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Part of the Brighton Science Festival

Nessa Carey

When?
Wednesday, February 25 2015 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Nessa Carey

What's the talk about?

Modern biology is rewriting our understanding of genetics, disease and inheritance.

There are lots of situations where two things that are the same at the DNA level are different in appearance and behaviour. These tell us that there is more to life than just the genetic code, and they are known as epigenetic phenomena.

Think of a caterpillar and a butterfly, or a slipper limpet that can change its sex as an adult shellfish. Identical twins become more dissimilar as they age, despite sharing an identical DNA script. The differences can even be as extreme as one twin developing a serious disease while the other remains completely healthy.

Scientists are starting to understand how these epigenetic differences are created and maintained. The process depends on a complex set of chemicals that our cells add to our genes. These chemical changes controls how genes are expressed, so that the same genetic code can create different outcomes. They can also have unexpected effects.

For example, epigenetics is very significant to human health and disease and may have a role in a wide range of conditions from chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and schizophrenia, to drug addiction and to the long term effects of abusive or neglectful childhoods. It is also known to be important in cancer.

Sometimes, epigenetic effects may even be passed on from parent to child. Children born to mothers who have lived through starvation may have increased susceptibilities to various diseases later in life. Animal studies have suggested that fear itself may be passed down to offspring.

About the speaker:

Nessa Carey has a virology PhD from the University of Edinburgh and is a former Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biology at Imperial College, London. She has worked in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry for ten years. She lives in Bedfordshire.

Professor David Goulson

When?
Wednesday, December 17 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Professor David Goulson

What's the talk about?

Dave Goulson will talk about modern farming, pesticides, and the growing but highly controversial evidence that certain insecticides may be contributing substantially to the ongoing decline of bees, butterflies, birds and more. Expect talk of bees, intrigue, conspiracies, and political corruption.

PARTY:
After the talk and Q and A we will be laying on some wine and mince pies. In keeping with the bee theme we hope to get some mead in. Why not stay a little and have a chat with fellow sceptics. To make it easier to plan the catering please buy a ticket as early as possible.

About the speaker:
Professor Dave Goulson was brought up in rural Shropshire, where he developed an early obsession with wildlife. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Oxford University, followed by a doctorate on butterfly ecology at Oxford Brookes University. Subsequently, he lectured in biology for 11 years at the University of Southampton, and it was here that he began to study bumblebees in earnest. He subsequently moved to Stirling University in 2006, and then to Sussex in 2013. He has published more than 200 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects. He is the author of Bumblebees; Their Behaviour, Ecology and Conservation, published in 2010 by Oxford University Press, and of the Sunday Times bestseller A Sting in the Tale, a popular science book about bumble bees, published in 2013 by Jonathan Cape, and now translated into German, Dutch and Danish. This was followed by A Buzz in the Meadow in 2014. Goulson founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2006, a charity which has grown to 8,000 members. He was the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Social Innovator of the Year in 2010, was given the Zoological Society of London's Marsh Award for Conservation Biology in 2013, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2013.

Professor Johnjoe McFadden

When?
Wednesday, November 19 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Professor Johnjoe McFadden

What's the talk about?

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how does it work? Even in this age of cloning and synthetic biology, the remarkable truth remains: nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we missing a vital ingredient in its creation?

 

Like Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, which provided a new perspective on how evolution works, Life on the Edge alters our understanding of life's dynamics. Bringing together first-hand experience of science at the cutting edge with unparalleled gifts of exposition and explanation, Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Macfadden reveal the hitherto missing ingredient to be quantum mechanics and the strange phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences. Drawing on recent ground-breaking experiments around the world, they show how photosynthesis relies on subatomic particles existing in many places at once, while inside enzymes, those workhorses of life that make every molecule within our cells, particles vanish from one point in space and instantly materialize in another.

 

Each chapter in Life on the Edge opens with an engaging example that illustrates one of life’s puzzles – How do migrating birds know where to go? How do we really smell the scent of a rose? How do our genes manage to copy themselves with such precision? – and then reveals how quantum mechanics delivers its answer. Guiding the reader through the maze of rapidly unfolding discovery, Al-Khalili and McFadden communicate vividly the excitement of this explosive new field of quantum biology, with its potentially revolutionary applications, and also offer insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life? As they brilliantly demonstrate here, life lives on the quantum edge.

