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We Have a Piper Down: Skepticon Wrap

Springfield, Missouri gets so quiet on Sunday night, if I wasn’t square in the middle of it going over the events of the past three days, I might believe it’s not even there.

I’m not dissing Springfield. This is my first time to visit this city, and it has been a memorable trip, thanks in large part to the third installment of the conference called Skepticon. I’ve just retreated into the cocoon of of post-event calm to collect my thoughts, and I’m realizing how much I have ignored the concept of silence.

But such is life on the road.

I can take comfort, however, that amid the cacophony that was my weekend, there was an excellent, free conference to tickle my intellectual fancy. In fact, the conference contributed mightily to the wonderful noise through which I strode all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

When I attend these conferences, I don’t always know right away if I’m going to make a return trip, but in this case, I can say that if the organizers do it again next year, I will be in attendance.

Now, I understand that there has been some sniping among a few members of the skeptical community over what Skepticon should rightly be named. Apparently, some think the conference is more of an atheist event, and therefore should not have the implication that it is skepticism-specific included in its name. It seems the worry is that attendees hoping to hear presentations about UFOs or homeopathy or psychics or what have you might be disenchanted with a proliferation of topics focusing on atheism.

All I’ll say about this is, right now, I can’t think of anything I care less about.

Not that I don’t think conveying the right identity or that deploying accurate marketing into the public domain are important. They are. I just think this particular case is something of a non-issue. For many, skepticism and rational inquiry inform atheism, and even if you merely touch on that dynamic at an event, it would still be worthy of being called a skeptic event. And Skepticon did touch on it in good measure. Plus there were presentations, like Amanda Marcotte’s, that dealt with thinking rationally in feminism, and Joe Nickell’s, that dealt solely with investigating claims. The talks would have easily fit in at any skeptic event.

But whatever the name, the conference this weekend was enjoyable on many levels, and I just want to give a very very quick run down of my thoughts before I slip into a coma. So tired.

The organizers are a group of college kids from Springfield, and their enthusiasm permeated the entire affair, creating a wonderful energy. It also seemed to lead to a very informal overall vibe, which I really liked. A formal, highly produced “show” doesn’t always lead to a good program,

Initially, I was wary of the two Friday panels (“Confrontationalism vs. Accommodationism” and “Does Skepticism Lead to Atheism?”), because the subjects have been addressed so thoroughly. I wondered what else we could say that we haven’t said ad nauseum. I wrote a piece here not long ago that dealt with skepticism leading to atheism, and the “do/don’t be a dick” idea has been floating around probably since the first time people ever had differing opinions. Both panels, however, went well, as did the entire first day.

James Randi, PZ Meyers, and Rebecca Watson rounded out the second day with some wonderful talks. PZ actually related some straight up science, which I found refreshing, and Rebecca taught us how to ruin Christmas for everyone, which I found equally refreshing.

The third day was kind of blur, but the final speakers all did a great job despite the fact that we were all pretty much on no sleep from Saturday night.

I will say that one other aspect that I liked about the conference was the fact that, despite Randi’s and PZ’s presence, many of the speakers were people I had not heard present before. And I’m one to seek the perspectives of a variety of people. I hope the organizers don’t attempt to get nothing but prominent names on the program in the future. Keep a good mix, so the ideas stay fresh.

And finally, as is often the case at these types of conferences, some of the best interaction takes place after hours, and Saturday night found PZ, DJ Grothe, Bug Girl, Amanda Marcotte and several others hanging out in my room, passionately discussing every topic the human mind has ever conceived. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

Anyway, thanks to the organizers for putting on a great event that was so informative, fun, and free to attend. I look forward to seeing how they progress. Good night.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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6 Comments

  1. Yea, PZ spoke at TAM in 2008 and brought the science ZZZZzzzzzzzz……. . Sounds like he was better at Skepticon, which I’m glad to hear, and I’m sure he’d be great to talk with over a beverage! I have a feeling that the CFI and SitP folk north of me in Vancouver BC may consider a more formal conference of this type in the not too distant future which I’d be very happy to see!

    On Saturday evening there was a live performance of SGU and a whole restaurant was rented for the after reception/party in Vancouver. The event was a fund raiser with the Novella’s, Jay and George Hrab all in good form. And Rebecca and Jay had a well written funny (alleged) video call that was pulled off quite well.

  2. I’m glad you had such a great time in our fair state. It was a real pleasure to meet you, Bug Girl, Amy, Carr2, and the rest. Rebecca’s talk did kick ass.
    The only question I have today is, has anyone heard from DJ? :-)

  3. James Fox:

    On Saturday evening there was a live performance of SGU ….And Rebecca and Jay had a well written funny (alleged) video call that was pulled off quite well.

    As the snow blows I am being warmed up by the hot force of pure jealousy. I was unable to go due to family obligations. I am glad that it went well.

    By the way, I have met PZ when he was the speaker at a Skeptic’s meeting in Seattle.

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