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Prof Chris French

When?
Wednesday, February 1 2017 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Prof Chris French

What's the talk about?

NB: This replaces the original talk by Karen Douglas who due to unforeseen circumstances has had to postpone.

In the context of the current huge increase in historical sexual abuse allegations, it is instructive to consider the Satanic panic that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the beliefs that fuelled that wave of hysteria are not supported by any convincing empirical evidence. This includes the widely accepted notion of repression as well as the alleged link between Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD; now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder, DID) and Satanic abuse. The evidence put forward to support the claim that Satanic abuse was real and widespread came from two equally dubious sources: children interrogated using inappropriate highly suggestive questioning and memories ostensibly “recovered” from adults during therapy. There is no physical forensic evidence to support the existence of Satanic ritual abuse. The truth is that victims of sexual abuse are far more likely to remember being abused than to repress such memories.

Professor Chris French is Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as well as being a Patron of the British Humanist Association. He is a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society. He has published over 150 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. His main area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims, as well as writing for the Guardian and The Skeptic magazine which, for more than a decade, he also edited. His most recent books are Why Statues Weep: The Best of The Skeptic, co-edited with Wendy Grossman (2010, Philosophy Press), Anomalistic Psychology, co-authored with Nicola Holt, Christine Simmonds-Moore, and David Luke (2012, Palgrave Macmillan), and Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience, co-authored with Anna Stone (2014, Palgrave Macmillan). Follow him on Twitter: @chriscfrench

David Robert Grimes

When?
Wednesday, January 4 2017 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
David Robert Grimes

What's the talk about?

Science and medicine have transformed our lives immeasurably, and never in history have they been more central to our lives and well-being. Yet despite this, there is often a glaring disconnect between the findings of actual science and media reporting of such topics, and consequently there is often a needless chasm between public perception and the evidence on many contentious topics. This can lead to needlessly adversarial and counter-productive discourse of everything from vaccination to climate-change. In this talk, physicist and science journalist Dr. David Robert Grimes discusses the frequent problems in reporting science from misunderstandings to bad statistics to false balance, and discusses the factors that influence this and how such problems can be remedied.

Dr. David Robert Grimes (@drg1985) is a physicist and writes regular opinion and analysis pieces on scientific issues for the Irish Times and the Guardian science, and is a regular panelist on science issues on radio and television. He is joint-recipient of the 2014 Maddox Prize for Standing up for Science.

Ash Pryce

When?
Wednesday, December 7 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Ash Pryce

What's the talk about?

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up! Gather ye round the traveling caravan, as Snake Oil Salesman Ash Pryce demonstrates the miraculous curative abilities of psychic surgery, taught to your humble trickster by a wise man in the Philippines (or a magicians tool book, whichever sounds more wondrous). See with amazement the telekinetic forces at work as you learn how to move objects with your mind, psychically manipulate your finest silverware and read the minds of your peers.  Or maybe, it’s all just a trick?


Whereas the sister show How to Talk to the Dead looked specifically at spirit communication in the past, How to be a Psychic Conman will look at the more incredible, magical side of psychic claims that persist today. The types of demonstrations that blur the line between the honest deception of magic, and the dishonesty of those hoping to make a quick buck out of your deep rooted beliefs.

The show will involve demonstrations and explanations of telekinesis tricks, metal bending, psychic surgery and remote viewing as well as look at government funded research into psychic phenomena, and the shoddy protocols that allowed “psychics” to beat the legendary Zener card experiments in the 1930s.

And if that wasn’t enough, interspersed throughout the show will be numerous on stage demonstrations of mentalism to add an extra layer of entertainment to the proceedings.  

Warning to those on the front row… there will be blood!

Michael Marshall

When?
Wednesday, November 2 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Michael Marshall

What's the talk about?

