Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

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An Idiot’s Guide To Rational Debating

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2013 at 9:05 PM

Amanda Williams

~~ I was asked to provide an article for the University magazine ‘Getamungstit’. This is what I came up with – considering I had only a few hours I think I did ok!  Be nice about my first post please 🙂 ~~

By Amanda Williams – President of Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

Skeptics are famous (or perhaps notorious) for meeting in pubs; it just so happens that the idea for this article was first discussed in a pub, with someone I had only just met.  I had explained that I was a skeptic but no, I didn’t believe the moon landing was a hoax.  No, I didn’t believe that aliens have visited and have abducted people (although I do think, statistically speaking, it is likely that there is a form of intelligent life in our universe – but possibly not in our Milky Way galaxy… but that’s another topic).  No, atheism is not a religion – for the record, atheism is like a religion like bald is a hair colour (or atheism is like a religion like abstinence is a sex position *snigger*).  No, I am not a climate change skeptic or a Holocaust denier or… well you get the idea.  I then explained that about the only thing all us ‘Skeptics’ can agree on, is our distaste for homeopathy.  Otherwise, we’re a mix of secularists, agnostics, humanists, atheists, and even the occasional deists.  About 2 years ago, I didn’t even know what these terms meant – so don’t worry if I’ve lost you.

The point is the next question that arose: If these people are all different, how do you get along?

The answer is simple: we have rules about how we discuss/debate our ideas. So next time you want to engage in a discussion with someone, whether it be contentious topic, politics or religion (or something less cliché, like whether naturopathy is harmless or do humans have ethereal souls) – here are some ideas to keep the conversation as mature, unheated and objective as possible.

 

Rule #1: No ad hominem.  (This should be a principal rule in relationships too!)

Ad hominem: attacking your opponent’s character or personal traits instead of engaging with their argument.  The ad hominem logical fallacy happens so frequently with our politicians that they should be ashamed.  When we get emotional in an argument, especially if we know the person well, it can be so tempting to disregard/dismiss what they are saying based on some character flaw.  Remember that undermining their argument, does not devalue them as a person.  Be specific; your problem is the structure or nature of their argument, and not with them as an individual.  This enables diverse people to be friends; or in some cases, meet under the common umbrella as ‘Skeptics’.  www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com has examples of this and other fallacies (some of which I discuss later) for those aspiring to be master debaters.

Rule #2: Define words during the discussion.

Those with experience in debating know there is nothing worse than the ‘definition debate’.  First year university I was subjected to several fake debates in one of my tutorials: all hail group-work… the one that sticks in my memory was the debate regarding electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).  It was clear that the group had split into teams early and had not discussed their arguments with the other team, thus: the affirmative team went on about how safe ECT is today, using pictures of hygienic hospital wards and showing results of recent studies with positive improvements in very select cases.  The negative team played a video clip from the iconic 1975 film (hint: cuckoo’s nest)… This anecdote is one of my favourites because it describes the fundamental absurdity of arguing using the same term, but each party having a different meaning in mind.  During this particular debate, it became clear that the teams actually agreed: old ECT = bad, new ECT = good in select cases.  Many times debates arise because people assume the other person understands what they’re arguing about.  Never assume.  Organised debates often start with a definition of the topic – in the real world, defining the topic is just the tip of the iceberg.  Be sure the words you are using are being understood.

Rule #3: If there is nothing (no evidence, no idea, no new information) that can change your mind; you haven’t formed an opinion you’ve formed a prejudice.

Science has few fundamental rules, for example; correlation does not imply causation, replication of experiments is essential to theory confirmation, etc.  The relevant one here is: science changes and adapts when new technology and ideas provide new evidence.  New evidence can change what we know and how we view the world; from the geocentric to heliocentric theory of planets for example.  As Skeptics, we have confidence in the process of science in seeking truth – but you don’t need to be a scientist to realise that having a discussion with someone, who insists their view is absolutely right and nothing you (or anyone) could possibly say or do could change their mind, is futile.  More futile than resisting the Borg.  Instead of being assimilated, you will simply become annoyed with them and they with you.  Opinion: A judgment or evaluation based on special knowledge and (usually) given by an expert.  Prejudice: preconceived preference or idea OR judgment or evaluation formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.  Before you get into a discussion with someone, be clear on whether or not they know (or are willing to look at) the facts.

