Janis Bennion is a neuroscientist at the University of Manchester in the UK. She is co-organiser of Greater Manchester Skeptics and Ladies Who Do Skepticism, takes part in High School and College level science outreach, and co-hosts the Just Skeptics podcast.
Just over a year ago, I came out of the laboratory I work in, sat down at my computer and googled “skeptics in the pub.” A few minutes earlier I had been going about my typical lab work whilst listening to The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. Now, here I was, confronted with a “meet-up” for the soon-to-be Greater Manchester Skeptics. I’m not going to pretend it was that simple. I was listening to the SGU for a reason; it had been recommended to me by someone who knew how much pseudoscience irks me. Basically, like most skeptics, I was a “skeptic” long before I had ever even heard of “skepticism.” For the longest time I thought there was another term for what I was, and that was “awkward” or “a pain in the arse.” And I truly was.
From that inaugural meeting of eight, we soon went to at least two meetings a month, with speakers, socials and quizzes. We also began popping over to the events of the Merseyside Skeptics Society just an hour away. The “Merseyskeptic”s and our own group shared many ideals, including the creation of a local society, rather than solely a Skeptics in the Pub. We felt that people with so much in common, despite differences in background, deserved a community in which to thrive and enjoy the support of like-minded individuals.
After a while, we naturally decided we’d enjoy working together on something, and that “something” should extend beyond the current reach of our groups, whilst bringing something new to our roots in the North West of England. We also wanted to support the growing skeptical community which, after all, had already given us so much: information, inspiration, friends, the list goes on. And so QED was born. QED: Question. Explore. Discover. will be a two-day science and skepticism event taking place in Manchester (UK), 5-6th February 2011. (Which, quite scarily, happens to be next month.)
We in the UK are lucky enough to already have some fantastic skeptical events over here: Skeptics in the Pub groups dotted up and down the country, a handful of cafe-style meets, Skeptics on the Fringe during the whole month of August in Edinburgh, and of course TAM London. The intention of QED has never been to compete with any of these. We want to be part of the growing movement, and support the societies, groups, and individuals that form the community.
From its roots as an event organised by a group of people involved in local skepticism in their spare time, to the set-up of the meeting and the breakout room for interaction and workshops, QED will be a grassroots event from top to toe, and very much a great shindig of a weekend.
By the time we’re getting ready for the evening entertainment on Day One at QED, we’ll have gone from Bruce Hood, author of Supersense through to Steve Novella of that very podcast that kicked all this off for me, the SGU. We’ll have seen some really excellent talks on atheism, the media, and ghost investigations.
Day Two will kick off with the 10:23 Challenge, a follow-up to the protest staged by the 10:23 campaign in the UK in 2010, in which demonstrators took to the streets to voice their concern at the sales of homeopathic pills in leading pharmacy Boots, and the support for such “remedies” on the UK National Health Service. This year, QED will be the focal point for the exciting culmination of this 2011’s international challenge, with the largest ever single demonstration against homeopathy.
Whilst recovering from the challenge, we’ll be enjoying talks ranging from the Big Bang to evolution, and even a bit of juggling with maths. On both days we’ll also have a concurrent breakout room, with panels on topics such as outreach, the submission-based The Pod Delusion Live, the satirical skeptical panel show InKredulous, plus workshops on starting your own Skeptics in the Pub group, and skeptical activism in the form of The Nightingale Collaboration.
Throw in a Saturday night of free entertainment including Robin Ince and Matt Parker, The Stand-Up Mathematician, and last but not least, the whole weekend being hosted by the wonderful and scarily talented George Hrab, and I think you can’t really ask for a lot more.
That meeting I attended in Manchester turned out to be the first in a skepticism-packed year. While it’s hard trying to find a good balance between work and my skeptical activities, it’s been well worth it. I’m really glad to have been a part of organising Greater Manchester Skeptics events and QED. If the people who come along to GMS and MSS events are anything to go by, QED is going to be an absolute blast. The support from all those skeptical groups, up and down the UK, or even much further afield, exchanging information, ideas, and growing friendships over the distances, really brings out the joy and fun in Questioning, Exploring, and Discovering.
p.s. I’m still that same pain in the arse.
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