Skeptics in the Pub: “Re-think 9/11”? Think again!

On this year’s anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, many people were surprised to see ads appearing on buses in Ottawa, calling on us to “Re-Think 9/11”.

These ads, part of an international campaign organized by the group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth (A&E 9/11), call into question the common understanding of the events of 9/11.

Instead of being the results of terrorist activity, the members of A&E 9/11 assert that, based on their experience in engineering and building design, the collapse of three towers that day cannot be explained by impact damage and fires and are more easily explained as being the result of a “controlled demolition”.

Presented by the Ottawa Skeptics, this talk looks into the most prominent arguments of A&E 9/11, to sort out the real truth of the matter. We also ask some questions ourselves, about who these architects and engineers really are, and what motivates their activities.

Everyone is welcome to attend.


Where: The Royal Oak on the Canal, 221 Echo Drive, Ottawa

When: Monday September 23rd


18. September 2013 by Chris
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Applied Rationality

How well does your internal map represent the external territory? Can we overcome the pervasive errors and biases that cause us to misjudge reality?

We are starting a series of moderated discussions on topics related to applied rationality. Each session will be prefaced with a short introduction to the topic, followed by discussion.

These moderated events will be presented by Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg, member of the Less Wrong community and two-time alumni of the Center for Applied Rationality workshops in San Francisco.


Rational Debating 

In regular debating, the goal is to sound more plausible than the other person and “win the debate.” In rational debating the goal is to end up believing true things. How can this work in practice?

(This event has concluded)

Possible upcoming topics

Bayesian reasoning

Confidence calibration

Effective altruism

Scope insensitivity

Find out more

Follow us on to receive notifications of upcoming events and to RSVP.

31. August 2013 by Chris
Categories: Meetings, Upcoming Meetings | Tags: | 2 comments

Science-based pub quiz: Maps, Fish, and Sex

The Ottawa Skeptics proudly present another edition of our Science-Based Pub Quiz, this time presented by Ania and Alex.

If you’re a fan of fish, geography, sex, and other things that get you wet, you won’t want to miss this one.

Match wits and celebrate science, skepticism, and general geekery in this British-style pub quiz. No sports questions, we promise.

Compete for prizes (maybe) in teams of three or four! No entry fee! Win kudos!

First time at the Ottawa Skeptics? Never been to an event before? This is a great way to meet and mingle, so come on out!

If you don’t have a team, don’t worry. Just join up with other folks after you arrive. Nobody will be without a team.

Where: The Royal Oak on the Canal, 221 Echo Drive, Ottawa.

When: Monday September 2nd, 2013.


28. August 2013 by Chris
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Skeptics in the Pub: Why you (probably) won’t die in a zombie apocalypse

Time to break out your chainsaws and shotguns!

Or maybe not. 

Will Miles takes a look at some of the less plausible elements of the traditional zombie breakout scenario, and some methods the non-infected can use to avoid joining the army of the living dead.

When: Sunday, June 9th, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Where: Royal Oak, 161 Laurier Avenue East.

We’ll be in the  basement room.

04. June 2013 by Chris
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Skeptics in the Pub: Free energy and perpetual motion

442px-Perpetual_Motion_by_Norman_RockwellFree energy: Perpetual Failure?

The dream of perpetual motion can be traced back at least as far as the 8th Century, to a seemingly magical, magnetically powered wheel. The idea held allure even for such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, but despite its long history has never amounted to anything. Perpetual motion remains an epistemic impossibility, that is, impossible within our current best understanding. Given that fact and the track record of failure, the U.S. Patent Office refuses to grant a patent for any such device without a working model.

Everything old is new again and what were perpetual motion devices have been repackaged into free energy (or overunity) machines, whereby you can get more energy out than you put in. This would, of course, change the world and that’s exactly why “they” won’t let you know about it.

Don’t worry though. We’ll keep you in the loop.

For example, in 2008, a local inventor was given space at the University of Ottawa to work on a device that while not claimed to continue indefinitely was supposedly capable of operating at efficiencies of 7,000 %.

Steve Watson (M.Eng.) took part in an investigation into this device. In this talk he will present a brief overview of historical attempts to produce perpetual motion machines, the basic physics of why they don’t work, and the results from the examination of this recent local free energy project.

Please RSVP at or at Eventbrite.

When: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 4:00 PM

Where: Clocktower Brew Pub, Westboro, 418 Richmond Rd, Ottawa. We’ll be in the room behind the bar.

