The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘SkepchickCon’

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day Two – Science Resources for Children

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 15, 2013

On my second day at  SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013, I participated in two panels.  The first one was an excellent panel titled “Science Resources for Children”, and it was geared towards talking to and discussing with people about what kind of good sources of science education are available to kids outside of schools.  What books and activities can you do to promote science understanding in kids? From the best on the bookshelves to how to extract DNA in your kitchen, we talked about great ways to learn about science in the home.

My co-panelists for this discussion were Windy Bowlsby, Brandy Snyder, and Nicole Gugliucci, a.k.a. The Noisy Astronomer.  Below the linked recording of our panel I have also listed notes made by Windy Bowlsby in case anyone would like to peruse them 🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Science Resources for Children


“From the “Science Resources for Kids” panel, this is the list of resources and advice that was gathered:

Make Magazine (website and hardcopy)

NASA Wavelength (webpage)

SciStarter (webpage)

Mars Globe app

Google Earth and Sky app

GoSky Watch app

MN Parent Blog (posts Nature Center activities)

Science Museum Hacker Spaces – like our local Hack Factory

Cosmos (book)

Demon-Haunted World (book)

Scientific American blog

Discovery News blog (

How Things Work – book

Vlog Brothers

You Tube Channel – Nerdfighteria

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do (book)

Basher Books


Bill Nye (who now has an app!)

Mr. Wizard

Google+ has science Sunday

Radiolab (podcast) (podcast)

Free Range Kids

Reference Librarians

Magic School Bus (on Netflix)

Beakman’s World (tv show)

How Its Made (book)

321 Contact (tv show)

Connections (tv show)

TED Talks (podcasts and YouTube)

Edible DNA (fun experiment)

MadArt Lab (website)

tinkering activities (give kids old machines & electronic to take apart)

Having adults around you express interest in science Science is a Methodology

Anytime you try to figure something out – you’re a scientist”

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SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 Day One – Time Travel in Film

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 14, 2013

Well, I’ve been back from SkepchickCONCONvergence 2013 in Minneapolis, MN for about a week now, and I am finally getting caught up on everything.  As usual, it was an absolute blast, and I recorded all the panels in which I participated.  On the first day I participated in the “Time Travel in Film” panel, wherein we discussed in what movies has time travel been done well? Does bad time travel make it a bad movie? What are our favorite time travel movies?

My co-panelists were Charlie Jane Anders, Courtney Okey-Wernimont, and Sean E. Williams, and I took it upon myself to inject a bit of realism into the discussion, since I’m a physics professor.  However, despite me trying to be a wet blanket, we had a rousing discussion which I hope you will enjoy 🙂

SkepchickCON-CONvergence 2013 – Time Travel in Film


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SkepchickCON at CONvergence this July!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 2, 2013

I’m happy to announce that once again SkepchickCON will be taking place at CONvergence this July.  CONvergence is a four-day science fiction and fantasy conference held every summer in the beautiful Minneapolis, Minnesota area.  And specifically, SkepchickCON is a series of science and skeptic-oriented panels and events organized and run by those lovely ladies of skepticism, the Skepchicks. I will also add that yours truly will be appearing on a few panels as well 🙂

For more information on the various panels, events, speakers, and panelists – as well as an opportunity to contribute to SkepchickCON – read on…


Image source

SkepchickCON is the science and skepticism track of CONvergence, a four-day science fiction and fantasy conference held every summer in the beautiful Minneapolis area. This year, we’ll have panels on everything from food science and mythology, science vs. religion, and penises of the animal kingdom to a live riffing on Prometheus with Rebecca, PZ, and MST3K’s Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett.

We’re also hosting more interactive workshops than ever—bioluminescence with microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles, hands-on astronomy with Nicole Gugliucci, and geek art with Mad Art Lab.

Plus, every night, you can meet the Skepchicks and other scientists and skeptics in the Skepchick Sideshow party room, where we’ll have more info on science and skepticism as well as delicious chemistry demonstrations by mixologist Anne Sauer.

