All posts by Mike Agg

Fundies, knights & artificial Ukranian schoolboys

So, our friends have been busy.

Remember, we’re back at The Outlook this Thursday to hear Dr Martin Graff answer the question Can you really find love on the Internet? I hope to see you all there.

What’s on

There are a lot of good things hereabouts in May that I think many of our friends will enjoy. Here’s a brief round-up.

Finally, although Camden is a little out of our neighbourhood, here’s a Sunday afternoon event that I think is worth the trip: a historical comedy jamboree featuring some very good friends of ours:

Comedian Iszi Lawrence hosts The Z List Dead List – a live comedy show about obscure characters from history. From the very skeptical to the downright bizarre, find out about the creative minds, the bloody murders & the amazing discoveries that have been left to get dusty in the forgotten pages of unfashionable history books.

Guest ‘Historians’ this month include ‘Answer Me This’ podcast host Helen Zaltzman, the poet, children’s author and beard owner A.F. Harrold, the skeptical ‘Pod Delusion’ podcast host James O’Malley and nerdgasmic songstress Helen Arney.

Expect death, sex and swearing, all at tea time!

Let me know in the comments below of good things I’ve missed.

PubhD – Coming Soon

Since we launched Reading Skeptics In The Pub nearly three years ago we’ve drawn a steadily growing crowd; an audience of over 100 is not uncommon nowadays. It seems there are a lot of people in Reading who, like us, enjoy going out of an evening to learn something. Our In The Geek Midwinter show last week was sold out, and of course Café Scientifique and Geek Night are as popular as ever.

And so, always eager to please you lovely people, I am proposing to host a new monthly event in Reading, starting early in 2014.

is the brainchild of Kash Farooq and Regan Naughton, who are launching the first PubhD in Nottingham. Each month, local doctoral candidates or post-docs, from any discipline from Art History to Quantum Mechanics, explain their work (PhD/EngD/EdD/etc) to a curious audience in a pub.

Talks will be short and informal, with lots of time for questions, chatting and meeting people. We hope that this will give doctoral researchers useful experience in public outreach and help them gain wider recognition of their work, as well as entertaining and educating punters like us.

And because we at Berkshire Skeptics firmly believe in the importance of the ongoing pursuit of knowledge, we propose to take collect voluntary donations each meeting for the University of Reading student hardship fund.

Watch this space for more information or follow @_PubhD_Rdg on Twitter. If you fancy sharing your research story with the group, please do get in touch.

Working to keep us well

Darrell Gale joined Wokingham Borough Council earlier this year as the new public health consultant. Yesterday he was quoted in the local press urging parents, as their children go back to school, to ensure they are immunised against potentially serious illnesses, mentioning MMR in particular.

It was sensible advice, and I emailed Darrell to thank him and his colleagues for their efforts (local MMR rates have been climbing steadily – see below), and also to express my satisfaction at the tone of the report.

Too often we see the scientific advice on MMR, and on vaccination generally, obscured in the media by misinformation and journalistic false balance. I am grateful that our local paper appears to report on these matters responsibly.

Darrell’s gracious reply included this gem:

As an evidence-based speciality, we in public health often get landed the sticky issues to deal with – such as immunisation and a whole raft of other health issues which our blessed media like to dissect before taking advice or evidence from the most misguided spokespeople they can. I’m pleased that our local paper has taken our advice and printed it without spin, and I hope they continue to do so. With that, we may still improve the health of those in our borough who most need it.

(Emphasis mine).

Darrell is absolutely right. It is not enough for journalists to show skepticism towards the powerful, to scrutinise what our politicians and officials are telling us, as vital as that is. They must also demonstrate the same skepticism to the opposite camp. For sometimes the powerless need help to raise their voice against the powerful; sometimes they can be dismissed as deluded deniers of evidence.

Vaccination rates amongst local children have risen massively in recent years, but there is still some way to go to achieve satisfactory levels for effective community immunity.


(Source: Wokingham Borough Council, Health & Wellbeing Board, Immunisation Update 15/8/13. PDF)

In The Geek Midwinter

The Berkshire Skeptics Society proudly presents In The Geek Midwinter, at Reading’s South Street Arts Centre on 10 December 2013.

In The Geek Midwinter (copyright Peter Jago @peterjagoo)

“A celebration of the joy of all of things geeky . . . an evening of music, comedy, science and story telling. Fantastic entertainment with the added bonus that you’re bound to learn about a bunch of interesting things.”

We have scoured the country for the smartest, funniest, sexiest nerds for your entertainment:

  • Science boffin troubadour and pioneer of Geekpop, Jonny Berliner
  • Award-winning comedian and creator of BBC Radio 4’s It Is Rocket Science, Helen Keen
  • Simon Watt – biologist, writer, comedian and science communicator, presenter on TV’s Inside Nature’s Giants and president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society
  • Our host and compère for the evening, the utterly brilliant comedian, artist and podcaster Iszi Lawrence.

