THe Australian Skeptic’s Guide to Cold Reading

30 November, 2015

This article first appeared as a Vic Skeptics discussion pamphlet, and was previously posted on this site in 2010.
The full range of our discussion pamphlets can be downloaded here:
or by clicking on the “Useful Info” link at the top of this page.

Have you ever bought something that you didn’t really want, because the salesperson was so nice, so persuasive, so helpful? Chances are that the salesperson (whether they knew it or not) was using some of the techniques of a skilled Cold Reader.

“Cold Reading” is a term invented by stage magicians. It refers to psychological techniques used by certain people to influence the beliefs and behaviour of other people. Read the rest of this entry »

Special Event – Dinner with Ross Balch

30 November, 2015


Ross Balch speaking at 2015 Australian Skeptics Convention

Ross Balch speaking at 2015 Australian Skeptics Convention

Ross Balch BAppSc(MedSc) BAppSc(Microbiol) is a medical researcher, currently studying genetic diversity in dengue virus.

A skeptical activist, Ross is President of the Brisbane Skeptic Society. He is also a Science Populariser, Podcaster, Musician and Photographer.

Vic Skeptics will host Ross at a Dinner where he will speak and perform. His topic will be Emerging Viruses.

“Emerging viruses continue to be a significant challenge for health authorities around the world. In this presentation I examine 3 case studies of emerging viruses; Ebola, Dengue and SARS. I will describe the circumstances that contribute to the spread of each virus, what we can do to limit future out break and what features make a virus more likely to be emergent than others. If you would like some more skepticism I can also discuss some of the pseudoscience that has followed these outbreaks.”

Monday 14th December

La Notte Restaurant, 140 Lygon Street Carlton,

The Club Room, 6:30 for 7:00 pm

$10 entry at the door then meal and drinks at normal prices.

You can see and hear Ross at

December Puzzles

30 November, 2015


has CHARLES DARWIN as its theme, and is an early reminder of the celebrations that usually occur on and around February 12 each year.

Click here for


with more PICTURE PUZZLES and MIXED BAG (trivia) QUESTIONS at the top of the PUZZLES PAGE


Science Drama Awards 2015

11 November, 2015

Among many educational initiatives supported by Australian Skeptics is the annual Science Drama Awards.

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Audience members at 2015’s Finals evening commented:

“The Science Drama Awards are a wonderful night and great credit must go to all participants. For me, the standout was the Nanneella Primary School. They had such infectious enthusiasm and their costumes were absolutely spectacular.”


“It was a great night with some outstanding ideas by both primary and secondary schools. It was fascinating and rewarding to see students display their grasp of various scientific ideas and present them in an entertaining way. Hopefully, some will continue to help spread science in interesting ways that help capture the public’s interest.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The squandered health dollars Sussan Ley ignores

5 November, 2015

Re-blogged with the kind permission of the author, Paul Smith, deputy editor, Australian Doctor

Hon Sussan Ley Health MinisterFederal Health Minister Sussan Ley offered another slick performance at her Press Club address in Canberra last week.

People like her, she has good telly presence in a way that happily contrasts with the bad cop menace of her predecessor Peter Dutton.

When she addressed the industry big wigs in the audience – the drug companies, the management consultancies, the medical groups, the private health insurers – you could see them undergo the beautific visions of those who feel goodness had returned to Narnia.

Ms Ley is lucky.

The politics of her job have an easy-to-follow script – lots of excited talk about the urgent need for change before unleashing the reform taskforce which makes the government look like it’s all action, while helpfully delaying the unpleasant stuff until beyond the next election.

Ms Ley added another review to those already running – to look at the private health insurance industry.

She sold it as an attempt to understand why, despite the $6 billion in public subsidy each year, so many policies are “junk”, failing to cover the hospitals interventions needed when their members are at their sickest.

She also gave a passing reference to freeing up health insurers to play a bigger part in funding care outside the hospital gates.

There was even mention of encouraging more people to save their own money to fund future costs of primary health care. These are the ideas often floated by those who see the concept of ‘Medicare for All’ as having a use-by-date.

The audience smiled sweetly back.

But there was one (brief) moment which offered a glimpse of the tougher times likely to come to the minister, especially when she eventually collides full-on with an angry AMA over her MBS reforms.

It was when the News Limited journalist Sue Dunlevy, someone rarely seduced by the breezy charm of politicians, got up from the press table to ask her a question.

“Every year health insurers are paying $180 million in natural therapies for which there is no evidence,” she said.

“You already have the review of the worth of those therapies conducted by the chief medical officer on your desk…”

“Can you tell us what that report said and what you are doing about it?”

The minister’s sentences broke like toasted waffle.

“…the issue of complementary therapies is an issue of great interest to Australian patients and certainly to private health insurers and those concerns about the budgetary implications of which you speak.

“But I don’t propose to take any piece in isolation out of the complex mix of interests, stakeholders (for want of a better word) and, of course patients and taxpayers, when we look at the important issue of private health insurance.

“To pick up one report commissioned by a previous government (not that necessarily has to be an issue in itself) and make it something that this government has to respond to almost at the micro level, without regard to the intersecting policies issues and interests, I don’t believe is sensible public policy.”

In desperation I put this in the Google language translator and my lap top’s coolers ran red hot with the futility of the task.

Work on the chief medical officer’s report began in 2013. It is in the minister’s locked draw, where it’s been since February.

It has remained there for a reason.

There is no justification for squandering taxpayers’ money on homeopathy, iridology and all the diverse species of woo when you’re preaching the necessity of making Medicare sustainable.

There is no justification when insurers themselves talk so piously about refusing to pay for poor quality medical care their members get from private hospitals.

The one explanation which dare not speak its name for why this money disappears down this rabbit hole is that the companies have to flog these extras to lure in the young and healthy, whom they need to keep the business afloat.

Not healthcare at all, just part of the marketing budget.

Ms Dunlevy’s question is important, not because pulling the plug on health insurance voodoo is going to save the health budget, but because it has the subtext: how serious is the government about this “waste” question?

Before the coming debate on rebates for cataract surgery or the spend on coronary stents or the cost consequences of a PSA test, before the hunt for all the low value rubbish on the MBS, the government is offered an uncontestable example of squandered health dollars.

And the response is to do nothing?


November Puzzles

31 October, 2015




has ASTROLOGY as its theme




The Skeptic’s Guide to Tarot

23 October, 2015

This post revisits a post from 2010.
Our “Skeptics Guides” are also available in .pdf and can be downloaded from our USEFUL INFO page

The appeal of Tarot as a method of fortune telling seems inextricably linked to the exotic nature and large number of cards which make up the deck; they seem so ancient and unfamiliar to people used to the standard, modern, boring 53 card deck of four suits plus joker that their origins must surely be mystical. Read the rest of this entry »


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