Tag Archives: Tim Mendham

Fall of an antivaxxer

The Doctor Who Fooled the World
Andrew Wakefield’s War on Vaccines
By Brian Deer
Scribe, A$35.00

(An edited version of these book reviews was published in The Skeptic magazine, September 2020, Vol 40 No 3)

The Doctor Who Fooled the World - Brian Deer

This is an important book. Whether it’s really about “the scientific deception of our time”, as the blurb on the back cover describes it, or the result of “the most extensive investigation by a reporter into an aspect of medicine ever undertaken”, as the author describes it, history will decide. But it has to be said that the subject of the book has caused immeasurable damage to the lives of many thousands, and possibly millions, of people.

Therefore we deemed it appropriate to run two reviews – the first by your editor, and the second by noted anti-anti-vaccination campaigner Peter Bowditch, who adds a personal perspective.

Brian Deer is an experienced journalist with a list of exposes of medical fraud and mispractice in his CV. But Wakefield is probably his magnum opus. He has spent 16 years following the saga of Andrew Wakefield, “the doctor without patients”. He wrote a number of revelatory articles on Wakefield’s progress for the Sunday Times, the publication that supported him throughout, both financially and legally, as well as many TV, radio and public appearances, and a significant expose in the British Medical Journal.

Readers of this publication will be aware of Andrew Wakefield’s role in the anti-vaccination movement – the search for autistic kids who could be linked to the measles/MMR vaccine, publication in The Lancet, Wakefield’s promotion of the ‘link’ which lead to a major decline in MMR vaccinations across the world and consequent increases in cases of measles and the damage that has caused.

Deer came to this story during the anti-vaccination campaign, with Wakefield a high-profile figure riding a wave of publicity and, frankly, adulation. From 2002 until the writing of this book in 2019, Deer has followed the vicissitudes of his subject, and played a key role in exposing a range of misconduct and duplicity that eventually led to the longest-ever inquiry by the UK General Medical Council (GMC). In January 2010, the GMC judged Wakefield to be “dishonest”, “unethical” and “callous”, and on 24 May 2010, Wakefield was struck off the UK medical register. Responding to Deer’s findings, The Lancet partially retracted Wakefield’s research in February 2004 and fully retracted it in February 2010 following the GMC findings. In 2011, Deer published his findings in the BMJ with an endorsement by the editors.

Wakefield, of course, became a tragic hero of the anti-vaccination movement, a martyr to the cause, now living in the US and still promoting the supposed autism link, despite the masses of evidence against him and his claims.

Needless to say, Wakefield does not come out of it looking rosy. In fact, Deer portrays Wakefield as an opportunist, a mediocre researcher who used his personal charisma as a tool to promote himself, and who cottoned on to a ‘good thing’ and milked it – and continues to milk it – for everything it’s got.

But Deer makes clear that, despite the book’s title, there were many others contributing to the failed theory and whose involvement made them just as guilty as Wakefield; it is just that Wakefield had the charisma and drive – if not the medical knowledge and skill – to push the case to a broader public. These others include scientific and medical associates, adulatory followers, politicians, parents, learned journals, lawyers (importantly) and, of course, a complicit media. Some of these have paid the price of their association with Wakefield.

But Deer’s coverage of the media is a bit surprising. This reviewer’s background is journalism, and seeing how the media promoted and boosted Wakefield’s scare tactics was always disappointing, to say the least! There would not have been a vaccine scare without some media putting the case in hyperbolic terms. Their role in the growth of the anti-vaccination movement is considerable and intrinsic to spreading misinformation and paranoia.

Therefore, it is interesting that Deer doesn’t spend more time on the media’s involvement. Certainly, he makes reference to a number of specific and highly partisan journalists, such as Lorraine Fraser of the Mail on Sunday, Jeremy Paxman and Susan Watts on the BBC’s Newsnight, and Matt Lauer of the NBC’s Today program, but his coverage of the media is as much about their attacks on him as it is their support for Wakefield, and in some cases, once Deer’s work had been publicised, trying to gazump him with a scoop.

