Critical thinking with a pint
Founded in December 2009, Sheffield Skeptics in the Pub is part of a network of SitP venues throughout the UK and the rest of the world. SitP is a good way for people from all walks of life to hear from invited experts and discuss with them important issues that affect us all, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere, while enjoying your favourite drink.
Sheffield SitP has a programme of talks that are usually held on the third Monday of the month from 7.30 pm onwards. There is no need to book-just turn up. There is no entrance charge but a voluntary donation of £3 at the meeting is welcome to cover speakers' expenses and room hire.
We hold our talks at Farm Road Sports & Social Club (see below) which has excellent facilities.
All talks are at Farm Road Sports & Social Club, Farm Road, Sheffield S2 2TP. The carpark is free. Press the buzzer to be let in. We are usually in the back room of the club (through the main bar) or occasionally we may be in the function room to the right of the main entrance door. Just turn up but come early to avoid queuing at the bar. There is no entrance fee, but a £3 donation is welcome at the meeting.
We recommend that you keep an eye on this website and/ or the SitP Facebook just in case we have a last-minute postponement owing to unforeseen events (weather, transport disruption, etc.) Better still, email us and we'll put you on our email list so you'll receive regular notifications.
Sadly, for very unfortunate reasons, our scheduled speaker is unable to present her talk. There is therefore no meeting on this day.
Natasha Dowey and Rob Storrar: Fire and ice!
What are the hazards associated with volcanoes and glaciers, and what happens when they are combined? Volcanologist Natasha Dowey and Glaciologist Rob Storrar will explore some of the dangers associated with some of the most scenic locations on Earth, including how we can understand and mitigate against potential disaster. Natasha will talk about her work on the deadly flows formed during explosive volcanism, and Rob will discuss a lesser-known threat: glacier detachments. They will then explore what happens when these hazards intersect in Iceland: the land of ice and fire.
Natasha is an Associate Professor of Volcanology and Rob is an Associate Professor of Glaciology, both working at Sheffield Hallam University. Natasha's research investigates the dynamics and deposits of pyroclastic density currents; deadly flows of hot ash, gas and rock that remain relatively poorly understood. Her work involves both field volcanology at modern volcanoes such as Tenerife and Santorini, and experimental modelling in a laboratory. Rob has worked for 13 years on understanding how water interacts with glaciers at scales from centimetres to thousands of kilometres, and from hours to 10s of thousands of years. He has worked extensively in Iceland, as well as in Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, Sweden and Finland.
To be announced
'Polyp': Thomas Paine, The Forgotten Enlightenment Hero
'The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason.'
'An illustrated talk, based on my recent graphic novel biography, outlining the ideas and almost hilariously dramatic life
of this great advocate of free speech, rationality, science and democracy. His writings quite literally sparked the American
War of Independence, and yet he's been almost whitewashed from popular history... because, I'll argue, he was one of the first
working-class public figures to apply a blowtorch of plainly spoken logic to religious fundamentalism in his infamous
bestselling book The Age of Reason.
Plus: he was once a pirate! HARRRRR!'
'Polyp' is a professional cartoonist, graphic novelist and science educator. His recent works include PETERLOO, about the infamous Manchester massacre of 1819, and 'thINK' a collection of his skepticism cartoons. He's talked to a range of skeptic groups around the country, and organized live debates about a whole range of conspiracy theories, some light hearted, some tense, political and alarmingly confrontational... copies of his books will be available to buy on the night.
Most recent first
Helen Kennedy: Is Digital Tech Good for Society?
Digital technologies have never been more important, but are they good for society? Dating apps enable romantic connections, but they're also used to harass. Social media platforms moderate content to limit self-harm, but they deny users access to communities of wellbeing support in the process. Automation and AI make institutions more efficient, but they also discriminate - think about the A level results fiasco in the UK in 2020. The fact is that digital technologies don't always have good societal outcomes: well-intentioned technologies can end up doing harm.
In this talk, Helen Kennedy will explain why it's important to think about what a good digital society should look like. This apparently simple question is actually extremely difficult to answer, because what constitutes the digital good is widely contested. She'll map out the varied ways that government policies and researchers from different disciplines conceive of the digital good, showing that, in research and policy circles, there has been far more attention to digital harms than to the digital good. She'll focus on the findings of one of her own recent research projects, Living With Data, which explored how people feel about the way that public sector organisations use their personal data. Such data uses are always simultaneously good and bad, making it difficult for members of the public who are not experts in these matters to know how to interpret them. She will conclude with some thoughts about what her research findings tell us about how to move towards a good digital society.
