Next meet-up: SitP 2013-05-27

Our next meet-up is the Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub on Monday 27 May, 2013.

As usual we meet at the Mount View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road in Richmond from 18:00 (6pm) onwards. Find us upstairs in the lounge, grab a meal and a drink as you please, and chat with other freethinkers!

Mt View Hotel, Bridge Rd, Richmond.
Image: Mattinbgn / WikiMedia Commons

Neil deGrasse Tyson on The Most Astounding Fact

“We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.”

The most astounding fact is the knowledge that the atoms that comprise life on Earth the atoms that make up the human body are traceable to the crucibles that cooked light elements into heavy elements in their core under extreme temperatures and pressures. These stars, the high mass ones among them went unstable in their later years they collapsed and then exploded scattering their enriched guts across the galaxy guts made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and all the fundamental ingredients of life itself. These ingredients become part of gas cloud that condense, collapse, form the next generation of solar systems stars with orbiting planets, and those planets now have the ingredients for life itself. So that when I look up at the night sky and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us.

When I reflect on that fact, I look up – many people feel small because they’re small and the Universe is big – but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity. That’s really what you want in life, you want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant you want to feel like a participant in the goings on of activities and events around you That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive…

– Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Most Astounding Fact (video)

Event: ‘Are we alone? The hunt for ET’

Image: Frank Vincentz / WikiMedia Commons

Image: Frank Vincentz / WikiMedia Commons

Is there life beyond Earth?

The observable universe is home to millions of trillions of exoplanets, as planets outside our solar system are called. Many of these remote realms are believed to be of similar size to the Earth, some in orbits where surface water can exist in liquid form. Does this suggest the universe is teeming with life? Or might we be alone in the vastness of space?

That’s the question a panel of eminent scientists, along with Fairfax science columnist Peter Spinks, will debate at a fascinating evening event entitled ‘Are we alone? The hunt for ET’.

Presenters will be:

  • Dr Alan Duffy, Melbourne University astrophysicist
  • Dr Katie Mack, Melbourne University cosmologist
  • Dr Rosemary Mardling, Monash University astronomer
  • Dr Christopher Fluke, Swinburne University astrophysicist

With video interviews from:

  • Mr Allen Sirota, robotics supervisor at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Dr Mario Perez, NASA astrophysicist and planet hunter in Washington
  • Professor Mark Sims, former mission manager of the European Space Agency’s Mars probe, the Beagle, and now astrobiology professor at UK’s Leicester University
  • Dr David Patterson, CSIRO astrophysicist and citizen scientist with Planet Hunters

When: Friday 19 April from 6.30-8.00pm

Where: The Edge in Federation Square

Cost: $30 public, $20 for The Age subscribers. Click here to book tickets.


This event is not run by, supported or associated with Melbourne Skeptics in any way.

Roger Ebert, A Quintessence of Dust

Roger Ebert, film critic, has died at the age of 70. Image: Roger Ebert / WikiMedia Commons?

Roger Ebert, film critic, has died at the age of 70.
Image: Roger Ebert / WikiMedia Commons

Pulitzer prize winning film critic Roger Ebert died today at the age of 70, according to his long-time employer, The Chicago Sun-Times. While Ebert will be most well known for his prolific and engaging film reviews it is worth noting he also wrote many articles extolling science and skepticism.

In 2009, in an article warning that “new agers and creationists” have no place in politics, he wrote:

Yet they assure everyone they are “a typical Gemini,” were royalty in a previous lifetime, have a personal spirit guide, and have been told they will develop a serious disease but will recover from it. I rarely hear anyone share that they were a toilet cleaner in a previous lifetime and have a year to live at the most.

– New Agers and Creationists should not be President

Roger wrote extensively about evolution, pseudoscience and religion. Often, his writing could almost be confused for that of James Randi:

As a person who firmly disbelieves in woo-woo, I couldn’t believe he would subscribe to such flim-flammery, but I dutifully obtained the “Jungian tarot deck,” in which the ancient symbols of the tarot are seen as manifestations of our collective unconscious.

– A Dangerous Method

But in my opinion, probably one of Ebert’s finest writings was written in 2011, on the magnitude and beauty of the Universe. It’s a long read, but it’s strikingly eloquent and captivating.

I read articles about astronomy and physics. It doesn’t matter to me how much I understand. Their buried message is always the same: Somewhere out there, or somewhere deep inside, there are mysteries of which we perceive only vague shadows, and there are possibly more mysteries within those shadows, continuing indefinitely.

