A Former RE Teacher’s guide to non-belief

Kevin Precious

Who? Kevin Precious

When? Wednesday 12th April 2017

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

What’s the talk about?

In between the various comedic activites, Kevin attends his local humanist group – he’s an agnostic, folks – where he loves a good old debate about the big questions in life.  Expect jokes and stories then, about his time as an RE teacher, being a humanist, the God-Shaped Hole, and the philosophy of religion… and you can ask him a few questions of your own afterwards, if you wish.

Speaker: Kevin Precious is a former RE teacher turned stand-up comedian and promoter.  Besides having played many of the top clubs in the land, he also promotes shows in arts centres and theatres under the Barnstormers Comedy banner. He has previously toured the country with a stand-up show entitled ‘Not Appropriate’, dedicated to the business of teaching.


The Truth about Alcohol and Other Drugs

Professor David Nutt speaks at the Science Media Centre, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday November 04, 2009. The government's drug advisory body is "fatally flawed" and should be rebuilt from scratch along the lines of the Bank of England, according to the Professor. The scientist at the centre of the drug advice row added that he was taking seriously an anonymous supporter's offer to fund an alternative expert group that would operate without any interference from ministers. See PA story SCIENCE Nutt. Photo credit should read: Ian Nicholson/PA Wire

Who? Prof. David Nutt

When? 8th Nov 2017

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

What’s the talk about? 

The regulation of drugs – including alcohol and tobacco – is an issue of pressing importance due to the increasing health carecosts associated with their use and the new sorts of synthetic agents being developed and sold over the internet. Also the impact of the law to impede research and treatment innovation is of growing concern.

My talk will reflect on these issues in the light of my ten years experience on the governments Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs from which I was sacked some years ago. I shall present new analyses that compare the harms of drugs and alcohol using more sophisticated methodology and challenge many of the current misconceptions about drugs – their harms – and how to deal with them.

Finally I will call for the drug laws to be changed to the benefit of patients and researchers

Speaker: Prof. Nutt is currently the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology and director of the Neuropsychopharmacology Unit in the Division of Brain Sciences.

David  broadcasts widely to the general public both on radio and television including BBC science and public affairs programmes on therapeutic as well as illicit drugs, their harms and their classification. He also lecturers widely to the public as well as to the scientific and medical communities; for instance has presented three time at the Cheltenham Science Festival and several times for Café Scientifiques but it was during his chairmanship of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) and his refusal to fudge the issue of perceived drug harm that brought him into the public spotlight.

In 2010 The Times Eureka science magazine included him in the 100 most important figures in British Science, and the only psychiatrist.



Drawing the Line


When? Wednesday 8th March 2017 at 7.30pm

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

What’s the talk about? 

An illustrated exploration of controversial cartoons, and their link to human rights, free speech and censorship, by long time Manchester pen scratcher ‘Polyp’.

From Roman times through to the Charlie Hebdo revenge attack, cartoonists have always been the focus of outrage and anger. What is it about this often trivialized art form that evokes such powerful reactions?

We’ll be including a look at the story of the medium’s conflict with religion and socially accepted moral consensus, and in the discussion afterwards we’ll pull at the complex knot of what it means to be offensive. Is there a simple way to untie it?

Polyp is a full time professional cartoonist and active member of the skeptics movement. His latest project is ‘thINK’- a kickstarter funded collection of cartoons ridiculing superstition, irrationality and pseudoscience.

Take a look and consider funding his ‘take no prisoners’ project… it’s already been over 60% funded before half time.

Smashing Physics: News from the Energy Frontier

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-13-29-58Who? Prof. Jon Butterworth

When? Wednesday 15th February 2017 at 7.30pm (Note: this month will take place on the 3rd Wednesday of the month)

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

What’s the talk about? 

The Large Hadron Colldier at CERN, Geneva, continues to explore the structure of matter at the smallest distances and highest energies. Jon will describe what we have learned from it so far – including the discovery of the Higgs boson – how we did it, and why it matters.  He will also talk about what might happen next…

Speaker: Professor Jon Butterworth (UCL), a leading member of the ATLAS experiment at CERN, will talk about all this and more.  The professor has a book out, entitled ‘Smashing Physics – Inside the World’s Biggest Experiment’, an inside account of the CERN experiments and why they are important to us.

