The Sixth World Skeptics Congress

The 6th World Skeptics Congress was held in Berlin from 18th to 20th May, 2012 (preceded by two days of pre-congress activities and meetings). The conference was jointly sponsored by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), the Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP, Germany), and the European Council of Skeptical Organisations (ECSO) of which ASKE is a constituent member.

The congress theme was ‘Promoting Science in an Age of Uncertainty’. The event was a huge success, due to the efforts of a large group of organisers and speakers too numerous to list here. However, special congratulations should be offered to Amardeo Sarma, the founder and chairman of GWUP and the chairman of ECSO and to Martin Mahner, also of GWUP and the ECSO treasurer.

Details of the programme and some of the abstracts are to be found at http://www.ecso.org/.
Some photos are available at http://blog.esowatch.com/?p=7867 and at other sites mentioned in the list of media reports, which is extensive, though mainly confined to Germany (as one would expect).

Presentations were consistently of a very high standard. The star of the congress was – inevitably - James (‘the amazing’) Randi. Now aged 83, and having had, in the last 6 years, major surgery and chemotherapy, naturally he appears physically frailer, but intellectually he remains as sound as bell and, as ever, the real gentleman. He appeared twice on the programme, regaling his audience with just a sample of his endless catalogue of experiences assessing applicants for the JREF prize and exposing the more disreputable claimants of paranormal ability, including some notorious ‘psychic healers’.

From the UK, Chris French gave a talk on the recent controversial experiments of Darryl Bem on retroactive precognitive ability (see Summer 2011 Newsletter) and Simon Parry, who received thunderous applause for his presentation ‘Fighting nonsense with technology: a guide to highly productive skeptical activism’. Simon first informed his audience of his campaign against misleading and unfounded claims that chiropractors make on their websites. He then announced his website ‘FishBarrel’, a facility for making rapid online complaints to the ASA or Trading Standards about misleading health claims on the web. For the first time, ECSO presented ‘Outstanding Skeptic’ awards of to two members of European skeptic societies, namely Luigi Garlaschelli and Willem Betz. Luigi Garlaschelli teaches chemistry at the Università di Pavia (Italy) and is research director of CICAP, the Italian skeptics group. He has done major investigative work on claims of miracles. Willem Betz is a Flemish physician and emeritus professor at the Free University of Brussels. He is a founding member and present chairman of the Belgian skeptical organization SKEPP and prominent in campaigning against the legitimization of unproven ‘alternative’ medical practices, particularly within the European Union.

Also at the congress, ‘Distinguished Skeptic’ awards were presented by the CRI to Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst, both from the UK.

All speakers and chairpersons were given a congress mug and a homeopathic remedy based on the Berlin Wall. Seriously - this is actually on the market. There was some confusion as to what it is supposed to treat. Someone mentioned ‘blockages’ but I believe the targeted problems are conditions such as claustrophobia and feelings of oppression. The only thing you can be certain of is that if it says ‘Berlin Wall’ on the wrapping, whatever is inside will contain no trace of the Berlin Wall whatsoever. (Could I have my money back please?)

The date and venue of the next world congress (presumably in 2014) has yet to be decided, but see ‘The European Scene’ in this Newsletter for exciting details of future European Skeptics Congresses in Stockholm (2013) and London (2015).