Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wed Dec 14th, 7 pm Drinking Skeptically with NCAS in MD & VA

Drinking Skeptically in MD & Now also No. VA !
2d Wednesday Each Month - 7:00 p.m

Jackie’s Restaurant (map)
Join us in the Sidebar
8081 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD

Chevy's Fresh Mex
4238 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA (Ballston Common Mall)
Just two blocks from the Ballston Metro station.

Visit and Join the NCAS

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Dec 10 - The Brain on Trial: How Neuroscience Challenges the Law as We Know It

Saturday, December 10, 2011, 1:30pm
National Science Foundation
Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA [map]

Mark Frankel, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Neuroscience has a lot to offer the law.  These include, for example, use for determining whether a person is competent to stand trial or sign a contract, whether brain dysfunction is a mitigating factor in applying capital punishment, whether future dangerousness is predictable, and whether an adolescent brain is mature enough to merit certain types of punishment. It also holds out the promise that it may help distinguish false memories from true memories, enhance memory, ascertain truth, detect deception, and reveal lies. So one might reasonably ask, is the law ready for neuroscience? To some extent, that question can be asked of any new research finding in science or technological development. But so much that neuroscience relates to—memory, truth telling, impulse control, empathy, reasoning, consciousness, and behavior—are core concepts that underlie enduring legal principles and play important roles in the administration of justice.  This presentation will describe a range of uses, realized and potential, for neuroscience in the law, and assess the challenges such uses pose for the law.

As Director of the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Frankel has supervised the production of such resources as, Neuroscience and the Law: Brain, Mind, and the Scales of Justice (2004); Human Inheritable Genetic Modifications: Assessing Scientific, Ethical, Religious, and Policy Issues (2000); Stem Cell Research Applications: Monitoring the Frontiers of Biomedical Research (1999). Frankel’s research includes studying the impact of information technology on human subjects; developing a research agenda for the US voting system; efforts to promote research integrity; and the legal implications of advances in genetics and neuroscience. Frankel earned his B.A. in political science from Emory University, and his Ph.D. in political science (concentration in science policy) from George Washington University.

FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members.
Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

Meetup event notice
Facebook event notice

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt - December 2011

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • The Brain on Trial: How Neuroscience Challenges the Law as We Know It
  • January NCAS Lecture: Lawrence Krauss
  • Torn From Today's Headlines by Scott Snell - Nowhere to Hide: Looking for an Apollo Moon Landings Hoax-from Inside NASA
  • From Readers
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nov 12 - Fighting Junk Science in the Courts: Deterring Dangerous Therapies

Saturday, November 12, 2011, 1:30pm
National Science Foundation
Room 110
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA [map]

Presented by Brian J. Gorman, M.Sc., J.D. (Towson University)

An alleged miracle cure for autism known as Facilitated Communication (FC) swept the country with great promise and hope in the early 1990’s. Proponents of FC claimed that there was a special technique whereby non-communicative individuals known to have profound mental disabilities could suddenly communicate at surprisingly sophisticated levels. FC spread like wild fire until empirically sound studies repeatedly found that FC was no better than well-meaning self-deception on the part of the facilitators. The FC fad appeared to vanish as the evidence against it piled up, but not before alleged communications from FC led to criminal court proceedings for abuse across the country. Court proceedings based on FC-generated allegations had grave consequences for a number of families and individuals. Despite the tragic history of FC, the technique has been reborn through a defiant and determined social movement. A recent survey found that FC and other scientifically rejected techniques are still widely used in some school districts. With the resurgence of FC and continued use of other dangerous techniques like Holding Therapy, will the courts accept a long disregarded legal claim for educational malpractice against those educators who continue to use dangerous therapies despite the known risks?

Brian J. Gorman, M.Sc., J.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice at Towson University and the Director of the Biosecurity Commons information project. His research focuses on issues at the intersection of law, science, and policy from junk science to homeland security. Professor Gorman brought to bear his early career experience as a clinician and his expertise in law to address the misuse of junk science in classrooms and courtrooms in articles for Skeptic, Behavioral Science & the Law, and most recently, Brigham Young University Education and Law Journal due to the resurgence of Facilitated Communication in the courts.