Helen Kennedy is Professor of Digital Society at the University of Sheffield and Director of the new ESRC Digital Good Network and the Living With Data programme of research. She researches how digital developments are experienced by ordinary people and how these experiences can inform the work of digital practitioners and policymakers in ways that improve our digital society. She has published over 50 outputs, including two edited collections and two sole-authored books - the most recent are Post, Mine, Repeat: social media data mining becomes ordinary (2016) and Data Visualization In Society (edited with Martin Engebretsen, 2020). She works with and advises government departments, media organisations and others, to try to make positive change happen.
Serena Turton-Hughes: Investigating Cryptic Critters and Unknown Biodiversity in UK Woodlands
How much wildlife in your local forest do you really know about? Why are we better at identifying some species and not others? What is hidden biodiversity and why should anyone care? Serena's talk will answer these questions and more as we test our own taxonomic biases and learn a little more about the flora, fauna, and funga of woodlands local to us. She will outline some of the latest ecological techniques in how to find out what creatures are sharing the woodland with us, where these techniques might still be limited, and how her research is examining how we might think differently about trees and woodlands if we're ready to try new approaches when looking at our local arboreal neighbours.
Serena is an interdisciplinary PhD student in the School of Earth and Environment and School of Biology at the University of Leeds. Her research explores anticipated dark extinctions through cultural, philosophical and biological significance of tree extinctions and the extinction of their epibionts. Her work focuses on less charismatic flora, invertebrates and fungi, in tandem with trees as microhabitats, to explore multidisciplinary perceptions of previously unseen species loss.
Chris French: Putting the Claims to the Test
'Although the main research focus of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, is the development and, where possible, testing of non-paranormal explanations of ostensibly paranormal experiences, we have also over the years devoted considerable time and effort to directly testing paranormal claims. This talk will present an overview of these investigations including claims of psychic ability and mediumship, "human magnetism", dowsing, telephone telepathy, and precognitive dreams. Spoiler alert: I am still a sceptic.'
Chris French is Emeritus Professor and Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Patron of UK Humanists. He has published well over 150 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics. His main current area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims. His most recent book is 'Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience' and his next book, to be published in 2024 by MIT Press, will be 'The Science of Weird Shit: Why Our Minds Conjure the Paranormal'.
Lynne Barker: Gut Feelings: The Human Gut Microbiome: Friend, Foe or Neither?
The human gut contains around 100 trillion micro-organisms collectively known as the gut microbiome (Bull & Plummer, 2014). The human genome consists of about 23,000 genes, whereas the gut microbiome encodes over three million genes producing thousands of metabolites influencing the host's fitness, phenotype, and health. Strictly, that means that humans are super-organisms. A complex bidirectional interaction, the Gut-Brain axis exists between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system (CNS) and may play a role in the development of many conditions including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Long Covid, Multiple Sclerosis, and obesity. In this talk Lynne discusses our current knowledge about the possible contribution of gut microbes to health and disease, possible mechanisms of host-interaction, and controversies in relation to Parkinson's and other conditions.
Lynne is a Reader in Cognitive Neuroscience and Neurocognitive Theme Lead for the Centre for Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology, Sheffield Hallam University. Her research focuses on technological innovation for those with neurological conditions and award winning new diagnostic techniques, biomarkers, and interventions. She is currently leading research that investigates the microbiome in relation to neuropathological conditions, and an award-winning team developing a wearable device for people with dementia to extend autonomy and independence (https://dementia.longitudeprize.org/discovery-award-winners-semi-finalists/). Her book How to Build a Human Brain is published by Palgrave MacMillan January 2024.
Annie Howitt: The Power of Asking for Evidence
In a time of misinformation, purchasable blue ticks, and spurious claims to be 'following the science', how do we ask the right questions of information we find from social media, companies, and politicians? 61% of people think it's important the government shows the public all the evidence used to make policy decisions. And yet, the sources of data used in policy making become more complex, modelling and big data being two key examples. But you don't need to be an expert to ask the right questions. This talk will cover how to ask about the data behind the issues that matter to you, be that climate change or local healthcare policies. With examples of how people asking for evidence have made a real difference, we'll show you how you can too.
Dr Howitt is the Communities officer at the charity Sense about Science. During her PhD researching pancreatic cancer, she realised that so much of our understanding of cancer biology and treatments is inaccessible to the people it affects the most. That's how she found Sense about Science, which works with researchers to equip the public, policymakers and media with good questions and insights into evidence, particularly on difficult issues.
Kevin Kuykendall: Exploring the Palaeolithic landscape at Creswell Crags
Palaeolithic archaeology at Creswell Crags has historically focused on the main caves, which have produced a wealth of archaeological material documenting Neanderthal and early modern human lifeways. Our research project aims to build on this framework by exploring the archaeological landscape of Creswell Crags outside of the caves - both in the gorge and in the surrounding areas. Our aim is to recover archaeological material relevant to understanding how these early human populations were adapted to survive in the harsh Ice Age environments that existed prior to 12,000BP, and why they continued to return to this region over tens of thousands of years.
Dr Kuykendall is Senior Lecturer in Palaeoanthropology at the Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
Angela Glaves & Kate Quinn: Heavy metal therapy
Heavy metal therapy is an online resource and community of people who find metal music helpful for mental well-being. It is a place to find and share experiences of how metal has helped us, the meaning we take from songs or lyrics, and play lists that we have found useful.
Angela Glaves is a Senior lecturer in mental health nursing who also works in the NHS as a community mental health nurse for the crisis team. Angela is an avid fan of metal music. Angela has worked in a variety of mental health services with clients ranging from adolescents to older adults Angela is interested in the prescriptive nature of society, stigma and self-stigma in mental health, recovery in metal health and the use of heavy metal music in working with people who experience mental health issues.
Dr Kate Quinn is a clinical psychologist from the UK, working in NHS services in early intervention for psychosis. She is also a fan of heavy metal music. Kate’s background is in working with young people who have extreme or unusual experiences that may be conceptualised as psychosis, such as hearing voices. She is interested in voice dialogue and community psychology approaches, and how we can engage young people in mental health support beyond the therapy room, such as via social media.
Susan Cartwright: The dark universe.
When we look out into the night sky, we see hundreds of stars. If we use a telescope, those hundreds turn into millions. Yet all these millions of stars make up less than 1% of the energy content of the Universe: despite appearances, the Universe is dark. Some of this dark material is simply matter that is cool (so it doesn't glow in visible light) and compact (so it doesn't block out a noticeable amount of background light) - in this broad sense, you and I are dark matter. However, there is clear evidence that most of the invisible matter is not like this: it has properties that are fundamentally different from the properties of the ordinary matter that surrounds us and of which we are made. Astronomers call this mysterious stuff "dark matter". We know something about the bulk properties of dark matter, but we don't know what it is: many possibilities have been dreamt up by theorists, and physicists at Sheffield are looking for two of the more popular suggestions, but so far there has been no confirmed discovery. Yet more problematic is the "dark energy" which appears to make up more than 2/3 of the energy content of the Universe. We have no idea at all what this is, and no very satisfactory theories either. The observational evidence is clear, but the cause remains a puzzle. The earliest meaningful observation in cosmology was that the night sky is dark. At that time, darkness simply meant the absence of visible light. Centuries later, we now know that the Universe is dark in a much more fundamental sense - but the mystery still remains.
Susan Cartwright is a Senior Lecturer in Particle Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Sheffield.
Phillip Roulston: Thanatopraxis: The art of preserving the dead.
This month's presentation is all about embalming of deceased persons. Our speaker is professional embalmer Phillip Roulston Dip Emb. MBIE of Sheffield. In Phillip's words: 'My Current role as an embalmer is to preserve the deceased for a variety of reasons, and where necessary perform reconstructive procedures to try to restore a more natural appearance. I see my role as being the last moment in which to produce the most pleasant memory that a family can have of a loved one that has passed. I feel that its pivotal in creating the best possible image for what is already a very traumatic experience, when losing someone you love. I have seen the adverse effects of the opposite result and they can do great harm, potentially lasting a lifetime. One of the highlights of my career was being invited to Malawi in 2007 by then President Dr Bingu wa Mathurika to embalm the first lady Ethel Mathurika.' In his presentation Phillip will describe a brief history of embalming; procedures and practice of modern embalming; problem cases; reconstruction; and his experience, the human side and 'highlights'.
