Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

Archive for September, 2010|Monthly archive page

Australia’s National School Chaplaincy program funded chaplains providing mental health programmes to Aussie state school children.

In Ethics in Schools, Helping our community., Responses to the media on September 24, 2010 at 12:22 PM

During the Seven Network ‘Sunrise’ programme on Wednesday September 22, 2010, Scripture Union Queensland CEO Tim Mander made the following comment:

“look, it’s important to note that school chaplains aren’t counsellors. They are there for pastoral care of kids. Now the nature of chaplaincy means that often, they are the first point of contact for kids who are dealing with some sort of life issues. Now our chaplains are trained to identify those issues that are more complex and that require professional intervention and then obviously refer them on to the experts. The policy with chaplains is ‘refer’, ‘refer’, ‘refer’, and if in doubt, ‘refer’. So I think there’s a lot of alarmist type of misinformation going around about how chaplains work in schools”.

On page 3 of the October 2009 edition of the Uniting Church ‘Journey’ magazine, Tim Mander was quoted thus:

Tim Mander, Scripture Union (SU) Qld CEO said Stock Up For Hope would also raise vital funds for school chaplaincy services in rural and regional Queensland. “Our school chaplains are finding themselves supporting students through issues such as parental separation, depression, financial problems, and even suicide,” he said. “Many chaplains have found they’ve replaced counselling or welfare services, and they’re not just providing support to students either – that essential assistance and moral support is extending to family members as well. “But they’re making sensational inroads in bringing young people, their families, and entire communities, into a closer relationship with God.

For some time in Queensland, members of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) have been training Scripture Union NSCP funded public school chaplains to provide a depression/suicide prevention programme known as ‘Friends for Life’ across entire state school classes from Prep year upward.

This has been confirmed in writing by Dr. Paula Barrett’s ‘Pathways’ organisation.

Since ‘Friends for Life’ is not considered to be ‘religious’, under the ‘new’ Education Queensland chaplaincy policy (completely unsupported by legislation), there is no formal method by which parents can exclude their children from exposure to NSCP funded Scripture Union chaplains during ‘Friends for Life’ as well as the scores of other programmes and activities deemed ‘non-religious’ by arbiters unknown. This has been confirmed in writing by Education Queensland.

Source: Australian Secular Lobby


“colourful packaging does indeed promote smoking.” The Strange case of the Alliance of Australian Retailers PTY LTD.

In Responses to the media, Uncategorized on September 23, 2010 at 5:53 PM

The Australian Government announced on April 29 2010 that as of the first of July 2012 tobacco companies would only be able to sell cigarettes within Australia in plain packages.

This announcement was made in conjunction with that of a 25 per cent tax increase on tobacco products which the government has projected will cut tobacco consumption by six per cent and the number of smokers by 2 or 3 per cent. The government also advised that internet advertising of cigarettes will also be restricted and an extra $27.8 million will be spent on anti-smoking campaigns. While the three big tobacco company’s within Australia each threatened legal action, none has been forthcoming.

In response the Alliance of ‘The Alliance of Australian Retailers Pty Ltd was formed
with funding supplied by British American Tobacco Australia Limited, Philip Morris
Limited and Imperial Tobacco Australia Limited. With catch cries of “if it won’t work,
why do it?”and “good policy requires more than good intentions”, the Alliance was lead by Director Sheryle Moon, who is also Executive Director of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores.

The Who Are WE section of the website advises that this Alliance consists of

“owners of Australian corner stores, milk bars, newsagents and service stations” who are “fed up with excessive regulation that is making it harder for us to run our businesses.”

The final straw, as it goes on to say is a recent federal government proposal to mandate plain packaging for cigarettes. This is the explanation given for the formation of the ‘The Alliance of Australian Retailers Pty Ltd’ which is comprised of The Service Station Association, Australian Newsagents’ Federation and the National Independent Retailers Association.

The campaign took the form of billboards on major roads Australia wide, brochures and leaflets at the stores represented by the Alliance, and mass media coverage with Sheryle Moon herself taking on the role of spokesperson for the campaign. A key element of the campaign was timing, launching within days of a federal election being announced and with the opposition holding no commitment to implement the policies that threatened the tobacco industry.

The main focus point of the campaign was the notion that plain packaging of cigarettes will lead to a reduction in people smoking is unproven, but side issues outlined in an Open Letter from the group include claims that increased taxation has lead an increase in theft and that the black market is being fuelled by such policies.

