i-83b37cc0e6ae5e44726a14026c0aed6f-logga.gifI joined the Swedish Skeptics Society in 1997. Not because I was particularly aware of or bothered by paranormal claims or alternative medicine, but because I was an unhappy grad student in an Artsy post-modernist environment that was extremely hostile to the idea of cumulative rationalist Enlightenment science. It was a huge relief for me to come into contact with science and engineering people with an unabashedly scientistic world view. They would happily say “There’s no data on that issue so its useless to speculate about it” and “Both interpretation A and interpretation B can’t be true”, and I felt like I had come home.

So I’m a bit of an odd skeptic, the science-friendly arts/anthro guy who came in from the cold. I’d barely heard of James Randi or Martin Gardner when I joined and I still haven’t read any of their books. But I immediately began contributing to the Society’s journal, Folkvett, and in 2002 I was invited onto the editorial board. In 2004 I joined the Society’s executive board. And yesterday I was elected chairman of the Swedish Skeptics — Föreningen Vetenskap och Folkbildning.

The Swedish Skeptics have 2,600 members and add about 100 new people annually. That’s pretty respectable in a country of only 9.4 million. 15% of the membership (and 29% of the new Board) are women. In addition to the national Board in Stockholm we have regional chapters in Uppsala and Gothenburg.

The main demand that I’ve picked up from the members (and from critical non-member skeptics) is that the Swedish Skeptics should be more visible in the public space, take part in more debates, make more headlines, do more lobbying. And that is something I look forward to working with. Debate is after all something I’ve been doing professionally for over 15 years. This is my first stint as chairman of an organisation, and since I’ve made sure that other board members are willing to do the admin, I feel pretty good about the whole thing.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Olson
    April 3, 2011

    I’ve commented on your thread before and as a Christian, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable. It is nothing you do, nor is it any of your beliefs. It is simply that from a scienitific viewpoint, I believe my theological viewpoints are nebulous. I can neither prove nor disprove what I believe, so why worry about it. However, when I read, Martin Gardner, or Christian DeDuve, or even Chad Orzel. I recognize someone who seems to think similarly to the way I do. I fully support skeptical inquiry and the scienitific method and recognize that some of the things I was trained to believe are foolishness. However, I still believe there is some sort of God in all of this.

  2. #2 kai
    April 3, 2011

    Congratulations, old crumpet! We will have to celebrate this next time we meet.

  3. #3 informania
    April 3, 2011

    @1 Don’t worry.. I know people who even believe in human ghost-residuals; You’ll be alright, once you’re on the right meds.

  4. #4 Deborah
    April 3, 2011

    Congratulations, Martin! I wish you every success in this endeavor and hope to read more about your Skeptical Adventures here.

  5. #5 Birger Johansson
    April 3, 2011

    Congratulations, Martin. “since I’ve made sure that other board members are willing to do the admin”…absolutely crucial condition!!! That kind of crap drove me out of political activism.

    Mike Olson : You will be all right here. As Martin mentioned in another post, Swedes do not care very much about religion one way or another; passionate displays of belief both for and *against* religion are a bit frowned upon. The only frequent religion-based fury is when Jehowa’s Witnesses ring the doorbell during a crucial football game.
    (I feel a bit sorry for the young Mormons who are “volunteered” for doing their stint of missionary work here. Slim pickings.)

  6. #6 Art
    April 3, 2011

    Congratulations.

  7. #7 Martin R
    April 3, 2011

    Thanks everybody!

    About the Witnesses: I passed by two of them in the street the other day. They were two young guys, talking and laughing and apparently in a fine mood. One of them offered me a pamphlet with the prominent headline “THE END IS NEAR”.

  8. #8 Mike Olson
    April 3, 2011

    @3, frankly, I wasn’t worried about my beliefs, but rather the reception or inclusion into a group whose beliefs I don’t share entirely. I annoy both religio-maniacs and atheists. As to meds, the best thus far are a pint or so of Rogue Mocha Porter followed by a pint or so of a good dry hopped ale. At that point the religio-maniacal seem less strident and smug folks such as yourself more tolerant. Both groups seem to feel they have the answers as to what the rest of use *SHOULD* believe. Skeptics such as Randi and Gardner demonstrate what we definitely should not believe…such as ghost residuals.

