Swedish Skeptics 25 years

i-83b37cc0e6ae5e44726a14026c0aed6f-logga.gifToday, the Swedish Skeptics Society celebrated its 25th anniversary with an afternoon seminar in Stockholm. I’ve been a member since 1997, a co-editor of the society’s journal Folkvett since 2002 and a board member since 2004. The >2000-member society is Sweden’s nearest equivalent of CSI (formerly CSICOP), but it has certain unusual traits. For one thing, its Swedish name, Föreningen Vetenskap och Folkbildning, says nothing about either skepticism nor the paranormal. It simply means “The Society for Science and Popular Enlightenment”. (Folkbildning, a word first documented in 1805, is strongly associated with the early-20th century Labour movement’s ambition to make education freely available to all citizens.) And the first paragraph of the society’s statutes reads as follows (and I translate):

¶1 The purpose of the Society for Science and Popular Enlightenment is to support popular enlightenment about the methods and results of science. In particular, the society takes upon itself to combat, in the context of free speech, erroneous beliefs on issues that can be resolved by scientific means. An important part of popular science enlightenment is to make it clear what questions can be resolved by scientific means, and which cannot.

The society endorses the principles of political democracy. It is politically neutral as to political parties and unaffiliated in questions of religious faith.

So, what we have here is an organisation that doesn’t really accept “paranormal” as a valid classification: all registerable traits of the universe are open to scientific inquiry, and the interesting aspect of any truth claim is simply whether it’s on the turf of science or not. Though very few members appear to be particularly religious and many are atheists, the society doesn’t deal in theology. Vetenskap och Folkbildning isn’t primarily against anything: it’s pro-science and pro-communication.

At today’s seminar, we had four good lectures looking back at the past quarter century, and finally a presentation by stage magician Tom Stone where he explained the perceptual psychology behind a number of tricks as he performed them. Good stuff! And afterwards, a dinner of Lebanese meze in excellent company.

I encourage all Dear Readers who understand any Scandinavian language to check out the society’s web site (with a huge text archive), lively on-line forum, quarterly print journal and regular public lectures.

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  1. #1 Lars L
    December 2, 2007

    In what sense was the term “folkbildning” used in the aerly 19th century?

  2. #2 Martin R
    December 2, 2007

    Largely a similar one, though on a more basic level, like “getting the peasants literate”. SAOB has the following quotations from the early 19th C.:

    1805: “…the act of providing education for wider social strata”

    1823: “…more concretely, about the level of reading present in wider social strata”.

    1835: “Swedish folkbildning may seem incomplete. Nonetheless, it has reached a far higher level than in any other state.”

    1841: “A lot is being said and written about the upbringing of the lower classes, the so-called folkbildning“.

  3. #3 brtkrbzhnv
    December 2, 2007

    “The society endorses the principles of political democracy. It is politically neutral”
    That is what I would call a blatant contradiction.

  4. #4 Martin R
    December 2, 2007

    I see what you mean. The original wording is more like “neutral as to political parties”, and so implies that the society is only neutral within the context of representative democracy.

  5. #5 Caledonian
    December 2, 2007

    Sounds like the closest equivalent term in English would be ‘non-partisan’: not concerning itself with allegiance for or against any political party.

  6. #6 Tor
    December 3, 2007

    I’d be curious to know more about your motivation for participating so actively in VoF. If I know you right, you’ll never do anything unless you think it’s good fun. But in my experience, combatting pseudo-scientific silliness is just excruciating. What do you get out of it?

  7. #7 Martin R
    December 3, 2007

    No, you’re right, I’m pretty much only in it for fun.

    My main activities in VoF are a) co-editing (and sometimes contributing to) the society’s entertaining journal, b) attending the executive board’s friendly meetings. Neither is anywhere near excruciating, quite the contrary.

    As for combatting pseudo-scientific silliness, I mainly do so with journal polemics within my own discipline, archaeology, and sometimes in other fields here on Aard. Writing a polemic is great fun to me. And of course, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t care enough about the issues to actually get pretty angry too.

    The only time-consuming dull work I do to combat pseudoscience is correcting the hyphenation in the proofs of VoF’s journal. Generally, I just fight woo with sarcastic one-liners.

  8. #8 enkla z
    December 3, 2007

    In my opinion, that debate forum is in urgent need of more dynamics and less snapping, in their discussions 😉
    (review in Swedish:)

  9. #9 Martin R
    December 3, 2007

    Yeah, I know what you mean. I don’t take much part in the discussions there. I generally just scan the forum once a week and answer any archaeological questions that may have arisen.

  10. #10 windy
    December 4, 2007

    I see that “Ambres” gets what’s coming to him in the forum 😀

  11. #11 Martin R
    December 4, 2007

    Yep, the VoF web forum is hard-lovin’ and hard-kickin’…

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