Rule #4: Yes, you can agree to disagree.
Opinions differ because our subjective interpretation of the facts will differ.  In many cases, Skeptics endlessly debate the ‘grey’ areas where there is ‘no right answer’.  In these cases, be prepared to agree to disagree.  You aren’t out to ‘convert’ anyone to your way of thinking; you simply want to open the dialogue.  As Skeptics, we are willing to share not just our opinion, but the process we engaged in to reach it; the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, rather than just the ‘what’.  I personally find it far more interesting to know how you reached your conclusion, than the conclusion itself.  Partly because if someone reached their conclusion without much thought or investigation, it’s technically a prejudice (as above).  Partly because I deem conclusions following rigorous application of the scientific method as more robust.  However, this one doesn’t require you to be a scientist or a Skeptic: it’s just good old common sense.

Rule #5: Be a respectful opponent.

The fallacy fallacy: Presuming that because a claim has been poorly argued, or a fallacy has been made, that it is necessarily wrong.  Some people are good at debating, and some people aren’t.  This doesn’t mean their point of view is necessarily wrong, it simply means they aren’t able to articulate it at that point in time.  For those who revel in the inability of others to explain what they mean, take heed: there will always be better and worse debaters than you.  If you are well prepared, and your opinion is based on sound evidence, how well (or poorly) they structure or articulate their argument will be irrelevant.  If you don’t find this challenging enough, feel free to apply another of science’s important tenets: actively try to prove yourself wrong.

Rule #6: Do not move the goalposts.

If you have said that you will change your opinion on X, given evidence Y; do not turn around when Y is produced and say, what I really meant was Z anyway.  This sounds silly when using XYZ but I can’t count the number of times I’ve witnessed this happening.  Be clear in your opinions, be clear when explaining yourself and above all, be humble and adult enough to accept being wrong.  When you are finished debating someone, how will you be perceived?  How will you perceive yourself?  These rules are just guidelines anyway; remember that after the debate life goes on.  If you want to discuss this topic, or another, with them in future (or even with others, word gets around), try not to burn bridges by breaking these rules.

Anyone who has read this far is either really bored, or is wanting a beer with the Skeptics.   So if I’m not in class come find me at the Unibar – Skeptics in the Pub might be a cliché, but it’s one that involves beer and bull****, so come and have a glass with me.

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New Facebook Group-page in the making

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 at 9:46 PM

Hi everyone,

This is just a quick note to let you know that we finally have a new facebook group page (in the new less user friendly format). Follow the link to join in.

Also we had another successful club sign-up day with quite a few new members joining and a new committee is on the verge of being finalised.

Thank you all once again for all the support and you’ll be sure to hear more from us soon!

Jayson D Cooke

Founder and acting President of the Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers

jayson.d.cooke@gmail.com
jayson.d.cooke(Skype)
jayson_d_cooke(Twitter)
www.jaysondcooke.com

What you can do to inform Gold Coast parents, & protect children from ‘Body Brilliant Chiropractic’?

In GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science, Uncategorized on December 5, 2010 at 1:33 PM

At the end of my last post I asked what else we can do about the proliferation of dangerous, erroneous, and pseudoscientific claims that Body Brilliant Chiropractic are successfully pushing in Childcare Centre’s and media aimed directly at Gold Coast parents.

We’ve managed to come up with some suggestions that are not at all time consuming and require no specific expertise! I encourage anyone who finds anything on the Body Brilliant Chiropractic website, that contradicts properly controlled studies and research from medical science (some of which is linked to in my post, but also check out http://www.healthinformation.com.au/ which links to the terrific
Cochrane Collaboration, and PubMed.) to lodge a complaint with the following bodies:

http://www.health.qld.gov.au/quality/consumer_complaints/complaints.asp

http://www.hqcc.qld.gov.au/home/default.aspx

http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/693900

http://www.fairtrading.qld.gov.au/

http://www.tga.gov.au/cm/cm.htm

http://www.chiropracticboard.gov.au/

http://www.caaq.com.au/


http://www.ahpra.gov.au/Notifications-and-Outcomes/Notification-Process.aspx

Also please contact the ‘media’, for instance,

ACA: http://aca.ninemsn.com.au/feedback.aspx
Today Tonight: http://au.todaytonight.yahoo.com/contactform/suggest-story
Prime Gold Coast News:
http://goldcoast.iprime.com.au/index.php/news?sem=google&KNC-Google&cmpid=37129
The Gold Coast Bulletin:
http://www.goldcoast.com.au/gold-coast-bulletin/contact-us.html
The Tweed Daily News: http://www.tweednews.com.au/contactus/
http://www.tweednews.com.au/contact/feedback/

And contact your local Member of Parliament!

This list is far from exhaustive and I’d be very happy to add to it!

