Merseyside Skeptics Society

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Merseyside Skeptics Society
A black thought-bubble design set against a white background, with the letters 'MSS' inside the thought bubble.
Merseyside Skeptics Society logo
Abbreviation MSS
Formation February 2009
Type Nonprofit organisation
Purpose Development and support of the skeptic community
Region served
Merseyside
President
Mike Hall
Website merseysideskeptics.org.uk

The Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS) is a nonprofit organisation that promotes scientific skepticism in Merseyside and the United Kingdom. Founded in 2009, the society has campaigned against the use of homeopathy, challenged the claims of psychics, and hosts regular events in Liverpool, podcasts, and an annual conference in Manchester, QED: Question. Explore. Discover.

As part of their Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub events the society hosts guest speakers, who have included Simon Singh, David Nutt, and Robert Llewellyn. It also organises the awareness and protest against homeopathy campaign, 10:23.

History[edit]

The Merseyside Skeptics Society was founded in February 2009 to develop and support the skeptical community in Merseyside.[1] The Society held its first speaker's meeting on 17 September 2009 at the Crown Hotel in Liverpool, England. Professor Chris French, editor of The Skeptic magazine gave a talk entitled "The Psychology of Anomalous Experiences".[2] Merseyside Skeptics Society Limited was registered in the United Kingdom as a private, limited by guarantee, no share capital company on 20 August 2010.[3]

According to co-founder Michael Marshall, the group chose to use the American spelling of 'skeptic' because "in the States, the word isn’t as strongly linked to cynicism. It's not seen as being as negative as it is over here."[2]

When climate change deniers began identifying as skeptics, vice president Michael Marshall made a clear distinction, stating: "In our view, climate change sceptics are not sceptics. A sceptic looks at the available evidence and makes a decision, and for homeopathy the evidence is that it doesn't work. But the sceptical position on climate change is that it is happening."[4]

Activities[edit]

Meetings[edit]

 Photo of Brian Deer speaking at Skeptics in the Pub meeting in Liverpool
Brian Deer talks to the Merseyside Skeptics Society at a Skeptics in the Pub meeting

The Society holds several regular meetings in the Liverpool area, including the Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub, Skeptic Dinners, and Women's Socials.[1] Liverpool Skeptics in the Pub holds two meetings a month, one of which is a social event and the other of which features a guest speaker.[5] Guest speakers have included Ariane Sherine, Simon Singh, David Aaronovitch, Evan Harris, Elizabeth Pisani, Brian Deer, Jon Ronson, Stephen Law, David Nutt, Mark Stevenson, Mark Lynas and Robert Llewellyn, among others. Topics covered vary widely and include health care, science, atheism, the paranormal and supernatural, psychics, politics and psychology. [6]

Homeopathy[edit]

In 2009, the society wrote an open letter to pharmacy chain Boots in which they denounced the sales of homeopathic products in their store. In the letter they wrote that "We trust brands such as Boots to check the facts for us ... We don't expect to find products on the shelf at our local pharmacy which do not work", calling for them to remove the "bogus therapy" from their shelves.[7]

The Society organised the 10:23 campaign to raise awareness of, and campaign against, homeopathy.[8] This campaign included protests in 2010 against Boots for selling homeopathic preparations as equivalent to mainstream, scientifically-based medicine[9] and involved mass homeopathic overdoses outside Boots stores to mock what the protesters asserted to be the lack of efficacy in homeopathic products.[10]

Following the overdose, Boots responded by saying "We know that many people believe in the benefits of complementary medicines and we aim to offer the products we know our customers want."[11] These protests took place in 70 cities in 30 countries around the world, including Australia and New Zealand, and resulted in no ill effects to those taking the products.[12]

In addition, the Society has complained about GPs who have advocated alternative medicine including homeopathy.[13]

Sports wristband test[edit]

In 2012, Merseyside Skeptics Society investigated claims that the Shuzi Qi sports wristbands – bands supposed to improve athletic performance similar to Power Balance bands – had any effect. These bands were promoted in marketing materials as containing a computer chip programmed to "resonate with blood cells' natural frequencies", improving circulation by causing them to "unclump",[14] and were claimed to "bring your whole being into a state of balance where ... your endurance levels are increased."[15] The study cited by Shuzi UK used a technique called live blood cell analysis which has been discredited,[16] and Merseyside Skeptics Society characterized the claims as "nonsensical techno-babble".[14]

