skepticism

The #StopTenpenny Campaign against anti-vaccination seminars in Australia – Podcast Report

On The Skeptic Zone Podcast #325 {Permalink}, Evidence, Please has a report on the #StopTenpenny campaign against anti-vaccination seminars in Australia by US anti-vaccine campaigner Sherri Tenpenny.

Below are the links I’ve mentioned on the report, plus a transcript below the jump.

Social Media:

#StopTenpenny on Twitter
Stop Sherri Tenpenny from entering Australia Facebook Page

Blog Posts and Facebook Statements:

Reasonable Hank, “2015 anti-vaccine tour of Australia – the Tenpenny caravan of hurt
Diluted Thinking, “Anti-vaccination Seminars in 2015 by Stephanie Messenger
Diluted Thinking, “Healthy Lifestyles Naturally (HLN) – Seminars
Reasonable Hank, “Getting to know Sherri Tenpenny – a guide
Reasonable Hank, “Venues confirm being misled by anti-vaccine Messenger – Tenpenny tour
Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network, Statement regarding SAVN views and intentions are regarding Tenpenny’s visit

Media Reports:

4th January 2015
The Daily Telegraph, Jane Hansen, “Pro-vaccine lobby fight to stop US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny lecturing in Australia

5th January 2015
Mamamia, Amy Stockwell, “This woman is a danger to children. And she’s coming to Australia.
The Daily Mail, Louise Cheer, “Should this woman be allowed to preach her anti-vaccine warnings in Australia? Parents’ outrage over American doctor’s child health seminars
news.com.au, Jane Hansen, “Uproar as US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny announces trip to Australia
The Guardian, Michael Safi, “US anti-vaccine activist Dr Sherri Tenpenny plans Australian tour in March
The 7:30 Report, Jane Cowan, “Anti-vaccination lobby to blame for US return of preventable diseases say doctors” (video)

6th January 2015
3AW Radio, “Victorian Health Minister slams anti-vaccine movement
SBS, Shanthi Benjamin, “Calls for government to deny visa to US anti-vaccine activist
The Age, “Vaccine row about to boil over
Sunshine Coast Daily, Adam Davies, “Push to ban anti-vaccination campaigner from Aussie tour
ABC PM Radio, Bridget Brennan, “Controversial anti-vaccination campaigner to visit Australia
The Project TV, “Ms Information – the campaign against an anti-vaccination campaigner who plans a speaking tour in Australia

Times Live, Katharine Child, “No vaccine for Mandela-itis
The Age, Julia Medew, “Doctors want to bar anti-vaccination campaigner
ABC, Bridget Brennan, “Calls to deny visa to American anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny to speak in Australia
Junkee, Meg Watson, “Why You Should Join The Campaign To Stop Anti-Vaxxer Sherri Tenpenny Coming To Australia
Health of Ukraine, “Scandal in Australia : the inhabitants of the country are outraged at lectures about the dangers of vaccines” (in Russian)
Herald Sun, Phillipa Butt, “Health Minister urges organisers to cancel event featuring anti-vaccination activist Sherry Tenpenny
The Age, Nick Galvin, “ABC’s 7.30 under fire over anti-vaccination campaigner James Maskell

7th January 2015

New Zealand Herald, Daily Mail, “‘Deny her a visa’ – Australian outrage over anti-vaccination activist’s speaking tour
Queensland Health, Dr Sonya Bennett, “Queensland Health’s response to anti-vaccination discussions
The Guardian, Weekly Beast, “7:30 falls into vax wars
ABC News, “Sherri Tenpenny: Who is the controversial anti-vaccination campaigner planning to visit Australia?

ABC News, “Sherri Tenpenny: Sydney venue cancels seminar of US anti-vaccination campaigner” (Republished on Mamamia)
SBS News, “A controversial American anti-vaccination campaigner may be prevented from entering Australia.
ABC News , “Sydney venue cancels seminar of US anti-vaccination campaigner

8th January 2015

The Age, Eryk Bagshaw, “Sherri Tenpenny: US anti-vaccination campaigner’s Sydney and Melbourne shows cancelled
Sydney Morning Herald, Julia Medew, “Venues cancel events featuring US anti-vaccination campaigner Sherri Tenpenny
Medical Observer, “Doctors protest anti-vax speaking tour” (Login required)
3AW Radio, “Talking Health –  Sally Cockburn interviews Meryl Dorey and John Cunningham” (audio only)

