Martin’s Talks and Lectures

Talks and events related to Wikipedia, Wikimedia, free knowledge and open content are on a separate page.


Monday 23 January, Plymouth Humanists
How to be Certain about Anything, Whatever the Evidence
This was my second time speaking in this venue, which is normally for stand-up comedy and theatre, and there’s something about the room which encourages me to ad-lib and make the talk more funny. The previous time I had given this talk, a lot of it had been about backfire effect. Given that there have been several failed replications of the backfire effect, I spent some time debunking it rather than discussing how to deal with it. In the questions, there was a lot of interest in the topic of personality psychology, in the book When Prophecy Fails, and in how we can encourage critical thinking from an early age. I was downbeat about that latter topic, but there were teachers in the room who say that it is possible to get children thinking sceptically, and who know because they are doing it. Glad to hear!


Thursday 29 September, Winchester Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way

Monday 16 April, Reading Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Big audience, great questions (somebody wanted to see the ashtray routine done with an actual ashtray) and people were very interested, and yet there weren’t the huge laughs that I’m used to. Not sure if I did something wrong, the atmosphere in the room was wrong, or if Reading people just laugh inwardly.

Tuesday 8 March, Windsor Humanists
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
I’m always happy to help new groups get going, and this was a relatively new group that had not had this kind of talk before. So, not a huge group but they were really absorbed in both the fun and the horror.

Wednesday 13 January, Oxford Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Oxford SitP is a great group with lots of well-informed members, as you’d expect, but in a slightly too small venue, so special thanks to those audience members who had to stand through the whole thing.


Thursday 1 October, Teesside Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
I nearly made a hash of this, first by getting confused about where I was getting a train to, and secondly by spilling most of my pint into my laptop. Fortunately the laptop seemed to be designed with spillage in mind, and the expected puff of smoke and permanent failure didn’t happen.

I must give a shout out to Terence: one of the nicest compères and hosts you could hope for. He organises lots of regional skeptic and humanist events, and seems to turn up at any national skeptic or humanist conference you go to. He’s a lovely man, so say hi if you see him.

Wednesday 23 September, Wycombe Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
I’d never been to High Wycombe before, and I’d also wanted to know if there’s a Low Wycombe. There isn’t. In the audience this time were some very knowledgeable people about Scientology: Hartley, an anti-Scn activist with whom I go back a long way; another person whose family had been affected by Scientology, and there was a dedicated Anonymous who will remain so. So I was a bit more nervous than usual about the content of the talk, but it seemed to pass the test and go down well.

Wednesday 1 July, Maidenhead Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
The weather was so warm on this evening that I doubted anyone would choose to come into a dark, stuffy room to hear me speak. Just before the start of the talk, I was resigned to a very small audience. And right then lots more people turned up and we had a good and attentive audience. Apparently they always turn up right on the dot in Maidenhead.

This was the only talk in which an audience member faked pneumonia in the “you will catch pneumonia” section of the talk (You Have To Be There). Bravo!

Thursday 30 April, Warwickshire Humanists
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Second smallest audience ever for one of my talks, and the smallest venue! That said, the six who turned up were interested, switched-on and one had his own story of cultic influence to tell. It was a more conversational atmosphere than usual. I had my photo taken in the Xenu hat: if you don’t know why the hat’s important, “you had to be there”.

Saturday 25 April, QED, Manchester
Panel appearance on topic of Scapegoats, Cults and Moral Panics with Deborah Hyde, Vicky Stiles, Rosie Waterhouse and Christopher French
Third panel appearance, and third that I’ve really enjoyed. Given the different interests of the panellists, this could have been chaos, but Deborah chaired it expertly and connecting themes did emerge. Twitter feedback suggests the audience got nearly as much out of it as we did on the panel. 🙂 I was there to talk about how to define a cult, with Scientology being the obvious example. Dr Rosie Waterhouse is an investigative journalist who led the backlash against the uncritical acceptance of ritual abuse claims in the UK. Dr Vicky Stiles is an expert on propaganda techniques in the Third Reich and in the witch trials of the Early Modern Era. Prof Chris French is an expert on the psychology of unusual experiences, and how memory and perception can go wrong.

