Interview - Barry Williams


Interview: Barry Williams, Executive Officer, Australian Skeptics:
20th August 2
003


We interview the Editor of Australian Skeptic.

What does Australian Skeptics represent?

I suppose, if we represent anything, it's critical thinking and rational analysis (of claims). Broadly, we don't accept claims as fact unless there is some evidence to support them. The more extraordinary the claim the more evidence we need.

Why and how did you become a skeptic?

A long story, but I have been a fairly skeptical person for as long as I can remember. I'll talk more about this later if you like.

When I first approached you about this interview, were you skeptical?

No. I get similar requests all the time. There are requests that make me skeptical because some of them are couched in pretty weird terms, but these are more likely to be framed in terms of statements rather than questions.

What are your beliefs based on?

I (we) don't really have "beliefs" in this context (of course, many of us have personal beliefs about a whole range of matters - for instance, I believe that cricket is the most sublime activity ever devised by man :-) ).

We tend to agree that science is the most useful system yet devised for explaining the natural world. Skepticism isn't a belief system, rather it's a method of assessing things you hear to decide if they are likely to be true or not. You could probably sum it up in a motto, "Don't believe, think."

Are you controversial?

Sometimes.

How do you decide what is real and credible when you watch the news or read a newspaper?

Depends entirely on the story. Often you have to decide what is news and what is the opinion of the journalist. I have a rule of thumb "if it sounds like crap it probably is", which is not infallible, but works far more often than not.

How does the Internet assist you?

A wonderful tool that allows one to access all sorts of information on every conceivable subject, most of which is wrong.

How do your belief contradict biblical writings?

My beliefs (or lack thereof) neither contradict nor confirm biblical writings. Scientific and historical evidence contradicts plenty of them.

Does being a true skeptic also mean you are an Atheist?

Not necessarily, though personally I am both a skeptic and an atheist. Other skeptics subscribe to a wide variety of religious (and political) beliefs. There is no "party line" skeptics are required to follow.

Do you believe in black magic?

No, nor any other kind, apart from the skillful tricks conducted by "magicians" or similar entertainers. That sort of magic I greatly enjoy.

Will there be an "end times" - is the end of the world, and do you care to make a predication?

The best available evidence suggests that the sun will run out of fuel and expand to engulf the Earth in around 5 billion years. Whether there will still be humans around then is unknown, but I doubt it - there are plenty of natural phenomena that can wipe us out within that time-frame. Or we might simply evolve.

How many frauds are perpetrated on the Australian public by the media and government?

Probably not too many outright deliberate frauds, but plenty of spin and half-truths. That seems to be the nature of the beast.

How do you communicate with the other members in Australia, and indeed, around the globe?

Most communication methods (apart from smoke signals, carrier pigeons and message sticks) and we publish a quarterly journal, the Skeptic.

What are the highlights of the year, from a Skeptics perspective?

The awarding of the Australian Skeptics Eureka Prize for Critical Thinking (which happened last week), our annual convention (which happens next weekend) at which we will announce the winner of our Bent Spoon Award (for "the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of paranormal piffle"). Publication day for The Skeptic, but that's largely because I am the editor. Any time a quack or charlatan is exposed (not often enough).

How have you and the Australian Skeptics made a positive difference?

We have helped take a few quacks etc out of circulation and we have raised the public awareness of some of the tricks they get up to. To some degree we have forced makers of dubious claims to be a bit more circumspect about what they claim. But it is a constant struggle.

...end.

Editors note: An interesting, witty interview. Stay tuned. We have only just began to explore the world of the skeptic!

Links:

Australian Skeptics official website

The Skeptic (Online journal)

Media Man Australia, Greg Tingle, interviews Bob Carrol, founder of Skepdic.com

Brian Wilshire: The Wilshire Zone

Greg Tingle speaks to Brian Wilshire - 25th February 2003

E-skeptic

Australian Skeptics official website

Profiles

The Skeptics Resource

The End Times - The End of the World