Reaching Out and Geeking Out

Dragon*Con is now just over three weeks away and the schedule is as solid as these things get, so I’m giving you the highlights as promised. I will be one BUSY Skeptic! [Edit: By the way, Dragon*Con will take place over Labor Day weekend, September 3rd through 6th.]

For those who have not heard of it, Dragon*Con an enormous SciFi/Fantasy convention held in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend. Skeptrack, the skeptic fan track, is the brainchild of Derek Colonduno and Robynn McCarthy (A.K.A., “Swoopy”), hosts of Skepticality. As usual, they work their butts off and many skepticism activists do their best to make that work count by participating in talks and panels designed to spread the critical thinking bug to geeks everywhere.

Dragon*Con is very different from conventions like The Amaz!ng Meeting, and not just the costumes. TAM is, at heart, a Dog-and-Pony-Show for skepticism. At Dragon*Con activists do the work of activism and education. There are a number of fan tracks, including a Podcasting Track directed by Swoopy, and Space & Science Tracks, who work closely with Derek and Swoopy. In addition to the obvious Star Wars Track, Trek Track, and Whedonverse Track, there are literature, costuming, and writing tracks. There are also two tracks related to Skeptrack: Paranormal Track and X Track.

The former is self-explanatory, I hope, and this year I will be attending a workshop on that track by Ben Radford on investigating the paranormal (details below). I am very interested in the methods used for this kind of thing as they differ a great deal from the kind of work that I do.

Last year most of Skeptrack was streamed live, but there were some problems. I believe they will try this again this year with, hopefully, fewer headaches. If so, I will provide a link on Facebook and Twitter as soon as it is available, which might be as late as the first day.

If you are attending or planning to stream it live, here is where and when you can find me:

Skepticism, Scams, & Consumerism: Ranging from psychology behind sales to consumer rights, we discuss how as skeptics we identify and challenge dodgy products and pseudosciences.
Time: Friday 2:30pm – 3:30pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
I will be moderating this panel and talking about the psychology of purchasing behavior. Panelists include Matt Lowry, Rachael Dunlop, Richard Saunders, & Tom Merritt.

The Calculus Diaries – Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, Survive a Zombie Apocalypse: Fun examples of math applications in the real world and why it’s important to understand even just the basic concepts.
Time: Friday 5:30pm – 6:30pm
Location: Hilton 202
This panel is on the Science Track and will mostly be the work of Jennifer Ouellette, whose book with that title will be released August 1st, just in time for me to read it on the plane. As a statistician, I hope I can contribute something worthwhile to the discussion.

How Your Brain Works, and How to Fool It: Our perception of reality is driven more by expectation, belief, and desire than by sensory input. An examination of how we fool ourselves.
Time: Friday 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Location: Hilton 202
NOTE: This is not the original title and I think it is a little misleading. The original title was “What You See Is [not always] What You Get (or WYSInaWYG)”. The topic is not about how to fool your brain, but how your brain fools you. I believe Jason Schneiderman plans to join me and would be a welcome addition.

Skepticism and Sexuality: When do we get skeptical about sex, the media? When alien cults want to save African clitorises, this panel is here to discuss the facts.
Time: Friday 10:00pm – 11:00pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
I will bring with me some of the most interesting myths about the psychology of sex, courtesy of my friend a colleague who teaches the best course on the topic evah. My fellow panelists include Heidi Anderson, Ben Radford, Kylie Sturgess, & Ginger Campbell. Desiree Schell will moderate.

Naturally Skeptical? The Psychology Behind Being a Skeptic: A round table discussion on the factors that do (and don’t!) contribute to becoming a questioner of the paranormal and pseudoscientific.
Time: Saturday 10:00am – 11:00am
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
I will once again take the reigns as moderator and lead a discussion of the psychology of critical thinking and open-mindedness. I am very pleased that Scott Lilienfeld has decided to join us. He has written quite a bit about pseudoscience in our field, including his latest collaboration, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior. Other panelists, who are not exactly chopped liver themselves, include D.J. Grothe, Matt Lowry, Kylie Sturgess, & Pamela Gay.