With that in mind, Deer’s book covers a lot of his investigation in addition to what he is investigating. This adds an element akin to a detective thriller, which takes the book along at a very readable pace. Overall, media coverage notwithstanding, this is an excellent book. The depth and detail are spot on, from well-explained scientific and medical protocols and procedures to well-told human interest elements (the parents’ responses ranging from suspect support to desperate self-blame).

It is highly likely that this is the definitive version of the Wakefield and Co saga. Now for one on the evolution of the anti-vaccination movement to complement it.

PS: The story is bookended by a couple of Australians. In the beginning was John Walker-Smith, a gastroenterologist who was instrumental in testing the children who would eventually become the basis of The Lancet paper (and who only just missed out on suffering the same professional fate as Wakefield), and at the tail end we have Elle ‘the Body’ Macpherson, super-model and consort of the superstar Wakefield. One wonders whether everyone got their just desserts.

– Reviewed by Tim Mendham

In 1996 I was commissioned to write a book about the Internet. It was to explain to people who didn’t know anything about it or the technology behind it or what it could be good and bad for. There was some hysteria about the possibility of a flood of pornography filling our lounge rooms so I actually had to research porn (it was boring!) to answer the inevitable questions in interviews. I also looked for other forms of bad information because it was obvious even then that there would be dubious information coming down the tubes. One of the bad things I found was a group of websites spreading fear about vaccinations. I commented at the time that none of the pornography I was forced to watch was as offensive as some of these sites.

In 1999 I started paying more attention to the anti-vaccination sites and it wasn’t long before I was sneeringly told that a paper by a Dr Andrew Wakefield had been published in The Lancet (the world’s second-most prestigious and influential medical journal) which proved that the MMR vaccine caused autism. As I had experience of people citing unlikely research results in the hope that nobody would check, I read the paper for myself (I had access to the medical library at Westmead Hospital) and it proved no such thing – it only suggested there might be a link. There were several red flags on the paper, one of which was that the editors of The Lancet felt the need to include an editorial statement implying the clichés “further research is needed” and “the science is not settled”.

The biggest red flag for me came from something I had been taught about research methodology at university – the sample of subjects looked too good to be true. It seemed highly unlikely that the parents of the children had independently and randomly sought out a doctor (who didn’t see patients!) at a small and relatively unknown London hospital. I mentioned my concerns in a conference presentation in 2001. The most charitable view was that there had been some cherry-picking going on mixed with some confirmation bias. The peer review process can’t always detect outright fraud, so this was a case of “the benefit of the doubt”.

But fraud it certainly was.

Journalist Brian Deer had been investigating suspicious matters around the pharmaceutical industry for some years, and in 2003 he was approached by an editor at the Sunday Times and asked to apply his investigative skills to the Wakefield story, which by then had started to have a serious effect on vaccination levels and public health. There was enough information and doubt from within the medical profession itself to suggest that the public didn’t know all the things it should have known, and it wasn’t long before the facts started coming out – that Wakefield was paid a large amount of money to find what he wanted to find, that he had applied for a patent on a measles vaccine that would have made him very wealthy if it replaced the current vaccine, that the subjects of the study had not been randomly chosen but had been supplied by a lawyer, Roger Barr, who intended taking legal action against vaccine manufacturers, that Barr had used a loophole in the regulations to stripmine the Legal Aid system for tens of millions of pounds (shared with Wakefield), that Wakefield and Barr both had close associations with prominent anti-vaccination campaigners, that the laboratory doing the tests for measles DNA had less credibility than a school science project … the list went on.

In 2010 Wakefield’s registration as a medical practitioner was cancelled and The Lancet retracted the 1998 paper. It took too many years, but we thought that at last it might all be over. We were wrong.