After the society conducted tests with a rugby player, it was reported that the bands had made "no discernable difference"[14] and that when subject to double blind trials, the product failed to have any effect on the rugby player's performance.[17] Following the test, a spokesman for Shuzi UK stated that the claims made on its UK website would be updated; however, the director of the company claimed that the tests were biased and unfair.[14]

Challenging psychic claims[edit]

Ash Pryce demonstrating psychic surgery at a Skeptics in the Pub meeting

In 2011, celebrity psychic Sally Morgan was accused of having an off-stage assistant at her shows who passed information to her via radio. Merseyside Skeptics Society subsequently challenged her to participate in a test of her supposed powers, designed by psychologist Chris French.[18] Around the same time, Simon Singh received emails from Sally Morgan's solicitor, stating that she had instructed the solicitor to "take libel proceedings, if necessary, in relation to allegations that she is a cheat" following the campaign encouraging her to take the test.[19]

The Society turned the initial challenge into an annual event titled the "Halloween Challenge"; a scientific test to investigate if professional mediums could demonstrate psychic abilities in a controlled setting.[20] In 2012, researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London conducted the challenge with two professional mediums, who both agreed beforehand that it was a fair test of their abilities, asking them to attempt to identify information about five volunteers they had not previously met and could not see. The experiment involved the mediums writing details about the volunteers, who then had to identify themselves from the descriptions. With a success rate of one in five, the results showed little evidence of the mediums' claimed psychic ability. One of the mediums described the test as "designed to confirm the researchers' preconceptions", saying that she had to work face-to-face to make a connection.[21]

Vice-president Michael Marshall supported the ban of the sale of tarot readings and spells on eBay in 2012, stating he thought it was "solid consumer protection". He continued that "tarot, spells and curses are all highly unproven", noting that although many tarot readers are sincere and believe they have psychic abilities, "that doesn't make it any more real."[22]

When the owner of a missing cat in Lincolnshire enlisted the help of a psychic, who said that it had been adopted by another family and would be found in an area children play, the society said: "Both of these are incredibly obvious scenarios to suggest for a missing cat, and would likely be the suggestions you'd get from someone without psychic powers – and without the need for a fee, too."[23]

In June 2010, Liverpudlian psychic Joe Power made allegations to the police that threats of violence had been directed towards him from members of the society on social media site Facebook. After police contacted the society in regards to the claims, a member was able to explain that the allegations were unfounded.[24] In a statement on their website following the incident, they wrote "nobody involved with the Merseyside Skeptics Society – or anyone that I even know of – has ever made threats to Joe or his family, and we absolutely never will."[25]

Podcasts[edit]

Merseyside Skeptics Society produces three podcasts titled Skeptics with a K, InKredulous and Be Reasonable.[26]

Skeptics with a K[edit]

Mike Hall and "Marsh".
Main article: Skeptics with a K

Skeptics with a K, "the podcast for science, reason and critical thinking", is the official podcast of the Society.[27] Its first episode was recorded on 28 July 2009, at Mike Hall's home. The podcast features hosts Mike Hall, Michael "Marsh" Marshall and Colin Harris – in April 2014 replaced by Alice Howarth – discussing recent events from a skeptical point of view. Co-host Michael Marshall described it as, "a fairly-shambolic, overly-enthusiastic and snarky mix of science, skepticism and sarcasm."[28] A popular semi-regular segment, until 14 July 2011 when it concluded with a special "Best of" edition, was a fact check on the children's book The Giant Book of Fantastic Facts.[29] On 1 April 2013, an entire episode consisted of fictional stories including a parody of Ghost Busters, a story about the "Mersey Book of Monsters" and one about the "Paranormal Investigation Society Scotland (PISS)".[30] The hosts have appeared as guests on other popular podcasts including Cognitive Dissonance and the Token Skeptic. [31]

InKredulous[edit]

InKredulous is a comedy panel quiz show, inspired by shows such as Mock the Week, Have I Got News for You, and The News Quiz, featuring a variety of guests from the skeptic community. In the pilot episode, host Andy Wilson described it as "the quiz show where we satirically examine news stories, websites, events and personalities who will tweak the spider sense of our sceptical listeners and delicous looking panelists." The first episode was released on 8 February 2010.[32] Hosts of other podcasts are frequently guests, including Steven Novella of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Robin Ince of Infinite Monkey Cage, George Hrab of Geologic, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, Kylie Sturgess of Token Skeptic, Ross Blocher and Carrie Poppy of Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, and others. Other notable guests include David Aaronovitch, Paul Zenon, and Jon Ronson.[33]