9th January 2014

The Daily Mail, “More venues cancel anti-vax seminars
The Today Show, “Prof Peter McIntyre refutes Dr Tenpenny anti-vaccination beliefs” (video)

The Today Show, ‘The Grill’, “Misinformation tour by anti-vaccination activist” (video)
The Guardian, Oliver Milman, “Anti-vaccination campaigner compares critics to Charlie Hebdo attackers

11th January 2015

Sydney Morning Herald, “Anti-vaccination views are misguided – but not illegal
Daily Life, Jacqueline Maley, “Anti-vaccination advocate’s tour in tatters after most venues cancel
Sunrise TV, “Health experts urge parents to vaccinate kids” (video)

Skeptical Coverage:

Doubtful News, “Tenpenny’s anti-vaccination tour hits a snag in Australia (Update)
Society for Science Based Medicine, “They Do Not Shrug Down Under

Petitions:

change.org, “Petition to Refuse Sherri Tenpenny’s Visa into Australia
The Parenthood, “Petition to STOP anti-vax. campaigner Sherri Tenpenny #StopTenpenny

Event Links:

EventBrite Event Listing and Ticket Sales
GanKinMan Foundation
GanKinMan Foundation FB Page
Birth, Baby and Beyond FB Event

 

Report transcript:

(more…)

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Crank Magnetism

Much to the delight of his unashamedly geeky parents, my son Oscar is rather enthusiastic about science. While at five years of age he’s fairly certain that he’s settled on a career in paleontology, he hasn’t yet ruled out other sciences – so we’re more than happy to give him access to microscopes, telescopes, do kitchen based chemistry experiments and physics at bath time (alongside the occasional trip to hunt for fossils or visit a natural history museum).

Geeky parenting is an absolute joy – indulging the kids’ curiosity about the world around them, seeing what hypotheses they come up with to explain their experiences, suggesting ways that they can find out information. In addition to plenty of hands-on exploring and experimenting, we view YouTube videos, do image searches (SafeSearch ON!) and look through books for information and ideas.

His girlfriend is Charlene the Human Skull Model, they sing lovely duets.

“Magnet Science” with our lovely model, Scott the Visible Australian Soap Star

 

So for Christmas, alongside Lego and Minecraft toys, Oscar received a few books – a couple of them science-related. One, “Magnet Science”, seemed rather nifty and engaging. It contained a selection of magnets, a (mercifully sealed) container of iron filings, and a series of experiments to perform, reminiscent of the sorts of projects I grew up with on The Curiosity Show. “Make a fishing game”, “make a compass”, “construct an electromagnet (under parental supervision)” – all with brief explanations of the science behind what was occurring. Fantastic.

Until I spotted the last page, titled “Facts and Feats”.

Click to Embiggen

Click to Embiggen

Magnet Medicine

Magnetic therapy is an alternative medicine practice using magnetic fields. No one knows for definite how it works, but supporters of the therapy believe it helps to restore health by improving circulation, as the magnets attract the iron in the blood, increasing the supply of oxygen to the source of the pain. Others say the magnets reduce the ‘negative energy’ in the body.

Oh boy.

“No one knows for definite how it works?”

Nobody has proven that it works, nor shown a mechanism by which it can work, other than the placebo effect.

The supporters of the therapy who believe that magnets attract the iron in the blood? They’re wrong. Iron bound to haemoglobin is no longer ferromagnetic. Which is a good thing, else we’d be hemorrhaging frequently as we walked around our homes and we would literally explode when undergoing an MRI scan.

As for others saying that magnets reduce the negative energy in the body… you can’t get much more meaningless than that. ‘Negative energy’ is a vague concept, supported by the anecdotal ‘others say’. These are empty words.

Why is this in my child’s book on science? This is not scientific at all – the claim is pseudoscientific and its presentation is incredibly uncritical. Furthermore, merely Googling “Magnet therapy” returns several pages explaining that magnet therapy is a pseudoscience. I am utterly dumbfounded as to how on earth an author who did so well designing and explaining experiments over the previous forty seven pages of this book – and they managed to write about electromagnetism in a manner appropriate for children – could get it so very wrong on the last page.

