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Public Lecture: Lynne Kelly -- A Skeptic Tackles Stonehenge

When: Saturday, Februrary 11, 2017 @ 3:00 PM 
Where: Jefferson Market Library (425 Ave of the Americas at 10th Street)

There are more crazy idea about Stonehenge than any other place in the world. So what happens when a hardcore skeptic claims to have solved one of the world’s greatest mysteries? And then gets even wilder by claiming that the same thinking also explains Easter Island, the Nazca Lines and lots of other mysterious sites around the world? It’s all to do with the extraordinary methods that non-literate cultures use to memorize the vast amount of rational information on which their survival depends.

Dr. Lynne Kelly is a founding member of the Australian Skeptics. With degrees in Engineering, IT, Education, and a doctorate in Arts, she has published 16 books including The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal and  two books based on her PhD research, Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies (Cambridge University Press) and The Memory Code.

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Reasonable New York Annual Winter Solstice Party

When: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 @ 6:30 PM 
Where: Whitman and Bloom, 384 3rd Avenue, New York, NY (map)

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Skepticamp NYC 2016

When: Saturday, December 3rd, 2016 @ 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Where: Lawrence and Eris Field Building, Baruch College, 17 Lexington Ave., Room 306 (The "Skylight Room")


Admission is FREE of charge!

SkeptiCamp is like a science conference, except that its content is provided by the attendees themselves! Anyone can be a presenter, as long as your topic has something to do with science and/or skepticism.

It is based on the successful "unconference" model that originated with "BarCamp". (No, it has nothing to do with bars. The name has its own rich history, which you can read about on our Etymology page.) While BarCamp has primarily focused on software and technology, SkeptiCamp will focus on topics related to science, critical thinking, and other notions that appeal to a skeptical crowd.

Conventional conferences tend to follow a standard pattern of linear presentation, followed by Q&A. We hope the sessions and presentations given at SkeptiCamp NYC are more like lively discussions, than straight seminars. Perhaps even a few workshops will be sprinkled in. Presenters should try to welcome the bombardment of questions, after their initial introduction to the topic is made. Though, some may still choose to err on the side of convention.

SkeptiCamp is intended for adults and college students. Youth can also join us, if they'd like, as long as they have their parents' or guardians' permission.

Anyone who can be in the New York City area, at the given date and time is invited to join and... perhaps even lead a session of your own!

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The Hormone Myth? Robyn Stein DeLuca Visits the NYC Skeptics

“Nothing seems to have the power of good and evil like women’s hormones,” said psychologist Robyn Stein DeLuca. While a less-than-optimal testosterone level might just turn a man into a “schlumpy, low-T guy,” any change in a woman’s hormone levels is often thought to cause legitimate physical or mental illnesses.

“There’s the ubiquitous PMS joke,” DeLuca told the packed house of New York City Skeptics at Baruch College on October 22. It’s usually about what the abbreviation actually stands for, whether that’s “Pardon My Sobbing” or “Pissy Mood Syndrome.” DeLuca’s personal favorite is the answer to a riddle – what do you get when you cross PMS with a GPS?

“A bitch who knows how to find you,” DeLuca said.

But despite the idea’s saturation in our culture, and after five decades of research, there is still no consensus on whether “premenstrual syndrome” even exists, DeLuca said. Proposed symptoms run the gamut from the familiar mood swings, depression, hostility and weight gain to either increases OR decreases in hunger and libido – over 150 possible symptoms in all. And researchers didn’t always agree on how soon before (or even after!) menstruation they have to occur to justify a diagnosis of PMS.

Depending on how you looked at it, then, anywhere from 3% to 97% of women may have suffered from PMS. The condition, now called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), was finally codified more precisely in 1994’s fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. To qualify, sufferers now must present one of four main symptoms (mood swings, irritability, depression or anxiety), plus four others, within the final week before menstruation. Under this new definition, less than 9% of American women can be diagnosed with PMDD.

