Michael Marshall (skeptic)

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Michael Marshall
QED 2015 Marsh.jpg
Michael Marshall at QED 2015.
Born Michael Marshall
13 August 1983
Bishop Auckland
Residence Liverpool
Nationality British
Other names Marsh[1]
Occupation Freelance journalist, public speaker, skeptical activist
Employer Good Thinking Society[2]
Organization Merseyside Skeptics Society, Good Thinking Society
Known for Skeptical activism
Spouse(s) Nicola Throp (2015–present)[3]

Michael "Marsh" Marshall (13 August 1983) is a British skeptical activist, freelance journalist, public speaker, podcaster, author and blogger. He is co-founder and vice-president of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and co-host of its official podcast Skeptics with a K,[1] project director of the Good Thinking Society,[2] and has occasionally written for The Times, The Guardian and New Statesman.[1]

Early life[edit]

Michael Marshall was born on 13 August 1983 in Bishop Auckland, North East England. He obtained a BA in English in Liverpool, and has worked there in marketing and web design since.[4]

Merseyside Skeptics Society[edit]

Foundation[edit]

In February 2009, Marshall, Mike Hall and Colin Harris founded the Merseyside Skeptics Society.[4] He commented that skepticism is "not about just saying 'no' to things, it's about thinking about them. And we use the American spelling – 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."[6] In July that year, they launched the podcast Skeptics with a K,[7] which Marshall described as "a fairly-shambolic, overly-enthusiastic and snarky mix of science, skepticism and sarcasm."[4] The idea for SwaK came from the conversations Mike and Marsh were having in the pub about news and ideas, such as a homoeopathy overdose,[8] that they wanted to share with a wider audience.[9]

10:23 Campaign[edit]

Marshall leads the audience in a homoeopathic overdose at QED 2011.

In January 2010, Marshall coordinated the 10:23 Campaign to stage a mass overdose of homoeopathy outside branches of Boots UK in several major cities throughout the country, to publicly demonstrate the inefficacy of homoeopathic products and protest against their sale.[10][11] In February 2011, he also coordinated the global 10:23 Campaign, during which protesters on all continents in 70 cities (at least 30 participants per city) overdosed on homoeopathy.[12][13][14] He himself led the overdose on 5 February 2011 at 10:23 during QED 2011,[15] the first annual skeptical conference in Manchester co-organised by the Merseyside Skeptics Society and the Greater Manchester Skeptics Society.

Challenging psychics[edit]

Marsh lecturing at the Australian Skeptics National Convention 2014.

In October 2011, the Merseyside Skeptics Society (represented by Hall and Marshall), Chris French and Simon Singh set up a "Halloween Challenge" to Sally Morgan to have her alleged psychic abilities tested, to demonstrate that her claims regarding talking to the dead are true, otherwise she might, knowingly or unknowingly, be taking advantage of people's grief.[16] Morgan did not turn up at the press conference, but threatened to sue the skeptics for defamation through her lawyers instead.[17] Nevertheless, the MSS decided to make the Halloween Challenge an annual event and invited any psychic in the UK to take part.[18] When two psychics failed an experiment in October 2012, Marshall remarked: "While the result of our experiment doesn't disprove psychic ability, the fact that our mediums couldn't pass what they felt was a very fair and simple test does seem to suggest claims that these abilities exist aren't based in reality."[19][20] At the Australian Skeptics National Convention 2014 in Sydney, Marsh lectured about pseudoscience and the channelling of spirits.[21]

Bad PR[edit]

Marshall extended his speciality for spotting bad PR in the news that he developed over the years on SwaK to holding public lectures about the subject at Skeptics in the Pub meetings throughout the UK (including Liverpool,[22] Glasgow[23]) and skeptical conferences such as the 2013 European Skeptics Congress in Stockholm[24] and Skeptics on the Fringe 2014.[25] His main contention is that in recent decades, journalists have become increasingly under pressure to write more articles in less time, limiting their time for investigate research and instead tempting or forcing them to pick up press releases from pr companies and, often with little editing, passing them off as real news stories to meet their quota (churnalism). Such press releases are more often than not simply veiled advertisements, disguised as scientific studies or representative social surveys which, if based on any sort of inquiry at all, are usually poorly set up or conducted and prone to bias. Moreover, the headlines under which these "results" get published can be sensationalised and thus even more misleading, and if readers believe such "news" stories to be true, it may have serious negative effects on people's views and actions.[24] When education secretary Michael Gove was criticised by many mainstream newspapers for mistaking a pr stunt by OnePoll for hotel chain Premier Inn for genuine research on schoolchildren's allegedly lamentable knowledge of British history, Marshall called this "ironic" and rebuked the newspapers by showing how they themselves are largely relying on the same kind of agencies' press releases with 'dodgy surveys' for their news stories.[26]

He has also done an interview on BBC Radio 4's More or Less programme, where he discusses various newspaper articles and big headlines that are based on bad PR.[27]

Good Thinking Society[edit]

Kirsten Drysdale, Julian Morrow and Marsh discussing consumer protection.

