Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Previous SkepTalks

WHAT:  BAH Fest: A competitive onslaught of Bad ad hoc Hypotheses.
Multiple presentations of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theories.

  • The Morphology of Steve: Eugenie C Scott, Ph.D.
  • Life ain’t hard for a rock named Sue: William Patterson
  • Gigantism in Space: Professor Italya Its-Soh
  • A Spirited Hypothesis for Neanderthal Behavior: Kate Carter, Ph.D

Dr. Carter was won the prize of a signed book

WHO: You! Put on your warped thinking cap and help reverse the advance of science. For inspiration, check out these terrible BAHs.

WHEN:   7:30PM Thursday 13 December 2018

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

WHAT:  A Skeptic’s Guide to Planet Hunting
Thousands of planets have been found circling stars other than our own in the last few decades! Come and learn about some of the underlying physics of planet hunting, as well as learn to focus your skeptical lenses to cut through to the truth for a variety of different planetary claims made from popular science articles.

WHO: Josh Lofy has a bachelor in physics and is the author of “Joshing with Physics“, a website that demystifies physics for the rest of us. He works at the ExplOratorium and is a board member of the Bay Area Skeptics.

WHEN:   7:30PM Thursday 8 November 2018

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Mick West

WHAT:   Beyond a Candle in the Dark – Respectfully Debunking Conspiracy Theories. How do you get through to conspiracy theorists, especially those who are close to you like friends and family? Often the first step someone takes on their journey out of the rabbit hole is the realization that they and their sources were wrong about something. To get this realization to sink in requires more than a candle illuminating their mistake, it requires a spotlight — a brightly focused blast of detailed debunking. Mick West discusses how shining a light on seemingly obscure minutia like “iron microspheres” or “ballast barrels” helps break the spell of conspiracy theory thinking.

WHO: Mick West is the author of Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories using Facts, Logic, and Respect. He has been debunking extraordinary claims, alternative beliefs, and conspiracy theories for over a decade on his Metabunk.org forum and draws upon this experience in his book. Before he was a debunker he was a video game programmer and thinks debunking claims has much in common with debugging code.

WHEN:   7:30PM Thursday 11 October 2018

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

WHAT:   When a Biology Meets a Biology (Coming through the Sky)
When we humans get around to colonizing a planet or moon in another star system, it will likely happen where a biology already exists, i.e. an ‘exobiology’. Protecting each of those from the other will be the challenge this SkepTalk tackles in some depth.

WHO:   David Almandsmith is a board member of the Bay Area Skeptics and a long-time nerd. He graduated in biology from U.C. Berkeley and studied physiology at Cal State Eastbay. A version of this talk was presented at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston.

WHEN:   7:30PM Thursday 13 September 2018

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Julie HuiJulie Hui

WHAT:   Common Misconceptions in Anthropology

Anthropology, the study of human societies and cultures, is fertile ground for controversies and popular misconceptions. If you are curious about why an anthropologist might cringe when thinking of children playing on monkey bars, and why anthropologists care about hamster cannibalism, then this is the talk for you.

WHO: Julie Hui is a PhD Candidate in (Biological) Anthropology at UC Berkeley. She loves to talk about all aspects of science and nature, but cooperation and brain evolution are near and dear to her heart. Soon-to-be Dr. Hui spends most of her time teaching Introductory Anthropology courses at Bay Area Community Colleges and is currently a Wonderfest Science Envoy.

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 10 May 2018

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Bill PattersonBill Patterson

WHAT:   SKEPARDY!
All Bay Area Skeptics love Jeopardy! C’mon, yes you do! This admitted, you’ll really love “Skepardy!” Come one, come all to the next SkepTalk and test your skeptical mettle as Alex Skeptek, aka Bill Patterson, channels (yes, literally) the real Jeopardy! interlocutor for some fast-paced fun. Bill has been quizzing clever people for years, and loves to challenge new blood. Sorry, no prize money will be awarded. The goal is simply good, informative fun.

WHO: Bill Patterson was a high school physics teacher for ten years, a Peace Corps volunteer, and youth agency executive. He currently is a radiation therapist living in Sonoma County. He loves all things rational, and is a regular attendee at SkeptiCal.

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 12 April 2018

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Miriam Diamond, PhDMiriam Diamond, PhD

What: A Quirky Colloquium Quashing Quantum Quackery
It’s fashionable for the names of products and services to include the word “quantum”, but does that have any validity in the realm of quantum physics? Is it just a nonsense buzzword? From “quantum computing” to “quantum biology” to “quantum jumping”, this colloquium will put you in a super-position to tell the difference.

WHO: Dr. Miriam Diamond is a high-energy particle physicist, currently employed as an Experimental Research Associate at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Born in Canada, she earned her PhD from the University of Toronto. She worked at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, the Institute for Quantum Computing, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. She was also a member of the ATLAS Collaboration at the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Geneva. Assisted by her guinea pig Quark, she enjoys participating in science outreach to students and the general public.

WHEN: 7PM Thursday 8 March 2018

WHERE: Kells Irish Pub, Jackson Street, San Francisco

Tania Lombrozo, PhDTania Lombrozo, PhD

What: The Human Drive to Explain
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.” Why are we so motivated to find a good story or explanation? Is this tendency beneficial? Cognitive psychologist Tania Lombrozo will suggest that our “drive to explain” itself explains some of the most remarkable human achievements, but also some of our failings.

WHO: Dr. Tania Lombrozo is Associate Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley, where she directs the Concepts and Cognition Lab. She is also an affiliate of the Department of Philosophy and a member of the Institute for Congitive and Brain Sciences.