“Good policy requires more than good intentions”,

was clearly an attempt to add one of many slogans being to be  bandied about during what was overwhelmingly considered a lackluster election campaign

Quite early in the campaign, then Director Sheryle Moon spoke to Peter Lloyd on ABC
television’s Lateline program. Director Moon was asked how much the tobacco industry were paying for the campaign but evaded the question. Director Moon did admit, however, over the course of the story that her son was a smoker and she wished he would quit.

“I am encouraging him to look at campaigns such as Quit in order to stop smoking because stopping smoking in the community is a good thing.”

The pair was joined by Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at Sydney University, who in the course of the interview pointed out,

“Well, if the retailers who are at the coal face of selling tobacco products are saying that
it’s going to affect employment, that can only mean that it’s gonna be a remarkably effective policy. So that’s of course exactly why the Government is right in doing it, and why every Australian who wants to reduce smoking-caused deaths, the leading cause of death in this country, and the uptake of smoking by kids, ought to get behind this and really repudiate what this industry is trying to do.”

Meanwhile the media were investigating supposed links with the campaign and The Liberal Party, due to well establish associations between the party and the tobacco industry. Liberal Party leader Tony Abbot was quick to dismiss these claims and stated he would “certainly consider” implementing plain packaging.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon spoke out against the campaign by calling it

“an unprecedented intervention by big tobacco into an election..”.

At this time it was also revealed in The Australian that Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) records show the Alliance of Australian Retailers as having just one shareholder and director, Sheryle Moon.

Anti-smoking groups Quit and Action on Smoking and Health(ASH) each criticised
both the tobacco companies for what they referred to as

“purely about an industry terrified of declining profits and one that will do anything to save its bottom line,” and “The world’s biggest drug pushers… using the election campaign to attack the government and reverse an important health policy”

respectively. Each launched counter campaigns aiming at both the general public and the retailers said to be supporting the Alliance.

Within a week the Australian Association of Convenience Stores was being forced by supermarket chain Coles and all its subsidiaries, to withdraw from the Alliance of Australian Retailers. This resulted in Sheryle Moon swiftly moving from being the spokesman and director of the Alliance of Australian Retailers to maintaining her position as head on the Australian Association of Convenience Stores, leaving the Alliance without a spokesperson.

Just when it seemed that matters could not get worse for the campaign, a report in online
news resource Crikey dated August 30, describes the possibility the Alliance of Australian Retailers website had been hacked and now conceded that ”colourful packaging does indeed promote smoking.”

Jayson D Cooke

The Aims of the Australian Skeptics, and why you should join!

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, Helping our community., Homeopathy Awareness Week, Modern Day Witchcraft, Responses to the media, Science on September 23, 2010 at 10:50 AM

I often find it beneficial to look back over what the various groups and organisations I associate with are doing, and what they stand for. This morning while preparing for an opportunity to talk skeptical to the mainstream media, I found myself reading the Our Aims section of the Australian Skeptics website. It’s been awhile since I’ve stopped to read this page, but I was glad I did today. Feeling compelled to share this with all of you; I’m also going to ask something in return. If you find yourself agreeing with these aims, if you want to do something to help out or want to find out how, why not join? You don’t even have to be Australian, but you get to be an informed part of something great. Bargain!

The following aims were drafted in 1989 at a national committee meeting
The aims of Australian Skeptics are:

* To investigate claims of pseudoscientific, paranormal and similarly anomalous phenomena from a responsible, scientific point of view.
* To publicise the results of these investigations and, where appropriate, to draw attention to the possibility of natural and ordinary explanations of such phenomena.
* To accept explanations and hypotheses about paranormal occurrences only after good evidence has been adduced, which directly or indirectly supports such hypotheses.
* To encourage Australians and the Australian news media to adopt a critical attitude towards paranormal claims and to understand that to introduce or to entertain a hypothesis does not constitute confirmation or proof of that hypothesis.
* To stimulate inquiry and the quest for truth, wherever it leads.

These aims will be pursued by:

* Establishing a network of people interested in critically examining claims of the paranormal,
* Publishing a periodical, the Skeptic and distributing relevant information.
* Publishing articles, monographs and books that examine claims of the paranormal.
* Maintaining a library.
* Preparing a bibliography of relevant published material.
* Encouraging and commissioning research by objective and impartial inquirers.
* Conducting meetings, seminars and conferences.
* Acting as a public information resource by making informed members and relevant expertise available to the news media and other interested groups.

