The Future of Skepticism: More. Positive. Stuff.

Over the weekend I had the joy of attending the Australian Skeptics National Convention in Canberra. Let me just say this: it was FANTASTIC. Skeptic conventions, Skepticamps and other such events are always terrific fun to attend because it’s always great to be with friends and like-minded people. But when a convention is as well put together as this one was – around a common theme, with a diverse range of engaging speakers, in an environment of spirited collegiality – it really does motivate and inspire.

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Dr. Paul Willis talking at the Australian Skeptics National Convention 2013.
Image: Ruth Ellison

The last speaker on the program was the inimitable Dr. Paul Willis. Former host of ABC’s splendid Catalyst program and now director at RIAus, Paul is a charming, genial man with a razer-sharp intellect and a love of puns. And his thoughts on where skepticism is going, which he shared in his talk, are spot on with what I’ve been thinking recently. He boiled it down to three key points:

  • More. We need to be doing more. There’s an entire internet out there waiting for us to get out there and fill it with good information. And if we don’t, the quacks and the woo-pedlars will.
  • Positive. We need to show that we’re not a bunch of nay-saying curmudgeons. Let’s give positive feedback to the people and organisations that are doing fantastic stuff. When Catalyst does a terrific show like the Chiropractic episode, we need to be congratulating them and thanking them. Get our voices heard and we’ll see more of the good stuff.
  • Stuff. We need to expand the range of what we do. If you don’t have a blog, start one. If you’re not on social media, get involved. If you don’t do a podcast, or a vodcast, why not think about it. Comment on blog posts. Comment on Old Media sites like newspapers and TV shows. Submit complaints to the TGA on dodgy websites. Join the Guerilla Skepticism team and write some Wikipedia articles. And take advantage of some of the tools being developed like rbutr, Web of Trust and Fishbarrel.

Have a listen to Paul’s talk here:

Burzynski Clinic – no evidence, just intimidation

A quick post to let you all know about the vile harassment and intimidation coming from the Burzynski Clinic. Stanislaw Burzynski has a treatment, which he believes can cure cancer. This would be wonderful if true, but sadly there is no good independent peer-reviewed RCT evidence supporting that claim.

This does not stop desperate, terminally ill patients raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for a chance to take this wonder-treatment. Well-meaning celebrities have done fundraising gigs and auctions to help send people to the Burzynski Clinic. They’re being fed false hope.

They’re being taken advantage of.

A number of bloggers have written about this situation, and that is when the Burzynski Clinic showed their true nature.  Please read high schooler Rhys Morgan’s brilliantly-written piece detailing the harassment and legal threats he has received, for simply telling the truth.

Here are some other excellent links (courtesy of Lucas Randall) you should check out for more information:

And lastly, my good friend Lucas Randall has written some poetry about the saga. Here is the first stanza, you can read the full poem here.

Stanislaw Burzynzki has risen to fame
‘cross the Net, no less, due to making some claims
He can cure Cancer, in its many known guises
With a treatment derived from a source that surprises.

What really IS skepticism?

On Saturday, Melbourne held its first Skepticamp – an informal day of volunteer-given presentations and workshops. There’s no set schedule – anyone can give a presentation or hold a group discussion. It was a huge success, with around 80 people attending. A fantastic tribute to the two people who did most of the work ‘unOrganising’ the event*Chris Higgins and Lucas Randall.

What Really IS Skepticism?

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