Australian Skeptics WA Branch
Meetings of WA Skeptics in 2016
About our meetings
Entrance to Grace Vaughan House is 500m from Selby Street and 800m from
Karrakatta Railway Station. Look for large
About WA Skeptics
Topics of interest to WA Skeptics include: the afterlife, alien encounters, alternative medicine, ancient astronauts, astrology, Atlantis, auras, Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, biorhythms, cattle mutilation, channelling, Chinese medicine, chiropractic, clairvoyancy, climate change, cold reading, Cottingley fairies, creationism, crop circles, crystal power, dowsing, end of the world, ESP, faith healing, feng shui, firewalking, gaia theory, ghosts, global warming, graphology, homoeopathy, horoscopes, hundredth monkey, hypnosis, I Ching, intelligent design, iridology, karma, kinesiology, life on other planets, Loch Ness monster, lunar effects, magnet therapy, miracles, Moon hoax, Murphy's Law, Nazca lines, near death experiences, New Age, Noah's ark, Nostradamus, numerology, ouija boards, out-of-body experiences, palmistry, perpetual motion, phrenology, planetary influences, poltergeists, pseudoscience, psychic surgery, psychic powers, psychics, psychokinesis, pyramid power, reductionism, reincarnation, runes, Sai Baba, scams, seances, shroud of Turin, skepticism, spiritualism, spontaneous human combustion, spoon bending, star signs, stigmata, tarot cards, telepathy, transcendental meditation, UFOs, unicorns. urban legends, voodoo, water divining.
Media and speaker enquiries
Meetings of WA Skeptics since 2005
Meetings in 2014
James Randi (right) being interviewed by Richard Saunders onstage at the
Octagon Theatre. Many people queued after the show
Monday 7 July 2014 Arthur Ottery told a most attentive audience how he had successfully battled a cancer diagnosed in 2008 as terminal. Oncologists disagreed on the details, and his academic background in chemistry and physics made him suspicious of what he was being told. So he researched the medical literature, and discovered that the conventional treatment (ie the only treatment allowed by Medicare) was not always appropriate, whereas for him an alternative treatment that was accepted elsewhere (but not by Medicare) seemed better suited. The point is that every person is different, whereas oncologists are specialised and unwilling to go outside their speciality. They also automatically oppose treatments not allowed by Medicare since if followed it would leave them open to being sued. Like other doctors, they are generally too busy to attend conferences and read up the latest research findings. In other words people with cancer who are uninformed are helpless victims of the system. In his case he went elsewhere for the treatment he felt was appropriate. Today, contrary to what his oncologists had told him, he is fully cured.
Arthur Ottery's talk was supported by helpful outlines on his computer screen. Here four key principles are: Early detection (but beware of false positives). Is treatment needed (not all cancers are lethal). Curative treatment (make a noise to get what you want). Do not expect too much from your oncologist (be prepared to keep asking questions).
Monday 12 May 2014 The hilarious April Fools programme described below. Unfortunately there were no volunteers to replace our retiring President Dr John Happs, so the position was left open.
Monday 14 April 2014 An informal attempt to follow the skeptics-in-the-pub format that has proved to be so successful interstate and overseas. Space had been selected at the Captain Stirling Hotel in Nedlands, the programme was a survey of the world's most successful April Fools Days (led by the BBC's fake documentary on 1 April 1957 about harvesting spaghetti from trees in Switzerland), and all local subscribers to the Skeptic (N>60) had been informed by email. Result: only the two organisers turned up. Conclusion: WA skeptics, unlike their boozy counterparts elsewhere in the world, are resolutely immune to alcoholic temptations.
Monday 10 March 2014 A general welcome back after our usual break over summer, and a general catch-up on national and international happenings including the latest visitor rates to our website (see the Visitor and Article statistics page). Discussion was so lively that the planned DVD screening (more highlights from Penn and Teller) had to be postponed.
Meetings in 2013
The second part was a world-first (in WA anyway) trial-by-jury of parapsychology's most famous experiment, the guessing of Zener cards. Normally the experiment is done one on one, typically with chance results. Would a team effort produce better results? Our trial was designed to find out. After each person present had shuffled the 25 cards, the pack was cut several times and put in a box out of sight. Two volunteers viewed the cards one by one and concentrated on each image. The others tried to pick up the vibrations, and the jury foreman announced their majority vote. Each majority vote took half a minute. The result (hit or miss) was not disclosed until the trial was over. Overall the result was 6 hits vs 5 expected by chance, statistically not significant (p = 0.38) but at least in the right direction. We must try it again sometime.
Our trial-by-jury of Zener cards. Left: Two ways of picking up vibrations. Middle: The Zener cards. Far right in this picture is the tally of hits shown by ticks. Right: Jury foreman working out the majority vote. There were enough jurists to avoid getting a hung jury.
Monday 9 September 2013 Was intended to be a screening of the Australian Skeptics DVD on water divining, but Dr John Happs announced that 2013 would be the last year he could be President of WA Skeptics. He had occupied the position since 1987, largely because nobody else had been willing to volunteer. Water divining was immediately abandoned and the evening was taken up with a discussion of future options. (This discussion was continued in the 11 November 2013 meeting.)
