth 20.30 – 21.30 6th-27th

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