Brian Deer (described as “a lying dog of a journalist” by a leading anti-vaccination campaigner) has now written a complete history of the Wakefield saga. The book goes back some years before the notorious 1998 paper to reveal the involvement of lawyer Barr and vociferous anti-vaccination organisations, through the almost unbelievable litany of lies, corruption and fraud that surrounded Wakefield and the coordinated attempts to use his fraudulent “research” to damage the public’s perception of the safety and efficacy of vaccines, to his elevation to hero status in the anti-vaccination movement and his current incarnation as the director and producer of anti-vaccination films liked the execrable “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe”. (The use of the word “cover-up” in the title caused irony meters across the world to shatter, given the way that Wakefield et al had covered up his deceit. Also, when the film first came out in 2016 someone commented about the propaganda: “Leni Riefenstahl would have baulked at making something this dishonest”.)

I could summarise the book into something like those old Reader’s Digest condensed novels, but I wouldn’t know what to leave out and this review would be about 300 pages long. The book is an essential read for anyone who has followed Wakefield over the years (and even I, who have followed him very closely, found many new things to wonder and grimace at). It is essential reading for anyone who thinks that scientific and medical research can’t be corrupted by greed and self-interest or to support an agenda. And it is essential reading for anyone who thinks for a nanosecond that the anti-vaccination movement is based on any philosophy that includes honesty, ethics or morality. Strangely, the book also reinforces the claim by anti-vaccinators that all medical research is corrupt and driven by money, although they will make an exception in this case.

You need this book. Buy it! Highly recommended.

– Reviewed by Peter Bowditch

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Fighting words

Yes you can, no you can’t! Tim Mendham takes a brief trip through the history of free speech.

(An edited version of this essay was published in The Skeptic magazine,
June 2019, Vol 39 No 2. Reproduced here with permission)

Everyone knows the famous statement on free speech by the 18th century French philosopher Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

It’s an oft-cited quote that is used to justify the liberalisation of expression, and a view that is typical of Enlightenment thinking.

Only, like a lot of our understanding of free speech, it’s wrong.

The statement was actually written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall (aka SG Tallentyre) in 1906. She coined the sentence in a book called The Friends of Voltaire, an anecdotal biography telling the stories of ten men who were contemporaries and friends of the philosopher. The sentence appeared in a chapter entitled Helvetius the Contradiction – about Claude Adrien Helvétius, author of De l’Esprit (On Mind) – and was supposed to indicate the sort of approach Voltaire may have had, not what he actually ever said.

Like the famous love-and peace prose poem Desiderata (“Go placidly amid the noise and haste etc”) that first appeared in the 1920s but achieved fame in the 1960s and 70s when purported by some to be a document from the 17th century, the Voltaire ‘quote’ has the imprimatur of a history that it does not deserve. And like Desiderata, reality is a lot more complicated than that.

As is the notion of “free speech”.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “free speech” as “The right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint”, and Macquarie Dictionary as the less absolute “The right to express oneself and impart one’s opinions in speech or writing or any form of public media”.

Of course, dictionaries don’t always live in the real world, and it would be unlikely that any society would give free rein to any and every statement by any and every member, regardless of content, intent or impact. Free speech comes at cost.

The Olden Days

Older civilisations have often taken a simplistic view of human rights and free speech: don’t rubbish the ruler and you’ll be OK.

According to the New Internationalist, “China did not develop an idea of rights that were inherent and natural to the individual as had arisen in Western Europe. However, the ideally organised Confucian society was supposed to provide social welfare and just treatment. People were expected to know their place. … The powerful were expected to behave with benevolence, and failure to do so could result in forfeiture of power.”

On the other side of the world, Republican Rome was witness to several cases where political speech was suppressed by violence. The most infamous case was the murder of the reformer Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BCE by the leaders of the Senate. However, the killing was not done legally or by the Roman state – it was essentially aristocratic mob violence. The Republican state never created the legal tools to formally censor political speech.

This changed with the arrival in Rome of the Emperors, beginning with Caesar Augustus in 27 BCE. When supreme power is invested in a single person, they tend to be more sensitive to criticism from their subjects. Libel – and by which we mean libel against the Emperor or his government – was prosecuted as treason under Augustus, and by all following Emperors. Book burning – or people burning – was par for the course and continued well into the Middle Ages.

For instance, as the ‘menace’ of printing spread, more governments attempted to centralise control. The French crown repressed printing and the printer Etienne Dolet was burned at the stake in 1546.

