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Dr. Matthew L. Tompkins

When?
Wednesday, June 5 2019 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Dr. Matthew L. Tompkins

What's the talk about?

Is seeing believing? Is believing seeing? How can we hope to conduct experiments on things that only exist within our minds, and, on a related note, can scientists ever be trusted to study deception without being deceived themselves? What can scientists learn about the mind from the illusions developed and practiced by professional magicians? Join magician and experimental psychologist Dr. Matthew L. Tompkins, author of The Spectacle of Illusion, for a fascinating talk exploring the psychology of magic.

Everyone's heard, and most of us have told, a story about an uncanny or supernatural seeming experience. Accounts of wondrous and impossible phenomena can be found around the world throughout recorded history. These extraordinary events often seem to be facilitated by extra-ordinary individuals: sorcerers, spiritual mediums, psychic sensitives. Such phenomena have even been reported under 'test conditions', witnessed by scientists—men professionally trained in the practice of empirical observation. To date, such events have not led conventional scientists to embrace the reality of supernatural phenomena- but they have arguably led to scientific breakthroughs how we understand the psychology of illusion.

This talk will feature a mixture of storytelling and magical scientific demonstrations to explore how scientists, past and present, have approached the study of illusion. Matt will discuss how magic played a weird but fundamental role in the in the establishment of psychology as a scientific discipline, and how he and other contemporary researchers have been using magic tricks to create new experiments in order to investigate human memory, perception, and reasoning.

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American magician-turned-psychologist Dr. Matthew L. Tompkins completed his DPhil in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. Previously, he had obtained a BA in Psychology at the State University of New York at Geneseo and an MSc in Psychological Research from Oxford. He is currently a Visiting Academic at The Queen’s College, Oxford and also works as a freelance writer.

His research, which has been featured across various international media outlets, including the Washington Post and BBC Future, focuses on the cognitive psychology of illusions. Matt was working as professional magician before he began his academic career, and his experiences performing continue to influence his work. He is the first member of The Magic Circle to have been admitted on the basis of a peer-reviewed scientific publication. His new book, The Spectacle of Illusion, explores the historical and contemporary relationships between scientists, magicians, and fraudulent mystics. matt-tompkins.com/soi

 

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Dr Keith Kahn-Harris

When?
Wednesday, May 1 2019 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Dr Keith Kahn-Harris

What's the talk about?

RESCHEDULED: this event will now take place on Wednesday 1st May.

One of the most challenging and frustrating questions for scientists is how to combat denialism: Holocaust denial, global warming denial, anti-vaxxers, 911 conspiracism, creationism and more. Debunking denialist claims is essential - yet also rarely effective.We are now living in a world where even the most apparently basic truths are routinely contested.

In this talk, Keith Kahn-Harris, author of Denial: The Unspeakable Truth, argues that to really understand denialism, we have to face up to what he calls 'the deniers alternative'. Denialism emerges when this alternative is so 'unspeakable' that denialism becomes a preferable option. In thinking about how to combat denialism, we also have to consider whether a world without it might not be a truth-filled utopia, but something even worse.

Dr Keith Kahn-Harris is a sociologist and writer. Denial: The Unspeakable Truth is his fifth book. His badly-designed website can be found at kahn-harris.org and he tweets irregularly at @KeithKahnHarris

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Pixie Turner

When?
Wednesday, March 6 2019 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Pixie Turner

What's the talk about?

Despite a wealth of information at our fingertips there are still so many things we get wrong about our health, and with a new diet book out every other day it’s no wonder people are confused. What should we be eating? When? How often? Just how important is food when it comes to our overall health?

Humans have always been a bit weird around food. We’re told eating certain foods are the key to living longer, some foods are ‘sinful’ or ‘bad’, that ‘you are what you eat’, and that we must seek to obtain health at all costs. All this means we follow crazy diets that make things worse rather than better, and have a population where most of us dislike our bodies.

Pixie will unpack why diet and nutrition misinformation is so problematic, on social media, in mass media, and on a public health level, and why we could all benefit from taking a moment to assess our personal relationship with food. Expect some mythbusting, diet rants, and lots of fully-referenced evidence-based science.

