Welcome to the Queensland Skeptics Association Inc.
We meet on the last Monday of each month from February through November at the Morrison Hotel, 640 Stanley Street, Woolloongabba. Off street parking plus paid on-street parking till 7pm. Dinner from 6 pm. Speaker at 7.30 pm. $3.00 entry. No need to book. https://www.morrisonhotel.com.au/dining
Epigenetics - Dr Tim Bredy - Cognitive Neuroepigenetics - Queensland Brain Institute UQ
For a long time Darwinian evolution was accepted as the only mechanism whereby an organism’s genome could change: the principal of random mutations locked in by survival of the fittest and the procreation of the surviving. It became apparent, however, that other forces were at work. The important role of “junk DNA” as suggested by Prof John Mattick (Qskeptics - Nov2011) flagged other mechanisms at work when cells reproduce. Many cell interactions simply fail – they are not viable and slip into abeyance. Successful ones progress and are utilised usefully. So now we are faced with a vast and frankly chaotic system of incredible complexity that turns genes on and off, promoting and facilitating some and suppressing others. As suspected, changes are enabled from immediate generation to generation from the same DNA. The many forms of RNA are the keys - some have only just been discovered. Mind bending stuff. However, once we appreciate what is going on, it ain’t so bad. Just a bit awesome! You won’t want to miss this.
Monday 28th November 2016 Lingering Doubts by Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis
When I first got Brisbane just in time for the 1974 flood, I heard a private talk by the then Principal of the Qld Police Academy Insp Harry Allsopp. For a while there was no mention of him on the Internet but the history of the Academy is now found at: http://mypolice.qld.gov.au/museum/2012/03/27/from-the-vault-the-queensland-police-academy-40th-anniversary/
The academy was the first attempt to educate Qld police beyond year 10 and instil some civility into what was a fairly motley crew at the time – pre-Fitzgerald. Off the record Allsopp described the rampant corruption with the quip “who are you going to report this to??” Implying that it was systemic. A short time after 1974 Harry Allsopp died of a heart attack, apparently – but I have always had my suspicions…………… The police used to meet regularly with the infamous Warren Earl Armstrong under the Story Bridge where I parked my car in the morning.
That was 1974 what was 1947 like?? Frank Bischof went mad.
This was the police culture that confronted the crime scene in the Wallace Bishop Arcade. Some investigators are still convinced of Brown’s guilt. Why did he not report the assault that was his explanation for the injuries. Maybe he didn’t get the chance? One of the criticisms was the indecent haste with which the conviction proceeded. Maybe the police themselves were involved and threats against his family the reason that he never corrected the record.
A life sentence in Boggo Rd would drive most people to suicide in my view. Who wrote the confession with all the detail?
Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis have a sad chapter in their family history that has driven them to seek justice for Reg Brown and in so doing also for Bronia Armstrong and that is everyone’s right.
Monday 31st October 2016 Professor Peter Sly ( click here to read synopsis) Director, Department of Children’s Health and Environment
Monday 26th September 2016 Professor Matti Lang (click here to read synopsis)
Monday 25th July 2016 Professor Justin Marshall
Prof Marshall is a researcher for the Queensland Brain Institute and his qualifications include zoology and neuroscience. He has a special interest in the GBR and has taken many of the photos you have seen in the media on the recent coral bleaching event. We could go on about the parlous state of the eco systems around the world, particularly the collapse of fishing as both an industry and a cultural way of life but as isolated as we are from the rest of the world we are not taking responsibility for the fossil fuels we export. We are beginning to debate nuclear fuels but the timelines are decades long and our economy depends on exports of minerals and we have some big shocks coming. Will the reef survive – it already hasn’t and it is a matter of what will be left for future generations to admire. Our tourism minister hastened to point out that the southern areas did not suffer as badly as the north – a typical political response – would you like to have an investment in a Nth Qld tourist resort? Don’t think so. While there are calls for more resources to ‘ save’ the reef this might be naïve. Climate change is a result of past and continuing inaction by the whole world. Any ideas?