Mathematical Modeling Pitfalls: Model don’t always accurately reflect messy reality, particularly where human behavior is concerned. Algorithms can only mimic human behavior, and there is a lot of room for bias and error as a result.
Time: Sunday 11:30am – 12:30pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
I am not actually on the schedule for this, but Jennifer Ouellete invited me to contribute when I mentioned my love-hate relationship with modeling and my frustrations in teaching that models are not what they model. If I get it together in time, I will present what I think is a cool visual of what you can do with a simple model that shows how they can be effective science. Well, I think it’s cool, anyway!

Raising Skeptical Geeks: A few known skeptical parents talk about issues and how they a raising their kids to be better rational thinkers.
Time: Sunday 2:30pm – 3:30pm
Location: Hilton Crystal Ballroom
This is sure to be the highlight of my Dragon*Con experiences as I love to talk about my kids. I am collecting stories and funny quotes to share. I am also thrilled that fellow panelists will be three good friends and one of the geekiest dads (by all appearances) around: Daniel Loxton, Heidi Anderson, Desiree Schell, & Adam Savage.

Skepticism and Education: JREF now has a Director of Educational Programs – what else is being done out there and how can skeptics help educate the next generation?
Time: Sunday 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Of course this is on my list of favorites as well as one of the most important of the panels on which I will serve. Other panelists include D.J. Grothe, Michael Blanford, Daniel Loxton, Pamela Gay, & Matt Lowry. Kylie Sturgess will moderate.

Women: Myths, Feminism And Skepticism: Puzzled by feminine mystique? Searching for your ‘Inner Velma’? Join investigators on gender, pop-culture and what science REALLY tells us!
Time: Monday 2:30pm – 3:30pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Oh, so many myths, so little time! This topic is rich and Heidi Anderson, Desiree Schell, Pamela Gay, Kylie Sturgess, and myself are looking forward to a fact-packed dicussion.

Skeptrack Sign-Off Wrap Up and Feedback: Join the skeptrack guests and speakers for a discussion about how things went, last minute news, and how we can make things better next year!
Time: Monday 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Unfortunately, I will not make this discussion and also make my flight home. I am sure, though, that there will be much greatness in the room.

That wraps up my obligations. Here are just a few the events I am looking forward to attending as an audience member (if possible – the * indicates an event I cannot attend due to a scheduling conflict, but recommend):

CSI: Paranormal
Time: Friday 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: Joe Nickell

*Skeptically Speaking Live!
Time: Friday 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: Desiree Schell

Skeptical Coffee Talk
Time: Saturday 8:30am – 9:30am
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: James Randi, D.J. Grothe, & Joe Nickell

Paranormal Investigation Workshop
Time: Saturday 1:00pm – 3:30pm
Location: Sheraton
Presenters/Panel Members: Ben Radford

*I Very Much Doubt That!
Time: Saturday 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Location: Hilton Crystal Ballroom
Presenters/Panel Members: James Randi

*Mystery Investigators Children’s Show
Time: Saturday 2:30pm – 3:30pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: Richard Saunders & Rachael Dunlop

Monster Talk Podcast Live
Time: Saturday 4:00pm – 5:00pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: Blake Smith & Ben Radford

Skeptic Zone Live!
Time: Sunday 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: Richard Saunders, Rachael Dunlop, Kylie Sturgess, & Brian Brushwood

Skepticism 2.0: Blogging
Time: Monday 11:30am – 12:30pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: Daniel Loxton, Rebecca Watson, Brian Dunning, Rachael Dunlop, & Kylie Sturgess

Martial Arts Mysticism
Time: Monday 1:00pm – 2:00pm
Location: Hilton 205/206/207
Presenters/Panel Members: John Clements

You can find the full schedules as they become available on the track websites. I hope to see you there!

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1 comment to Reaching Out and Geeking Out

  • Seantheblogonaut

    I be with you in spirit. No doubt there will be highlights and videos from the various skeptic groups.