FREE admission – Everyone welcome, members and non-members.
Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

Meetup event notice
Facebook event notice

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt - November 2011

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics

  • Fighting Junk Science in the Courts: Deterring Dangerous Therapies
  • Prez Sez
  • Torn From Today's Headlines: Gaddafi's 2011 Death a Sitcom?
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oct 15 - Humans to Mars: How and Why

Saturday, October 15, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Bethesda Regional Library
7400 Arlington Rd
Bethesda, MD [map]

Presented by Douglas Gage, Ph.D.

Now that the space shuttle program has ended, what should be the next step for human space flight? There appears to be broad agreement that Mars should be our ultimate goal, but some say that first we should go back to the moon or to an asteroid, and many question whether we should be spending our scarce resources to send humans anywhere beyond Low Earth Orbit any time soon.

While the focus of the current debate reflects the "center of gravity" of the NASA budget -- building and launching rockets and spacecraft -- orbital physics dictates that human travelers to Mars will spend more time on the ground there than in space en route, and this ground segment is where the real challenges lie.

The Apollo program demonstrated that NASA can design, build, and fly big rockets in a decade or so, but the real challenges lie in developing the technologies, systems, and operational processes that will keep our explorers safe, secure, productive, and happy on the surface of Mars. We need to provide shelter, energy, air, water, food, health care, communications, IT support, ground transportation, and much more.

- The initial development of these technologies is much less expensive that designing and building rockets.
- The more time we spend preparing to support humans on the surface of Mars, the more successful our mission is likely to be.
- Most of the technologies required can be used or adapted for use on Earth.

So, regardless of when we decide to actually go to Mars, we should be preparing now to live on Mars. It's not rocket science!

Douglas Gage is an independent technology consultant based in Arlington, Virginia. In the early 2000s, he served as a Program Manager at DARPA, managing programs in robotic software. He served as a reviewer for the NASA's Mars Technology Program for several years, and in 2005 he served as External Cochair for NASA's Capabilities Roadmapping Team for Autonomous Systems and Robotics.

This event is free and open to the public, so bring your friends!

Note: This talk is on the *3rd* Saturday of October (rather than the usual second).

The talk will be followed by refreshments and social time.

Facebook event notice.
Meetup event notice.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt - October 2011

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics

  • Humans to Mars: How and Why - Douglas W Gage, Ph.D.
  • SkeptiCamp DC 2011
  • Torn from Today's Headlines: Reentry of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite: a Case Study for UFO Reports?
  • November Lecture: Brian J. Gorman
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sept 25 - The Science of Divination: What they DON'T Teach at Hogwarts

presented by Michael Blanford, Director of Educational Programs, JREF

How do you tell the best place to dig a well?
Or locate utility pipes under the pavement?
Or even detect hidden explosives?

For hundreds of years, rural water witches and their urban counterparts have used pendulums and dowsing rods to seek knowledge, resources, and treasure. What are they doing and why does it sometimes seem to work?

This 3-hour workshop is a comprehensive hands-on program covering the history, current application, and construction of divination devices, presented from a skeptical perspective, and featuring the research of James Randi on the topic. The workshop will emphasize how paranormal beliefs like dowsing are not trivial and have real-world implications. Participants will make both pendulums and dowsing rods and will devise randomized, double-blinded trials to test their effectiveness. All tools, materials, and handouts are included in the registration fee.

Event Date: Sunday, September 25, 2011
Time: 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.
University of Maryland, College Park Campus
Stamp Student Union, Jiménez Room
(on the right of the intersection between Campus Dr. and Union Ln.)
Provided: All materials, tools, handouts, light refreshments
Fee: Free for JREF members, NCAS members, SOI members, and students (with i.d.) ▬ $10 for everyone else

Early registration strongly encouraged
For more information, call the 24-hour NCAS
Skeptic Line recording at 301-587-3827

presented by
Society of Inquiry at UMD,
James Randi Educational Foundation,
National Capital Area Skeptics

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt - September 2011

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capital Area Skeptics
  • SkeptiCamp DC 2011
  • ABC News - "Beyond Belief: Psychic Power"
  • October NCAS Lecture: Humans to Mars: How and Why.
  • New Board Member Elected, Officers Chosen
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sept 10 - Why You Should Be Skeptical of the Media's Medical Reporting, Dr. John Cmar

Saturday, September 10, 1:30pm - 4:00pm
Bethesda Regional Library
7400 Arlington Rd
Bethesda, MD [map]

One of the greatest disservices that the current trend of sensationalist, opinion-based media "reporting" does is to misinform the public about medical matters. It's one thing to distinguish evidence-based medicine from science-based medicine, and another that the news media often doesn't seem to care about either. We'll discuss specific examples of how news reporting on medical science can get things both right and wrong, and possible ways the non-medically trained public can skeptically approach medical news stories to tease out the truth.

