Skeptical Salon – Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

Thursday, September 25, 2014
7:30 PM

Location: Jennifer’s Place

“History is furious debate informed by evidence and reason, not just answers to be learned.”

James Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institute surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American History. What he found was an embarrassing amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation pure and simple, weighing in at an average of four-and-a-half pounds and 888 pages.

In response, he has written Lies My Teacher Told Me, in part a telling critique of existing books but, more importantly, a wonderful retelling of American history as it should – and could – be taught to American students. Beginning with pre-Columbian American history and ranging over characters and events as diverse as Reconstruction, Helen Keller, the first Thanksgiving, and the My Lai massacre, Loewen supplies the conflict, suspense, unresolved drama, and connection with current-day issues so appallingly missing from textbook accounts.

A treat to read and a serious critique of American education, Lies My Teacher Told Me is for anyone who has ever fallen asleep in history class.

For those who would prefer to borrow a copy rather than purchase, this month’s selection has copies available at the Chicago Public Library.

Skeptical Salon – You Are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney

Thursday, August 28, 2014
7:30 PM

Location: Jennifer’s Place

“Self delusion makes you human, but you can do something about it. Delusion, that is. You’re stuck with the human thing.”

David McRaney’s first book, You Are Not So Smart, evolved from his wildly popular blog of the same name. A mix of popular psychology and trivia, McRaney’s insights have struck a chord with thousands, and his blog–and now podcasts and videos–have become an Internet phenomenon.

A mix of popular psychology and trivia, You Are Now Less Dumb is grounded in the idea that we all believe ourselves to be objective observers of reality–except we’re not. But that’s okay, because our delusions keep us sane.

Expanding on this premise, McRaney provides eye-opening analyses of seventeen ways we fool ourselves every day, including:

  • Enclothed Cognition (the clothes you wear change your behavior and influence your mental abilities)
  • The Benjamin Franklin Effect (how you grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate the people you harm).
  • Deindividuation (Despite our best intentions, we practically disappear when subsumed by a mob mentality)
  • The Misattribution of Arousal (Environmental factors have a greater effect on our emotional arousal than the person right in front of us)
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy (We will engage in something we don’t enjoy just to make the time or money already invested “worth it”)

McRaney also reveals the true price of happiness, and how to avoid falling for our own lies.

For those who would prefer to borrow a copy rather than purchase, this month’s selection has 18 copies available at the Chicago Public Library.

Our Dumb Emotions

Saturday, August 16, 2014
12:30 PM

Location: Black Rock

Do you think you’re a rational, reasonable person who never lets your emotions influence your carefully constructed arguments? If so, you’re wrong! Come find out why your arguments are not as airtight as you think and how feeling the most important emotion of all — empathy — can help you make those arguments stronger.

Aubrey Henretty is a science writer and storyteller. She writes about language and critical thinking at


Skeptical Salon Segment Style – The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

Thursday, July 31, 2014
7:30 PM

Location: Jennifer’s Place

Since we’re a bit late in posting this month’s Salon, we’re only reading a segment of a book {Chapters 6 and 7 to be precise}.

Our own Marcus Davis has suggested this month’s Salon piece, and comments about it thus:
“This month’s selection, or the portion that we’ll be reading, addresses the question of evidence-based altruism and the empirical arguments that all such aid is ineffective. Specifically, they address how we know which charities are effective, an estimate of the cost of some of these interventions, data on what countries give now, if and when aid is self-defeating, if trade is the better option, private versus government aid and, finally, the role of overpopulation concerns in aid.

“The two chapters combined likely aren’t more than about 50 pages (it is a little over a 100 when reading them on iPhone). And, importantly, the acceptance of the empirical arguments in them does not depend at all on the acceptance of the ethical arguments that make up much of the rest of the book.”

Here is the link to the entry, and the link to the NY Times book review.




Rethinking Nature

Saturday, July 19, 2014
12:30 PM

Location: Black Rock

Join us on the 19th, when our favorite skeptical pirate Arthur Wawrzyczek will ask us to reconsider our thoughts about nature.

“Let’s rethink nature. What do you see when you hear the word nature? Close your eyes and imagine it. I’ll go ahead and take whatever you see and flip it upside down for you. The nature of nature may not always be as it seems; nature, naturally, has many surprising natures. Let’s dive deep into the smallest and largest objects in the cosmos and reveal their strangeness. We’ll take a trip through the universe until we find ourselves- we’re in there somewhere… right?”

Arthur (Captain Cuddles) Wawrzyczek has sailed through the treacherous seas of papal nightmares before landing on the Grand Island of Inquiry. There, the great Captain was challenged by the infamous spirits of Fallacious Arguments and escaped through the power of Critical Thought! He now sails around Chicago in his land-ship conquering such things like Biology, Environmental Science, and Education.



The Addicted Brain: gambling, sex, exercise – pastime or problem?