Be Reasonable[edit]

Be Reasonable is a monthly interview show that engages guests with ideas outside the mainstream scientific consensus, such as a member of the Flat Earth Society.[34] In the first episode, on 28 January 2013, hosts Hayley Stevens (until June 2014[35]) and Michael Marshall described the show as an examination of their guests' beliefs and their structure, and the evidence they believe supports these beliefs.[36] Guests have discussed past life therapy, aura photography and the presence of aliens on Earth.[37]

QED: Question, Explore, Discover[edit]

A panorama taken in the Richard Dawkins Foundation room on the first day of the QED: Question, Explore, Discover conference on Saturday 13 April 2013
QED 2013 Panorama

Starting in February 2011 the Merseyside Skeptics Society, in conjunction with the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society, began organising and presenting an annual two-day skeptical science festival, QED: Question. Explore. Discover.[38]

QED is organised by skeptics volunteers and any proceeds go back into the event or a charity. On the "Token Skeptic" podcast Michael Marshall said, "How we try to always pitch it and how we try and run it is - it's all about the skeptical community. Because its being run by people who are just part of that community who are doing this because we really love it, the atmosphere, seems to be, of people coming together. It's kind of a big party, a celebration of UK skepticism and also international skepticism".[39]

QED 2011[edit]

The master of ceremonies for the first QED was George Hrab. Notable speakers included Steven Novella and Eugenie Scott, and episodes of the podcasts InKredulous, The Pod Delusion, and Strange Quarks were recorded live during the event.[40] In an article on the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website about the first QED conference, Kylie Sturgess said, "The organisers of QEDCon didn't need to proclaim the success of their convention from the stage—it was evident from the beginning to the end."[41]

QED 2012[edit]

The second QED convention in 2012 was sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science[42] and featured speakers such as Robin Ince and Maryam Namazie. The Skeptic magazine awarded the first annual "Ockhams' Awards" at QED 2012. The categories and winners were; Editor's Choice Award – Mike Hutchinson from The Skeptic; Best Skeptic Video – Tim Minchin's "Storm"; Best Science Video – Daniel Keogh and Luke Harris; Best Skeptic Blog of 2011 – Skepchick; Best Podcast – The Pod Delusion; and Best Event/Campaign/Outreach – Robin Ince.[43]

QED 2013[edit]

Photo of Richard Dawkins at QED 2013
Richard Dawkins at QED 2013

The third QED, sponsored by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science and the British Humanist Association, featured speakers such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss.[44] The second annual Ockham's Awards were presented to "Shut Up Infinity" (Best Video); Quackometer (Best Blog); Kylie Sturgess, Token Skeptic (Best Podcast); Skeptics on the Fringe, Edinburgh Skeptics Society (Best Event/Campaign) and The Pod Delusion (Editor's Choice).[45]

Board of directors[edit]