And it isn’t as though there is a short supply of legitimate “Facts and Feats” relating to magnets. The second paragraph on the page is an excellent example, it discusses the speeds reached by a Maglev train. Fascinating – and real!

The third paragraph, though…

Human magnet

Aurel Raileanu from Romania set the world record for being the strongest human magnet. Magnetic objects, including televisions, spoons and irons stick to his skin! He doesn’t know how he does it, but says he focuses his mind and releases the feeling of magnetic attraction, which makes even the heaviest objects stick to him.

… Human Magnets!

Have you ever seen a child stick a spoon to their nose? It’s a cute little parlour trick, utilising the angle of the nose, the hairlessness and smoothness of the skin and some moisture from breath or a little naturally occurring sebum to reduce friction, to make it appear that the spoon is stuck to the nose.

People practicing Human Magnetism – oftentimes claimed to be a mystical or mysterious power – are very likely using the same tricks as the child with a spoon on their nose to balance objects on their faces and bodies. Objects – always with a smooth surface – are often placed against the upper chest, upper arms, upper back, at the top of a slightly protruding belly or on the face; all body surfaces which are not quite perpendicular to the ground. Human Magnets tend to have hairless smooth skin, which, combined with everyday skin secretions, create a surface which is non-slippery. Skin elasticity also plays a part; our skin tends to conform somewhat to surfaces against which it is pressed, particularly when force is applied.

Out of vanity I’m hesitant to describe the ideal skin for Human Magnetism tricks as being ‘oily’, but I do seem to be able to attach more pieces of cutlery to myself when I haven’t showered for a few hours.

Jojo the Human Magnet is available for your next function at competitive rates!

Every skeptic needs a spoon trick!

There are some simple tests to check whether magnetism – rather than balance, smoothness and skin secretions – is causing objects to apparently stick to somebody who claims to be a Human Magnet. Suggested by our friend James Randi: a sprinkling of talcum powder over the skin. This reduces the friction and stickiness of skin, generally causing items to slip. Benjamin Radford suggests a light coat of oil. Thin clothing or a thin layer of plastic should also show that magnetism isn’t the cause of the objects sticking, as surely magnetic force ought to be able to penetrate these materials.

No human magnet has ever been tested and shown to emit a magnetic field which has produced significant readings from a gaussmeter, nor has the more simple test involving holding a compass near a Human Magnet shown evidence of a magnetic field. Given that some Human Magnets claim to also be able to attract glass and ceramic objects (with smooth surfaces, unsurprisingly), it is possible that the claimed ‘magnetism’ is some force of attraction other than the magnetism we’re familiar with – in which case, ‘magnetism’ as a term is rendered as vague as the word ‘energy’ used in similar circumstances and the story of Aurel Răileanu has even less reason to appear in the Magnet Science book.

And yet, despite how simple it is to debunk their claims, Human Magnets still make the news every few years – a boy covered in spoons, a woman with coins stuck to her face, and Aurel Răileanu – purported world record holder, with his irons and television. I can only guess that the media who report on Human Magnets feel that a fantastic sounding story is more interesting than the simple trick that’s being performed. They may well be right.

I’m quite a fan of parlour tricks, stage magic and illusions; they’re a fun way to encourage critical thought. I love the combination of awe, delight, laughs and wonder that they can evoke. If I don’t know how a trick is performed, I have a rather enjoyable puzzle to try and work out. When I do, I can enjoy the skill of the performer – be it their sleight of hand, their take on presentation or whatever twist they’ve put on an old trick to make it their own.

What I don’t enjoy, however, is when a trick is presented as the truth.  Especially when it’s in a kids’ book purporting to be educational and scientific.

As for telling kids that magnetic therapy is anything but pseudoscience… I can only hope that people who buy sciencey books for children also have an inclination to introduce them to and encourage critical thought and skepticism.

Incidentally, the phrase from which the title for this post is derived is a slightly different phenomena. “Crank Magnetism” is a phrase to describe the tendency of people who are invested in one form of pseudoscience or conspiracy to be rather likely to also subscribe to others. The folk over at RationalWiki have put together a comprehensive explainer over here, which may come in handy in your travels.