The fishing resources that China is contesting with the Philippines and Vietnam are so depleted from over fishing it is hardly worth it – certainly not worth fighting a war over; however, there are minerals and oil in them thar’ shoals and no one seems to be doing anything about not burning fossil fuels. The GBR (Great Barrier Reef) has suffered the worst coral bleaching event in recorded history and mangroves are dead in the Gulf. The canary in the coalmine has long since died but we are still going ahead with the Adani Carmichael coal mine!What hasn’t been considered, apart from the obvious, is that the rest of the world, which is beginning to panic, may start applying sanctions to countries supplying the coal that is cooking the planet. (You heard it here first) "In Western Australia, in Cockburn Sound, we've lost 80% of our seagrasses. Over 1200 hectares of seagrasses have been lost in the last four decades," * Not climate change but nutrients from coastal developments!?
Monday 27th June 2016 Professor Rosa Alati Drugs of addiction
This covers a broad field and there are new and more potent drugs being developed constantly. The old drugs of heroin, tobacco and alcohol are still with us and continue to ravage society. Strong views are held on prohibition and access to medical use of otherwise illicit drugs. Our overall concern is what happens to polite society if the precious gene pool that regenerates the population is degraded in general by past and present use of both legal and illegal drugs. There is still cultural use of betel nut, kava and opium which goes back generations but still leaves a trail of biological devastation behind it. Drugs of altered states. Used to get in touch with “ the spirits” drugs or behaviours like the whirling dervishes are a naïve attempt to make contact with the transcendent. Incense is used in churches to associate with the religious. ‘ Hedera’ (a species of ivy) used in the Greek Orthodox church creates mood as does frankincense in other religious contexts; not addictive but very associative.
PS: Please peruse the petition for secular counsellors in schools:
Monday 30th May 2016 - Mates4Mates and PTSD - Janice and Brian Johnston
Janice is a Senior Psychologist with Mates4Mates and Brian served for 25 years as a psychology officer attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Ordinary life can sometimes be troublesome, but we live in a small world, insulated from the terrible conflicts around the globe. Most of us have no idea at all about the invisible trauma of war. What was loosely described as ‘shell shock’ in WWI has been more generally dubbed PTSD in modern times. It is the aftermath of warfare that is not featured in the recruitment brochures. Pilots of drones who are in no physical danger themselves suffer debilitating psychological harm while operating from thousands of kilometres away.
Monday 25th April 2016 - Dr Alex Lehn
Our knowledge of the brain is increasing exponentially. Interestingly, much work has been done using people with injured brains that showed brain plasticity and an ability for the brain to reorganise and establish new pathways for cognition.
It is possible for the brain to learn to “see” from a series of skins vibrators on the torso. VS Ramachandran’s pioneering work with mirrors and lights showed that phantom limb pain could be relieved by having the brain believe that phantom limbs were active, using mirrors on other limbs. From this we learn that pain originates in the brain not the point where it is expressed. There is a lot to learn.
Dr Alex Lehn has a clinic at the Mater Hospital that is helping people with neurological injuries (nerves) to get mobile again. Advances in microelectronics may enable direct brain activity to bypass damaged nerves and get limbs viable again or directly control artificial limbs. Advances in microcircuitry, virtual reality and nanotechnology combined with new understandings of brain functioning promises a brave new world for people with Functional Neurological Disorders. Alex is concerned that FND is a fertile field for AltMed and it is important that people are aware of the difference between quackery and real medicine.
Monday March 28 2016 - Robotics - Dr Sue Keay
Not unusually for Pure Science, Robotics is taking us places we didn’t know existed. Serendipity can be fickle and mysterious but advantageous.
As new developments occur, new ideas dawn.
Beyond sci-fi, serious robots first appeared in the automotive industry welding up car bodies. They are tireless, precise, unaffected by hazardous processes – and fast.
The famous Patrick’s wharf strike of 1998 heralded the introduction in Australia of automatically controlled cranes to move containers – at 15km/hr. Herein lies the synergism between automation and robotics. When is an automaton a robot and vice versa? You can work on that distinction and let me know what you think it is!
We can imagine autonomous robots for everything from vacuuming your floors, to remote surgical procedures and to the inevitable military killing machines. We already have UAVs or drones, and we wait with bated breath the first battles between autonomous fighting vehicles (not an entirely bad idea).