  • President – Mike Hall
  • Vice President & Press Officer – Michael Marshall
  • Secretary – Alice Howarth
  • Treasurer & Events Co-ordinator – Andrew Johnston[46]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Merseyside Skeptics Society (MSS), "About", MSS website, retrieved 23 May 2013 
  2. ^ a b Shennan, Paddy (16 September 2009). "Merseyside Skeptics Society hold first meeting". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  3. ^ Companies House, "Merseyside Skeptics Society Limited, company # 07352726", Companies House website (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Her Majesty's Government, United Kingdom) 
  4. ^ Corner, Adam (22 February 2010). "Do climate change sceptics give scepticism a bad name?". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Hall, Katy. "Merseyside Skeptics in the Pub". Skeptics on the .Net. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  6. ^ MSS. "Skeptics in the Pub". MSS website. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  7. ^ MSS. "An Open Letter to Alliance Boots" (open letter and petition). 10:23 Campaign website. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
    MSS (26 November 2009). "An Open Letter to Alliance Boots". Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  8. ^ Moore, Matthew (19 January 2010). "Boots hit by mass homeopathy 'overdose'". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
    10:23 Campaign. "Homeopathy: there's nothing in it | The 10:23 Campaign". 10:23 Campaign website. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  9. ^ BBC News Online staff (30 January 2010), "Liverpool anti-homeopathy campaigners stage protest", BBC News Online, retrieved 23 May 2013 
  10. ^ BBC News Online staff (30 January 2010). "Sceptics stage homeopathy 'overdose'". BBC News Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
    Coghlan, Andy (3 February 2010). "Mass drug overdose – none dead". New Scientist. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  11. ^ Davis, Margaret (30 January 2010). "Mass 'overdose' staged in homeopathic protest". The Independent. Press Association. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Brettingham-Moore, Caroline (15 February 2011). "No ill effects after public homeopathic overdose". Medical Observer. Australia: MIMS Publishing. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
    Trent, Brian (May–June 2012). "Getting real: A look at the new skepticism". The Humanist (American Humanist Association) 72 (3): 12. 
  13. ^ Robbins, Martin (16 April 2010). "Quacks fly in all directions as alternative medicine regulation fails". The Lay Scientist Martin Robbins. guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c d Siddle, John (4 September 2012). "Sports wristband that claims to improve athletic performance branded an "expensive fad" by Merseyside Skeptics Society". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Macrae, Fiona (13 September 2012) [published 3 September 2012]. "Are £59 must-have sports bands a waste of money? Bracelet did nothing to improve skills of amateur rugby player". Mail Online. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  16. ^ Patterson, Thomas (November–December 2012). "The pseudoscience of live blood cell analysis". Skeptical Inquirer (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) 36 (6): 43–45. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
    Ernst, Edzard (12 July 2005). "A new era of scientific discovery?". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 29 July 2013. 
  17. ^ Marshall, Michael (4 September 2012). "Is the Shuzi sport band a brilliant technology or a waste of money?". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  18. ^ Cox, Laura (29 October 2011). "TV psychic Sally Morgan's powers to be tested in Liverpool". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
    telegraph.co.uk staff (28 October 2011). "Psychic challenged to prove her powers". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
    Sample, Ian (27 October 2011). "Sally Morgan challenged to prove her psychic powers on Halloween". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
    Stewart, Gary (2 November 2011). "Psychic Sally Morgan declines to have powers tested in Liverpool". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  19. ^ Chivers, Tom (31 October 2011). "'Psychic' Sally Morgan sends the lawyers in over suggestions she might not really be talking to the dead". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
    Sims, Paul (1 November 2011). "Refusing to take the test: TV medium Sally Morgan involves lawyers following Simon Singh's psychic challenge". The New Humanist Blog. Rationalist Association. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  20. ^ French, Chris (31 October 2012). "Halloween challenge: psychics submit their powers to a scientific trial". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
    Marshall, Michael (16 October 2012). "Calling all psychics: a chance to prove your powers in a scientific test". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  21. ^ Gayle, Damien (1 November 2012). "Two professional mediums fail test to demonstrate their psychic powers under laboratory conditions". Mail Online. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
    Coughlan, Sean (30 October 2012). "Psychic pair fail scientific test". BBC News Online: Education. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  22. ^ BBC News Online staff (20 August 2012). "Sale of tarot readings and spells banned on eBay". BBC News Online. Technology. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  23. ^ BBC News Online staff (21 May 2010). "Psychic joins search for missing cat in Lincolnshire". BBC News Online. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  24. ^ Muir, Hugh (29 June 2010). "Surely even rightwing thinktankers will admit that the brave world of the web is not always that brave". The Guardian. Guardian Diary. Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  25. ^ MSS (22 June 2010). "Joe Power, non-Psychic non-Detective: A Clarification". MSS website. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