Pixie is a nutritionist (ANutr), food blogger, and science communicator. She graduated with a First Class degree in Biochemistry, and went on to complete a Masters in Nutrition with Distinction. She is the brains behind the 'Pixie Nutrition' social media accounts, which aim to infiltrate the wellness movement and debunk nutrition misinformation online. In addition, she has been featured as a nutrition expert on BBC and Channel 5, and in publications such as Red magazine, Evening Standard, Grazia, the Telegraph and more. Her first book, ‘The Wellness Rebel’ was published early 2018, with her second book, ‘The No Need to Diet Book’ released March 2019.

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Professor Karen Lucas

When?
Wednesday, February 6 2019 at 7:30PM

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Who?
Professor Karen Lucas

What's the talk about?

Is transport poverty an empirically proven phenomenon based on the travel behaviours and experiences of low income populations in the UK? Or is it – like other many other aspects of deprivation, such as energy poverty, housing shortage, health inequalities, a systematically and deliberately constructed denial of resources to marginalise the lower classes?  When poor people are directly asked about the problem of transport, they most often talk about their inability to access jobs, services, and facilities rather than transport itself. So, does transport poverty even exist in its own right? Or is it interdependent with the enforced and inflexible residential locations of low-income households, increasingly in peripheral and unserviceable edge-of-city estates that are poorly connected with the mainstream economic opportunities of the wider city-region? And, if car ownership is the solution (in the light of the public transport sector’s inability to address these connectivity problems under their current operating regimes), how do we address the non-affordability, diminished capabilities and negative externalities of this individualised model of passenger transportation?

Karen is Professor of Transport and Social Analysis at the Institute of Transport Studies, University of Leeds and Deputy Director of the Leeds Social Sciences Institute. She has 20 years of experience in social research in transport. She is a world-leading expert in the area of transport-related social exclusion in the Global North and South. She leads the International Network for Transport and Accessibility in Low Income Communities (INTALInC). In 2015, she won Edward L. Ullman Award by the Transport Geography Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers and in 2016 the University of Leeds ‘Women of Achievement’ Award, both awards for her significant contribution to transportation geography.

Karen is a regular advisor to national governments in the UK and abroad.  In 2002, she was seconded to the Social Exclusion Unit to develop policies to address the transport exclusion of low-income and disadvantaged groups and communities. She subsequently worked for the Department of Transport to undertake pilot studies and develop the Guidance on Accessibility Planning that resulted from this study. She has subsequently worked for local and national governments in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. She is currently, seconded to Highways England to set up a methodology for the community impact assessment of the Lower Thames Crossing project.

Karen is co-chair of the Special Interest Group on Cultural and Social Issues in Transport for the World Conference on Transport and Society (WCTRS) and of the NECTAR Cluster 7: Social and Health Impacts of Transport  She is a member of the Editorial Boards for the Journal of Transport Geography, Springer's Transportation journal and Urban Book Series

Carl Heneghan

When?
Wednesday, January 9 2019 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Carl Heneghan

What's the talk about?

In 2018, Jeremy Hunt MP announced a review into how the NHS responds to harms from medicines and medical devices. This followed patient-led campaigns on the use of the hormone pregnancy test Primodos, anti-epileptic drug sodium valproate and surgical mesh. Carl Heneghan has given evidence to the review and will discuss why we need such a review, what are the problems and some of the solutions.

Carl Heneghan - Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford - is a clinical epidemiologist and leading expert in EBM,research methods and regulatory science. His work includes investigating drug and devices, advising governments on regulatory evidence and healthcare projects in the public interest. He has worked with the media to investigate the evidence for sports drinks, IVF 'Add-on' treatments, metal-hips, surgical mesh and the Essure implant. He is a clinical advisor to the UK's Parliaments All Parliamentary Party Group on Surgical Mesh.

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Amy Dickman

When?
Wednesday, November 28 2018 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Amy Dickman

What's the talk about?

