Ongoing Trove funding to be announced in federal Budget

6 May, 2023

If you regularly listen to The Skeptic Zone podcast, you’ll be familiar with the segment A Dive into a Trove. Host, Richard Saunders takes listeners on a “wander through the decades of digitised Australian newspapers on a search for references to [insert topic]”.

It might be the paranormal, ghosts, “therapeutic touch”, Nostradamus, “fake cures” or even Canberra Skeptics, to name a few. It’s one of my favourite parts of the show and always leaves me wiser as to the historical Australian context around issues that skeptics are constantly drawn to.

What you may not be aware of is the uncertainty the very existence of Trove has faced, and that the genesis of that uncertainty goes back to Budget cuts in 2016. Launched by the National Library of Australia in 2009, Trove had by then, grown to a world renowned digital archive with millions of records, growing by several million items per week.

Known as a GLAM Service, Trove hosts content from galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. Yet that year, a $20 million budget cut to the National Library of Australia meant that ongoing aggregation of material would cease. This was part of the Turnbull government’s “efficiency dividend”.

Turnbull’s “efficiency dividends” had been announced months earlier, and awareness of Trove’s peril led to a #fundTrove campaign on Twitter. A February 2016 article in The Conversation by Mike Jones and Deb Verhoeven makes a compelling argument as to the unprecedented value of Trove. Tweets presented, succinctly capture the value of Trove, such as this from librarian and “history hunter”, Kyla Stephan.

Another tweet notes that in 2014 over 120,000,000 lines of text were corrected by volunteers at Trove. Regarding Trove’s collation of content from multiple sources, the authors write:

As of February 25 2016, this includes information on over 374,419,217 books, articles, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives, datasets and more, expressing the extraordinarily rich history of Australian culture.

The campaign for funds resulted in a Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) boost of $16.4 million, over four years, announced in December of 2016. In December 2021 the National Film and Sound Archive was funded with $41.9 million over four years to save at-risk items. Trove would get $5.7 million over two years but its future, and the fate of (by then) billions of records remained uncertain.

By December 2022 the #saveTrove Twitter campaign was in full swing, in the wake of an update to Trove Strategy [archive] in which the NLA announced that without secure funding, Trove would be unable to operate beyond July 2023. A petition to Greens arts spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young, and a parliament e-petition attracted ample support. News articles were expansive in reporting the need for funds. Pay-for-view options were ruled out by the NLA.

Jones and Verhoeven again penned a piece in The Conversation, calling for “radical overhaul”. A resource the quality of Trove, they argued, cannot be sustained by ad hoc funding. That such was the case, suggested Trove was seen as an “optional extra”. More so:

What is currently a Frankenstein’s monster of dead and mouldering technologies and systems needs more than just cosmetic surgery. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up as an essential component of national library services.

By January 2023 the government hinted that relief may be on the horizon. There are currently over 14 billion digital items in Trove and it plays a key role in research for PhD theses, history classes, family research, the shaping of Australian identity and of course, informing skeptics about all manner of woo from our ever-receding past. In February, Teal MP Dr. Monique Ryan, the member for Kooyong, informed federal parliament that Trove had “democratised knowledge” and called on the government to provide the NLA with the necessary funding.

Ultimately, it came to pass. On 2 April this year it was announced that the Albanese government would provide $33 million over four years, in addition to $9.2 million in indexed ongoing annual funding beyond that time frame. The media release Securing The Future of Trove, from Arts Minister, Tony Burke stated that the funding helps restore strong cultural infrastructure, which is a “key pillar” of Revive, the Government’s new National Cultural Policy.

The NLA is “delighted that Trove’s future has been secured”, and stated:

The certainty of this funding decision will allow the National Library to continue to provide this essential service, enrich it with new content, and stabilise and secure the platform, in line with the Trove Strategy. 

Trove is a free resource of truly remarkable potential. You can access it here. To discover more about how material is collated I recommend this entry at The Atlas. To understand more about the archive, its history and long term strategy, visit What is Trove.

And if you type “Australian Skeptics” into Trove, your results would be here.

Ivermectin now a quack cure-all

27 March, 2023

During the second and third years of the COVID pandemic, skeptics began to hear more and more of an anti-parasitic drug that had been used frequently for animals and less so for humans.

