It’s not often I spend a weekend with people happily clapping and speaking in awed tones about a venerable dude. But I overcame my fears of group thinking and circle jerking to go to the Australian Skeptics National Convention, featuring James ’The Amazing’ Randi.
Some friends of mine were pretty sceptical about the skeptics. Why, they wondered, would people be so overly eager to run around and interfere with other people’s lives and beliefs?
They have a point. There is such a thing as skepticfreude, the glee of ruining the fun of others, of punching holes in their treasured rituals and treatments. We (oh, OK, I) can be just a tad righteous.
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December and January are generally slow news months in Australia. The pollies have gone home, cricket is on the TV and we can find time to relax. It can be a testing time for the media, with column inches and tabloid TV segments to fill. But all is not lost.
Enter the fortune tellers.
What does the year ahead hold for us? Let’s ask our resident astrologer/medium/psychic/mystic/clairvoyant.
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Welcome to this week’s I Call Bullshit. It’s a weird one. An email arrived in my inbox yesterday spruiking “Australian best-selling author Margaret Stuart”, whose gift lets her “see into the bodies and minds of people suffering from different illnesses and help them to remove the thoughts and fears that are literally making them ill”.
Bullshit bingo! I took a look at the website, chuckled that the ‘qualifications’ section included kinesiology, Thought Field Therapy, and advanced scaffolding and forklift driving, pulled the old ranty-pants out of the cupboard, lined up an interview, and was good to go.
Then a strange thing happened. Margaret Stuart seemed like a nice, genuine woman who just happened to have some beliefs I reckon are a bit kooky. She may think she can cure diseases with mind power, but she doesn’t tell people to stop seeing their doctors and she doesn’t seem to be making a fortune from it. The ranty pants chafed.
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In The Bible, Doubting Thomas famously put his hand into Jesus’ wound and had a good grope around to convince himself that the son of God had truly risen from the dead.
He was the only sceptic among the Disciples, the only one who didn’t rely on blind faith. He demanded evidence of an improbable event. For this, he copped it a bit. According to John 20:29:
“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
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The world - largely thanks to the internet - is getting overloaded with more pseudoscience, psychobabble and outright bullsh*t than ever before, and we need a groundswell of logical thinking to fight it.
Skeptics used to come under fire because people saw skepticism as inherently negative.
(It’s hard to work out whether that was because the critics just didn’t know the difference between cynicism and skepticism, or were just fundamentally ignorant of the philosophy of science.)
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