I was corrected at this panel, and I’m happy to change my beliefs to fit the evidence.  I claimed that in order to create a single, unchallenged, narrative demonising a section of the population (a common thread between all our topics) you need control of the flow of information. Vicky pointed out that the Nazi party didn’t by any means “control all flow of information” in Germany, but presented a compelling narrative which persuaded people to distrust and demonise their targets. So I’ll withdraw from my bold claim, but I still think it’s important that there was mass media with a central point of control; that both cults and totalitarian societies rely on mass media; and that the rise of network media makes it harder to create an unchallenged narrative. Chris observed that “False Memory Syndrome” is a misnomer because, though false memories definitely happen, they do not qualify as a “syndrome”. I haven’t used “FMS” as an expression in years, but I won’t again.

Also at this conference, Myles Power interviewed me for his League of Nerds podcast.

Monday 13 April, London Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
This talk was beset by technical problems, to the point that, ten minutes before the start, it looked like there would be no slides and no audio. I later found that my laptop power supply was faulty, so I may have been the cause of the power problems. With the projector out of action, we displayed slides on the pub TV that normally shows the football. This is how I learned that laser pointers don’t work on LCD screens. I thought some of the comedy would fail, but this audience laughed even more than usual and it ended up being one of the most fun outings for CyoC.

This talk was also a chance to reconnect with two dear friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in years and years. Another of the audience was an independent Scientologist I’d first met at street protests on Tottenham Court Road in 2008.

Saturday 28 March, AHS Convention 2015
How to be certain about anything, whatever the evidence
I had great fun at this event and got to see excellent talks from people I admire, too, including the first talk that Ariane Sherine had given in years. I’ve not been totally happy about previous versions of this talk. The different ideas hang together in my mind, but it’s hard to convey why they are linked, and that uncertainty gives me less confidence. For the AHS, I had a shorter slot than I’m used to, so I chucked out a lot of material. Suddenly the whole thing made more sense! The backfire effect was the concept tying the whole thing together, and the practical question the talk addressed was “Is it worth having discussions/ debates with closed-minded people?”

The audience questions were really interesting, both in the session and one-to-one afterwards. I was asked how the research I was talking about connected to the famous experiments by Asch, Zimbardo, and Milgram. I hadn’t really thought about it: the short answer is that they don’t have to: they are separate bits of research. The import of those experiments is frequently misreported, so basing anything on a particular interpretation is a hostage to fortune. Another response is that these are experiments about behaviour, whereas research on belief and certainty isn’t about behaviour but attitude. And yet there is a connection which I should say more about in future.

I captured the tweets from the conference, including photos and comments from my and others’ talks.

Thursday 19 March, University of Gloucestershire
Become the Media: social media for academics
This was a one-and-a-half-hour workshop as part of a series for staff at the University. It focused mainly on Twitter, but looked at other social media as well. A few of the attendees had not yet tried, some were very experienced but looking for new tips, and some had dabbled but not yet integrated it into their work. I spoke about social media from the perspective of promoting an academic career or project, and also in the context of corporate communications. I drew on my past experience including being the first New Media Manager for the Children of the 90s project, and setting up social media for the Economics Network.

Tuesday 3 February, Nottingham Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
A larger audience than I’m used to for this, and I think up to this point it was the second largest audience Nottingham SitP had ever had. That said, we lost three people in the first few minutes: as they left, someone overheard them saying that the talk sounded too pro-Scientology. So apparently, you can be too sardonic. That said, I’ll keep the sardonic approach and treat the occasional loss of people who don’t “get” it as within acceptable limits.

Wednesday 28 January, University of Edinburgh Humanist Society
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
It was a cold night in Edinburgh, and the streets were covered in a thin sheet of freezing rain. However, the reception from the students was friendly and switched-on in a very conventional lecture-theatre setting. They set me up with very nice accommodation, and made sure I could get to it when smart shoes and ice made it hard to even stand up.


Monday 17 November, Exeter Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Exeter is a relatively small and new SitP. Meeting in the basement of a restaurant rather than a pub gives them one of the most colourful venues I’ve seen.

Saturday 8 November, Dorset Humanists
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
This was a slightly different environment to what I’m used to: an afternoon rather than an evening; coffee in a community centre rather than cider in a pub; a somewhat older audience than a typical Skeptics in the Pub, yet it was such fun. This was one of my favourite experiences of public speaking, with a very friendly audience who really got into the humour. Never before have I been asked a question to which the answer is “You should have a serious talk with your cat about space-aliens”.

Tuesday 4 November, University of Nottingham Secular Society
Bayesianism and Critical Thinking

Tuesday 21 October, Durham Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way

Monday 18 August, Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
In my previous appearances at Glasgow, I was not at my best, but this was third time lucky. I was hugely helped by the fact that “Drug-Free Europe” – a Scientology-connected group – were saturating the city with leaflets and bus adverts. The SitP organisers had the great idea of distributing the leaflets to the audience before the talk, without explanation. A lot of people looked through the information, thinking it was maybe a skeptical perspective on drug abuse, and then I revealed the true source during the talk. When you come out to Skeptics in the Pub, you might, once in a while, get a nice prank to played on you, and keeping your wits about you is what it’s all about.

Saturday 16 August, LonCon3, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention
Discussion panel: “What is I?”
Along with Ken MacLeod (Moderator), Ashley Pollard, Russell Blackford, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I took part in a 75-minute discussion panel. This was part of the science stream at this huge science fiction convention. The brief was to talk about scientific, mystical, and religious perspectives on consciousness and identity. This was great fun and a chance to bring together my interests in Eastern religion, brain physiology, philosophy of mind, and science fiction. Somehow, going in front of a packed room with no idea what I’d be asked was much less stressful than giving a talk.

Tuesday 29 July, Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way

Tuesday 6 May, Chichester Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Quite a different approach from what I’m used to: Chichester SitP is driven by one organiser who makes it not just a talk but a whole evening of entertainment. There was an introductory slide show, a quiz, and a prize of a bottle of wine. Thanks also for the speaker’s wine! This is another talk where I was expecting Scientologists in the audience, due to them having a base in Chichester, but it didn’t happen.


Wednesday 23 October, Bristol Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
A strange contrast to the previous talk: I got the message across and provoked a lot of interested debate, but wasn’t at my best because speaking was an effort.

Thursday 10 October, Atheist, Secularist, and Humanist Society; University College, London
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
This was one of my all-time favourite experiences of speaking. I’d long wanted to talk to this audience because they are only a street away from the main Scientology recruitment centre on Tottenham Court Road. The students really got the humour and laughed where other audiences merely snicker. One of them wrote this quite wonderfully glowing review for which I’m extremely grateful.

Tuesday 1 October, Feed Your Head, Swindon
How to believe anything, whatever the evidence
A very different kind of speaking experience: basically a dinner party with an invited guest. Very informal and direct as we talk round a table in a very fine cafe. The cafe proprietors are determined to use their space to promote intelligent and friendly discussion, and I have to applaud them for it. This wasn’t very well-attended (maybe because of the overlap with my previous event in Swindon) but if you ever get a chance to attend Feed Your Head, take it up.

Monday 23 September 2013, Sheffield Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
On this night, Sheffield SitP was based in a working men’s club. So I wasn’t used to such a huge room nor such gobsmackingly cheap drink. The audience didn’t react to some of the early jokes but howled at the “perverts” line. The questions were distinctive, too: we discussed how to “mess with the heads” of Scientologists without giving away how much we knew. Favourite feedback: “I’ve not laughed so much at a Skeptics meeting before.” There isn’t any Scientology activity in Sheffield and hasn’t been for a long time, I’m told.

