Skepticamp Ottawa 2014: Speakers and talks


Kyla Cullain. Vaccine Preventable Diseases: The need for a shift in strategy

Synopsis: The once nearly eliminated vaccine-preventable diseases of the past are making a return to the developed world, but is it worth continuing the battle with the anti-vaccination movement?  This talk outlines a controversial approach to immunization, where to shift our current efforts, and the inevitabilities otherwise.

Bio: Kyla Cullain, BScN, R.N. Kyla’s public health background is in Communicable Diseases, Outbreak Management and Vaccine Preventable Diseases. She is passionate about promoting evidence-based decision making in our communities, health care organizations and governments. Kyla is currently completing her Master of Nursing with a focus on community health development and organizational leadership.

Josh Bowie. Free Will.

Synopsis: The evidence for the concepts of free will and determinism, and the problems with the former, and the societal/ethical implications of the findings.

Bio: Josh Bowie is a Masters student at Carleton University in Cognitive Sciencewith an undergrad in Neuroscience and a Masters in Public Policy and Administration.  I work full time at Industry Canada in the area of science policy.

Krista Thomas. 5 Myths about GMOs.

Synopsis: Are GMOs tested? Have they been linked to cancer? This talk takes a look at popular messages about GMOs in social media and attempts to separate fact from fiction

Bio: Krista has an M.Sc. in biotechnology from the University of Guelph. For a number of years she worked as a biotechnology regulator with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, overseeing programs for the environmental release of genetically modified crops in Canada.

Nicholas Robinson. Do you understand F=ma?

Synopsis: Scientific education and literacy. Nicholas will present several statistics illustrating the lack of scientific literacy and offer ideas on how the education system has helped contribute to a lack of scientific literacy among the general public.

Bio: High-school student (grade 12) in Ottawa. Hoping to study physics.

Alex Demarsh. Near/Far: An introduction to construal level theory.

Synopsis: Thinking, Near and Far. The concept of distinct modes of cognition operating under different circumstances (so called “dual process models”) is a useful addition to any Skeptic’s toolbox. In this talk, I’ll describe one such model; Construal Level Theory (CLT; aka Near vs. Far thinking). Succinctly, the extend to which objects under consideration are perceived as psychologically distant influences the level of concreteness with which we think; in general, more distance equals more abstraction. I’ll give an overview of the theory, present contexts in which one mode may be advantageous, and suggest general strategies conducive to mode switching.

Bio: Epidemiologist by day, psychological dumpster diver by night. 

M Farkas-Dyck. Food and Alternatives.

Synopsis: Much common counsel on food is scientifically unsound, for examples, that grains are healthy foods or that salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol cause cardiovascular disease. In this talk, I shall evaluate such claims with evolutionary rationale and empirical data.

Bio: A space systems design engineering student and an amateur computer programmer and theoretical physicist.

Able Varghese. Engineering and Tech. Entrepreneurship.

Synopsis: Engineering and Tech. Entrepreneurship.  1.) How closely related are they? 2.) What makes an entrepreneurial person feel limited? is he really limited in some way? 3.) How big of an influence and change you can create in the society using your entrepreneurial skills?

Bio: Mechanical Engineering student at Carleton. Have completed or been part of almost 20 engineering projects. Won city and provincial recognitions for many of them, including some NASA hosted project competitions. Have run & carried out Executive roles in many Organizations/Clubs. A budding entrepreneur and business enthusiast. Find more:-

Michael Kruse. Science Advocacy on the Fringe.

Synopsis: Science is only one aspect of any public policy decision, but it is being increasingly ignored in favour of straight-out ideology or relativistic games. Bad Science Watch is fighting to keep science in the picture in areas like public health and social welfare and we need to inspire the current and next generation of science-literate citizens to get involved in the fight.  This talk will go over some of our projects and their results since our inception in 2011.

Bio: Michael is an advanced-care paramedic in York Region, just north of Toronto, Ontario.  He has been active in the science advocacy community for 5 years and is currently the chair of the board at Bad Science Watch, a non-profit group promoting good science in public policy.  Michael blogs at and and is committed to a compassionate defense of science for the betterment of all Canadians.

