When I decided to write my recent post about bizarre things going on with the GWUP (the German Skeptics), I knew, of course, that it would cause a few ripples. As a member of the GWUP scientific committee, I had been on the receiving end for the best part of a year of virtually hundreds emails and other exchanges directly releted to the matter. Initially, I had decided to stay out of all this. Therefore, I had read most of this material but had not responded to it even once.

Eventually, I had come to the conclusion that I ought to resign from the GWUP. There were two main reasons for that conclusion:

  1. Even though I had had plenty of time and information to form my own opinion, I had little to contribute to the affair.
  2. At the best of time, I am not a person who fits well into or likes to belong to clubs, associations, etc., and I was getting increasingly frustrated with the whole ting.

Before formulating my resignation letter, I discussed the GWUP with a trusted friend. This changed my attitude: I now felt that, before resigning, I should give it a try and make my position public in the hope that this might help the GWUP to get their act together.

Consequently, I posted my article precisely a week ago, well-aware of the fact that this would be controversial and might lead to attacks on my integrity. Having previously survived much bigger battles than that, I was not worried – at least, here I will be dealing with rational people, I thought.

As predicted, the reactions to my blog post (which was later translated and also published in German) were multipe, often fierce, and occasionally insulting. As not predicted, my assumption about dealing with rational people was erroneous.

I received (and posted) ~ 120 comments on the blog (only discarding less than a handful that were too far below the belt) and even more on social media. Many of you asked questions, and I tried to answer them the best I could. I even added a clarification to my original post. Soon I had to realize that emotions were flying high and reached into spheres that I understand little about and had even less intention to go into.

With hindsight, would I do it again?

Probably not!

Why not? Mainly because my attempt to help the GWUP was naive. I got the feeling that the rift amongst the German skeptics is too deep, too emotional, and too irrational. More than once I got the impression that it might be beyond repair.

More worringly perhaps, I also feel that some people who think of themselves ‘skeptics’ lack some of the qualities that I consider to be hallmarks of skepticism – to name just three: openness, rationality, and (self)critical thinking.

If someone voices his/her opinion (as has happened repeatedly, e.g. on social media) that I have been mistaken in what I stated about the GWUP, openness and rationality require, in my view, that this opinion is substantiated by stating exactly where I was mistaken. Just claiming “you were misinformed”, for instance, is hardly enough! After all, my post was written not least with the intention of identifying errors and misunderstandings. I never assumed that I am infallible, and therefore I invited my critics to use my blog for pointing out any errors, mistakes, misunderstandings, sources of misinformation, etc. Quite frankly, I was reminded of Randi’s bon mot: “The first thing a cult does is tell you everyone else is lying.”

And what happened?

Were my critics able to demonstrate where I have made errors or false allegations?

No – at least, I am not aware of such demonstrations which, of course, would require written statements that can be checked not just by me but by everyone else who is in the know.

Based on this situation, I feel tempted to conclude that the multiple claims of me having made false allegations are, in fact, false allegations.

Of course, I could be wrong!

And because I could be wrong, I am issuing herewith yet another invitation: if you are in possession of facts that contradict my previous post, here is your chance to disclose them by posting a comment below.


And where do we go from here?

I will postpone my decision to leave the GWUP for a few weeks and hope that, contrary to my pessimism, the GWUP might manage to get its act together. The more I try to understand the reasons for the rift, the more I feel that they are emotionally hyped trivialities. With a healthy dose of openness, rationality, and (self)critical thinking, the rift might still be repairable.



7 Responses to Have the German skeptics lost the plot? (PART 2)

  • Brilliant effort Edzard. Persistent politeness is going out of fashion. We have know for ever that those who resort to insults (the ad hominen) argument have already lost the rational argument. “Conspiracy thinking” of the “They are doing X” (they = who?) is being would up to the point of paranoia. Its dangerous to lose the plot. Who benefits? Actually, loads of actors benefit from these arguments, adverts, conflicts….. Hng on in there. We can’t lose scepticism itself even though we want to use facts and science as means of truth seeking

  • As an outsider, before Edzard’s blog I didn’t even know that a GWUP (Gesellschaft für die wissenschaftliche Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften = Society for the Scientific Study of Parasciences) existed. To Germans the abbreviation “GWUP” already sounds funny, reminding of words like “Wupps”, defined as “lautmalende Charakterisierung einer ruckartigen Bewegung”.
    As to the society’s work – scientifically studying parasciences – I don`t really feel the need for such an institution. Doesn’t any kind of science start dealing with public convictions about some subject? Convictions which nearly always turn out to be mistaken? So that anyone working scientifically – not only the GWUP members – is automatically revealing parascience and fighting against it? (Unfortunately, we have to state: The most relevant parasciences are and have always been not systems like homeopathy or astrology, but religions.)

    But what about the persons who feel the need to found a society like GWUP, or to become a member? My feeling is that institutions claiming to promote goals which every normal person should support (like “Red Cross” or “Arbeiterwohlfahrt”, or, concerning science, the GWUP) usually do NOT attract every normal person. More often they attract people who apart from claiming those goals intend to pursue their own goals. A famous example is this good man from Bethlehem who 2000 years ago proclaimed universal love – attracting first a power-greedy guy named Petrus who taught that love needed a boss, and after him a clever manager named Paulus who taught that love needed marketing.

  • Thank you, Edzard Ernst, for this well-formulated statement.

    I wish that the members of the GWUP who only point fingers at others and comment “you were misinformed” would show the same degree of self-reflection that you show here.

  • Dear Edzard,

    I am convinced that the GWUP has not consistently lost the plot. Otherwise, logically, the lamented split would not exist.

    So all that remains is either to come together again or to split up. There simply cannot be a downfall of the GWUP. If the positions are irreconcilable, then a solution must be found democratically, and there are ways of doing this.

    It seems to me that it is worth accompanying the process and then deciding how one personally assesses the resulting situation. I would advise you, even if it is annoying at the moment, not to resign at this point in time.

    • “I am convinced that the GWUP has not consistently lost the plot”
      I agree and never claimed it had.
      “There simply cannot be a downfall of the GWUP.”
      Why not?
      “a solution must be found democratically.”
      If the GWUP is infiltrated by any odd group – let’s say the flat earth society – it can very easily take over the reigns of the organisation democratically and proclaim the earth is flat.
      ” I would advise you, even if it is annoying at the moment, not to resign at this point in time.”
      I did state very clearly in my post that I will wait and see whether they can get their act together.

  • The GWUP Science Council has answered 10 questions to Andreas Edmüller, who has thanked them

    Another positive news: Jan Oude-Aost has also apologized for his unsuccessful tweet about the lecture. Andreas Edmüller accepted the apology without reservation and the story is now closed for him.

  • Update on cancel culture and the german skeptics:
    Unfortunately only available in german

    A good discussion:
    Cancel Culture in der GWUP?

    “Dawn of the GWUP. Der neue woke Vorstand, die Skepkon und wie ich schon wieder gecancelt wurde”
    in englisch: “Dawn of the gwup. The new woke board, the Skepkon, and how I got canceled again”

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