Left: Dr John Happs making his announcement. Right: The abandoned DVD.
Monday 8 July 2013 Lively discussion of impromptu topics including why people believe weird things. As always the answers were based on empirical research, not speculation. A pleasant change from videos or a set speaker.
Monday 13 May 2013 History of WA Skeptics. One of the highlights of 2005 was Geoffrey Dean's illustrated history of WA Skeptics since 1980, for excerpts see History of WA Skeptics. An update had been prepared for 2011 but unfortunately the in-house overhead projector had been retired. To an attentive audience Dr Dean presented a new update with no less than 115 overheads, this time using an overhead projector provided by us. It was followed by a discussion of future directions for WA Skeptics, for which perhaps the most telling insight came from the trend in meeting attendances since we began (watch this space!).
Monday 11 March 2013 Unfortunately the talk by forestry consultant Roger Underwood (on the problems due to declining standards in WA bushfire policy) could not take place owing to problems with our change of meeting date from Tuesdays to Mondays. His talk has been re-scheduled for a later meeting.
Meetings in 2012
18 September 2012. Morawa farmer and agricultural adviser Bill Crabtree MSc gave an illustrated talk on his no-till approach to agriculture based on 25 years of research, and how it had overcome strong initial resistance. Ploughing has been an important part of Australian agriculture but is a direct cause of soil erosion. The no-till approach avoids ploughing and disturbs the soil as little as possible. It prevents erosion, retains soil structure, and is an important challenge to established procedures. His ideas were first introduced in 1990, and were so successful that within ten years 50% of WA farmers had adopted them. Bill noted that the need for change was first denied, then opposed before being accepted as self-evident. His recipe for success was simple -- show the right people the right results. His profusely illustrated book Search for Sustainability was published in 2010 and is the only work looking at the no-till approach in dry mediterranean conditions.
17 July 2012. An update of local, national and international events, including news of how our website is performing and this year's entries to our Young Critical Writer's Awards. Then a screening of items from recent DVDs including Richard Wiseman and Penn & Teller, followed as usual by stimulating discussion.
15 May 2012 began with Julie Fitzpatrick delivering our first ever piece of skeptic theatre -- an allegorical monologue written by James Forte in 2001 on the state of world banking. It started from the view that banking predictions are so notoriously wrong they might just as well be made by psychics. Then Dr Geoffrey Dean gave an illustrated talk on "Phrenology and the grand delusion of experience". In the 19th century phrenology had a huge influence at all levels of Western society. Yet its claimed links between traits and head contours did not exist. Indeed, few beliefs can match phrenology for extent of influence and certainty of invalidity. It was popular because to most people its invalidity was invisible, and it seemed to work, so their experience was totally persuasive. Yet controlled tests showed that phrenology was totally invalid. Experience had led millions of people astray, as is true today of pseudoscientific beliefs in general. For skeptics the lesson is that the delusion of experience should never be underestimated.
Left: Allegorical monologue. Right: Phrenological delusions.
20 March 2012. A discussion of skeptic topics in the news including healthy eating. Then a screening of a recent test "Psychic Challenge" on Channel 7's Today Tonight. Three local psychics were given challenges such as which of six subjects owns this bracelet (one hit), and what was special about the building they were taken to (disastrous fire, no hits). Their performance was judged by a top professional psychic (only one was promising) and skeptic Dr John Happs (none were convincing). The evening ended with a lengthy discussion of future directions for WA Skeptics.
Left: Try-it-yourself healthy eating (vegies, dips, and whole-grain buns) and unhealthy eating (chocolate biscuits) on display. Right: "Psychic Challenge" screening on our own DVD-video player. The Channel 7 reporter (left) is being given a demo of psychic ability (actually a conjuring trick) by John Happs (right) to show how easily people can be duped. Having chosen one of three targets, with every opportunity to change his mind, the reporter discovers that his choice has been written down in advance. Amazing!
Meetings in 2011
20 September 2011. Was to have been a look at the history of WA Skeptics and its website, but the necessary overhead projector had disappeared. Instead there was a lively discussion of the latest local, national and international happenings of interest to skeptics.
Friday 2 September 2011. A meeting (see picture below) for members to welcome distinguished Nigerian skeptic Leo Igwe on the last stage of his round-Australia lecture tour. At this meeting he answered questions about life in Nigeria, and presented this year's WA Skeptics Awards for Young Critical Writers. Nigeria has no dole, no medical service, no effective police force, virtually no education, and no support outside the family. If a person is accused of witchcraft, this support will be withdrawn, and the person may even be killed. The victims are usually young children or old people, and probably thousands die this way each year because police and the courts are loath to interfere in "religious practices". Despite Nigeria's huge oil wealth, none of it reaches the ordinary people, so it is almost impossible to be lifted out of poverty. There is nothing to look forward to, no hope of a job, no future. People have to live by their wits such as scamming anyone whose email address is somewhere on the internet (so the targets are not just Westerners). Leo is a tireless campaigner for rationalism, and has been jailed twice for speaking out. We were privileged to meet him.