It shouldn’t be up to us to do this, but it is so we may as well try to be as effective as possible in raising awareness amongst both the general public & those with the power to regulate.

Jayson D Cooke

Climate ‘Sceptics’ contributed nothing but confusion and annoyance to Skeptics and the public.

In Creationism/ Intelligent Design, GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Science, Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 at 1:40 AM

I was fortunate enough to attend a talk by Professor Tim Flannery tonight, hosted by my local public library. The only downside to a great presentation launching Professor Flannery’s latest book “Here On Earth“, were a couple of rude, incoherent  climate ‘sceptics’. During the Q and A following the presentation, they drew attention to themselves by raising their voices unnecessarily, not relinquishing the microphone and speaking over the top of other audience members as well as the guest speaker.

When my time came to ask a question and I introduced myself as a representative of the Griffith University Skeptics and Freethinkers, many in the audience groaned and it was clear visibly and audibly that they were wary of more of the same rudeness and intolerance.

I calmly explained that in my opinion the evidence supporting human caused climate change was overwhelming and freely available to anyone willing to look, however my question related to the social habits of certain ant species (namely democratic process in some Ant colonies, you really had to be there). I hope at least some of the large audience now have less cause to equate the term “skeptic” with rude, flailing, oddball denier, but I know with certainty that I tried to get this point across.

I point this out because the embarrassing ‘sceptics’ in the audience were clearly not looking to evaluate evidence or discuss findings; they seemed to just want to be heard and to be believed/correct, regardless of the answers given. The evidence for human caused climate change, is there to be evaluated, accepting it or dismissing it is each of our prerogatives, as is establishing personal standards of proof, however what was witnessed tonight was just the latest in a long line of noise masquerading (transparently this time) as real scientific debate.

It is incorrect that there are two sides of a scientific controversy regarding the validity of Climate Change and/or Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). There are the overwhelming majority of the scientists in the field who are gathering, analysing and verifying evidence, publishing their research in peer reviewed journals and getting on with their work. They are sharply contrasted with the fringe groups that contribute nothing more than empty rhetoric, threats and denial.

I believe the same rejection of evidence applies within the AGW denial community as does it does with those who deny the evidence that dinosaurs became extinct millions of years before humans existed. There are strong evidential reasons to accept the science in both cases, and in both cases it is being illogically overlooked, ignored, mocked and derided by those whose ideological agenda permits if not demands such behavior.

Now to be really, clear I do not mean every single person who harbors questions and/or doubts (AGW agnostics for instance). I mean the loud public voices of dissent like Ian Plimer and those who cherry pick the research rather than actually following the many converging lines of evidence, from diverse and varied fields, diverse and varied institutions and diverse and varied scientists.

For example it’s really worth checking out the great resources NASA has available here, here,
and for more details and the most up to the minute data, here.
Some good detail on the A in AGW can be found here.

On face value I understand people’s reluctance to put stock in scientific consensus, knowing full well that science while being many things, is not a democratic process. Therefore it’s easy to reject a consensus as something put forward in lieu of evidence, but there would need to be evidence in favor of the assumption that this was indeed what was occurring too!

The very idea of a scientific consensus being supplied to the media and governments to the world is unusual and I can only recall one other time that it has been deemed necessary by the academies of science to issue such a thing; in defense of science from Creation Science and ID. The scientific community in general is not accustomed to having to engage in political public debate, rather expecting the evidence to speak for itself.

The idea of a consensus did not impress me at all, until I considered what it actually was and meant in this case. That these organisations and individuals in the tens of thousands are willing to stake their academic reputations on this topic, what could possibly compel them to do that?

For instance the 2005 position statement from the National Academy of Sciences begins

“Climate Change is real”

and is endorsed by no less than the National Academy of Sciences, United States of America (obviously), the Chinese Academy of Sciences-China, the Royal Society-United Kingdom, the Russian Academy of Sciences-Russia, the Academia Brasiliera de Ciências- Brazil, the Royal Society of Canada-Canada, Academié des Sciences-France, Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher-Germany, Indian National Science Academy-India, Accademia dei Lincei-Italy and the Science Council of Japan.

Not to be outdone, the Royal Society (UK) released a statement declaring

“The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) represents the consensus of the international scientific community on climate change science. We recognise IPCC as the world’s most reliable source of information on climate change and its causes”.

This one was endorsed by Australian Academy of Sciences, Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts, Brazilian Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Caribbean Academy of Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, German Academy of Natural Scientists : Leopoldina, Indian National Science Academy, the Indonesian Academy of Sciences, Royal Irish Academy, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Italy), Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Academy Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and of course the Royal Society (UK).