Ivermectin has been approved by health authorities to treat humans with strongyloidiasis and onchocerciasis (river blindness): conditions that are caused by parasitic worms. Also there are topical ivermectin preparations used to manage skin conditions such as rosacea and external parasites such as head lice. Used as prescribed it is quite safe and has improved the lives of countless individuals in developing nations. Yet we weren’t hearing about ivermectin used in this manner. Thanks to disinformation and irresponsible repetition of dubious claims, ivermectin was being promoted as a means to combat COVID-19.

The anti-vaccination movement embraced ivermectin because it resonated with the “my body, my choice” mantra. Right leaning media identities promoted it in much the same illogical way as they had hydroxychloroquine. It had been used safely for decades, they argued, and thus was clearly a sound choice to combat COVID-19 symptoms. Yet hydroxychloroquine, had a pharmaceutical history as an anti-malarial and an agent to manage symptoms of arthritis and autoimmune disease, not in treating COVID-19. Ivermectin similarly, had no clinically proven background in the treatment of COVID-19. The clinical trials had simply not been done.

For skeptics, the issue was and is quite simple. Look toward reputable sources. Seriously examine the arguments in favour of ivermectin. Review the strength of research being cited. Place the issue in context. Keep an eye out for ideology. Check the profiles and backgrounds of key players, and so on. In short: Seek the evidence.

Initially there was the 3 April 2020 media release from Monash University. The Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute announced a paper published in the peer reviewed journal Antiviral Research. The title, The FDA-approved drug ivermectin inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro, was tantalising. An informative piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 October 2021 cites experienced drug developer Dr. Craig Rayner referring to the impact of the announcement:

“It was incredibly hyped,” Dr Rayner said. “I knew it was going to start a fire.” […]

“It’s not the best thing for Australia to become known for in terms of its contribution to the pandemic,” Dr Rayner said. “But that’s what it is, unfortunately. It has promoted vaccine hesitancy and people are dying because they’re taking a veterinary medicine that has not been proven.”

For those looking to grab the ivermectin ball and run with it, the media release was peppered with big names, other nasty diseases and potentially exciting findings. It has since been modified to include an FDA warning and offer clear disclaimers about ivermectin’s effectiveness. What mattered to those who would go on to push ivermectin as a safe cure for COVID-19, came from just a few paragraphs:

Read the rest of this entry »

Puzzles for February

31 January, 2023

After a month’s holiday, we’re back with puzzles.

The Skeptical Crossword looks at Paranormal Pastimes. 

There are the usual twenty Mixed Bag Questions, another seven Picture Puzzles and a new set of Logic & Maths Puzzles, this time with the emphasis on logic and critical thinking.

All at the top of the  PUZZLES PAGE.



12 December, 2022

Nicholas J Johnson

After a five-year break, Nicholas J Johnson has recently relaunched Scamapalooza, a podcast about con artists, scams, deception and critical thinking.
New episodes have been uploaded, with plenty more on the way.

Puzzles For December 2022

30 November, 2022

Our Puzzles for December have definitely adopted a holiday theme.

For a start, this month’s Skeptical Crossword is entitled Holidays and Festivals. 

There are one hundred Mixed Bag Questions rather than the usual twenty;

and in addition to the Picture Puzzles and  Logic & Maths Puzzles there are three Bonus Sets; Flowers, Mystery Objects and Countries.

They’re at the top of the  PUZZLES PAGE.


Dr Ken Harvey’s Talk is now on Facebook

8 November, 2022

Due to technical difficulties Dr Ken Harvey’s Zoom talk for Skeptics Café on October 17

Retirement reflections: 55 years from graduation

did not receive the usual parallel airing at the Facebook Skeptics Café site. However, that has now been remedied! Watch at:

Welcome to Melbourne Dinner

31 October, 2022

Claire Klingenberg, the Chair of the European Council of Skeptical Organisations; and Annika Harrison, Pontus Böckman and András Gábor Pintér of the European Skeptics podcast are coming to Australia to speak at Skepticon 2022 in Canberra.

They will be visiting Melbourne en route.

A Welcome Dinner has been organised for them for the evening of Friday 25th November at Graduate House in Carlton.

