Skeptical Salon: Merchants of Doubt

Thursday, December 1
7:30 PM

Location: Jennifer and Jeff’s Place

For November, we’ll be reading Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

Now a powerful documentary from the acclaimed director of Food Inc., Merchants of Doubt was one of the most talked-about climate change books of recent years, for reasons easy to understand: It tells the controversial story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. The same individuals who claim the science of global warming is “not settled” have also denied the truth about studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it.

Skeptical Salon: Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial

Thursday, October 20
7:30 PM

Location: Jennifer and Jeff’s Place

For October, we’ll be reading Witness for the Defense: The Accused, the Eyewitness and the Expert Who Puts Memory on Trial by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham.

“The study of memory had become my specialty, my passion. In the next few years I wrote dozens of papers about how memory works and how it fails, but unlike most researchers studying memory, my work kept reaching out into the real world. To what extent, I wondered, could a person’s memory be shaped by suggestion? When people witness a serious automobile accident, how accurate is their recollection of the facts? If a witness is questioned by a police officer, will the manner of questioning alter the representation of the memory? Can memories be supplemented with additional, false information?”

The “passion” Loftus describes in the lines above led her to a teaching career at the University of Washington and, perhaps more importantly, into hundreds of courtrooms as an expert witness on the fallibility of eyewitness accounts. As she has explained in numerous trials, and as she convincingly argues in this absorbing book, eyewitness accounts can be and often are so distorted that they no longer resemble the truth.

Our 10th Anniversary!

Saturday, September 17, 2016
12:30 PM

Location: Black Rock

According to Meetup, this group was started in September 2006. That means it’s one of those Big Deal Anniversary things, right? So let’s have a party!

Same time, same place as usual, but probably with a little something extra. Come join your friends to celebrate a decade of skepticism and critical thinking, and toast ten more!

Skeptical Salon – Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences

August 25, 2016
7:30 PM

Location: Jamie and Eric’s Place

Skeptical Salon returns to the South Loop this month, group members may find the address on Meetup.

Since this was announced on such short notice, we’ll skip down the list a bit for a short book: Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences by John Allen Paulos.

“Why do even well-educated people understand so little about mathematics? And what are the costs of our innumeracy? John Allen Paulos, in his celebrated bestseller first published in 1988, argues that our inability to deal rationally with very large numbers and the probabilities associated with them results in misinformed governmental policies, confused personal decisions, and an increased susceptibility to pseudoscience of all kinds. Innumeracy lets us know what we’re missing, and how we can do something about it.

Sprinkling his discussion of numbers and probabilities with quirky stories and anecdotes, Paulos ranges freely over many aspects of modern life, from contested elections to sports stats, from stock scams and newspaper psychics to diet and medical claims, sex discrimination, insurance, lotteries, and drug testing. Readers of Innumeracy will be rewarded with scores of astonishing facts, a fistful of powerful ideas, and, most important, a clearer, more quantitative way of looking at their world.”

Believing In Things We Cannot See

Saturday, August 20, 2016
12:30 PM

Location: Black Rock

Is belief without sight rational? God may be beyond human comprehension, but then again, so is most science – at least to us mere mortals (with Liberal Arts degrees). Scientists have never seen quarks, black holes, or dark matter, but all three form the foundation of the modern scientific understanding of the world. This talk will discuss ways that all people – believers and skeptics alike – can use the tools of science to expand their understanding of what it means to “believe.”

about our speaker:
By day, Christian Keil is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan and an innovation consultant. But by night, he is the author of Agnostic-ish: the tale of his journey to understand science, religion, and the world in between. Nowadays, you are most likely to find Christian just barely holding serve as a street-basketball point guard, or working on his business school application essays. To say hi or purchase Agnostic-ish, visit Christian’s website at

I Need Diverse Games

Saturday, July 23, 2016
12:30 PM

Location: Black Rock

If you like video games and love seeing awesome new titles with great stories and characters that everyone can really get behind, this is the talk for you.

Tired of not seeing herself in the games she’s spent many years playing, Tanya DePass started #INeedDiverseGames in 2014 after being disappointed one too many times in the choices available to her in current games or games yet to come.

Diversity is a way to enrich the video game experience, not a quota to be filled, or a tool to avoid criticism. Diversity is essential not just to reflect the variety of our community, but also to push the limits of immersion, to present audiences with a perspective that they have never experienced before, and ultimately, to foster empathy for others.

Today, I Need Diverse Games seeks to bring projects, works and research by marginalized folks to light. We also seek to discuss, analyze and critique identity and culture in video games through a multi-faceted lens rooted in intersectionality.

about our speaker:
Tanya DePass is a lifelong Chicagoan who loves everything about gaming, is the #INeedDiverseGames spawn point, and wants to make it better and more inclusive for everyone. She’s the Founder and EIC of @OutofTokensCast, the Diversity Liaison for GaymerX and often speaks on issues of diversity, feminism, race, intersectionality & other topics at conventions.

about I Need Diverse Games:
The Purpose of our Work:

  • Provide a safe space for gamers of color and of any other marginalized identities (including race, gender, sexual orientation, neurodiversity, disability etc)
  • Provide a safe space to promote the work of creators in the gaming industry, including journalists, developers, artists that are marginalized and would otherwise go unheard.
  • To encourage and defend diversity in all forms of gaming, and most importantly, make sure it is done right by creating conversations that invite both critique and praise for the art of gaming.

Skeptical Salon: The Signal & the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail

July 28, 2016
7:30 PM

Location: Jennifer and Jeff’s Place

We’re back on for the Skeptical Salon; please note the new location!

This month, we’ll be reading The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t by Nate Silver.

“Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger—all by the time he was thirty. He solidified his standing as the nation’s foremost political forecaster with his near perfect prediction of the 2012 election. Silver is the founder and editor in chief of

Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

In keeping with his own aim to seek truth from data, Silver visits the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. He explains and evaluates how these forecasters think and what bonds they share. What lies behind their success? Are they good—or just lucky? What patterns have they unraveled? And are their forecasts really right? He explores unanticipated commonalities and exposes unexpected juxtapositions. And sometimes, it is not so much how good a prediction is in an absolute sense that matters but how good it is relative to the competition. In other cases, prediction is still a very rudimentary—and dangerous—science.

Silver observes that the most accurate forecasters tend to have a superior command of probability, and they tend to be both humble and hardworking. They distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and they notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth. Because of their appreciation of probability, they can distinguish the signal from the noise.

With everything from the health of the global economy to our ability to fight terrorism dependent on the quality of our predictions, Nate Silver’s insights are an essential read.”

Skeptics in the Pub!

Saturday, June 18, 2016
12:30 PM

Location: Black Rock

It’s summertime, and the Meetups are breezy! Come on over to Black Rock for a super-casual hangout with fellow like-minded folks. There’s no formal speaker or or topic, just good conversation.

Farewell to Skeptic Tower

May 19, 2016
7:30 PM

Location: Jennifer’s Place

There’s no Skeptical Salon book for this month, because OUR HOSTS ARE MOVING!

Instead, we’re having one last hurrah at Skeptic Tower. Same bat time, same bat channel, bring your favorite snack or beverage to share. Come hang out with your favorite fans of science and critical thinking, and get one last photo off the balcony.

There may be boxes! Possibly a rogue dishwasher! There will be dogs! There will be merriment! There is definitely short notice, but we’re still gonna do the thing!

OF INTEREST: Chicago Science Festival

Saturday, May 14, 2016
10:00am – 5:00pm

Location: 1871 Chicago

Illinois Science Council invites you to the second annual Chicago Science Festival — a celebration of the wow-inspiring, mind-expanding, human-benefitting awesomeness that is S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering & math) research in the Chicago area. All events require tickets/registration, generally $10 in advance/$15 day of. All-Day passes give you access to all talks on Saturday, May 14 and are $30 in advance/$40 day of. (If all-day passes sell out, no individual tickets will be sold.) Advance ticket sales end at 6:00pm May 13, then get them at the door. Chicago Skeptics can get $10 off the all-day pass with the promo code SKEPTIC!

Here’s what the festival has in store for you:

Friday, May 13, 3:30-6pm 
This opening event of the 2016 Chicago Science Festival will feature a series of talks in which speakers will discuss how cutting-edge research can help address some of the biggest intellectual and societal challenges, and what the University of Chicago is doing to support bold scientific risk-taking. UChicago faculty from psychology, neuroscience, and physics will present their breakthrough ideas, and Monika Bickert, Head of Facebook’s Global Policy, will discuss how collaborations with research universities is crucial for solving pressing social issues. Friday’s event is free but space is limited. Registration is required.

Saturday, May 14, 10:00am – 5:00pm 
Saturday includes a full day of fascinating topics with engaging speakers and a free demo area. (Read the full listing with descriptions here.) You can purchase all-day passes giving you access to ALL talks and demos on May 14 or purchase tickets for individual speakers. (If all-day passes sell out, no individual tickets will be sold.) Advance ticket sales end at 6:00pm May 13, then get them at the door. Topics include:

Circadian Rhythms, Sleep, and Your Health – What? How? And When? 
Martha Hotz Vitaterna (Northwestern U) 10 – 11:00am

Chicago’s Urban Wildlife – What you might encounter in your neighborhood 
Liza Lehrer (Lincoln Park Zoo) 10-11:00am

Saving Monarchs and More – Trials, tribulations, and citizen science of tracking and saving species 
Doug Turon (Nature Museum) 11am – 12noon

The How & Why of Tracking the Invisible, Elusive Neutrino – from the sun, distant galaxies and particle accelerators 
Anne Schukraft (Fermilab) 11am – 12noon

Your Brain on Psychotropic Drugs 
Richard J. Miller (Northwestern U) 12noon – 1:00pm

The End of Water As We Know It 
Seth Darling (Argonne Lab) 1 – 2:00pm

Black Holes & Gravitational Waves – Why a massive galactic occurrence requires mind-blowingly precise detection 
Shane Larson (Adler & Northwestern U) 1 – 2:00pm

Microscopy and the Mystery of Pablo Picasso’s Paints 
Volker Rose (Argonne Lab) 2 – 3:00pm

Deep Ocean Research Adventure – Discovering life waaaay down under 
Janet Voight (Field Museum) 2 – 3:00pm

Holding Science in Your Hands – 3D printing at the interface of art and research 
Allan Drummond (UChicago) 3 – 4:00pm

The Science and Art of Risk Taking – Courage, Caution, and Free Will 
Kayt Sukel (Author) & Moran Cerf (Northwestern U) 3 – 4:00pm

The Physics of “Game of Thrones” 
Becky Thompson (American Physical Society) 4 – 5:00pm 

Hands-on Demo stations (which are free) to include:

  • Experience Virtual Reality from the world of Physics
  • Engineering of a vertical record player
  • Neuroscience experiments to mess with your brain
  • Manipulating internal human organs, digitally
  • 3-D printing up close
  • Edible Insects – The rest of the world loves nutritious protein, why don’t we? Try some!
  • Explore the Zooniverse! Scores of fun virtual ways to contribute to science research
  • Prosthetics limbs from RIC Center for Bionic Medicine
  • Miniature Fuel Cell Electric Cars

Get your tickets at, and use the promo code SKEPTIC to get $10 off a Saturday all-day pass!