Of course this in no-way counts as evidence on its own, it merely represents an overwhelming certainty amongst the best and brightest scientific minds of all time.

As we all know the gold standard of scientific credibility is the peer review journal.
Now if there was a genuine (by which I mean verifiable, evidence based) rejection of the vast evidence for AGW, peer reviewed journals would be where this would take place right?

While I didn’t have time to trawl through a database search myself, Naomi Oreskes from the Department of History and Science Studies Program, University of California at San Diego did!
Naomi performed an ISI database search with the keyword phrase “global climate change” and surveyed the abstracts she found that had been published between 1993 and 2003 in refereed scientific journals.
She then divided the 928 papers she found into six categories:

1. Explicit endorsement of the consensus position (Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities)

2. Evaluation of impacts

3. Mitigation proposals

4. Methods

5. Paleoclimate analysis

6. Rejection of the consensus position (Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities)

Naomi found that none of the papers fell into the last category while 75% fell into the first three. I should also point out that the start date of the analysis was prior to the 1995 IPCC report, let alone the more recent IPCC reports.

I can’t recommend highly enough this excellent talk given by Peter Ellerton (winner of the 2008 Australian Skeptics prize for Critical Thinking) on the Climate Change debate. You’re encouraged to examine the way in which the debate is being run and scrutinise your own convictions as to why you may have taken the position you hold, if any!

Personally I would much prefer Climate Change and AGW to be an error, a hoax, a conspiracy, or any one of the mundane explanations put forward by others that would also prefer it not to be true, however I’m unable to be intellectually honest and do that on the balance of the copious evidence available.  As the Australian Skeptics position statement on “climate change skeptics” says:

It has always been the Australian Skeptics’ position that people should make up their minds based on the evidence. This position becomes even more important when what should be a completely scientific issue is used by politically-motivated groups to further their causes, often in the face of contradictory evidence.

People who are not experts in fields related to climate science should seek the best available evidence, as judged by those who are experts in relevant fields. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, not everyone is entitled to be taken seriously. On the very important and very complex questions of climate change and its causes, only the carefully formed opinions of relevantly qualified experts should be taken seriously.

As in all fields of science, expertise emerges out of experience and through the peer-review process, not through media appearances or political connections.

Jayson D Cooke

A Current Affair, Today Tonight and Skeptical Activism.

In GUSSF Events!, Helping our community., Responses to the media, Uncategorized on October 10, 2010 at 7:27 AM

The question of whether we as Skeptics should utilise television programs such as A Current Affair and Today Tonight as a medium for investigations and/or consumer advocacy has recently arisen.

While I personally only watch these shows for a laugh, jokingly referring to them as “news”, the reality is that they each draw a more than significant share of Australia’s viewing public.

The bottom line for me then is that they will continue to exist, being viewed by millions of people, whether they run the occasional story we agree with, collaborate on, and or get a mention in, or not.

For me what is comes down to is getting our message of consumer advocacy, an often over looked and/or under recognized part of skeptical activism, to a wider audience. Potentially the very audience that is most likely to benefit from such stories.

This will never stop me personally from criticizing such shows when I deem it necessary, as many can attest I do ad nauseum, let alone encouraging others to do so. Not coincidently my favorite Australian television show has for years been Media Watch (which is itself not immune to criticism, no sacred cows and all that).

Advocacy groups and their reps including but not limited to CHOICE’s  Christopher Zinn, take advantage of the outreach opportunity such shows provide, and I have to agree that the potential for positive outcomes through utilising such mediums outweighs the discomfort.

Unfortunately as viewers of the programs will readily attest, the opportunity for free publicity and promotion combined with often credulous reporting can and often does result in the promotion of products and claims that are unproven, disproven and/or are ineffective at best. To me this is all the more reason to be vigilant, to maximize any opportunity to educate and inform both journalists and the public of evidentiary standards, scientific testing as well as to try and combat the negative stereotypes that skeptics often face.

The following is taken from an article on the great resource for emerging journalists (emerging from what I don’t want to know), UPSTART sums it up for me.

“Do you have a service or product to sell and need to get the word out, but only have a miniscule advertising budget?
You may think that your options are limited to taking out a small display ad in the local community newspaper.
That may be so, but, what if there was another way; a way for you to reach a national prime time television audience with your product or service?
Sounds farfetched doesn’t it? But there is such a way. It’s called A Current Affair and it’s in Channel 9 every weeknight.”