Darren McKee. Myths of Foreign Aid.

Synopsis: An exploration of some questions about foreign aid such as whether too much is given to if it actually works.

Bio: Darren McKee is the host of the Canadian skeptical podcast The Reality Check and has given presentations at three previous Skepticamps.

Kirsten Brouse. Why co-ops make good capitalism.

Synopsis: This talk will explore a few of the pros and cons associated with our current economic system and why cooperatives, and the cooperative movement might be an interesting answer to some of the pitfalls of capitalism. Can cooperatives keep the pros of corporate capitalism while mitigating some of the cons?

Bio: Kirsten is a founding board member of the West End Well cooperative – a cooperatively owned business opening in Hintonburg in June. She is also an organizational consultant specializing in change management, strategic planning and stakeholder engagement, and a masters student at the University of Ottawa studying how organizations learn and adapt in fragile states.

Katie Gibbs. No Science, No Evidence, No Truth, No Democracy

Synopsis: There have been drastic changes to science in Canada in recent years.  These changes have happened in three distinct ways: reduction in the ability of government scientists to communicate their research to the public, the erosion of our science capacity, and a reduction in the role of evidence in policy decisions. The impacts of these changes go far beyond science. Science and evidence are essential elements for a functioning democracy. These concerns have led to a more vocal scientific community as well as the formation of Evidence for Democracy – a new science-led, national, non-partisan, non-profit organization advocating for science and evidence-based policies in Canada.

Bio: Katie Gibbs is a scientist, communicator, and organizer who is passionate about the intersection of science and policy. After finishing a PhD at the University of Ottawa in Biology she co-founded Evidence for Democracy—a new organization that advocates for the use of evidence in government decision making and public policy development.

Danielle Quigley.  Why is scientific inquiry important to bullying prevention and intervention programs?

Synopsis: Hundreds of bullying prevention and intervention programs exist and educators, mentors, and youth leaders are left to their own devices to choose a program they think will be effective. The best predictor of whether a program will be chosen isn’t whether the program works, it’s whether it’s been recommended by a friend or colleague. When the majority of programs make little to no difference, and 15% of them actually make things worse for the children and youth they’re supposed help, wouldn’t it be better if evidence-based programs were easily accessible to the adults children and youth rely on?

Bio:I am a post-doctoral fellow with the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (Queen’s and York Universities). I did my graduate work at Carleton University and studied motivations for social aggression (gossip, exclusion, rumour spreading, etc.) among youth and young adults.

Jim Davies. The Beauty of Bad Ideas.

Synopsis: Based on his forthcoming book “Riveted,” Jim Davies presents a new explanation of why people can find bad ideas compelling. In his theory, people believe in paranormal and religious ideas for many of the same reasons they appreciate art. In this talk, he will present the compellingness foundations theory, and describe how bad ideas that spread are specifically well-suited to fit human minds.

Bio: Jim Davies is an associate professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University. Director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory, he explores processes of visualization in humans and machines and specializes in artificial intelligence, analogy, problem-solving, and the psychology of art, religion, and creativity. His work has shown how people use visual thinking to solve problems, and how they visualize imagined situations and worlds.

Clifford Beninger. Why the 12-step Disease Concept of Addiction Must be Abandoned.

Synopsis: The “Disease Theory of Addiction” as propounded by 12-Step  (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous etc.) organizations and institutions is so seriously flawed that in order to progress further in the understanding and treatment of addiction it needs to be abandoned and a new paradigm adopted.

Bio: Clifford W. Beninger B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D. in Biology. Research areas entomology, chemical ecology, ecology. Author and editor. Chair of Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) Ottawa.

 Julian Janes. Cold Reading – How to Become a Charlatan in 15 minutes or less.

Synopsis: For this talk I will talk briefly about what cold reading is and how it is used, and then move into practical discussions of specific techniques used by “psychics” and “mediums”. The hope is to give everyone a few tools to convincingly demonstrate cold-reading to believers of woo.

Bio: I am a former teacher who spends most of his time moulding his children to be world-class critical thinkers.

05. April 2014 by Chris
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