About the speaker:

Professor Johnjoe McFadden is Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey and is the editor of leading text books on both molecular biology and systems biology of tuberculosis. For over a decade, he has specialised in examining tuberculosis and meningitis, inventing the first successful molecular test for the latter. He is the author of Quantum Evolution and co-editor of Human Nature: Fact and Fiction and writes for the Guardian on topics including GM crops, psychedelic drugs and quantum mechanics.

There will be copies of the book "Life on the Edge" for sale which Prof McFadden will be happy to sign.

There is more information about quantum biology at these links:

www.ias.surrey.ac.uk/workshops/quantumbiology/

www.societyofbiology.org/biologist/158-biologist/features/541-making-the-quantum-leap

www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/quantum-life/9780593069318

 

Dr Neil Harrison

When?
Wednesday, October 29 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Dr Neil Harrison

What's the talk about?

Tickets available on the door.

Why do we feel the way we feel? Do our thoughts and emotions affect our health? The relatively new fields of Psychoneuroimmunology and Emotional Neuroscience try to answer these questions.

Work in the laboratory focuses on understanding how infection or inflammation in the body interacts with the brain to produce changes in emotion, cognition, behaviour and social functioning known as 'sickness behaviours'. Perhaps, even without realising it, we are all familiar with sickness behaviours as these are the symptoms of fatigue, lowering of mood, apathy and difficulty remembering or concentrating that we all experience when we develop the flu or any other infection.

Fortunately, for most of us these symptoms are usually short lived and relatively mild. However, when the immune system is activated for long periods, such as in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, they can become extremely debilitating or even life-threatening. In addition to their role in these classical inflammatory diseases, immune influences on the brain are increasingly implicated in the cause of common mental illnesses like depression, chronic fatigue and Alzheimer disease.

Our research is motivated by a desire to identify the neural basis of sickness behaviours. Understanding how the immune system interacts with the brain is a crucial first step that will form the foundations for future development of novel therapies targeting these common and disabling symptoms.

Our speaker, Dr Neil Harrison is Reader in Neuropsychiatry at The Brighton and Sussex Medical School.

 www.bsms.ac.uk/research/our-researchers/neil-harrison/

Slavoj Zizek and Sophie Fiennes

When?
Wednesday, October 1 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Slavoj Zizek and Sophie Fiennes

What's the talk about?

Tonight we have a Sceptics first. We are showing a film! In traditional Sceptics manner we will have a break about half way through to refresh our glasses.

Please note that this is a certificate 15 film. It contains very strong language, strong violence, nudity and sex references. The film has a running time of 130 mins, we expect to finish at around 22.30.

We are responsible for our dreams. This is the ultimate lesson of psychoanalysis - and fiction cinema.

The makers of THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO CINEMA

return with THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO IDEOLOGY

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek and filmmaker Sophie Fiennes use their interpretation of moving pictures to present a compelling cinematic journey into the heart of ideology- the dreams and beliefs that shape our common practices.

Widely acclaimed as one of the most original thinkers of our time, Slavoj Žižek is a dialectical-materialist philosopher. He is the author of more than fifty books on diverse subjects ranging from opera to religion, film, and the war in Iraq.

He has taught at universities including Paris, London, Columbia, Chicago, Duke, Princeton and the New School in New York. He currently holds a post at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana and is Co-Director of the International Centre for Humanities at Birkbeck College, University of London. He contributes articles to the Guardian, London Review of Books, and Le Monde (France) and his latest books are LESS THAN NOTHING: HEGEL AND THE SHADOW OF DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM and THE YEAR OF DREAMING DANGEROUSLY both published by Verso in May 2012 and this coming October respectively.

Sophie Fiennes began making films in 1998. She is widely acclaimed for her unique observational eye and strong sense of cinematic form. Fiennes often employs a collaborative approach to filmmaking. Her films therefore also act as powerful portraits of some of today's most iconic individuals.

Dr Catherine Sebastian

When?
Wednesday, August 20 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Dr Catherine Sebastian

What's the talk about?

 The term 'teenager' is a 20th Century invention, but conceptions of adolescence as a time of emotional upheaval, peer influence and risk-taking can be found throughout history. Recent brain imaging evidence suggests that this might not just be down to 'hormones', as considerable brain development is still taking place during the teenage years. I will start by describing the changes occurring in the brain during this time, and will then talk about how brain development may influence behaviour. I would like to explore the idea that, while adolescence may be a time of vulnerability to mood and behaviour problems, it is also an exciting opportunity for learning and developing adult capacities. How can we best take advantage of this opportunity?

