Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reasons to be Skeptical: Introduction to "Reasons to be Skeptical"

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The Australian Skeptics Inc, that once highly respected group fostered in 1980 by Dick Smith, Phillip Adams and Richard Carleton to exchange fisticuffs with the irrational believers in UFOs, water divining, creationism, misinformation, and a spectrum of paranormal claims, has recently found itself in the somewhat unsavoury position of seeing its credibility questioned and a number of its subscribers disenchanted.

Long-time secretary and chief investigator, Harry Edwards, was recently dismissed on allegations of corruption, which were eventually found to be legally unfounded. Edwards was undoubtedly a loyal, dedicated and enthusiastic skeptic. During his 15 years tenure he wrote over 200 articles for the Skeptic and other free thought journals, authored 5 books promoting the aims of Australian Skeptics and lectured on 5 continents. Well connected in the print and electronic media, he did more to promote Australian Skeptics than the rest of his committee combined. He averaged four major investigations each year compared with his successor's one in eighteen months. His modus operandi being mirrored in many TV presentations. In addition to being elected a life member of AS Inc in 1990 he was made a life member of the Indian Skeptics in 1994. Edwards will be hard to replace. His last contribution was the selection of Sydney as the venue for the recent World Skeptics Congress (Nov.9-12, 2000), a direct result of his initiating dialogue with their like-minded US counterpart, Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).

The Edwards fiasco in which Australian Skeptics abandoned their credo of seeking the evidence follows closely on the heels of disgraced founding Skeptics national president and legal advisor Mark Plummer, a solicitor, who was fined $1000, and placed on a 14-month community-based order, after pleading guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on October 27, 1997 to charges of theft and prohibited use of a listening device to record private bedroom conversations of a former flatmate and her boyfriend.

In sentencing, the magistrate, Mr. Julian Fitz-Gerald, said Plummer’s offence was “a gross invasion of privacy”. He said it was clear he needed psychiatric help.

Earlier in 1995, a leading member of the Western Australian Skeptics committee resigned after charges of child molestation.

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