Will they take over the world? No, not if you unplug them.
Monday 29th February 2016 - Membership is now due.
As we leap into 2016……. Nanotechnology is the hot topic because it is so ubiquitous and almost symbolises how modern technology has advanced not by microns but by orders of magnitude. We now have the premise unfolding before us that small is more – vastly more. It was Richard Feynman who suggested we look to the ‘tiny’ as the gateway to future progress.
Our speaker Prof Chengzhong (Michael) Yu is a lead researcher into all things nano and its applications in so many fields. From the titles of some of his papers we see applications in medicine, batteries, fuel cells, gene modification, catalysts, gas adsorption and mesoporous materials ie the opposite of nanoparticles; ones with lots of tiny holes. Do not be afraid of being blinded by Science – just think - tiny means more compact, more potent and far more dense. Suddenly amazing things become possible. It is probably better to describe the revolution that is nanoscience as more of an upheaval. http://www.aibn.uq.edu.au/michael-yu
Due to a computer crash and a conference booking in India Prof Chengzhong (Michael) Yu has arranged for Prof Jin Zou to do the talk on Nanotechnology. Prof Zou is the Chair of Nanotechnology at UQ and we are very grateful for the support. This comes at a time when Queensland is hosting the World Science Festival: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com.au/ We like to think we are a small part of that. I will be speaking at a forum for the Australian Science Communicators. http://www.asc.asn.au/topic/conference/
Monday 30th November 2015
Dr Stephen Hughes - Senior Lecturer Science and Engineering Faculty QUT.
Dr Stephen Hughes writes the first book combining astrophysics and cooking. Teaching astrophysics in the kitchen? A strange combination you think?
Many concepts associated with astrophysics are hard to grasp. Gravity, as a result of the warping of space time; black holes and dark matter are still mysterious but our children will probably understand them a lot more readily than we do.
Like quantum physics sometimes we have to give up trying to ‘understand’ and just accept. After all we do have virtual particles popping in and out existence all the time. There goes one now…………..
Helping us to get a handle on the heavens, perhaps a kitchen analogy is just the thing. Aimed at armchair astronomers. His book Gastrophysics is available for download. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/gastrophsyics/id1018147956?mt=13
Monday 26th October 2015
Dr Gert Tollesson - Specialist adult and paediatric neurosurgeon
Let’s face it, we are all getting older and our parents, if they are still with us, are even older. There are many variables in familial relationships and while being a carer can be either a joy or a duty, it is a lifetime vocation for some. Looking after demented relatives and coping with dementia ourselves is a big deal for us and our partners.
Interestingly, dementia patients are ‘expected’ to be cared for by families to a large extent because they do not have visible injuries or illness. Anyone with the same level of debility or impairment in a physical sense would be admitted to an emergency ward. Disagree?
We are living longer and healthier (if you are sensible) but the fickle finger of fate might determine that you have low blood pressure to your frontal lobe and you may be looking down the barrel of vascular dementia yourself. There are no favourites when it comes to health and when partners look at one another they might be forgiven for wondering who in the future will be looking after whom?!
The hopeful side is some of the recent promising medical findings. (Down with amyloids I say!)
Monday 26th September 2015
Andrew Houston - Religion and Hypnosis as Play
Religion and Hypnosis are powerful Karma. Powerful Play? The Amazing Randy doesn’t believe hypnosis is a genuine phenomenon but how else can we explain the above Caesarean Section performed under hypnosis. Closer to home, an acquaintance had open heart surgery under hypnosis AND spoke all the way through the operation.
The phenomenology* of hypnosis puts it in a group of psychological experiences described as ‘play’. This includes following the rules of football or even playing the piano. Where belief and reality begin and end depend on experience and what we have come to accept as true.
Religion and Hypnosis have always been a mystery but they may be a looking glass into our febrile psyche. That people have overwhelming religious experiences or that we fall in love or are genuinely seduced indicates that our precious ‘selves’ are a construct that is not immutable.
What is it that breaks when we suffer a breakdown? If our comfortable view of life is shattered, as in PTSD, it shows that we have developed a mental image of how the world works and how we fit in it; that image can be broken or as in hypnosis can be taken over.