“Your distress has to affect your functioning,” relationships or work, DeLuca put it more plainly. Just being grouchy isn’t enough.

And those afflicted will find some relief from PMS once menopause begins – unless that’s a disorder in need of treatment, too! The time of a woman’s life that officially starts after 12 months without menstruation wasn’t much talked about in medical journals until the 1950s, when doctors began to warn of women “getting annoyed with their husbands” and *gasp* “refusing to make dinner”! Conversely, most women who have undergone menopause rate it as not that big a deal. So why do some fear it?

DeLuca says much of the early blame can be placed on Robert Wilson and his 1966 book Forever Feminine, which she calls “a compendium of misogyny and chauvinism.” The book characterized menopause as a sort of living death that required hormonal replacement therapy. Good thing the drug company Wyeth, who helped Wilson write Forever Feminine, made a pill just for that.

“It’s like PMS all over again,” DeLuca said of the shift to treating menopause like a disorder. Many still believe that menopausal women are more likely to suffer from depression, something that statistics simply don’t bear out. And there’s a good, non-biological reason older women might get depressed. “When you get into your 50s and 60s, people start dying,” DeLuca said, “which is really depressing.”

The pharmaceutical industry’s motivation in medicating women’s hormones is clear – “You can [buy] some Midol to be a human being again,” DuLuca said – but women themselves can perpetuate the myths when using them as convenient excuses. It’s easy to blame momentary lapses and outbursts on hormones, and not just ordinary stress, when there’s familial pressure to keep the “good woman crown.”

But the hormone myth is more damaging than just a few pills and a Betty Crocker image. DeLuca thinks it has something to do with women’s continued underrepresentation at the top levels of business and in other occupations that are considered to be more “rational.” On a personal level, it’s hard to address any kind of issues when their origins are misattributed.

 “You kind of lose the opportunity to understand what’s going on with you and to do anything about it,” DeLuca said.

For more discussion on the hormone replacement drug Premarin, check out the Facebook Live video of DeLuca's lecture. Her book The Hormone Myth:  Junk Science, Gender Politics, and Lies About Women will be available in May.

Report by Russ Dobler, photos by Jonathan Nelson


The Raging Hormone Myth? What Science Has to Say about Women, Hormones, and Emotion

When: Saturday, October 22, 2016 @ 3:00 PM 
Where: Lawrence and Eris Field Building, Baruch College, 17 Lexington Ave., Room 306 (The "Skylight Room")

Are women at the whim of their hormones? PMS, and the extended idea that women’s mental health is threatened by any changes in reproductive hormones, continues to abound in American culture.  Despite decades of methodologically strong research establishing the limited to non-existent contribution of reproductive hormones to psychopathology in women, the concept of women as occasional hormonal lunatics persists. The hardiness of the hormone myth has benefited several parties, including the medical field, the pharmaceutical industry, psychologists, and anyone who sees an advantage in keeping women in traditional gender roles.

The hormone myth has produced billions in revenue for pharmaceutical companies who have convinced women they need to be on hormones to maintain health for decades of their lives, and for the physicians who prescribe them. A whole cottage industry of books, websites, and seminars for women thrives with the help of the hormone myth. Robyn Stein DeLuca says the myth has hurt women in a variety of ways: It contributes to the idea that women’s reproductive events are illnesses requiring treatment, exposing them to unnecessary and sometimes harmful interventions. It also reinforces gender stereotypes of women as biological, emotional and unreliable, and men as rational, logical, and steady. Finally, it keeps women from addressing the actual issues that cause them emotional upset, which are much more likely to be socially-based than hormonally-based.

Robyn Stein DeLuca has a Ph.D. in Health Psychology with a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies, and was a core faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Stony Brook University for 15 years. She taught a multitude of courses on the psychology of health, gender, and reproduction. Her research on postpartum depression and childbirth satisfaction has been published in journals like the Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology and Social Science and Medicine. She currently holds the title of Research Assistant Professor in the Stony Brook Psychology Dept.