You get four days of science, skepticism, and all-around geektasticness for the cost of a CONvergence badge—$60 for all four days if you register by May 15, 2013. In addition to SkepchickCON events, the badge gives you access to everything happening at CONvergence, including all panels and workshops, multiple themed parties, the costume masquerade, and more. …

Click here to read more

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“How to Save the Polar Bears” Global Warming Panel from SkepchickCon 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 17, 2012

Now that I’m back from TAM 2012, I am finally catching up on some blogging.  In this post, I wanted to share a rough transcript I made of another panel I saw the weekend before TAM at Convergence/SkepchickCon 2012 titled “How to Save the Polar Bears” – as the name implies, the subject was on how to address questions of the effects of global warming as well as climate change denialism.  Read on…

How to Save the Polar Bears

with Greg Laden, Shawn Otto, Maggie Koerth-Baker, John Abraham, and Desiree Schell (moderator)


Desiree: Let’s all commit now that climate change is indeed a real thing that is occurring. Greg, can you start with telling us the effects of climate change?

Greg: I’ll first talk about the effects of all the CO2 being released. The first effect is that it is warmer. For example, we are now experiencing the warmest year on record (so far). There are also likely to be drastic shifts in the weather patterns due to the amount of heat the atmosphere can hold. It probably means in more areas more rain in short bursts – so more droughts interrupted by heavy rains.

Also, the oceans will become more acidic, so organisms which are affected by high acid water will be hurt.

Finally, see level rise… glaciers melt, water expands, so the ocean level goes up. It could be a big factor in the short term.

Desiree: there are other more tangible effects like on agriculture.

Greg: yes, for example, many trees are getting killed by parasites because those parasites valve moved into regions (due to climate change) they never were before. Also, plants are drying out due to drought and this is leading to a lot of nasty wildfires.

People think that climate change effects is a future thing, but since the 1970s we have seen agricultural failures and desertification which are likely already linked to climate change. It is currently occurring.

Desiree: one thing that might change is disease patterns.

Greg: yes, many disease patterns have changed. Most epidemic diseases we as humans experience are due to things we have changed about our environment.

We have become a bit complacent about diseases, because in the 1930s we developed antibiotics. The problem is with the changes we are making now due to climate change, these disease effects are not so easily fought.

Desiree: Maggie, can you speak to power usage?

Maggie: the biggest energy usage we have now is buildings, more than transportation, and we use most of that energy to perfect our indoor climate (AC) which affects the outdoor climate, and so on. This also affects our power grids, because there is an increase in demand for electricity due to the higher temperatures. And the grid is much more sensitive than people think, and in these extremes you can get blackouts.

Desiree: Shawn, what was the political response to these issues?

Shawn: Nothing. An attempt was made in 2010 to address these issues, but about 500 million dollars was poured into Congress by the energy lobbyists to defeat any kind of climate bill. And the Obama administration had to make a calculated decision to go with healthcare reform instead.

There have been many on the right who have attempted to downplay climate change mitigation. Many people are pushing a “teach the controversy” argument against the teaching of climate change science. They wish to replace political opinion with actual science. There have been political attempts to make sea level rise “illegal” – North Carolina almost passed a bill making it illegal for communities to consider the effect of sea level rise unless the legislation gives prior permission, and if they do the community cannot go with the science
(about 1 meter in a century) but instead about 8 inches.

Virginia recently followed suit, saying we cannot talk about “sea level rise” but “frequent flooding” instead. This kind of throwing up political smokescreens is what is going on now.

In a way, you cannot blame the (public) corporations for this so much because they are required by law to pursue profits for shareholders on quarterly basis. So money drives a lot of it.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Misogyny in the Skeptical Movement: “Don’t Feed the Trolls” Panel from SkepchickCon 2012

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2012

While at Convergence/SkepchickCon 2012 this past weekend, I did a lot of things, but one of the most fruitful and important was to attend the “Don’t Feed the Trolls” panel on the second day of the Con.  The panel consisted of a number of prominent female skeptics (Rebecca Watson, Christina Rad, Stephanie Zvan, and Heina Dadabhoy) along with a couple of male colleagues (Greg Laden and Jason Thibeault) discussing the issues of gender attitudes, sexism, and misogyny in the skeptical movement.  I think having these discussions in an open, public format is important, because there are a number of trolls out there who are not interested in reasoned, calm discussion on these issues; instead they are interested in intimidating those with whom they disagree and are attempting to silence them.

