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1 Skeptical of the Skeptics    Harry Edwards
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Sceptical of the Skeptics

Harry Edwards

(Investigator 70, 2000 January)


After fifteen years as an investigator and secretary of Australian Skeptics Inc and four years as chairman of the Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation, I was dismissed for "corruption".

Although never formally charged with such an offence, I was accused, tried, condemned and sentenced in absentia by a kangaroo court on the allegations of a grudge bearing committee member.

In so doing, the NSW Skeptics abandoned their oft-proclaimed credo of "seeking the evidence" and keeping an open mind. How did this travesty come about?

The committee member came across an anomaly in my secretarial expense account. The item was a legitimate oversight, one which I admitted and was prepared to rectify. However, not content with that, my accounts over the previous years were subjected to scrutiny and several more items were queried. Due to the omission of certain facts and figures the conclusions were presented in such a way as to suggest that fraud was involved. A more careful consideration would have shown that this was not so and that there had been no misappropriation of funds nor impropriety. What could have been amicably settled in a civilised manner has now ended up in court with both sides suing each other.

That such an extraordinary state of affairs could be allowed to happen has caused me to stand back and take a good hard look at an organisation I once respected and to which I devoted so much time.

As an investigator of paranormal claims my function was to examine the extraordinary claims made by a variety of proponents and subject them to scientific and rational inquiry. The results were published in the Australian Skeptics’ journal and also provided much of the material included in my five published books.

In every instance, the principal claimants were sent a copy of the article and given the opportunity to respond – in my case this courtesy was not extended.  Not to seek the evidence required to substantiate an extraordinary claim, to my mind lowered the committee members’ status to that of the charlatans they’ve so often condemned.

With more experience than many in the field I have long concluded that when it comes to claims of extraordinary powers there is no evidence to support the existence of such powers. Most skeptics are content with a negative approach and while denying the existence of extraordinary abilities the positive aspects are ignored.  Although there are no doubt many who by making such claims take advantage of the vulnerable, the majority do perform a worthwhile service.

Many people, for one reason or another, find themselves unable to cope adequately with everyday problems where emotions are involved. They are unable to stand back and view their situations objectively. They may not be aware of the many institutions, organisations and associations available to give them counselling so they turn to those who profess magical powers for advice and reassurance. Judging by the proliferation of psychic counsellors, clairvoyants, tarot readers, alternative health therapists and others of similar genre, the demand is there. One can only conclude therefore, that their clientele are satisfied with their services and are getting value for money.

The success of Australian Skeptics in encouraging people to abandon those they so eagerly label "charlatans" is questionable. It took sixteen years up until 1996 to reach 2000 subscribers to the Skeptic magazine. The appointment of a paid editor/chief executive officer late in that year heralded a promise to "double at least" the subscription base in 1997 and to see the magazine on the newsstands.

Today, after an expenditure in excess of $250,000 on salaries, advertising, sundry expenses and computer equipment it has increased only marginally. Today, the association serves to embrocate the egos of a few members, pander to the converted, and its direction has become lost.



 
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