With Leo at The Dan

16 April, 2019

By Ken Greatorex

Vic Skeptics recently moved Skeptics Café to the new venue of The Dan O’Connell Hotel (a.k.a. “The Dan”) in Carlton. We’ve been fortunate in the past with long tenures at good venues.

I arrived chez Dan with a few misgivings:

Could I park within a comfortable distance of the venue?

Would the venue suit us?

Would enough people turn up?

Would the topic be sufficiently relevant and interesting for such a “landmark” Skeptics event? Read the rest of this entry »

Complementary Medicines, Advertising Reform and the TGA

21 November, 2018

by Dr Ken Harvey, with an introduction by Ken Greatorex

To set the scene for those not familiar with the glacial machinations of Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration: Until recently in Australia we had a complaint process whereby if you wanted to complain about the advertising of a particular listed medicine, you submitted. to the Complaints Resolution Panel. It was woefully under resourced, but it did its job, carried out inquiries then reported established breaches in conduct to the TGA. The TGA acted – sometimes.

Then things changed. Against the urging of such groups as The Australian Skeptics, Friends of Science in Medicine, Choice and other consumer advocates, the TGA became the body which dealt directly with such complaints. 

As one who attended and absorbed the excellent review from Professor Harvey and three of his students, the result of this change has been:

  • totally predictable
  • disappointing


(left to right: Mal Vickers, Kithmini Cooray, Mary Malek, Ken Harvey)



The audience did not agree that the ongoing advertising of ‘Bright Brains’, illustrated by Kithmini, had achieved compliance with the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Code 2015. In short, they disagreed with the TGA outcome statement about this complaint. Read the rest of this entry »

Homeopathy – a Useless Treatment

16 September, 2018

Homeopath practitioners believe that by diluting a solution of a substance that mimics the effect of a disease the diluted concoction will cure the disease. The solution is usually diluted so many times that chemists calculate there may be no molecules of the original substance left in the final medication.

Homeopathic Dilution: other diluents beside alcohol are water and sugar

Homeopaths claim this doesn’t matter as the water has a “memory” of the dissolved curative substance.
Scientifically this makes no sense whatsoever. Nevertheless homeopathic treatments have been clinically tested to see if they are effective. When tested under rigorous double blind conditions the results show homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo.

The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recently released a report on homeopathy. After reviewing over 200 research papers that it considered worthy of inclusion (many studies of homeopathy are of such poor quality that their conclusions are unreliable) the NHMRC concluded:

“The review found no good quality, well-designed studies with enough participants to support the idea that homeopathy works better than a placebo, or causes health improvements equal to those of another treatment.” Read the rest of this entry »

The TGA Complaints (lack of) process

6 September, 2018

Here are reposts from two recent pieces by Dr Ken Harvey: Both examine Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Authority (TGA).

The first is a letter written to Melbourne’s Age newspaper.

The second, published on Dr Harvey’s own website is about Detox Foot Pads and more than adequately demonstrates the contention, made in the first piece, that the TGA is not really interested in consumer protection.

– – – – – – 

Letter to The Age 5/9/18 Spotlight on regulators

Your editorial (4/9) says the government should have a more rigorous process to protect consumers from ineffective treatments and products. There are government regulators that are meant to do this job but they are weak and ineffective. Read the rest of this entry »

3D printing, teeth and human evolution

1 April, 2018

Dr Varsha Pilbrow spoke at March’s Skeptics Café. Dr Pilbrow is a Lecturer in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience at Melbourne University.

She specializes in the dental morphology of the living apes, and is currently working on international research projects in the study of fossil hominids and  in bioarchaeology, studying the physical anthropology of human skeletal remains from archaeological sites at the cross-roads of major human migration routes. Read the rest of this entry »

The Whack – a – Mole Project and the TGA.

8 November, 2017

by Ken Greatorex



Whack-a-Mole was a popular 1970s arcade game which consisted of repeatedly hitting cartoon moles on the head with a cartoon hammer. Moles nevertheless kept cropping up with undiminished energy more or less at random; so the term Whack-a-mole came to signify “a repetitious and futile task.