PSA: The “Vaccinations Lead To Heroin Use” Graphic Is A Parody

It has been said that some of the most effective satire is nearly impossible to distinguish from the truth. As such, occasionally a graphic or quote which has been created as a parody is shared on social media, creating confusion, fear and outrage among a wide range of people… particularly those not familiar with the source and their particular brand of humour.

One such example is currently doing the rounds; a graphic which appears to be an anti-vaccination claim, which seems to suggest that childhood vaccination leads to heroin use, due to needles being regarded as something positive.

Image

Parody image by Something Awful forum user Bog Chef, using a photograph sourced from Flickr user e_monk.

I’d like to reassure anybody concerned that this has not been created by an anti-vaccinationist (though, being familiar with the wide range of bizarre claims made by anti-vaccination campaigners, I can understand why it could be read as real). Furthermore, in case I need to clarify this, there is no known causal link between vaccination and intravenous drug use later in life.

This graphic was created as a part of Something Awful’s Photoshop Phriday in 2013, in which SA forum participants tried to create over the top parodies of anti-vaccination posters. After showing some examples of actual anti-vaccination memes, the SA admins issued a challenge: “If they can take anti-vaccination posters to this level of absurdity, imagine what we can do!”

Unfortunately, this one has escaped its context and repeatedly gone viral – on its current round, it has managed to spread far enough to grab the attention of the media, with the Sunshine Coast Daily reporting, “Viral anti-vaccination meme shocks professionals“.

“The image, which depicts a drug addict slumped in a corner with the text “their first injection was a vaccination: protect your children from vaccinations”, has gone viral on social media and has recently found its way to Coast news feeds.”

The version of the image which has been received by the Sunshine Coast Daily has been cropped of the Something Awful watermark and as such, is not identifiable by doing a reverse Google Image Search. Generally though, reverse image searching is an excellent way to check the source of an image – and if there is a watermark present, do check the nature of the website it came from before sharing.

If you see this image on social media, my recommendation is not to share it, but to let others know that it is both factually incorrect and was created as a parody by the Something Awful forum participants.

UPDATE 05/06/2014 11:41am: The Sunshine Coast Daily have updated their article, with information from this post.

UPDATE 05/06/2014 10:30pm: Ten News Brisbane have also reported on the meme, acknowledging that it is a parody image. Video report: Confronting Parody

UPDATE 11/06/2014 5:40pm: I have written a letter to the editor of the Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper regarding their use of the above post in an article.

UPDATE 21/03/2015 11:11am: It’s very much doing the rounds again! Please keep in mind that this image was created as a joke and is currently being shared by certain trollesque Facebook pages in order to provoke outrage. Before sharing it on social media, I ask that you consider whether you really want to give trolls oxygen. While the spike in blog traffic over here is kind of nice, I’d rather see this silly graphic out of circulation.

ep_FAV


femvax posttoFAV

World Homeopathy Awareness Week – Raising Awareness that Homeopathy is Bulldust!

Well, this week is rather special – it’s World Homeopathy Awareness Week!

First, a very brief primer on homeopathy. Homeopathy was founded in 1796 by Samuel Hahnemann, based on his postulation that “like cures like” – for example, a small amount of a stimulant, such as caffeine, is purported to help with sleep troubles. Homeopathic preparations are produced by “dynamisation” or “potentisation”, in which active ingredients are diluted with alcohol or distilled water, then “succussed” (a form of ritualistic vigorous shaking). The dilution process is repeated until the likelihood of a single molecule of the original ingredient being present in a bottle of homeopathic “remedy” is as close as can be to zero.

Homeopathic remedies are sold as liquids or sugar pills and can be found in health food stores, online shops and to my great disappointment, in pharmacies in Australia. Homeopathy is at times confused with herbalism, as it is included within the scope of “natural medicine”, thus it is worth noting that while herbal remedies contain active ingredients, homeopathic remedies contain no detectable trace of such. For more information, visit the 10:23 Campaign’s page, “What is Homeopathy?” 

 

Beginning on the 10th of April each year,coinciding with the birthday of Hahnemann, World Homeopathy Awareness Week (WHAW) has been established by the World Homeopathy Awareness Organization to coordinate global promotion of homeopathy by those who practice and advocate it. Simultaneously, WHAW has been embraced by critics of homeopathy as a fine time to raise awareness of the lack of plausibility behind the mechanisms used to create homeopathic “remedies”, and the lack of evidence that homeopathy has any physiological effect beyond that of a placebo.

