This year’ s NZ Skeptics conference in Auckland was the usual mix of stimulating presentations and good companionship, but it will go down in the society’ s history as the end of Vicki Hyde’ s term as chair-entity. In this issue of the NZ Skeptic we farewell Vicki and meet Gold, who is taking on the chair-entity role.
At the conference dinner, Paul Ashton invited founding member Warwick Don to present Vicki with a framed ‘ Skeptic trump’ by British cartoonist Crispian Jago (crispian-jago.blogspot.com). These are highly sought after – the other 70 recipients include Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry, James Randi and Susan Blackmore; Ricki Gervais wanted one but was declined. Vicki is the first Kiwi. To illustrate the length of time she has been in the chair Paul drew on a technique often used in describing geological time scales: if all of NZ Skeptics history occupied one day, then Vicki became chair- entity at 6:17 in the morning.
The event began with a relaxed Friday 13th evening spent tempting fate (breaking mirrors, walking under ladders etc), watching skeptical videos and partaking from Butterfly Creek’s fine cafe and well-stocked bar. Then the conference proper got under way on Saturday morning with Robert Bartholomew, who lost a shouting match with the rain before resorting to electronic assistance. But his talk on mass delusions gave a solid historical perspective to much of what followed.
Though there was a strong medical focus this year, with talks on immunisation, the ‘ unfortunate experiment’ (for another perspective see Michelle Coffey’s article in this issue) , and the demonisation of fat, there was also room for topics as varied as data compression software (see opposite) , how to deal with ‘ wingnuts’ , basic techniques of mediumship, and some good old-fashioned debunking of the alleged apocalypse in 2012. YouTube has TV3’s coverage – search for ‘Skeptics conference 2010’. We’ll be running more presentations in the NZ Skeptic over the coming year; if you missed the conference and can’t wait, the Science Media Centre website has several of the talks as podcasts in its Reflections on Science section – posted 16 and 17 August.
Vicki leaves the chair-entity role with the society in good heart, as evidenced by the high level of attendance at the conference and the good proportion of younger faces there. The rapid changes in the so-called new media are providing new pathways for spreading the skeptical message, and these are fields that Gold has considerable expertise in. Interesting times to be a skeptic.