The Australian Skeptics were founded in Victoria in 1980, after a visit to Australia by James Randi, who encouraged its establishment based upon the American organisation Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). In 1998 there were approximately 1200 members in Victoria. It grew from a Melbourne-based organisation, founded by Mark Plummer and James Gerrand, to a national one over the following years.
In 1995 the Australian Skeptics received a bequest of at least several hundred thousand dollars from the estate of Stanley David Whalley. With these funds the organisation established the Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation tasked to expose "irrational activities and pseudoscience and to encourage critical thinking and the scientific view".
Dick Smith is a founder and a patron of the Australian Skeptics. In July 1980, Smith collaborated with James Randi to test water divining, offering a prize of $40,000 for a successful demonstration. As of 2007[update] it has some 2100 members from all Australian states and territories. Each state and territory has its own branch, and most have their own newsletters. Local skeptics' groups are also springing up in Melbourne and Sydney.
The journal of the Australian Skeptics is called The Skeptic and has been published since 1981. The first issue, edited by the first President of the Australian Skeptics, Mark Plummer, and produced by founding Secretary, James Gerrand, appeared in January 1981. Three issues appeared in 1981 and it has appeared quarterly since 1982. The Skeptic is used by the media in Australia seeking an alternative view on many of the issues examined by the Australian Skeptics. Since 1987, The Skeptic has been published by Australian Skeptics Inc, in New South Wales. From 1990 to 2008 it was edited by Barry Williams. Karen Stollznow was editor briefly in 2009 until resigning, accusing the organisation of sexism, then president Eran Segev denied the charges. The current editor (as of June 2009[update]) is Tim Mendham.
Internet radio and podcasts
The Skeptic Tank
Hosted by Stefan Sojka and Richard Saunders, The Skeptic Tank started as a weekly radio programme on the internet radio station netFM in October 2001. The programme consisted of discussions on skeptical and science related topics, as well as guest interviews. Some regular guests were Peter Bowditch, Richard Lead and Helen Vnuk. The Skeptic Tank stayed on netFM until October 2002.
The Tank Vodcast
The Skeptic Tank was revived in 2005 as a podcast, and was in 2006 renamed The Tank Podcast. The podcast was produced and hosted by Richard Saunders, with Stefan Sojka as the co-host. The format remained much the same as The Skeptic Tank radio programme, but the podcasting format also made it possible to record segments, or entire episodes, out of the studio.
In 2007 The Tank became a video podcast, and renamed The Tank Vodcast. Reporters for the vodcast include Jayson Cooke, Karen Stollznow, Kylie Sturgess and Michael Wolloghan. Previous guests have included James Randi, Eugenie C. Scott, Phil Plait, Rebecca Watson and Alison Smith from SAPS.
The Skeptic Zone
The Tank Vodcast was, in September 2008, replaced by a new podcast, The Skeptic Zone. Though still hosted by Saunders and Sojka, and featuring members of 'The Tank' Michael Wolloghan and Kylie Sturgess, the podcast featured a new format with clearly defined segments. Episodes usually feature an interview, or several shorter interviews, along with one or more regular segments. The regular segments include:
- A Grain of Salt: A segment where Eran Segev talks about a topic relevant to skepticism and critical thinking.
- Dr Rachie Reports: In this segment Dr. Rachael Dunlop examines one branch, or modality, of alternative medicine. Topics discussed include: Live Blood Analysis, detox, ear candling, homeopathy and the anti-vaccination movement. Dr Rachie is also a prominent and active member of the esteemed sister group Friends Of Science In Medicine.
- The Think Tank: Relevant skeptical issues are discussed in a less formal manner, at a pub.
- Maynard's Spooky Action: Maynard interviews pretty much everybody you have ever heard of in the skeptical movement.
Some guests interviewed on The Skeptic Zone are: Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin, Richard Wiseman, Ben Goldacre, Jon Ronson, Benjamin Radford, Steven Novella, Eugenie Scott, Tim Farley and Phil Plait. Though The Skeptic Zone originated with Saunders, long-time member of the Australian Skeptics, occasionally features members of the latter and their views are often aligned, the podcast is formally independent.
In June 2005, members of the creationist group Answers in Genesis – Australia debated a team from the Australian Skeptics online on Margo Kingston's web diary section of the Sydney Morning Herald website.
In response to a large increase in pertussis cases during a 2008/09 outbreak, the organization focused efforts on countering information from Meryl Dorey's Australian Vaccination Network. This included supporting a complaint lodged by a private individual, Ken McLeod, against the organization with the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission and running a national ad (funded by Dick Smith) in The Australian.
Awards and prizes
Australian Skeptics is offering $100,000 (Australian) for proof of psychic or paranormal powers. $20,000 of it goes to the person who nominates the successful claimant (which may be the same person).
Annually, the Australian Skeptics award several prizes including an essay prize for young writers, the Eureka Prize for Critical Thinking a $10,000 cash award for challenging paranormal beliefs and advancing scientific thinking, Skeptic of the Year, and the Bent Spoon Award. The Bent Spoon Award is given "to the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudo-scientific piffle" - only Australian individuals and groups are eligible for these awards. The Wilberforce Award has been bestowed upon opponents of evolution who, "through the silly nature of their arguments or actions, have inadvertently done the most to promote evolution as a fact" annually since 2004.
No Answers in Genesis
No Answers in Genesis is a website affiliated with the Australian Skeptics organisation that provides information to defend the theory of evolution, and, more specifically, counter young Earth creationist arguments put forward by Answers in Genesis. It was founded by Australian atheist and sceptic John Stear, a retired civil servant. The website contains links, essays and other postings that rebut creationist arguments against evolution. Stear states that the site is meant for educational purposes as well as to illustrate the problems with Young Earth Creationism. The site also contains simple introductions to evolutionary concepts. It mainly has posts, on creationism, but now has some essays on "Intelligent design". It has two discussion boards.
Prominent members of the Australian Skeptics
- Phillip Adams A.O.
- Simon Brown, SF Writer
- Dr. Rachael Dunlop
- James Gerrand (co-founder)
- Professor Colin Groves
- Richard Saunders
- Dr Donald Laycock
- Dick Smith
- John Stear
- David Vernon
Regional and State Branches
- Australian Skeptics Inc
- Hunter Skeptics - NSW.
- Australian Skeptics (Vic) Inc
- Borderline Skeptics - Albury
- Queensland Skeptics Association Inc.
- Gold Coastb Skeptics - Qld
- Canberra Skeptics - ACT
- Skeptics SA
- WA Skeptics
- Australian Skeptics in Tasmania
- Darwin Skeptics - NT
- Gippsland Skeptics
- Great Ocean Road Skeptics
- Melbourne Eastern Hills Skeptics in the Pub
- Melbourne Skeptics in the Pub
- Mordi Skeptics in the Pub
- Peninsula Skeptics
- Launceston Skeptics
- Brisbane Skeptics
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