This year, WHAW related discussion kicked off a couple of days early, as Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council released a draft of their information paper, “Evidence on the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions“. The NHMRC is accepting feedback on this paper until May 26th, so if you wish to provide them with any feedback for consideration, details on doing so are available via the above link.

Admittedly, when I first heard that the NHMRC were conducting a review on homeopathy studies, I was flummoxed – I was familiar with the findings on homeopathy already, and it seemed akin to reviewing findings on whether the sky was blue, or whether water was… wet. However, more public awareness on homeopathy – and the findings that no credible evidence supports its efficacy – has been a great prompt for the media to get on board and for public discussion of homeopathy to increase.

In short, people are still investing their money and hope in products and treatments which have no plausible mechanism of action beyond a placebo. Pharmacies are still selling homeopathic products, in what I consider to be a terribly unethical case of lending false credibility. A small but important minority of general practitioners are referring their patients to homeopaths and naturopaths (some of whom include homeopathy in their practice). There are people who, heart-breakingly, eschew evidence based medicine in favour of homeopathy – as was seen in the tragic case of Penelope Dingle. As such, I believe that it is worth getting the word out, loud and clear, that homeopathy is a sham.

 

I’ve spotted a few fantastic reads during WHAW this year. First up, Ken Harvey has written a piece on The Drum titled “Homeopathy – We Can’t Have it Both Ways“, in which he discusses the fact that, while the NHMRC paper condemns homeopathy, other authorities still give it legitimacy, by accrediting the study of homeopathy, including it in health insurance plans and allowing it to be sold in pharmacies.

From the Good Thinking Society, here is a wonderful page on Homeopathy Awareness Week, with a list of twelve quick facts on homeopathy. The project director, Michael Marshall, explains the importance of the site and of awareness of homeopathy in his Guardian piece, “Homeopathy Awareness Can Make The World A Happier and Healthier Place“.

This week’s episode of The Skeptic Zone Podcast (permalink) has more information on homeopathy than molecules of active ingredients in a homeopathic dilution, and includes my first attempt at a podcast report (replete with awful jokes, such as the one I’ve just made), in which I cover a minor skeptical activism success on the Better Health Channel’s promotion of WHAW. After an impromptu letter writing and social media campaign last week, and in light of the NHMRC draft report on homeopathy, the Better Health Channel made the commendable decision to remove WHAW from their events calendar. If you’re not already a regular Skeptic Zone listener, I encourage you to give it a go this week – despite my cheesy lines, the show is great.

Speaking of humour, I’d like to provide two more links on which to end this post. They’re not to be taken seriously, but sometimes laughter is… the best medicine. (Sorry – I’ll see myself out).

How Does Homeopathy Work? (from the 10:23 Campaign)

List of scientifically controlled double blind studies which have conclusively demonstrated the efficacy of homeopathy (from RationalWiki)

10:23 Campaign Against Homeopathy – Antarctic 2011 (a short video via The Skeptic Zone, in which Dr Paul Willis puts himself on the line and takes a homeopathic overdose!)

2009-11-02-homeoComic by Luke Surl, shared under Creative Commons Licence

The Australian Vaccination Network’s Much Anticipated Name Change

Just in, an announcement from the Australian Vaccination Network that they are complying with the Administrative Decisions Tribunal’s court order to change their misleading name. Their chosen (and approved) new title: “The Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network”. From the AVN:

As of Friday, March 7th, the Australian Vaccination Network, Inc. will now officially be known as the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network, Inc. We will still have the same domain address (www.avn.org.au ) and will still go by the acronym "AVN".
Full announcement here.

Frankly, this strikes me as incredibly bizarre, but quite in keeping with the AVN’s previously demonstrated thinking. Admins on the AVN’s Facebook page have repeatedly condemned the skeptical movement, referring to skeptics as “Septics” and insisting that we are shills for Big Pharma and the like. At the same time, the AVN have registered the domain australiansceptics.com, an attack site which discredits the skeptical movement and claims that vaccine denialists of their ilk are “The REAL Australian Sceptics”. One wonders why the AVN wishes to co-opt a title which they have treated with such derision – I can only assume that they feel that their attempts to align themselves with skepticism lends them credibility not offered to those honest about their denialism. Presumably, this is why the AVN have been reticent to ever label themselves as anti-vaccination, regardless of the fact that all of the misinformation that they spread is undoubtedly anti-vaccine. Despite their continued attempts to discredit scientific skepticism, they are quite aware that their position is the one lacking credibility.