Thursday 12 September 2013, Skeptics in the Pub Roadshow, Folkestone
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
This was part of the Kent SitP roadshow: an attempt to set up four new monthly groups by having talks from four established speakers in different towns. I was allocated Folkestone and despite loads of publicity work by the awesome Simon Clare, the number of people who turned up was… two. They were extremely nice and a very attentive audience, but we had to collectively imagine what it would have been like with a normally-sized event. It’s worth doing bold experiments to push things forward, but bold experiments by definition often fail.

Saturday 17 August 2013 Edinburgh Skeptics on the Fringe
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Yet again I’m bowled over by the awesomeness of the Edinburgh Skeptics team. I was a replacement for John Sweeney, and because he’s one of the higher-profile speakers the venue they’d booked was the biggest I’d ever spoken in: the Jam House. It has an upper circle or a balcony or whaddyacallit. We had an audience that would have crammed out last year’s tiny venue, but in that huge hall it felt distant and spread out, so it was more of a struggle to have an emotional link. Most interesting audience question: “How do you get your first follower?” What brought home to me that this was the “proper Fringe” was that on our way out of the building we bumped into comedian/poet Phill Jupitus, who was on after us.

Each time I visit Edinburgh I appreciate more what a skeptic-friendly city it is, at least during the Fringe, and how lovely it is in several other ways.

Thursday 1 August 2013, Tunbridge Wells Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
This was held in a nightclub, though one not very friendly to our sort of event. Tunbridge Wells SitP have since moved on from there. TW must have one of the youngest organising teams of any SitP group, and the culture of the group is very different from the tweedy conservatism that Tunbridge Wells is known for. Scn HQ in East Grinstead is a short drive from TW and so the audience seemed very interested. There was animated conversation about Scientology long after the talk itself.

Wednesday 19 June 2013, Guildford Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Seriously one of my favourite experiences of public speaking: an ideal venue, engrossed audience, and everything going well. The point of the talk is not to tell people stuff but to take then on an emotional journey, and this audience really got involved in that journey, especially the harrowing parts about abuses in the cult. Perhaps this is because Guildford is not that far from cult HQ in East Grinstead. My favourite feedback: one audience member tweeted the next day that they were “still buzzing” from the talk.

Thursday 7 March 2013, Southampton Atheist Soc., University of Southampton
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way (as part of Reason Week 2013)
I couldn’t stay in Southampton very long, so it was a quick session then dash away. With that constraint, it was one of the most interesting audiences I’ve had for the Scientology talk. Students ask different and less obvious questions than other audiences.

Friday 11 January 2013, Swindon Philosophical Society
How to be certain about anything at all, even when you’ve got no evidence
This philosophical society has been going for decades and had all sorts of serious philosophers as speakers, so this audience were extremely well-read both philosophically and psychologically. This was the best prepared an audience could possibly be for my “psychological skepticism” talk which, I’m glad to say, had at least some content that was new to them. This was different from the SitP speaking experience: less of a performance and more like a seminar, but very friendly. Very glad to have been invited!


Saturday 3/ Sunday 4 November, BHA Northwest Regional Conference: Humanism for a Better World
Create Your Own Religion/ Humanist Question Time

Thursday 1 November 2012, Bristol Atheist, Agnostic and Skeptical Students
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way

Monday 29 October 2012, Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
An enthused audience for this and there was a follow-up article in the student newspaper Cherwell

Thursday 25 October 2012, Cardiff Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
This was one of the smaller SITP venues I’ve been to, yet there was a good attendance, despite the event having to be rescheduled from its normal slot. There were a surprising proportion of the audience who had not been to a Skeptics event before: none were Scientologists though. There was very vigorous discussion, especially about the wider questions of whether religions deserve tax exemption. One of the most fun nights out I’ve had in a while: if you live anywhere near Cardiff, or even across the water in Bristol, join their Facebook group.

Tuesday 16 October 2012, Leicester Skeptics in the Pub
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
I’m so grateful to Simon and Alex for being gracious hosts. The Leicester crowd were great (again!) and were willing to recognise Scientology recruits as people who had been exploited at a vulnerable time of their lives: the discussion was much more about this rather than about mocking their beliefs.

