These talk summaries are provided for those not able to attend meetings. There won't be a summary for every talk but we'll do our best. We hope you enjoy reading them.


Climate Change - Public Perception and the Media

Asher Minns, Centre Manager for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research

Minns presented evidence that world knowledge of climate change, its threat and even its anthropogenic nature is high. Yet people don’t act upon these concerns. This goes against prevailing wisdom; that if only education was higher people would reduce their carbon usage.

Minns argued that grass roots movements alone will not be enough to assuage the problems of climate change, in the past top down action has been needed. He gave the example in the UK of recycling, despite desperate need to reduce landfill space nothing was done. The UK government stepped in and new laws changed peoples’ attitude, it’s now almost taboo not to recycle. Under this conception of society it would seem governments provide the impetus for people to act through new legislation, rather than the populace voting for whichever party will bring in particular legislation.



Vince Chainey, Humanist Celebrant

Vince ran through how humanist occasions, such as wedding and funeral, are designed and celebrated. Discussion covered the differences and overlaps between atheism, secularism, humanism and religion; to what extent should humanism be a surrogate for religion and in what ways?

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Human evolution - addiction, obesity, and the naturalistic fallacy

Dr. David Waynforth

David challenged the view that the ‘obesity epidemic’ in Western societies is due to a greater intake of calories and reduction in activity, the couch-potato stereotype. Research shows that even those societies most similar to mankind’s ancestral state vary massively in food consumption and activity levels; the average for countries like the US sit comfortably in the middle for both. (If this is surprising think of fishing societies which require little exercise to catch a rich food source.)

Our mistaken belief is due to a naturalistic fallacy that modern humans have moved away from primitive ways, to their detriment. Experiments on farm animals, which are given nutrient pellets, have shown that if a macronutrient (sugar, fat, protein, etc) is limited in the diet, they will overeat to try to compensate.

This happens in humans too - if a nutrient such as sugar is limited then the body does not learn to regulate its intake. Furthermore, it is a habit that is programmed in childhood, the body being set to expect there to always be a deficit of the substance, causing binge behaviour when it is encountered. This has been shown in double-blind experiments where children brought up by parents who limit their sugar intake will gorge themselves on sugary drinks, but not on sweetener containing placebos.

Children who are given free access to sugar at home have learnt control. Although not the whole story, this talk provided compelling evidence for an unexpected cause of obesity and suggestions for counter-intuitive parenting techniques.