Review: Simon Singh and Adam Kay

Simon Singh – occasional champion of chiropractors (my definition of “champion” may differ from yours) – and Adam Kay – one half of the musical comedy duo Amateur Transplants – were the guests at last night’s Skeptics In The Pub meeting in Portsmouth. Since I’ve attended all the meetings so far and attended this one too, and since there’s a high likelihood that you didn’t, and since you’d probably (I studied statistics at ‘A’ level but wasn’t very good at it) like to know a little about the meeting, Simon, and Adam, I thought I’d let you enjoy a taste of the night through the magic of letters formed into words.

The Good

Simon Singh

Simon Singh as he would have appeared had I photographed him during daylight and among a crowd. But I didn't. But English PEN did.

Simon Singh was informative and amusing, treating us to the lyrical stylings of Katie Melua, a swift overview of his work history, writing in the Guardian, working at the BBC, acupuncture, homeopathy, alternative medicines in general, and libel reform, all in under an hour. He then took questions from members of the audience and handled them expertly.

Adam Kay was very funny, very talented, provided us with numerous short and funny versions of songs (getting the audience – including me, I embarrassingly remember – to sing along to choruses), and provided the perfect accompaniment to the more serious tones of the earlier part of the evening. So good, in fact, was he that I felt compelled to part with money and buy merchandise from him. I’d also been drinking. Usually I’m far more reluctant to hand cash to strangers.

The Bad
The One Eyed Dog is fairly decent in terms of layout and decor as pubs go but it certainly wasn’t the ideal place for this talk. The space allocated for the talks was too small for the number of people who turned up. I have misanthropic leanings and large crowds of aggravating humans bother me; they particularly bother me when I ponder how few of them will probably turn up to another meeting unless there’s a big name attendee and when that happens they’ll probably crowd out whatever venue we’re in and make the experience less pleasant for those of us who turn up regularly too. I’m not saying there should be a premium-seating, priority system for regulars over those who just turn up because it’s someone famous that they want to heckle. Oh, wait, yes I am.

One area where the One Eyed Dog really did whatever the opposite of excelling is was in the range of available beers. “Real Ales £2.95” said the sign behind the bar which sounded nice because real ales is what I drink and drinks for under a threer (short term for a three pound note) appeals to my inner skinflint. But that was as close to real ales as we got as they were all off. I ended up picking something familiar from my youth: Red Stripe Jamaican lager on tap. I had never had it on tap before and was quite surprised to find it still tasted like it had been stored in a tin can for months just like during my university days. Impressive, but not in a good way.

I’m not sure if it’s a tradition of Skeptics In The Pub meetings in general but if it is then the Portsmouth ones certainly seem to be embracing the inability to provide a decent sound system. Squeezed in around the edge of the throng surrounding the guest speakers it was very difficult to hear what was being said at times thanks to the ambient noise coming from the rest of the pub, empty bottles being dropped from a great height (apparently) into a bin near the bar, and traffic passing by. If there had been more than the twelve other people in the pub not attending the meeting then it might have meant abandoning the meeting altogether as far as I was concerned.

As I’ve said, I’m not a people person. Part of the reason for this is that people are annoying. People who turn up to Skeptics In The Pub Meetings are not exempt from this generalisation. Simon Singh spoke for forty five minutes or so, then there was a break, then he took question for a similar amount of time, there followed a break, then we were treated to the music of Adam Kay. Forty five minutes was the longest amount of time that anyone had to endure sitting still and being quiet. Forty five minutes. Toilet breaks, getting a drink, answering the phone, chatting, getting another drink, waving in a latecomer to the seat you reserved hours earlier, going out for a cigarette, getting a drink, popping to the toilet again… Most people weren’t guilty of any of these, of course. Most people.

The Ugly
There were two parts of the evening: Simon Singh was one part, and Adam Kay was the other part. It’s incredibly impolite – even though it freed up some space – to simply leave after the bit you’re interested in has passed. The difference in those attending after Simon Singh had finished was very noticeable. It felt terribly un-British. Shame on those people!

Related to that, interestingly, was the fact that those who left were – in the main – all the same people who had asked questions of Simon in the second half of his presentation. These were – in the main – people who had arrived early and taken most of the seats. These were – in the main – people who demonstrated by the questions they asked that they were clearly homeopathy and acupuncture and alternative medicine fans; their questions brought up points that had been covered by Simon earlier (well done for not listening!) or were variations on the “what have you got against a little placebo/diluted water/pixie crystal spell?” question (translated as: “why are you, you nasty person, being so mean to us, sweet and innocent people, who really aren’t doing any harm, really, really, honestly, really?”). These were – in the main – therefore, people with agendas who had no intention of listening to Simon. Thanks for coming along!

The Highlight
Other than Adam Kay encouraging a gathering of sceptics to sing “Al Jazeera” in a pub…

One of the questioners in Simon Singh’s second half explained that he “totally believed” everything that Simon was saying but he’d had Shaolin training and had seen with his own eyes someone generate an invisible ball of Chi energy in their arms and knock someone over with it, so how do you explain that so-called Mr Science?!!?

Thanks for coming along crazy martial artist!

Author: Mark

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  1. You never fuck with Chi energy.

    Not ever. Not ever, ever.

    It’s serious fucking business.

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    • Chi energy molested me in my sleep. I have sworn a deep, deep vengeance on Chi.

      Post a Reply
      • “Der Übermensch molested me in my sleep.”

        Fixed…wait…what? Forget I said anything.

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  2. A superb article reflective of a very polarised evening. Shame you didn’t mention some of the annoying people by name but, I fear, we would be less welcome at Portsmouth SitP events in the future..

    I have the feeling we’re already pariahs. So maybe we should start ‘Sceptics of Skeptics in the Pub’ (SoSitP)?

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