Review – Surfcoast Skepticamp 2018

It was a glorious, sunny day in Airey’s Inlet for the annual Skepticamp where we were privy to a range of fascinating talks to hone our critical thinking skills. For a $5 donation we were treated to a delicious, healthy lunch and many of us also took the opportunity to socialise over dinner at the nearby pub afterwards.

First up was Geelong Skeptics Society Co-founder and Speech Pathologist Zola Lawry who spoke about the importance of being skeptical about “Facilitated Communication”. Questions have been raised over who is actually communicating. Could it be the well-meaning facilitator rather than the severely disabled client? Zola presented the claims and the evidence for such cases as Anne McDonald of “Annie’s Coming Out” fame and her facilitator Rosemary Crossley.

Capping off the first session was Lee Murray. Lee is currently a PhD candidate and lecturer at Monash University School of Language, Literature, Culture, and Linguistics. Lee presented a topic based on how we judge a person by their speech and whether or not we are doing this skeptically. After all, there appear to be no objective rules for determining how we do this. One person’s “bogan” is another’s “person who sounds like a good laugh”.

The next set of speakers continued to engage us. Self-proclaimed “Grey Nomad Looking for a Project” Graeme Hanigan informed us about his project to save the world’s first commercial solar thermal power station at White Cliffs. Also, a big congratulations to Graeme for achieving this excellent outcome since speaking at Skepticamp.

“With heritage status confirmed, government funding will be provided for the preservation of this important part of Australia’s engineering heritage”.
For further information and ways to support this worthy project, see the Facebook group.

Don Hyatt is a long standing and accomplished member of the skeptical community and highlighted some of the critical thinking traps we can fall into. He explained how as skeptics we need to slow down and examine the cases further, hence the title “The Slow Motion Skeptic” and he gave us some tips on how to do this. It was a terrific introduction to skepticism for beginners and a valuable reminder to the experienced crowd.

Tina Hanigan’s extensive background in accreditation and training led her to discover that the qualifications of some Life Coaching courses seem to be deserving of a skeptical eye, especially considering some of the vast amounts paid for such training programs. She presented an example of an expensive course that offered its own certification but is not a registered training organisation and lacks any kind of national recognition or accreditation. The take home message was to check the Australian Skills Quality Authority website if in doubt about any courses. The link is

Ian Bryce updated us on $100,000 Australian Skeptics Challenge. Suffice to say, the prize money has still not been awarded, but hearing how the perpetual motion machine failed to live up to its claims was nevertheless interesting. Alas, “free energy” still eludes us.

Dr Vyom Sharma explained how our biases, cognitive dissonance and other protective neural processes stand in the way of thinking critically. People may even double down on their beliefs when they are challenged. However, it is encouraging that the backfire effect is not inevitable and that opinions can be changed based on the facts and when heard from a trusted source. It was interesting to hear how a medical doctor deals with the unscientific medical beliefs of patients.

Jo Benhamu, a specialist nurse and accomplished skeptic, advised how paternalism may be a justifiable practice in some instances of health care provision. The increase in vaccination rates since the successful introduction of “No Jab, No Play” is an example of this. Victoria has now achieved the herd immunity target of over 95% immunisation coverage as a result of this initiative.

Stuart Jones gave an inspiring talk about how he came to be involved in Guerilla Skeptics on Wikipedia after grappling with unsolicited advice about alternative cancer treatments from well-intentioned people when his wife became ill. It was impressive to hear about the hard working volunteers and their dedication to their tasks. We also gained a good insight into the processes of writing and maintaining the web pages targeted.

Thankfully as an audience, we were all vindicated for being ignorant about the dubious claims by Health Ranger Mike Addams in his “Natural News” blog. James Rolton (the other co-founder of Geelong Skeptics) crafted an entertaining quiz by which we could ascertain our level of knowledge of the nonsense.

The day concluded with a live recording of the Science on Top podcast.

Science on Top –
Lucas Randall, Ed Brown, Penny Dumsday with Jo Benhamu

It was a snappy change of pace and a fun way to learn about the some of the latest science news. It was the only panel discussion of the day and helped to add variety to an already interesting day.

The audience participation also served to further our engagement and hopefully enticed some podcast listeners to come along in person when it all happens again in 2019! Here’s the link to the podcast and more information.

4 Responses to Review – Surfcoast Skepticamp 2018

  1. Susanna Lobez says:

    Like to understand more. May attend conference in October

  2. Susanna Lobez says:

    Would like to join a sceptics group

  3. keng2 says:

    It’s back again next year!
    Surf Coast Summer Skepticamp VII (Australia’s longest running Skepticamp)
    Sat. 23rd Feb. 2019
    10.00 am – 4.30 pm Aireys Inlet Community Hall

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