Weird Science: An introduction to Anomalistic Psychology

Who? Prof. Chris Frenchscreen-shot-2016-09-20-at-13-06-46

When? Wednesday 11th January 2017 at 7.30pm

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

What’s the talk about? Paranormal Phenomena

Ever since records began, in every known society, a substantial proportion of the population has reported unusual experiences many of which we would today label as “paranormal”. Opinion polls show that the majority of the general public accepts that paranormal phenomena do occur. Such widespread experience of and belief in the paranormal can only mean one of two things. Either the paranormal is real, in which case this should be accepted by the wider scientific community which currently rejects such claims; or else belief in and experience of ostensibly paranormal phenomena can be fully explained in terms of psychological factors. This presentation will provide an introduction to the sub-discipline of anomalistic psychology, which may be defined as the study of extraordinary phenomena of behaviour and experience, in an attempt to provide non-paranormal explanations in terms of known psychological and physical factors. This approach will be illustrated with examples relating to a range of ostensibly paranormal phenomena.

Biography: Professor Chris French is the Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit in the Psychology Department at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, as well as being a Patron of the British Humanist Association and a member of the Scientific and Professional Advisory Board of the British False Memory Society. He has published over 130 articles and chapters covering a wide range of topics within psychology. His main area of research is the psychology of paranormal beliefs and anomalous experiences. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims, as well as writing for the Guardian and The Skeptic magazine which, for more than a decade, he also edited. His most recent books are Why Statues Weep, co-edited with Wendy Grossman, Anomalistic Psychology, co-authored with Nicola Holt, Christine Simmonds-Moore, and David Luke, and Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience co-authored with Anna Stone. 

Follow him on Twitter: @chriscfrench

Herding Hemingway’s Cats – how do our genes work? katarney

Who? Dr Kat Arney

When? Wednesday 9th November 2016 at 7.30pm

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

What’s the talk about?

The language of genes has become common in the media. We know they make your eyes blue, your hair curly or your nose straight. We’re told that genes control the risk of cancer, heart disease, alcoholism or Alzheimer’s. The cost of DNA sequencing has plummeted from billions of pounds to a few hundred, and gene-based advances in medicine hold huge promise.

There are 2.2 metres of DNA inside every one of your cells, encoding roughly 20,000 genes. These are the ‘recipes’ that tell our cells how to make the building blocks of life, along with all the control switches ensuring they’re turned on and off at the right time and in the right place. But rather than a static string of genetic code, this is a dynamic, writhing biological library. With the help of cats with thumbs, fish with hips and wobbly worms, Kat will unpack some of the mysteries in our DNA and explain the latest thinking about how our genes work.

Speaker: Dr Kat Arney is a science communicator and award-winning blogger for Cancer Research UK, as well as a freelance science writer and broadcaster whose work has featured on BBC Radio 4, the Naked Scientists and more. She is about to publish her first book, Herding Hemingway’s Cats, about how our genes work. You can pre-order it here:

DO NO HARM. Evaluating the costs and benefits of psychology and its link to medicine

Who? Professor Jane Ogden Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 11.16.52

When? Wednesday 12th October 2016 at 7.30pm

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

What’s the talk about?

‘Do no harm underpins medical practice yet much has been written about medical iatrogenesis.   Health psychology explores the links between psychology and physical health.   This talk analyses research exploring medication adherence, help seeking, screening and behaviour change to argue that all interventions have the potential for both benefit and harm.  Accordingly, health psychology may have inadvertently contributed to psychological harms (eg lead times, anxiety, risk compensation, rebound effects), medical harms (eg. Medication side effects, unnecessary procedures) and social harms (eg. financial costs, increased consultations rates).   Such harms may result from medicalization or pharmaceuticalisation. They may also reflect the ways in which we manage probabilities and an optimistic bias that emphasises benefit over cost.  Or they may reflect a change in the way we understand mortality and a belief that even death can be controlled, or even avoided, by the individual.

Speaker: After completing her PhD at the Institute of Psychiatry Jane Ogden lectured first at Middlesex University then Kings College London.  She joined the University of Surrey as Professor in Health Psychology in 2005.  She teaches psychology, medical, vet, nutrition and dietician students to think more psychologically about physical health.  Her research focuses on eating behaviour and obesity management, aspects of women’s health and communication.  She has published 6 books and over 170 papers.  She is also a regular contributor to the media and writes a regular column for The Conversation.


The Good Parenting Food Guide (2014)
Health Psychology: a textbook (5th edition, 2012)
The psychology of eating (2nd edition, 2009)
Essential readings in Health Psychology (2007)
Health and the construction of the individual (2002)
Fat Chance: The Myth of dieting explained (1992)
Chasing the Cuba Libre – my novel! Download it for free.

Lifting the Lid: Ongoing adventures in the world of pseudoscience

Michael MarshallWhen? Wednesday 14th September 2016 at 7.30pm

Where? The Woolpack, Mildmay Rd, Chelmsford CM2 0DN

Who? Michael Marshall

What’s the talk about?

