The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Fourth of July’

Notes from Skepchicon/Convergence 2011

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2011

Well, another Skepchicon/Convergence has come and gone, and once again I had a blast in Minneapolis.  Of course, it wasn’t all play – though there was plenty of that (as evidenced with the photo of me below in the Mos Icee Cantina 🙂 ) – because I participated in a number of good panels on a variety of topics related to skepticism and science.  I recorded every panel in which I took part, and I reproduce this audio along with a brief description of the panel for you below.  Enjoy!

Modern Day Snake Oil – in this panel, the topic of various forms of alternative “medicine” were discussed, from homeopathy to magnetic therapy.

To Vaxx or Not To Vaxx – here we discussed the anti-vaccination movement and why their pseudoscience is dangerous.  Also discussed were some facts about how vaccines do and don’t work, and why it is so important that people vaccinate even if they think it isn’t necessary.

Stuff I Didn’t Know – the panelists share with the audience some of the neat things they’ve learned recently, and the audience gets in on the action as well.

Common Hollywood Science Myths – we all like going to the movies or watching our favorite shows on TV/cable, but boy oh boy does Hollywood screw up a lot of science in the process of entertaining us.  The panelists share some of their pet peeves and also compliment Hollywood when they get it right.

Ask A Scientist Open Forum – just as the name suggests, this panel consisted of audience members asking the panel a variety of questions on everything from the Big Bang to dentistry!

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SkepchiCON at Convergence 2011!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2011

It’s time for SkepchiCON at Convergence 2011 in Minneapolis!  Actually, it will be time in a week for SkepchiCON (specifically June 30-July 3).  For those who don’t know, Convergence is a big science fiction and fantasy convention which takes place annually in the upper Midwest, catering to all manner of sci-fi/fantasy fans, as well as those who just like to dress up and have a good time 🙂

I’ll be going to SkepchiCON again this year, because in addition to being a science teacher/professor, I’m also a big fan of much science fiction, fantasy, and so on.  Like other skeptic tracks at other cons, SkepchiCON is geared towards presenting the skeptical & pro-science/pro-critical thinking point-of-view in a fun & friendly environment.  Actually, on a serious note, it is worth paying attention to the fact that these sorts of venues are perfect for spreading the skeptical message beyond hard-core skeptics; if we are to truly encourage others to think critically about paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, then we need to preach less to the choir and go more public.  This means exploring new venues such as these fun and freaky conventions, and it also means putting ourselves out there in more direct interaction with many people who harbor these nonsense beliefs.  Even though it can sometimes be quite galling to have to put up with various kinds of woo-woo nonsense and its adherents, we can all enjoy a good party 🙂

I will be attending SkepchiCON and participating in a number of panel discussions, in addition to generally checking things out.  I’ll also be there as a representative of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, dedicated to promoting critical thinking and skepticism among women of all ages who are so often targeted by the woo-meisters.  If you get a chance, find me and say hello!

Last, but not least, in case you are interested… I plan to live blog many parts of SkepchiCON, so watch this space!

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 3: Evolution Mythbusters

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2010

The final talk I attended at Convergence/Skepchicon was titled “Evolution Mythbusters”, and the panelists included Bug Girl, Greg Laden, Ted Meissner (moderator), and PZ Myers. It was a very wide-ranging discussion of the issues of modern evolutionary science and dealing with creationist nonsense. Check it out…

Evolution Mythbusters

Ted: What are some of our favorite misconceptions regarding evolution?

Bug: I think my favorite one is that “bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly”.  In Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie” they said that bee’s should not be able to fly, so it must be a miracle.  But this is premised on the assumption that the wings of bees are fixed, whereas in reality they bend & are flexible.

Greg: The misconception that humans evolved from apes or that they didn’t evolve from apes, because they are both correct AND incorrect.  But there’s a new one most people don’t know about, and that’s that behaviors can be genetic.  Behaviors develop in individuals in ways that are mostly determined by the environment and not by your genes.  This relates to gender issues, race, etc.  My issue is that there is a Darwinian theory of behavior.

PZ: This has to do with sex & evolution and the panel last night… here’s what was happening all the time.  People raised their hands and asked “why am I gay?”  And people on the panel were trying to figure this out, whereas the reality is that most of what makes you human (and who you are) comes about purely by chance.  What has been subject to selection in the last few million years?  Our immune system and sexual selection.  And when you analyze the genome further you find a handful of proteins that show signs of selection, and most of them are doing very obscure sort of things.  For example, genes for lactose tolerance show up which show signs of selection.  Otherwise, all this speculation about a “gay gene” doesn’t just work – most of that is the product of chance, not selection.

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 3: Women as Skeptical Activists

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2010

On the third day of Convergence/Skepchicon, I attended the “Women as Skeptical Activists” panel discussion.  On the panel were Rebecca Watson (moderator), Maria Walters, Jennifer Newport, Debbie Goddard, Carrie Iwan, and Pamela Gay.  Especially since I’m a board member of the newly-formed Women Thinking Free Foundation (WTFF), I found the discussion especially interesting.  Read on…

Women as Skeptical Activists

What does it mean to be a woman as a skeptical activist?  What does it mean to be a woman in a subculture which is predominantly male?

