SkeptiCamp Colorado 2

Sunday, March 23, 2008

On Saturday I attended the 2nd annual "SkeptiCamp" here in Colorado, sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). I found out about it through SkepChick, and I think Rebecca also mentioned it on the Skeptics Guide to the Universe Podcast last week.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this event. It's essentially a local get-together of people who are interested in skepticism and critical thought, where individuals essentially volunteer to give talks on a skeptical topic of their choice.

The topics included Pariedolia, The Family Tomb of Jesus, Modern Skepticism, Therapeutic Touch and other Nurse Quackery, Update on Health Related bills in Colorado, Fund for Thought, Immunization and Medical Quackery, Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society, and Denialism vs Skepticism.

I especially enjoyed Linda Rosa's talk on Therapeutic Touch and Dr. Joe Albietz' talk on immunization.

What I found especially entertaining was Linda's description of how her 9 year old daughter debunked Therapeutic Touch and was subsequently published in the Journal of American Medical Association. Emily, who is no longer 9 years old, was on hand to talk about her experience. I also learned during this talk that my health problems probably arise from my "impaired religiosity." No, I'm not making that up. Look it up if you don't believe me. I dare you.

Dr. Joe Albietz is a pediatrician at the Denver Children's hospital, currently employed as a fellow in their critical care department. His analysis of the history of immunizations and subsequent documentation on current efficacy didn't reveal any surprises, but it did confirm that Jenny McCarthy really is the Poster Child for the Stoopid. Like we needed a medical professional to confirm that.

The only criticism I have, and this applies to the skeptic movement in general, is that people seem to have trouble divorcing the idea of skepticism and critical thought with atheism. While many atheists are skeptics, the two are not mutually inclusive, and I think the movement does itself a disservice when it allows that correlation to be drawn. There are plenty of folks who would self-identify as "people of faith" or agnostics who are capable of skepticism and critical thought, but if they believe skeptical societies are inherently atheist, they will not engage with the community. It severely limits the audience available for skepticism.

For me, though, the high point of the day was meeting the Bad Astronomer himself, Phil Plait. I was a bit disappointed that he didn't give a talk, but he was there, as confirmed by this photographic evidence of him sitting in the last row of the room. I have provided an arrow pointing to his hat to ensure you don't miss him.

I did say hello, and told him how much I enjoyed his BABlog, which I think he appreciated. He said he's seen my blog on his SiteMinder referrals, which I suppose will have to do for my annual "brush with greatness." Of course, the URL of this blog is a bit memorable, especially is you're not looking for the p0rn.

Overall, a positive experience, and I'll probably attend more Denver Skeptics events, as time and logistics permit. Well done, guys!

20 comments:

Reed said...

Thanks for the recap of the event Janiece!

Your point about skepticism vs atheism is well taken. My talk was already too long as it was, and what I had cut was a plea to distinguish between skepticism and atheism -- it got reduced to 'skepticism is not a set of beliefs.' Had there been a question about it, I'd have pointed out that the guy who started the ball rolling on modern skepticism, Martin Gardner, believes in god.

John the Scientist said...

"There are plenty of folks who would self-identify as "people of faith" or agnostics who are capable of skepticism and critical thought, but if they believe skeptical societies are inherently atheist, they will not engage with the community. It severely limits the audience available for skepticism."


Yur lookin' at one, rat cheer. ;-)

/redneck scientist

Jeri said...

Jr. Assistant Skeptic reporting for duty, ma'am!

And I agree with the issue of skepticism vs atheism... my beliefs are loosely pantheistic Christian but first and foremost, my world view starts with questions. Many, many questions. :)

Reed said...

In our Denver group we try to make it clear that skepticism is a set of tools and not a set of beliefs as I mentioned in my talk. However many skeptics do not make such a distinction and assume that atheism is just one more checkbox to be marked to be considered a proper skeptic.

Even speaking as an atheist, I'd very much like to see this stop, for the reason stated above that it drives away the science-minded theists and also because it muddies the waters with regard to what skepticism and science are all about.

So what does it take to wrestle the tradition of modern skepticism back from those who consider it just another arrow in their godless quiver?

Janiece Murphy said...

Welcome, Reed.

I don't know the answer to your question. Since I'm fairly new to the movement, I'm not entirely certain how skepticism was hijacked in the first place. I suspect it had to do with social acceptability - it's much more socially acceptable to be a "skeptic" than an "atheist" - but I'm guessing.

I don't know how long you've been a skeptic - can you provide some history?

As for the Denver Skeptics, I don't see the Skeptic/Atheist connection as something that will necessarily keep me away. It's just something I noticed as a newcomer to the group, and something I've noticed in the community at large.

As a newcomer, is there something I can do to reduce the focus on atheism? I don't know yet, but I'd like to try.

John the Scientist said...

Reed - reach out to theistic scientists such as myself. Find out why we believe what we believe.

Also, educate people on the boundary conditions of science. Many militant athiests such as Dawkins overstep the epistemological limitations of scientific inquiry. Most theistic scientists see religion and science as orthogonal functions. A really good discussion of that is here and here.

Third, my experience with militant athiesists and hard core academics (I am an industrial Physical Chemist) is that they have authority issues. Rein in the egos and things go smoother.

