Australian National Skeptics Convention 2016

  Last updated March 6, 2017 at 3:24 pm

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I do feel ripped off in the modern market place of ideas where several of my most cherished words and concepts have been misappropriated by the dark side. Growing up as a fossil nut, I despair that in today’s discussions ‘fossil’ is a dirty word associated with ‘fossil fuel’ and the engines of climate change. All things ‘palaeo’ are a source of beauty and wonder to me, corrupted by the Americanised ‘paleo’ then bastardised to refer to a fad diet. And to be a ‘skeptic’ was a thing to be cherished, that one would wisely question the claims of others and seek out the efficacy of all propositions put to them. Now a ‘skeptic’ is most widely recognised as one who rejects science, evidence and rational thinking – particularly around the issue of climate change.


It’s time to reclaim these words (and others) for a movement of intellectual pride.


I first met up with the Australian Skeptics when, as a post-graduate student, I became involved in the never-ending arguments against the Creationists. This relationship reached its zenith when, in 2002, I was named as Australian Skeptic of the Year. You can imagine my dismay when this has been met with confrontation on numerous occasions. The question has even been asked (several times!) if the award was a joke or a parody.


While I consider it an honour to have been named Australian Skeptic of the Year and, while no one should be ashamed to identify as a skeptic, I do think that sceptical thinking should not be a source of pride. It should be the default position for any thinking human being; question everything. The inverse should be an embarrassment to anybody. To not be sceptical is to be gullible, accepting any proposition without question. You cannot build a robust worldview that stacks up against reality if you unquestioningly accept any foolish proposition that’s put to you. The gullible are fodder for con artists. The sceptical will wisely choose a path after they have tested its veracity.


Ironically, in this age of information, the work of the skeptic is more important than ever, digging into extravagant and erroneous claims that are spewed onto the online environment with ever-increasing mass. At a time when everyone ought to be critically thinking about real issues that confront us and could even see our demise, not only is our attention being diverted to vacuous celebrities and entertainment, but discussions around those critical issues are clouded by misinformation and out-right lies.


So, when the opportunity arises to hang out with a group of like-minded skeptics, it is an occasion not to be missed! That’s why I’m looking forward to next weekend’s Australian Skeptics National Convention in Melbourne. Not only will we hear from the incisive minds of Australian skeptics, international guest of the calibre of Lawrence Krauss and Ed Ernst will also be given a platform to present enlightened thinking in a time of darkness.


Now, more than ever, we need skeptics and we all need to be sceptical. Let’s encourage others to take a sceptical view and take back the word ‘skeptic’ for ourselves.


Disclaimer: Australia’s Science Channel is the official media partner of the Australian Skeptics National Convention.


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About the Author

Paul Willis
Paul is a respected leader in the science community with an impressive career in science. He has a background in vertebrate palaeontology, studying the fossils of crocodiles and other reptiles. He also has a long history as a science communicator, with a career spanning as Director of The Royal Institution of Australia, presenter and host for Australia’s Science Channel, working for the ABC on TV programs such as Catalyst and Quantum as well as radio and online. He’s written books and articles on dinosaurs, fossils and rocks and is finding new ways to engage the people of Australia with the science that underpins their world. Follow him on Twitter @fossilcrox.

Published By

The Royal Institution of Australia is an independent charity, and the sister organisation of the prestigious Royal Institution of Great Britain, tasked with promoting public awareness and understanding of science.


The Royal Institution of Australia is passionate about building and connecting communities engaged with science, and as such works closely with scientific organisations, institutions, universities from Australia, and leaders to inspire the next generation of innovators and to create a lasting legacy for Australia.


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