Amy is the Kaplan Senior Research Fellow in Felid Conservation at Oxford University, and has 20 years experience working on large carnivores in Africa, specialising in human-carnivore conflict. She has an MSc from Oxford University and a PhD from University College London, and has published over 60 scientific papers and book chapters on large carnivore ecology and conservation. She is a member of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group, the Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration, the African Lion Working Group, the IUCN Human-Wildlife Conflict Task Force, and is a National Geographic Explorer. She has received multiple awards for her work, including the Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation, the St Louis Zoo Conservation Award and the Cincinnati Zoo Wildlife Conservation Award.

Amy established the Ruaha Carnivore Project (www.ruahacarnivoreproject.com), based in southern Tanzania, in 2009, and still directs it today. The Ruaha landscape is one of the most important areas in the world for lions, leopards and cheetahs, but has been largely ignored by researchers, making it hard to develop conservation and management plans. In addition, it has the highest rate of lion killing documented in East Africa, as lions and other carnivores impose high costs on poverty-stricken local people. Amy and her Tanzanian team are researching the ecology of these vital populations, and working to reduce the pressing threat of human-carnivore conflict in this critical area. The project focuses upon reducing carnivore attacks, providing local communities with real benefits from carnivore presence, focusing particularly on improving local schools, clinics and access to veterinary medicine. It has been an extremely challenging endeavour, given the remote location and the initial hostility of the Barabaig, who are the secretive and little-known tribe responsible for most lion-killing. However, the team has made huge progress: since 2011 in the core study area, carnivore attacks on stocks have been reduced by over 60%, people are recognising real benefits from wildlife presence for the first time, and most importantly, lion killings have been reduced by over 80%. The aim now is to continue and expand this work both around Ruaha and beyond, to generate long-term benefits both for carnivores and local communities.

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Adam Rutherford

When?
Wednesday, November 7 2018 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Adam Rutherford

What's the talk about?

We think we are special, but are we any more special than other animals? After all, life is a family tree four billion years old, with branches enough to contain a billion species. One tree, one origin, with a common code that underwrites all existence, including our own.

This paradox – that our biology is indistinct from other animate life, yet we consider ourselves unique – is the central question of the human condition.

Many of the things we once thought of as unique to us are not. We are not the only species that communicates, or makes tools, or uses fire, or enjoys sex for non-reproductive reasons, nor are we the only species to have made art. Humanity lies in all of these things and more, but quintessentially in our teaching. We are a species defined by expertise, and the desire to spread that knowledge.

Adam Rutherford is a geneticist, writer and broadcaster.

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Alom Shaha

When?
Wednesday, October 3 2018 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Alom Shaha

What's the talk about?

Doing hands-on activities with children is the best way to get them exploring the world around them and thinking like future scientists and engineers. However, many parents lack confidence in doing science with their children, compared with reading, writing or drawing – even sometimes when they are scientists or engineers themselves! Teacher and author of Mr Shaha's Recipes for Wonder, Alom Shaha, will talk about his own introduction to science and show how any parent can help their children to really learn from their curiosity about the world – so they can take the step from "wow!" to "how?".

Alom Shaha is a science teacher and dad who has spent most of his professional life trying to share his passion for science and education with the public. Alom was born in Bangladesh but grew up in London. He has produced, directed, and appeared in a number of television programmes for broadcasters such as the BBC, and has held fellowships from the National Endowment for Science, Technology, and the Arts (NESTA) and the Nuffield Foundation. Alom has represented his community as an elected politician, and has volunteered at a range of charitable organisations. He teaches at a comprehensive school and writes for a number of print and online publications. As well as Mr Shaha’s Recipes for Wonder, Alom is the author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook.

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Dean Burnett

When?
Wednesday, September 5 2018 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Dean Burnett

What's the talk about?

You barely go a week without some puff piece article offering the 'secret' of happiness, or 5 easy steps to make yourself happy. They usually mention dopamine or oxytocin, in vague, context-free ways. But how valid are these claims? Not very, if you ask neuroscientist Dean Burnett, who looked into all this for his book The Happy Brain. In it, Dean delves deep into the inner workings of our minds to explore some fundamental questions about happiness. For starters: what does it actually mean to be happy? Where does it come from? Is lasting happiness possible? Should it be?

