Well, first thing to say is that a head cold limited my attendance. I’m even sneezing while writing this. I had planned on a Friday and Saturday schedule, but was only able to manage most of Saturday. I’ll have to catch Science Based Medicine and Science Based Pharmacy another time, which was the Friday schedule.
Saturday, I made my way down from Connecticut to Manhattan by commuter train to the 2016 Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. I normally teach from 8am until 4pm weekly on Saturdays: anatomy and physiology, and clinical skills and theory right now. I walked from Grand Central to West 27th St., the Fashion Institute of Technology. Who knew that technology could be so fashionable, or fashion so technical. Or something like that!
Along the lines of that juxtaposition: I’ve done this in past years and I always find humor in this observation as I am people-watching. The FIT students were moving out apparently at the end of their semester, and these usually lithe young ladies dressed in currently appropriate vogue are quite a contrast to a science-skepticism convention comprised in majority of thirty-something plus males who mainly look like attendees of a computer convention. In other words, you’ll know where to go: follow the tech-in-hand breadcrumbs.
The FIT facilities are very nice, by the way. Superior. So it’s unfortunate that, as I guesstimate, the auditorium was only about half-full for the time I was there. Past years seemed much fuller, and so I wonder if the science-skepticism movement as-physical-event will have to get used to competing with its own very successful and easily accessible digital presence. It’s very odd to hear that the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe has over a million monthly downloads and yet, physically, see that this is what they get at a live event. I believe movie theaters are also experiencing the same competition.
So here are some items from the day and some comments, IMHO:
a) The MC was ok. I like Jamie, but he seemed not-too-engaged. I hope things are going well there, whatever the context of that is.
b) Physicist Deborah Berebichez was, as usual, amazing. I haven’t seen her on the television shows that were mentioned, only previously at NECSS. As a teacher of science to mainly women, I found her account of becoming a scientist insightful. The presentation’s title alone, “Outrageous Acts of Thinking”, is priceless.
c) Bill Nye was the usually amazing Bill Nye. A documentary crew was filming him as we watched him, and filming the NECSS crowd. So maybe I’m now a part of that future Nye documentary! Watching ‘the process within a process’ reminded me of the beginning of Joseph Heller’s book “Picture This“:
“Rembrandt painting Aristotle contemplating the bust of Homer was himself contemplating the bust of Homer […].”It will get weirder when that documentary is released and I start contemplating it for my presence in the crowd.
d) The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe live taping was as usual, with Bill Nye the guest. It’s unfortunate that SGU stays so comfortable though, honestly — I didn’t sense spontaneity, in their format and their dialog — at a conference with so many interesting speakers as possible guest participants. Can’t mess with success…
e) The panel “Diversity in Space Exploration” was very worthwhile. And I’m thinking along the lines of social justice, and the conversion so-to-speak that is going to happen in this country in terms of race since the U.S. by about 2044 will be predominantly nonwhite, aka much more inherently diverse and requiring such a representation. This panel is a start, but without Neil deGrasse Tyson? I’d like to see Star Talk do a follow-up, with Neil and the panel, and that dialog continue and continue. And if the skepticism movement were serious about diversity at its conferences, and about being outrageous and positive, then why not reach out to New York City public schools upper grades AP science students and CUNY honors undergraduates and offer free tickets to the conference [or some other kind of structure] to fill up the rest of the seats and to seed that next generation of skeptics? I was starting to feel like I was in an Ayn Rand novel… I myself was a CUNY undergraduate honors student: if only I’d known about scientific skepticism in the years 1990-1994 during my B.A.!
f) And Richard Wiseman was fabulous, as usual. I’ve used his videos in the classroom, and his interactive “Experimental” was truly radical. As a teacher of positive psychology who is always trying to get my students active and motivated and invested, I really appreciated the emphasis on demonstrating actively ‘what makes people optimal’ as opposed to ‘what’s wrong with people and how to get them up to normal’. Aka “Positive Skepticism.”
And then I headed home with my head cold starting to act up, as it began to drizzle… As we began to drizzle.
It was a very nice day!