First Sunday Meeting Report, March 1st 2014
Rebecca O’Neill, founder of Dublin Skeptics In The Pub, was our speaker and gave a talk entitled What is a skeptic and what does it take to make someone one?
A designer by training, during her undergraduate years she worked part time for the health food chain Holland & Barrett. The hours and pay were good and she liked it. She had always suffered from migraines and asthma and during her time there exhausted all available products seeking a cure. She calls this period ‘Rebecca The Believer’.
Staff were encouraged to use anecdotal evidence., e.g., ‘this worked on my friend’ , and push follow-on buying to boost sales. She noticed customers became vulnerable to using non-medical solutions such as chakra centering, holistics and spirituality. After three and a half years she had gone from cynicism to scepticism and had become angry.
Rebecca now works for the Natural History Museum and is studying for a Ph.D. A colleague there introduced her to skepticism and as her job was repetitive, she was able to listen to podcasts of skeptic groups and individuals. She observed they all applied science based thinking to everyday work.
One such group is TAM, based in the USA. It is white male dominated having one token female. It does most of its work online and puts out a Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast weekly. TAM states ‘in order for an argument to be sound all of its premises must be true’.
The most famous skeptic is James Randi. Stating that ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, in 1964 his group offered $1 million to anyone who would, under supervision, prove evidence of a paranormal event. So far this has never been claimed.
The USA had the biggest number of skeptics groups followed by the UK. The Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS) is famous for organising the ‘10.23 Campaign’ where 400 skeptics took a homoeopathic overdose simultaneously outside Boots at 10.23 am. to raise public awareness that these products were ineffective. The Edinburgh Skeptics is another excellent UK group and is very involved in mental health and anti-psychaitry issues.
In 2009 a friend suggested that Rebecca should set up Irish Skeptics in the Pub (now Dublin Skeptics). They meet once a month in a pub as they find this is a safe place for discussions with the advantage of no room hire cost. The Lord Edward or The Black Sheep are the usual venues but at the request of some members, they also have alcohol-free meetings.
Their activities have included hosting famous skeptics such as Richard Wiseman and George Harb. Rebecca has held a walking tour and gallery visit with the Dublin group and they have a book swap scheme. There are now skeptics branches in Belfast, Galway, Letterkenny, Waterford and Cork. Rebecca also speaks to skeptics groups overseas.
The Skeprechauns is the official podcast of the Dublin Skeptics and is one of the few all female led groups. They talk mainly about female issues such as the Savita Halappanavar case.
A Q & A session followed