Thousands of people around the world claim to have directly experienced contact with extraterrestrials and in many cases to have been abducted by aliens and taken on board spaceships and subjected to medical examination. How are we to explain such claims? With a few notable exceptions, those making such claims do not appear to be deliberately lying. Neither do they appear to be suffering from serious psychopathology. However, there are good reasons for doubting that such accounts are accurate reflections of events taking place in objective reality. A number of psychological factors have been implicated in attempts to explain such claims including sleep paralysis, personality factors such as fantasy proneness and possibly unusual activity in the temporal lobes of the brain. It seems likely that alien contact and abduction claims are examples of false memories.
How does a childhood interest in ghost stories and horror grow into a fascination with the scientific study of the paranormal? And how does that in turn feed back into creating dramas about the supernatural?
Stephen Volk is an avowed sceptic, yet repeatedly drawn to telling tales of the spooky and other-worldly, in books, on stage, on film and for the small screen, working both in Britain and in Hollywood.
He will be talking about his reasons for writing in the genre and his attitude to his subject matter, beginning with the dubious success of the controversial (some say legendary) 1992 BBC Halloween “hoax” Ghostwatch – which jammed the switchboard at the BBC and caused questions to be raised in Parliament – continuing with his experience as creator and lead writer of the 2005-6 peak-time drama series Afterlife, about a troubled medium (Lesley Sharp) and an even more troubled psychologist (Andrew Lincoln), which ran for two award-winning seasons on ITV.
He will also describe how his 1920s-set screenplay for The Awakening (2011), starring Rebecca Hall and Dominic West was influenced directly by the history of psychical research.
His latest TV show also straddles the areas of fear, psychology and belief: a three-part adaptation of Phil Rickman’s novel Midwinter of the Spirit, premiering on ITV in Autumn 2015, and starring two-time BAFTA-winner Anna Maxwell Martin as C of E “Deliverance Minister” (exorcist to you and me) Merrily Watkins.
Stephen Volk’s many screenplays include The Guardian, co-written with the director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin, and Ken Russell’s Gothic starring Natasha Richardson and Gabriel Byrne. His ghostly stage play The Chapel of Unrest was presented in 2013 at London’s Bush Theatre starring Jim Broadbent and Reece Shearsmith, and his play about the Fox sisters, Answering Spirits, appeared at the Edinburgh Festival.
His short stories have been chosen for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Best British Mysteries, and Best British Horror, he has been a Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and his second collection, Monsters in the Heart, won the British Fantasy Award in 2014. His highly-acclaimed novella Whitstable, featuring revered Hammer horror star Peter Cushing, has just been accompanied by a follow-up, Leytonstone, about the boyhood of Alfred Hitchcock.
The last few decades have seen a massive mushrooming of research into the workings of the most complex system known to mankind, the human brain. Part of this wonderful expansion in knowledge has been the development of ever-more sophisticated techniques for looking at the brain both physically and functionally in vivo rather than needing to wait for a post-mortem autopsy. There is a veritable alphabet-soup of methods available: CT, MRI, EEG, fMRI, ERP, MEG, tDCS to name a few. These techniques have given us fantastic insights into brain functions both in healthy individuals and also in those with neural abnormalities; some of this work has also been enormously beneficial for helping to identify or develop new treatments. However, parallel to this wonderful contribution has been an abuse of this information. Some of this has been by the researchers conducting the studies – there is a sense of ‘believing the hype’ a bit too much. In addition to this, the ‘neuro-revolution’ has been firmly embraced by those who want to legitimise their work – neuro-psychic, neuro-coaching, etc.. It has reached the point where it has even been used by some to drive public policy by using brain scans purporting to show the impact of social deprivation on a child’s brain. In this talk, I will try to navigate you through some of the wonders of the brain but also try to show you that some of what you may hear is better classified as ‘neuro-bollocks’……
My expertise is in mental brain functions that we use on an everyday basis such as memory and face-recognition. I conduct research on healthy individuals, those with brain damage and children who are either typical or have developmental disorders such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I am one of the UK’s experts on face-recognition including face-blindness (also known as ‘prosopagnosia’) and exceptional face memory (known as ‘super-recognition’). Some of the latter work is being done in conjunction with London’s Metropolitan Police who are the first police force in the world to strategically use serving officers with exceptional face-memory to apprehend criminal suspects. I have also developed an expertise in being able to ‘translate’ general issues in psychology and science to the lay-person to make them more accessible.