Phillip is Managing Director and Embalming practitioner for Omcke Embalming. He is a fully qualified Embalmer with a diploma in Embalming and Member of the British institute of Embalmers, with 22 years' experience within the funeral profession.
Christine Gilligan Kubo: Making Sheffield Green: Can we do it and whose responsibility is it?
From Christine: 'Sheffield has signed up to achieve Net Zero in carbon emissions by 2030. What does this involve and how can we achieve this? Do we have to consider only carbon emissions - what about the nature crisis that we are facing? "Environment Agency Chief Executive warns of a 'silent spring' for wildlife if warnings are ignored and urges action ahead of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity" (July 2022). So what do we mean by "Making Sheffield Green"? We are all familiar with the concept of climate change but do we really know what changes will be required in terms of a city like Sheffield. What can we and should we do in Sheffield to reduce the threats from climate change and biodiversity loss? Is this purely an issue for national government? What can the council do? What should we, as citizens of Sheffield do? These are some the questions I will addressing in this talk. I hope you will all come along with your questions and suggestions so that we can give some serious consideration to one of the most pressing issues of our time.'
Dr Christine Gilligan Kubo is the Green Party councillor for Hillsborough ward and deputy chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Change Committee on the council. 'Before becoming a councillor, I was a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, Business school, where I lectured primarily in issues around sustainable and responsible business practices. I introduced this concept into the curriculum back in 2009 and it has become an increasingly important area of study since then. I remember when I first took the idea of sustainability in terms of social, environmental and economic sustainability to the academic board as a possible area for study in a business school. I was initially rejected with the words 'It is a fad - it will disappear soon'. How wrong they were, and luckily the next time I presented the concept to be added to the curriculum it was accepted. We have come a long way since then in terms of understanding and awareness but I am not sure that our actions are keeping up with our ambitions.'
Fiona Fox: Behind the Hype: The inside story of science's biggest controversies
This was an extra October event, postponed in July.
MMR, Climategate, Frankenstein foods and 'babies with 3 parents' … science stories have made headlines over the last few decades, often for the wrong reasons. For years, science and media seemed to be opposing camps and many scientists actively resisted talking to the media. Would the two never meet?
Founding director of the Science Media Centre, Britain's independent science press office, Fiona argues that a lot has changed since then. Covid has demonstrated how scientists have indeed stepped up to the plate and the status of science journalists has risen inside newsrooms with editors recognizing the importance of getting the science right. Fiona argues that the groundwork for these positive changes had been laid over many years and through a series of controversial stories including animal research, human animal embryos and GM crops.
'In her book Beyond the Hype (signed copies will be on sale at the meeting), Fiona shines a light on the truth behind some of the headline-grabbing stories of the last two decades. From global emergencies like Covid-19 and Fukushima to the shaming of Tim Hunt, she reveals the highs and lows of each media controversy and shows us how more scientists engaging openly has transformed.'
Kevin Precious: The reluctant teacher
'Kevin's stage charisma and poise set him head and shoulders above the previous acts' - The Times
As with Kevin's previous appearance at Sheffield Skeptics in the Pub, his presentation is in the form a comedy act with an important message and plenty of time for serious discussion.
'A work-in-progress show as former-teacher turned stand-up-comedian Kevin Precious takes a backward glance at his previous profession, as he looks ahead to Edinburgh 2023. Expect anecdotes and observations aplenty, as well as the odd polemical interjection regarding the parlous state of the profession.'
Chris Hassell: Insectageddon: Where have all the insects gone?
What's the buzz about insect declines? 'Insectageddon' has been high on the media agenda for much of the past decade, but what do we really know about insect biodiversity, how do we monitor insects, and how confident are we in our conclusions? Drawing on a range of research from the Victorians to the present day, this talk will explore the history of entomology, the many varied methods used to count bugs, and some emerging technologies that may help. Come along to find out about the bias in biodiversity, what's bothering bees, and why birds are boring.
