It wasn’t a dark and stormy night but a gaggle of skeptics got together recently to listen to ghost stories in Hamilton. Professional story teller Andrew Wright sent shivers down the groups’ skeptical spines as they listened to his rendition of one of the oldest known horror stories, Lord Fox, a BlueBeard variation.
The occasion was the Skeptics’ annual conference and I’m told founder member Bernard Howard’s opening talk the next morning on the changes seen in the Twentieth Century set the mood nicely for the material that followed. I missed this, due to being glued to the registration desk but look forward to reading it – we will run some of the addresses in coming issues. Another one I missed was John Welch talking about Gulf War Syndrome — which we have in this issue (see opposite). John also enthralled delegates with his demonstration of an antique black box Amazing Electrical Device.
An interesting session in the afternoon was held with representatives from the offices of the Commissioner for Children and the Health and Disability Commissioner. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect to come out of this was that the standard of treatment given by alternative practitioners is assessed only relative to standards set in that field. So an iridologist’s work is only compared with that of other iridologists (see Pippa MacKay’s article).
Nick Kim gave two very different presentations, one featuring his wonderful cartoons, and a more sobering piece on forensic science. He showed you can be convicted, in a British court, just for handling a banknote that has passed through the hands of a bomb maker.
Mike Clear, as well as warming the crowd up on Friday night, presented his findings on the intrusion of alternative therapies into the world of cats, dogs and chickens. Then followed two talks which, for me, were the highlights of the conference. Waikato University history lecturer Raymond Richards spoke about his experiences following a lecture he gave in 1998 and subsequent years on the Mormon church. Following complaints from the Mormon community, the university entertained charges of harassment against him. In a similar vein, former Agresearch scientist Doug Edmeades spoke of his involvement in the long-running Maxicrop case and the way in which commercial pressures impact on science.
During the conference a TV2 film crew did some filming for a documentary, Do You Believe In the Paranormal, which screened recently. “Madame Vicki” did a wonderful palm reading job and Denis Dutton (whose skeptical view of the Greenhouse Effect was another conference highlight) inserted pithy remarks at strategic moments. You can get a copy from the Skeptics video library and it’s well worth a view.