Michael Edmonds reflects on the 2012 NZ Skeptics Conference.
Having just driven four and a half hours back to Christchurch from the NZ Skeptics conference in Dunedin I should be tired. However, I am still on a bit of a buzz from a really great conference, although a glass of Coca-Cola and a handful of M&Ms might also have something to do with it.
This was my third NZ Skeptics conference, and knowing a few more people certainly helped enjoy the conference, not to mention meeting up with Siouxsie Wiles and Dave Winter, two of my fellow Scibloggers who made it along – Dave’s talk outlining some of the common misunderstandings regarding evolution was delivered with energy and enthusiasm and was really interesting.
Other speakers included Professor of Science Communication Jean Fleming, who made some salient comments about engaging those with unusual views in dialogue rather than just telling them they are wrong. This approach was used the very next day when another speaker delivered a rather controversial medical approach, the Marshall Protocol, in treating chronic disease. Members of the audience asked polite yet probing questions in order to tease out possible erroneous thinking. It was fascinating to watch and made me proud to consider myself a skeptic (and Siouxsie asked some excellent questions, while maintaining composed in the face of someone who criticised the use of mouse models in research).
Professor Richard Walter described some fascinating ‘alternative’ archaeologies which have been developed in NZ, including claims that New Zealand was settled by ancient Celts, Chinese and other races. This sounds funny but the right wing, racist undertones implied by some of these alternatives is also a little scary.
Anthropologist David Veart delivered an enlightening and entertaining talk looking at the history of fad diets (and associated beliefs) in New Zealand. Who knew that cornflakes were originally developed to help suppress masturbatory urges? (Though as one conference goer tweeted – possibly providing far too much information – “cornflakes never stopped me …”). One part of the talk that was very interesting to me personally was that of Ulric Williams, a medical doctor in my home town of Wanganui, who pushed the eating of non-processed food (generally good) as well as an anti-vaccine agenda (quite bad) which resulted in Wanganui having one of the highest levels of polio in the early 20th century.
Fellow Cantabrian Mark Ottley gave a fascinating talk about Well-Being – how it is measured, and how the government is now using various measures of well-being as well as looking at our GDP in assessing how New Zealand is performing, and the direction in which we should be heading.
My own talk on how to make a good Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) complaint seemed to go down well, so hopefully when skeptics come across advertisements flogging off dodgy alternative medicine products or services they will know exactly how to knock them on the head using the ASA.
The final talk for the conference was by Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan who, with humour and eloquence, described the complexities that occur when law and medicine come together in dealing with dodgy therapies, patients and doctors. I haven’t managed to cover all conference speakers, so apologise to those I have not mentioned. The cola and chocolate appear to be rapidly wearing off. So I will finish with a big thanks to those who organised the conference, particularly Katie and Warwick – I had a fantastic time.
And thanks to my fellow SciBloggers who finally taught me how to twitter properly (I think), though it will be a long time before I am anywhere close to the skills of Queen of the Tweets, Siouxsie, who can get off five while I am still writing one.
Also one final word – Siouxsie and fellow skeptical podcaster, Craig, managed to corner, corral and coerce many of the speakers to do podcasts for their Completely Unnecessary Skeptical Podcast (CUSP –thecusp.org.nz). I recommend taking a look or a listen sometime. Michael Edmonds is manager of science programmes at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT).