SkeptiCamp 2023 Schedule

Friday 22nd September

Find us in the Park Suite on the fourth floor of the Mercure, Manchester, and if you can’t make it, we’ll be livestreaming the event at from 11am UK time.

11:00 am


Opening remarks from the organisers

11:05 am

Session 1

The case for historical skepticism
Tom Williamson

When we hear the word “skepticism”, what subjects spring to mind? Science? The paranormal? Debunking alternative medicine? Skepticism is already a broad church, but what about history? Although the past is set is stone, our perception of it is anything but. History is abound with myths, tall tales and falsehoods, and it’s the job of historians to separate fact from fiction. The subject is ripe for skeptical investigation, with historial revisionism and pseudohistory to debunk.

Tom is an amateur vexillologist (flag nerd) and one half of the Retrospecticus podcast, a podcast that looks at episodes of The Simpsons and the modern history around them. Professionally, Tom obtained a PhD in systems bioology from the University of Manchester, but turned his back on academia to persue a career in software development. He has spent the last ten years working for a company that makes POS systems for the UK’s leading charities. He’s a member of the Merseyside Skeptics Society.

Contorium: A Made-up Element Worth $17 Trillion Went Crazy on Social Media
Serdar Basegmez

Born from a university student’s imagination and a whimsical video complete with a conspiratorial backstory, the fictitious mineral named “Contorium” unexpectedly captured social media’s imagination. The phenomenon inspired opinion pieces, political debates and even lent its name to a racehorse and a shopping mall. In this talk, Serdar will unravel this extraordinary tale of social media trolling, highlighting the power of online narratives and collective beliefs.

Serdar Basegmez is an ex-Istanbulite and a new-Londoner skeptic. Since 2010, Serdar has been a blogger, podcaster, meet-up host and speaker at Yalansavar, a Turkish grassroots skeptical movement promoting scientific reasoning and critical thinking. He recently joined the organisation committee of the Greenwich Skeptics in the Pub. In his free time, Serdar works for his own company and develops business applications.

A brief history of electrical engineering
Ian Harrison

A brief history of electrical engineering. From what led to the Leiden jar up to the first electrical health and safety legislation, and why it became necessary.

Why it ties into skepticism is the rigour and rivalries between people like Volta and Galvani or Edison and Tesla.

Ian left school at 16 with basic GCSEs but returned to college almost a decade later to become an electrician.

This return to education inspired him to take it further and is studying for a masters in electrical design engineering. Knowing why is as important as knowing how to him.

What REALLY happens when you eat worms?
Heidi Mounsey

There’s an old nursery rhyme with lyrics along the lines of “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, think I’ll go and eat worms” and in this talk we’ll explore exactly what does happen when you eat worms. Will they cure your allergies? Will they help you lose weight? Will they cause your death? Will eating them save the environment? Do they even taste nice? And if you don’t want worms in your intestines, can anti-parasitics also cure cancer? Or covid?

Heidi is currently typing this with a cat on her lap. She likes cats. She is a willing slave to a number of furry overlords, and therefore thinks about worms and their destruction and prevention quite a lot, as might be expected when a foster cat vomits up a still-alive roundworm right next to her on the carpet.

12:10 pm

Session 2

Ancient Apocalypse… of knowledge
Fredrik Trusohamn

Last year, a new pseudo-documentary was released on Netflix, and if I say I meant Cunk on Earth, I’d be lying because it’s Graham Hancock’s Ancient Apocalypse. It is a series that argues an Atlantean master race traveled the globe teaching civilization. While most know this is wrong, let’s learn why and the result of pseudo-archaeology, including threats, destruction of sites, and discrimination against indigenous people.

Fredrik Trusohamn studied archaeology and osteology at the University of Gotland and specialized in the Scandinavian Vendel and Viking age. He hosts the podcast Digging Up Ancient Aliens, using skepticism, science, and critical thinking to explore Ancient Aliens, alternative history, and pseudo-science in popular media.

While trying to use empathy and pedagogy to teach about science, he did, in fact, make Graham Hancock upset once when correcting the author online.

University Tech Transfer and the problem with “5-10 years”
James Leeland

As fans of science, it’s common to hear that some amazing technology is only “5-10 years away”, however, in reality, this often doesn’t happen. In this talk James, from a University Tech Transfer office, will talk about the difficulties in getting technology out there and what goes wrong.

James has a background in chemical research and has worked in both large companies and spin-outs. He currently works in University Tech Transfer (the people who try and take university research and turn it in to a business).

The Irish Westboro Baptist Church
Colm Ryan

In recent years, the headlines in Ireland have been dominated by a remarkable family, the Burkes of Castlebar. Comprising ten talented siblings, their story involves shattered careers and even jail time, all stemming from their unwavering biblical beliefs on contemporary issues. In this discussion, I will provide an overview of their background, their seemingly disastrous endeavours, and the unyielding perspectives that have landed them in such turmoil.

Colm is a regular attendee at QED and was the chief organiser of Cork Skeptics back in the day. He loves storytelling and photography, detests scammers and charlatans, and can normally be found at home in County Cork surrounded by a rake of cats.

I’m a Crisis Actor and proud of it!
Janet Hull

Since the second World War the Casualties Union Charity have provided realistically made up volunteers to provide acting and reacting casualties and patients for the medical and emergency service. With a strong stomach, resiliance and sense of humour, you too could make a valuable contribution to society and at the same time confuse conspiracy theorists.

Janet has been a volunteer for the Casualties Union for a couple of years – learning the makeup techniques and acting. She got hypothermia at an excercise at Manchester Airport.

1:10 pm


Time to grab a quick bite.

