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Attend Skepchicamp! Register now! [sticky]

February 18th, 2010 by Elyse


Brought to you in part by

Skeptical Inquirer



The very first ever Skepchicamp! It’s Skepticamp, but Skepchickier!

Complete with real live Skepchicks!

Skepchicamp  is an informal convention with the goal of promoting skeptical thinking in the Chicago area.

Unlike formal conventions, everyone who attends Skepchicamp is expected to participate in some way – giving a speech, serving food, helping to set up a room, or donating money.

The goal is to create a laid-back event driven by the participants.

Skeptics believe that everything should be examined with scientific rigor, and generally choose to suspend belief (or agree to append beliefs) based on the availability of adequate evidence. Many skeptics do not believe in the supernatural simply have not seen enough credible evidence to convince us that they exist. They are not curmudgeons who dislike ghost stories. There are, however, there are many things that skeptics do believe in. Like love, the power of beauty, art, friendship, humor, and sports because we know these things to be true. Nothing falsifiable is exempt from scrutiny.

The organizers invite you to attend the first event on March 6, where you can both learn and teach others about skepticism.

“In the end, the Skepchicamp in which you partake

is equal to the Skepchicamp you make.”

If you’d like to attend but still have not made a contribution, please contact Elyse to find out where we still need help.

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If this camp’s a-rockin…

March 9th, 2010 by Elyse

Hooray for the ubersuccess of the first ever Skepchicamp!

It went amazingly well… aside from me believing that the room could easily hold 100+ people and forgetting to ask, “Hey, if the room can hold our group, seated comfortably, does that also mean that you will have enough chairs to seat them all?” I can’t believe that a group of event planning amateurs put this together… and I can’t believe that I was in charge of pulling off this absolutely amazing event.

But as everyone crammed in the back of the room, unable to hear, knew, it wasn’t perfect. And if we’re going to raise the bar for camps to come, we’re going to need some help pinpointing our weak spots and we need to know what we got exactly right.

If you attended the camp and you have a few minutes, I’d really appreciate it if you could take the time to fill out this survey. It’s 15 questions about last weekend and the future of Skepchicamp.

Help us kick a little more ass next year!

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Photos from Skepchicamp 2010!

March 7th, 2010 by MattusMaximus

All I can say is… WOW!!!

I’m still coming down from the high of the first ever Skepchicamp, and there is so much that went on that it will take quite some time to assimilate it all.  In fact, Skepchicamp kicked soooooo much ass that not even Chuck Norris will be able to sit down for a month :)

Stay tuned for more updates and post-camp thoughts from me and other attendees.  But for now I want to share some photos taken by our official event photographer, Ivan Phillips… Enjoy!

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Bringing Skepticism to Gen Con Indy

February 25th, 2010 by Don

Good day, everyone. This is Speaker Conjurer Don with an important announcement.

I’ve been given permission by Queen Elyse to pimp one of my other projects, a guerrilla Skeptical Symposium I’m spearheading at Gen Con Indianapolis 2010. Why guerrilla? Well, we have no special recognition from Gen Con (as yet, at least) and are self-organizing from the ground up to bring science and critical thinking to Gen Con.

See, in 2008, I, Skepchicamp presenter Tom Foss, and a couple of other friends sat through an excruciating panel at Gen Con called “The Science of EVP,” delivered by The Indiana Ghost Trackers. We decided then and there to bring skepticism to Gen Con ourselves. In 2009 we gave a pretty successful panel on everything from logical fallacies to bigfoot. We decided to expand the program in 2010 and it’s shaping up to be quite awesome.

As it stands now, we have 7 panels and/or presentations, some of which are being delivered twice, for a total of 10 talks. We’re doing a revamped and much improved version of last year’s panel, plus talks on cargo cult science, evolution and creationism, scams, and pseudoarchaeology, and that’s not even all of them.

Most importantly, however, is the fundraiser I’ve arranged with Gen Con to benefit the Indiana Immunization Coalition. Gen Con gave us a free booth in their Family Fun Pavilion from which to harangue passersby to donate money 100% of which will go to the IIC to fund new educational initiatives for vaccination in the state of Indiana. We’re incredibly excited about this development, and one of our talks is going to be an educational pro-immunization talk to act as a companion to the fundraiser.