Since March 2014, Marshall has been project director at the Good Thinking Society (GTS).[28] His major focus has been ending the funding of homoeopathy by the National Health Service (NHS), which the GTS considers a costly waste of public money on demonstrably ineffective products; he lectured about this at QED 2015 in Manchester.[29] In June 2015, the Daily Mirror reported that Marshall had investigated the curious case of Freeman's, a NHS-supplying pharmacy that, amongst other products, sold "homeopathic owl", apparently meant for people with sleeping problems or who "pick up the characteristics of [an owl]". Marshall commented that "Around £3–5 million is spent each year [on homeopathic products by the NHS] and it's completely worthless. People are being told that it works when there's no evidence that it does."[30] Also in June, he and GTS founder Simon Singh called on all remaining homoeopathy-funding CCGs in the UK to follow the example of Liverpool to reconsider their funding policies.[31]

In May 2014, Marshall accused writers at The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail of 'poor journalism' for uncritically picking up press releases from the British Chiropractic Association and the United Chiropractic Association, based on 'flimsy studies' and assertions that were 'certainly not supported by any reliable evidence'. Recalling the British Chiropractic Association v Singh case, he concluded: "If chiropractors want to be taken seriously, perhaps they should focus on improving the regulation of their industry and conducting rigorous research rather than relying on PR stunts to drum up business."[32][33]

In May 2015, GTS obtained video footage from the Spirit of Health Congress, where, according to Marshall, claims were made about health that 'appeared illegal and could cause serious harm': "The dangerous misinformation at the Spirit of Health event is shocking, particularly with regard to serious conditions such as cancer."[34]

In September 2015, Marshall showed how American televangelist and self-proclaimed prophet and faith healer Peter Popoff –previously exposed by James Randi– was trying to persuade people to send him money on promises of "fabulous extreme fortune" and "miracles". Moreover, at a recent London gathering, GTS filmed how Popoff supposedly 'healed' a woman 'who said her body was wracked with pain', but who Marshall and his colleague believed could have been planted in the audience as part of Popoff's team: they saw she was handing out pens and a questionnaire at the start of the event, and quietly left the room soon after the alleged miracle.[35]

Podcasting[edit]