The sceptical attitude involves:

* Seeking all relevant evidence concerning any extraordinary or putative paranormal event, claim or theory.
* Keeping an open mind and not rejecting paranormal claims a priori.
* Refusing to accept as true theories and explanations for which there is insufficient or ambiguous evidence and recognising that withholding belief is a preferable position to accepting claims for which there is insufficient evidence.
* In seeking explanations, to prefer the ordinary to the extraordinary, the natural to the supernatural and the simple to the complex.

Update on CMI in Hervey Bay: The Empire Strikes Back.

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science on September 21, 2010 at 11:51 AM

The Creation Ministries International Website now reads:

“Stop press! The arrangements for the seminar in Hervey Bay have changed. Several community organisations have expressed a wish to take a leading role in hosting the event and USQ Fraser Coast is working with these organisations to manage a smooth transition. Details of the venue will be available soon.”

In place of the more humerous:

“Stop press! A concerted campaign of vitriolic and deceptive opposition from persons outside the University of Southern Queensland has resulted in the USQ Fraser Coast campus no longer sponsoring the seminar.”

Is it to early to assume that “community organisations” is code for “church?“, or that this science fiction/right-wing fundamentalist Christian movement will be preaching in a school near you? Will a fellow skeptic be frozen in carbonite and taken away by Ken Ham? I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for the sequel.

Shortcuts for Skeptical Activists Young and Old, Beginner to Veteran.

In GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science, Uncategorized on September 21, 2010 at 11:30 AM

Around a decade ago I stumbled across Terence Hines, James Randi’s and Michael Shermer’s books in the local library and was blown away. I didn’t have a strong science background and grew up with an interest in the paranormal, aided to no end by a fairly credulous parent. What first struck me when discovering that skepticism existed was that the “great mysteries’ I’d read about my whole life actually had solutions, or at least were not that mysterious after all, due to solutions and explanations that were far far more interesting, not to mention real!

It turned out the formula of every single Scooby Doo episode was modeled as close to reality as possible for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, and there were snooping kids catching out those trying (and generally succeeding) in pulling one over the rest of us.
I delved into what skeptical books I could find, all through the same public library yet wanted more. I then started reading popular science books like Brian Greene, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh, and felt the same thrill of understanding, the increase in questions that knowledge brings, and I wanted more.

My interests spread in to psychology and social sciences, health science and finally philosophy. Philosophy took me the longest to really loose myself in, but one day something clicked and I’ve been hooked ever since (read A.C. Grayling and you’ll thank me latter). I then interspersed many books on Atheism and secular topics, eventually leading to Secular Humanism and the writings of Paul Kurtz.

My interests are now very broad but encompass all of the above, as well as a burgeoning interest in media and communications as I am now studying towards a Bachelor of Journalism, majoring in Science, Technology and Society, and Public Relations. I now make an effort to take my time and scrutinize decisions, rather than rushing in and/or relying on assumptions and my life is significantly better for it. I crave education and value listening to others, eagerly soaking up any information I can. I attempt to inform others of what I have been able to find out, and leave them to do what they will with that info. I’m not disappointed that people don’t instantly “wake up” and see that they have no evidence for this and that, or that they’ve been deceived, duped or ripped off by strangers or often those closest to them, whether unwittingly or not. I understand that to expect such a response is unreasonable to the extreme, not to mention sure to lead to allot of disappointment. I stumble and falter being only human, but I dust myself off and learn as much from those mistakes as from the occasional successes.

I point all this out only to demonstrate that I did not come to all these understandings overnight, that they were far from instant, or inevitable, nor do I ever expect a complete understanding of any topic. Like many I often resented my new found critical thinking and skeptical understandings, feeling they led to heartache, disagreements and conflict with little to no reward. However (and here I finally get to me point) I’ve managed to compile a series of links to articles that in one way or another helped me through the growing pains I’m sure allot of us have when newly joining the skeptical community (and for years after if I’m anything to go by). We are all always learning, we’re influenced by what we learn, so it makes sense to me that we should take the time to learn interesting, helpful and insightful things. Here’s a list of my favorites:

Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures

In my opinion this is one of the most important essays of the modern skeptical movement, a must read.
This re-inspired me years ago when I needed it most and brought some much needed apathy and respect for those we more often than not disagree with.

Where do we go from here,

-A defining point in the skeptical movement, the best answer I’ve ever heard given for engaging in Skeptical Activism.
“Because people get hurt, and nobody does anything about it”

What do I do next.

There are so many suggestions on this list that there has to be something everyone for anyone and everyone.

