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Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub
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We all know that people with maths, science and technology skills are experienced at problem-solving. But how useful are those skills in the real world? Mathematician and speaker Katie Steckles will show you some mathematical, logical and geometrical tricks to solve some of everyday life's minor challenges - from tying your shoelace to changing a duvet cover, and plenty of others. You'll never fold a t-shirt the same way again!

Katie Steckles is a mathematician based in Manchester, who gives talks and workshops on different areas of maths. She finished her PhD in 2011, and since then has talked about maths in schools, at science festivals, on BBC radio, at music festivals, as part of theatre shows and on the internet. She enjoys doing puzzles, solving the Rubik's cube and baking things shaped like maths.

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There is no doubt that quantum physics embodies mind-blowing concepts that force us to question the very nature of reality.  And if there’s a contender for our current best “theory of everything” then quantum mechanics wins hands down.

But, far too often, the word “quantum” signals the worst type of vacuous pseudoscientific gobbledegook. It’s exploited by those who are entirely clueless about the underlying physics -- or, worse, should know better -- to evoke a misplaced mysticism about the ‘holistic’ nature of the universe. Moreover, when consciousness and quantum collide, the nonsense factor goes through the roof…

Philip Moriarty will aim to tease out the science from the mysticism and show that while quantum physics certainly has its weird and wacky aspects, it’s at heart a theory of waves. That means we can very often easily interpret what’s happening at the quantum level in terms of the everyday world around us – he’ll take a look at what coffee cups, drums, and a SlinkyTM can tell us about the broader nature of the universe (and Deepak Chopra’s place in it).

Philip Moriarty is a professor of physics at the University of Nottingham. He tweets at @Moriarty2112 and blogs at

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There is a long history of debate about biological sex differences and their part in determining gender roles, with the ‘biology is destiny’ mantra being used to legitimise imbalances in these roles. The tradition is continuing, with new brain imaging techniques being hailed as sources of evidence of the ‘essential’ differences between men and women, and the concept of ‘hardwiring’ sneaking into popular parlance as a brain-based explanation for all kinds of gender gaps.

But the field is littered with many problems. Some are the product of ill-informed popular science writing (neurotrash) based on the misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what brain imaging can tell us. Some, unfortunately involve poor science, with scientists using outdated and disproved stereotypes to design and interpret their research (neurosexism). These problems obscure or ignore the ‘neuronews’, the breakthroughs in our understanding of how plastic and permeable our brains are, and how the concept of ‘hard-wiring’ should be condemned to the dustbin of neurohistory.

This talk aims to offer ways of rooting out the neurotrash, stamping out the neurosexism and making way for neuronews.

Gina Rippon is Professor of Cognitive NeuroImaging in the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University. She has a background in psychology and physiology and uses brain imaging techniques such as Magnetoencephalography (MEG), functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG) to investigate the relationship between patterns of brain activation and human sensory, cognitive and affective processes. Most recently her work has been in the field of developmental disorders such as autism. She has served as President of the British Psychophysiology Society (now the British Association of Cognitive Neuroscience).

She also writes and speaks on the use of neuroimaging techniques In the study of sex/gender differences, recently featured in the BBC Horizon programme “Is your Brain Male or Female?”. She is additionally involved in activities around the public communication of science, particularly in challenging the misuse of neuroscience to support gender stereotypes, and in work to correct the under-representation of women in STEM subjects. She has recently been appointed as an Honorary Fellow of the British Science Association.

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Given the bewildering variety of life on Earth – all stemming from one self-replicating molecule – can we really predict what life on other worlds is like? Maybe not. But we can imagine what it isn’t like.

Stevyn Colgan has been involved with aliens for three decades. He’s held Jabba the Hutt’s face, helped sculpt creatures for Bruce Willis to shoot at, and had a script accepted for Doctor Who in the 1980s. In this entertaining talk, you’ll hear about feuding gangs of scientists, film directors with less imagination than children, and the perils of concrete poo. You’ll also come to realise that if we really are intelligently designed, we’re an illogical and inefficient system.

Stevyn Colgan is an author, artist, songwriter, speaker and oddly-spelled Cornishman. He is one of the ‘Elves’ that research and write the popular BBC TV series QI and co-writes its sister show, The Museum of Curiosity, for BBC Radio 4. He has given hundreds of talks across the UK and USA and is a regular at festivals and events such as Skeptics in the Pub, QEDCon, Cornbury, Hay, Cheltenham, Latitude and the Edinburgh Fringe and previously was our Skeptical Bobby speaker.
He is a contributor to the bestselling QI books and annuals and is the author of ‘Joined-Up Thinking, Constable Colgan’s Connectoscope’, ‘Henhwedhlow: The Clotted Cream of Cornish Folk Tales’, ‘The Third Condiment’, ‘Why Did The Policeman Cross The Road?’ and co-wrote ‘Saving Bletchley Park’ with Dr Sue Black. He's currently working on his new book A Murder To Die For.

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More than two metres of DNA is packed inside every one of your cells, encoding 20,000 or so genes, tangled into a mass of molecular spaghetti. Hidden within these strands are the instructions that tell cells when and where to turn genes on or off. But while the language of genes has become common parlance in the media, a clear understanding of what they do and how they work has not.