1:55 pm

Session 3

Survival of the thickest? – being a skeptic in a country maddened by propaganda
Andras G Pinter

Although the whole world has been negatively affected by all forms of fake news, disinformation and propaganda, surviving as a skeptic in a country where an authoritarian government controls the majority of media outlets and spreads all kinds of fallshoods that fit their political interests, feels like a real challenge. The talk is about the latest trials and tribulations of Hungarian skeptics trying to make some sense in a country with a seemingly irreparable devide kept up by state propaganda.

A biology teacher and jazz singer by training, currently working as a tour director and guide, András has been a skeptical activist in Hungary for 25 years. He’s an original member and current president of the Hungarian Skeptic Society, a member of Susan Gerbic’s Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia team, board member of the European Council of Skeptical Organisations, intiator and co-host of the European Skeptics Podcast as well as the host and editor of the Hungarian ‘Hogy is van ez?” podcast.

Why Illusionism Matters
Matthew Riddle

A talk explaining why we as skeptics should understand Illusionism as a philosophy of mind and why all other philosophies of mind are problematic for skeptics. Only after spending the majority of the time on this, will I explain why I think illusionism has made a mistake and I ask you to help me if you can. Professional help is presently being sought and being administered. Keith Frankish, a leading proponent of illusionism has been tutoring me.

Matthew is a professional software developer and amateur philosopher with a passion in philosophy of mind. He hosts the YouTube Channel, Consciousness Matters. The channel tries to reflect multiple different philosophies of consciousness with an aim towards a deeper understanding of all points of view.

Mental Health or Misogyny? Psychiatric Sexism & Social Media
Shayna Weisz

Most people know that the world of psychiatry has a sexist history (think: witch trials, Freudian “hysteria”, etc.) But have we truly moved away from that, or is sexism in psychiatry still rearing its head, just in more modern, insidious ways?

I will explore some of the criticisms of psychiatric terms and treatments as they’re used today, and by looking at trends on social media, will consider how they may disadvantage and disempower women, setting back the goals of both feminism and science.

Shayna Weisz is a soon-to-be PhD candidate at Birmingham University, studying the above topic of modern day sexism in psychiatry. She currently holds a degree in Psychology, certificate in Counselling, and a Masters in The Philosophy of Social Science. As well as debunking pseudoscience, Shayna is passionate about veganism, feminism, and all things queer and colourful!

What the ‘F’? – a letter from the past
Pontus Böckman

Language is arguably the most important of human capabilities. It’s just too bad that the sounds that we produce with our mouths are so hard to clearly define on a piece of paper.

Nothing illustrates this better than the letter ‘F’ which started its career in ancient Greece as a pretty indistinct vowel(!) Follow its journey through time and how it has inspired the creation of at least a handful of other letters while sometimes leaving us even more confused and bewildered to this day.

Pontus Böckman co-hosts the European Skeptics Podcast (the ESP) and is a former president of the Swedish Skeptics.

3:00 pm

Session 4

The Safety of Skeptical Activism
Claire Klingenberg

As much as we enjoy being skeptics, there is still a part of skeptical activism we don’t really address – and that’s putting ourselves in the crosshairs of individuals willing to do more for their beliefs than just taking the high road.

Be it online bullying or in-person confrontation, we owe it to ourselves and our fellow skeptics to talk about the unexpected pressures that come with the simple work of trying to get facts across.

Claire is the president of the European Council of Skeptical Organisations. She runs the “Don’t Be Fooled” project, which provides free critical thinking seminars to interested high school. She contributes to the Czech Religious Studies journal Dingir, as well as its news site. In her free time, Claire visits various religious movements to understand better what draws people to certain beliefs.

How I met pure blooder
Phil Armstrong

Do you have what it takes to date in the modern world? Join me as I venture into the world of “off-grid” dating in a very on-grid Facebook. What do antivaxxers look for in a potential partner and how do they advertise themselves?

Phil is a software developer, so naturally thinks he has valid opinions about everything. He is married with two children but it’s ok, his wife knows about the dating groups! He has recently joined the board of the Merseyside Skeptics Society.

What we don’t teach children and why it is more important than what we do?
Caradoc Gething

In my talk last Skepticamp, I was very critical of our content-driven curriculum.

This time, I want to talk about content which should be included but isn’t. This is not just a plea for critical thinking but a desire for a more rounded education that includes potentially controversial content in Sex & Relationships Education, recognition of our biases and the blindingly obvious inclusion of menopause education. Also, might accidentally be rude about Michael Gove, AGAIN!

Caradoc is an educator with over twenty years spent working in Special Schools. A science and behaviour specialist, he is also a lover of quizzes, music, sport, comedy and life. One of his biggest passions is writing poetry and he is always available for a commission (for which he rarely charges)!

Born in Zambia, his family moved to the UK in the second half of the 1970s to see what all the strikes were about. Rain prevented them from leaving and so Britain has been made to suffer ever since

On the Run – A Very Practical Guide to Prison Escape
Emma McClure

Prison escapes are regularly the subject of TV shows and films and stories of ‘escaped’ prisoners often make national news.

The reality of the modern prison system means that such escapes almost never happen in practice, however fear of them and inflammatory reporting often leads to very damaging policy changes for those who remain in custody. In this talk Emma will be talking through the reality of prison escape in England and Wales with a combination of statistics and tales from her job representing those who have tried, failed, and succeeded at being unlawfully at large.

In an arguably masochistic attempt to demonstrate how difficult escaping is Emma plans to spend most the day *literally* running to the Mercure hotel from her house (over 30 miles) before delivering her talk in aid of The Prison Reform Trust

Emma is a former QED main stage speaker and solicitor specialising in prison and public law. She regularly represents prisoners before the Parole Board. In what is left of her spare time, Emma enjoys running and boring other people about how much she enjoys running.

4:00 pm


Closing Remarks