Saint Petersburg Branch of the Russian Humanist Society
We're Already 10

On 17 March the St. Petersburg branch of RGO was 10 years old: our founding meeting was held on that day in 1999. It was preceded by the events described in the essay, "The Twilight of Reason" (Zdravy Smysl [Common Sense] N? N? 11 and 12, 1999, http://humanism.su/en/articles.phtml?num=000012 .

One might consider that the remarkable St. Petersburg writer M. M. Chulaki gave us our start. He was an author, at that time was looking for like-minded people, who first heard of the existence of the Russian Humanist Society and its journal Zdravy Smysl, and received advice to write a letter to the RGO Chairman, V. A. Kuvakin. A lively correspondence began, first through regular mail, then via e-mail (now it contains almost 1000 letters), which allowed the direction of our work to be decided based on our abilities, capabilities, inclinations, and likings. We selected as the main types of activity those envisioned in the RGO Charter then in effect (amended in 2005) "opposition to and criticism of various forms of fanaticism, mysticism, traditional and non-traditional forms of religious world views, superstitions, and other unscientific and antiscientific ideas and practices". In other words, we decided to concentrate as RGO members on preventing frauds of all types from enjoying the undeserved erudition and credibility, alas, of many Russians, and lastly - to prevent the loss of the inclination and ability to think critically. This, that is science educational work, we thought, was the main mission of skeptical humanists of Russia in the present day.

Inasmuch as initially not everyone clearly pictured what the work of an RGO member might specifically be, a brief list of possible things was drawn up:

- humanist self-education by reading literature published by the RGO (at a minimum, the journal Zdravy Smysl) and, when possible, its websites;
- familiarization with what friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and others have read;
- campaigning for mail subscriptions to the journal;
- replies to letters from citizens interested in the work of the RGO;
- lectures of an educational nature;
- publications in the press;
- the initiation of humanist TV and radio programs;
- participation in events organized by the RGO.

We understood that much free time, which few working people have, is required for active participation in the realization of a number of points of the list and therefore we did not, nor we, do not reproach those who limit themselves to the first three points, for we think that sooner or later this minimum will bear its fruit. But we have had and still have genuine activists through whose efforts the work of a majority of the other points is accomplished. Some members of the Branch have showed their worth as authors of talented books and articles. These were the aforementioned M. M. Chulaki, mathematician P. A. Trevogin, theologian V. N. Nikitin, physicist Ye. B. Aleksandrov, biologist and historian of science M. B. Konashev, mathematician B. A. Kulik, philosopher B. Ya. Pukshansky, biologist and theologian M. M. Bogoslovsky, and artist A. A. Yaroslavtsev. (We bow our heads in memory of the first three who have already departed this life).

Some members of the Branch, being instructors at city higher educational institutions, spread the ideas of secular humanism in their lectures in the course "Concepts of Contemporary Natural Science". The most active here are the aforementioned M. M. Bogoslovsky (he also has written the educational books "The Human Soul" and "People and Gods") and head of the Philosophy Department of the Mining Institute, B. Ya. Pukshansky, who though of how to use popular science films (alas, mainly foreign) from a rich video library that he collected to increase the effectiveness of lectures.

We consider the organization of a series of educational programs on Peterburg Radio in 1999-2001 as our significant achievement. Many themes were covered in the programs which were broadcast: from astrology to other magical predictions, superstitions, UFOlogy and telepathy to the evolution of nature, folk medicine and quackery, the hypocrisy of the church and the religiosity of scientists. P. A. Trevogin worked more than others in this field. Later he wrote a book "Academic Mantles and Fool's Caps", sharply castigating the aspirations of astrology and astrologers to the title of science and scientists.

The Branch actively participated in the International Conference, "Science and Humanism, Planetary Values of the Third Millennium", held in St. Petersburg in 2000. An entire "landing party" of Petersburgers spoke in the sections of the International Symposium "Science, Antiscience, and Paranormal Beliefs" (in Moscow in 2001).

We then switched to holding monthly publicly accessible meetings of the Branch where the current issues of our work are discussed and we hear and discuss educational lectures of both Branch members and scientists specially invited from outside. The meetings are held in auditoriums in various institutions of the city which we manage to get for this purpose: higher educational institutions, scientific research institutes, and libraries. The second year of the meetings was held in the prestigious building of the Russian National Library. They were conducted by Professor B. Ya. Pukshansky, who was Chairman of the St. Petersburg Branch of the RGO. Here also, as a rule, video materials which he offered are used.

We invite as lecturers both natural scientists and humanitarian materialists. Despite the great workload of scientific and pedagogical work physicist and academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Ye. B. Aleksandrov, Chief of the Department of Celestial Mechanics of St. Petersburg State University K. V. Kolshevnikov, Theologian and Professor of the Hertzen Russian State Pedagogical University [RGPU] N. S. Gordienko, philosopher A. S. Karmin, and others eagerly come to us.

