The Good Thinking Society’s Offer: Q&A with Simon Singh

Some of you will have followed the conversation that Martin Robins had with, both myself and others on twitter yesterday evening regarding the recent offer, from The Good Thinking Society (GTS), to fund a project via a presentation process at this years qed conference.

While I personally don’t feel that all of Martin’s points were valid, he did raise some questions that required more detailed answers. I would also add, that Martin’s concerns appear to be wholly driven by a desire for the skeptical movement and SitP groups to have a fair and free playing field.

Simon Singh, as one of the public faces of the GTS, has now answered some of Martin’s questions on the GTS website. Yesterday evening, before this post was published, I took the opportunity to ask Simon some of the questions myself.

Below are the questions I put to Simon and his answers. This was a brief email exchange and the text is directly lifted from the questions and subsequent answers.

I think some of the more sensible criticism relates to finance and SitP groups that don’t plan on attending QED. Do you feel the costs of travel will out-weigh the prize money, especially if multiple non-attendees enter?

I accept that the situation is not perfect, but we are partly making the most of the fact that the biggest concentration of SitP folk will be at QEDCON. Others can probably arrange travel for less than £100. We will only invite two proposals to the final pitch, so there will not be lots of people wasting lots of money travelling. Those attending will also have the benefit of meeting other skeptics, going to other sessions, etc.

Do you think that it’s right for SitP groups have to compete against each other for a prize or would a pool of grant money, that could be applied for as needed, would be a better option?

We had a small grants project, which has just closed. We will be announcing those who are receiving grants in the next few weeks. We are trying different approaches to see what works.

It’s seems that the GTS is taking some criticism for this being a publicity stunt, do you think there’s any valid justification for that?

Our motivation is to help SitP groups do good things. I don’t think publicity is the issue. I can say that I am running up against a deadline for submitting a book and have a massive backlog of work, so arranging publicity stunts is a very low priority.

Some other questions I’ve seen raised:

Will it be acceptable for other attendees to present on the behalf of groups that aren’t attending?

Yes

Will entries be limited to one per group?

You can make multiple entries.

As Simon says, QED will be the biggest concentration of SitP folk. This will be a good opportunity for a group to get some funds towards a worthwhile cause. If you aren’t able to attend for any reason and you are successful in the bidding process, I offer my humble services to you, as a stand in. Contact me via the contact form if you’re interested.

I’m very much in favour of this kind of thing. I think the GTS do some great work and, for me, this is just one example. I hope that this inspires some great ideas and increases the teamwork, both within SitP groups while working on ideas and between groups with a fun competitive edge.

I would also like to thank Simon and Martin. Simon, for being a good sport and answering my questions. Lesser people may have viewed Martin’s questions in a more personal light and been defensive. I’d like to thank Martin for raising some reasonable questions. His attitude toward SitP groups and sense of fair play is a credit to him.

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