Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bridge to SciOps: Report!

There’s a new sceptical kid on the South African block, and it’s me! ...and some other guys.

As my regular readers will no doubt be aware, I am something of a Star Trek fanatic, to the extent that I have founded my own Star Trek fan club (now defunct) and currently serve as a chapter president of another Star Trek fan club, The USS Dauntless, as well as a member of the board of directors of its parent organisation, STARFLEET International (SFI).

Although I’ve self-identified as a Trekkie far longer than I have done as a sceptic, for me the two are linked.

Although I always enjoyed Star Trek, I became a serious Trekkie around the time I discovered the Internet: about ten years ago. I was captivated by the sheer depth of it. The more I learned, the more I found there was to learn. So I delved into it, poring over books, trawling the bowels of the web, and I have emerged, as a butterfly from a cocoon, one of the most knowledgeable Trekkies I know. And I know many.

As part of my exploration of Star Trek, I developed a fondness for science. Again, this wasn’t new. As a little boy I was captivated by books on space exploration, which is probably one of the reasons I enjoyed Star Trek so much. I remember watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos over and over again, trying to absorb it all, but not really possessing the necessary understanding to parse it.

After being subjected to the sheer irrelevance of the high-school science curriculum, I lost interest in all things scientific. But that didn’t last long. Thanks to Star Trek I regained by interest in how the world worked.

In order to really appreciate the depth of the Star Trek experience, it required that I get to know an awful lot of science… beyond the silly experiments in high-school and onto the really interesting stuff: relativity, quantum physics, evolution, sociology, linguistics and any number of other disciplines were brought into the fray.

The more I got to know Star Trek the more enamoured I became by science. I inevitably discovered the sceptical movement and the value of critical thinking: a discovery that has inspired me even more than my initial discovery of Star Trek.

But I’m still a Trekkie, and now a sceptic. It took me a while, but I’ve finally figured out how to combine the two. Two weeks ago I announced on the USS Dauntless mailing list that I was forming a new team: Special Scientific Operations (SciOps). The SciOps team’s mission is:

To perform investigations, publicise results, promote critical thinking and generally support and advance the scientific imperative within its community and the on the Internet.
Some of you will be aware that there are already some sceptical organisations in South Africa. The South African Sceptics and Sceptics South Africa are both excellent groups, but their respective missions appear to be more along the lines of creating a sceptics’ community and publicising the sceptics’ perspective to the general public. Both are valuable and necessary.

But I think there’s a need for a group that will get its hands dirty and actually perform scientific investigations into claims of the paranormal, rather than sitting around talking about investigations performed by others. SciOps will be that group.

Since STARFLEET is based on the fictional Starfleet (the scientific and exploratory service of the United Federation of Planets, as depicted in Star Trek, of course) it stands to reason that we should be actively involved in the advancement of science and its companion, scepticism. And what makes it even more exciting is that it can be done in the name of Star Trek, furthering the SFI mission of pursuing “Gene’s Dream ”.

I’m looking forward to being more than just an armchair scientist and vocal sceptic, and actually getting involved in the real thing. Furthermore, I invite you all to join us in our mission!