We know our genes make our eyes blue, our hair curly or our bellies bulge, and they control our risks of cancer, heart disease, alcoholism, and Alzheimer’s. Advances in genetic medicine hold huge promise, and as researchers discover more about molecular genetic switches and what happens when they don’t work properly, a four-dimensional picture of DNA is being built.

Rather than static strings of code, this dynamic biological library will give us new insight on DNA, the text of the cookbook of life, and help inform our medical and ethical practices for future generations. Figuring out how it all works is a major challenge for researchers around the world. And what they’re discovering is that far from genes being a fixed, deterministic blueprint, things are much more random and wobbly than anyone expected.

Science writer and broadcaster Dr Kat Arney draws on her expertise in the world of genetics and the stories in her new book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, to take a look inside our genes.

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According to one estimate, around 100 UFOs are sighted worldwide every 24 hours – that’s one every 15 minutes. What’s causing all these reports? Are they, as believers claim, evidence that we are being visited by aliens from other planets? Or is there a more prosaic explanation?

This hard-hitting talk by Ian Ridpath, astronomy writer and UFO sceptic, traces the growth of the flying saucer myth since the first sighting in 1947, and demonstrates some of the most common causes of UFO reports. The talk will discuss the implications of formerly top-secret government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, and will end with Ian’s first-hand account of his own research into the Rendlesham Forest incident, a major event outside a US Air Force base at Woodbridge in Suffolk, still widely regarded as among the best UFO cases ever. 

Ian Ridpath is a writer, editor, and long-time UFO skeptic. As an amateur astronomer, he is particularly interested in the way that celestial objects are misperceived as UFOs. He is probably best known for investigating and solving the Rendlesham Forest UFO case, sometimes termed Britain’s Roswell, which will form part of his talk.

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Every day, we hear claims about what is good for our health, bad for the environment, how to improve education, cut crime, and treat disease. Some are based on reliable evidence and scientific rigour. Many are not.  These claims can't be regulated; every time one is debunked another pops up – like a game of whack-a-mole. So how can we make companies, politicians, commentators and official bodies accountable for the claims they make? If they want us to vote for them, believe them, or buy their products, then we should ask them for evidence, as consumers, patients, voters and citizens.

The Ask for Evidence campaign has seen people ask a retail chain for the evidence behind its MRSA resistant pyjamas; ask a juice bar for the evidence behind wheatgrass detox claims; ask the health department about rules for Viagra prescriptions; ask for the studies behind treatments for Crohn's disease, and hundreds more. As a result, claims are being withdrawn and bodies held to account.

This is geeks, working with the public, to park their tanks on the lawn of those who seek to influence us. And it's starting to work. Come and hear what the campaign is going to do next and how you can get involved.

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Late in 1915 Einstein presented the final form of his theory of gravity: General Relativity. This description of nature has so far stood the test of countless rigorous tests and has led to many new insights from exotic black-holes to the shape of the universe itself.  Not long after its publication, in 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational-waves, small ripples in the fabric of spacetime itself. At that time Einstein expected that these would be so small as to remain undetectable. However, advances in technology and our understanding of astrophysics have led many to believe that, on this at least, Einstein was wrong. This motivated the establishment of an international effort, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration,  to detect gravitational waves.

In this talk Greg will discuss the historical significance or Einstein's General Relativity, the relevance of gravitational waves and their potential and describe the current status of the LIGO/Virgo detectors.

Greg Ashton is in the final stages of completing a PhD in General Relativity at the University of Southampton where he studies neutron stars, the compact objects left over after some super-novae events. He is a member of the LIGO/Virgo collaboration, a group of scientists seeking to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves, use them to explore the fundamental physics of gravity, and develop the emerging field of gravitational wave science as a tool of astronomical discovery

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David Webster says: "I keep buying books. Books about belief, God, atheism and ethics. But they just waste my time. They're full of fine-grained detail, but you can discern the author's position by the end of a page. They're going to massage evidence to fit their tedious thesis. I opened a range of these books today, lurking in a damp Gloucester with a few hours to kill. They made me feel like a loser. An idiot by association. To be affiliated with the world of contemporary, popular, writing about religion or atheism seems to be implicated in a circus of screeching stupidity."

In this talk, David will ask us to leave The Circle of Stupid, ask ourselves what might actually matter and how we might go about working out real questions about ethics without recourse to metaphysical squabbling.

Dr Webster teaches Religion, Philosophy & Ethics at the University of Gloucestershire, has worked for various Universities, and has studied Philosophy, Hinduism and Buddhist thought at Sunderland Polytechnic (and later when it was a University) and at Newcastle University. In addition to scholarly works on Buddhism and desire, the nature of belief, and other topics in Buddhist studies and the Philosophy of Religion, David has also written about the blues, and death in religions. 
He also blogs at and at 

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When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969 - the Americans entered history as the winners of the Space Race. This isn't their story.

Micky Lachmann is going to talk about their competitors the Soviets, and how they managed to beat the Americans to almost every milestone in Space.

It's a story we don't know very well - the Soviets operated under a shroud of almost total secrecy. But some of the early cosmonauts are still alive and have incredible and often terrifying stories to tell. So this is also an account of going to Russia and trying to find these amazing - and mostly bad tempered - men and women.

Micky studied Natural Sciences and then dropped out of a PhD in tropical fish behaviour to work in science journalism. Over 15 years at the BBC he has worked on - among other things - Walking with Beasts, many Horizon's and is partly responsible for bringing Brian Cox to our screens - for which he is very sorry.
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