Skeptics in the Shark Tank

skeptics in shark tank1Entering the lavish Victorian grandeur of the Brighton Aquarium, I am ushered towards a gathering throng inside the main exhibition hall. Surrounded by weird and wonderful fish, crabs and eels swimming in large tanks lining each wall, I meet Simon Clare, member of the South East Skeptics Society and organiser of the night’s event. He explains that the night is a celebration of the success of the Skeptics in the Pub events that have sprung up across the South East (and the rest of the country). The ‘club’ of organisers put their heads together and decided to have a party. And what a party it is.

As a ticket holder I have full access to the entire aquarium, a well stocked bar and two speakers of international reputation, Dr Helen Czerski and Professor Jim Al-Khalili OBE. But the cherry on the top is still to come. As Simon leads me through the maze of aquatic pomp and pageant, we arrive at the shark tank, complete with underwater tunnel. It is an auditorium with an aquatic stage and most delightfully a floating platform from which the speakers will speak. The theatre is set, skeptics literally in the shark tank

The first speaker, Dr Helen Czerski is known for her work on ocean bubbles and the BBC’s Horizon and Sky at Night programmes. As she is towed out into the centre of the shark tank to begin, she is distracted by rays, sharks and a turtle swimming in and around her glass bottomed platform. Dr Czerski has travelled the world, spending months at sea surrounded by towering ice flows, researching ocean bubbles and their effect on cloud formation, and subsequently climate change. But I could tell this was something new. Her talk was frantic, packed with enthusiasm and content and she barely paused for breath in a genuine and frank account of ocean and climate science and the state of the world we live in. She came across as genuinely passionate about the oceans and their inhabitants. In response to a question, she reassured us, in the event of catastrophic climate change the world will be fine. But we will probably not.

skeptics in shark tank 2 copyAfter a short interval, Professor Jim Al-Khalili takes to the incomparable stage. Professor Al-Khalili is the president of the British Humanist Association, has appeared on numerous TV programmes and presents BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific. His talk is on Quantum Biology and the slightly more cerebral nature of his talk is reflected in his slower, less hectic pace. As a physicist, I already knew some of what he explained as he set out the background knowledge of quantum mechanics necessary to understand how it is now being used in biological sciences. Nevertheless the talk was engaging and the explanation of how scientists believe that the otherwise unremarkable bird, the European robin actually sees the Earth’s magnetic field. The same part of the brain is used that it uses for seeing, not sensing, seeing. Interest piqued, I will look out for his book on the same subject.

After a closing cameo from a genuinely funny local comedian, I join Simon once again in the bar. Has it been successful I ask? Definitely he says, although he is glad it’s over.

Skeptics in the Pub meet on a monthly basis, all over the UK and world as a friendly way for skeptics and critical thinkers to get together socially. A speaker is invited to present and this is followed by what is usually a lively question and answer session. London’s group can be found here http://london.skepticsinthepub.org/

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