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Schmoozing into Summer



Hello again Science fans!

It is now officially summer with the solstice having happened this week. Enjoy the long hours of daylight!

Summer also means fewer presentations and events going on around the Bay. Add in the Independence Day holiday next week (yes, next week already!) and our event list is short this time around. But there's still plenty going on. Here are my picks:

  1.  Nerd Nite East Bay #65: ComicCon, Dark Matter, History - Monday 7:00 PM in Oakland
  2.  Piecing Together Mars: From Discovery and Surprise Toward Understanding a Sister World - Monday 7:30 PM in San Francisco
  3. A twofer:  'Eye of the Shoal' - exploring the remarkable world of fish - Wednesday 11:00 AM in Moss Landing and <

The Human Drive to Explain

(a SkepTalk by TaniaTania Lombrozo, PhdTania Lombrozo, Phd Lombrozo, PhD, presented 8 February)

Stephen J. Gould described humans as “the primates who tell stories.” Psychologist Robyn Dawes took it one step further, arguing that we’re “the primates whose cognitive capacity shuts down in the absence of a story.” At BAS’s February SkepTalk, Dr. Tania Lombrozo, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, asked: Why are we so...

motivated to find a good story or explanation? Is this tendency beneficial? And Dr. Lombrozo answered with insights that showed how our “drive to explain” itself explains some of the most remarkable human achievements, but also some of our failings.


(Any errors in this accountRansom StephensRansom Stephens are solely my fault - David Almandsmith)

SkepTalk by Ransom Stephens PhD on 14 January 2018

This SkepTalk combined science, mirth, and intellectual acumen; a genuine treat. Dr. Stephens brought the audience up to date with fruits of neuroscience research and melded them with an evolutionary perspective.

Dr. Stephens began by pointing out that neuroscience in some sense is self-referential - a case of the brain trying to understand itself.

He then warned against over-simplified ideas such as strict roles for the left brain versus roles for the right brain. There are indeed some differences in roles but...

there is some overlap in duties, especially since the brain evinces considerable plasticity. In the most general case, when you walk into a bar (!) the right brain checks for the unexpected - an acquaintance, a hungry leopard, etc. - without 'you' necessarily aware of the search. Any significant results of the search are passed off to the left brain and into your consciousness. Sort of. Neuroscience


Britt Hermes is an Britt HermesBritt HermesAmerican, a former naturopath, a noted skeptical campaigner, and a PhD student studying in Germany. She has spent much time and effort lately in campaigning against naturopathic practices. She is the author of the blog Naturopathic Diaries.

She has now been taken to court in Germany by U.S.A.-based naturopath ‘Dr’ Colleen Huber, who is claiming that Britt has defamed her. Huber is an outspoken critic of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatment. Instead, she uses ‘natural’ therapies that include intravenous infusions of vitamin C and baking soda.

For this reason, Australian Skeptics Inc is managing a fundraising campaign to assist Britt in her current legal action.

[Editor: To consider helping Ms. Hermes, please read Fundraising Campaign for Britt Hermes.]


A SkepTalk by Carrie Ellen Sager, J.D., Homelessness Program Coordinator, Marin County
14 December 2017Carrie Ellen Sager

An upbeat talk on homelessness? Well, the problem of homelessness in the Bay Area may border on intractability and underscores the failures of United States' political economics, but Ms. Sager's message, pace, tone, and even her smile made this a lively, enjoyable SkepTalk.

She organized her description of the challenges and successes of Marin County's homeless program by...

using false statements concerning homelessness and then debunking those statements using the results of dozens of peer-reviewed studies and using colorful anecdotes from the frontlines. A number of the false statements were ones that i thought were true before Ms. Sager tore them apart with data from recent research.

An example: "(most of) These people aren't from here, they just come for the services (and the weather)." The facts show differently. In Alameda County, 82% of homeless were living in Alameda County immediately prior to losing a place to dwell. In Marin County, 72%. In San Francisco, 69%. It takes


On Thursday, October 11, 2017, Dr. Eugenie Scott and I scoped out the pro-Homeopathy movie "Just One Drop" at the Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF). There was another showing on the following Saturday and one of our goals was to determine whether a public protest was warranted. We’d previously crafted and sent a letter (via both e-mail and snail mail) to the Executive Director of the film festival expressing our concern but did not receive a response.

Just One Drop: Poster for the pro-homeopathy Film "Just One Drop"Just One Drop: Poster for the pro-homeopathy Film "Just One Drop"The movie is what we expected, although better produced (it took 8 years to make). The narrative goes something like this:


  • Nobody knows how homeopathy works.

  • There are skeptics.

  • But it works, and we’ll prove this with some anecdotes.

  • It’s been around for a long time and many people us

If you're over 30, the name Erin Brokavich likely conjures up images of a working-class hero, fighting for the cancer-ridden little guys against a Erin Brokavich (2000)Erin Brokavich (2000)corrupt multi-billion dollar corporation and winning millions for them.

Anyone who saw the eponymous film starring Julia Roberts and Albert Finny was likely wiping away joyful tears by the end, satisfied that the little guys had gotten justice because of this brave woman (who wasn't even a lawyer!). I count myself among the acolytes in those early years after the film's release. Since then, I've gotten new data. As a result, I've changed my mind....

The first person I ever heard question the Brokavich hero narrative was Michael Shermer in his book, Science Friction. In it, Shermer points out that it's highly statistically probab


SkeptiCal 2017

Special Report by Susan Gerbic

(Repinted with permission from  The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry)

Race, Pornography, Fake News, Eclipse, Brain Myths, Popular Assumptions, and the Magic of Science: those terms sum up the content of the eighth annual SkeptiCal conference held in the Shattuck Hotel in Berkeley, California, on Sunday June 11, 2017. SkeptiCal is a one-day skeptic conference brought to us by the Bay Area Skeptics and the Sacramento Area Skeptics.

Photo by Susan GerbicPhoto by Susan Gerbic

This is the first time being held at the Shattuck, but the event has floated between Berkeley and Oakland, California, over the last eight years,. This time because of the location, the organizers decided to only meet in one room with no breakout sessions running concurrently as it had in the past. I have attended all eight conferences as it is only a two-hour drive from my home in Salinas. Each one has its own flavor, this one seemed...

tighter and the lectures


A SkepTalk by Susan Gerbic on 11 May 2017GSoW

We should all applaud Susan Gerbic's impossible mission: to keep Wikipedia free from promotions of pseudoscience. Amazingly, she has been remarkably successful due to her methods. She recruits volunteers to help in this mission, puts them through 'boot camp' so they know what to do and how to do it, and tracks everything that is accomplished.

Her cadre of recruits living around the world is the Guerrilla Skeptics on Wikipedia, a.k.a. GSoW.

Because anybody can edit Wikipedia pages, making a change can...

be like poking a hole in a pond with your finger; those who have a financial or philosophical interest in disseminating falsehoods can whisk away your edits. There are, however, strategies to limit the forces of drivel.

The mere fact that you are reading this suggests you care about truth AND you have a few minutes out of the week when you could further this essential work. Join the GSoW and make a difference. Not only will you receive at-home training, you will receive ongoing mentoring. Send an email to GSoWTeam@gmail.com


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