I have been working in the field for 23 years. I have a degree from arguably the best university in the world (Cambridge), a doctorate from one of the best psychology research departments in the country (Sussex) and worked with two of the most noted neuroscientists in the world (Professors Antonio Damasio and Ralph Adolphs). I have won an award from the International Neuropsychological Society for my research in memory disorders and been awarded a Media Fellowship by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for my skills in communicating science to the general public. In 2011 I was awarded a three-month Wellcome funded Live Science residency at London’s Science Museum to conduct one of the largest prevalence studies of super-recognition in the world. I have contributed widely to public engagement with science through TV (both national TV such as the BBC and Channel 4 as well as internationally), radio and print media as well as annual public lectures as part of International Brain Awareness Week. In addition I have lectured extensively throughout Europe, North America, South America, India, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. For this work, I have been nominated for a British Academy Charles Darwin Award for communicating science to non-specialist audiences. In 2014, I won Best Research Supervisor prize at my university for my ability to teach and inspire students to high levels of research. I teach cognitive psychology and cognitive neuropsychology which are my two specialist areas.
I am a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and Vice-Chair of the Neuropsychology International Fellowship. My expertise means that I currently collaborate with scientists in 14 other countries spanning 4 continents.
Away from my research, I love travelling (52 countries visited and counting), speak my mother tongue (Gujarati) as well as Italian (I’ve visited Venice over 45 times!) and have an identical twin – I show three-dimensional scans of our brains in lectures to amuse students and then to demonstrate certain issues to do with the brain. I actually have a bit of a ‘wonky’ brain that I love telling students about…..
Webclips of Dr Jansari speaking about his field:
Speaking about the general field of cognitive neuropsychology:
Speaking on BBC1’s The One Show:
Speaking about his ‘super-recognizer’ study at London’s Science Museum:
Speaking about face-recognition for Universities Week:
Homeopathy is one of the most widely debunked forms of alternative medicine – yet homeopathic remedies adorn the shelves of respected pharmacies and are funded by taxpayers on the NHS. How big a problem is this? Using information and personal experiences gathered during his last 6 years of campaigning against homeopathy, Michael Marshall will highlight how much money is spent on homeopathic remedies, how this gives undeserved credibility to homeopathy, how such remedies can lead to genuine harm and what you can do to help.
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.
Roll up! Roll up! Roll up! Gather ye round the traveling caravan, as Snake Oil Salesman Ash Pryce demonstrates the miraculous curative abilities of psychic surgery, taught to your humble trickster by a wise man in the Philippines. See with wonder the telekinetic forces at work as you learn how to move objects with your mind, psychically predict the outcome of the historic Zener Cards and read the minds of your peers.
This show will take a look at the more magical side of psychic claims. Whereas the sister show How to Talk to the Dead looked specifically at spirit communication in the past, this show will look at some of the more incredible claims that persist today. The types of demonstrations that blur the line between the honest deception of magic, and the dishonesty of those hoping to make a quick buck out of your deep rooted beliefs.
An interactive, skeptical, how-to guide to a whole host of psychic scammery. Warning to those on the front row… there will be blood!
Alom Shaha has spent most of his professional life sharing his passion for science and education with the public and currently splits his time between teaching physics and producing and presenting educational videos. In this talk, Alom tells the story of his first scientific discovery, how and why he became a science teacher, the challenges and rewards of the job, what he thinks science education is for, and how parents can contribute positively to their children’s science education.
Alom is a physics teacher at a comprehensive school in London. When he’s not teaching, he works as a film-maker, writer and science communicator. Alom is a trustee of the British Humanist Association, and is the author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook.