Bath Skeptical Society denounce Chaplaincy at University of Bath

Bath Skeptical Society today denounce the action of the Chaplaincy at the University of Bath who censored material being performed by students who are part of the Comedy Writing Improvisation and Performance Society (CWIPS) because it was deemed offensive to religious people.

Bath Impact reports that ‘just four hours prior to opening night the committee of CWIPS was told that a sketch involving the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed titled ‘Cooking with Christ’ should be cut. “The SU couldn’t give more of an explanation,” recalls one of the members of the committee regarding the lack of justification given for the changes being made to the show, especially on such short notice.

It became known that the Chaplaincy of the University had become involved in the decision making process of the SU. “We were told that the chaplaincy had read it and pronounced that sketch too graphic”, the committee member said, “we come under the authority of the SU, so whilst we don’t necessarily agree with what they asked us to cut we have to respect them as they are elected to their position, however the chaplaincy is not part of the SU.”

In the wake of atrocities across the globe attempting to silence the criticism or mockery of religious ideas and figures we feel that this is unacceptable. For people to be censored from mocking ideas simply for fear of offending those who are not open minded enough to accept challenges to ideas they are invested in is not compatible with a fair society, and should not be tolerated within a university. It insults not only those of us who champion freedom of speech but also the religious people whom those responsible for this decision have attempted to save from being offended.

I, on behalf of the Bath Skeptical Society have reached out today via the National Secular Society to the students who were censored in this manner to offer them the chance to perform their work, uncensored, at one of our future events in the city centre and I hope they will take up the offer.

Hayley Stevens, on behalf of the Bath Skeptical Society.

vampires, tattoos & robots – oh my!

The rest of the year looks very exciting for Bath Skeptics in the Pub with a whole range of different talks coming our way – not only that, but we’ve already started to plan ahead for 2012 too!

On Tuesday October 4th we have Deborah Hyde coming to talk for us about ‘Unnatural Predators’. Deborah is the acting editor of The Skeptic Magazine and also blogs as Jourdemayne. Below is a look at some of the word Deborah has done in the past on ‘The Vampires of Rhode Island’ and demonstrates how interesting her talk promises to be.

Our November speaker, Dr Matt Lodder, was recommended to us by the previous ‘Skeptics in the Pub’ groups he has spoken for. His talk will be a fascinating look at how the media perception of tattoos has been trying to convince people that tattoos are ‘not just for sailors’ for a very long time.

Matt recently wrote a brilliant piece for The Guardian outlining some of the most common myths surrounding those who are tattooed. Did you know Winston Churchill’s mum was even inked? Neither did I, which is why I can’t wait for this talk to learn about more myths surrounding body modification and tattoo art.

It’s a talk with a difference, but it’s important to remember that there are claims made in all walks of life that effect people and the way they view others, that deserve equal skepticism. Those who have tattoos will be able to relate to some of the myths Matt wrote about in The Guardian. This talk may challenge the view of tattoos you hold – it promises to be an enlightening discussion.

In December Dr Joanna Bryson, from Bath University (we ❤ local academics!) will be talking to us about the ethics of conscious robots. Learn more about Joanna on her website here.

We hope to see you on Tuesday at the usual venue (The Westgate) which has recently has a lovely refurbishment and is even cosier than it used to be. We’re busy looking for speakers for 2012 so if you have any suggestions or recommendations to do be sure to get in touch with us.

What happens when you try to leave the church of Scientology?

“Many Sea Org volunteers find themselves with no viable options for adulthood. If they try to leave, the church presents them with a “freeloader tab” for all the coursework and counselling they have received; the bill can amount to more than $100,000.
Many of them actually pay it,
They leave, they’re ashamed of what they’ve done, they’ve got no money, no job history, they’re lost, they just disappear.
I would gladly take down the church for that one thing.”

Read the full article offering a depressing insight into the world of Scientology here.

Bath SitP, June 21st: Martin Poulter – How to start your own cult; the Scientology way. [details here]

We need help!

One of the most popular events that that Bath Skeptical Society put on is the “Skeptics In The Pub” talk events held every month. These have been consistently attended by 40 to 50 people with numbers growing constantly. Those joining us have enjoyed talks as diverse as the science behind ghost hunting, alt med, and even transport policy.

With the success of these talks and the positive feedback we have had from all involved, it has become apparent that things at the Bath Skeptical Society (that launched in February after months of work to get the group off the ground) needs to step up a gear.

The talks are just the public face of what happens at Bath Skeptics, behind the scenes an extremely small team of volunteers work to make events like this happen, and we need more help to ensure that the people of Bath and the surrounding areas continue to have high quality speakers coming to the city for such events.

Let’s look at the work that goes behind setting up just one talk to give some insight:

“That person looks interesting”

First and foremost, someone needs to work out who could speak for us. We are attempting to look as widely as possible, and of course the more people that are involved the more likely it is that we’ll continue to approach speakers from varied walks of life and expertise.