ABOUT THE SPEAKER

Dr Catherine Sebastian is a Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she directs the Emotion, Development and Brain Lab. She is interested in how young people learn to regulate or control their emotions, how brain development may contribute to this process, and how this ability relates to wellbeing and mental health.

More info can be found here: www.pc.rhul.ac.uk/sites/edbl/

 

Helena Cronin

When?
Wednesday, July 30 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Helena Cronin

What's the talk about?

 

We are very fortunate this month to have Helena Cronin come and talk to us.

Helena  is a noted Darwinian philosopher and rationalist. She is the co-director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics. She achieved prominence with her book, The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today (1991) which was chosen as one of the best science books of the year by Nature. She continues to publish and broadcast widely.

In 1995 she launched the Darwin@LSE programme which rapidly became established as a world-renowned focus for Darwinian ideas and helped to place Darwinian theory on the intellectual agenda. The programme explores recent developments in evolutionary thinking, in particular what evolutionary theory can tell us about human nature - understanding our bodies, brains, minds, behaviour and aspects of culture as the products of adaptations evolved by natural selection.

Her research interests include an evolutionary understanding of sex differences; methodological problems of evolutionary theory, particularly in its application to our own species; and how Darwinian theory can inform policy. In July 2001 she was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools. She was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who in March 2002 signed a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, deploring the teaching of Creationism in schools. She was also one of the signatories to a letter supporting a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday, published in The Times on February 12, 2003, and also sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.

 

Dr David Lewis

When?
Thursday, June 26 2014 at 8:00PM

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Where?

Who?
Dr David Lewis

What's the talk about?

You can buy tickets at the door on the night, in advance from behind the bar at Bibendum or online using the link below:

 

Science has made a dramatic leap from the lab - and the effects on us are phenomenal. This is the expert inside story on how companies and brands are using the new mind sciences to find out why we buy and how our rapidly evolving understanding of the brain plays into the advertising, marketing, and retailing industry. In a hyper-competitive market, organisations are delving deep into our brains to detect the hidden triggers that persuade people to consume. The “father of neuromarketing” Dr. David Lewis goes behind the scenes of the ‘persuasion industry’ to reveal the powerful tools and techniques, technologies and psychologies seeking consumers to buy more – often without them consciously realising it.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Dr. David Lewis is a world leader in the application of neuroscience to the buying brain. Dubbed the “father of neuromarketing”, David started his pioneering work back in the late 1980s at the University of Sussex, attaching electrodes to the scalps of plucky volunteers in order to track the electrical responses of their brains to various television commercials. Since these pioneering days, David – and his colleagues at cutting-edge research consultancy Mindlab International – has used increasingly sophisticated technologies to reveal how the human body and mind reacts when we shop. He witnessed the emergence of what is now a multi-million dollar industry, dedicated to exploring and exploiting this knowledge for commercial use. Chairman, co-founder and Director of Research at Mindlab, as well as a Fellow or Associate at numerous professional bodies. David continues to be active in the field. He is a much sought after broadcaster, conference speaker, and workshop presenter, and has worked with Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies. A Chartered Psychologist, David has written bestselling books on many aspects of psychology, including The Soul of the New Consumer: Authenticity – what we buy and why in the New Economy (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2000).

 

Richard Robinson

When?
Wednesday, May 7 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Richard Robinson

What's the talk about?

Evolution happens in business as well as in animals. Certain super-sleek corporations bear a striking resemblance to the behaviour of a slime mould, the simplest life form on Earth. Progressing through evolution, from slime mould to sponge, to octopus, to frog, we see more and more parallels until, by the time amphibians are crawling out of their swamps onto dry land, all the necessary conditions for life as a multinational are in place. Yes, global conglomerates are simpler than you ever thought, but like simple organisms, they have a deceptively elaborate crust.

In particular, Richard sees a need to depose the ape as a industry standard. Apes are argumentative, hierarchical, independent. Humans can also be cooperative, empathetic and dependent; we need to realise we have as much in common with ants as with apes. Richard will help you discover your inner ant, and also your inner Portuguese ma'o'war, slime mould, Brussels sprout and assassin bug.

Richard Robinson is the author of twenty books on popular science, including the Science Magic series (Oxford University Press) and the bestselling Why the Toast Always Lands Butter Side Down, which has now been translated into fourteen languages. He is the Director of the Brighton Science Festival. In another life he also co-founded the busker’s pitch in Covent Garden, and Spitting Image.

