|Region served Australia|
|Founder Dick Smith|
|Formation 1980; 37 years ago (1980)|
Purpose "Investigating pseudo-science and the paranormal from a responsible scientific viewpoint"
Similar The Skeptics Society, James Randi Educatio, Committee for Skeptical, Science and Rationali, Center for Inquiry
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Australian Skeptics is a loose confederation of like-minded organisations across Australia that began in 1980. Australian Skeptics investigate paranormal and pseudoscientific claims using scientific methodologies. This page covers all Australian skeptical groups who are of this mindset. The title "Australian Skeptics" can be easily confused with one of the more prominent groups, "Australian Skeptics Inc." which is based in Sydney and is one of the central organising groups within the Australian Skeptics.
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- The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason
- Skeptic of the Year
- Bent Spoon Awards
- The 100000 Prize
- Eureka Critical Thinking Prize
- National Conventions
- No Answers in Genesis
- The Skeptic
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Australian Skeptics was founded in Melbourne Victoria in 1980, after Sydney electronics entrepreneur Dick Smith sponsored a visit to Australia by James Randi, principal investigator for the American-based Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), now known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), part of the non-profit organisation Center for Inquiry (CFI), which are joint publishers of the Skeptical Inquirer. During this visit James Randi, Dick Smith, Phillip Adams, Richard Carleton and an unidentified businessman offered a $50000 prize to anyone who could prove psychic phenomena in front of Randi. A number of contenders, largely water diviners came forward, but all failed to prove their claims in front of independent observers. At that time a group of Australians decided to set up an Australian group to continue testing the claims of the paranormal. This group was named “Australian Skeptics” and consisted of Mark Plummer (Chairman), James Gerrand (Secretary) Allen Christophers, Bill Cook, John Crellin, Logan Elliot, Peter Kemeny, Loris Purcell, Joe Rubinstein and Mike Wilton.
In 1986 "Australian Skeptics Inc" or "ASI" became an incorporated association in NSW with Barry Williams as president. Publication of “The Skeptic” magazine was transferred to this committee in 1987. ASI still operates today and is responsible for several national activities, such as the publication of "The Skeptic" magazine and coordination of awards (listed below) and the annual conventions. Today ASI is one of many formal and informal skeptical groups throughout Australia which fall under the general umbrella title of "Australian Skeptics". Over time, other branches around Australia became incorporated including Australian Skeptics (Victorian Branch) Inc, Skeptics (S.A.) Incorporated, Hunter Skeptics Incorporated, Canberra Skeptics and Borderline Skeptics Inc (which caters for skeptics living around the NSW and Victorian border). ASI is the local group in NSW.
In 1995 the Australian Skeptics received a sizeable bequest from the estate of Stanley David Whalley. With these funds the organisation established the "Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation", tasked to expose "irrational activities and pseudoscience and to encourage critical thinking and the scientific view". This foundation now funds the "Thornett award for promotion of reason", known affectionately as "the Fred", named after the late Fred Thornett, an influential figure in the Skeptical movement in Tasmania and nationally. "The Fred" is a $1000 prize given by ASI for significant contribution to educating or informing the public regarding issues of science and reason. The bequest also allowed for the introduction of a paid position, that of Executive Officer. This position is answerable to the ASI committee, and traditionally manages accounts, queries from the public and media, editing The Skeptic, and various sundry tasks. Barry Williams was executive officer from 1995 to 2009, followed by Karen Stollznow (2009) and Tim Mendham from 2009 to the present.
In 1989 at a national committee meeting the aims of Australian Skeptics were updated and drafted as follows;
As of 2015, every state and territory within Australia has its own regional branch, and some have their own newsletters, with new local skeptics' groups springing up in Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Launceston and Darwin.
The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason
The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason is affectionately known as "The Fred" much like the Academy Award is known as the "Oscar", named after Fred Thornett, a noted member of Australian Skeptics from Tasmania, who died in April 2009. The Fred award includes a $1000 cash prize that is given to the recipient or to a charity or cause of their choice. It is awarded annually to a member of the public or a public figure who has made a significant contribution to educating or informing the public regarding issues of science and reason.
Skeptic of the Year
The Skeptic of the Year award is given annually to someone associated with the skeptical community who has been particularly active over the previous year. ASI coordinates the prize, and the final decision is voted on by representatives from the various Australian Skeptics groups.