19 July 2011. Was to have been a screening of Part 2 (see below), except that the necessary equipment was unavailable. But the evening was amply filled by varied discussion, especially of techniques of conjuring.
17 May 2011. A discussion of local, national, and international hot topics was followed by a screening of Richard Dawkins's Enemies of Reason.
15 March 2011. The main feature was Part 1 of an excellent documentary on the 2005 trial of the school board in Dover Pennsylvania. In 2004 the board had required biology teachers to promote Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life. Objecting parents brought the matter to court, which action brought out the big guns on both sides. Was ID a science? The board said yes, its opponents said no. In December 2005 the judge ruled that ID was not a science. Instead it was creationism (ie religion) in disguise, therefore teaching it as an alternative to evolution in a science class was not allowed by the US Constitution. In the most quoted phrase of his ruling, the judge referred to the "breathtaking inanity" of the board's decision and its utter waste of monetary and personal resources. Part 2 will be screened at a future meeting.
Meetings in 2010
Left: Some of our wine testers. Right: John Happs (left) receives our appreciation from Alan Drew, one of our original WA Skeptics.
21 September 2010. To an enthusiastic near-capacity audience Professor Terry Woodings presented Musings on Miracles -- the logic of a deity's actions in the natural world where religions and science collide. Given a miracle, this entertaining and thought-provoking presentation will be posted on this website sometime.
20 July 2010. David Archibald spoke on Solar Cycles and their Influence on the Earth's Climate. The evidence points to a return to weak solar cycles (and global cooling) after the strong solar cycles of 1950-2000, which had the highest level of solar activity for 8000 years. Essentially a weak solar cycle lets in more cosmic rays, which means more seeding of water vapour into clouds, hence more reflection of incident sunlight, hence cooler temperatures. The link between weak solar cycles and cooler temperatures is remarkably consistent. An example is shown below.
18 May 2010. Cancelled owing to maintenance work being carried out at Grace Vaughan House.
16 March 2010. Dr John Happs spoke on Scientists Behaving Badly, a masterly overview of climate change and the latest developments in the growing international scandal about the IPCC and its abuse of the scientific process.Click here for his open letter to Australia's Chief Scientist about the IPCC scandal. Or click here for the Royal Society's U-turn on climate change and the IPCC. In both cases you stay on this website.
Dr John Happs addresses WA Skeptics in March 2010 on Scientists Behaving Badly
Meetings in 2009
Molecular biologist Joanne Nova addresses WA Skeptics in November 2009
on how bullies and status seekers destroy rational
Saturday 8 August 2009 -- this Evening of Skepticism was organised not by WA Skeptics but by UWA's Atheists and Agnostics Society. It featured Richard Saunders and Dr Rachael Dunlop, both vice-presidents of the Australian Skeptics in Sydney. Saunders was also the skeptical judge on The One, Channel 7s top rating search-for-a-psychic show for 2008. Despite eminent speakers and advance mention in the Subiaco POST, only about 70 people attended, mostly from atheist groups (ironically neither speaker said much about atheism) with about half a dozen each from the WA Humanists and WA Skeptics. Both speakers illustrated their talks with Power Point visuals.
Saunders opened the evening by stressing that you don't need to be gullible or drunk to be fooled. You just need to be human. A series of optical illusions had the audience seeing things that were most definitely not there. Ghostly images on digital photos were unnoticed specks of dust floating close to the flash. "I am a fake" says the sign above a fake psychic at Melbourne fairs. She gives demos of how psychics seem to know everything about you when in fact they know nothing. Psychics rely on our ability to read specifics into generalities. Suppose they say "You have problems with money". We immediately think of OUR problems and OUR money. No money problems? "Just wait until next week". They can't lose. Which is why most people believe in psychics. Without proper training most of us are unable to see the rip-off. Incredibly, some people refuse to believe the "I am a fake" sign, and plead for private readings! All you need to be ripped-off is to be human.
Dr Rachael Dunlop spoke about Alt Med scams with examples copied from free magazines at health food stores. "Healing energies", "biomagnetic toxicity", the list of claims unsupported by science went on and on. Some practices such as iridology and dowsing regularly fail when submitted to blind trials. Other practices such as ear candling could be harmful. Particularly harmful was the anti-vaccination campaign run by the deceptively titled "Australian Vaccination Network". The Network claims to be pro-choice but is actually anti-vaccination and anti-choice. It works by spreading false information about vaccines. It claims that whooping cough is "just a bad cough". But about 1 in 200 children will go on to develop pneumonia and die. It wrongly claims that vaccines cause diseases such as autism. Fifty years ago we lived in dread of killer diseases such as smallpox, diptheria, and polio. Today, thanks to vaccines, smallpox is gone, and the rest have almost disappeared. The audience was still asking questions when the meeting ran out of time.
May 2009 -- WA Skeptics hold a social meeting at China House
restaurant, Shenton Park.
Meetings in 2008
WA Skeptics at a meeting in November 2008. This year Perth subscribers
to the national magazine the Skeptic exceed 120,
Meetings in 2007
WA Skeptics at a meeting in July 2005.
Meetings in 2005