“Hi there!”

We then have to approach them, explaining our reasons for contacting them and why we feel they would be an excellent guest speaker. If they agree, we need to work with them to find a suitable date for them to come to Bath to speak.

If the speaker is from out of town, we need to arrange transport, accommodation and food. This is one of the main reasons that we ask for donations on entry to Skeptics In The Pub events, and without these we would not be able to approach speakers from outside the area. It would obviously be rude to ask someone to travel a long distance for a voluntary talk and ask them to foot the bill, and it would be just as rude not to arrange this for them too.

“It’s a bit cold out here. And I’m thirsty”

Then there’s the venue. A “Skeptics In The Pub” talk wouldn’t work without a pub to put all the skeptics in. This is harder than it sounds, and has been a long struggle for the group, however we are now finally finding it easier to approach venues now we have a proven track record of attracting crowds. But we still need to ensure that the date we want hasn’t already been taken, and if it has we need to go back to the speaker to rearrange or to find an alternative venue.

“It’s a bit quiet in here, isn’t it?”

We have a speaker, we have a way of getting them to us, and we have a venue. Now we need to tell people about the talk, otherwise the whole thing will have been in vain. So it’s on to the publicity bandwagon, printing and sticking up posters, utilising social media, updating the website and contacting local media. As we currently aim to host a Skeptics In The Pub events monthly, this is an almost ongoing task.

The big night

In the run up to the talk we’ve had to get in touch with the speaker and the venue to ensure that everything is OK.

And on the day the work doesn’t stop until we get to bed. We’ve had to ensure the speaker is met and brought to the pub, and the room itself needs to be setup – a manual process involving tables been moved, chairs arranged and equipment turned on and fine tuned.

Our volunteers have been able to borrow essentials such as sound systems, microphones and projectors, and donations from attendees have helped purchase a projector screen. Without all of this undoubtedly the talks would not be the success they have been.

And when the Q&A has finished and people start to go home, we have to put the room back just the way we found it (we like to keep on good terms with our venue), and the speaker helped back to their hotel or to the train station.

I hinted a couple of paragraphs ago that the work stops when we go to bed. That’s a lie. Inevitably as we’re packing up someone asks the question “is everything OK for next month?”

And just like that, the process starts again.

We need help!

We’re not trying to scare people into thinking that volunteering will take up many hours of their life each week, but many hands do make light work, and the more help we have the easier event organisation will be.

We are currently in the process of putting together a comittee for the Bath Skeptical Society and we are looking for people to become an integral part of the group that makes Bath Skeptics events work.

If you have something you can offer, get in touch at bathskeptics@gmail.com and we’ll let you know when the first board meeting is being held. You could become a part of something fantastic.

photo credit: Dmitri N

The irrationality of transport & a new home!

Welcome to the blog for the Bath Skeptical Society! We’ve decided it’s probably worth resurrecting this blog so that we can share brief bits of news and information for those who attend our events that we cannot fit onto our main website.

Firstly, yesterdays talk by Dr Ian Walker went down a storm and was really interesting and informative, thanks to Ian for a great evening. I’m sure I don’t speak alone when I say that other ‘skeptics in the pub’ groups would do well to ask Ian to speak for them…

As attendees at last nights talk will have been aware though, everyone was a bit squished due to the small room that we have been using for our events. Some attendees had to sit outside on some stone steps in the beer garden which isn’t ideal.

When we first used The Hop Pole it was because they had very kindly helped us out of a tricky situation when our initial venue cancelled on us at the last minute, if it hadn’t been for The Hop Pole there would probably not be a Bath Skeptics in the Pub. Our first events drew in much smaller audiences compared to the one last night and although we knew we would probably need to find a bigger venue at some point, it wasn’t until all the discussion online about ‘The irrationality of Transport’ kicked off that I realised we’d need to find the bigger venue sooner than we thought. We hadn’t anticipated such numbers.

So it is with HUGE pleasure (and a little bit of regret because I love The Hop Pole) that I announce that Bath Skeptics now have a new venue for ‘skeptics in the pub’ events. We will now be hosting our events on the upper floor bar at The West Gate (which used to be ‘The Rat & Parrot’). It’s much bigger and is also more central (roughly 5 minutes from the stations) which is ideal for those who commute into Bath to come to our talks (as I know many of you do!) If you were one of the unlucky people who had to stand up or sit on stone steps last night please don’t be put off by your experience. There will be seats for everyone at our new home.

So, to summarise, a BIG thank you to Dr Ian Walker for a superb talk last night, a huge thank you to The Hop Pole for allowing us to use their pub to find our feet, and a big thank you to The West Gate for welcoming us into their premesis.

Now, all you need to do is start making your geek pride costumes… I’ve nearly finished mine!

Next Events:
May 25th: The Geek Pride Celebrations (pub quiz, fancy dress & Vogon Poetry) [details here]
June 21st: Martin Poulter: ‘How to create your own cult, the Scientology way’ [details here]