Thursday, 3 March 2011

David Colquhoun in Oxford

A good crowd (50 or 60 ish) gathered at the Oxford Skeptics in the Pub event last night, to hear Professor David Colquhoun, but I would estimate that about 25% quietly left at the interval.  Tempted to do so myself, I'm glad I stayed as the questions and answers were a little more interesting than the talk.

Although I would say that I agree with his campaign against Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), and agree with his consistent campaigning on the subject, I found the accounts of the events a little more disparaging than might have been necessary.  (Of course he was describing his hard won victories and wanted to describe them in detail.)

The slides contained a lot of text and the audience had little chance to read some of them, and I would just say that his method of presentation was 'unusual' for a professional speaker and member of the Royal Society.  I admit that there were a few giggles, including the surprising inclusion of the National Health Service's formal job specification for a 'Spiritual Healer'.

After last week's excellent event, (Paula Kirby), tonight was more than a little disappointing.  Hopefully the April event with Trystan Swale from the Righteous Indignation podcast will be more fun.


David Colquhoun said...

Sorry you didn't like it. Perhaps I should have explained that the excessive text in some of the slides was meant more as an aide memoir for me that for the audience to read through. I live in fear of misquoting people.

I don't apologise for the disparaging remarks though. Arguing with people who are either anti-scientific, or who just don't care, isn't like a rational discussion of (say) the stochastic properties of single molecules. Public shaming seems to be the only thing that works in the area of irrationality. I tried politeness. It gets you nowhere.

David Colquhoun said...

Aha I'm somewhat consoled by an earlier post where you say you didn't much like Raymond Tallis, one of the few great polymaths around.

My favourite quotation from Tallis is his comment on the wonderful expose of postmodernism by Alan Sokal.

"After S & B, [Sokal & Bricmont] they may feel less comfortable with the glamorous life that can be forged in the wake of the founding charlatans of postmodern Theory. Alternatively, they might follow my friend Roger into estate agency — though they should check out in advance that they are up to the moral rigours of such a profession."

Plasma Engineer said...

I'm feeling just a little guilty now, for having been disparaging myself. In my own defence though, I did at least stay until the end. Unfortunately two of my friends left the event at the interval.

I do applaud the campaign, and appreciate your sense of humour. Perhaps I was just expecting something a little different, having been reading Simon Singh recently. Thanks for coming to Oxford and best wishes for future attacks on quack medicine.

David Colquhoun said...

Oh please don't worry. I'll take your comments to heart. I always intend to ask people not to try to read all the text (too much, you are right) but I usually forget.

I noticed that quite a lot of people had come via the Oxford Science Festival, rather than through the Skeptics in the Pub. If you were one of the former you might not be accustomed to dealing with baloney and anti-science, but a case can me made that anti-science in universities corrupts the whole academic enterprise and so affects real science too. Remember the person who recommends "air baths" is now paid as a senior lecturer, and that's one fewer posts for real scientists.

Plasma Engineer said...

Yes - the evening was a good example of cooperation of scientists and skeptics and I was there as a fairly new member of the latter. Hopefully I'm perfecting the art of baloney detection gradually. I have used it in my professional life for years, but tools in Sagan's baloney detection kit help to formalise the ideas.

In fact for many years if anyone ever accused me of being a cynic I always said that I preferred the word sceptic. Only quite recently I have realised how much I have in common with many others in this regard. OK - there can never be a collective noun for skeptics any more than it is possible to herd cats.

Anyway - I completely support the campaign against anti-science and hope you will never lose the will for a good fight on the subject. Thanks for what you do David.

p.s. I have even almost become comfortable with using a k in the word skeptic.