A few years earlier, the first editions of the Catholic Church’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”) appeared, not in Rome but in Catholic Netherlands (1529); Venice (1543) and Paris (1551). The Church continued to publish the list until it was discontinued in 1966.

At the peak of its empire, Venice had rules that punished anyone who criticised not the government but the city state itself, such was the pride the citizens showed towards “la Serenissima”, no doubt amplified by the city’s tenuous hold on existence both geopolitically and geologically. Foreigners who maligned the state were exiled; locals were imprisoned, if not murdered.

But while free speech against the Venetian state was outlawed, free speech against individuals of the public was not. Gossip, innuendo and scheming were a currency in Venice – the term “imbroglio” refers to a part of the Piazetta off St Mark’s Square where people gathered to elect their leaders and where they could share the latest dirty laundry. If they weren’t gossiping, they were accusing others of crimes by dropping notes into the bocce di leone, sort of post boxes that were scattered around the city with a slot in the mouth for the accusatory notes.

19th Century Developments

In the 19th century there began a more nuanced approach to free speech and the responsibilities that that entailed. The concept extended beyond criticism of the powers-that-be, whether monarch, government, or church, to statements that impact on the broader community.

One of the most influential figures on personal liberties was the English philosopher John Stuart Mill. His book On Liberty (1859) addresses the nature and limits of the power that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. His conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control. Not to say he always felt that way – his concern for liberty did not extend to all individuals and all societies. He stated that “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians.”

Nonetheless, for the non-barbarians, Mill opened up a landscape of liberties of expression: “There ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered.” (Chapter 2)

He adds: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

He is talking about “absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral or theological”. If liberty of expression is stifled, the price paid is “a sort of intellectual pacification” that sacrifices “the entire moral courage of the human mind”.

But he then raises an issue which has resounded through philosophical and practical debate on freedom of speech ever since – the “harm principle”.

Mill suggests that we need some rules of conduct to regulate the actions of members of a political community. The limitation he places on free expression is “one very simple principle” which states that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”.

“[The member’s] own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. … The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

In other words, free speech is not an invitation to, as the OED says, “The right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint” – other members of society are involved and consideration must be given to them.

The Trans-Global Era

As politics and nationhood developed in the 20th century, in the times between and post wars, the era of international ‘interference’ in nations’ social programs began – first with the League of Nations, and then with that harbinger of the One World Government, the United Nations and its various offshoots.

Freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognised in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The UDHR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948 as Resolution 217. Of the then 58 members of the UN, 48 voted in favour (including Australia), none against, eight abstained, and two did not vote.

Article 19 states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”.

In December 1966, the ICCPR was adopted as a multilateral treaty by the United Nations General Assembly. It initially came into force from March 1976 – as of August 2017, the Covenant has 172 parties and six more signatories without ratification; Australia signed it in December 1972, and it came into force in November 1980.

The covenant commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial.

However, the version of Article 19 in the ICCPR amends that from the UDHR by stating that the exercise of these rights carries “special duties and responsibilities” and may “therefore be subject to certain restrictions” when necessary “for respect of the rights or reputation of others” or “for the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals”.

Freedom of speech and expression, therefore, may not be recognized as being absolute, and common limitations or boundaries to freedom of speech relate to (as Wikipedia puts it) libel, slander, obscenity, pornography, sedition, incitement, fighting words, classified information, copyright violation, trade secrets, food labelling, non-disclosure agreements, the right to privacy, the right to be forgotten, public security, and perjury. Justifications for these limitations include the harm principle proposed by John Stuart Mill.

These limitations – certainly those pertaining to incitement and fighting words – did not seem to be an issue for noted social critic Noam Chomsky, who said in a 1992 documentary based on his book Manufacturing Consent, that: “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Dictators such as Stalin and Hitler were in favour of freedom of speech for views they liked only. If you’re in favour of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favour of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.”

It is hard to tell whether he was being critical of freedom of speech itself, or those who would want to restrict it.

These restrictions were discussed earlier this century by the European Commission for Democracy through Law better known as the Venice Commission as it meets in Venice (that home of gossip and accusation).