Bio: John Cmar, MD, has been long enthralled with horrible infections that could spell doom for humankind, as well as sanity and skepticism in the practice of medicine. He is currently an Instructor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the Assistant Director of Infectious Diseases at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. In his role as Associate Program Director for the Johns Hopkins Internal Medicine residency program at Sinai, he teaches an annual course series in Evidence-Based Medicine, among many other duties. He also does Infectious Diseases outreach in Baltimore television and print media. John is a science fiction and fantasy fan, avid gamer, and podcast enthusiast. He currently blogs and podcasts on skeptical, medical, and geeky topics on The Secret Lair.

The Bethesda Regional Library has free parking on Saturdays. It is also located about 2 blocks from the Bethesda Metro.

Refreshments and socializing after the talk.

Facebook event notice.
Meetup event notice.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Lake Boat Night in Falls Church (No Arlington DS this month)

We have a special treat planned in place of our regular Arlington Drinking Skeptically Meetup in Aug. This night we will meet at Curtis Haymore's house for a cruise around Lake Barcroft. You may not have heard, but there is a lake near Bailey's Crossroads with 5 white sand beaches and lifeguards, and the water is swimmable too. The brave at heart should bring swimsuits, everyone else can just the enjoy the breezes and views. It is outside, but the bugs don't stray from shore, so it is a bug-free experience too. Curtis will provide fluid refreshments, and it would be nice of guests to bring some light food items to share. Nothing fancy -- this is very informal (and fun).

This is not on a metro stop, but we will try to work out transportation for all who are interested. Please let Curtis know if you are coming and if you need a ride or could offer a ride! Post a note here and he will be in touch directly.


Link to facebook event notice.
Link to event notice.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Speaker: Professor Christopher French

Drinking Skeptically
Guest Speaker: Professor Christopher French
Wednesday, August 3rd, 7:00 p.m
8081 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD (map)

We are having our Silver Spring Drinking Skeptically one week early in August. Why? Because we're going to have a special guest speaker! Professor Christopher French will be presenting "Weird Science: An Introduction to Anomalistic Psychology". This promises to be an enjoyable evening of learning and socializing. We hope that some of our DC and Virginia skeptics will make the trek to Silver Spring for this event!

Here is a summary of the talk, as well as a bio for Professor French:

The Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit (APRU) was set up by Professor Chris French in 2000 in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Anomalistic psychology may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, including (but not restricted to) those that are often labeled "paranormal". Over the last decade, members of the APRU have investigated a wide range of weird and wonderful topics, including alien contact experiences, sleep paralysis, haunted houses, dowsing, and telepathy. Many paranormal claims have been scientifically tested under properly controlled conditions along the way. This overview will present some of the results of such investigations.

Professor Chris French is the 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, as well as being a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society. He has published over 100 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. 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, as well as writing for the Guardian's online science pages. For more than a decade, he edited The Skeptic and his latest book, co-edited with Wendy Grossman, is Why Statues Weep: The Best of The Skeptic (London: The Philosophy Press).

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

2011 NCAS Board Election Results

NCAS members elected these board members for two-year terms beginning May 2011:

W.T. (Tom) Bridgman
Chip Denman
Grace Denman
Beth Kingsley
J.D. Mack
Eugene Ossa
Garold (Gary) Stone
Marv Zelkowitz

List of all NCAS board members

Friday, May 13, 2011

May 27-30 NCAS Talks at Balticon 45

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society presents Balticon 45, the Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, on Memorial Day weekend (May 27-30, 2011) at the Baltimore Marriott Hunt Valley Inn (245 Shawan Rd, Hunt Valley, MD). As always, Balticon will include science programs, at least four of which will feature skeptic-related topics. NCAS president Marv Zelkowitz will discuss the alleged link between vaccines and autism. NCAS board member Bing Garthright will talk about significantly harmful consequences of dowsing. Geologist and "Doubtful" blogger Sharon Hill will present "Being Sciencey," and musician/podcaster George Hrab will also give a talk (topic to be announced). For more information, visit

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Shadow of a Doubt - May 2011

