Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Previous SkepTalks

Brad Hoge, Ph.D.

WHAT: The Bitter M&Ms of Climate Change: Misconceptions and Misinformation
NCSE’s teacher ambassador program has operated under the catch phrase “turning misinformation into educational opportunities” or TMEO. But the M in TMEO can also refer to misconceptions. The program uses misconception-based pedagogy to inoculate students against the misinformation about climate change they encounter from sources such as the Heartland Institute and some fairly high-profile politicians, so either word actually works. And it’s not simply that I can’t decide which word I like best. There is a method to my madness and it has to do with the power the chimeric M provides when explaining the impact of our approach. Join me at the next Skeptics meeting and I’ll let you in on the secret.

WHO: Brad Hoge, Ph.D.
Brad Hoge has a doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology, and has taught at the University of Houston as well as working at the Children’s Museum of Houston. He is Director of Teacher Support at the National Center for Science Education, in Oakland, CA. Dr. Hoge has taught all age groups from preschoolers to college graduate students, and he has developed and delivered professional development programs for elementary and secondary teachers. He has also worked on numerous STEM projects and programs including museum exhibits, smart games, and major public events. A published poet, he was editor of Dark Matter Literary Journal from 2013 – 2017.

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 9 May

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Glen Branch

Glenn Branch

WHAT: The year in anti-science-education legislation
From the first bill to ban the teaching of evolution — introduced in Kentucky in 1921 — to the present, legislation aimed at impeding science education has been a regular feature in statehouses around the country. In 2019 alone, no fewer than eighteen such bills have been introduced to date. In his talk, Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education, who routinely monitors such legislation, will discuss the varieties, sources, histories, intentions, and fates of these bills — and will do his best to promote the idea that South Dakota’s “Act to protect the teaching of certain scientific information” is cursed.

WHO: Glenn Branch
Glenn Branch is Deputy Director of the National Center for Science Education. He is the co-editor, with Eugenie C. Scott, of Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools (2006), and the author or coauthor of numerous articles on creationism, evolution education, and climate change education in such publications as Scientific American, The American Biology Teacher, and Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics. He is a long-time student of pseudoscience of many types.

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 11 April 2019

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Richard Saunders

WHAT: Australia’s Psychic Detectives and Psychic “Predictions”
Just how many crimes have so-called Psychic Detectives solved in Australia? How do their claims stack up against the results? Do Police really call upon the paranormal to find missing people? Join Australian Skeptic Richard Saunders as he examines some famous crimes and the alleged supernatural connection. Also, Richard will give an overview of the world’s most comprehensive study into psychic predictions.

WHO: Richard Saunders
Richard Saunders starred as the “Skeptical Judge” on two seasons of the Australian TV show “The One: The Search for Australia’s Most Gifted Psychic”. He is also the host of the weekly podcast “The Skeptic Zone”, now in its 12th year. Richard is a frequent visitor to the Bay Area, a favorite guest at American skeptical conferences, an origami expert and children’s author, CSI Fellow and life member of Australian Skeptics.

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 14 March 2019

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Eugenie Scott, Ph.D.

WHAT: What Would Darwin Say to Today’s Creationists ?

Many elements of the modern American creationist movement would be familiar to Darwin, especially the argument from design, which of course was very well known (and well-regarded) by educated people of his time. Young-Earth creationism, on the other hand, would be puzzling to him; Bishop Ussher’s 4004 BC age of the Earth was not considered mainstream Christian theology in the late 19th century, though certainly the view had its adherents among some clergy. Darwin might have heard of the “scriptural geologists” who promoted a young-Earth view during the 19th century, but like other scientists of his time, he would have ignored them. The current creationist strategy of disclaiming evolution as weak science would have seemed more familiar to him, given the criticisms of evolution – and personal attacks – he encountered during his own time.

WHO: Eugenie Scott, Ph.D. Founding Executive Director, National Center for Science Education, Inc.

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 14 February 2019

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

Kevin Doxzen, Ph.D.

WHAT: Common Misconceptions About CRISPR Genome Editing

Researchers have shown that an assortment of special proteins — called CRISPR — can be programmed to cut any sequence of DNA. The ability to precisely edit the genome of nearly any organism has revolutionized biology, medicine, and agriculture. From curing deadly genetic disorders to engineering drought-resistant plants, CRISPR genome editing technology will reshape modern medicine and equip us with tools to cope with a changing planet. But what about claims that human embryos have already been manipulated with this technology? What is likely and what is unlikely? And what does it mean for the future of this important technology? UC Berkeley biophysicist Kevin Doxzen will unravel this groundbreaking technology and outline pressing questions that now confront society.

WHO: Kevin Doxzen, Ph.D. Science Communications Officer, Innovative Genomics Institute, UC Berkeley

WHEN: 7:30PM Thursday 10 January 2019

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

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


WHAT:   Beyond the Choir – Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia
As the largest and most popular reference work on the Internet, Wikipedia MIGHT be the source of much pseudoscientific misinformation. It isn’t, however, due in large part to the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. Since 2010, GSoW has reviewed and corrected — or wholly created — Wikipedia pages concerning scientific skepticism. Come learn how the wired world’s source of information (40 million articles in more than 250 languages) remains largely free of pseudoscience.

WHO:   Susan Gerbic
Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the founder of GSoW. She is a frequent contributor to Skeptical Inquirer (CSICOP) and Skepticality Podcast. She is the winner of the CSI In the Trenches Award from 2012, James Randi Award for Skepticism in the Public Interest 2013, and a Scientific and Technical Consultant for CSI.

WHEN:   7:30PM Thursday May 11

WHERE:   La Peña, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley


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

Richard Saunders

WHAT:   Too Good to be True?
From rubber wrist bands said to improve your balance, plastic cards that claim to improve the taste of wine, devices with no moving parts and needing no power input to rid your house of rising damp, to computers that claim to scan your body just like on Star Trek, to you name it! In many years of investigations Richard Saunders has seen his fair share of strange devices. Find out the story behind some of the machines that are ‘Too Good to be True.’

WHO:   Richard Saunders is an Australian skeptic and podcaster. He is a life member of Australian Skeptics, CSI Fellow, founded Sydney Skeptics in the Pub, has represented the Australian Skeptics on television and radio shows, and is the co-host of the Skeptic Zone podcast.

WHEN:   7:30PM Thursday December 29 (Special Occasion; not the usual 2nd Thursday!)

WHERE:   La Peña, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

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

Dr. Patrick O’Reilly

WHAT:   The Manson Family, Cults, and the Psychology of Commitment
The history and creation of the Manson Family, the family’s crimes, and the psychological commitment mechanisms that cause people to join (and stay in) cults.

WHO:   Dr. Patrick O’Reilly, Asst. Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, UCSF
Dr. Patrick O’Reilly is a clinical psychologist at Napa State Hospital and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. He is co-author of the book Undue Influence: Cons, Scams, and Mind Control, and is particularly well versed in the inner workings of cults, having joined one to study it for his doctoral dissertation. Dr. O’Reilly is former Chair of Bay Area Skeptics and Past President of the San Francisco Psychological Association.

WHEN:   7:30PM Thursday 8 January

WHERE:   La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley

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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