So, in an effort to light candles rather than curse the darkness, I wanted to share with you the discussion I was able to (very roughly – I was not able to get every word down) transcribe.  The talk was extremely well-attended (about 300-400 people were present) and the audience Q&A was very useful.  If you are at all concerned with these issues, please read my transcription and pass it along…

Don’t Feed the Trolls

with Greg Laden, Rebecca Watson, Jason Thibeault, Christina Rad, Stephanie Zvan, and Heina Dadabhoy


Rebecca: Rebecca is told that she should be raped, that she’s a prude, that she’s a whore, and so on.

Some emails from men have included how they would like to service her regularly. These kinds of comments have come through email, YouTube, Facebook, her Wikipedia page.

In short, the Internet is no longer a safe, fun place for Rebecca. It is where she works.

Greg Laden: one of the things that bothers him about Elevatorgate is that a friend of his was recently sexually assaulted on an elevator. So it happens. His main experience with trolls started in dealing with the evolution-creation debate online. Even more serious troll issues began two years ago in June when he and other bloggers were blogging about “rape month” (in the Congo). There were a lot of guys who were upset with him, because some of these men didn’t like the fact that he was pointing out that a lot of men do bad shit.

There are also trolls regarding the climate change discussion. There were people threatening to sue in England due to the libel laws. Greg points out that much of the stuff that goes to these blog comments is filtered and most of us never see the truly nasty stuff.

Definition of trolling (Stephanie): it started out years ago as goofy silliness, but in many ways it has now morphed into behavior towards trying to silence discussion. It is no surprise that many of the panelists are atheists and feminists, because those are groups a lot of people want to shut down.

Christina: there is a difference between trolls and haters. Eventually, I tried to go about ignoring the haters with their death and rape threats, but it gets very hard to continue. And sometimes you want to quit just to make it stop.

Stephanie: there is an idea that these trolls are just people in the Internet who are not dangerous. However, some of these people actually do try to find you in the real world. I put up a “do not talk to this person” post and this person ended up having restraining orders put on them.

Rebecca: in the past several years, there have been many high profile examples of men murdering women. In many cases, the offending males have a history of online misogynistic ranting. When she sees men doing this online, including very dehumanizing language, it makes her think of the potential danger.

Jason: one potentially probable death threat can be enough to stop you from going to a conference, for example.

Heina: I used to be Muslim, and once people figured out how I was blogging online, I was receiving threats about it. And I ended up taking down my blog due to the threats.

Least helpful advice in dealing with trolls…

Rebecca: “Don’t feed the trolls”
I now refer people who give this advice to a link on which why this is not helpful. It’s kind of like saying that a woman who doesn’t want to get raped shouldn’t wear a mini-skirt. Many people think that the trolls want attention, but what they really want is to silence me and other women like me. And it worked for awhile, because all the emails and comments started to pile up and it was wearing me down. Once I shared this stuff with my friends, it helped lift a weight off me.

Now, with haters on Twitter, I now simply RT and block. And now the haters have to spend their time blocking people who are pushing back against them. And if we can make this an issue for our community, we can increase the social cost of trolling. Now there are going to be consequences, and they will be put on a stage and be made to go on the defense.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Convergence 2012 Day 2: “Ask a Scientist” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2012

During Day 2 of Convergence/SkepchickCon, I was fortunate enough to (once again) be on the “Ask a Scientist” panel for the third year in a row 🙂

The whole point of this particular panel is to get a small team of scientists from a variety of backgrounds (physics, geology, biology, mathematics, medicine, forensics) together to hold an hour-long Q&A session with the audience.  And boy what an audience it was – the room was packed, standing room only, with roughly 400 people in attendance!  I recorded the entire discussion and you can access it all at the link below – enjoy!

Ask a Scientist – Convergence 2012

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A general Q&A with expert scientists from a variety of fields.  Panelists: Lori Fischer, Matt Lowry, Brianne Bilyeau, Matt Kuchta, Robert Smith?, Mirian Krause

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Convergence 2012 Day 1: “Final CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios” Panel

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 6, 2012

The first day of Convergence 2012 involved the usual… checking into the hotel, getting registered for the Con, and so on.  But for me it also included a very fun, late-night panel about various doomsday scenarios, including killer asteroids, massive solar flares, outbreaks of deadly infectious disease (think the Black Plague), the potential failure of the Internet, release of so-called “grey goo” nanites, nuclear war, and everyone’s favorite – zombies!