Problems with Regulation of Therapeutic Goods

The situation regarding the regulation of therapeutic goods in Australia is unsatisfactory. The complaints process is frustrating, exhausting and often ineffectual. Complaints to the Therapeutics Goods Administration (TGA) must be made against one product or service at a time. Because such complaints are almost invariably made by volunteers, and there is no financial incentive to complain, only a relatively tiny number of questionable products ever get put under the microscope.

An astonishing 87 % of such complaints have historically been upheld. Yet the offending companies rarely receive more than “a slap on the wrists”.

Read the rest of this entry »

Staying Rational in a World of Tweets, Fake News, Alternative Facts and Sound Bites

30 June, 2017

by William P. Hall

( based on a presentation at Vic Skeptics Café, 19 June 2017 at the Clyde Hotel, Carlton, Vic)

Today we are living in a world of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and blogs where anyone (even President Trump) can instantly post their ideas to the world for essentially no cost. We are also living in dangerous times where exploding human populations and technologies are affecting the planet’s climate and natural resources where extreme concentrations of wealth and power, warfare, epidemics, climate extremes, ecological collapses and famine threaten humanity’s survival. Unsurprisingly there are often conflicts between vested interests seeking wealth, power and control versus those concerned with the futures of our descendents and of humanity in general. Both are heavy users of the new media. Read the rest of this entry »

A Skeptic’s Guide to Free Energy Machines

9 May, 2017
This article has been revised and re-posted from August 2011. It first appeared as a Vic Skeptics discussion pamphlet by Peter Barrett of Canberra Skeptics, but it’s up to date: from time to time these machines still get promoted in niche magazines and websites. Vic Skeptics and our interstate colleagues are from time to time called upon to test claims for “Over-parity Engines”, a.k.a Free Energy Machines.
The full range of our discussion pamphlets can be downloaded from the “Useful Info” link at the top of this page.

Imagine you have an ordinary one litre jug. Two things which I’m sure you’d agree with are that you couldn’t pour more than a litre of water into it or empty more than one litre out of it.

Now imagine you had two such jugs, one full to the brim with water and the other empty. Pour the water from one jug to the other and back again. Repeat this process as often as you like. Is there any way you could imagine that you’d end up with more than one litre of water split between the two jugs?

The logical answer is “No.” In fact, due to spillage and evaporation, it’s more likely that you’d end up with less than one litre of water.

This is a fairly accurate representation of one of the most basic principles of physics, known as Conservation of Energy. This principle states that energy can change form, but can’t be destroyed or created. A good example of this is the production of household electricity in Australia. Most electricity in Australia is generated by burning coal. The coal has chemical energy. When it’s burned, it releases heat energy.

This energy heats water to steam, which turns a turbine (kinetic energy). The turbine drives a generator, producing electrical energy. We then use this electrical energy for heating, cooling, running the TV, and so on. Read the rest of this entry »

A Skeptic’s Guide to the Scientific Method

17 March, 2017
This article first appeared here in July 2011. You can also download the latest .pdf version here: Scientific Method . Our full range of  Skeptics Guides can be accessed using the USEFUL INFO tab at the top of this page.

“Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What’s left is magic.

And it doesn’t work.”

– James Randi

The term “Scientific Method” is used to describe the way scientific research is designed, performed and reviewed. Good science depends on rigour – strict and unfailing adherence to basic principles.

In simple terms, as a scientist,  you would:

1. Make some observation about something that is going on in the universe. Read the rest of this entry »

The Great Debate: Evolution vs Creationism

18 January, 2017

This article first appeared as a Vic Skeptics discussion pamphlet and was first posted here in March 2011.

With Charles Darwin’s impending 208th birthday on February 12 it seems appropriate to revisit it.


One of the many amazing stories in the Bible is the story of The Great Flood.

Before The Great Flood Noah was commanded by his God to build an ark (a large boat) and to collect a pair of all the animals on Earth. The Great Flood wiped out all the other animals, including humans, and those on Noah’s Ark repopulated the Earth after the flood subsided.

