German Skeptics Meet
The Sixth annual conference of the German Skeptics Society (GWUP, or the Society for the Scientific Study of “Parascience”) met in the delightful small city of Paderborn in North Central Germany from May 6-8, 1994. The theme of the meeting was “Focus on Superstition.” In addition to many from Germany, those in attendance came from the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United States. The majority of the presentations dealt with various aspects of astrology and astronomy. Heinrich Eppe traced the influences of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy on German astrology and occult roots of Nazi racism. Several people critically examined the pseudoscientific nature of astrology and popular horoscopes. Others suggested that the seemingly scientific and simplistic aspects of astrology (to a naive public) have a popular appeal that complex astronomy, by contrast, has failed to achieve.
Physicist Martin Lambert presented a set of criteria that could be used to distinguish legitimate science from quackery and pseudoscience. However, Jan Willem Nienhuys noted that the Tectonic Plate Theory of continental movement would have probably been rejected by these criteria (as in fact it was for many years). Other topics discussed included the detailed examination of an ostensibly haunted house in Germany, the supposed dangers from electromagnetic fields, a local stone structure having some features similar to Stonehenge, and the introduction of Facilitated Communication (yet another hoax from America?) to Germany.
The final session (a panel discussion examining whether religion is also a superstition) produced spirited audience participation. There seemed to be a pronounced sentiment against specific organized church activities. As with many conferences, much of the most fruitful and stimulating interaction occurred among attendees before and after the more formal presentations.
GWUP will organize the 7th European Skeptics Conference, to be held in Rossdorf, near Darmstadt, Germany, May 4-7, 1995.