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: “Physics or Fantasy?” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 5, 2010

At the end of day two at Convergence/Skepchicon, I had the privilege of being on the “Physics or Fantasy?” panel with Jennifer Ouellette, Stephanie Zvan, Lois Schadewald, Jim Kakalios, G. David Nordley, and Pamela Gay.  We discussed a lot of questions & ideas regarding modern physics and the reality and/or myths associated with it.  It was a very lively discussion that we had with a packed room (on Friday night, even!), and I was very happy to be included.  Unfortunately, since I was on the panel, I couldn’t transcribe the discussion – but I did record it for you.  Just click this link to go to the audio (it will open a PowerPoint file with audio embedded)… Skepchicon-Physics or Fantasy

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Bull**** Detection Kit – Why Pseudoscience Doesn’t Deliver

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 4, 2010

The last talk/panel I attended at Convergence/Skepchicon on the second day was a nice general one on how to recognize & deal with pseudoscience in general.  It’s a long one, so here goes…

Bullshit Detection Kit: Why Pseudo-Science Doesn’t Deliver

Exploring pseudoscience and why it is highly improbable.  It’s called pseudo-science for a reason.

Ted Meissner (moderator), David Walbridge, Greg Laden, Steve Thoms, Bug Girl, Stephanie Zvan, Lois Schadewald

Ted: We’re going to talk about our favorite forms of pseudoscience.  Mine is Deepak Chopra talking about how meditation can cause an earthquake.

Stephanie: my favorite pseudoscience is parapsychology.

Lois: I’ve picked Flat Eartherism as my favorite pseudoscience.

David: My interest is psychics.

Greg: I’ll be talking about the pseudoscience of woo related to the brain (“you only use 10% of your brain”).

Bug: Surprisingly, there is a lot of pseudoscience related to emptomology – for example, electronic bug zappers (ultrasonic repellers) are total b.s.

Steve: For me it’s all about alternative medicine, and it really bugs me because this stuff kills a lot of people and hurts people I know.

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Convergence/Skepchicon Day 1: Skepticism 101 Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 2, 2010

I said in my previous post that I would live blog various panels I attended here at Convergence 2010, but that was before I figured out I couldn’t get wireless Internet access because I’m staying in a different hotel.  Oh bugger – that’s okay, I’ll just pseudo-live blog 🙂

My first evening at Skepchicon consisted of getting checked into my hotel, running into PZ Myers in the lobby, meeting up with some of the lovely Skepchicks in a restaurant, taking copious notes at the Skepticism 101 panel discussion tonight in the Science & Technology track, and partying with the Skepchicks (btw, “Buzzed Aldrins” kick a lot of ass!).  While I could go on and on about it all, I will only elaborate on the Skepticism 101 panel – what follows below is my accounting (as best as I could do it) of the discussion.  Enjoy…


Day One of Skepchicon @ Convergence, 2010

Skepticism 101 Panel

with Steve Thoms (editor of SkepticNorth.com – a Canadian skeptic blog), Pamela Gay (from the Astronomy Cast podcast), Lois Schadewald (chemistry college instructor), Greg Laden (paleontologist)

Pamela Gay is introducing the panel and saying hello, and since we have no moderator at the moment, she’s taking over.  The panelists are introducing themselves now.

Pamela Gay says the real universe is far more awesome than the shit some people make up.

Pamela: How do you inflict skeptical thinking upon others?

Greg: Why are the skeptics in the room here?  I never really thought of skepticism as a movement until recently, by interacting with people via the blogosphere.  People engaging in this movement have to understand that this is not a highly monolithic thing.  Some people invited to panels like Skepchick panels are actually offended, because not all skeptics are like the Skepchicks.  It is an important community, but it isn’t necessarily a warm & fuzzy “welcoming” movement.

Pamela: At least skeptics are much more polite than people who tell you that you’re going to hell.

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Skepchicon: Skeptics at Convergence 2010

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 29, 2010

Every July 4th weekend, there is apparently a big science fiction & fantasy convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota called Convergence, and this year I’m going for the first time 🙂

That’s partly because in addition to being a science teacher/professor, I’m also a big fan of much science fiction, fantasy, and so on.  In addition, like what has happened in recent years at other cons like Dragon*Con, there has evolved a skeptical track at Convergence, specifically called Skepchicon.

Like other skeptic tracks at other cons, Skepchicon is geared towards presenting the skeptical & pro-science/pro-critical thinking point-of-view in a fun & friendly environment.  Actually, on a serious note, it is worth paying attention to the fact that these sorts of venues are perfect for spreading the skeptical message beyond hard-core skeptics; if we are to truly encourage others to think critically about paranormal & pseudoscientific claims, then we need to preach less to the choir and go more public.  This means exploring new venues such as these fun & freaky conventions, and it also means putting ourselves out there in more direct interaction with many people who harbor these nonsense beliefs.  Even though it can sometimes be quite galling to have to put up with various kinds of woo-woo nonsense & its adherents, we can all enjoy a good party 🙂

By the way, if you want to get a good look at the track & schedule of Skepchicon, head on over to Greg Laden’s blog entry on it.

I will be attending Skepchicon and participating in the “Physics or Fantasy?” panel, in addition to generally checking things out.  I’ll also be there as a representative of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, dedicated to promoting critical thinking & skepticism among women of all ages who are so often targeted by the woo-meisters.

Last, but not least, in case you are interested… I plan to live blog many parts of Skepchicon, so watch this space!

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