Monday, June 30, 2014
6:00 PM

Location: TechNexus

Illinois Science Council (ISC) continues its series of free public talks about the brain. The programs are a wide-ranging exploration into the neuroscience and psychology of the human brain – our choices, decisions, personalities – those similarities and differences that make us humans so darn fascinating. The next event in the “Your Brain” series is behavioral addictions expert Jon Grant, JD, MD, MPH, of the University of Chicago Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience. People and media often use the term “addiction” rather loosely – “She’s addicted to that TV show,” or “He’s addicted to his running routine.” But what does addiction really mean when it comes to a whole range of behaviors? What causes something to change from a pastime to a problem? Can one really be addicted to gaming, sex or exercise? How can you tell what rises to the level of an addiction, and what’s the solution? Don’t miss this unique opportunity to gain insight into how or brains can help or hurt us.

Your Brain on Addiction – Gambling, Sex, Exercise… pastime or problem?
Jon Grant, JD, MD, MPH
TechNexus, 20 N. Upper Wacker Dr., Ste. 1200, Chicago, IL
FREE and open to the public.


Skeptical Salon Movie Night!

Thursday, May 29, 2014
7:00 PM

Location: Jennifer’s Place

We’re slowing it down a bit for this month’s salon, since we haven’t had a movie night in a while. Please note that we will be starting Skeptical Salon at 7:00 p.m. in case we have a movie that runs over 2 hours so we have ample discussion time.

Right now the Organizers are sorting through a number of movies that would be great for Skeptical Salon; however, if you have any suggestions, we would be more than happy to here them. Please leave the suggestions in the comment thread and please tell us how your suggestion is skeptically relevant. Looking forward to hearing your suggestions!

Vaccine-preventable­ diseases: Outbreaks, Updates, Antis and Pros

Doses of oral polio vaccine are added to sugar cubes for use in a 1967 vaccination campaign in Bonn, West Germany. "Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F025952-0015, Bonn, Gesundheitsamt, Schutzimpfung" by Gathmann, Jens - This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a cooperation project. The German Federal Archive guarantees an authentic representation only using the originals (negative and/or positive), resp. the digitalization of the originals as provided by the Digital Image Archive.. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, June 21, 2014
12:30 PM

Location: Black Rock

What’s new in vaccine preventable diseases? The country is currently seeing pockets of measles, mumps and whooping cough. We’ll discuss the medical implications of these diseases that, happily, most people in this meetup have likely never personally experienced.

Additionally, who are the big players in the anti-vaccine movement? What are their arguments and how does science refute them? All this plus anecdotes from the front-line of educating parents about vaccines by our pediatrician-in-residence, Jennifer Newport

Marijuana, Microbes & Milk: Science and Public Health Policy

Saturday, June 14, 2014
10:00 AM

Location: Chicago Cultural Center

The Illinois Science Council is partnering with the Illinois Humanities Council to offer a free public program addressing science topics in the news. Drs. Jack Herrmann and Yvette Johnson-Walker from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne College of Veterinary Medicine will shine a bright scientific light on topics we see in headlines. The goal is to provide “news you can use” by presenting evidence based on the current scientific consensus – which may not jibe with current public health policy. There will be plenty of time for audience questions. (Samples of the discussed products will not be provided.)

Event is FREE and open to the public, but seats are limited, so registration is recommended at

• What are the broad health implications of legalizing marijuana?
• What does the chemical THC in marijuana really do? Is there more or less of it than in the plants of decades ago?
• Are there health benefits and/or risks from consuming raw milk?
• What about risks from exposure to antimicrobials in processed milk?
• What microbes should we be concerned about in our food supply and what can we do about it?

In this lively talk Drs. Herrmann and Johnson-Walker will challenge audience members to abandon common misconceptions related to real-life health issues and be critical thinkers who pay attention to the science. Dr. Jack Herrmann, a veterinarian with a master’s in public health degree, was recently named the 2014 recipient of the Leadership in Public Policy Award from the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges for his 20+ years of policy work at the local, state, and federal levels. Dr. Yvette Johnson-Walker has a veterinary degree and PhD and leads epidemiological investigations of infectious disease outbreaks on farms as well as training programs to prevent or respond to such outbreaks.

Both speakers are part of the Center for One Health Illinois, a program of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana developed to inform and improve public policy and public health. The philosophy of “one health” recognizes the interdependence of the health and well being of the human population, wild and domestic animals, and the natural environment.

Illinois Science Council is an independent nonprofit organization that promotes science and technology for the adult public through engaging events. ISC develops programs that highlight the research and practitioners of Chicago-area institutions. Public science events – ISC’s and others – are available at

The Illinois Humanities Council is an independent, tax exempt, nonprofit organization that has been bringing people together to reflect, think critically, and actively exchange ideas since its founding in 1973. The IHC is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Illinois General Assembly [through the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency], as well as by contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations.