Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reasons to be Skeptical: Appendix: Dr Steve Roberts list of questions.

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'He's a man you must believe ‘ Dr Robert[s]'
John Lennon & Paul McCartney

In 1995 Victorian committee member Dr Steve Roberts communicated the following (edited) criticisms of the 'national' committee to Adam Joseph.
He subsequently withdrew them and was later appointed as the only interstate member of the 'national' committee in Sydney. He has since been dumped but remains active within the Victorian Skeptics branch.

1. Competence of the National Treasurer

Anyone can see that the national committee's accounts are a farce - as bad as its minutes - and it is obvious that the treasurer is not able to make the simplest statements about how much money we have, or the simplest forecasts of future obligations such as magazine printing. [S]omeone else should take over the Treasurer's job ASAP. If Sydney start to bleat that nobody else wants the job, Victoria can offer one of the several people here that could do it, and do it better. It is supposed to be a national committee, after all.

2a. National committee has lost its sense of identity and direction

Effectively the national committee is two people, who sometimes can't even talk to one another on important topics such as where conventions ought to be held. There is no guidance or leadership as to where the Skeptics are supposed to be heading. Tasks often get put off for long periods, resulting in increased costs. When I volunteered to be a member of the national committee last year this was accepted, but I have heard nothing since. It is quite possible to run a committee across several cities, using only the postal system with perhaps the occasional fax.

2b. National committee is confused with NSW committee

These are one and the same body, which has led to national funds being squandered on local NSW projects. In the past this has not mattered much, but these days more is happening in Melbourne than anywhere else and I believe that we should have the use of some of the lavish Skeptics equipment that is lying relatively idle in Sydney.

3. Use for funds, including the inheritance

We (Australian Skeptics) have no idea what to do with sums of money that come our way. It does not matter if a gift is $500 or $500,000 - we ought to have ambitions and draw up plans which could be executed if money came in. The CSF, for example, do exactly this. When I put this to Barry [Williams], he seemed to refuse to think about it. Projects attract funding - look at the US$2M centre that CSICOP/CODESH put up in 1993 (already being extended, with further appeals for money being sent out). The point is that there is money out there just waiting for a use to be offered for it.

4. Work load falling on too few individuals

A common gripe in all amateur societies. Blame me too - with increasing family and work commitments I keep finding I have to back away from doing things. The situation seems to be much worse in Sydney where I would estimate 80% of the load falls on Barry, 19% on Harry [Edwards] and 1% on anyone else. A body like the Skeptics needs a diverse set of enthusiastic people as well as being to get a crowd together.

5. Skeptics have drifted away from "investigation" towards "critical thinking"

However the general public knows what we are all about. I am not sure if we should change our charter, since to do so would be interpreted by our enemies as "Ha! They don't dare investigate because they know they will come across the REAL TRUTH about (ufo's, creation, crystals, etc.)". Also the common meaning of the word "critical" is now something like "abusive". Strictly "to criticise" means more like "to discuss the good and bad aspects of", but only pedants like myself care about that. Maybe the Skeptics should "encourage a questioning attitude" ??

6. Two big jobs (National President and Editor) held by same person

Maybe because of a lack of volunteers. I doubt if many people can afford he time that either of these posts must require. I don't think that we need a National President at all, Barry can be NSW President with equal effect in NSW, thus freeing you and others to hold more independent-sounding posts in Victoria. The Press in Melbourne doesn't like to quote Sydney people, and I'm sure vice versa.

7. Barry is acting autocratically

Stories of what Barry [Williams] has said continue to shock me, especially as he holds two powerful posts. Barry can be identified with Australian Skeptics, but not to the extent that Mark Plummer (and Paul Kurtz in CSICOP) wanted to be. We should NOT have a personality cult around the President, cuddly though he may be. The sort of arrogance I object to includes:
  • insisting on a disastrous venue for the 1994 convention;
  • mismanaging the assignment of the 1995 convention;
  • refusing to debate Harry [Edwards]' motion about magazine size;
  • refusing control over editorial content of the magazine, and my favourite perennial one
  • declining to send me the full membership list (which had at least two Victorian members with wrong postcodes) on the grounds that I hold another post in another Society.
Well, so does Harry Edwards.

8. Presentation of the magazine

This is low on my list of concerns because I am aware that the presentation has improved since Barry took it over. Also, the magazine is (or should be) renowned for its content, not its cover. I can easily believe that hard-paper, coloured covers are within reach, as are alternative ways of wrapping it for mailing. But overall I like the format and layout generally. It is unrealistic to try to sell it through newsagents (we would need to print many more copies for that to be worthwhile; Dick Smith would advise, or better still, I can ask my mate Lyle Rumble of Southern Sky astronomy magazine, who has recently done this).

9. Content of the magazine

Again low on my list because I think its not too bad. There are a lot of good articles but there have been some shonky ones, which ought to have been weeded out by an editorial committee, had one existed.

There are still too many typos and misprints (although nowhere near as bad as when Tim Mendham was editor) to allow me to show off articles with pride as something the Skeptics are doing.


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