Bent Spoon Awards
The Bent Spoon Award is an annual award coordinated by ASI, however the final decision is voted on by representatives from the various groups comprising Australian Skeptics. It is "presented to the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal or pseudoscientific piffle" in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. The award trophy is a piece of gopher wood supposedly from the Noah’s Ark, upon which is affixed a spoon rumoured to have been used at the Last Supper. The spoon was bent by energies unknown to science and was gold plated by an Atlantean process. Although awarded annually since 1982, only one copy of the trophy exists, as "anyone wishing to acquire the trophy must remove it from our keeping by paranormal means" and no winner has yet overcome this obstacle.
The award is only offered to Australian individuals or groups, or those who have carried out their activities in Australia. The New Zealand Skeptics have a similar Bent Spoon Award.
∞ In 2012 the Australian Vaccination Network was ordered by the New South Wales Office of Fair Trading to change its name within two months. The order was challenged, but the challenge was dismissed, and in 2014 the group changed its name to the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Network.
The $100000 Prize
Australian Skeptics offers $100,000 (Australian) to anyone who can prove they have psychic or paranormal powers. If someone nominates a different person, and that person is successful, then $20,000 of the total amount may go to the nominator. The original challenge was issued in 1980 to anyone who claims to have extraordinary powers, to demonstrate their ability under proper observing conditions. The prize offered for anyone who can meet this challenge is A$100,000. The offer has been made in an effort to seek out the truth of paranormal claims such as those of psychics, healers, witnesses to paranormal events and those selling devices which claim to defy scientific laws.
This challenge is now coordinated by ASI and the prize money is backed by the Australian Skeptics Science and Education Foundation. It is open to any contender who can state exactly what their paranormal claim is, and the claim can give a definite yes or no result. They must define under what conditions the claim can be performed, and expect to beat million to one odds in order to claim success. The result of each test is then published in The Skeptic, the magazine of Australian Skeptics. ASI states that should any contender pass the challenge, and be awarded the prize, they want to tell the world and give the claimant proper recognition. If, however, a claim is proved to be unfounded or fraudulent, the association reserve the right to expose this result in an effort to prevent clients from spending time and money on a product or service that cannot deliver what is claimed for it.
Eureka / Critical Thinking Prize
The Australian Museum Eureka Awards is a series of annual awards presented by the Australian Museum in partnership with their sponsors, for excellence in various fields. Until 2005 the Australian Skeptics were major sponsors of the award for critical thinking, which during this period was awarded to:
∞ The 2000 Spring edition of The Skeptic magazine erroneously listed Richard Kocsis as the 1999 winner
After the 2005 awards the Australian Skeptics decided to withdraw from the Eurekas, and award their own critical thinking Prize known as the Australian Skeptics Critical Thinking Prize. The winners are as follows:
Both of these prizes have now been discontinued.
The Australian Skeptics National Convention is the longest running annual skeptical convention, held annually since 1985.
No Answers in Genesis
No Answers in Genesis is a website affiliated with the Australian Skeptics organisation (ASI) that provides information to defend the theory of evolution, and, more specifically, counter young Earth creationist arguments put forward by Answers in Genesis. It was founded by Australian atheist and skeptic John Stear, a retired civil servant. The website contains links, essays and other postings that rebut creationist arguments against evolution. Stear states that the site is meant for educational purposes as well as to illustrate the problems with Young Earth Creationism. The site also contains simple introductions to evolutionary concepts. It mainly has posts, on creationism, but now has some essays on "Intelligent design". It has two discussion boards.
In June 2005, members of the creationist group Answers in Genesis – Australia debated a team from the Australian Skeptics online on Margo Kingston's web diary section of the Sydney Morning Herald website.
The journal of the Australian Skeptics is called The Skeptic and has been published since 1981. The first issue, edited by the first President of Australian Skeptics, Mark Plummer, and produced by founding Secretary, James Gerrand, appeared in January 1981. Three issues appeared in 1981 and it has appeared quarterly since 1982. The Skeptic is used by the media in Australia seeking an alternative view on many of the issues examined by the Australian Skeptics. Since 1987, The Skeptic has been published by Australian Skeptics Inc, in New South Wales. From 1987 to 1990, it was edited by Tim Mendham, followed by Barry Williams from 1990 to 2008, and Karen Stollznow and Steve Roberts were editors briefly in 2009. The current editor (as of June 2009) is Tim Mendham.