Stupid Skeptic Tricks

If you think what you’re doing is either like something on this list, or could even be perceived/interpreted as something on this list, stop. This is also a great example of why I read from a variety of sources, rather that purely skeptical literature.

Proper Criticism

Just brilliant and predating the recent tone debates by years.

Don’t be a Dick

Phil Plait gives some great advice, that led to many hackles raising around the world in oddly defensive postures. Strange.

Scientific answers to silly questions

A fantastic guide to just some of the science behind the discussions for a best practice approach.

The Paradoxical Future of Skepticism

Support the community that supports you and everybody wins, but written eloquently and with many more important points.

Hunting Humbug 101

If you want to really gain an understanding of logical fallacies and how they apply, but from a really fun and funny locally produced Podcast, then you can’t go past Hunting Humbug 101. Speaking of Podcasts, if you haven’t yet discovered the plethora of amazing skeptic themed podcasts out there, you’re in for quite a treat. You might want to start with the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Skeptoid, The Skeptic Zone, The Amateur Scientist Podcast, For Good Reason, Point of Inquiry, Actually Speaking, The Token Skeptic, Skepticality and there are many, many more!

Finally Daniel Loxton’s latest post’s on the invaluable skepticblog describes some of the value involved in a “skeptical community”

Skeptics as Model Train Lovers 1 & 2

I’ve run out of time and space before I could mention the many, many other superb Blogs and sites and what have you out there to find if you’re keen to explore, and it’s all right at your fingertips and half the fun is the discovery and you might even be surprised to realise how much is happening in your local community, as well as across the world!!

Jayson D Cooke

Stop press! A concerted campaign of vitriolic and deceptive opposition from persons outside the University of Southern Queensland has resulted in the USQ Fraser Coast campus no longer sponsoring the seminar.

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science, Uncategorized on September 20, 2010 at 6:52 PM

…or at least that’s how Creation Ministries International are viewing it!

We actually managed to shed enough light on the situation involving the University of Southern Queensland’s apparent support for a Creation Ministries International run full day seminar, that they have suddenly withdrawn support. That’s two big win’s in the space of a month.

From now on every complaint will be responded to be a rigorous letter campaign first!


Jayson D Cooke

Thank you all for the support!

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science on September 20, 2010 at 1:41 PM

Thanks guy’s and gal’s for all the support with the USQ Creationism Invasion, you all know who you are and I really wanted to let you all know I really appreciate the support. The letter has now been sent to almost every member of staff at every campus of USQ. Already I’ve had heaps of really positive responses such as thank you messages from staff at each campuses who are furious at the implied association and are going to take action.

I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but it’s great to be able to do something about making people aware it’s happening, before it’s too late.

Jayson D Cooke

Open letter to USQ, RE: Implicit endorsement of Young Earth Creationism.

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, Helping our community., Science on September 19, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Dear Staff, Associates and Representatives of USQ,

I am writing to you to inform you of concerns raised by a proposed seminar to take place at USQ’s Fraser Coast Campus , titled

“Creation and Evolution: scientific evidence, myths and challenges”.

The USQ produced flyer (Creation Seminar flyer_v2) advises that two expert scientists, Dr Don Batten and Dr Tas Walker of Creation Ministries International will challenge society’s largely uncritical commitment to the theory of evolution.

“This seminar forms part of our continuing commitment to engage intellectually with our community. We see it as part of our role to engage in debate about the most significant and sometimes controversial issues of the day. In 2011, we shall provide even more opportunity for such debate.”

The advertisements produced by CMI however advise that

“The only presenters at this event are CMI scientists”

and states that this is the first time in the history of Creation Ministries International that they have been invited to speak at a “secular” university. It may concern you to know that neither of the speakers advertised have any professional credentials in Biology, Evolutionary Biology or Theology. I point this out as a professional courtesy, and by the same token, feel obliged to point out that Creation Ministries International’s ‘Statement of Faith’ as seen on their website clearly states:

“The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer and Judge.”

CMI are a religious organisation, not a scientific one, and while their membership does include some scientists, the organisation they represent has no standing in the scientific community and their stated goals are far from the advancement of the scientific enterprise. More precisely, the primary aim of this group is to promote its particular version of Young Earth Creationism and to undermine the theory of evolution wherever and whenever possible. They are also outspokenly opposed to abortion, gay rights, ‘pornography’ etc. and adopt the standard Religious Right position on a range of other social issues.