If you would like to attend, or are seeking more information, go to:

Puzzles for November 2022

31 October, 2022

November’s Skeptical Crossword Puzzle has Cults & Sects as its theme.

Logic & Maths Puzzles has returned; ten questions each with a worked solution.

There’s another set each of Picture Puzzles and Mixed Bag Questions, and two Bonus Sets; Crossword Clues and High or Low.

All at the top of the  PUZZLES PAGE.


Playing fast and loose with your credibility

27 October, 2022

by Mark Hassed

On any list of trusted professions, I’m sure that pharmacists would feature prominently. They dispense our medications and are always behind the counter ready to offer advice when needed.

But, what do you do when you find that your local pharmacy is promoting a treatment that you know to be ineffective at best, and damaging at worst?

On a recent visit to my neighbourhood pharmacy there was a large poster by the counter promoting ear candling. I asked the pharmacy assistant if I could talk with the pharmacist.

(click to enlarge)

Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review – “Aradale”

24 October, 2022

Aradale: The Making of a Haunted Asylum David Waldron, Sharn Waldron and Nathaniel Buchanan, Arcadia 2022.

See “Reviews


Puzzles for October 2022

30 September, 2022

Our Skeptical Crossword Puzzle for October reverts to General Skeptical Issues.

Accompanying the usual Picture Puzzles and Mixed Bag Questions, we have a special one-off word-quiz about Palindromes.

All at the top of the  PUZZLES PAGE.


Skepticon 2022

31 August, 2022

Science & Skepticism in a changed world

3 – 4 December, National Library of Australia
Parkes Pl W, Canberra

and on-line!

(Click to enlarge)

Early-bird pricing until September 14.


Puzzles for September 2022

31 August, 2022

September’s Skeptical Crossword Puzzle is about Foretelling the Future.

The Logic & Maths Puzzles have returned to accompany the usual Picture Puzzles and Mixed Bag Questions

Find them, blog-style at the top of the  PUZZLES PAGE.


Vale Bob Nixon

24 August, 2022

by Rosemary Sceats

(photo of Bob at the 2002 Australian Skeptics Convention in Melbourne courtesy of Mal Vickers)

The Victorian Skeptics recently received some sad news about the death in February this year of Bob Nixon, a long-time member, including of the management committee. He served for a time as President of the Victorian Skeptics.

Bob was the Chief Investigator for Australian Skeptics for many years, and acted as a sceptical mentor for many a rookie Skeptic, including yours truly and Terry Kelly.

During his time as Chief Investigator, Bob was the coordinator of several attempts by people hoping to win the $100,000 prize money for the Australian Skeptics’ Challenge, by demonstrating psychic or other paranormal powers. Contestants included several dowsers and one who believed he could transmit mental images of Zener cards. He was also one of the behind-the-scenes underwriters who pledged to pay up in the improbable event that someone succeeded in qualifying for the prize. Read the rest of this entry »

SKEPTICON 2022 – Change of Date

15 August, 2022

Skepticon 2022 – December 3-4
The dates for the Australian Skeptics Annual National Convention – Skepticon 2022 – have been moved from the last weekend of November to the first weekend of December – ie December 3-4.

The last-minute change was due a large music festival being held on the original convention date accounting for virtually all hotel accommodation in Canberra and Queanbeyan.

The event will still be held at the National Library of Australia.

The Skepticon website is now live and intending attendees should go to to see the speaker schedule and purchase tickets.

The line-up is something special – Claire Klingenberg, President of the European Council of Skeptical Organisations, will be giving the keynote address on skepticism in a changed world, and the hosts of the European Skeptics Podcast will also be in attendance to give presentations and have a live recording of their podcast. Rounding off the international contingent will be livestreamed talks by Skeptics Guide to the Universe host Dr Steven Novella and Skeptoid host Brian Dunning.

There is also a wide variety of excellent domestic speakers including Major General Mike Ryan (ret.), author David Dufty, ACT Academy of Sport psychologist Kristine Dun, scientists such as Hannah Carle and Dr Jose Barrero, and many more!

The convention’s theme is Science and Skepticism in a Changed World and promises to be an exciting event. Please visit the Skepticon website for full details.