    Caine, Glenn (18 July 2010). "Joe Power VS Derren Brown And The MSS". The Godless Geek Blog. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
    Miles, Tina (25 June 2010). "Psychic Joe Power hits back after TV star Derren Brown branded him 'fake'". Ormskirk & Skelmsdale Advertiser (Trinity Mirror). Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  26. ^ MSS. "Podcasts". MSS website. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  27. ^ Hall, Mike; Marshall, Michael; Harris, Colin (hosts) (28 July 2009) (podcast). Skeptics with a K. Episode 001. MSS. http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/2009/08/skeptics-with-a-k-episode-001/. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  28. ^ Puffin Watch (30 April 2010). "Interview with Michael Marshall of Skeptics with a K podcast". The Skeptical Review. Nigel St. Whitehall (Howard). Retrieved 4 June 2013. 
  29. ^ St. Whitehall, Nigel (Howard) (14 July 2011). "A bit on The Skeptic Zone, Skeptics With a K and skeptical conference musings". The Skeptical Review. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
    Hall, Mike; Marshall, Michael; Harris, Colin (hosts) (14 July 2011) (podcast). Skeptics with a K. Episode 050. MSS. http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/2011/07/skeptics-with-a-k-episode-050/. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  30. ^ Hall, Mike; Marshall, Michael; Harris, Colin (hosts) (1 April 2013) (podcast). Skeptics with a K. Episode 095. MSS. http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/2013/04/skeptics-with-a-k-episode-095/. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
    St. Whitehall, Nigel (Howard) (28 April 2013). "SGU and SWaK on being skeptical of the skeptics". The Skeptical Review. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  31. ^ Cecil; Tom (27 February 2012). "Skeptics with a K" (podcast). Cognitive Dissonance. Episode 36. http://dissonancepod.com/?p=226. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
    Sturgess, Kylie (host) (16 November 2010). "On the QED Conference – Interview with Michael Marshall" (podcast). Token Skeptic. Episode 40. Kylie Sturgess. http://tokenskeptic.org/2010/11/16/episode-forty-on-the-qed-conference-interview-with-michael-marshall/. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
    Sturgess, Kylie (host) (16 November 2010). "On Testing Shuzi Qi Claims with the Merseyside Skeptics" (podcast). Token Skeptic. Episode 135. Kylie Sturgess. http://tokenskeptic.org/2012/09/04/episode-one-hundred-and-thirty-five-on-testing-shuzi-qi-claims-with-the-merseyside-skeptics/. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
    St. Whitehall, Nigel (Howard) (25 November 2010). "The Token Skeptic returns". The Skeptical Review. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  32. ^ Wilson, Andy (host) (8 February 2010). "The Pilot" (podcast). InKredulous. MSS. http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/2010/02/inkredulous-episode-000/. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  33. ^ MSS. "Archive for category InKredulous". MSS website. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  34. ^ Naughton, Pete (23 March 2013). "Podcast and internet radio previews: Gilles Peterson Worldwide, Richard Herring's Leicester Square Podcast". The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  35. ^ Marshall (host), Michael (30 June 2014). "Rafael Dellal" (podcast). Be Reasonable. Episode 018. MSS. http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/2014/06/be-reasonable-episode-018-rafael-dellal/. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  36. ^ Stevens, Hayley; Marshall (hosts), Michael (28 January 2013). "Anita Ikonen" (podcast). Be Reasonable. Episode 001. MSS. http://www.merseysideskeptics.org.uk/2013/01/be-reasonable-episode-001-anita-ikonen/. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
  37. ^ MSS. "Archive for category Be Reasonable". MSS website. Retrieved 21 June 2013. 
  38. ^ MSS (18 August 2010). "Announcing 'QED: Question. Explore. Discover.'". MSS website. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
    Greater Manchester Skeptics Society (18 August 2010). "QED: Question. Explore. Discover.". Greater Manchester Skeptics Society website. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  39. ^ "Episode One Hundred And Seventy Three – On Bad PR – Interview With Michael Marshall". 25 December 2013. Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  40. ^ Hampshire Skeptics Society (Dave) (10 February 2011). "QED Con – Day 1". Hampshire Skeptics Society website. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
    Hampshire Skeptics Society (Dave) (11 February 2011). "QED Con – Day 2". Hampshire Skeptics Society website. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  41. ^ Sturgess, Kylie (4 May 2011), "The Little QEDCon That Can—Question, Explore, Discover In Manchester", Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website, retrieved 23 May 2013 
  42. ^ Wilson, Andy (29 February 2012). "QED: How to make a success of a conference for skeptics". Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  43. ^ Hyde, Deborah (2012). "The Skeptic Awards". The Skeptic 23 (4). 
  44. ^ Malburn, Chris (11 May 2013). "QED [Question, Explore, Discover]". The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS) website. Retrieved 24 May 2013. 
  45. ^ "Who won the Ockham's?". The Skeptic 24 (3). 2013. 
  46. ^ MSS. "Contact". MSS website. Retrieved 15 May 2014. 

External links[edit]