With MSSX around the corner, we asked Legal Aid lawyer Emma McClure about her time in skepticism, what she’ll be talking about at MSSX, and how she feels skepticism has changed in the last decade.
What can we expect from your talk at MSSX?
I’ll be taking a look at how the Parole Board makes decisions to release people who have committed the worst of crimes. The only time most people hear about the Parole Board is when they are releasing someone infamous (almost always against the wishes of victims and the public). How and why do they do this? Given the historically secretive nature of proceedings there has been a lack of information for the lay person to understand what is going on. I intend to help fill this information gap using my own experience, and will share some case studies to explain why “bad” people get released... and why it’s right that they should be.
How long have you considered yourself a skeptic?
I’d say it’s been about a decade. My gateway drug was atheism and through looking for information and discussion about atheism I found scepticism, and after I attended QED in 2012 I became an “active” skeptic.
Who is your skeptical hero, and why?
Professor Phil Scraton is a hero to me, for his tireless work in uncovering the very real conspiracy around the Hillsborough disaster. Everyone should know about him, the areas he covers – human rights violation, helping people get access to justice and fair treatment – they’re so vitally important, and they’re areas where it can be difficult to tow the line between critical and conspiracy thinking in a sensitive way.
Is there a form of pseudoscience that annoys you the most, and why?
My current bugbear is psychic surgery, because I recently attended an event to investigate and experience it some first-hand. It is so frustrating to see sick and vulnerable people taken advantage of, and so important that the skeptical community is there to try and stop people from being exploited in this way.
What is the most important or interesting lesson you’ve learnt as a skeptic?
For me, the most important lesson is that anyone can get involved in combating bad ideas. When I started I was terrified of the idea of public speaking, and I also thought that skepticism really only applied to science. But I learned that skepticism can apply everywhere, and began to apply it to my own field of expertise, and that helped me to see that I can be pretty good at explaining some of the ways in which skeptical appraisal, critical thinking and compassion can make sense of some of the complicated and important issues in my own field of expertise.
As MSSX is the tenth anniversary of the MSS, and lots of other skeptical groups started in the UK around the same time, how do you feel skepticism has changed in the last ten years?
I think there have been a lot of growing pains, as we’ve all had to try to find our feet in terms of what works. I do think scepticism has become more mainstream, but there is still some way to go. Even after a decade of being involved, I still find myself having to explain what I mean by “skeptic” to most people I meet!
You can catch Emma, as well as five other main stage speakers, and much more, at MSSX on Saturday 6th July – pick up your £29 tickets today, and we’ll see you next month!