Britt Marie Hermes is a writer, scientist, and former naturopathic doctor who will be speaking at CSICon on Saturday, October 19 at noon. Her lecture is titled “Do Not Harm, But First, Nature.”
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Susan Gerbic: Nice to be able to speak to you again. It will be wonderful to have you back to CSICon this October. We last formally spoke before 2017 CSICon, and readers can read our conversation here. I understand you have increased the size of your family since we last saw you. Congratulations! Catch us up on things please.
Britt Hermes: Much has happened since CSICon 2017! The most exciting piece of news is that my daughter was born in June 2018. I have spent the last year at home with her. This time has been wonderful. I am looking forward to getting back to my PhD research, writing projects, and speaking engagements this summer.
Gerbic: Right before CSICon 2017, you were hit by a lawsuit from a naturopath. Australian Skeptics had your back and raised a lot of money for you to be able to defend yourself. I’m sure that was a nightmare, but can you explain what happened and where that lawsuit is at now?
Hermes: In Fall 2017, American naturopath Colleen Huber filed a defamation lawsuit against me in Kiel, Germany. I wrote about Huber’s cancer therapies and her naturopathic charity in a December 2016 blog post in which I speculated about whether Huber or someone close to her owned domains in my name. I also criticized her naturopathic cancer therapies and research. The court case was long and tiresome. I found the defamation allegations to be absurd. I felt like the lawsuit was filed simply to waste my time and to financially devastate me.
Libel law in Germany is not as defendant friendly as it is in the United States. While I did not do anything wrong, it was still stressful to put together documents and evidence for the court.
The skeptic community has been incredibly supportive throughout my lawsuit. After I announced the lawsuit, Australian Skeptics, Inc. organized a fundraiser to cover my legal fees. We raised enough money to cover all my legal expenses. I do not expect to be out any money for this lawsuit, which is absolutely incredible. This worldwide support from the skeptic community sends a powerful message that we stand together and will not tolerate legal thuggery by quacks.
I am very happy to share that on May 24, 2019, the court ruled entirely in my favor! The court ruled that my post is protected speech under Article 5 (1) of the German constitution. This is a huge win for the skeptic community.
Gerbic: Naturopaths seem to be as prevalent as usual. What is the state of this pseudoscience as far as you can tell? Are we making inroads?
Hermes: Pseudoscience remains as popular as ever. This is not surprising, given the rise of celebrities and politicians who promote discredited and ignorant ideas about science and medicine. However, social media has also allowed for scientists, physicians, and activists to stand up for science. The challenge lies in finding a communication strategy that effectively combats misinformation disseminated by people in power. Of course, there is not one strategy that will work for everyone.
I encourage people to become activists within their families and communities. I think we can make a meaningful impact simply by reaching out and opening up conversations with those in our inner circles. I have been able to convince anti-vaxx cousins, for example, to vaccinate their children. This is not something I could have achieved over Twitter. We need to get out from behind our computers and start speaking to our friends, family, and community members face to face. It is admittedly difficult and awkward sometimes. But the reward is absolutely worth it. You can literally save lives by educating friends are family about the importance of vaccines or the dangers of alternative cancer cures.
Gerbic: CSICon is once again upon us; you are a frequent conference speaker. What would you say to someone considering attending this year? And what advice would you give a first-time attendee that knows no one?
Hermes: Attend the social events! Skeptics love to party! Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or to introduce yourself to the speakers. I love speaking with attendees and hearing their stories.
Gerbic: Just for fun, what Wikipedia pages were the last ones you read?
Hermes: My history shows I visited the following Wiki pages this last week: Peter Langdon Ward (geophysicist), Ylvis, The Fox (what does the fox say?), Politics of China, 1989 Tiananmen Square, 99-Year-Lease, Hong Kong, and Ca’ Foscari University.
Clearly driven by a mix of pop culture and current politics, with some random searches thrown in! Amazingly, I can always find what I am looking for on Wikipedia. Thank you for all your hard work!
Gerbic: Thanks for talking to me today. Don’t forget to pack your poodle skirt; this year’s Halloween theme party at CSICon is the 1950s. For new attendees: CSICon 101.