Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reasons to be Skeptical: JOURNAL CRITICISED

[Prev]Table of Contents[Next]


At the meeting, The Skeptic editor and NSW president Barry Williams was criticised about inaccuracies and misinformation creeping into the magazine. One article in particular, from Queensland subscriber David Lewis, irked many. It castigated the public perception that smoking was harmful. A debate ensued in letters and a series of articles, including a strong stand for the rights of smokers by chain-smoking Williams. Victorian committee member and health professional Dr. Steve Basser checked Lewis’s article and found misinterpretations of medical information and old out-dated scientific references being quoted. Williams was called on by many people to drop the debate and eventually did after 4 issues.

A large number declined to renew their subscriptions the following year and irate letters and calls continued long afterwards. Readers picked up other articles containing misinformation on statistics, and mistakes in the growing creationist debate. It was an embarrassing period for a journal that had previously been held in some esteem by its sceptical subscribers and members of the media.

Without consultation, Williams changed the policy of The Skeptic from a journal of 'scientific investigation of the paranormal' to a journal of 'opinion and fact', thus saving time in needing to check the factual contents of submitted stories. While Williams claimed articles were peer reviewed, he refused to nominate who was involved in checking the bevy of incorrect data on the smoking issue. Williams himself has no formal training in any scientific discipline. Further complaints ensued when there appeared an apparent lack of contributions because Williams and then co-editor Harry Edwards, a retired builder, began writing the bulk of the magazine.

Early 1995 saw the Victorian committee formally asking for a restructuring that would include representatives of all states on the 'national committee', and the setting up of an advisory sub-committee to 'assist' the editor. As news of the Whalley bequest came through (see "Money - the root of all evil?" below), the NSW 'national' committee declared that as the incorporated national body, it was the sole beneficiary of any forthcoming funds, but it would give state branches grants if they met guidelines established by a newly-formed trust which comprised totally of NSW committee members with secretary/magazine co-editor Harry Edwards as chairman.

As momentum for change gathered, the South Australia and ACT branches indicated support for the Victorian restructuring proposal. Williams became angry at the perceived disunity and declared, 'Whoever is trying to cause trouble can go and get stuffed'. Overtures to others on the 'national committee' led nowhere as Williams also had exclusive use of the Skeptics phone number and mailbox key. Any written or phoned complaints had to pass through Williams and he denied there were any. He claimed readers loved the magazine articles and his handling of the editorship. But who would know any different, including those on his committee, if nobody had the same access as he did to incoming mail and calls?

[Prev]Table of Contents[Next]

No comments:

Post a Comment