As awesome as this all looks, though, we still need more help! First and foremost, we need volunteers for the fundraiser booth. Our deal with Gen Con includes a clause that the booth will be manned from open to close of the exhibit hall every day, and we simply can’t do it ourselves; we have talks to give, meals to eat, and a convention to see at least a little of. So come on down to Gen Con, have a good time, and help collect money to educate children and parents about the value of vaccination!

We would also love more presenters. Anyone that has a hankering to give a skeptical talk should e-mail me (causticbox[at]gmail[dot]com) and let me know before March 13th, which is the final cutoff for event submission for the convention.

For more information, you can check out this post, which is very detailed, or simply visit our website, Gen Con Skeptics, and read all about our planned presentations and the vaccine drive and check out our current schedule of events. Finally, I was interviewed Wednesday for next Friday’s episode of the podcast Skeptically Speaking, which will air March 5th at 8PM eastern and be available to download on iTunes subsequently.

Gen Con Indy is happening August 5-8. If you’re going to be there, we’d love to have you in our little group of grassroots skeptical activists. If you’re not going to be there, what the hell are you waiting for? They don’t call Gen Con “The Best Four Days in Gaming” for nothing, and this year there’s going to be tons of skepticism! Join us, folks, and help make the world a more rational (and vaccinated) place.

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Ken Novak: Ethical Humanist

February 24th, 2010 by Don

Welcome to Part 18 of my something-part series Better Know a Speaker. Today’s speaker: Ken Novak, the fighting Ethical Humanist Officiant!

Ken Novak is a member of the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago, where he is involved in adult education, publicity, performance, tech, and Sunday School, and also performs marriages and memorial services. He is a former Board President of the Chicago Society and a two-time staff member of the national Ethical Lay Leadership Summer School. In his weekday life he is the Director of Analysis & Metrics for Tribune Interactive.

Ken’s presentation is titled “Congregations for Atheists,” wherein he will argue that atheists deserve a place where everybody knows their face, and then some, and where they have an opportunity to build a better world at a human scale.

Check back later for the last couple of speakers!

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Glenn Davis: Cults and Culture

February 21st, 2010 by Don

Hello, friends! Welcome to Part 17 of my something-part series “Better Know a Speaker!” Today’s speaker: Glenn Davis, the fighting Glenn Davis!

Glenn Davis is an advertising creative director living in Columbus, Ohio. He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, where he became a devotee of the many varieties of self-help woo on tap in that mecca of the “human potential movement.”

Since becoming a full-fledged skeptic in the early 00’s, he has had a special interest in critically examining new religious movements, self-help cults, and pop psychology trends, which he does at length in his blog,

Glenn’s presentation is titled “Critical Thinking About Cults and Culture.” In it, he will examine a few things. First, what drives people to join cults, religions, and borderline cults like Alcoholics Anonymous and Landmark Education? Second, why do we put “mainstream religions” into a separate category and give them a free pass when they exhibit similar characteristics to cults like the Church of Scientology? Third, if we discard belief in the supernatural, is there anything left that might be beneficial about being a member of a religious or ‘applied philosophy’ group?

Only a few speakers left to go! We’ve hit the home stretch!

–Speaker Conjurer Don

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Bug Girl: Entomologist Extraordinaire

February 20th, 2010 by Don

Welcome to Part 16 of my something-part series “Better Know a Speaker.” Today’s speaker: Bug Girl, the fighting entomologist!

Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology. Her bug research involves using pheromones to try to control insect populations without pesticides. Essentially, she makes male bugs horny, and then prevents them from mating. (Please don’t extrapolate from that more that is warranted.)

After a decade or so as a professor, she decided to jump the academic ship and went on to be a designer, web mistress, forensic consultant, and general attention whore. She posed in the First Skepchick Calendar in a corset.