The Monthly Calendar of the National Capitol Area Skeptics
  • NCAS Public Lecture Series: "Surviving the Age of Bad Information: A Skeptic's Reflections"
  • Gazette Feature Story on NCAS
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education Aims Low
  • Balticon 45
  • Shadow Light
  • Drinking Skeptically

May 7 Surviving the Age of Bad Information:
A Skeptic’s Reflections
2011 NCAS Philip J Klass Awardee Joel Achenbach

Saturday, May 7, 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm 

Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
2011 NCAS Philip J. Klass Awardee

National Science Foundation, Room 110 
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA

A free public talk (Map) (Flyer) (Program Brochure)
Free Refreshments and socializing after the talk

What do you call someone who believes that from the simplest molecules of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen there arose by pure random chance, four billion years ago, a replicating entity that could be plausibly defined as alive? What do you call a person who believes that this creature or creatures like it eventually evolved into the amazing diversity of organisms that we see on our planet today? What do you call a person who marvels that this process of biological change has allowed the emergence of a creature that is sentient, that can study the universe in stunning detail, that can create models of the distant past and distant future, that can inject into the world images and sounds and ideas of surpassing beauty? You call such a person a skeptic. A skeptic, in today’s society, is someone who accepts the scientific theory of our origins and of nature—even though there are innumerable competing ideas involving spirits, demons, UFO aliens, exploded planets, the Face on Mars, untapped psychic powers, shadow governments, time travelers and various kinds of “new physics”. For a journalist who ventures forth into modern society it is a challenge to sort what is real from what is merely reassuring. There is a profusion of what can be called Bad Information. But there are things that can be done to combat Bad Information and make the scientific version of reality more palatable to a society starved for deeper truths.

Joel Achenbach has been a staff writer for The Washington Post since 1990, started the newsroom’s first online column (Rough Draft) in 1999 and the paper’s first blog, Achenblog, in 2005. He was a regular contributor to National Geographic, writing stories on such topics as dinosaurs, particle physics, earthquakes, extraterrestrial life, megafauna extinction and the electrical grid. Now assigned to the Post’s national desk, he writes on science and politics, and helped lead the coverage of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Achenbach is also the author of seven books, including Captured by Aliens: The Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe, three volumes of Why Things Are (compilations of his 1988-1996 syndicated column that appeared in fifty newspapers), and his just-released A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher.

At this event NCAS will be honoring Achenbach with the 2011 Philip J. Klass Award for outstanding contributions in promoting critical thinking and scientific understanding.

NSF is one block south of the Ballston-MU Metro stop. Enter from the corner of 9th N & N Stuart Streets.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Apr 2 Teaching Critical Thinking Skills - In the Trenches

Saturday, April 2, 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm (Flyer)

Alan Peel, Ph.D.
, lecturer in the Physics and Astronomy Departments, University of Maryland, and a living/learning program Co-Director
A free public talk at Bethesda Library
7400 Arlington Rd., Bethesda, MD
Near Bethesda metro (map) (directions)

Refreshments and socializing after the talk

Dr. Peel will discuss his personal experience in teaching “Science and Pseudoscience”, a course required as part of a living/learning program at the University of Maryland. Each year in this colloquium, about forty freshmen (per semester) confront the daunting tasks of learning how to ask the right questions and of developing a healthy, non-cynical skepticism. Peel will outline how he challenges them (especially about what they think ‘science’ is), how he has them challenge each other, and how he tries to make them challenge some of their own assumptions.

After seven years as an environmental scientist working in the hazardous waste cleanup industry in the 1990’s, Alan Peel decided to head back to the ivory tower. He earned his PhD in physics at the University of California at Davis, focusing on phenomenology in cosmology: the art of keeping theorists honest by requiring them to use data (and then showing them how). A postdoc in Cambridge, UK with Stephen Hawking’s group was followed by a postdoc position at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he is now a lecturer in the Physics and Astronomy Departments and co-directs a living/learning program for undergraduates, “Science, Discovery and the Universe.” In that program, he facilitates a colloquium which uses examples of pseudoscience and religion to focus on interdisciplinary issues regarding science and its role in society.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mar 12: Who Invented Beauty --
Madison Avenue or Charles Darwin ?

Saturday, March 12, 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm

Elisabeth Cornwell, Ph.D.

