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What Matters About Skepticism and A Free Pass to the Boulder Science Festival

I first learned that there was a thing called skepticism when I first became interested in science. It was around the time when podcasts first popped up on the Internet. I was sitting at home and had just finished watching Brian Greene’s, The Elegant Universe and I was hungry for more learnin’. I liked what I saw, but didn’t really understand it. I sat myself down in front of my ol’ computer and began a search for free ways to learn more about science. I had very little money then and so buying myself a new education or more videos or books was not an option for me at that time. What was an option was the new fun-free online podcasts! I could listen while I painted or did other things and I didn’t have to pay extra! I did a few searches for science content and then stumbled across the very accessible and now infamous, Skeptics Guide to The Universe. You may have heard of it? I was hooked. I downloaded every episode, I learned, I laughed and then I cried rivers of tears when Perry passed away- even though I never met him and the rest as they say, is history. But cuz I like you people, I’ll tell you a little bit more of the story here today.

The SGU laid out the groundwork for my understanding of critical thought and helped me understand the difference between good science and bad science and thus, the difference between important information that you can build upon and lousy information that you can disregard. A lesson, that in the early days helped me to decide to keep, Brian Greene’sElegant Universe in my playlist but easily convinced me to dump, What The Bleep Do We Know. A video, up until my finding of the SGU, I thought was about legitimate science too. Boy oh boy, was I wrong about that one.

One of the first things I did when I started listening to the SGU was I started saving money so that I could go to this educational gathering in Las Vegas they called, TAM. They talked about TAM a whole lot on the show and it sounded like just the sort of thing I wanted to get involved with. Lot’s of science talks and new and interesting people who cared about learning and sharing that information would be there. It was just the kind of thing I wanted to be a part of. It would be a HUGE expense for my partner and me, but we wanted to learn more about science and the skeptic community (at the time) was a place where an average Joe like me could rub shoulders and actually talk with real scientists and intellectuals. We could make friends with people who held up truth as a virtue! Imagine the questions you could ask! Imagine the things you could learn! The friends you could make!

It took us two full years to save up the money to go to our first TAM.

But save we did. And to TAM we surely went. And the very first person from this new world to say hello to me when I walked into that big intimidating casino bar, was none other than the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait himself. Phil was the head of the JREF at the time. He looked at me with a sly grin and a shiny head and in a friendly manner said, “You’re Surly Amy.” And I was!

I was surprised to be recognized. I was just a little artist. Phil was the Big Bad Astronomer himself! Despite my surprise, we hit it off immediately. Our friendship grew from that day forward. Phil Plait photo by Surly AmyThe kindness he showed towards my partner and me and the initial offer of friendship he gave, when I was a relative nobody, will not be forgotten by me.

Unfortunately, TAM and the Skeptic community has changed a whole heck of a lot over the years and is no longer a welcoming place for me. But what I try to remember is the reasons of why I got involved in that community in the first place. And the reason I did, was that I wanted to learn more about science and I wanted to find like-minded and inspirational people to spend my time with and I wanted to help promote and share good information with the public through my art to help make the world a better place. And that is something that I can and still do. In fact, I am starting to realize that there are many more avenues outside of the “Big Tent” skeptic community to do that. And ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s science and the information it gives us that really matters. It is what teaches us, and helps us understand the logical from the fallacious. Without science to back it up, skepticism is just another philosophy.

So lets get back to the core of the matter, shall we?

A wonderful science event is happening in a few weeks that actually reminds me of that very first TAM and the joy I felt about attending it and that event is in fact, being hosted by my now good friend, Dr. Phil Plait.

The Boulder Science Festival is taking place October 12-13th in, you guessed it, Boulder Colorado! boulder science festivalDr. Carolyn Porco, leader of the Cassini Spacecraft Imaging Team will be giving a talk that walks us through the rings of Saturn and the moon Enceladus. Talk about inspiring! My brain is actually squeeing in anticipation of that! There are some other great speakers lined up and lots of fun interactive activities for kids and adults. Our very own Skepchick and astronomer, Dr. Nicole Gugliucci will be teaching us how to make a comet out of household materials. There will be live musical performances, science hikes and even craft beer tasting for us grown-ups. It sounds like a science camp for adults, right?! It’s this sort of event, run by good people, filled with good people that I am very happy to get to be a part of. Did I mention I will have a table with my science jewelry on display?