Jayson D Cooke

Related Posts:

PodBlack Cat:

The ‘Child Psychic’ – Dr Krissy Wilson Speaks Out On Today Tonight.

The Sceptics’ Book of Pooh Pooh:

Quack fined $12,000; ordered to stop selling fake cancer treatment.

PodBlack Cat:

Loretta Marron, Health Hero, On Australia’s A Current Affair

Queensland Skeptics President Bob Bruce joins the “Paranormal Panel” tonight!

In Helping our community., Responses to the media, Science, Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 at 8:11 PM

Qskeptics President Bob Bruce is a regular voice of reason on Radio 4BC 116’s Paranormal Panel.

The show has featured topics as varied as Ouija boards, the Azaria Chamberlain case, ghost-busting, psychics and conspiracy theories, and the list of topics will never be exhausted.

The show is streamed live each and every Tuesday Night from 9pm Australian EST and audience participation is appreciated!Bob is not surprisingly outnumbered more often than not, so feel free to interact on 131332 or (07) 3908 8800 if outside of Queensland.

The Amazing Meeting Australia: You may not have missed out just yet!

In GUSSF Events!, Science, TAM Australia, Uncategorized on October 4, 2010 at 4:42 PM

For those that were unable to secure a ticket to the inaugural TAM Australia event to be held from November 26-28 this year in Sydney, you may be in luck as it’s been announced that a small number of additional full-priced ($445) tickets will be made available very soon!

Due to the high demand, the tickets will be allocated by lottery. Applicants will need to send an email using this link by midnight Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time on the 8th of October. The organizers ask that all details be provided and the lottery will take place by the 15th of October. One ticket will be allocated to each winning application with winners to be notified promptly as they will need to pay in full within two business days.

Any tickets not paid for after that time will be reallocated so make sure you get in quick.

Just in case you are not aware of the stellar line up, here are some of the many speakers/attendees:

Steve Cannane – multi award winning journalist with ABC TV

Nicholas Cowdery, QC – NSW Director of Public Prosecutions

Dr Rachael Dunlop – reporter on The Skeptic Zone, medical researcher, winner of the 2010 Shorty Award for Health and Australian Skeptics Inc vice president

Brian Dunning– science journalist and host and producer of the podcast Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena

D.J. Grothe – writer, public speaker and president of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)

George Hrab – musician, author and podcaster on the Geologic Universe

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki – scientist, broadcaster and prolific author of books on science real and bogus, past Skeptic of the Year

Catharine Lumby – the Director of the Journalism and Media Research at the University of NSW, author of seven books and numerous book chapters and journal articles

Loretta Marron – premier investigator of cancer cures and past Skeptic of the Year

Dr Rob Morrison – Professorial Fellow at Flinders University and noted science communicator and award winning presenter (including the Order of Australia)

Julian Morrow – co-founder of the Chaser and now part of the Chaser creative team and its Managing Director

James Randi – the Amazing Randi is the number-one icon of the Skeptical movement in the world – co-founder of CSICOP, and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation, researcher, investigator and magician, Randi’s reputation for Skeptical thinking and action are second to none

Dr Eugenie Scott – physical anthropologist and executive director of the National Center for Science Education

Dr Simon Singh – scientist, author and campaigner against bogus medical treatments

The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe – the entire crew:
Dr Steve Novella – academic neurologist at Yale University and president and co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society
Bob Novella – co-founder of the New England Skeptical Society
Rebecca Watson – founder of Skepchick
Evan Bernstein – television production specialist and technical adviser for official New England Skeptical Society investigations
Jay Novella – skeptical satirist who also creates and maintains the internet technology for NESS and SGU.

Dick Smith – business man, philanthropist, aviator, CSI fellow and co-founder of Australian Skeptics

John Smyrk – management consultant and management lecturer at ANU

Simon Taylor – award winning illusionist

Dr Fred Watson – astronomer-in-charge of the Anglo Australian Observatory in Coonabarabran and internationally-noted and awarded science communicator

Dr Paul Willis – paleontologist and host of Catalyst on ABC television

Dr Krissy Wilson – psychologist, entertainer, cricket fanatic and a member of the Australian Skeptics Inc committee.

Oh and I’ll be there with a contingent of Queensland’s best and brightest, attempting to attend as many of the official and unofficial ‘side events‘ as possible. I’ve already committed to the Skeptics Open Mic night so please keep in mind I am willing to exchange congenial ‘high five’s” for each beverage purchased on my behalf.

Jayson D Cooke

“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

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!

Boom!

Jayson D Cooke