Tickets are £10 from Reading Arts.

It Is Rocket Science!

Helen Keen is a wonderful comedian. As the Guardian says:

Keen’s a perpetually inquisitive character whose comedy is fuelled by her childhood obsessions with space exploration. Harnessing a sharp comedy sensibility to an arsenal of fascinating facts, she’s a treat for anyone who matches a sense of humour with an inquiring mind.

Helen is just one of the amazing acts at our upcoming seasonal spectacular show, In The Geek Midwinter, “an evening of music, comedy, science and storytelling” (Dec 10th, Reading South St, tickets are a bloody steal, honestly I don’t know how we can make such a great show so cheap, it’s ridiculous).

Radio 4 is repeating the first and second series of Helen’s show It Is Rocket Science starting this coming Wednesday at 23:15. If you didn’t catch it first time around, why not give it a listen, fall in love with it, then head over to the Reading Arts website while we still have some In The Geek Midwinter tickets left.

Pop-Sci Book Club : The Philosophy of Science

Pop Sci Book ClubThe Pop Sci Book Club is a simple idea: read top popular science books and share your thoughts with other enthusiasts. It’s hosted by Kash Farooq on his ever wonderful blog, The Thought Stash, and I can’t think of many more enjoyable ways of expanding one’s mind.

The latest book for discussion is Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction by Samir Okasha, chosen by my good friend and neighbour Stephen Henstridge.

If that appeals then head here for links to buy the book and to join the discussion.

Do your bit. For science!

I want to share this email I got from my good chums at the local branch of the British Science Association. They bring a lot of top sciencey goodness round our way, and they could do a lot more with a little help.

The British Science Association envisages a society in which all walks of life are able to access science, engage with it and feel a sense of ownership about its direction.

Our lively branch is made up entirely of volunteers, holding events throughout the year, as well organising an annual Reading Science Week. Each month we host a Cafe Scientifique in partnership with the University of Reading.

We are looking for general volunteers to appoint for specific positions on the committee. If you are interested in getting involved in the branch please get in touch with the branch chair, Immy Smith.

We are also seeking a Reading Science Week coordinator, which is a bigger role. Reading Science Week is a popular celebration of science in the Thames Valley area, and comprises evening and weekend events for all ages, helping to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers with a fun and inclusive programme.

For full details of the role, person specifications and contact details please see the relevant section of the British Science Association website:

There is an application deadline of the 31st August, so please send a CV and covering letter to the branch chair before this date if you are interested.

The Thames Valley Branch look forward to receiving expressions of interest for joining the committee, or Reading Science Week coordinator applications.

Go on. Science isn’t going to outreach itself, you know.

SkeptiCamp London 2013

My only frustration with running Reading SITP is that there are so many brilliant people out there with interesting things to say, but we can only fit so many in. Wouldn’t it be great, every so often, to have an event where sample of a wide range of skeptical topics? Maybe a day-long meeting with literally dozens of short talks from all kinds of people?

Berkshire Skeptics and Soho Skeptics are proud to announce SkeptiCamp London 2013, on Saturday 24th August at Conway Hall.

SkeptiCamps are informal, community-organized conferences, where everyone can share and learn in an open environment. Anyone can give a talk, whether you’re a seasoned speaker on the SITP circuit or just a casual skeptic with something interesting to share.

Of course, you can simply come along and hear what others have to say. But talks are only 15 minutes each, and are you sure you don’t have something to get off your chest?

Tickets for the whole day are just £5 via Eventbrite, and you can sign up to give a talk here.

This SkeptiCamp is a joint venture between Berkshire Skeptics and Soho Skeptics and is led by Chris Higgins, former organiser of SkeptiCamp Melbourne and Melbourne SITP. The exact schedule for the day will be published nearer the time. Til then, get your updates via the SkeptiCamp website, via Facebook or Twitter.

SkepiCamp London logo

The Skeptic Tank

Here’s a fun new thing from Radio 4:

Nick Doody - The Skeptic TankChris Addison and Shappi Khorsandi guest on a brand new panel show about pseudoscience, urban myths, alternative medicine, the unexplained, conspiracy theories and more… Or is it? Yes. It is.

Hosted by comedian Nick Doody – fresh from his appearances on Rory Bremner’s Tonight and The News Quiz and writer for Armando Iannucci’s Charm Offensive – who’ll be taking a hilarious look at every dodgy statistic, urban myth, piece of nonsensical parental advice and old wives tale in a fast moving freewheeling comedy show that’s the perfect antidote to every piece of Daily Mail nonsense you’ve ever had to listen to. This is where the geek bites back.

They are recording the pilot episode on July 28th and you can apply here for free tickets here.