I urge you to read A Quintessence of Dust. Reading Ebert’s wandering thoughts through wonder, evolution, life, death and eventually art is a humbling and inspiring experience. This article, I believe, is a perfect tribute to a remarkable writer, critic, and journalist. As well as a powerful example of the inspirational power of science.

The Power of Prayer

Is this man praying for world peace? Image: Arkangel Siete / WikiMedia Commons

Is this man praying for world peace?
Image: Arkangel Siete / WikiMedia Commons

After survey results claiming “four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer” were published on the Huffington Post UK website, Martin Robbins did some digging. he discovered the survey was conducted by – surprise, surprise – the Church of England.

Turns out the ‘survey’ didn’t even ask what the headline was claiming – it didn’t ask if the respondent believes in prayer. Instead, it simply asks “if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?” (Emphasis mine!)

And as Martin writes, the results themselves speak volumes about the power of prayer:

31% of respondents said that they would pray for peace in the world. Given the noticeable absence of world peace, there are only a few ways this plays out. Either nobody has gotten around to praying yet, in which case people are callous bastards; or God has ignored them all, in which case God is a callous bastard; or prayer doesn’t work, in which case the Christian movement is the equivalent of a town full of people still trying to call the number of their local Papa Johns two thousand years after it closed down and the phone was disconnected, speaking at the error tone even though nobody has picked up, then spotting a pizza in the supermarket two days later and insisting that it must have arrived by the grace of Papa Johns.

The brilliantly written piece is riddled with similarly quotable gems, but rather than regurgitate them all here I’ll link you to the full article.

Stephen Fry on Incuriosity

If you are hungry for food you are prepared to hunt high and low for it. If you are hungry for information it is the same. Information is all around us, now more than ever before in human history.

There are young men and women up and down the land who happily (or unhappily) tell anyone who will listen that they don’t have an academic turn of mind, or that they aren’t lucky enough to have been blessed with a good memory, and yet can recite hundreds of pop lyrics and reel off any amount of information about footballers, cars and celebrities. Why? Because they are interested in those things. They are curious. If you are hungry for food you are prepared to hunt high and low for it. If you are hungry for information it is the same. Information is all around us, now more than ever before in human history. You barely have to stir or incommode yourself to find things out. The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriosity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.

Picture the world as being a city whose pavements are covered a foot deep in gold coins. You have to wade through them to make progress. Their clinking and rattling fills the air. Imagine that you met a beggar in such a city.
‘Please, give me something. I am penniless.’
‘But look around you,’ you would shout. ‘There is gold enough to last you your whole life. All you have to do is to bend down and pick it up!’

When people complain that they don’t know any literature because it was badly taught at school, or that they missed out on history because on the timetable it was either that or biology, or some such ludicrous excuse, it is hard not to react in the same way.

‘But it’s all around you!’ I want to scream. ‘All you have to do it bend down and pick it up!’ What on earth people think their lack of knowledge of the Hundred Years War, or Socrates, or the colonization of Batavia has to do with school I have no idea. As one who was expelled from any number of educational establishments and never did any work at any of them, I know perfectly well that the fault lay not in the staff but in my self that I was ignorant. Then one day, or over the course of time, I got greedy. Greedy to know things, greedy for understanding, greedy for information.

Stephen Fry, The Fry Chronicles

Creationist stakes $10,000 on contest between Bible and evolution

A scene showing humans and dinosaurs together at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Image: WikiMedia Commons.

A scene showing humans and dinosaurs together at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
Image: WikiMedia Commons.

From The Guardian:

A California creationist is offering a $10,000 challenge to anyone who can prove in front of a judge that science contradicts the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

A majority of scientists disavow creationism, but a June 2012 Gallup poll showed that 46% of Americans believed in a literal interpretation of the biblical version of creation. Legislation to allow students to be taught religious versions of the creation of life is currently being considered in four states.

Read the full article here.

I always recommend against reading the comments (to prevent brain explosions) but I think this comment sums the situation up brilliantly:

MissSchlegel: "He has a PhD in kinesiology..." Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

A response is received from the Chiropractic Board of Australia

Earlier this week I republished Mick Vagg’s article from The Conversation, Concerns about chiros are about quality and safety, not some phoney turf war. Mick’s posted another article on The Conversation, detailing a response he received from the Chiropractic Board of Australia.

Mick writes:

First up, let me say I welcome the response from the statutory regulator to my piece. I raised what were for me some very concerning issues, and I can say that their response is reassuring in many places.

Read the full article at The Conversation.