While it was a serious discussion, there was also much humor involved (I will never forget Jason Thibeault’s quip: “I tried to start a nuclear war, until I took an arrow to the knee” 🙂 ), and the audience Q&A was very lively.  If you’d like to listen to the panel discussion, just click the link below to hear my recording:

Final CONvergence Doomsday Scenarios – Convergence 2012

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The zombies are right outside the door. Which geeks do you keep close and which to you push into the parking lot as bait. Surviving apocalyptic scenaries convention style! Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Adam Whitlatch, Robert Smith?, Matt Lowry, PZ Myers

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SkepchickCon 2012 Coming Your Way!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 28, 2012

SkepchickCon at Convergence 2012 in Bloomington, MN is coming up next week from July 5-8!  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 SkepchickCon again this year, because in addition to being a high school and college physics professor, I’m also a big fan of much science fiction, fantasy, and so on.  Like other skeptic tracks at other cons, SkepchickCon is geared towards presenting the skeptical and pro-science/pro-critical thinking point-of-view in a fun and 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 😀

Also, I plan to do as much live blogging as possible from SkepchickCon, so stay tuned to this page for info as I can upload it.  In addition to the live blogging, I’ll be on two panels at SkepchickCon and running a workshop at Connie’s Quantum Sandbox:

Thursday, July 5th @ 10pm, Atrium 7

Final CONvergence: Doomsday Scenarios – The zombies are right outside the door. Which geeks do you keep close and which to you push into the parking lot as bait. Surviving apocalyptic scenaries convention style! Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Adam Whitlatch, Robert Smith?, Matt Lowry, PZ Myers

– AND –

Friday, July 6th @ 5pm, Bloomington

Ask a Scientist: A general Q & A with expert scientists from a variety of fields. Panelists: Lori Fischer, Matt Lowry, Brianne Bilyeau, Matt Kuchta, Robert Smith?, Miriam Krause

– AND –

“Magnets: How Do They Work?” workshop at Connie’s Quantum Sandbox Sunday @ 2pm

Come to the Magnet Lab with Professor Lowry, and he’ll show you all kinds of cool demonstrations with magnets. We’ll explore how magnetism originates and what you can do with it, plus you get to make-and-take your own electromagnetic motor!

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Spread the Vaccine Love!

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 13, 2012

Well, we’re ramping up again for another summer of skeptical awesomeness (including SkepchickCon at CONvergence, The Amazing Meeting 10, and Dragon*Con), and as in years past I am assisting with vaccine promotion.  Along these lines, I wanted to pass along to you a recent blog post over at Skepchick by my colleague, Elyse Anders.  Read on and please consider donating to help support this worthy cause:

How to Help Vaccinate Everyone!

From the Vaccine Clinic at TAM9: Who’s that handsome guy next to me?  Oh yeah, it’s just Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer 🙂

Right now, we are in the middle of a severe pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic. In Washington state alone, cases over tentupled (which is a word that I made up for up more than times) since last year. In 2011, there were 146 confirmed pertusis cases through the first 20 weeks of the year. This year? 1738. That’s really bad, people. Really bad. And Washington, frankly, I’m a little disappointed in you.

Pertussis is a disease that, if contracted, often kills infants. And once they contract the disease, the only treatment they receive is to stop them form spreading it. There is no shortening of the illness. There is no medicine to help the body fight it. There’s just medication to stop you from spreading it.

And that “whoop” that gives whooping cough it’s name? That’s the sound of the sufferer struggling for air, being suffocated from inside their own body.

But worst of all, where they usually catch it is from an adult who hasn’t been vaccinated against pertussis.

So over here, in my little corner of the internet, with my tiny organization, we’re trying to fix this in every way we can… which is the only way we can, and that’s by vaccinating people against pertussis. If you can’t get infected with it, you can’t spread it.

The Women Thinking Free and the Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated campaign have partnered with the JREF and will be bringing yet another Tdap clinic to TAM2012. …

Read the rest of Elyse’s post at

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