Jim Wright said...

As a skeptic and what could probably be called an atheist - I'd say that many atheists probably define themselves as skeptics because skepticism is what led to their non-belief in the first place. Most, I suspect, are like me - we were skeptics first, raised in a religious environment (my dad was an Elder in the Presbyterian Church). And due to our skepticism rejected what we had been taught.

Frankly, I have to wonder if skepticism isn't hardwired to some extent - me, I never believed in the Divine. Never. I sat through years of Sunday school and Wednesday bible studies - and the whole time felt foolish. I can't remember a time that I ever believed.

On the other hand, I think skepticism can be divided into two categories: Capital "S" Skeptics who question everything - these are the Global Warming Deniers and the Moon Landing Hoax believers, the ones for who there is never enough proof of anything - and then there are skeptics. Skeptics tend to be Atheists - the ones for whom atheism defines who they are - the way religion defines fundamental Christians. These are the people who are as intolerant of other's beliefs as are the Fundamentalists. They start with an assumption: There is no divine. Period. No tests required. And then cherry pick the available data to support that conclusion.

Plain old skeptics on the other hand are those those that say, well, if you can give me some proof - I'll believe. But so far, I don't see it. I'm an atheist because, for me, that's the best model supporting the universe so far as I can tell, prove to me otherwise and I'll entertain the idea.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, I think the first group you refer to are commonly called "deniers," because a preponderance of evidence will not convince them. As in, "I know vaccines caused my child's autism, and I deny all your so-called evidence." True skeptics make up their minds based on all verifiable evidence.

At least that's the way I understand it.

And yeah, the "fundamentalist" atheists get on my last damn nerve. Just as annoying as the other fanatics.

Michael Lonergan said...

I too have been led here by the BA. Consider yourself bumped. Actually, I was just excited when I read, "Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men." Finally, someone who understands!

BTW, my blog can be found at:

www.starbirdcanada.wordpress.com/

Not necessarily a skeptiblog, per se, but feel free to check it out.

Michael Lonergan said...

BTW, I was a minister once, but now consider myself a skeptical "liberal Christian", I suppose.

Janiece Murphy said...

Welcome, Michael.

I don't consider HCDSM a skeptical blog, per se - it's a Janiece blog. Since I'm interested in skepticism, I blog about it occasionally. But you're just as likely to hear about tasty food and people behaving badly or people behaving well.

Because really, it's all about me.

Hehe.

Reed said...

John: reaching out isn't going to happen just yet for our meetup-based group. It's enough of a challenge to continue to educate our new members to maintain an atmosphere where believers can at least be moderately comfortable.

I'll check out those TTM posts. Thanks.

Janiece: to reduce the focus on atheism, I'd say seek out the more reasonable amongst us, express your concerns, and start a discussion on the topic.

Janiece Murphy said...

Reed, John's on the east coast, so I think he was just making a general suggestion. But his point is well taken, nonetheless (at least in my newbie opinion).

And once I get to know the members of the Denver Skeptics a bit better, I'll probably follow your advice. Being all pushy right out of the gate seems a bit presumptuous until I have a better idea of who the group members are and how the skeptic/atheist connection is viewed within the group.

Michael Lonergan said...

Thanks! I look forward to reading...!

elaine said...

Hi Janiece

I met you briefly at Skepticamp. Ditto what Reed said regarding skepticism and atheism and our meetup group. Please take the opportunity to get to know us and please do not hesitate to let me know your thoughts and concerns.

In case you haven't seen this. Here is Denver Skeptic member, Hal Bidlack presenting at TAM a couple of years ago.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50E8KfGiZ7o

--elaine
Denver Skeptics

Janiece Murphy said...

Welcome, Elaine. I remember you - you were sitting with Phil.

Thanks for the encouragement. I plan on being somewhat active in the group, but I really don't want to go in "guns blazing." It seems less than courteous. :-)

elaine said...

Pfft....Guns blazing is cool by us. Hey, if we can't handle honest, respectful, criticism, we're not being very good skeptics.

We basically see Denver Skeptics primarily as a social/networking group for skeptics. We encourage our members to take "the bull by the horns" when there is an event they'd like to see, or a group they'd like to form, or to just start a thread. We try to stay away from the political stuff, but sometimes skepticism and issues intersect.

Sounds like you're just what this group has been waiting for :-).

Janiece Murphy said...

Elaine, you make me laugh. I'll consider it.

buddhalocs said...

Another organic atheist/skeptic here. I joined because I needed, repeat needed, someplace to hang out, where my questions wouldn't get me into trouble. (Nickname Nitor, sat in front of you, have dreads). I too have run into the 'grumpy' atheists as I call 'em and didn't get what the grump was all about. I haven't run into anything similar here on the skeptics side. I wonder if it is the beer, the scotch, the wine or the cookies... So glad to meet you - hang out more and I'll learn ya 'Crazy Bridge' the card game.

Janiece Murphy said...

Welcome, Nitor. I do plan on attending more events, and while I refer to them as "Screechy Atheists" rather than "Grumpy Atheists," the idea is the same.

My comment regarding the demarcation between skepticism and atheism really was more of general comment. I'm glad to hear the Denver Skeptics don't have a huge problem with it.