 During her time at Stony Brook, Prof. DeLuca served for two years as the Executive Director of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program at Stony Brook University, a program that provides mentoring, research opportunities, and scholarships to young women showing promise in science, technology, engineering, and math. 

In November 2014, Prof. DeLuca gave a Tedx talk titled “The Good News About PMS” which now has over one million views. Her book, The Hormone Myth will be published by New Harbinger Publications in May 2017.

NYC Skeptics tries to keep their lectures free and open to the public, but it does cost money to produce the events. Please consider donating to NYC Skeptics or becoming a member. Suggested donation for this talk is $10.

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The Myth of War -- John Horgan Returns to NYC Skeptics

"I've been thinking about what to say here," journalist John Horgan told the New York City Skeptics at the beginning of his second invited talk for the group this year. "And there are a lot of different things I could say."

The things Horgan said on May 15 at the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) weren't received all that well, at least by the meeting's emcee, magician and skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss. After the former senior writer at Scientific American suggested skeptics focus less on "soft" targets, like homeopathy, and more on "hard" targets, like the nature of war, Swiss offered his own impromptu rebuttal, instead of leading the originally-planned question-and-answer session.

"It was one of the high points of my career, actually," the returning Horgan told the audience at Baruch College on September 24. During this second chance to make his case, Horgan decided to focus on the question of if war is inevitable, and what could be done to stop it.

"How many people think the end of war between nations could happen relatively soon?" Horgan asked the audience. Four of the approximately 30 people in attendance agreed war could be eradicated by the end of the century, about in line with the usual 10 per cent who agree when Horgan asks the question elsewhere. Most people tend to think war is part of human nature.

"It seems like common sense," Horgan said of the "Malthusian catastrophe" idea, that unchecked population growth will always lead to conflict over less abundant resources, despite evidence to the contrary. "It's simply not supported by the literature," Horgan said. He reminded the crowd of Steven Pinker's work that shows the worldwide decline of war, despite the continued, global rise in population. Horgan argued it's not war that's innate in humans, but the tendency toward conformity.

"Once war's invented in one place, it's extraordinarily infectious," Horgan said, likening the phenomenon to a psychological meme. More practically, if a country's neighbor becomes warlike, it may have to follow suit just to defend itself. Deliberate aggrandizement of conflict, like national holidays commemorating the fighting of wars, also help to maintain the trend, Horgan said.

Horgan opined that the United States could help by setting a better example to the rest of the world, through reductions in defense spending, closing of overseas military bases and the implementation of more imaginative methods of conflict resolution. That might not happen, though, when so many of our leaders are "fatalists," as Horgan said -- those who believe that war cannot be eradicated. Even the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Obama has made efforts to bolster the United States' nuclear arsenal.

Some high-profile skeptics, like Pinker and Michael Shermer, also continue to accept the "deep roots" nature of war, which may be one reason Horgan believes the boundary between mainstream science and pseudoscience is now "very blurry." At NECSS and again during this lecture, Horgan said that several ideas in current physics, like string theory and the idea of a multiverse, were unscientific, and that many psychiatrists wrongly put too much confidence in medication for treatment of clinical depression.

After the lecture's conclusion, some audience members reminded Horgan that skeptics raise the same points, and that while plenty of people talk about war, homeopathy and other harmful practices often go unchallenged.

"Go ahead, do all that other stuff," Horgan said. But with such a destructive problem -- one that could be ended simply with a little convincing -- all hands are needed.

"I almost don't care about what you do as skeptics," Horgan said. "I'm appealing to you as human beings."

A Facebook Live video of John Horgan's September 24 NYC Skeptics lecture is available here. A higher-quality recording will be added at a later date.

Report by Russ Dobler, photos by Jonathan Nelson