In his research into these questions – and many more besides – Burnett unravels our complex internal lives to reveal the often surprising truth behind what makes us tick. From whether happiness really begins at home to what love, sex, friendship, wealth, laughter and success actually do to our brains.

Dr Dean Burnett is a neuroscientist, pundit, author, blogger and sometimes comedian. In his second book The Happy Brain, he looks at all the claims and theories around what makes us happy, and investigates whether they hold up to scientific scrutiny.

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We will be selling copies of Dean's latest book - The Happy Brain: The Science of Where Happiness Comes From, and Why - so please bring cash if you would like to pick one up and have Dean sign it.

Michael Story

When?
Wednesday, August 1 2018 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Michael Story

What's the talk about?

Since 2011, a team of 150 civilians has been predicting the future more accurately than US intelligence agencies. Formed under the auspices of IARPA (the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, informally known as 'DARPA for spies'), the Good Judgement Projects’s 'Superforecaster' teams have been forecasting the specifics of topics as varied as North Korean missile programmes, the movement of Russian troops and the career progression of Robert Mugabe, achieving a 50% lower error rate than the previous state of the art.

This talk will cover who makes these forecasts, how they are doing it, and some techniques shown to make nearly anyone more accurate when predicting the future.

Michael Story is a Director and Superforecaster with Good Judgement, Inc

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Dr Surja Datta

When?
Wednesday, July 4 2018 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Dr Surja Datta

What's the talk about?

Indian philosophy is full of interesting ideas on materialism and atheism. This might come as a surprise to many. In the popular Western imagination, India is a land that is full of mystical gurus and religious fervour; a spiritual hotbed- a place where you ‘find yourself’, whatever that may mean. So, the news that the idea of ‘falsificationism’ was anticipated by Indian materialists (known as Charvakas) 1700 years before Karl Popper came up with argument, may lead to cognitive dissonance. Indian materialists denounced the authority of the Vedas, ridiculed the idea of reincarnation, and rejected mind-body dualism. In fact, there is very little in Indian materialism that is not backed up by modern science.

The talk will focus on the main tenets of Indian materialism originating from the atheist branch of Indian philosophy, alternately called Charvaka, Lokāyata, and Bṛhaspatya. It will also suggest reasons for their obscurity in India and elsewhere.

Dr Surja Datta is a senior lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. His latest book "A History of the Indian University System: Emerging from the Shadows of the Past" is published by Palgrave Macmillan. His current book project is provisionally titled "The Creative Society: Calcutta 1815- 1955”. Surja became interested in Indian materialism while researching for his current book.

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Dr Freya Harrison

When?
Wednesday, June 6 2018 at 7:30PM

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Where?

108 St Aldate's
City Centre
Oxford
OX1 1BU

Who?
Dr Freya Harrison

What's the talk about?

People with the genetic condition cystic fibrosis contract chronic lung infections, which are highly resistant to antibiotics. Different species of bacteria come together to form slime-encased multicellular "biofilms" that clog the airways and protect the microbes within from attack by antibiotics, or by the host's immune system. It can be very hard to predict, from standard diagnostic lab tests, which antibiotics might be able to penetrate biofilm defences and kill bacteria. Further, pathogenic microbes can work together to cause damage to the lung tissues and to protect each other from antibiotics. To better understand how cystic fibrosis lung infection develops, we use lung tissue from pigs slaughtered for meat to build realistic lung biofilms in the lab. In this way, we hope that we can find the Achilles' heel of debilitating and often lethal lung infection - and help researchers work on many different aspects of lung infection microbiology without the need for experiments on live animals.

Dr Freya Harrison is a microbiologist working in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick. She researches how bacterial pathogens interact and evolve during chronic infections, especially in the long-lived lung infections that affect people with the genetic disorder cystic fibrosis. She is also a founder member of the interdisciplinary AncientBiotics consortium​, which seeks to identify, reconstruct and test infection remedies from medieval medical books in the hope of finding new agents to treat antibiotic-resistant infections.

Image: The bacterium P. aeruginosa forms sticky blue-green biofilm around tissue taken from pigs' airways. Credit: Dr Freya Harrison

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