WHEN: 6PM Thursday 8 February 2018

WHERE:   Aduro Biotech, 740 Heinz Avenue, Berkeley [Map]


Kevin Padian, Ph.D.


WHAT: Myths of Mass Extinctions
Everyone talks about mass extinctions. But what are they, really? Can anyone even define them? Let’s see.

WHO: Kevin Padian, Ph.D. is a professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley and a curator in the Museum of Paleontology. An expert on dinosaurs and the origin of flight, he has authored or edited several books on the evolution of dinosaurs. He is a former president of the board of directors of the National Center for Science Education.

WHEN: 7:30pm, Thursday November 9 2017

WHERE: La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA


Brad Hoge, Ph.D.


WHAT: Hurricanes and Heat Waves: Is This Climate Change?
This talk will focus on two questions. 1) Are Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the recent heat waves and extreme weather events in California the product of climate change? 2) If they are, how should they influence public discussions and teaching of climate change? To answer the first question, we must know what the predictions of extreme weather events from climate models are, and how these predictions are generated. Is there a consensus among climate scientists that extreme events are more likely? How much more likely are they? And how extreme are Harvey, Irma, and the California heat wave? Ultimately, how do we connect the dots? If a connection is made, how useful is this information for public discussion? Will the conclusions of climate scientists be more convincing due to the dramatic impacts of these events on people’s lives, or are we being “insensitive”? Is it a good idea to use these events as examples of the impact of climate change in classrooms, or is it misleading and inappropriate pedagogically? This talk will answer these questions, and will present some perspectives from teachers in Houston and Florida who are on the front lines.

WHO: Brad Hoge, Ph.D. is Director of Teacher Support at the National Center for Science Education.

WHEN: 7:30pm, Thursday 12 October 2017

WHERE: La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA


Lauren Popov, Ph.D.


WHAT: An Invisible Plague: the Growing Threat of Tuberculosis
You might think of tuberculosis as an antiquated disease: an infection largely conquered, and isolated to the most impoverished nations; and you would be dead wrong. In this talk, we will explore the history and science of Tuberculosis to understand why this ancient bacterial foe is arguably today’s greatest infectious threat to global public health.

WHO: Lauren Popov, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Scholar, Molecular & Cell Biology, UC Berkeley

WHEN: 7:30pm, Thursday 13 April 2017

WHERE: La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA

WHAT: Are Saturated Fats Bad for You? Separating Fat from Fiction
In the fall of 2014 Kent McDonald became interested in the science behind federal nutritional guidelines and has since learned that there isn’t much that can be trusted. His presentation will look at why this is so and consider some healthier nutritional strategies based on more reliable information.

WHO: Kent McDonald received his Ph.D. in Botany from the University of California, Berkeley in 1972. He is currently at UCB as the Director of the Electron Microscope Laboratory.

WHEN: 7:30pm, Thursday 9 February 2017

WHERE: La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Mark Tarses

WHAT: Harry Houdini vs. Psychics & Mediums
After World War I, as grieving widows and mothers wanted to contact their dead husbands and sons, the number of professional psychics and occult mediums exploded. Harry Houdini traveled across American exposing these people as the frauds they were. Being the world’s most famous magician, he knew all their tricks.

WHO: Mark Tarses, President of Oakland Magic Circle.

WHEN: 7:30pm, Thursday 12 January 2017

WHERE: La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA

Thomas Targett, Ph.D.

WHAT: Myths of Astronomy
Much of what we think we know about space comes from film and television. However, Hollywood’s job is more often to entertain than to educate. In this presentation, Prof. Targett will sort fact from fiction, taking a tour through the worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, and much more.

WHO: Thomas Targett, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Astronomy & Physics, Sonoma State University. Thomas Targett obtained his undergraduate and masters degrees from Cardiff University, in Wales U.K., with a research focus on 21-cm emission from neutral hydrogen. He obtained his PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in the fields of sub-millimeter galaxy evolution and the coupled growth of galaxies and black holes. In 2007, Dr. Targett began a research postdoc at Caltech, followed by similar appointments at the University of Birmingham (UK), the University of British Colombia, and the University of Edinburgh.

WHEN: 7:30pm, Thursday 10 November 2016

WHERE: La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA

WHAT: Quantum Pseudoscience and the Nature of Mind
Popular misconceptions about the significance of quantum physics are often used to sell questionable products. Key among these misconceptions is the claim that matter is mind-dependent. Rather than simply debunk this and similar claims, Russell Wilcox will explore the serious philosophical basis for an interpretation of quantum physics that addresses them. This will lead to other questions, including “what is the mind and where is it located?”

WHO: Russell Wilcox is a laser engineer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He holds ten optics-related patents, including one for an optics education device. He has developed educational displays and teaching materials at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and at Burning Man, where he has lectured for several years on philosophy and quantum physics.

WHEN: 7:30pm, Thursday, February 12, 2015

WHERE: La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA

WHAT:   Herding Cats and Teaching Science: What I Learned About the Reluctance to Embrace Life, the Universe, and Everything

When Secular Students Alliance regional organizer Dan Pemberton began his work with secular student groups, he expected to see a battle for science literacy with clean lines of science advocates vs. religious fundamentalists. He quickly learned that in almost every secular campus community exists a recognizable population of students who reject science and the scientific community but espouse other secular values. What’s more, he learned that the reasons for this rejection of science are largely ignored by advocates of scientific literacy.

WHO:   Dan Pemberton is the Secular Students Alliance Regional Campus Organizer for the Southwest region. He was President of the Secular Student Alliance at Sacramento State University. In his spare time, Dan enjoys all things tech, LEGOS, and Doctor Who. Dan’s passion is for everyone to become a better critical thinker, no matter their religion.

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 9 April

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley


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