Given our present knowledge of evolution, genetics, geology, physics and archeology, few people, even practising Christians, believe the story to be literally true. However there are some people who insist that all the Bible stories are literally true. As well as the story of Noah’s Ark they also believe that:

 The Earth and all living things on it were created in six 24-hour days.

 This occurred about 10,000 years ago.

 All present day animals are descended from those on Noah’s Ark.

 The theory of evolution is incorrect because it is not consistent with the Bible stories.

These are the fundamental beliefs of Creationism. But why are the religious beliefs of Creationists of concern to scientists? Does it matter if people’s religious beliefs are in disagreement with scientific knowledge?

Read the rest of this entry »

Lynne Kelly

12 October, 2016

13700193_1054121704666480_7843799502333502259_nDr Lynne Kelly is one of the more interesting people to be encountered among the Australian Skeptical community. She’s a writer, researcher and science educator, as well as being a foundation member of Australian Skeptics.

Lynne tends not to follow stereotypes. Her first tertiary qualification was in Engineering; armed with this, she began a teaching career in government secondary schools. On the way she co-authored a series of Maths text books. She later branched into extension education for gifted children. Her 1994 book Challenging Minds: Thinking Skills and Enrichment Activities is one result of that period.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Skeptic’s Guide to Bible Codes

31 August, 2016

This article first appeared as a Vic Skeptics discussion pamphlet and was first posted here in March 2011.

 by Peter Barrett, Canberra Skeptics, updated by Ken Greatorex

In the late 1990s, a book called “The Bible Code” was published. Its author, Michael Drosnin, claimed that a high-powered computer program had uncovered a large number of secret messages in the Jewish Bible (the Christian Old Testament). The most amazing claim was that a few years before the book’s publication, this program had discovered that the then Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzakh Rabin, faced assassination. Several months after Drosnin and his partners warned him, Mr Rabin was assassinated. Read the rest of this entry »

A Skeptic’s Guide to Life In the Universe

9 July, 2016

This article first appeared as a Vic Skeptics discussion pamphlet and again here in December 2010.
The full range of our discussion pamphlets can be downloaded from our  USEFUL INFO  page.

 by Peter Barrett, (Canberra Skeptics), updated 2016 by Ken Greatorex

It’s one of the great questions: is there life elsewhere in the universe, apart from the Earth? Skeptics would say, “Almost certainly, but at the moment we don’t know how likely it might be.”

Life thrives on Earth, particularly in the tropical and temperate latitudes. Life exists even in the harsh desert and polar regions. But most importantly, life has been found to exist in places previously thought inhospitable, such as inside rocks in the dry valleys of Antarctica or around geothermal vents, where the water is boiling hot. The fact that life can survive in such unlikely places dramatically increases the range of potential habitats for life elsewhere. So are there places where life could exist elsewhere in our own Solar System?

Read the rest of this entry »

A Skeptic’s Guide to Dowsing

20 June, 2016

This article first appeared as a Vic Skeptics discussion pamphlet and again here in 2010.
The full range of our discussion pamphlets can be downloaded from our  USEFUL INFO page.

Dowsing, (also known as Divining) is widely practised in Australia. Dowsers claim the ability to detect useful substances in the ground using processes which are not able to be explained by current scientific principles.

The most frequently dowsed substance in drought-prone Australia is water. Many Australians can claim a friend or relative who is a water-diviner.

Australian Skeptics have long been interested in dowsing. It clearly lies within the range of paranormal activities which come under scrutiny. Australian Skeptics offer a sum of money, (currently $100,000) to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal ability of any kind. Our only stipulation is that candidates must pass a proper scientific test, the protocols of which have been agreed upon by all parties before the test commences. Most acceptors of this challenge have been water-diviners; probably because they are genuine people who believe in their abilities, and are as interested in being tested as we are to test them.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Skeptic’s Guide to Firewalking

16 May, 2016

This article first appeared here in 2010. It is also available as a classroom discussion pamphlet.
The full range of our discussion pamphlets (and much more) can be downloaded from our  USEFUL INFO page.

What is Firewalking?

Typically, firewalking involves walking with bare feet across a level bed of hot glowing coals, the remnant of a wood fire. On the Pacific Islands, heated stones are substituted for coals. Read the rest of this entry »