With MSSX just days away, we took a rare opportunity to sit down with Simon Singh, to discuss his MSSX talk, his journey into scepticism, and the global skeptical community.
What can we expect from your talk at MSSX?
I am going to talk about all my five books, so my talk will range from cosmology from cryptography, from homeopathy to Fermat’s Last Theorem … and The Simpsons. I will also talk about what I am doing now, namely my work at Good Thinking alongside Michael Marshall and Laura Thomason.
How long have you considered yourself a skeptic?
Until I was in my forties, I think I saw myself as a scientist and a science writer, someone who either did science or celebrated science, but then I became more aware of the woo surrounding alternative medicine. It was the investigation into homeopaths trying to protects students against malaria that probably set me on a different path, but looking back I can see other events in my life that had a skeptical twist to them.
Who is your skeptical hero, and why?
It has to be James Randi. I grew up watching his debunkings, and then later when I was sued for libel it was James who was one of the first to say: “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.”
Is there anyone you think skeptics should know about, but might not?
We are global community with quite a long history, so there are probably many fascinating and courageous people that are worth googling, from Britt Hermes the ex-naturopath to Loretta Marron in Australia, from Basava Premanand who worked in India to video debunker Captain Disillusion.
Is there a form of pseudoscience that annoys you the most, and why?
Climate change denial is by far the most frustrating pseudoscience. It’s the pseudoscience that has biggest chance of impacting on the lives of my children.
What is the most important or interesting lesson you’ve learnt as a skeptic?
Even our heroes and fellow skeptics can be wrong sometimes.
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?
Oh, you young people. I remember going to a skeptics meeting in the Florence Nightingale pub in Lambeth in the 1990s, when the focus of the meeting was all about ghost and ghoulies, which was great fun. And there will be others, like Chris French, who remember skepticism back in the 1950s, when skeptics were asking whether rock’n roll really was the devil’s music.
You can catch Simon, 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 in a few days!