Two items appear below:

1 A Mighty Oak From a Tiny Acorn Grew
2 Statement of Purpose



A MIGHTY OAK FROM A TINY ACORN GREW

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN SKEPTICS
                                                               (the Skeptic - Vol. 14, No.3  /  Investigator 63, 1998 November)


I have often been asked the same Question, "How did the Australian Skeptics start?" and as the answer may be of interest to our subscribers, I have put together this brief history.

 In 1976, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) was formed in the United States. Its official biannual journal, The Zetetic (title changed to the Skeptical Inquirer and made a quarterly in 1978) came to the notice of Australians Dick Smith, Philip Adams and Mark Plummer, who became subscribers.

In a letter to the Skeptical Inquirer, (Winter 1979-80. 4:2 p 107) Plummer opined that a branch was badly needed in Australia and asked for interested parties in this country to contact him.

Dick Smith read the letter, contacted Mark, and offered to sponsor a visit to Australia by James Randi, a professional magician and principal investigator for CSICOP. Randi had previously worked on an expose of psychic surgery with Richard Carleton who at that time was with the BBC in London.

In October 1980, James Randi came to Australia, and supported by an offer from Dick Smith, Phillip Adams and Richard Carleton of a $50,000 prize for anyone who could prove psychic phenomena, tested over one hundred people who made such claims - water diviners, spoon benders, ESP, psychic photography and metal detection. All failed to prove their claims under controlled test conditions.

Following the meeting, Mark Plummer called for volunteers to start the Australian Skeptics. Among the first to join was James Gerrard who became and remained National Secretary for the first five years, Mark assuming the mantle of National President.

Dick Smith and Phillip Adams became Patrons of Australian Skeptics and offered $10,000 each as an award to anyone who could demonstrate a paranormal ability under controlled conditions. In 1987, Dr Paul Wild, then head of the CSIRO, became a third Patron. In 1991, Ronald Evans, Secretary of the South Australian branch, added an extra $10,000 to the amount to be offered to successful paranormalists. This Skeptics Challenge of $30,000 remains on offer to anyone who can pass the tests.
    
The first issue of the Skeptic came off the press as a four-page tabloid format newsletter in January 1981, with Mark Plummer as editor, assisted by James Gerrard. In that year, three issues were produced and in the next year, the magazine increased in size to sixteen pages and became a quarterly.
    
Editorship passed to Janet de Silva in 1983, followed by Anne Tuohy in 1985 and moved to Sydney under the pen of Tim Mendham in November 1986. At this time, Mark Plummer went to the USA to become CSICOP's Executive Director, and the New South Wales branch committee became the National Committee with Barry Williams at the helm.
    
By late 1987, Tim, who was wearing five hats - editor, secretary, archivist, treasurer and shouldering the responsibility for back issues, wilted under the strain. Harry Edwards took on co-editing. The secretariat and responsibility for back issues. Despite the decreased number of his jobs the ever-increasing size of the Skeptic (then averaging 40 pages) and increasing pressure from his employers proved too much and early in 1990, Tim was forced to throw in the towel.
    
Barry Williams took on the role of Editor, purely as a temporary measure, but found that he liked the job so much that it would now require the application of explosives to remove him. Harry Edwards has remained as his side-kick in the job and has become the chief investigator of strange beliefs. Since
1990, Dick Champion has held the purse strings, and Ian Bryce has been responsible for testing challengers for the $30,000 Skeptics Challenge.
    
In 1993, we produced In The Beginning, a compilation of all the major articles from the first five years of the Skeptic. In this way, we make all of our work available to our subscribers.
    
In its seventeen years of existence, Australian Skeptics has grown from a handful of enthusiasts into an organisation of more than 2500 subscribers, whose numbers include representatives of almost every profession and occupation.
    
We have branches in every state, award the Bent Spoon annually to the 'perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle" have tested many claimants for our challenge (none have yet been successful), and have spread the concept of skepticism via our journal, website and through the media at large. In this, we have had a measure of success, in that those who wish to promote magical thinking are on notice that their claims will not go unchallenged.
    