  9. #9 Thinker
    April 4, 2011

    Congratulations, Martin!

    …the Swedish Skeptics should be more visible in the public space, take part in more debates, make more headlines, do more lobbying. And that is something I look forward to working with.

    One of the things I feel strongly about is that no kid should leave school without at least the fundamentals of critical thinking / skepticism in place. For those who will be living their lives in constant information overload, the critical evaluation of the claims and argumentation of others will be an essential skill.

    Could VoF under your eminent and auspicious leadership help elaborate study plans, toolkits for teachers etc. that would enable this to happen more readily? (Even things like Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit, if adapted for school use, would be valuable!) In addition, of course, you could lobby for having this feature more prominently in the formal curriculum.

  10. #10 Birger Johansson
    April 4, 2011

    DO NOT FEED THE TROLL (dfmab)

  11. #11 Phillip IV
    April 4, 2011

    Congratulations! Not bad, especially considering you weren’t even sure whether you would be elected to the board again.

    I tried to form my own group of super-skeptics once, to which I would only admit the most skeptical of skeptics. I sent out invitations, but none of the recipients believed they were authentic. ._.

  12. #12 Birger Johansson
    April 4, 2011

    About debate: In my opinion, skepticism should not only be confined to science, everybody has an obligation to confront bogus claims in the social/political debate as well. Especially claims in the political debate.
    A common example is the claim by far-right nutters that most rapes in Sweden are committed by immigrants (but this claim is already challenged, so it is not the most urgent case).
    Other cases -when is centralisation of organisations really beneficial? Will a new highway really improve traffic or just increase it, until gridlock re-emerges?
    A case that interests me is the supposed benefit of privatisations and de-regulations. On this topic I would refer to Donahue’s “The Privatization Decision (“Den svåra konsten att privatisera”) which shows that this is NOT a case of “one size fits all” -every privatization must be planned on its own terms.
    (The British may recall the privatization of the railway lines, a rash desicion that still torments travellers in southern Britain)

  13. #13 Birger Johansson
    April 4, 2011

    A good post about “simple ignorance” and “determined ignorance”, the latter is when leaders choose to ignore facts: http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2011/04/rushdie_on_ignorance.php

  14. #14 Birger Johansson
    April 4, 2011

    1500 BC! “Oldest evidence of writing found in Europe” http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-04-oldest-evidence-europe.html

  15. #15 Martin R
    April 4, 2011

    Thinker, I agree, schools are an important target. But I have a feeling that what we really need to get into is the teachers’ colleges.

  16. #16 kevin
    April 4, 2011

    The charming rationalist is a rare bird indeed — skepticism couldn’t ask for a friendlier face. Congratulations!

  17. #17 Martin R
    April 5, 2011

    Many thanks, Kevin!

  18. #18 steve
    February 14, 2012

    Sven Kullanders detailed analysis of Rossi Ecat spent fuel was to be released before christmas.

    Is Doctor Kullander still a member of your organisation?

  19. #19 jetmech
    March 1, 2012

    I would think since some members of your organization have
    attended Andrea Rossi’s demonstration of his Ecat free energy
    device the Swedish Skeptics Society would have some comment
    on that somewhere?
    I know James Randi had a lot of trouble with Uri Geller and
    his lawsuits (quite a bit).
    So i can understand your reluctance to comment however i must
    add that James Randi eventually prevailed.
    Do you not feel if the Swedish Skeptics Society were to comment on Andrea Rossi’s claim they too would not prevail?
    in Swedish courts?
    If not why not?
    You could always transfer this to the JREF!
    I admit I do not understand european courts!
    However i have seen BAD things in the UK system vs DEFAMATION and SCIENCE.

  20. #20 Martin R
    March 1, 2012

    The Swedish Skeptics don’t enter into internal scientific controversies. We wait until there is a wide consensus and then we promote knowledge about it when non-scientists voice dissenting views, such as on the topic of homeopathy.

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