Homeopathy is one of the most widely debunked forms of alternative medicine – yet homeopathic remedies adorn the shelves of respected pharmacies and are funded by taxpayers on the NHS. How big a problem is this? Using information and personal experiences gathered during his last 6 years of campaigning against homeopathy, Michael Marshall will highlight how much money is spent on homeopathic remedies, how this gives undeserved credibility to homeopathy, how such remedies can lead to genuine harm and what you can do to help.

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 and co-founding the popular QED conference. He has written for the Guardian, The Times and New Statesman.

Dr Ashok Jansari

When?
Wednesday, October 5 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Dr Ashok Jansari

What's the talk about?

The last few decades have seen a massive mushrooming of research into the workings of the most complex system known to mankind, the human brain. Part of this wonderful expansion in knowledge has been the development of ever-more sophisticated techniques for looking at the brain both physically and functionally in vivo rather than needing to wait for a post-mortem autopsy. There is a veritable alphabet-soup of methods available: CT, MRI, EEG, fMRI, ERP, MEG, tDCS to name a few. These techniques have given us fantastic insights into brain functions both in healthy individuals and also in those with neural abnormalities; some of this work has also been enormously beneficial for helping to identify or develop new treatments. However, parallel to this wonderful contribution has been an abuse of this information. Some of this has been by the researchers conducting the studies – there is a sense of ‘believing the hype’ a bit too much. In addition to this, the ‘neuro-revolution’ has been firmly embraced by those who want to legitimise their work – neuro-psychic, neuro-coaching, etc.. It has reached the point where it has even been used by some to drive public policy by using brain scans purporting to show the impact of social deprivation on a child’s brain. In this talk, I will try to navigate you through some of the wonders of the brain but also try to show you that some of what you may hear is better classified as ‘neuro-bollocks’......

My expertise is in mental brain functions that we use on an everyday basis such as memory and face-recognition. I conduct research on healthy individuals, those with brain damage and children who are either typical or have developmental disorders such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I am one of the UK's experts on face-recognition including face-blindness (also known as 'prosopagnosia') and exceptional face memory (known as 'super-recognition'). Some of the latter work is being done in conjunction with London's Metropolitan Police who are the first police force in the world to strategically use serving officers with exceptional face-memory to apprehend criminal suspects. I have also developed an expertise in being able to 'translate' general issues in psychology and science to the lay-person to make them more accessible.

I have been working in the field for 23 years. I have a degree from arguably the best university in the world (Cambridge), a doctorate from one of the best psychology research departments in the country (Sussex) and worked with two of the most noted neuroscientists in the world (Professors Antonio Damasio and Ralph Adolphs). I have won an award from the International Neuropsychological Society for my research in memory disorders and been awarded a Media Fellowship by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for my skills in communicating science to the general public. In 2011 I was awarded a three-month Wellcome funded Live Science residency at London's Science Museum to conduct one of the largest prevalence studies of super-recognition in the world. I have contributed widely to public engagement with science through TV (both national TV such as the BBC and Channel 4 as well as internationally), radio and print media as well as annual public lectures as part of International Brain Awareness Week. In addition I have lectured extensively throughout Europe, North America, South America, India, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. For this work, I have been nominated for a British Academy Charles Darwin Award for communicating science to non-specialist audiences. In 2014, I won Best Research Supervisor prize at my university for my ability to teach and inspire students to high levels of research. I teach cognitive psychology and cognitive neuropsychology which are my two specialist areas.

I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Vice-Chair of the Neuropsychology International Fellowship. My expertise means that I currently collaborate with scientists in 14 other countries spanning 4 continents.

Away from my research, I love travelling (52 countries visited and counting), speak my mother tongue (Gujarati) as well as Italian (I’ve visited Venice over 45 times!) and have an identical twin – I show three-dimensional scans of our brains in lectures to amuse students and then to demonstrate certain issues to do with the brain. I actually have a bit of a ‘wonky’ brain that I love telling students about.....