Our aim has always been to promote critical thinking and to encourage people to took at the world as it is and not as it might appear in our fantasies. The evidence suggests we have not done a bad job, but, as someone once almost said "The price of intellectual freedom is eternal vigilance".
                       
With your support, we hope we can keep it up.
                                                                 
Harry Edwards
 





   STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
                                                       
 the Skeptic - Vol. 14, no. 1

In this issue we publish contributions from some readers who question what role Australian Skeptics should assume in relation to certain issues and what should, or should not, be published in the Skeptic. It is, of course, the right of any Skeptic to be concerned about these issues and the magazine provides a forum for the airing of these concerns. As both the president of the national committee and as the editor of the Skeptic, I feel it is important to make it clear how I see the role of the organisation and the publishing policy of the Skeptic.
      
Australian Skeptics is an organisation which chooses, as the Aims make clear, "to investigate paranormal, pseudoscientific and similarly anomalous phenomena from a responsible, scientific point of view". Included in this definition is the right to challenge the use of genuine science to draw unwarranted conclusions. However, while Australian Skeptics approaches these issues using the tools of science and critical inquiry, it is not a learned scientific society with a narrow focus on any particular scientific area. It is an organisation whose audience comprises those sections of the professional and lay public who are interested in scientific matters and who question claims or assertions which rely on dogmatic explanations. While scepticism is an essential tool for the scientist a comprehensive knowledge of science is not essential for a sceptic.
     
The organisation does not involve itself in political, social, religious or other issues, unless they exhibit a paranormal or pseudoscientific dimension. Australian Skeptics has no dogma; it is not politically correct; nor does it prescribe moral stances, for such attitudes are the very antithesis of scepticism. It does not take positions on issues, it only asks that any position that is taken be supported by evidence. Australian Skeptics is an organisation for sceptics, not for ideologues.
      
As the publication of Australian Skeptics, the Skeptic publishes items that generally cover the areas of interest of the organisation, however it often does so from a somewhat broader perspective the Skeptic does not commission articles, relying on items supplied by our readers and, as these articles obviously represent the interests of our readers, we do our best to publish those that we receive. Of course, some items submitted are entirely unsuitable for our pages, on the grounds of their complete irrelevance to our aims or to the interests of the readership at large, or that their publication may lead to legal action against the organisation. Others may be edited to remove potentially libelous content or needlessly contentious ad hominem comments.
      
Items published in our Letters pages and our Forum columns attest to the diversity of the interests of our correspondents. These pages are designed to offer a venue for issues whose relationship to our published aims may be considered somewhat tenuous, but which do fall within our broad parameters and are of interest to some of our subscribers.
      
the Skeptic is not a refereed scientific journal, nor has it ever been, nor should it be. There are many refereed scientific journals in any number of fields that properly fulfill the purposes of, and are essential to the strength of, those scientific disciplines. the Skeptic fulfills quite a different purpose that of allowing the lay person to raise questions, the answers to which may be obvious to the experts, but which may well be far from obvious to the public at large. The role of the Skeptic is to be a forum in which readers are free to ask questions and others can provide the answers (and indeed to argue their heads off about the topic).
      
To limit that freedom is to deny scepticism a role and if we deny that role then we should become a different body and call ourselves something else. the Skeptic is a journal of fact an opinion which addresses issues and asks questions that interest our subscribers. In particular, we do not declare any areas of inquiry to be taboo. Political correctness, as the term is generally understood, has no place in a journal for sceptics.
      
As editor, it is not my role to censor or restrict what our correspondents wish to say, as long as they bear some relationship to the aims of Australian Skeptics. It is open to any Skeptic to challenge my interpretation of what is the purpose of the organisation or the magazine and I am always happy to publish critical comments about the style of the magazine or of me. To this I add only one caveat. As editor, I always have the last say!<>

BARRY WILLIAMS



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