We Are The Skeptics My Friend

An article by Malcolm Robinson on the Skeptics in the Pub meeting of 20th February 2002.

Someone once said, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but you’ll never get me in a haunted house!!” I quote these words quite often to show people what those skeptical of UFOs and the paranormal usually say to me when we are in discussion about such matters. They seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place and although they don’t believe in such things, it is difficult for me to tempt them to come on a haunting case with me!! This does not apply however to those more hardened skeptics who would gladly come with me on any Investigations. UFO and Paranormal research ‘needs’ skeptics. Skeptics keep us on our toes and make sure our feet remain firmly on the ground. So I decided to jump over the fence and enter into what some would say was ‘enemy territory’ I took in my very first skeptic meeting which was held at the Florence Nightingale pub near Waterloo Station, London on a very cold and wind-swept February night.

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One of the people on the Skeptics in the Pub mailing list, Partha Lal, sent a note to me asking me to publicise a firewalk he was doing for charity.

I checked out the charity, which seemed worthy enough (the charity is Haven House, a children’s hospice. (It’s still not too late to donate some money for Partha’s walk! Send him an email with details of your donation). I duly published the details of the event in a mail. A few days before the event, Partha told me that people could join in for a modest price, and being someone interested in new experiences, I decided to do the firewalk.

I was quite terrified, if truth be told, for several days before the event. Although I’m a pyromaniac and love to watch flames, I’m terrified of being burned (is this normal?) and while I knew, in my head, all about the thermal conductivity of ash and so on, I still found the build-up psychologically challenging.

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Beware The Ambassadors of Science

Fellow sceptics,

Attending my first ‘Skeptics in the pub’ meeting last week, I was troubled to find Lord Taverne presenting the session about his organisation Sense About Science. While Lord Taverne, befitting his distinguished career, was an entertaining and persuasive speaker, he did not strike me as an appropriate figure to lead a sceptics meeting. It was more discouraging, then, to hear him introduced as an “old friend” of the society and to hear he’d presented before. I was beginning to wonder what I’d gotten myself into.

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Shirley Ghostman and me

From time to time I get contacted by TV shows wanting a skeptic to spar against a psychic. This time a producer from Tiger Aspect wanted me for a show they were doing on psychics for BBC2. John Pocock, the producer went through all the questions that I’ve come to expect about the show – how to do testing, what they should look out for, ways to stop cheating and all that. He asked me if I wanted to appear on the show, and never one to say “no”, I agreed. John said that he would work on the concept over the weekend and send me details on Monday.


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Inside a Camphill Community

Volume 20 Number 4, Winter 2007

Matthew Provonsha reports on his disillusionment with life in a religious commune

LAST YEAR I spent two months inside a Camphill Community along with other volunteers of various ages from around the world, eager to help others and better myself. I was drawn to communal life, but more importantly I was put off by the society in which I grew up. As a teenage atheist and leftist in the United States I was appalled by the vast increase of religious fervor in public life and by our startling move to the Far Right even during my lifetime. Like so many Americans I was laden with a painful sense of hopelessness. I could only watch television, drink or get high to distract myself. Retreat in one form or another seemed to be the only suitable option.
I was quite enamored with British culture, as well, and wanted nothing more than to see the land which had produced so many of my favorite authors, comedians, rock stars and TV shows. The UK almost seemed (to my naïve self ) to be a totally different, more civilized world. So it was that I decided to find someplace in Britain where I could work for food and lodging. In truth I only chose to ‘volunteer’ at the Mount Camphill Community, a school for young adults with special needs in the South-East of England, because it offered the best benefits. In addition to organic food and lovely surroundings it offers a weekly stipend of fifty pounds, weekend outings and ample time off.

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Sexual Ethics

Volume 20 Number 3, Autumn 2007

Philosopher’s Corner

Julian Baggini

SEXUAL ETHICS seems such a quaint old subject.
Such has been the success of the almost complete purge of sex from the arena of serious, secular ethical debate that when someone does raise the topic, we immediately suspect (usually correctly) that that person has some conservative or religious axe to grind.

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Religious Beliefs

Volume 14 Number 3, Autumn 2001

Rhyme and Reason

I normally avoid getting involved in discussion of religion in the context of skeptics and skepticism. The main reason for this is that I do not believe that there is necessarily any intrinsic conflict between a belief in one or more deities and a scientific approach concerned essentially with falsifiable phenomena. If someone’s religious beliefs have no observable and testable consequences on the universe then, in a sense, they are of no interest to the scientist or the skeptic. Therefore, although I do not possess any myself, I do believe that it is possible to hold religious beliefs and, at the same time, to have a scientific and skeptical worldview. And, indeed, there are many people with religious beliefs that, in the main, do not contradict their rational worldview.

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Parsnips and plugholes . . .

Volume 15 Number 1, Spring 2002

Rhyme and Reason

Steve Donnelly

I decided to make a New Year’s resolution this year: to stop being weird. It all began in the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket where I was closely examining the parsnips as I always do at this time of the year, just before my final lecture to first-year Physics undergraduates on classical mechanics. As the final topic on my lecture course, I talk about Newton’s conic sections as these link the mundane with the cosmic and serve beautifully to illustrate the simplicity that often underpins the apparent complexity of the universe. What are conic sections? Well, if you take a solid cone and slice it in four different ways the edges of the different cuts form a circle, an ellipse, a parabola and a hyperbola respectively and these curves are precisely the orbits of celestial bodies — planets, comets and others — as they move through the heavens. Parsnips are the most conical vegetable in my supermarket and are easily sliced and so I have been using them for several years to illustrate conic sections in my lectures. All very logical and reasonable, you might say; however, that view didn’t appear to be shared by the young woman in a Tesco uniform who noticed me perusing the parsnips. “Can I help you”, she kindly enquired. “No it’s OK”, I replied. “I’m just trying to find the most conical parsnips”.

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