Saturday 11 August 2012, Edinburgh Skeptics on the Fringe (part of PBH’s Free Fringe)
Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way
Three things to love about Edinburgh are the Free Fringe, the Banshee Labyrinth and an Enlightenment tradition of rational debate and questioning. Skeptics on the Fringe involves a different guest speaker each night for a month, including many of my heroes. A team of awesome volunteers handles the organisation and publicity of this biggest event in the UK skeptical calendar. Though there are no tickets, audiences donate night after night to keep it going.

We had a packed, rather sweaty, venue for my slot, as well as a great atmosphere. There were more big laughs than in a lot of the “comedy” shows I’ve seen on the Free Fringe. (That’s not as big a compliment as it looks: free shows run the gamut from inspired comedy gold all the way down to totally dire.) I’m especially pleased to have been part of SotF 2012 since it won an Ockham award for Best Skeptical Event.
(Storify of Twitter reactions to my talk)
(Review of my talk on the Edinburgh Skeptics blog)

Saturday 30 June 2012, Dublin Offlines: Speaking out against the Scientology Cult
Introductory presentation with extract from “Create your own Cult, the Scientology Way”

Monday 28 May 2012, Watford Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
I turned up to this one as asked, but there was no organiser, no publicity and no event: it seems the group had been wound up!

17 March 2012, Association of Humanist Students convention 2012, London
Create your own cult: the Scientology way
A shorter version of the talk than usual, but in the lovely old main hall of Conway Hall and with some of my skeptical heroes in the audience. Thanks to the students for their great feedback!


13 October 2011, Greater Manchester Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
Rarely has an audience so followed the emotional contour of the talk: they laughed at all the bits I wanted them to laugh at, and gasped at the shocking bits. The bar was open until 1am and we had an animated discussion about Scientology all that time. Great fun!

12 October 2011, Birmingham Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
This was one of my favorite experiences of public speaking, with a very packed bar and very vigorous discussion, although it was hot and sweaty for the audience. I’ve assembled a Storify of Twitter feedback from the evening.

10 October 2011, Horsham Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
The audience were great for this one, but I found the whole evening hard work due to breathing trouble which my asthma medication didn’t seem to help with: I was constantly on the edge of losing my voice.

2 August 2011, Plymouth Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
Plymouth SitP are off to a strong start: this was their second event. Jo, Jess and the gang made me very welcome. I played up the comedy aspects of the talk even more this time. Quite a few of the audience were involved with the University, and Scientology’s recruitment of overseas students prompted concerned discussion.

22 June 2011, Bath Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
Hayley Stevens is a force of nature in the skeptical world. Her SitP group is very well organised and everyone is made to feel welcome. This time I fixed the problem that I’d had at Lewes and gave the whole thing more of an ebb and flow. One of the audience had an intense personal reaction as she saw the parallels between Scientology and things that her family were involved in.

Wednesday 25 May 2011, Lewes Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
This was my first trip to Lewes; a picturesque town in impossibly green Sussex countryside, and only 20 miles from the national headquarters of Scientology in East Grinstead. Tickets for this talk sold out in 24 hours, thanks to an interview with me that appeared the free local listings magazine Viva Lewes. Lewes has a very high skeptic-per-population rate, and I got to meet a very friendly and well-informed bunch of people. I approached the talk in a slightly different way than before, and it was a mistake because it ended up a bit flat, without a dramatic rise and fall. Sorry to the audience that I wasn’t at my best!

Tuesday 15 March 2011, Leicester Skeptics in the Pub
How to be certain about anything, even when you’ve got no evidence
I was far from my best for the previous versions of this talk (Glasgow and Bristol) but third time lucky!
Although the talk was about individual psychology, the audience were deeply concerned about how to counteract the distortion of evidence by the mass media, or by deliberate misinformation campaigns, so there was a lot of discussion of this during the questions.


8 December 2010, Atheist, Agnostic and Skeptical Society (AASS), University of Bristol
How to be certain about anything, even when you’ve got no evidence
Once again I’m very grateful to this group of current and former Bristol students for their friendly welcome, patient listening and informed questions.