The role of the Venice Commission is to provide legal advice to EU member states and, in particular, to help states wishing to bring their legal and institutional structures into line with European standards and international experience in the fields of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

In 2006 the EU’s Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed Resolution 1510 on freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs, particularly the question of whether and to what extent respect for religious beliefs should limit freedom of expression. It expressed the view that freedom of expression should not be further restricted to meet increasing sensitivities of certain religious groups, but underlined that hate speech against any religious group was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

In 2016 the Venice Commission noted that “A democracy should not fear debate, even on the most shocking or anti-democratic ideas. It is through open discussion that these ideas should be countered and the supremacy of democratic values be demonstrated. … Persuasion through open public debate, as opposed to ban or repression, is the most democratic means of preserving fundamental values.”

But, as always seems to happen in debate on free speech since the days of Mill, there was a caveat: “The Venice Commission does not support absolute liberalism. While there is no doubt that in a democracy all ideas, even though shocking or disturbing, should in principle be protected … it is equally true that not all ideas deserve to be circulated. Since the exercise of freedom of expression carries duties and responsibilities, it is legitimate to expect from every member of a democratic society to avoid as far as possible expressions that express scorn or are gratuitously offensive to others and infringe their rights.”

What it comes down to is, yes you have freedom of speech, but no, you can’t necessarily use it. Yes, you have the right to your own ideas, but you can’t necessarily express them. And if you express them, others have the right to criticise your ideas (if not actually vilify you). And most of all, and despite any regulation or legislation or philosophising or Imperial decree, no-one has to take you seriously, and that’s their freedom.

Tim Mendham is executive officer of Australian Skeptics Inc. and editor of The Skeptic magazine.

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How to startup and run a local skeptics group

by Tim Harding

(An edited version of this article was published in The Skeptic magazine,
December 2017, Vol 37 No 4)

This article about local skeptics groups is intended to complement those elsewhere in this issue of the magazine by Eran Segev and Tim Mendham.  After having been a co-organiser for nearly seven years of the successful Mordi Skeptics in the Pub, I would now like to pass on 10 tips for people thinking of starting up a local skeptics group in their area.

As Tim Mendham writes, the Skeptics in the Pub (SitP) movement has been quite successful with over 100 groups worldwide, including 11 (now 17) in Australia.  The Mordi SitP now has over 700 members, although probably only around 10% of these come to the meetups (the rest are social media members).  I think the key to this success is the idea of meeting in a social setting over a few drinks and the possibility of dinner as well. This can help overcome the usual objections to boring meetings that we get enough of in our day jobs.

Tim Harding introducing visiting US speaker Susan Gerbic
to the Mordi Skeptics, 2015

  1. Choose your venue

The obvious first requirement is the availability of reasonably priced drinks and meals.  Next is adequate parking and close proximity to public transport.  Although most groups start off meeting in a public lounge area, it’s best to choose a venue that has private rooms, if and when you want to have guest speakers later on.

  1. Choose a local name for your group

There are three main advantages to having an identifiable local geographical name for you group, such as your local town or suburb. First, it helps potential members know where you are.  Second, the venue you choose is likely to be impressed by your local name. Third, local MPs are more likely to take you seriously if you want to lobby them about some skeptical issue.  (Don’t name your group after the venue, because you might need to change venues and keep your name).

  1. Promote your group via social media

Once you have your venue and group name, the next step is to announce your existence via social media. At Mordi Skeptics, we found the Meetup web site (www.meetup.com) very useful, both in attracting members and in operating the group. The Meetup web site enables you to effectively operate the group online, without any need for those tedious organisers’ meetings that put busy people off.  But Meetup.com costs money to use, for which collecting a couple of dollars from each meetup attendee should be adequate.  Establishing a Facebook page and a Twitter handle is also a good idea, and doesn’t cost anything.

  1. Select a small number of organisers

SitP groups are best run informally, with a small number of organisers – at least 3 and no more than 5.  Organisers should be selected by invitation rather than elected at a meetup. Elections require constitutions and other time-consuming formalities you will want to avoid.  There should be no need for an informal local group to incorporate, which would require an AGM and lots of tedious paperwork. Also, you are bound to find a few anti-skeptics in the audience, who would relish an opportunity to put their hand up and sabotage your group.

