• Skepticon #sk8 Full Recap

    There are only two atheist/skeptic conferences which I try to attend every year. One of them is called FreeOK, a conference for freethinkers in and around Oklahoma. The other is called Skepticon, which bills itself as “the largest FREE skeptic conference in the nation, and quite possibly the universe.” (I’m completely at a loss as to which conference is the second largest in that category.) Because there has historically been some contention over whether Skepticon can be aptly labelled as a “skeptic con,” I’ve taken the trouble to classify the main stage presentations in order to help settle the issue.

    FRIDAY

    Sikivu Hutchinson spoke about social justice in general and racial injustice in particular. This presentation goes in the ‘Other’ category,

    Nathanael Johnson spoke about his book and the balance that he strikes between those who uncritically assume “all natural” is invariably healthier and those who go too far in the opposite direction. This is one of the skeptic-oriented talks worth watching and discussing.

    We didn’t get to see Jamie DeWolf perform on Friday night, so I have no idea what his performance was really about. As a poet and a comic, he goes in the ‘Other’ category for the time being.

    SATURDAY

    Muhammad Syed delivered a primer on Islam for atheists “from non-muslim backgrounds” in order to help them engaged “religious muslims in theological debate.” This one goes in the atheist category, for the obvious reasons.

    Fallon Fox did an audience Q&A, fielding interrogatories various and sundry. This one goes in the ‘Other’ category, as it was not especially focused on skepticism or atheism.

    The Q&A with Mark Schierbecker was the most talked about (and subsequently blogged about) event of the entire weekend, but it was also unrepresentative of the conference as a whole. It gets binned in the “Other” category, for obvious reasons.

    Sam Kean is a huge science geek and popularizer of scientific obscurantia. His talk goes in the science/skepticism category, of course.

    Justin Vollmar is a former preacher and Liberty University graduate turned atheist evangelist. He was also the only speaker who did not require the services of Skepticon’s sign language interpreter, because he did his own. His presentation goes in the atheist category.

    Mary Anne Franks is a lawyer who thinks some people fetishize the constitution too much. I will review her talk in a future post, but for now it goes in the ‘Other’ bin.

    Hiba Bint Krisht is a former Muslim with a truly fascinating personal backstory, unlike most any apostasy tale you’ve heard. Her talk goes in the atheism category.

    Of all the people I discovered on account of Skepticon 8, Destin Sandlin is the one that will bring me the most joy in the near future. He makes fun science videos, such as this one in which he repeatedly flips a stunt cat. Empiricism and science FTW!

    SUNDAY

    The first talk of the day on Sunday was supposed to be Teka-Lark Fleming, but due to circumstances beyond their control, Skepticon had to find a substitute speaker. They went with Niki Massey of Secular Woman, who delivered a decent talk about the techniques, tribulations, and hard truths of abortion clinic escorting. As a talk about promoting social justice, this one goes in the ‘Other’ category.

    Bo Bennett gave a talk entitled “The Psychology of Woo” which was basically what you would think from the title. This will be an decent talk to share with people who are trying to understand the basics of skepticism and human cognitive biases; it goes firmly in the ‘Skepticism’ category.

    Stephanie Zvan gave a talk about doing social justice in the face of the just world fallacy. It falls in the ‘Other’ category.

    Kavin Senapathy finished off the event with an excellent skeptical talk about GMOs. Bit of a shame that the turnout was low for this presentation, but I shall link to the video when it comes out.

    Overall, then, my (admittedly subjective) estimates for Skepticon 8 are as follows:

    SKEPTICISM & SCIENCE: 5
    ATHEISM/FREETHOUGHT: 3
    MISCELLANEOUS OTHER: 7

    I’d be happy to argue about whether any of these talks were misclassified in the comments, of course. For now, here is my preliminary trend graph:

    image (2)
    [Source data]
    By my reckoning, Skepticon has at least as much skeptic cred now as it did back in 2010, when I first started attending. Make of that what you will. Personally, I think it is more than worth the price of admission.

    Category: AtheismConferences

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.

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    • So Stay Wrong
    • I think it’s more telling to look at the proportions, not the whole numbers, if the goal is to see how the lineup is changing. You’re right, the % of skepticism content is the same. Because Skepticon almost never had much of it. Just 1/3 of talks at Skepticon III. These graphs illustrate how skepticism talks are about the same, but much of the freethought/atheism has been traded for “other”.

      Curious for a conference called “Skepticon” to be majority “other” topics. Perhaps a change to Misc-ON should be considered.

      • “…much of the freethought/atheism has been traded for ‘other'”

        And most of the other category has been about social justice, pretty much of the time.

        I wonder if #SocialJusticon is taken.

    • Chas Stewart
      • I appreciate Ms. Zvan’s feedback, as always, but subtweeting from behind a block probably isn’t the most efficient method at getting one’s message across. Nevertheless, I’ll have another look when the video drops.

      • LindaL

        Only one “like” for that tweet. lol

      • The thing about subtweeting is that no one can tell wtf you’re going on about.

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