25. March 2013 by Chris
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Ottawa Skeptics in the Pub: Science Based Pub Quiz

Which NASA mission first landed humans on the moon? With regard to animals, what is a digitigrade? And by what more common name are the nares known?

None of these questions, but many others, will be asked at our next Science-Based Pub Quiz!

Match wits and celebrate science, skepticism, and general geekery in this British-style pub quiz. No sports questions, we promise. Compete for prizes (maybe) in teams of three or four.

The Ottawa Skeptics have hosted these occasional pub quizzes since 2011. This week’s edition is inspired by recent world events and Enrico Fermi.

First time at the Ottawa Skeptics? Never been to an event before? This is a great way to meet and mingle, so come on out. If you don’t have a team, no problem. Just join up with other folks after you arrive.

When: Sunday, March 24th, 2013, 7.00 pm

Where: The Foolish Chicken, 79 Holland Avenue, Ottawa (just north of Wellington).

RSVP at, at eventbrite, or just turn up. Everyone welcome!

10. March 2013 by Chris
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Skepticamp Ottawa 2013

This February 24th, join the Ottawa Skeptics for our third open conference event, Skepticamp Ottawa 2013.

Skepticamps, modeled on the BarCamp approach of non-curated, user-driven content and participation, are entertaining, educational and informative events in a relaxed environment. The overall theme for the event is science and scientific skepticism. This year we are fortunate to be at the Shopify Lounge, right in the heart of downtown Ottawa. composite shopify

Come along to listen to some great talks, ask questions, and meet interesting people!

We have a full roster of speakers. Here’s how it looks:

12.30: Doors open

1:00 PM – 1:20 PM: Darren McKee – Smart Giving

1:20 PM – 1:40 PM: Nic Watson – When video game players become designers: a Myst-erious ethnography

1:40 PM – 2:00 PM: Alex Gonzalez – Skepticism in the aquarium store

2:00 PM – 2:20 PM: Chris Hebbern – #DropJenny: an example of successful skeptical activism

2:20 PM – 2:40 PM: Break

2:40 PM – 3:00 PM: Dana Peters – Gedankenexperiments

3:00 PM – 3:20 PM: Diane Bruce – Propaganda

3:20 PM – 3:40 PM: Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg – The ape in the office

3:40 PM – 4:00 PM: Corey Yanofsky – Plausibility and probability

4:00 PM – 4:20 PM: Break

4:20 PM – 4:40 PM: Cliff Beninger – Faith and unreason

4:40 PM – 5:00 PM: Dave Green – From Free Energy to Clean Water – Recognizing Your Own Mistakes

5:00 PM – 5:20 PM: Kevin Brown – Anti-missile defences

5:20 PM – 5:40 PM: Ania Bula – Sex Mythbusters

5:40 PM – 6:00 PM: It’s a wrap!

Talk summaries can be found here.

Everyone’s welcome. To give us an idea of attendance please RSVP at meetup or eventbrite, and check out the Wiki for this event for more information.

21. February 2013 by Chris
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This February 10, celebrate Darwin Day in Ottawa in the traditional manner

Commemorate the 204th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth this year with the Centre forhappy-darwin-day Inquiry Ottawa.

From as early as 1972, scientists and academics have celebrated the occasion with what’s known as “Phylum Feasts”: attendees bring foods representative of as many different phyla as can be obtained. It’s entirely in keeping with Darwin’s own dietary proclivities: while at Cambridge University he was a member of the Glutton Club, a group convened to once a week eat animals not typically found in restaurants. This included hawk and bittern, but brown owl was apparently a challenge too far. While on the Beagle he consumed armadillos, agoutis, puma, rhea, iguanas and giant tortoise.

At least one of those is now extinct, thanks, in some small part, to Darwin eating an ancestor or two. However our modern understanding of taxonomy provides plenty of insight in how to assemble a menu that is not at the same time an extinction-level event for rare species.

Here in Ottawa CFI will be hosting their own version, with a biodiversity potluck and a talk on evolution.

6pm potluck:

For the potluck, we are seeking biodiversity, so let’s see how many different species we can identify in our food. Both storebought and home-made items are welcome – post to the comments if you need suggestions.

There will be a prize for the food item that includes the most species, but the challenge is that you must provide a list of scientific (binomial) names for the ingredients. (Chemistry doesn’t count, so if you are baking, better to use saccharomyces cerevisiae instead of sodium bicarbonate.)