I would like to note here that scientific skeptics do well to approach the topics that they examine with an awareness of personal bias (and the utmost effort to remove such), apply critical thought and are open to changing their position based on empirical evidence. I would argue that the AVN do not qualify as such, given their dogmatic anti-vaccination position and refusal to accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that vaccination is the safest and most effective means by which we have to prevent people contracting vaccine preventable diseases. The AVN downplay the seriousness of illnesses such as pertussis and measles, spread misinformation regarding the efficacy of vaccination and make claims that the risks associated with vaccination are much higher than evidence shows.

Let us hope that if they are permitted to continue using their new name, the wider public will consider the AVN to be in the same category as “Climate Change Skeptics” – denialists without the integrity to openly admit that they are such.

End of Year Detox – Free Gift Included!

With the end of the year upon us, many of us are feeling the effects of celebratory excesses. The traditional over-indulgence in alcohol and rich foods which can accompany the festive season can leave one feeling somewhat under the weather, particularly when combined with rushing about preparing for parties, attending gatherings of family and friends, and shopping. Tired and flat, the appeal of a New Year’s resolution to improve our health and fitness is understandably rather alluring to many. Gather round ye, ’tis the season for detox!

With the myriad advertisements for detox kits, cleansing diets, “superfood” secrets and liver supporting supplements appearing in health food store windows, on social media and on television, the detox industry is big business. Unfortunately, it’s a business that is built on a falsehood… our bodies are quite capable of “detoxing” themselves.

Unless an individual is suffering liver, kidney or lymphatic system malfunction, or has overdosed on a poisonous substance (both of which should be investigated and treated by a medical professional), our bodies are perfectly capable of filtering and removing waste products from our own systems. The best things that we can do to support these systems (and feel well in the process) are to eat a healthy and balanced diet, remain hydrated, be active and get sufficient sleep. No detox product can either take the place of basic self care, nor improve the body’s ability to look after itself.

So while the detox industry tries to sell you products or secrets this season, I would like to give you something for free. Admittedly, it’s just a somewhat daggy graphic to share – but my hope is that perhaps it may cause someone out there to think twice before investing their money and faith in detox products that are completely unnecessary.

detox

This was adapted from a tweet I sent to Dr Karl a last week, in response to somebody asking him about detoxing. It amassed a fair few retweets, so I figured that it was a message that people wanted to communicate – I know that I certainly do. And yes, his “billions” amendment is correct!

In this graphic, I also wanted to stress that should somebody have concerns about their health or lifestyle, I would urge them to speak with a qualified health professional. Regarding dietary issues, a dietitian is the most appropriate health professional to provide evidence-based assessment and advice – qualifications in dietetics are much more tightly regulated than those of nutritionists. Here’s a clear summary of the difference between dietitians and nutritionists via the Dietitians Association of Australia.

For more in-depth information on detoxification, visit Sense About Science – Debunking Detox, Science-Based Pharmacy – The Detox Delusion and Science-Based Medicine – The Science of Purging or the Purging of Science?

On a personal note, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best, whatever you celebrate (or don’t) at this time of the year.

The last couple of months have been busy but fulfilling ones for me; the rush of finishing my studies and sitting exams was punctuated by my first skeptics convention unfortunately said punctuation was a pair of brackets rather than a full stop – getting home and back to exam revision was a challenge. I’ve also celebrated the festive season with two curious preschoolers, my four year old son and two year old daughter both simultaneously hitting the “Why?” phase, which I admit I’m reveling in. A nerd parent moment was had last week when my son finally asked me why the ocean was blue – I adore asking the kids about their hypotheses and looking up information with them.

As an aspiring science communicator and advocate, several months ago I set myself a challenge to overcome my shyness and discomfort with verbal communication, be it recorded or with a live audience. Quite unexpectedly, at the Australian Skeptics National Convention, interviewer extraordinaire for The Skeptic Zone PodcastMaynard confronted me with a microphone and an array of questions – if you’re curious to hear my babbling, I make brief appearances on The Skeptic Zone #270 and #271. I don’t feel that it went too badly and have resolved to follow through with some podcast related plans for 2014. I also plan to continue working my way through my science degree – I have especially enjoyed my biology units over the past year and am looking forward to introductory epidemiology and infectious disease units when I hit the books again in late February.

