Hedgehogs do not impale fruit with their prickles and run away with it, nor do they steal the milk from slow-witted cows. These are just two of the unsubstantiated rumours and misconceptions that were exploded at the recent Skeptics’ conference in Auckland.
It was during morning tea on the final day, and, due to our babysitters spitting the dummy (as it were) we had to bring our eight-year-old daughter Iris to the session. The highlight for her was talking with Dr Bob Brockie, skeptic, cartoonist and probably the only hedgehog specialist present that day. Iris had recently done a project on these spiny creatures and was delighted to chat further about them.
“Skeptics get-togethers can be fun!” proclaimed Iris — reel them in early, I reckon. For myself, I came away from the conference invigorated and reassured that fellow skeptics are a fine, humorous bunch. Truth be told, I’ve got to say I enjoyed this one more than any of the others. It might have had something to do with seeing my former psychology lecturer Barry Kirkwood saying psychotherapy and counselling were not much more than a racket, and probably do real harm and little good. (Barry, who was senior lecturer in Psychology at Auckland, has now taken up a more intellectual life running a B&B overlooking a nudist beach on Waiheke Island. Discounts for skeptics he says.)
I went for a walk over the old campus when it was apparent that young Iris wasn’t going to sit still and listen to the AGM take place — what a shocker that was. They’ve moved the little grassy knoll where we used to eat our lunch, and done away with the noticeboards where much of one’s social life was plotted. You can never go back.
But back to the conference. It was expertly kick-started by magician Ken Ring, who warmed the crowd up so much they were purring by the time my better half David came on to talk about his debate with the creationists. From the contraceptive pill, to little black boxes and a look back at the end of the first millennium, it was an action packed little weekend with many high spots.
Which was why I didn’t hesitate when a friend of a friend told me the world was going to come crashing to a halt on or around 2010, that the Mayans had predicted Roswell and that Nostradamus had got it right so far. I dug David in the ribs, grinned widely, and said “shall we tell him how we spent last weekend?”
And within minutes it was all on. Apparently this huge iceberg had broken off some ice shelf and as it melted it was going to cause huge floods all round the world. David suggested a little experiment, and put some ice cubes in a glass and filled it to the brim. If Barry was right, the glass would overflow and Teresa would get mad at us for wetting her coffee table. But it didn’t, because it stands to reason that it won’t, as David said.
To his credit, Barry granted us a point. He has promised to send us all the 18 pages written by this raving lunatic who has predicted the end of the world, but as Bernard Howard points out, it’s all been done before.
Speaking about the end of the world, David, Iris and I are temporarily relocating ourselves from the tropical Waikato to the chillier climes of Tuatapere. It’s somewhere down South, quite a way beyond Tokoroa.
We’re looking forward to our experience; David has got himself a six-month contract job with DOC befriending little yellowheads. As for myself, I will continue to brainwash the daughter about the skeptics’ way of life, and take this opportunity to plead for you lot out there to motivate yourselves and write some letters for the Forum, or failing that, prepare a good, grunty article for this publication. Of course, if you’re going past Tuatapere, feel free to drop by for a chat. (Food parcels containing good coffee and chocolate croissants would be appreciated, but stick to the letters if you wish.)