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Feb 07 2013

Good Thinking at QEDcon – Response to Comments

As some of you will know, Good Thinking was planning to offer a £500 grant to a SitP group at this year’s QEDcon.

Yesterday, @mjrobbins tweeted: “I just think SITPs competing with each other is against everything that @SITP is about. I hope nobody applies.” He also tweeted: “If @QEDcon had any sense, this sort of divisive and pointless exercise wouldn’t be happening.”

I had not considered that offering a grant might would be divisive, controversial or lead to a suggestion that SitPs might boycott the grant project. However, Good Thinking would certainly drop the idea if there is a general feeling from SitP groups that this is a bad idea. On the other hand, we would continue if SitP groups feel positive about the project and are still willing to submit proposals.

On a personal note, I have found it disappointing that a small-scale, low-cost, well-meaning, potentially beneficial pilot project has prompted such a negative response from one or two quarters.

Simon Singh

Responses to @mjrobbins specific criticisms/comments:

1. “SITPs will spend more taking part in the competition than @SLSingh gives out.”

The first stage of the application is very cheap and simple – just 200 words by email. The SitPs offering the best ideas will be invited to QEDcon. They will be given guest passes. They may incur travel costs (perhaps £50-£100), or they may already be at QEDcon. Overall, we expect to be handing out much more money than the expense of participating. Those who are invited to pitch will also have the opportunity to meet other skeptics and attend all the other events at QEDcon.

2. “It seems a spur of the moment fix for the failure (?) of the @GoodThinkingSoc grants.”

Thanks for the concern, but we have a list of five proposals that we are planning to fund. We are currently in discussion with the applicants to finalise the details of the funding. We tweeted about this earlier in the week.

3. “the site itself describes ‘grilling’ in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style competition…”

…and immediately goes on to say: “but in a less confrontational, more supportive way (Unicorn’s Lair? Kitten’s Krib?)”

4. “Pointless”

That might be right, that might be wrong – we don’t know, but with this small-scale experiment we hope to find out. If the £500 grant project fails, then we will not repeat it. If it succeeds, then it might grow. We applied the same approach to our inaugural blog prize project last year – that was an experiment that succeeded and it will happen again (with some improvements). Had the blog prize initiative failed, we would not have regretted trying it.

Finally, it may have helped if @mjrobbins had emailed or called me before tweeting, as it might have avoided various misunderstandings.

Finally, finally, it may also have helped if @mjrobbins had accepted an invitation to talk on the phone immediately after tweeting.