18 November 2010, Merseyside Skeptics in the Pub
How to create your own cult: The Scientology way
This was the fifth version of the Scientology talk (see below), and went down very well. I enjoyed myself a great deal and I’m grateful to the Liverpool crowd for their friendly welcome, intelligent discussion and good humour.

16 July 2010, panel appearance at Bristol Skeptics in the Pub
John Dixon, the councillor who described Scientology as “stupid” on Twitter, came to speak in Bristol and I was allowed to add a little bit of commentary after his talk. Dixon was awaiting a disciplinary hearing arising from an official complaint about the tweet. A couple of weeks later, sanity prevailed and he was told there was no case to answer.

18 August 2010: Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub
The New Psychological Skepticism
I tried to do an ambitious new talk, combining philosophy, psychology and some wacky bits, but it went wrong. I overreacted to some problems with the venue and stressed out, drawing a blank for some of the things I had prepared to say. This was unprofessional of me and I’m very sorry to the kind and welcoming Glasgow audience. The questions after the talk helped me get back on my feet and convey most of what I had meant to say.

15 July 2010: Five minute opening talk at Ignite Bristol #2
What is Bayesianism and why should you care?
A paper by Thomas Bayes, an 18th Century Anglican vicar,  solved a crucial problem in the logic of uncertainty – the reverse inference problem – and, two hundred years later, set off a revolution which affected many areas of science. Here I explain to a lay audience what reverse inference is and why we should celebrate Bayes’ achievement. I learnt from the information overload of my previous Ignite talk (see below) and got rid of bullet points entirely.

28 April 2010: Public lecture hosted by Bristol Skeptics in the Pub
How to start your own cult: The Scientology way
My Scientology talk continues to evolve: less texty this time, and with some video clips (on the helpful feedback of the Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub). However, technical problems meant the video couldn’t be played. It’s still very difficult to give an full introduction to this topic in a short time. The organisers only publicised the event the day before, so the audience was smaller than it could have been. Still, we had a very useful and enjoyable discussion session.

4 March 2010: Five minute talk at Ignite Bristol as part of Global Ignite Week
The Triumph of Social Knowledge

The Ignite format requires the speaker to speak to twenty slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds, making the talk exactly five minutes long. It was a privilege to be one of the fourteen speakers at this evening of fascinating and varied talks. Better still, they were filmed by a professional crew and put on YouTube. My own talk raced through my interests in bias research, and how a lot of what is taken to be expertise isn’t really expertise at all. There was no time to develop a full argument, but I threw out some terms that I hope people will Google for further information. The “social knowledge” moniker was a bit of marketing. It’s not a term from academic literature, but it captured the idea of “checkability” that I was getting at.

19 January 2010: Public lecture hosted by Glasgow Skeptics in the Pub
Scientology: It’s worse than you think
Glasgow SitP are a very friendly and interested bunch and I’m incredibly grateful to them for flying me up to Scotland and letting me talk at their third event. I was having asthma difficulties that evening, and unfortunately this affected my speaking. The questions were very good indeed and I hope my answers lived up to them.


8 July 2009: Talk to colleagues at Information Services, University of Bristol
Mind Hacks: Secrets from the Science of Happiness
I wanted this one-hour  session to be more interactive than a talk, so I chose a guided discussion format. It was a risk, but I was pleased with how it went. Most of the points I made were from Daniel Gilbert’s research, but with some general lessons from behavioural economics, including contrast effects and framing effects. Notes from the talk were written up on the blog.

23 October 2008: Public lecture hosted by Atheist, Agnostic and Skeptical Society (AASS), University of Bristol
Scientology: It’s worse than you think
A very energetic atmosphere for this student talk that had to be moved to a bigger seminar room.

2 July 2008: Talk to colleagues at Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol
The Digital Natives are Restless: Student Activism in an Online Age
This talk built on my experiences protesting alongside Anonymous in their campaign against the Church of Scientology. I show that Anonymous’ way of working is extremely collaborative, with discussion boards allowing a natural division of labour. The campaign includes many examples of the collaborative creation of media. To someone familiar with how things are done in either the private sector or public sector, the idea that a leaderless group with no formal roles or membership can get so much done is an eye-opener.