It’s easy to think of pseudoscience existing in a glass case at a museum – something to be examined and critiqued from a safe distance, but not something to touch and to play with. Using examples taken from his own personal experiences in skepticism, Michael Marshall will show what happens when you begin to crack the surface of the pseudosciences that surround us – revealing the surprising, sometimes-shocking and often-comic adventures that lie beneath.

Speaker: Michael Marshall is the Project Director of the Good Thinking Society and the Vice President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. He regularly speaks with proponents of pseudoscience for the Be Reasonable podcast. His work has seen him organising international homeopathy protests and co-founding the popular QED conference. He has written for the Guardian, The Times and New Statesman.

I’d like to be immortal but…Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 20.58.31

When? Wednesday 8th June 2016

Where? The Ale House, 24-26 Viaduct Rd, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 1TS

Who? Professor Richard Aspinall

What’s the talk about? 

I would like to be immortal BUT….

Immortality has held us fascinated throughout history and there are many examples of individuals searching for the elixir of life or the fountain of youth because they wished to live forever. There are even reports that some like the Comte de St Germain have succeeded. 

More recently the goals have been modified or even shifted slightly with reports that rather than being immortal we will soon be able to live to be 1000 years old, that’s if we start treating the body like a machine and replacing those bits that wear out with time. 

All of this seems to some to be plausible and the problems seem to be associated with how do we cope with overcrowding or how do we pay for the treatments. This skips over the first problem which is how we identify age related changes in the body and deal with them, or else we may end up like Tithonus. He was the lover of Eos, Goddess of the Dawn who asked Zeus to make Tithonus immortal, but forgot to ask for eternal youth. As a result, he aged, withered and begged for death. 

As a sceptic the I would propose that we give up all hope for immortality and eternal youth and accept out fate and our allotted span, but making the best of what we have been given. 

Speaker: Richard is a recognised expert in the area of age associated immune deficiencies and issues concerning vaccination in older people.

He is a member of the British Society for Immunology, the British Transplantation Society and the British Society for Research on Ageing. He has been a Member of MRC College of Experts, a member of the Board of the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Postgraduate Medical School, Chairman of the British Society for Research on Ageing and a consultant for several major pharmaceutical companies.

He was appointed a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2007, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (Edin) in 2012 and a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathology in 2014. In 2015 he was awarded the Lord Cohen medal for his contribution to research on ageing. His current research has two overarching goals; the first is to understand basic mechanisms of the ageing process in particular those which lead to a decline in the immune system and which may be manipulated to improve health. The second is to develop technological answers to many of the issues associated with monitoring the health status of older individuals in an ageing population.

Inaugural Speaker: John O’Learyjohn-oleary_234x234

When? Wednesday 11th May 2016 at 7:00P

Where? The Ale House, 24-26 Viaduct Rd, Chelmsford, Essex CM1 1TS

What’s the talk about?

The ban on drug taking in sport is confused, illogical and questionably motivated. As a result all competitors should be able to take whichever drugs they choose.

Not a month goes by without a sensationalist news report about drug-taking in sport. We are told that these cheats devalue sport, undermine competition and are bad role-models for aspiring young sports people. How much of this rhetoric is logically defensible however? Do drugs really make the difference between success and failure? Are drug cheats any worse than other cheats? Are they really behaving in a way worthy of our opprobrium? I would answer no to all three. Anti-doping is the product of sports empire-building, its demonization the product of hegemonic collusion between politicians, the courts and sport autocrats who idealize sporting success but then apply convoluted restrictions on how such success might be achieved. The result is a system riven with contradiction and hypocrisy. There is only one conclusion that could be drawn by the healthy skeptic; that all sports competitors should be able to take whichever drugs they choose.

Speaker: John O’Leary has over 20 years’ experience in teaching at university level on both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. He is Course Leader for our LLB (Hons) in Chelmsford where he lectures currently in tort, trusts and employment law. His main area of research is sport law where he has advised Parliament and the EU Commission and enjoys an international reputation.

Selected recent publications

O’Leary, J., 2013. USADA v Montgomery. Book chapter in: Anderson, J. (Ed.). Leading Cases in Sports Law. The Hague: Springer.

O’Leary, J. and Khoo, T., 2013. Changing the World: Sport, Racism and Law in South Africa and Malaysia. International Sports Law Journal.

O’Leary, J. (join author), 2012. Sports Law. London: Cavendish.

O’Leary, J., 2001. Drugs and Doping in Sport. London: Cavendish.

Recent presentations and conferences

Sports Law and Notions of Justice: Why There is No Such Thing as Justice in Sport. Paper given to Sporting Justice conference, 2014, Nottingham Trent University.

A Kantian Perspective on Sports Law, SLSA Conference, 2014.