She is now back at a University in the Midwest, giving students (mostly) helpful advice. She enjoys chocolate and intelligent conversations, and is rather turned off by mullets and NASCAR (but then, who isn’t?). She frequently guest-posts at Skepchick, and writes Bug Girl’s Blog, where she is sorry, but she can’t identify an insect for you, so don’t ask.

As always, there’s more to come!

–Speaker Conjurer Don

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Robin Ferguson: Stay-at-Home Skeptic

February 19th, 2010 by Don

Welcome, ladies and gents, to Part 15 of my 20 part series “Better Know a Speaker!” Today’s speaker: Robin Ferguson, the fighting mother of two!

Robin was kind enough to write her entire bio in first person, and I think it loses something in the conversion to a dry, objective third person. I will, therefore, quote it in its entirety.

Robin Ferguson has no idea what to say about herself. Plus she’s not that great at writing in the third person about herself, so here are the important facts:

Personal info: I am a stay-at-home mom who is about to give up the stay-at-home part to work in Special Education. I start the week before Skepchicamp. I live in Central Illinois with my husband, Phil and our children.

Speaking of children, have you met mine? If you know me, then I apologize for always talking about them. BUT I have two awesome teenagers, both who, despite my early misguided attempts at religion are both fantastic critical thinkers. They got it from their father, and in this case that is not a left-handed compliment.

I hold a degree in History from Illinois Wesleyan University. I am a voracious reader, a Green Day fanatic, and love to cook.

Skeptic info: The road to a more critical way of thinking has pretty much come full circle, I was religious, then I wasn’t, then I was , and now, well that’s something we can chat about at Skepchicamp.

I have attended two TAMs and look forward to attending TAM8 this summer. I have replaced my daily reading about the Trinity with what I lovingly refer to as Three Skeptics and the Ladies: Bad Astronomy, Pharyngula, Friendly Atheist and Skepchick, to whom I gratefully thank for reintroducing me to critical thinking. My husband was patiently waiting and leading by example, hmmm sounds vaguely familiar. He thanks you as well.

The reason I am leaving my comfort zone and presenting at Skepchicamp:

I am a card carrying member of the mental health community participating in both the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). My presentation entitled “Alternative Meds, Media and Stigma: The Role of Skepticism in Mental Health” will highlight how critical thinking is needed by an entire community to help break down the stereotypes that keep patients from seeking science-based treatments first.

Thanks, Robin!

Check back soon for the last few speakers!

–Speaker Conjurer Don

Tags: 70 Comments

William Brinkman: Babbling in Bolingbrook

February 16th, 2010 by Don

Welcome to Part 14 of my 20 part series “Better Know a Speaker!” Today’s speaker: William Brinkman, the fighting tabloid journalist!

William Brinkman is the creator of The Bolingbrook Babbler, a fictional tabloid. First posted on the Internet in 1998, The Babbler has satirized local politics, the paranormal, and the skeptical movement. The Babbler has been featured in Bad Astronomy, The Friendly Atheist, and Skepchick.

William also contributed short stories to White Wolf’s Demon: The Fallen role-playing game books from 2002 to 2003.

Said William, “Because I was the only atheist on the writing team, I ended up writing most of the stories about the ‘bad guy’ demons.”

William is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s journalism program. When he lived in Iowa City, he worked at two start up publications. After moving to the Chicago area he joined The Camarilla, an international role-playing group, and served for a year on their national storyteller staff.

He first wrote Babbler articles for this web site from 1998 to 2001. After taking sometime off, he resumed posting Babbler articles in 2007.

“I like writing these Weekly World News type articles because it combines my journalism experience with my love of fiction writing. Plus by using humor, I think I can discuss serious issues in a way that is more accessible to the public. I don’t expect every reader to agree with what I write, but if they think about the subject of the story, then I’ll consider it a success.”

Though William’s journey towards skepticism began in college, he feels he became committed to skepticism after reading a post on the Art Bell Usenet group.

“Hale-Bopp was going the make its closest approach to Earth the next day, and this person said that he was going to hide in the basement with is gun. Here was a once in a lifetime event to see a naked eye comet, and he was hiding in a basement because he was afraid of the monsters following it. I thought we were beyond that.”

