Tuesday, November 02, 2010

TAM London speaker 8: panel on skeptical activism

This was a panel session introduced by the Sense About Science director Tracey Brown. The members were Evan Harris, David Allen Green, sometimes known as Jack of Kent and Simon Singh.

I won’t write much about this because a lot was said, it was a while ago now and my notes aren’t very good.  Also, I’m supposed to be working.  So I’ll just say that the speakers and discussion was enjoyable and if that’s being lame then I don’t want to…..walk…properly….

What I should mention, however, is that Simon Singh announced the impending launch of a new skeptical campaign called The Nightingale Collaboration, after Florence Nightingale, who was a good skeptic: an advocate of evidence-based medicine and the inventor of the pie chart.

The campaign’s aim is to challenge misleading claims made by CAM practitioners and reporting them to the appropriate bodies.  If you feel that this might not be very effective since many of these bodies are self-regulating.  But that’s because you’re not counting on the ingenuity of nerds.  One of the things they’ve done is write a a bot that crawls around homeopathy websites, tests if they are making claims that violate the authority’s rules and automatically sends letters to the authority.  A bot like this can generate a lot of letters in no time flat.  That’s got to be annoying.  They will also be making tools available for volunteers to use in their own campaigns.

It sounds good.

The only minor annoyance I had with the panel session was that it was a little too ‘skepticism is a movement’ for my liking.  Stuff like The Nightingale Collaboration is great and I understand that the more organised a bunch of skeptics is, the more effective they can be.  I’m all for that kind of thing - focussed campaigns run by people who are interested in them – but I’m not so keen on establishing and toeing party lines as I’ve said before, and there was a bit of that sort of talk on the panel.

It was worth listening to for Allen Green’s comment: When cats complain, they complain of herding skeptics."

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