During my break from uni, I hope to get a few posts written here – I have a couple of topics simmering away in the back of my mind. Comments and feedback on this blog are always welcome and if you’re so inclined, you can find me on Twitter at @joalabaster.

Thank you for being with me this year, here’s to a fascinating 2014!

Australian Skeptics National Convention 2013 Blogroll

auskepcon2013

Over the weekend, I had the great pleasure of attending the 2013 Australian Skeptics National Convention, held at the CSIRO Discovery Center in Canberra. After two days of entertaining and enlightening talks (plus several fringe events), and some time spent with wonderful friends new and old, I have come away feeling very much recharged and inspired to involve myself further in grassroots skeptical activism.

The last talk of the conference on Sunday afternoon was “Looking to the future: where to now for skeptical thought”, by the illustrious Paul Willis (@Fossilcrox) of the Royal Institution of Australia (link to a recording of the talk here, thank you Ed Brown!). One of the topics he addressed was the importance of skeptical outreach via online media, noting that creation of online content is an accessible and cost-effective way in which to engage audiences. During his speech, he requested a quick show of hands to ask who in the audience had a blog – and on a whim, I quickly tweeted the suggestion of creating a blogroll for convention attendees.

Here is the beginning, a list of convention attendees who replied to my initial tweet. I would love to keep adding to this, so that we can keep in touch, keep up to date with one another’s writing and help share posts that we feel would be valuable to give more exposure to. If you would like to be added to the blogroll, please leave a comment here or get in touch via Twitter (@joalabaster) and I’ll put you on the list.

Brisbane SITP by Brisbane Skeptics in the Pub (@BrisbaneSitp)

Dan’s Journal of Skepticism by Dan Buzzard (@DanBuzzard)

Etwas Luft by Ketan Joshi (@KetanJ0)

Evidence, Please by Jo Alabaster (@joalabaster)

Luke Freeman’s posts on Young Australian Skeptics by Luke Freeman (@lukefreeman)

Medicandus on The Conversation by Mick Vagg (@mickvagg)

Peter Bowditch’s Blog and The Millenium Project by Peter Bowditch (@RatbagsDotCom)

rbutr Blog and Shane’s Soapbox by Shane Greenup (@Aegist)

Really, Ed Brown by Ed Brown (@reallyedbrown)

RiAus Blog by Paul Willis (@Fossilcrox)

Skeptimanda by Amanda Devaus (@AmandaDevaus)

Skeptimite by Phil Kent (@skeptimite)

The Logical Place by Tim Harding (@mordiskeptic)

The Lone Deranger by Linley (@Lone_Deranger_)

The Sceptic’s Book of Pooh Pooh by Rachael Dunlop (@DrRachie)

There should be a sign by Shelley Stocken (@shellity)

Victorian Skeptics by… the Victorian Skeptics

I’d also like to link to some wonderful online tools mentioned by Amanda Devaus (@AmandaDevaus) in her talk “Guerrilla Skepticism: No more preaching to the choir”.

Skeptools – Tim Farley (@krelnik)’s vast compendium of skeptical software tools.

rButr – a browser plugin that tells you when the webpage you are viewing has been disputed, rebutted or contradicted elsewhere on the internet, founded by @Aegist.

Web of Trust – a browser plugin with a rating system and link notifications which aims to offer protection against online threats that only real life experience can detect, such as scams, untrustworthy links, and rogue web stores.

Skeptic Action – Simple and useful online daily tasks for skeptics!

Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia – Improving the skeptical content of Wikipedia entries.

I’d also like to include here the Eventifier summary of #auskepcon, which includes Tweets, photos and links posted over the weekend.

Finally, I’d like to note my personal thanks to Canberra Skeptics for all of their hard work in organising and running the convention, the speakers for presenting some excellent information for us all to ruminate upon and to everybody that I spoke with who was friendly and welcoming (being everyone that I interacted with). This was my first Big Skeptic Event(tm) and socially awkward and introverted as I am, I felt comfortable and valued – which I feel is testament to the wonderful sorts of people who have helped create the culture of Australian skepticism.