 

A Sceptics at the Festival event

David Colquhoun

When?
Wednesday, April 30 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
David Colquhoun

What's the talk about?

One of the UK’s most outspoken and well-qualified opponents of alternative medicine and bad science, pharmacologist David Colquhoun runs the DC’s Improbable Science blog, which is devoted to criticism of scientific fraud and quackery. It has a particular focus on alternative medicine, including homeopathy, Traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine and other practices, which he calls ‘pure gobbledygook’.

In addition to his outspoken disapproval of alternative medicine in academia, Colquhoun frequently speaks against misrepresentation of alternative medicine as science in the media, and against governmental support of it. His blog discusses also wider problems in science, medicine and Higher Education. It was listed among the 100 best blogs in 2009. It was blog of the week in the New Statesman (30 May 2010). And in 2012 it was co-winner of the first UK Science Blog Prize, awarded by the Good Thinking Society.

Colquhoun was a member of the Conduct and Competence Committee of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), a regulatory body for alternative medicine in the UK. Colquhoun has stated he was surprised at being accepted for the position. However, he was dismissed in August 2010.

Colquhoun, FRS is a British pharmacologist at University College London (UCL). He has contributed to the general theory of receptor and synaptic mechanisms of single ion channel function. He previously held the A.J. Clark chair of Pharmacology at UCL, and was the Hon. Director of the Wellcome Laboratory for Molecular Pharmacology. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1985 and an honorary fellow of UCL in 2004. Colquhoun runs the website DC’s Improbable Science, which is critical of pseudoscience, particularly alternative medicine, and managerialism.

www.dcscience.net/

BBC link:

www.bbc.co.uk/thingstodo/activity/how-quackery-corrupts-real-science

 

A Sceptics at the Festival event. LAST FEW TICKETS

Simon Singh

When?
Thursday, April 24 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Simon Singh

What's the talk about?

Some have seen philosophy embedded in episodes of The Simpsons; others have detected elements of psychology and religion. Simon Singh, bestselling author of Fermat's Last Theorem, The Code Book and The Big Bang, instead makes the compelling case that what The Simpsons' writers are most passionate about is mathematics.

He reveals how the writers have drip-fed morsels of number theory into the series over the last twenty-five years; indeed, there are so many mathematical references in The Simpsons, and in its sister program, Futurama, that they could form the basis of an entire university course.

Using specific episodes as jumping off points - from 'Bart the Genius' to 'Treehouse of Horror VI' - Simon Singh brings to life the most intriguing and meaningful mathematical concepts, ranging from pi and the paradox of infinity to the origins of numbers and the most profound outstanding problems that haunt today's generation of mathematicians. In the process, he introduces us to The Simpsons' brilliant writing team - the likes of Ken Keeler, Al Jean, Jeff Westbrook, and Stewart Burns - who are not only comedy geniuses, but who also hold advanced degrees in mathematics. This eye-opening talk will give anyone who sees it an entirely new mathematical insight into the most successful show in television history.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER

Simon Singh is a science journalist and TV producer. Having completed his PhD at Cambridge he worked from 1991 to 1997 at the BBC producing Tomorrow's World and co-directing the BAFTA award-winning documentary Fermat's Last Theorem for the Horizon series. He is the author of Fermat's Last Theorem, which was a no 1 bestseller in Britain and translated into 22 languages. In 1999, he wrote The Code Book which was also an international bestseller and the basis for the Channel 4 series The Science of Secrecy.

BBC link:

www.bbc.co.uk/thingstodo/activity/matt-groening-and-his-mathematical-secrets

Chris Rhodes

When?
Thursday, March 27 2014 at 8:00PM

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Who?
Chris Rhodes

What's the talk about?

 

Across the world, 30 billion barrels of crude oil are produced each year, not only for fuel but to make products ranging from plastics to pharmaceuticals. Nearly all our food also depends entirely on oil.

However, world oil production is set to decline within 5 years. If we continue as we are, Western civilisation will collapse. Our salvation requires a re-adaptation of how we live, from the global to the local; to a world of small communities far less dependent on transportation. Technology will not save us, unless we cut our energy use and particularly our demand for oil. Fracking is being hailed as the solution. Is this the case?

Professor Chris Rhodes is Director of Fresh-lands Environmental Actions and is based in Reading. He has written numerous scientific articles and recently published his first novel called University Shambles, a black comedy on the disintegration of the British university system.

BBC link: www.bbc.co.uk/thingstodo/activity/what-happens-when-the-oil-runs-out/occurrence/367478