It’s all over – the cheering and clapping are fading and the crowds have all returned home, with thoughts about the next one. I am, of course, not talking about that sporting thing on the TV from across the Ditch, but the annual Skeptics’ Conference where, for a full two days, passions soared and speakers spoke.
The Dunedin conference also officially marked the stepping down of another founding member, Professor Bernard Howard.
Prof. Howard has been treasurer since a fateful summer afternoon in 1986 when he arrived at the first meeting of what was to become the NZCSICOP a few minutes late, and found himself appointed mere seconds after taking his seat. The NZ Skeptics is an unusual group – I’m often asked what do we do and where do we do it. Other than the annual conference we’re rather a loose organisation, made up of very individual individuals. But we are fortunate indeed in the calibre of many who choose to be involved and Bernard Howard’s contribution has been priceless in helping form what we are and how we go about it. I wish I had been at the Dunedin conference to add my hands to the applause when the presentation took place. It would have been a special moment.
The conference did receive a certain amount of coverage in the papers – from pieces on Ian Plimer’s and David Marks’s talks to the announcement of the Bent Spoon Award going to Wellington Hospital (about 60 nurses have been through a Healing Touch training programme which teaches the basics of energy healing).
On other matters, it was interesting following the circus surrounding the visit of American psychologist Professor Elizabeth Loftus. As most will know, Prof. Loftus has argued since 1993 that it is unlikely people can suppress memories of a traumatic event and later “recover” them. She gave the keynote address at the NZ Psychological Society’s conference in Hamilton in late August but her presence provoked some interesting reactions from colleagues. Before she even set foot in the country Dr John Read resigned from his role as the society’s director of scientific affairs and spoke out against her on Kim Hill’s programme on National Radio. And during the address itself psychologists handed out anti-Loftus material to delegates attending the lecture. Loftus said she didn’t wear her best jacket when she spoke on the Waikato campus – fear of flying tomatoes. Loftus said NZ was four or five years behind the States in recognising the need for scepticism on the issue. “If NZ follows the US and repealed limitations on adults suing for abuse suffered as a child,” she says, “then NZ therapists will have plenty to worry about.”