have often been asked the same Question, "How did the Australian
Skeptics start?" and as the answer may be of interest to our
subscribers, I have put together this brief history.
1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims
of the Paranormal (CSICOP) was formed in the United States. Its
official biannual journal, The Zetetic (title changed to the Skeptical
Inquirer and made a quarterly in 1978) came to the notice of
Australians Dick Smith, Philip Adams and Mark Plummer, who became
letter to the Skeptical Inquirer, (Winter 1979-80. 4:2 p
107) Plummer opined that a branch was badly needed in Australia and
asked for interested parties in this country to contact him.
read the letter, contacted Mark, and offered to sponsor a
visit to Australia by James Randi, a professional magician and
principal investigator for CSICOP. Randi had previously worked on an
expose of psychic surgery with Richard Carleton who at that time was
with the BBC in London.
1980, James Randi came to Australia, and supported by an
offer from Dick Smith, Phillip Adams and Richard Carleton of a $50,000
prize for anyone who could prove psychic phenomena, tested over one
hundred people who made such claims - water diviners, spoon benders,
ESP, psychic photography and metal detection. All failed to prove their
claims under controlled test conditions.
the meeting, Mark Plummer called for volunteers to start the
Australian Skeptics. Among the first to join was James Gerrard who
became and remained National Secretary for the first five years, Mark
assuming the mantle of National President.
and Phillip Adams became Patrons of Australian Skeptics and
offered $10,000 each as an award to anyone who could demonstrate a
paranormal ability under controlled conditions. In 1987, Dr Paul Wild,
then head of the CSIRO, became a third Patron. In 1991, Ronald Evans,
Secretary of the South Australian branch, added an extra $10,000 to the
amount to be offered to successful paranormalists. This Skeptics
Challenge of $30,000 remains on offer to anyone who can pass the tests.
issue of the Skeptic came off the press as a
four-page tabloid format newsletter in January 1981, with Mark Plummer
as editor, assisted by James Gerrard. In that year, three issues were
produced and in the next year, the magazine increased in size to
sixteen pages and became a quarterly.
passed to Janet de Silva in 1983, followed by Anne Tuohy in
1985 and moved to Sydney under the pen of Tim Mendham in November 1986.
At this time, Mark Plummer went to the USA to become CSICOP's Executive
Director, and the New South Wales branch committee became the National
Committee with Barry Williams at the helm.
1987, Tim, who was wearing five hats - editor, secretary,
archivist, treasurer and shouldering the responsibility for back
issues, wilted under the strain. Harry Edwards took on co-editing. The
secretariat and responsibility for back issues. Despite the decreased
number of his jobs the ever-increasing size of the Skeptic
(then averaging 40 pages) and increasing pressure from his employers
proved too much and early in 1990, Tim was forced to throw in the towel.
Williams took on the role of Editor, purely as a temporary
measure, but found that he liked the job so much that it would now
require the application of explosives to remove him. Harry Edwards has
remained as his side-kick in the job and has become the chief
investigator of strange beliefs. Since
Dick Champion has
held the purse strings, and Ian Bryce has been responsible for testing
challengers for the $30,000 Skeptics Challenge.
we produced In The Beginning, a compilation of all the
major articles from the first five years of the Skeptic.
In this way, we make all of our work available to our subscribers.
seventeen years of existence, Australian Skeptics has grown from
a handful of enthusiasts into an organisation of more than 2500
subscribers, whose numbers include representatives of almost every
profession and occupation.
branches in every state, award the Bent Spoon annually to the
'perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or
pseudo-scientific piffle" have tested many claimants for our challenge
(none have yet been successful), and have spread the concept of
skepticism via our journal, website and through the media at large. In
this, we have had a measure of success, in that those who wish to
promote magical thinking are on notice that their claims will not go
has always been to promote critical thinking and to encourage
people to took at the world as it is and not as it might appear in our
fantasies. The evidence suggests we have not done a bad job, but, as
someone once almost said "The price of intellectual freedom is
support, we hope we can keep it up.
In this issue we
contributions from some readers who question
what role Australian Skeptics should assume in relation to certain
issues and what should, or should not, be published in the Skeptic.
It is, of course, the right of any Skeptic to be concerned about these
issues and the magazine provides a forum for the airing of these
concerns. As both the president of the national committee and as
the editor of the Skeptic, I feel it is important to make it
clear how I see the role of the organisation and the publishing policy
of the Skeptic.
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
the Skeptic - Vol.
14, no. 1
Skeptics is an organisation which chooses, as the Aims make
clear, "to investigate paranormal, pseudoscientific and similarly
anomalous phenomena from a responsible, scientific point of view".
Included in this definition is the right to challenge the use of
genuine science to draw unwarranted conclusions. However, while
Australian Skeptics approaches these issues using the tools of science
and critical inquiry, it is not a learned scientific society with a
narrow focus on any particular scientific area. It is an organisation
whose audience comprises those sections of the professional and lay
public who are interested in scientific matters and who question claims
or assertions which rely on dogmatic explanations. While scepticism is
an essential tool for the scientist a comprehensive knowledge of
science is not essential for a sceptic.
organisation does not involve itself in political, social,
religious or other issues, unless they exhibit a paranormal or
pseudoscientific dimension. Australian Skeptics has no dogma; it is not
politically correct; nor does it prescribe moral stances, for such
attitudes are the very antithesis of scepticism. It does not take
positions on issues, it only asks that any position that is taken be
supported by evidence. Australian Skeptics is an organisation for
sceptics, not for ideologues.
publication of Australian Skeptics, the Skeptic publishes items
that generally cover the areas of interest of the organisation, however
it often does so from a somewhat broader perspective the Skeptic
does not commission articles, relying on items supplied by our readers
and, as these articles obviously represent the interests of our
readers, we do our best to publish those that we receive. Of course,
some items submitted are entirely unsuitable for our pages, on the
grounds of their complete irrelevance to our aims or to the interests
of the readership at large, or that their publication may lead to legal
action against the organisation. Others may be edited to remove
potentially libelous content or needlessly contentious ad hominem
in our Letters pages and our Forum columns
attest to the diversity of the interests of our correspondents. These
pages are designed to offer a venue for issues whose relationship to
our published aims may be considered somewhat tenuous, but which do
fall within our broad parameters and are of interest to some of our
is not a refereed scientific journal, nor has it
ever been, nor should it be. There are many refereed scientific
journals in any number of fields that properly fulfill the purposes of,
and are essential to the strength of, those scientific disciplines. the
Skeptic fulfills quite a different purpose that of allowing the lay
person to raise questions, the answers to which may be obvious to the
experts, but which may well be far from obvious to the public at large.
The role of the Skeptic is to be a forum in which readers are
free to ask questions and others can provide the answers (and indeed to
argue their heads off about the topic).
To limit that
freedom is to deny scepticism a role and if we deny that
role then we should become a different body and call ourselves
something else. the Skeptic is a journal of fact an opinion which
addresses issues and asks questions that interest our subscribers. In
particular, we do not declare any areas of inquiry to be taboo.
Political correctness, as the term is generally understood, has no
place in a journal for sceptics.
As editor, it
is not my role to censor or restrict what our
correspondents wish to say, as long as they bear some relationship to
the aims of Australian Skeptics. It is open to any Skeptic to challenge
my interpretation of what is the purpose of the organisation or the
magazine and I am always happy to publish critical comments about the
style of the magazine or of me. To this I add only one caveat. As editor, I always
have the last