Webclips of Dr Jansari speaking about his field:

Speaking about the general field of cognitive neuropsychology:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNEeISkv3zQ

Speaking on BBC1’s The One Show:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5Hooty5YMo

Speaking about his ‘super-recognizer’ study at London’s Science Museum:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjeKa9BjT7I

Speaking about face-recognition for Universities Week:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bh2t5bWd-Z8

Stephen Volk

When?
Wednesday, September 7 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Stephen Volk

What's the talk about?

How does a childhood interest in ghost stories and horror grow into a fascination with the scientific study of the paranormal? And how does that in turn feed back into creating dramas about the supernatural?

Stephen Volk is an avowed sceptic, yet repeatedly drawn to telling tales of the spooky and other-worldly, in books, on stage, on film and for the small screen, working both in Britain and in Hollywood.

He will be talking about his reasons for writing in the genre and his attitude to his subject matter, beginning with the dubious success of the controversial (some say legendary) 1992 BBC Halloween “hoax” Ghostwatch – which jammed the switchboard at the BBC and caused questions to be raised in Parliament – continuing with his experience as creator and lead writer of the 2005-6 peak-time drama series Afterlife, about a troubled medium (Lesley Sharp) and an even more troubled psychologist (Andrew Lincoln), which ran for two award-winning seasons on ITV.

He will also describe how his 1920s-set screenplay for The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West was influenced directly by the history of psychical research.

His latest TV show also straddles the areas of fear, psychology and belief: a three-part adaptation of Phil Rickman’s novel Midwinter of the Spirit, premiering on ITV in Autumn 2015, and starring two-time BAFTA-winner Anna Maxwell Martin as C of E “Deliverance Minister” (exorcist to you and me) Merrily Watkins.

Stephen Volk’s many screenplays include The Guardian, co-written with the director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, and Ken Russell’s Gothic starring Natasha Richardson and Gabriel Byrne. His ghostly stage play The Chapel of Unrest was presented in 2013 at London’s Bush Theatre starring Jim Broadbent and Reece Shearsmith, and his play about the Fox sisters, Answering Spirits, appeared at the Edinburgh Festival.

His short stories have been chosen for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Best British Mysteries, and Best British Horror, he has been a Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and his second collection, Monsters in the Heart, won the British Fantasy Award in 2014. His highly-acclaimed novella Whitstable, featuring revered Hammer horror star Peter Cushing, has just been accompanied by a follow-up, Leytonstone, about the boyhood of Alfred Hitchcock.

www.stephenvolk.net

Chris French

When?
Wednesday, August 10 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Chris French

What's the talk about?

NB: This replaces Hayley Stevens's talk.

Thousands of people around the world claim to have directly experienced contact with extraterrestrials and in many cases to have been abducted by aliens and taken on board spaceships and subjected to medical examination. How are we to explain such claims? With a few notable exceptions, those making such claims do not appear to be deliberately lying. Neither do they appear to be suffering from serious psychopathology. However, there are good reasons for doubting that such accounts are accurate reflections of events taking place in objective reality. A number of psychological factors have been implicated in attempts to explain such claims including sleep paralysis, personality factors such as fantasy proneness and possibly unusual activity in the temporal lobes of the brain. It seems likely that alien contact and abduction claims are examples of false memories.

Dr Gordon Wright

When?
Wednesday, July 6 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Dr Gordon Wright

What's the talk about?

Gordon is a psychologist researching deception and other aspects of devious personality and behaviour. Although his mother doesn’t entirely approve, Gordon finds it a fascinating topic of general interest and of applied value to intelligence gathering, investigations and the criminal justice system. As a long time Skeptic in the Pub regular, Gordon is keen to share some of the insights he has gleaned on the liars and cheats around us in everyday life, how this transfers to criminal investigations (and Facebook stalking), but also to touch upon some of the moral and ethical conundrums associated with deception, lie detection, manipulation and intelligence gathering. Well, that’s the plan, but knowing Gordon, it’ll go off topic pretty quickly... 