Work out what tasks are needed to run the group effectively, divide these tasks up between the organisers and let them get on with it.  Such tasks include speaker wrangling, social media webmastering and liaising with the venue management.

  1. Develop a good relationship with the venue management

One of the most important tasks is to develop a good working relationship with venue staff member responsible for table and room bookings.  This task should be allocated to one of your organisers who should initially meet this staff member personally (rather than just talk over the phone) and get familiar on first name terms.  Explain what the group is on about, and how you would like to co-operate with the venue to your mutual benefit. Ask them how many members on average would need to dine and attend meetups for the venue to allocate you a private room for free on a regular basis.  (The cost of hiring a room will probably be prohibitive). The minimum number will probably be in the order of 10 for dining and 20 for attending the meeting (at which members are expected to buy a drink – even just tea or coffee).

If the venue is not prepared to give you a private room for free, you might need to look elsewhere if you want have guest speakers. Let the venue know how many members you are expecting at each meetup and the timings (including a mid-presentation drinks break) to assist them in room allocation and staffing plans.

  1. Consider your audience

We found that there were three categories of people who attended our SitP meetups.  First, there are the committed skeptics who want to advance the cause. These are likely to be in a minority, at least initially.  Second, there are people who would like to have interesting discussions in a social setting. Third, there are people who would like to meet like-minded people with a view to possible friendship or even ‘romance’ (these people are usually more interested in the dinners than the presentations).  You need to try and cater for all three categories of people, although the skeptical cause must remain paramount.  After all, you don’t want your SitP group to be just a lonely hearts club.

  1. Have clear aims and stick to them

The organisers should develop a simple and clear set of aims or purpose, and publicise these via social media.  Allow comments on these aims via social media, but don’t allow them to be debated at the actual meetups.  Otherwise you run the risk of your group being derailed by anti-skeptics.

One thing I would recommend is keeping scientific skepticism as your central focus.  For example, you will find that some people confuse skepticism with atheism, with denialism or even conspiracy theories.  In particular, just as not all skeptics are atheists, even less atheists are skeptics. Both groups are more likely to flourish by being kept separate. It’s not as if people can’t join more than one type of group.

On the other hand, don’t let your scope get too narrow. The traditional skeptical topics of paranormality, quackery and pseudoscience can be become a bit boring after a while. Any topic that promotes rationality and demotes irrationality is possibly suitable.  We usually found that talks about real science were the most popular.

  1. Select speakers carefully

Obviously you need to select speakers consistent with your aims or purposes.  Ask for recommendations from other skeptics groups.  Always have one or two backup speakers in case your scheduled speaker becomes ill on the day, or has some other unforeseen and unavoidable reason for not being able to speak.  Your own members would be the most reliable source of such backup speakers.

  1. Network with other skeptics groups

There are obvious mutual advantages in networking with the big skeptics groups such as Australian Skeptics Inc. based in NSW and the Australian Skeptics (Victorian Branch).  These state-based groups have significant resources, experience and expertise.  Amongst other things, it is worthwhile applying to them for not only guest speakers but possible grants or loans for such vital resources as a video projector.  You should also network with other local skeptics groups in your state, by attending their meetups and inviting their members as guest speakers.

  1. Have fun

Above all, SitP meetups should be enjoyable – they should aim to provide leisure-time pleasure rather than be some sort of obligatory burden.  If the latter, people will eventually become tired or bored and stop coming.  In my view, the growth of local skeptics groups is the future key to expanding the worldwide skeptical movement.

Tim Harding is a former co-organiser of the Mordi Skeptics in the Pub group, in a southern suburb of Melbourne.

References

Mendham, Tim, ‘Pint-Sized Fun’, The Skeptic, December 2017, Vol 37 No 4. pp.22-23.

Segev, Eran, ‘Group Thinking’ The Skeptic, December 2017, Vol 37 No 4. pp.26-29.

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