William’s presentation will be a live reading of some of the stories from The Babbler. He will also talk about his experiences producing The Babbler.

Check back here later for more speakers, assuming I get more bios!

–Speaker Conjurer Don

Tags: 55 Comments

Hilary Nelson: Never Without a Balloon Hat

February 15th, 2010 by Don

Welcome to Part 13 of my 20 part series “Better Know a Speaker.” Today’s speaker: Hilary Mark Nelson: the fighting dude with a chick’s name!

Hilary is the son of a Dickens scholar (his father) and a ruthless editor of grant proposals (his mother), which explains why his grant proposals are always turned down for being too wordy. Though he was born on the East coast, he grew up in a small Iowa college town and identifies as a midwesterner.

His defining childhood experiences included inner-tubing down the Upper Iowa River, a year in Bergen, Norway when he was 8, and another in Innsbruck, Austria at age 12. During his teenage years he spent a lot of time hanging around a commune, where he learned construction skills and soaked up buckets of counter-culture woo. Few things beat hippies for woo-woo.

After failing to worm his way into the University of Iowa’s graduate program in art, he decided to visit friends in San Francisco. He liked it there so much that he stayed for 5 years: half in San Francisco and half in Los Angeles. His sojourn in the land of the lotus eaters was financed by work as a busboy and waiter with additional beer money provided by the occasional free-lance illustration job.

While in California he took up motorcycling and hang gliding. As if those activities weren’t dangerous enough separately, he pushed it to the next level and had a custom trailer hitch made for his motorcycle so that he could tow the bundled-up hang glider behind his bike. He did not take the leap to hang gliding while on his motorcycle, but certainly, had he stayed there, he would have figured it out eventually.

After deciding that being a waiter who’s working on a screenplay wasn’t the career move that it seemed at first, he headed back to the Midwest to take another stab at grad school. Showing a remarkable lack of imagination, he aimed for Iowa City again, but missed and ended up in Madison, Wisconsin.

He missed grad school, too, and fell into computer graphics instead. Madison also introduced him to sailing, wind-surfing, snowboarding, ice-sailing, and his wife.

From there it was back to California for a 4-year stint in Berkeley (another haven for hippies), where his wife did her postdoctoral work. He split his time between being Mr. Mom for the two babies they made there (out of Legos and duct tape, one presumes), and working from home on a dot-com era website. Somehow he managed not to make a killing during the bubble, but he didn’t lose his shirt either, so let’s just call it a win.

Hilary decided early on in his life that his pastor was clueless, and his source text made no sense whatsoever. He delighted in baiting the poor man in Sunday school to draw out the all the biblical non sequiturs and inconsistencies he’d found. He told his dad that he didn’t believe in the Christian god when he was around 11, but he went ahead and got confirmed just to keep his grandparents from having heart attacks.

Rejecting his received religion didn’t mean that he’d developed a good critical approach to all the ideas that came his way, though. Hilary happily lapped up all sorts of hippieish, New Agey woo, even going so far as to study the occult under a witch during his years in San Francisco. And, hey, if you’re going to study the occult, the hometown of Anton Szander LaVey really is the place to do it.

The internet was Hilary’s savior. He started getting a bit more savvy when people began emailing chain letters and hoaxes of one sort or another. He always seemed to be the one who would go look them up on, and point out to the sender that they were forwarding something that had been exploded years before.

Once he started working at Purdue and marinated in the college of engineering for a few years, he was finally ready to jettison all the crap and get serious. Skeptoid, Skepticality, and the SGU led to a dozen more podcasts, and he was hooked. TAM 7 sealed the deal, which is where I met him on a shuttle bus to the hotel; we had taken the same plane out from Indianapolis. He’s my friend to this day, a fine example of the proximity effect in action.

Hilary’s talk is titled “Defensive Consumerism: Pseudoscience and the Saltless Water Conditioner” and it will be a light-hearted look at how he almost got suckered into buying a saltless water conditioning system to replace a failing water softener, and why he’s confident that the product is, in fact, bogus. It’s a case study in defensive and skeptical consumerism.

Check back soon for more “Better Know a Speaker!”

–Speaker Conjurer Don

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