How this is all construed as ‘play’ is the subject of Andrew Houston’s talk. It may also give insights into the mechanism of ‘cult’ behaviours.
Monday 31st August 2015
The Psychology of Self Deception - Professor Bill Von Hippel from the The School of Psychology - University of Queensland
Skepticism is not only about deception and being deceived but the what, the why and the how. We are a little querulous when it comes to self-deception – we don’t think it applies to us – we self-deceive!
It is one thing to do randomised controlled trials (multi-centred, triple blind and peer reviewed), but they don’t dispel those little hunches, wonderments and plain old prejudices that egged us in the direction of the original hypothesis.
The effects of self-deception can be inconsequential (benign) or catastrophic (malignant) and everything in between. If nothing else, Skepticism is the pursuit of reality and we don’t always get it right.
Monday 27th July 2015
Prof Neal Ashkanasy - Professor of Management – UQ Business School.
Ever wonder why your boss is a domineering psychopath? If you think about it, the system of choosing people to control others is logically tilted towards ruthlessness. Sadly, some people are placed in positions of authority because they ARE commanding first and meritorious second. In short, they are ambitious, highly intelligent and they do as they are told. Such people are dangerous. When the stakes are high – people need their jobs and they need the pay and if all they sacrifice is politeness and the ability to doggedly perform what ever is required by the system, those who can abdicate their self worth and better judgement are only too willing to abandon civility; they are the psychopaths in the management of desperation. The cycle runs full circle when inappropriate personalities leave a swathe of personal destruction behind them and finally come to grief they are packed off to foreign climes.
How do people cope with the stress? Emotional Intelligence? If you have got EI are you the strong type; not emotional? If you haven’t are you a vulnerable weeping mess? But maybe you’re compromise is just being too kind! So what is EI and what is it in relation to healthy emotional and intelligent survival?
As we ‘go forward unpacking’ topics, EI is often bandied about in seminars but may not be that well understood. While jargon may once have had some useful purpose its usage has long since degenerated into meaningless padding. Emotional Intelligence however has its place.
A good definition of EI is: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
Sounds nice – OK, go on do it! Not so easy? Sometimes we get het up over the slightest things and imagine malice and conspiracy where there is none. Sometimes we are confused by the hostile reactions we get and are blissfully unaware of the friction and chaos we have caused. Sometimes we are not assertive enough and sometimes we are too aggressive. EI is about keeping your head together through thick and thin; the alternative is losing it.
Prof Ashkanasy promises a lively and provocative talk.
Monday 29th June 2015
Kim Garthwaite is our speaker for beyondblue. Kim is a Registered Nurse, Clinical Nutritionist and Mother of two. She has worked in the fields of community nursing and older adults.
3 million Australians live with Anxiety or Depression everyday. We do know that the stress is sadly reflected in suicide rates and self harm. The suicide rate for young aboriginal children in NT is 30 times higher than for young people in NSW.*
An inclusive approach to a pervading condition like depression/anxiety however must apply across demographics. What we do know is that chronic sadness can hit us all at some time or other, and our resilience to that onslaught defines whether we are clinically depressed or not. We have our ups and downs. The key to anxious causes however, is ‘avoidance’. (hint) A Skeptical approach might be to suggest that behavioural therapy can mask some underlying pathology or trauma, and unfortunately therapeutics for depression can do this. Having a divorce, a temporary job, a big mortgage and breast cancer all at once would be depressing? Yes, but the cause is no mystery. Depression without an apparent cause is more of a worry. Why do some people cope (or seem to) and others not?
Half of all soldiers returning from conflict suffer PTSD in some form or other. Imagine if we had a therapy that restored them to full fitness. Well, we could just turn them around and send them back to war – bizarre? Yes? We would save a fortune - thankfully there is no such treatment. Does any treatment work? Ketamine# a drug being tested for depression is being peddled by companies associated with erectile dysfunction (yes, that one!)
There are any number of causes of depression. We all have our own special ways of attracting it. Bullying in the workplace is a big factor as is family tragedy. Some things we can control, some we can’t. Cope with it we must.