7.30 talk:

At 7:30, we will present the talk Change Through Time for the Times: Evolution for the Layperson, presented by biology graduate student Alex Gonzalez:

The public imagination of what evolution is often veers from one misconception to the next. Alex will discuss some of these misconceptions, such as “spontaneous evolution” and “irreducible complexity” in order to provide a clearer understanding of what the science actually says about the appearance of the burgeoning variety of life on Earth, and of how evolution plays into the reality of the 21st-century.

Get the details, and RSVP, here.

02. February 2013 by Chris
Categories: Meetings, Upcoming Meetings | Tags: , , | 1 comment

Anti-vax advocate Jenny McCarthy dropped from Ottawa cancer charity fundraiser

Good news from the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation: responding to criticism from media, social media and groups including the Ottawa Skeptics, CFI, CASS and Bad Science Watch, they have dropped Jenny McCarthy from their upcoming Bust a Move charity fundraiser.

This is the right thing to do and I’d encourage everyone to support them; while this week has been a difficult one for the organisers, they should be able to put this behind them and with help go on to make Bust a Move Ottawa 2013 a successful event.

If you would like to donate, they suggest doing so here. You can leave a message saying why you are donating. Mention #dropjenny and thank them for doing the right thing. I’d promised to donate $100 and have done so, with pleasure.

Thanks to everyone who participated in #dropjenny. Ottawans should be proud that so many people here stood up for science, reason, and evidence-based public health interventions, and that few to none defended the choice of an anti-vaccination advocate for a health event. The response has been positive and tremendous. Well done.

02. February 2013 by Chris
Categories: Local News, Local Research | Tags: , , | 5 comments

Anti-Vaccination Advocate to Headline Ottawa Cancer Event: CFI Canada, CASS and Ottawa Skeptics Issue Response

The upcoming fundraising event “Bust a Move”, held regionally in Ottawa is planning to host Anti-Vaccination Advocate Jenny McCarthy as headliner. McCarthy’s writings have contributed substantially to the belief that vaccines cause autism and cancer. Together with CFI Ottawa, CFI Canada, and the Comittee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism, we have released the statement below.

An Open Letter to Bernice Rachkowski

To Bernice Rachkowski
Leadership Committee Chair
Bust a Move 2013

Dear Ms Rachkowski,

We are greatly disappointed to hear of your decision to select Jenny McCarthy as headliner for the Bust a Move fundraiser this year. As pointed out by the Ottawa Citizen, Ms. McCarthy is well-known for her outspoken support for deeply unscientific and anti-health claims regarding vaccination and autism. As such, she is entirely unsuitable to represent a cancer charity such as the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, and we ask you to please reconsider this unwise invitation.

McCarthy has claimed for years that vaccines cause autism, ignoring copious scientific evidence that there is no such connection. She has used her celebrity to spearhead a public campaign to discredit childhood vaccination, a medical advance responsible for saving millions of lives every year. Her celebrity status – which you cite as the reason for your invitation – has helped her to persuade large numbers of parents to leave their children defenceless against potentially lethal illnesses such as measles and whooping cough. The dangers of such reckless misinformation have become increasingly apparent in recent years with the tragically unnecessary resurgence of several of these diseases.

McCarthy’s campaign against vaccinations should be of particular concern to the ORCF, for declining vaccination rates have an impact on cancer and cancer survival rates. The HPV vaccine, which shows great promise in reducing the incidence of cervical and other cancers, has met with resistance and disappointingly low uptake rates, in part because of the public distrust of vaccination sown by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy. Moreover, the reduction in herd immunity caused by wide-scale refusal to vaccinate children poses a very real threat to the survival of immunocompromised cancer patients.

By inviting Jenny McCarthy to participate in your fundraiser, you raise her profile within the community, and implicitly give support to her anti-vaccination efforts. Even though she may not mention these views as part of your event, she will gain credibility from association with such a reputable and well-liked charity as the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. At the same time, you bring yourself into disrepute by inviting such a controversial figure to play a prominent part in your campaign. As members of the medical, scientific, and skeptical communities, we cannot help but question the judgement of an organization that would extend such an invitation.

It is not too late. You are reported in the Ottawa Citizen to have said that you would be surprised if people were upset by your invitation of Ms McCarthy. This was clearly a miscalculation. We hope that you will recognize the error that you have made and restore public trust in your organization by rescinding this invitation.


Michael Payton, National Executive Director, Centre for Inquiry Canada

Iain Martel and Steve Livingston, Co-chairs, Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism

Chris Hebbern, Chair, Ottawa Skeptics

Seanna Watson, Chair, Centre for Inquiry Ottawa

31. January 2013 by Chris
Categories: Local News, Local Research | Tags: , , | 3 comments

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