Executive Director of the U.S. branch
of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for
Reason and Science (RDFRS)

A public talk. Free. (Map) (Flyer)

Is beauty created by Madison Avenue ad men (and women), or is beauty a human universal as evolutionary psychologists argue? If it is a human universal — why? What are the adaptive advantages to clear skin, a shapely figure. Are there signals specific to what women want as opposed to what men want? Why do men and women differ in what they find attractive? What do they find similarly attractive? By looking at humans through the Darwinian lens of sexual selection, you will never look at another advertisement the same way again.

Dr. R. Elisabeth ‘Liz’ Cornwell, Ph.D., is the first Executive Director of the U.S. branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS). She also has years of experience as a businesswoman, working in marketing and sales in the semiconductor industry in California. She decided, in her forties, to go back to university to do a doctorate in psychology, at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland. An evolutionary psychologist, her research has examined the underlying mechanisms of human mate selection, looking at such factors as hormones, pheromones, aging, asymmetry, and facial features. More recently she has been doing research at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, exploring the relationship of various psychological traits to religious belief, across the spectrum from strong theism to strong non-theism.

This talk will be at the National Science Foundation, Room 110, 4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA -- one block south of the Ballston-MU Metro stop. Enter NSF from the corner of 9th N & N Stuart Streets.

Refreshments & Socializing until 3:45 pm

Everyone is welcome, members and non-members.
For more information: 301 587-3827

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Feb 12 U.S. Science Education and Global Competitiveness

Saturday, Feb 12, 1:30 pm - 3:00 pm

Bruce A. Fuchs, Ph.D.

Director of the NIH Office of Science Education
A public talk. Free. (Map) (Flyer)
National Science Foundation, Room 110 
4201 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 

In December of last year the results of the latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released and, once again, U.S. students performed poorly in science and math compared to students from many other countries. We are going to look at some of the international student data and talk about what we can, and cannot, conclude from these types of studies. Some of the common questions addressed will be ...
  • Are these results “real”? 
  • Aren’t we comparing “all” our kids to a tiny elite in the nations that outperform us? 
  • There can’t be anything to really worry about, right? 
  • After all, if we are so dumb then why are we so rich? Oops!
Dr. Fuchs is responsible for monitoring a range of science education policy issues and providing advice to NIH leadership. He also directs the creation of a series of K-12 science education curriculum supplements that highlight the medical research findings of the NIH. The NIH Curriculum Supplement Series is designed to meet teacher’s educational goals as outlined in the National Science Education Standards and is available free to teachers across the nation. Teachers have requested the seventeen titles currently in the series more than 380,000 times. The office also actively creates innovative science and career education Web resources, such as the LifeWorks career exploration site, accessible to teachers and students across the nation. These resources are available at

Refreshments & Socializing until 3:45 pm

Ballston Metro. Enter at corner of 9th N. & N. Stuart Streets.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jan 22 & 26 Two Cosmology Authors at Politics & Prose

Two cosmology authors will be talking about their books at Politics and Prose this month:

Jan. 22: Richard Panek - The 4% Universe

Jan. 26: Brian Greene - The Hidden Reality

Monday, January 10, 2011

Jan 15 WASH DC: Fred Edwords Retrospective on the 2010 Museum of Natural History Human Origins Exhibit

Saturday, January 15th, 2:00 p.m. 
Chevy Chase Library, 5625 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Washington, DC
Speaker: Fred Edwords 
Topic: Human Origins: When Religion Makes Science Museums Nervous

As the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC opened its new David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins in March 2010, the science staff braced itself for a possible onslaught of criticism from religious conservatives. After all, the fossil evidence for human evolution has grown stunningly robust over the past few decades; so any honest presentation is bound to upset certain sensibilities. In a preemptive move anticipating such criticism, the Human Origins Initiative associated with the new exhibit launched the Broader Social Impacts Committee. Its purpose was to address the social implications, including those affecting religion. And on this committee were placed representatives of all the major world religions. Fred Edwords was invited to represent humanism and, in accepting, participated in a public panel discussion at the museum right after the exhibit opened.

In his talk for WASH MDC, Fred will tell of his adventures on the committee and give some of the historic background of creationist interference with American museum exhibits on evolution and the responses that have been necessary. Fred is a long-time defender of evolutionary science against the onslaughts of creationists. In 1980 he founded the Creation/Evolution journal to answer creationist arguments and went on the debate circuit. He served 15 years as executive director of the American Humanist Association, 12 years as editor of the Humanist magazine, and is now national director of the United Coalition of Reason. He continues his work with the Broader Social Impacts Committee at the museum.