Dr Christopher Hassall is Associate Professor of Animal Biology at the University of Leeds. His research examines the ways in which human activities influence natural systems, with a focus on insects, cities, climate, and emerging technologies.
Richard Firth-Godbehere: A Human History of Emotion: How the way we feel built the world we know
We like to think of humans as rational creatures, who have relied on calculation and intellect to survive. But many of the most important moments in our history had little to do with cold, hard facts and a lot to do with feelings. In this talk, Richard draws on psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, art, and history. With a particular focus on the feeling of disgust, he vividly delves into what we currently think emotions are, illustrates how our understanding and experience of emotions has changed over time, and how our beliefs about feelings profoundly shaped us and the world we inhabit.
Richard Firth-Godbehere, PhD, is one of the world's leading experts on disgust and emotions. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions, Queen Mary University of London. Signed copies of his latest book, 'A Human History of Emotion: How the Way We Feel Built the World We Know', will be available at the meeting.
Richard Bentall: Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
This presentation addresses the question 'What is the difference between 'delusion' meaning a belief that is the symptom of a mental illness and 'delusion' meaning any seemingly bizarre belief not regarded as such?' The greatest minds in psychiatry have laboured long and hard to agree on the answer to this question, which has come more to the fore in recent times with the growing number of pseudosciences and conspiracy theories such as QAnon. And what about Richard Dawkins' claim that the belief in God is a delusion? In his talk Richard will discuss many suggested ways of distinguishing between pathological and nonpathological beliefs. He will then suggest a solution of his own, and illustrate how examining pathological beliefs can inform our understanding of beliefs in general.
Richard Bentall is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Sheffield He has studied the cognitive and emotional mechanisms involved in psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoid delusions and manic states, using methods ranging from psychological experiments, and experience sampling to functional magnetic resonance imaging.
Michael Brooks: The Art of More: How Mathematics Created Civilisation
1, 2, 3 … ? The untrained brain isn’t wired for maths; beyond the number 3, it just sees ‘more’. So why bother learning it at all? The mathematics of triangles enabled explorers to travel far across the seas and astronomers to map the heavens. Calculus won the Allies the Second World War and halted the HIV epidemic. And imaginary numbers, it turns out, are essential to the realities of twenty-first-century life. You might remember studying geometry, calculus, and algebra at school, but you probably didn’t realise — or weren’t taught — that these are the roots of art, architecture, government, and almost every other aspect of our civilisation. From ancient Egyptian priests to the Apollo astronauts, and Babylonian tax collectors to juggling robots, join Michael Brooks and his extraordinarily eccentric cast of characters in discovering how maths shaped the world around you.
Michael Brooks is a science writer with a PhD in quantum physics and the author of several books, including '13 Things that Don't Make Sense' and 'The Quantum Astrologer's Handbook' a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. His latest book is 'The Art of More: How Mathematics Created Civilisation'.
Chris French: The Science of Weird Sh*t: Twenty Years of Weird Science at Goldsmiths College
Following his retirement in October 2020, Emeritus Professor Chris French reflects on the work of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit, founded in the year 2000. His presentation will provide an introduction to the sub-discipline of anomalistic psychology, which may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, in an attempt to provide non-paranormal explanations in terms of known psychological and physical factors. This approach will be illustrated with examples relating to a range of ostensibly paranormal phenomena.
Michael Marshall: Inside the White Rose: An anti-vaxx, conspiracy theory ecosystem
When 2020 brought with it a new strain of coronavirus, the world was plunged into confusion and uncertainty. While most people accepted the realities of the virus, little white stickers began to appear in public around the world claiming COVID-19 was a hoax concocted by the governments of the world to instil fear into their people, as a pretext for introducing new, permanent totalitarian laws. The graffiti was part of a co-ordinated grassroots campaign by a group calling itself The White Rose, urging members of the public to join their encrypted messaging channels to learn more about what was really going on. So that's what Michael Marshall, full-time skeptical investigator, did. After spending months undercover in the messaging app Telegram, he reported on the various conspiracy theories spread by the White Rose, and how groups used the Covid crisis to radicalise vaccine hesitant members of the public into a dangerous ecosystem of misinformation and extremism.
Michael is the Project Director of the Good Thinking Society, Editor of The Skeptic, and President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. For further detail visit: https://goodthinkingsociety.org/about/.