Depression may be the result of a personality trait. In-as-much as someone might be an angry person or a happy-go-lucky person or a thoughtful one or a flippant one, everyone is all these traits but it is sometimes life’s circumstances that steer us in one direction or another. Them’s the breaks, luck does play a part. The person who plans their life’s course might be thought of as ambitious, enterprising or maybe grasping or controlling maybe even narcissistic. Maybe they just want an orderly realisation of their potential. Who’s to judge?
In the dodger I left a hint and that there is an association between anxiety and avoidance. I think there is a connection between depression and acrimony. Feel free to disagree. Depression certainly can result from a series of crushing calamities but powerlessness is the fuel. The personal rejection that acrimonious people experience however is even a surprise to them; they don’t understand, they feel targeted and withdraw. Depression is characterised by isolation and withdrawal even in apparently successful people. The cliché associated with Winston Churchill’s black dog is “never ever, ever, ever, give up!” Giving up is the end.
One solution is to do something nice for someone else; it works for a while, keep doing it and it might work for longer. Engender a sense of gratitude and it will make you feel good.
Getting beyondblue on board has been an enterprise in itself. Please take the beyondblue materials that have been provided and leave them sprinkled about where other people can find them. Who knows, the life you save may be your own.
NB. This is not a registered event with beyondblue. Kim is a volunteer for beyondblue and not a health professional and will not be able to comment on or provide advice on specific treatments or mental health conditions.
# Ketamine started life as a horse tranquiliser.
Australian Skeptics National Convention 2015 - October 16-18th October 2015
Brisbane Skeptic Society is proud to be organising the 2015 Australian Skeptics National Convention! Join us as we explore the frontiers of science and skepticism. We are pleased to announce Nobel Prize winning Brian Schmidt as our headline speaker. We welcome you to Garden’s Theatre at QUT and look forward to meeting you in 2015!
Monday 25th May 2015
Professor Ian Lowe is an emeritus professor in the School of Science at Griffith University and his talk will be on sustainability.
Monday 27th April 2015 AGM 7.15PM
Guest Speaker 7.30pm. John Cook on Global Warming. This fits neatly with the launch of John’s website on Tue 28th.
This is an important resource for people who wish to be informed about the details of climate change or deny it altogether.
We need to understand the issues that are thrown up by those opposed to idea of AGW. The USA and China are now acknowledging their contribution to climate change but India’s latest budget “missed a chance to lay down a roadmap to a low carbon (dioxide) future”
Monday 30th March 2015
"Tiny Houses". Lara Nobel is an architectural graduate and final year apprentice carpenter. She tutors design at UQ and is committed to constructing herself a tiny house. Anticipating global economic and environmental disasters and on a more personal level, frustrated by the problematic housing market Lara and a small group have been exploring alternative living options based on the question: What do we really need to live happily?
Armed with a passion for design and construction, Lara will discuss international and local precedents in the emerging Tiny House Movement and walk you through designs for two off-grid, self-sufficient, trailer-sized homes. She will describe the environmental, economic, and social motivators for building small, and demonstrate that these designs need not be limited to rustic cabins in rural settings; the diversity of existing precedents and imagined design outcomes may surprise you.
Monday 23rd February 2015
A/Prof Mohamad Abdalla will talk on Sharia Law
Monday 24th November 2014
Dr Doone Wyborn who was Chief Scientist for Geodynamics will speak about surviving the future; everything from getting ‘offgrid’ to architecture for surviving the heat.
Monday 27th October 2014 Is near term human extinction inevitable?
Dr Geoffrey Chia is a Brisbane based Cardiologist who convened the group “Doctors and Scientists for Sustainability and Social Justice” from 2006 to 2013. Experts in various fields were invited to speak each month, as well as certain politicians such as Andrew McNamara (former Labor State Minister for Sustainability) and Larissa Waters (current Greens Senator for Queensland). The decision to cease those meetings was based on ever more dire overwhelming evidence that the current economic/industrial system, being absurdly unsustainable, is about to unravel, no matter what we do. If anything, those now in power are determined to accelerate rather than ameliorate the problems of resource depletion, ecosystem destruction and climate chaos, all amplified by a global human population predicted by some to reach 9 billion by mid-century. Only one question is worth asking: is near term human extinction inevitable?
