On Sunday July 3, I gave the following presentation entitled “The Evolution of Empathy” at the monthly Ottawa Skeptics meeting in a local pub. Here’s a brief summary:
Evolution can be viewed as a competition between individuals for survival, which seems at odds with the existence of altruism, co-operation, and empathy. Remarkably, the answer lies in selfish genes, game theory, and even sociopaths. Our future existence may depend on the degree we can extend our ability to empathize.
According to Harold Camping, Christian radio broadcaster and president of a California religious group called Family Radio, Rapture will occur on May 21, 2011. He had previouslyy predicted that Rapture would occur in September 1994.
History is replete with “end of the world” predictions, and fortunately none have been accurate. It raises the question of how the world will actually end. Science cannot supply an exact date for the end of the world, but it can give us some idea about how likely it is to happen within a finite period of time.
This video, entitled “Ways The World Will End” gives the odds of dying due to various astronomical global catastrophes within a human lifetime:
My topic was “The Fine-Tuned Universe”. An interesting topic because the seeming fine-tuning of the fundamental physical constants are often claimed as evidence for intelligent design. But there a natural explanation which could account for this apparent fine-tuning. Here’s the video in case you missed SkeptiCamp 2010. Hope to see everyone at SkeptiCamp Ottawa 2011!
Name: Peta-anne (Pete) Burns
Screen name: mermaid pete
Member Since: 16th June 2010.
Website: only my FB one, and I’m pretty picky as to who I “friend” (oh who am I kidding, I friend any digger that asks me LOL)
Chosen quote: Once the wound stops hurting, what hurts then is the scar.
On October 23rd the Ottawa Skeptics will be taking part in the first ever Ottawa SkeptiCamp. What is a SkeptiCamp? According to skepticamp.org:
SkeptiCamps are informal, community-organized conferences borne from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. Everyone from casual skeptics to the experienced participate, give talks and get to know each other.
That’s right, anyone can give a talk! It’s a totally grassroots event. We’ve already got a few speakers lined up but we need more. Head on over to the Ottawa SkeptiCamp wiki page, it will be updated on a regular basis with all the latest details. If you’d like to give a talk, feel free to send us an email and we’ll tell you how.
You can of course just attend to learn and have a good time too!
Another cool thing about this SkeptiCamp is that there will be three other similar events occuring the exact same day in other Canadian cities. If you don’t live in Ottawa, consider participating in one of the following planned SkeptiCamps: Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Toronto.
Screen name: Brad Leclerc (I’m THAT original)
This past Sunday Ottawa Skeptics’ very own Dana Peters gave a fascinating talk at a local pub about extraterrestrial intelligence. It turns out there’s a lot of reasons why it will be very unlikely or difficult to come into contact with intelligent life from other planets.
Like usual, Dana’s presentation was very slick with cool graphics and animations. I highly recommend you check it out. And when you’re done watching this presentation, check out his previous lecture about brain/mind duality.
Also, if you have an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch you can download his really cool astronomy app “Planets” for free from the App Store.
The National Film Board of Canada has funded an anti-vax documentary. The English version is called “Shots in the Dark” and the French version is called “Silence, on vaccine“. The Government of Canada web site links to this film, including a link to purchase the DVD.
The film begins with the following introduction:
At a time when there was no penicillin or antibiotics, the invention of vaccine over two hundred years ago helped fight some devastating pandemics.
With the evolution of medical science and improved hygiene since then, some diseases have almost been eradicated. Yet more and more vaccines are being added to the vaccination schedule of children and adults. Some people are now experiencing serious side effects.
Without questioning vaccination in principle, the film presents the opinions of both patients and the scientists who are examining the causes of their illnesses.
This opening suggests that vaccines are not as important today as they had been in the past because of “improved hygiene”. This is fallacious claim, because the decline in the incidents of these serious illnesses comes not from improved hygene, but from the use of vaccines. Unless the disease has been totally eradicated (like smallpox, for example), discontinuing vaccination will guarantee the reemergence of the disease.
Is this person donating blood or conducting a personality test? At Canadian Blood Services, the answer may not be all that clear.
Imagine visiting NASA’s website and finding a webpage devoted to astrology. I expect that critical viewers would find it surprising and disappointing. Happily, NASA is not likely to besmirch their own credibility in that way. Canadian Blood Services, on the other hand, does not seem to be afraid to discredit themselves. They are currently hosting a similar type of webpage called “What’s Your Type? Find out what your blood type says about you“, which promotes the superstition of blood-group personality typing.
The website material offered by Canadian Blood Services is based on the Japanese cultural belief system of ketsueki-gata, which claims that a person’s blood group determines or predicts their personality type. The similarities between astrology and ketsueki-gata are striking. Both populist belief systems act as social lubricants and as reassuring oracles for uncritical followers, and both systems are utterly void of credible scientific evidence or even scientific plausibility. So one wonders why Canadian Blood Services would sully their own credibility by flirting with pseudoscience.
November 4th marks the second birthday of the Ottawa Skeptics. It’s time to celebrate!
Now that you’ve finished celebrating, let’s look back to see if we met the goals laid out by Barry and Jon on our 1st anniversary.
So how did we do?