  • Skeptics with a K (Merseyside Skeptics Society): co-host with Mike Hall and Colin Harris, later Alice Howarth (2009–present)[7]
  • Be Reasonable (Merseyside Skeptics Society): host (until June 2014 co-host with Hayley M. Stevens) (2013–present)[36]
  • 2015 ESC Podcast (Good Thinking Society): host (2015)[37]
  • Righteous Indignation (independent): co-host with Hayley M. Stevens and Trystan Swale (2009–2012)[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Marsh". Merseyside Skeptics Society website. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "People". Good Thinking Society. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  3. ^ Hall, Mike; Marshall, Michael; Howarth, Alice (8 October 2015). "Skeptics with a K: Episode No. 158". Skeptics with a K. Episode 158. MSS. Retrieved 8 October 2015. (0:34)
  4. ^ a b c d 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. 
  5. ^ Michael Marshall (21 May 2014). "Skeptics will always face an uphill struggle against pseudoscience". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  6. ^ Shennan, Paddy (16 September 2009). "Merseyside Skeptics Society hold first meeting". Liverpool Echo. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Hall, Mike; Marshall, Michael; Harris, Colin (1 August 2009). "Skeptics with a K: Episode No. 001". Skeptics with a K. Episode 001. MSS. Retrieved 4 August 2014. 
  8. ^ Hall, Mike; Marshall, Marsh; Harris, Colin (23 September 2010). "Skeptics with a K: Episode No. 031". Skeptics with a K. Episode 31. Merseyside Skeptics Society. Retrieved 25 August 2014. (14:27)
  9. ^ (in Swedish) "57. Michael Marshall". Skeptikerpodden. Episode 57. Skeptikerpodden website. 29 June 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "Liverpool anti-homeopathy campaigners stage protest". BBC News. 30 January 2010. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  11. ^ Robbins, Martin (30 January 2010). "Homeopathy: Overdosing on nothing". New Scientist. 205 (2745): 22–23. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(10)60228-x. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  12. ^ "The 10:23 Challenge 2011". 1023.org.uk. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Hall, Mike (10 February 2011). "Skeptics with a K: Special No. 007". Skeptics with a K. Episode Special 007. MSS / BBC Radio Five. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  14. ^ Michael Marshall (2011). "Overdosing on homeopathy: there's nothing in it". The Times Eureka. Archived from the original on 9 February 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  15. ^ James O'Malley (6 February 2011). "1023 Overdose 2011 in Manchester (#ten23)". The Pod Delusion. Retrieved 1 September 2015 – via YouTube. 
  16. ^ Mike Hall (6 November 2011). "Challenge Sally – The Press Conference". MSS website. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  17. ^ Tom Chivers (31 October 2011). "'Psychic' Sally Morgan sends the lawyers in over suggestions she might not really be talking to the dead". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  18. ^ Michael Marshall (16 October 2012). "Calling all psychics: a chance to prove your powers in a scientific test". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  19. ^ Damien Gayle (1 November 2012). "Two professional mediums fail test to demonstrate their psychic powers under laboratory conditions". Daily Mail. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  20. ^ Sara C Nelson (31 October 2012). "Mediums Patricia Putt And Kim Whitton Fail In 'Halloween' Challenge Designed To Prove Psychic Abilities". HuffPost. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  21. ^ "Australian Skeptics National Convention 2014 – Lifting the lid: Ongoing adventures in the world of pseudoscience". Lanyrd. Eventbrite. 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
    "Program". Australian Skeptics National Convention 2014. Australian Skeptics. 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
    Bloch, Ross (7 December 2014). "Skeptically Challenged 2014/12/07". Skeptically Challenged. Episode 69. Retrieved 24 September 2015. (31:32)
  22. ^ Mark & Heather Pentler (20 December 2011). "Michael Marshall – Bad News – Skeptics in the Pub". Merseyside Skeptics Society. Retrieved 4 September 2015 – via YouTube. 
  23. ^ Michael Marshall (29 September 2011). "Bad News: How PR Came to Rule Modern Journalism". Glasgow Skeptics. Retrieved 25 August 2014 – via YouTube. 
  24. ^ a b (in Swedish) Michaell Marshall (24 August 2013). "Hur reklam styr dagens media". UR Samtiden. Föreningen Vetenskap och Folkbildning. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
    Bruno van de Casteele (24 August 2013). "European Skeptics Congress, day 2". Skeptoid website. Skeptoid. Retrieved 25 August 2014. 
  25. ^ "Skeptics on the Fringe 2014 – Lifting the lid: Ongoing adventures in the world of pseudoscience". Lanyrd. Eventbrite. 2014. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  26. ^ Marshall, Michael (13 May 2013). "The irony of the press criticising Michael Gove's dodgy surveys". New Statesman. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  27. ^ Tim Harford (19 May 2013). "Angelina Jolie's 87% cancer risk; Romanian crime stats". More or Less. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 25 August 2014. (11:36)
  28. ^ Marsh (31 March 2014). "Expanding the Good Thinking Society team". GTS website. Good Thinking Society. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  29. ^ "Homeopathy in the UK". Lanyrd. Eventbrite. 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
    "Schedule". QEDcon.org. 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  30. ^ Olivia Solon (3 June 2015). "NHS supplier sells 'homeopathic owl' that promises to help treat insomnia". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 31 July 2015. 
  31. ^ Marshall, Michael; Singh, Simon (18 June 2015). "All NHS trusts should stop funding homeopathic treatments". The Pharmaceutical Journal. Royal Pharmaceutical Society. 294 (7867). Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  32. ^ Michael Marshall (2 May 2014). "Chiropractors' spine-chilling warnings about computers, phones and pancakes". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  33. ^ Hall, Mike; Marshall, Michael; Howarth, Alice (24 April 2014). "Skeptics with a K: Episode No. 120". Skeptics with a K. Episode 120. Merseyside Skeptics Society. Retrieved 4 September 2015. (57:12)
  34. ^ Laura Donnelly, Justin Stoneman (25 May 2015). "The fake cancer cure conference the 'healers' tried to keep secret". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 May 2015. 
  35. ^ Andrew Penman (24 September 2015). "Two very different charlatans both selling the divine right to get rich quick". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  36. ^ Michael Marshall (30 June 2014). "Be Reasonable – Episode #018: Rafael Dellal". MSS website. Merseyside Skeptics Society. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  37. ^ Marsh (23 June 2015). "2015 ESC Podcast: Episode #00". GTS website. Good Thinking Society). Retrieved 4 September 2015. 

External links[edit]