Former Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane and Governor General of Australia, Peter Hollingworth has stated that growing numbers of theologians and many other thoughtful Christians have found that there is no inevitable conflict between evolutionary theory and the belief that God created and continues with the creation of His universe. He goes on to warn in the foreword to Professor Ian Plimer’s “Telling Lies for God

“If creationists argue that the Genesis account of creation is to be taken literally and that accordingly, science is wrong, then empirically minded students, when persuaded by the general theory of evolution, are very likely to conclude that the Bible itself must be correspondingly wrong. Thus instead of offering dialogue between Biblical faith and evolutionary science and then seeking a contemporary understanding of creation as a dynamic and evolving process, there is likely to be further estrangement between groups of people within our culture.”

My own concerns are that a University such as USQ appears to be giving implicit endorsement to CMI allowing and encouraging them to distort, misuse and misapply science, to pursue a religious agenda that is both divisive and not representative of mainstream Theology.
Please find below relevant position statements on the scientific validity of ‘Creation Science’ from peak scientific research organisations within Australia and internationally.

Australian Academy of Science

Geological Society of Australia Inc

The Australian Museum

The Interacademy Panel on International Issues (IAP)

National Academy of Science (United States)

The American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Anthropological Association

American Association of Physics Teachers

The Biophysical Society (United States)

The Union of Concerned Scientists (United States)

The Paleontological Society (United States)

The National Science Teachers Association (United States)

The Geological Society of America

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (United States)

The American Geophysical Union

National Association of Biology Teachers (United States)

The American Institute of Biological Sciences

Association for Women Geoscientists (United States)

The Botanical Society of America

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration,

Jayson D Cooke

University of Southern Queensland presents: Creation Ministries International?

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, Helping our community., Science on September 17, 2010 at 2:22 PM

I just received a troubling email with a subject heading that reads

“University–sponsored Creation Seminar at Hervey Bay”

Allegedly, the University of Southern Queensland is organising a day long event under the title ‘Creation and Evolution, Scientific Evidence, myths and challanges’ featuring speakers from Creation Ministries International (CMI).
This is the same group who publicly state as the first point in the’What We Believe’ section of their website

“The scientific aspects of creation are important, but are secondary in importance to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer and Judge.”

The press release conveys the same surprise I feel, that a public, secular university would host a day long presention by this renowned evangelical evolution denial group, yet does not seem to share my concern. The release states:

“it is entirely the university’s event, and at its own initiative. The uni is covering costs, and receiving all registrations and fees.”

The speakers are CMI regular Dr Don Batten, author of such classic Creation Magazine articles as:

Frankenstein foods? Genetically modified foods and the Bible

Did Noah need oxygen above the mountains?

Modelling the size of Noah’s ark

Sandy Stripes: Many layers don’t mean many years

Alongside fellow full-time CMI staffer Dr Tas Walker, and we’re advised these two CMI scientists are the only speakers.

Details some questions the speakers will address, such as

* Is the fish really our ancestor?
* Are we just a bag of chemicals?
* Should school science lessons focus on evolution?
* Is the world really millions of years old?
* Would the evolution arguments stack up in a court of law?

Unable to find any reference to this presentation anywhere online (with the exception of the CMI page), I decided to call the University and find out what was going really on and how this could possibly happen, but unfortunately haven’t been able to get in contact with anyone at all. I’ll keep trying though as this is an Australian first that I was not anticipating anytime soon, but I’m still optimistic there is much more to this than meets the eye. Please feel free to join me in getting to the bottom of this weirdness, you can contact the USQ Fraser Coast campus here.

Roll out,

Jayson D Cooke.

Has the Pope been watching ‘Expelled, No Intelligence Allowed’?

In Discrimination, Equality, Helping our community., Human Rights, Responses to the media on September 17, 2010 at 12:18 PM

The BBC just released a story detailing the most recent controversy of his current tour of the United Kingdom. Fresh from yesterdays reports that Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s leading expert on relations with the Church of England, compared the United Kingdom to the third world. When asked by German news magazine Focus, whether Christians were discriminated against in the UK, Kasper replied:

“Yes. Above all, an aggressive new atheism has spread through Britain. If, for example, you wear a cross on British Airways, you are discriminated against.”

Today’s headlines reveal that the in his opening address to the Queen, the Pope openly and clearly compares secularism to Nazism.

“Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny”

The talk ends with the following advice;

“Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate. Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.
May God bless Your Majesty and all the people of your realm. Thank you. “

Lovely. So now we know the secret of how the magisterium of the church maintains it purity.
Will this act of diplomatic charity, the sharing of critiques and advice go both ways?

I doubt it.

Jayson D Cooke