10th European Skeptics Congress

Over the past weekend Prague hosted the 10th European Skeptics Congress. The event , which brought together skeptics from around the world, was organized by the Czech Skeptics Club SISYFOS under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.

Given the fact that there are skeptically minded people all around us we asked one of the prominent delegates to the conference solar physicist Prof. Cornelist de Jager from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, why some skeptics feel the need to associate in a formal organization.

"I am chairman of the European Association of skeptical organizations and I feel that my mission is to defend science against pseudo-sciences like alternative medicine, like astrology, like ....there are so many others."

Do you think there is an increase of that in our lives?

"Yes, there has been an increase in the last few decades of belief in non-scientific and pseudo scientific things. And that is a pity. I would so much like to defend science against scientific results. Science in itself is so fascinating. We don't need fairy tales."

Why do you think people want to believe in these things?

"I fear that we all like to believe in fairy tales and in miracles and it is so much easier to believe in miracles than to understand the results of scientific research."

Some of these things have been turned into media entertainment haven't they?

"Apparently the media get more attention when they come with non-scientific miracles than when they try to explain what scientists have found. That is our difficulty."

The Czech Skeptics' Club Sisyfos feels that in the present day its presence is more important than ever. The return of democracy to the Czech Republic just over a decade ago brought a boom in such things as alternative medicine, astrology and UFO clubs. All these things were banned under the communists despite the fact that the communist top brass were said to be highly superstitious and many of them had their own astrologers. We asked Dr. Jiri Grygar of the Czech Academy of Sciences what he considered to be the local skeptics' most significant achievement over the past decade.

"Well , I think that there are two main achievments. Our Czech Skeptics' Club, which is called Sisyfos, organizes monthly lectures about paranormal claims. These public lectures are very well attended and some of them have been published in a booklet which has quite good circulation in the country so I think that we are really gaining ground against these paranormal claims and theories. The other achievment concerns the position of alternative healers in our health system. Our colleagues from the medical sphere persuaded the health ministry not to recognize alternative healers as part of the official health structures. There were strong tendencies to include homeopathy and other forms of alternative medicine in what we call standard scientific medicine. That was prevented."

A lot of people believe in homeopathy and other forms of alternative medicine. Arn't they hostile that you are taking away something that they should be able to get the benefit of?

"We are not against giving them a choice. We wish to provide scientific evidence. Whether they accept it or not is they own affair."