Colorado Skepticamp 3

Saturday, May 9, 2009
Today I attended the Colorado Skepticamp 3, held this year at the Tivoli Student Union of Metro State College. I went last year as well, and was looking forward to attending this year's event.

Conceptualized by Reed Esau, Skepticamp is essentially a local event run by skeptics, for skeptics. Participants who wish to speak give talks in their area of expertise, and everyone, from the organizers to the tech staff, is a volunteer. This year the organizers had two rooms going simultaneously, so although there was a wide variety of talks to choose from, I only got to see half of them.

The ones I attended this year included a brief of the Cassini mission by astrophysicist John Weiss, who works at Ciclops; a talk by Matt Young of the Colorado School of Mines on how evolution confers morality; Skeptical Information Sources by Amy Phillips-Haskett; the Historicity of Jesus by author RG. Price; Metro State Physics Professor Grant Denn's talk on "Quantum Nonsense, or, How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Mom;" Exposing Pseudo astronomy by Stuart Robbins, graduate student in astronomy; "Sound Pseudoscience is Not Sound Science" by Metro State Physics Professor Jeff Loats; a very interesting brief on Cryonics by cryonics engineer Eric Marquardt; a typically entertaining and informative talk by Bryan and Baxter of the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Society and several others that didn't make it into my notes.

My celebrity boyfriend Dr. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy was supposed to give a talk, too, but he punked out.*

I had three favorite talks this year. The first was John Weiss' talk on Cassini, because you all know how I loves me some pictures of space. John's explanations didn't leave me wiping the drool off my chin in spite of my lack of post-doctoral astrophysics education, plus he made me laugh. Bonus! Second was Dr. Denn's talk and explanation about how quantum nonsense is bolstering the pseudo-scientific clap-trap being promulgated by the less intellectually rigorous. He even brought visual aids, and I'll be recommending the SmartBoy take a class from him next year if he can. My other favorite was Stuart Robbins' talk about how creationists use pseudo-astronomy to further their claims. This is not to say that the other talks weren't enjoyable - they were. These were just my favorites, in spite of Stuart's repeated use of head-exploding videos of that AIG hack Ken Ham to prove pseudo astronomy is used to bolster Creationism. Thanks for the aneurysm, Stuart. Really.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed myself at last year's event, I have to say this year's event was better. The schedule this year included a range of speakers that far exceeded last year's participants, and the topics addressed were not necessarily the usual fair of skeptical meetings. It was almost like there was two tracks - the science track, where science professionals gave talks about their fields and how they pertain to skepticism, and the woo track, where savvy skeptics debunked the usual nutty claims that keep popping up no matter how many times they're put down. In almost every time-slot, there was a pure science talk in one room and a more typical skeptical topic in the other. The choices were an embarrassment of riches in some cases, and I'm bummed that I missed the talk on homeopathy.

Another aspect that made the event more enjoyable this year was the Iron Fist of the Timekeeper. Unlike last year, when organizers allowed speakers to exceed their allotted time (thus throwing the entire schedule off), this year the timekeepers practically knee-tackled those who attempted to exceed their slot. Speaking as someone who is compulsively timely, I approve.

My complaint last year that the attendees were having some trouble differentiating between skepticism and critical thought and atheism was also not as much of an issue this year. The talks pretty much steered clear of value judgments regarding faith, and instead concentrated on scholarship, science and fact. I don't know if this is a trend in the larger skeptical community, but I'm happy to see it here locally.

All-in-all, a thoroughly enjoyable day. The talks were interesting, well-informed and entertaining. I even got a chance to have a beer and chat with some of the attendees after the event, where we concluded that Jenny McCarthy is an ignorant, skanky 'ho, Oprah's not much better, and Ken Ham is a douche-bag. Beer, solving all the problems of the world. Is there anything it can't do?

I'm looking forward to next year's event. Well done, organizers and speakers!

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Disclaimer: I apologize for not having photos this year - my camera decided that today was the perfect day to shuffle off this mortal coil, and my cell phone camera took pictures that pretty much blew.


*Not really. He was ill today. I'm sure he has the Swine Flu and will soon infect ALL OF BOULDER COUNTY BY NOT WASHING HIS HANDS. Okay, not really. Get better soon, Phil.

3 comments:

Rich Ludwig said...

Dr. Phil Plait is afraid of public speaking.

Reed said...

Plait's not afraid of speaking.

He's just afraid of sharing a stage with someone who speaks of 'compost tea'

Janiece Murphy said...

Hi Rich and Reed.

Perhaps his mother just dresses him funny!

It was nice to see you both.