You may know that in 2014 I took a role as co-organizer of Newcastle Skeptics in the Pub. Will and I inherited a well-organised group from Danny, Richard and Emma - all whom unfortunately had to resign at the same time. Since then we’ve recruited Christine to round off the team.
We have bigger plans for next year, but first, a look into this year. The general take-home points are that our group size has doubled (in terms of regular attendees), we’ve launched a podcast, forged a good working relationship with the best venue in Newcastle and pushed the boat out in terms of the topics we’ve addressed.
January began with an excellent talk on a difficult subject by Dr Margaret McCartney. Talking about death is tough, but it’s true that we are living longer. Dr McCartney discussed palliative and social healthcare, aimed at improving quality of life during end-of-life treatment.
Dr. Richard Shelley took on the banking system in February, back by popular demand from 2014’s Open Mic Night. Richard was speaking on behalf of Positive Money, a group whose intentions are to increase fairness in the banking system - a goal they believe is achieved through education. We found out how money is made and how crashes happen. Alternatives to quantitative easing were covered, such as investment in public infrastructure.
Rebecca O’Neill, a founder of Dublin Skeptics in the Group, confessed her experiences as a shopworker in a famous health food shop. She gave the other side of the coin to some of the claims that are made about miracle cures/supplements, and discussed why alternative therapy pervades in the public consciousness.
We’d worked for several months behind the scenes to organise a General Election debate in April. We recruited Dr. Nick Randall, Head of Politics at Newcastle University (on the recommendation of my partner) to chair a debate between candidates for Labour, the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and UKIP. Alongside our participants was the well-respected Labour MP for Newcastle Central, Chi Onwurah. We had over 100 attendees and started regularly hosting Skeptics at the Tyneside Irish Centre. This allowed us to begin podcasting our events too.
In May our Edinburgh Fringe season began, kicking off with Ash Pryce (from Edinburgh Skeptics fame) and his popular show ‘How to Talk to the Dead’. Ash has been touring the country with this show. It delighted a record audience size with a skeptical look back to Victorian spiritualism, but also a healthy dose of entertaining magic tricks. Look out for this in a town near you.
Lady Luck was on our side in June. We were able to nab Suw Charman-Anderson, a founder of the Open Rights Group and of Ada Lovelace Day, while she was over in the UK. I recall learning about Ada Lovelace back in my very first Computer Science lecture at Newcastle University and thinking how underappreciated she is. Suw sees Ada Lovelace as a powerful figurehead for women in STEM. Her talk provided a historical look into the life of Ada, and why she set up Ada Lovelace day.
Our second Edinburgh Fringe show featured Chris Coltrane, a standup comedian I’ve been a fan of since 2009, but had unfortunately never seen live. Chris has a history with the skeptics movement, having previously overdosed on homeopathy tablets during the 10:23 campaign. His show brought joy to us during a very dark time. If you’re in London, check out Lolitics. Otherwise, you can view the show here.
Another coup for us in August, as we recruited James Welch, the Legal Director of Liberty. James demolished the new Government’s alarming proposition to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Although this is not something happening in the 2015/16 Parliamentary Period, it’s a subject that has historically been abused within the press. James’ talk was a fantastic antidote.
September marked our Fourth annual Open Mic Night - one which proved to be remarkably existential. We discussed whether Intelligent Design is a Science, whether mind and matter are on different planes of reality, the difference between dieticians and nutritionists (there is a big difference!) and how our own cognitive dissonance affects our skeptical abilities.
Another alternative month for us in October! We invited Margaret Corvid, a New Statesman contributor and professional dominatrix. The UK passed a set of misguided, ill-informed ‘porn panic’ laws in 2014, whilst enjoying the box office hit Fifty Shades of Grey. Margaret’s talk mythbusted public perception of BDSM and the nature of consent. I am absolutely gutted we could not get an audio recording of this talk - the only downside to an utterly brilliant event.
In November we returned the the Bridge Hotel and invited urban explorer Dr Bradley Garrett to talk about trespass in the UK. Brad has climbed the shared, explored the hidden stations of the London Underground and provided an account of his travels with startling and stunning photography. His talk was philosophical, focusing on the history of trespass and the future of our cities.
To round off the year, we always host a religious talk. This year we invited the founder of Faith to Faithless, Aliyah Saleem, to discuss her experiences of leaving Islam. Faith to Faithless are a support group for those who wish to leave a faith. Her talk focused on the implications of doing so, such as impact in the community and family life. I was particularly impressed at how Aliyah provided an extremely broad, yet empthatic, view of the topic.
I’ve really enjoyed organising Skeptics in the Pub alongside Will and Christine. We set ourselves a go of having a 50/50 gender split in our talks, thinking this would be incredibly difficult. The Skeptics circuit can be quite white, male and middle-class at times. Turns out, it’s not so hard after all. As mentioned above, we have big plans for 2016, some of which I’ll elaborate on in the coming weeks. I hope you come along for the ride!