The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

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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Skepticism & Science at Dragon*Con 2009

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 7, 2009

Well, I’m starting to wind down here at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, which I have basically concluded is Mardi Gras for geeks – a lot of people dress up & party, and I was no exception.  Below was my small contribution to the party atmosphere 🙂

pirate-matt

On a serious note, while Dragon*Con is essentially a big science-fiction convention & general geek-fest, there is a very serious science & skeptical presence here.  The Skeptics track is now in its second year, and it seems as if it grew out of a desire to counter or provide a rebuttal to some of the more woo-ish paranormal nonsense that you see here.  For instance, there is a track which seems quite heavy on the paranormal woo called the X-track where all manner of ghost hunters do their thing.  With so many people attending Dragon*Con who can actually distinguish fact from fiction, it’s no wonder that many people are interested in the actual science & skepticism tracks.

I will outline all the things I did here – lecturing on the Large Hadron Collider & particle physics, participating on the Science of Star Wars panel, moderating the Darwin’s Bulldogs panel on teachers combating creationism, and participating on the Skepticism in the Classroom panel – in future posts.  What I want to discuss for the rest of this post is why it is that I think having skeptics present at events like Dragon*Con is important in the first place…

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