Michael Story

When?
Wednesday, June 1 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Michael Story

What's the talk about?

NB: This replaces Alom Shaha's talk, which has been moved to April 2017

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.

Andrew Copson

When?
Wednesday, May 4 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Andrew Copson

What's the talk about?

At this event, Andrew Copson will give an overview of humanism: what it is, what it is not, its history and its long association with skepticism. Andrew will also talk about the British Humanist Association: their aims and the work that they do. Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association.

Andrew became Chief Executive in January 2010 after five years coordinating the BHA's education and public affairs work. His writing on humanist and secularist issues has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and New Statesman as well as in various journals and he has represented the BHA and Humanism extensively on television news on BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky, as well as on television programmes such as Newsnight, Daily Politics and The Big Questions. He has also appeared on radio on programmes from Today, Sunday, The World at One, The Last Word and Beyond Belief on the BBC, to local and national commercial radio stations.

Dr Kimberley Wade

When?
Wednesday, April 6 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Dr Kimberley Wade

What's the talk about?

Suggestive techniques can lead people to remember wholly false childhood events such as being lost in a shopping mall or being hospitalized overnight. Although most false memory research has relied on some form of verbal suggestion to influence what people recall, recent research shows that photographs—both genuine and doctored—can create havoc in memory too. I will discuss the extent to which images and videos can influence memory for significant, recent experiences, and show that people might even confess to, or testify about, events that never happened if they are confronted with fabricated evidence. I will also discuss new research on people with highly superior autobiographical memories. These people demonstrate incredibly detailed and robust memories, but are they immune to memory errors?

Dr Kim Wade is an Associate Professor in Psychology at the University of Warwick. She is a cognitive psychologist specialising in autobiographical memory and memory distortions, best known for her research demonstrating the power of doctored images to produce false memories. Kim is especially interested in the mechanisms that drive the development of false memories, and in refining the theories that explain false memory phenomena. Her research is published in many high-impact journals, and appears frequently in the media, in undergraduate texts, and in books for the educated layperson.

Michael Head

When?
Wednesday, March 2 2016 at 7:30PM

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Where?

60 Old Woolwich Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9NY

Who?
Michael Head

What's the talk about?

We all love our children dearly and chose to vaccinate them or not vaccinate them because of that deep love. Yet the discussion of whether or not to vaccinate can bring friendships to an end and the decision itself can have life-threatening consequences, not just for babies and unvaccinated children, but for anyone with a compromised immune system such as elderly people in our community.

Michael Head looks at vaccination in the larger context. Smallpox is eradicated, polio has nearly gone the same way and in most countries diphtheria is rare. That’s due to vaccination. Yet headlines are often fixated on measles outbreaks on both sides of the Pond, or the ‘dangers’ of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine.

Too many people are just not fussed about vaccines, or worse, they actively preach and campaign against them, with more than the occasional dollop of an absence of morality.

Plus there’s the desperate search for an ebola vaccine, the imperfections of the tuberculosis vaccine, the waning immunity over time of the pertussis (whooping cough) immunisation, that HIV vaccine that just won’t come, and the annual guesswork that is the composition of the influenza vaccine. It’s a complicated business, alright.

This presentation will walk you through some facts and figures, highlight the new vaccines in the pipeline and provide an insight into the public health danger posed by those who, even today, still try and tell you the MMR vaccine gives your child autism (it doesn’t, by the way).

Michael Head is a senior research fellow in infectious diseases at the University of Southampton, and a visiting academic in the Farr Institute for Health Informatics at University College London. He has an undergraduate qualification in Biomedical Science, postgraduate degree in epidemiology and is in the final throes of a PhD with the University of Amsterdam in infectious diseases and global health.

Michael has been working in infectious disease research since 2004, has around 30 peer-reviewed publications in journals including Lancet and Nature journals, and for some reason spends far too much of his spare time reading about ‘bad science’ on the web.