And so in honor of my first ever meeting of Phil, back in those good-ol’ days (pssst, the new days are good too) AND in honor of the joy of learning about science no matter what your age, I want to pay for the admission of at least one other person to go to the event so they can meet Phil and the other participants and speakers and learn and be inspired by science too.

If you can get to Boulder Colorado, and you want to go to this event, but can’t really afford it, here is your chance!

In the next few weeks, I will save the money I make from selling my science themed jewelry and use that money to pay for admission for one or two science-minded readers to go the Boulder Science Festival. I will print out the namesnames in a hat and put them in a hat, and then depending on how much money I have, I will pay for one or two people’s pass to the festival!

If you want to go and want to be entered in my contest, all you have to do is just leave a comment below and put “ADD MY NAME TO THE HAT” in that comment. I will announce the winner(s) here and on my twitter in the coming weeks.

If you want to help me pay for someone, you can purchase something from my ETSY shopmade of star stuff

And if you can afford to go on your own (the event is very affordable by the way, only $85 for regular peeps and $45 for students) then you can go here to register. Let’s spend a weekend learning about, celebrating and being inspired by science. It’s time to recharge those brain cells!

More info about the event is here. Go sign up now! What are you waiting for?

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Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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44 Comments

  1. I have attended 5 TAMs and paid all expenses for my sister to accompany me to one of them. My admiration for James Randi lasted longer than 30 years. I am no longer safe nor welcome at TAM.
    I’m happy and proud to help you pay for someone to attend the Boulder Science Festival. Your genuine kindness and generosity inspire me.

  2. Well, my wife and I were just browsing through Surlies looking for an anniversary present. Buying for a good cause would be nice (though simply supporting the artist is just as good cause, in my opinion) :)

    *Browses Etsy some more*

  3. SGU was my introduction to this world also. Then Berkley SkeptiCalCon (or whatever they called it), and then TAM9 with my daughter. TAM2012 I’ll forget. This year I went to an air show in Wisconsin instead. The Boulder event looks fun and I could almost go if the timing had been better. But not this time. I hope the Surly I just bought will help a little getting someone there. “We dare mighty things.” I remembered you tweeting that with the Curiosity landing. That was a fun day. :-)

  4. ADD MY NAME TO THE HAT, please.

    Will there be anything like a poster session? I am tempted to make a short presentation about the U.S. Geological Survey streamgaging program, since it is sort of relevant to the flooding going on in Colorado right now. I guess I should be asking the conference organizers, shouldn’t I?

  5. I arrived here via Phil Plait’s blog and am an avid reader of Pharyngula and BlagHag and an AthiesmPlus advocate. While I do not need my name added to the hat, and I don’t have the opportunity to travel for this wonderful event, your idea has inspired me. I would like to sponsor another ticket for your hat drawing — please contact me via my comment e-mail to let me know how I can make the funds available to you for this purpose (hopefully we can just do a paypal transaction or something simple like that) and I will do so immediately.

  6. Thank you for providing this opportunity. It gives me more optimism and hope for a better future. Whoever, gets this ticket will be one lucky person and surely will have a great time at the festival!

    I watched “What the Bleep Do We Know” my first year in college because some of my peers said I had to watch it. At the time, I thought it was fascinating, but I didn’t fully understand all their concepts and I wasn’t fully convinced. After a few years my critical thinking became more refined I now realize a lot of it was nonsense and deceiving to say the least.

    Also this channel on youtube called “Spirit Science” if frustrating to listen to because most of it is pseudoscience and not connected to science or ‘truth’ whatsoever.

    I’m currently living in a spiritual community and at times I feel like the only person who questions what’s being taught and what’s the rationale or scientific explanation behind these practices. I got into a conversation or ‘debate’ with a another member of the community who said he wanted to reject ‘science’. I was in awe by a surprising statement such as this. I asked how can you reject science? I said to him that “it has provided us with so much understanding of the world and nearly everything in it”. Science is the most dependable source for information regarding how things work.

    Anyway, thank you for this article and this opportunity.

    Peace, .

    Justin Weichel: “ADD MY NAME TO THE HAT” Thank

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