11 March 2008: Public lecture hosted by Atheist, Agnostic and Skeptical Society (AASS), University of Bristol
Cognitive Bias, Introspection and Religious Belief
Essentially the same talk given earlier to the Central London Humanists (see below). Some very erudite questions from this audience.

21 February 2008: Departmental seminar, Dept. of Computer Science, University of Bristol
The Functional Equation Approach to Optimal Reasoning and Decision-making
I summed up what I’d learned during my PhD about the normative basis of Bayesian probability, in particular why we should take the Cox Theorem seriously.

15 January 2008: Public lecture hosted by Central London Humanists
Cognitive Bias, Introspection and Religious Belief
This was an adapted version the “Beginner’s Guide to Bias” talk but towards the end focused on the idea of religious “revelation”. It was the third time I’d used the overconfidence exercise and the results were just what the Tversky and Kahneman book predicted each time. The humanist audience were very welcoming and thoughtful

11 January 2008: Talk to colleagues at Information Services, University of Bristol
A Beginner’s Guide to Bias
A weekly series of talks gave staff members the opportunity to talk about topics that interest them.

12 December 2007: Talk to colleagues at the Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol
Mind Hacks: A Beginner’s Guide to Bias
I’m glad that my workplace allows opportunities to develop my presentations. In this talk, I do an overconfidence experiment which shows people that they set confidence intervals much narrower. I tried to apply the biases to workplace situations as much as possible, and we had a nice discussion about the Fundamental Attribution Error, based on what Tavris and Aronson write about how it undermines relationships.

9 July 2007: Talk to colleagues at the Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol
Mind Hacks: Memory
I use some mental imagery tricks to help myself remember PIN numbers, passwords, sequences and so on; essentially focused daydreaming. This was an attempt to pass on those tricks to other people.

24 August 2006: Public lecture at London Skeptics in the Pub
Scientology: It’s worse than you think
Now that there are Skeptics In The Pub evenings all over the country, it’s easy to forget that for a long time there was just one, in London. Getting on the train was the only way for me to spend an evening in a room full of other skeptics. On this evening, I was terrified of legal comebacks so I self-censored a great deal. I avoided mentioning a lot of the more serious allegations against the Church of Scientology.
The talk went down generally well, but the title proved to be an obstacle. Some audience members took it as a personal insult that they were assumed not to know how bad Scientology can be. For subsequent talks (see above), I have changed the title and become much more bold in what I say.

6 July 2005: Conference presentation at Progic 2005: Second workshop on combining probability and logic, special focus on Objective Bayesianism
Deduction is like Induction, only more so

24 July 2004: talk to colleagues at Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol
Designing for the Brain
I apply some of what I’ve learnt about perceptual psychology to web design, drawing out some lessons for designers and content editors. Some of this presentation fed into a later one-day workshop on writing for the web.

21 August 2003: Research Seminar at the Institute for Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol
Motivating Other People

Mainly about the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and how shaping someone’s self-image is a more effective method of persuasion than offering them a reward for a task

7 October 1998: Departmental research seminar, Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol
Induction and Information in the 20th Century
When you study philosophy, you are taught David Hume’s position that inductive reasoning is a purely psychological phenomenon, outside the realm of logic. This talk was my attempt to update the audience on some developments since Hume in statistics, logic and information theory. In this literature it is accepted that there is such a thing as inductive logic. The seminar was not part of my PhD but arose out of the study of inductive logic I did as a background to the thesis. One of the professors present said that this work was worth a PhD in itself, which was a wonderful compliment.

In my more distant past, there are more seminars and presentations from my days at a Philosophy graduate student. I gave another departmental research seminar in addtion to the one mentioned above, a paper in a day conference and frequent talks as part of a series of lunchtime sessions for postgraduates that I co-organised. I don’t have dates or titles for all these.

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