Since 2000 our Branch has been confronting so-called phony healing which is a pseudoscientific alternative to the methods of folk medicine. As everyone knows, being based on the experience of many generations of people and rooted in folk traditions, the latter are recognized by health laws as permissible along with the methods of scientific medicine for the treatment of some illnesses. Phony healers, not as a rule having a medical education, deceive sick people, promising them a quick recovery with the aid of quickly thought up, useless, and at times paid hand waving, which is very harmful to life and health. The experience of the Branch in the fight against so-called "biofield correction" is described in detail in G. Shevelev's book ,"Is it Easy to Become a 'Healer'?", published by the RGO in 2006. No long ago we sent materials to the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly received from the Moscow City Duma informing us about their steps in the area of fighting violations in this field.

The Branch not only opposes pseudoscience as a phenomenon but its specific vehicles. In St. Petersburg such people as K. G. Korotkov, "the aura visualizer", A. P. Smirnov, "hyperphysicist and of vehement admirer of the 'golden section', G. L. Dul'nev, "researcher of the world beyond", V. Ye. Kholmogorov and N. P. Lekhtlaan-Tynisson, inventors of the pseudomedical "dissipative" method or "reverse wave", V. V. Dovgusha, who sheltered the latter in a government scientific research institute, V. I. Petrik, the "Leonardo da Vinci of our time", etc took root.

Unfortunately, there is an age problem in the Branch. We are proud of our tireless elder, biologist B. N. Gavrilov, but there are almost no young Peterburgers among us and attempts to attract them to our ranks have not been very productive. It remains to hope that children who have been casually raised by the large detachment of St. Petersburg teachers, who on the whole remain supporters of rationalism and materialism, will have an inclination toward humanism in general and secular humanism in particular. The lack of reports about teachers and students sympathizing with the position of 9th grader M. Shrayber, who tried by incitement to undermine the authority of Darwin's theory and with the active assistance of her father by instigating a noisy court case, and the interest of her contemporaries in his teachings in biology courses serves as confirmation of this.

Work with the many thousands of St. Petersburg students is as important, primarily with future teachers and journalists who are fated when they graduate to take part in the formation of the world view and public opinion of Russians throughout the entire country. Of course, it is difficult in this matter to overestimate first of all the possibilities and the efforts of university and department professorial and instructional staffs and the natural science and humanitarian disciplines which they teach. But, as stated above, our Branch is contributing as much as it can to this cause.

The Branch does not close its eyes to individual instances of the activity of people in the city who also understand the great importance of working with youth but with goals unlike ours. We know of the statement of the rector of one of the St. Petersburg clerical schools who set as a strategic goal of the Church "to win the battle for the minds on the front of Russian education". There have been instances of the penetration of schools by various dubious personalities who wear the masks of "scientist", "academician", "educator", etc. The Branch initiates journalistic investigations of such cases with publication of the results in the popular St. Petersburg newspaper "Peterburgsky Pik Chas [St. Petersburg Rush Hour] which is sympathetic to our work.

With the active participation of the Branch it was possible to get a monetary grant from the city government for the creation of a monthly column, "Nauka [Science]", in the leading St. Petersburg newspaper, "Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti [St. Petersburg Gazette]". This allowed articles by Academician V. L. Ginzburg and three members of the Branch to be seen in this column in 2003. At the turn of 2004-2005 the Branch made an attempt to initiate the publication in St. Petersburg of a science education newspaper (a type now popular in the suburban Moscow newspaper "Troitsky Variant [Trinity Version]". Our appeal about this to the city government with a draft concept and plan of the newspaper was initially supported but a reply was later received that the money planned for the realization of this idea had gone to other purposes.

We attached certain hopes to the creation in 2000 of our Svetsky Gumanist [Secular Humanist] Branch's Internet site (the new address is http://humanism.su), which became possible thanks to the invaluable unselfish aid of RGPU Prof. A. A. Akhayan, his son N. A. Akhayan, and engineer M. G. Shevelev. In addition to original materials written by Branch members we publish articles from various mass media and other sites which agree with our subject matter and also the table of contents of the journal "Zdravyy Smysl [Common Sense]" and selected articles from it. Visitors to the site might remember the striking articles by P. A. Trevogin, M. M. Bogoslovsky, Ye. B. Aleksandrov, V. L. Ginzburg, Eh. P. Kruglyakov, Ye. Zubarev, M. Boytsova, I. Petrovskaya, and many others. The site now has about 800 Russian-language articles and about 80 translated into English.

Those wishing to find out more about what I have said in this brief report (and much is unsaid here) can without great difficulty do this by going to the pages of our website.

Gennady Shevelev

Translated by Gary Goldberg

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