Monday 29th September 2014 Evidence Based Medicine - Dr David King, Senior Lecturer - School of Medicine UQ. His research interests are in Medical Education, Health Promotion, Mental health, Respiratory infections, Evidence-based Medicine and Clinical Epidemiology.
It is important for Skeptics to be aware of the fundamentals of Evidence Based Medicine because it is what separates real medicine from altmed and speculation, placebos and nocebos.
Medicine has quite a chequered history. In days of yore Medicine had more conjectures than facts. It was considered more of an ‘art’ than a ‘science’. Some treatments thought to be useful were just untested folk remedies and were mysterious, problematical and sometimes deadly. Maybe they worked; maybe patients got better in spite of them, some myths are still around today. Modern medicine is based on the scientific method, but research design suitable to test interventions in populations of patients came of age with the first randomised controlled trial (RCT) in 1948 and the subsequent development of Evidence-based medicine. RCTs overcome the problems of the placebo effect, confounding factors causing the apparent improvement, and the underlying natural history of the disease. However, there are many situations when RCTs are inappropriate or unethical and we need to build a case of evidence using trial design lower in the evidence hierarchy.
Pharmaceutical companies and policy makers have embraced EBM to legitimise their actions, but the process is open to abuse and ‘harder to detect’ biases. There is a need to understand the strengths and limitations of EBM and to develop ethical standards for the conduct and reporting of medical research.
Monday 25 August 2014 with Greg McDonald from the Australian Electric Vehicle Assoc.
We in Australia do not have access to the electric vehicles that are rapidly becoming common place overseas. The combination of cheap solar cells and electric cars could revolutionise Australian motoring. I have seen a price of $5000 for 10kW of solar panels ‘including freight’. This is enough power to get you off the grid and run your electric car for free, as well as your house. Already electricity companies are moving to prevent consumers from leaving the grid.
But more about electric cars: It would be great to think we could have a domestic electric car making industry but the loss of our manufacturing base to the overseas giants probably makes this impossible. We would end up buying all the major components from China anyway. All the traditional Australian car makers are finishing up – perhaps they see the writing on the wall. The only defence Australia has is tariffs (mostly they are now quite nominal) and an import licence but the ADR (Australian Design Rules) must also be complied with. Most Chinese vehicles are built to EU standards which are well on the way to conforming to the ADR. Greg will give us a broader picture.
Monday 28th July 2014 Professor Matt Cooper - Antibiotics
An antibiotic is an agent that either kills or inhibits the growth of a microorganism.: Ref: Wiki. Prof Cooper’s unit at UQ researches novel antibiotics, methods of delivery and the targeting of drug treatments.
There is a certain complacency in modern society that the major epidemics are history but simple infections tell a different story.
While vaccination rates vary and they need to be quite high in some cases around 90% to ensure herd immunity, common infections are not bound by such immunity. Many diseases of the past such as TB are rapidly becoming drug resistant. A new approach is needed.
There have even been attempts to resurrect old antibiotics that may be effective against contemporary bugs. When it comes to antibiotics we are beginning to grasp at straws. One of our members has indeed been notified that they are on the last regime of antibiotics available for the particular condition. What goes around is coming around fast and with a vengeance.
Bugs however are alive ……… and they evolve. The range of antibiotics we have had available to us is shrinking, not only because of ‘overuse’ but simply because we ‘use’ them at all. We are looking down the barrel of humans dying of infections caused by simple wounds like a graze on the knee. Many strains of known diseases like TB are now MDR (Multiple drug resistant). The Staph above is well on the way to being MDR.
Monday the 30th June 2014 - Guest Speaker: Professor Thomas Suddendorf
The Gap The Science of What Separates Us From Other Animals
There are many conjectures that have tried to define what makes us different from the other animals. Once it was that humans were the only animals to use tools until it was shown that everything from birds to primates use tools. Eagles and cuttlefish have better eyes than humans, plenty of animals are stronger, faster, more exquisitely adapted to their environments, hear better and have better senses of all kinds. But we can think....I think; we are 'self aware' whatever that is. I think I am therefore?
Professor Suddendorf's book explores what makes us what we are and not flatworms.