*unless they are passing through on their way to that huge RPG session in the ballroom.
So when Derek and Swoopy started asking us to come to Dragon*Con a few years ago, I hesitated a bit because I really didn’t fully understand why a large group of skeptics belonged at one of the world’s largest Sci-Fi and Fantasy conventions. I mean, with 30,000 people dressed up as dark elves, stormtroopers, captain America, dragons, fairies, and a myriad of other strange and just plain freakish costumes, one would expect that most analytical and skeptical thinkers would stay clear of the masses of them gathering in the capitol of Georgia each year.
After Di and I attended the 22nd annual event over the Labor Day break, I can say that I both understand and support a Skeptic track at Dragon*Con and any other massive sci-fi cons. Derek explained the hitory of the Skeptrack, and it actually makes total sense. In the mid 90’s, the X Track was created to cover all of the X-Files-ish issues such as ufos, telekinesis, ghosties, bigfoot and the like. The Skeptrack was born in response to the X Track, and has grown each year since 2003.
So after the short flight and a bumpy ride on the MARTA from the airport to Peachtree Center on Friday morning, we found ourselves on the 2nd floor of the Atlanta Hilton and in a small conference room with James Randi, Phil Plait, Michael Shermer, Ben Radford, Pamela Gay, George Hrab, Lori Lipman Brown and Richard Saunders among others. Over the next 72 hours, we attended over 15 panels and events with these people and got a chance to talk to each of them, some much more than others. Lori was on the Colbert Report last week, and until recently she was the only lobbyist for secularists in Washington. We thoroughly enjoyed her presentations. Herb Silverman from here in SC is president of the Secular Coalition for America, the organization she directs and promotes.
There was a somewhat subdued Skeptics vs. Believers debate on Saturday, although Di got some great shots of Randi million-dollar-challenging Graham Watson, a Tommy Chong-looking dude who claims his experiments on telekinetic rat healing were statistically successful. Watson declined the offer to verify his findings. There were so many things to do that we found ourselves torn on what to see when the schedules conflicted. And the skeptics had costumes too… we even got touched by the noodly appendages of the FSM herself. (pic below)
We spent the rest of the weekend bouncing from the Science, Podcasting and Electronic Freedom tracks and saw presentations on topics ranging from evolution to the future of podcasting. I’ll put a full list of the actual panel titles and panelists from the events we saw below the fold.
On the podcasting side, we attended a late-night edition of The Cult of UHF LIVE, the Peer awards session, and a couple of miscellaneous panels. Besides Derek and Swoopy, we were so psyched to see some of our old podcast friends. Dave Slusher found us right away, and we laughed that although we live like 45 minutes apart, we only see each other out of state… Cali, NC, and now GA! We finally crossed paths with JC Hutchins Sunday night because we lost his #, but we got a chance to hang for a bit before we left on Monday. Next year, JC, we promise we’ll call you as soon as we’re off the plane. SOCCERGIRL! We love Soccergirl. She just got back from the Galapagos on the Amazing Adventure III, and seeing her at Dragon*Con was possibly the biggest surprise of the weekend. George Hrab is one of the coolest people we have ever met… he exudes just fun.
After the Podcast Peer Award session on Sunday, we ate a bite with Soccergirl, George, Scott Siglar and Richard Saunders and then all of us followed Evo, Plait, and a few others over to a tiny hotel room filled with even more people and, most importantly, a keg of home-brewed beer!
Anyhow, I have a bunch of pics we’re uploading to our flickr account, but here are a few for the blog:
-Di and Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine. Check out his books, we have most of them.
James Randi, magician, skeptic, and founder of James Randi Educational Foundation
Lori Lipman Brown, Director and lobbyist of The Secular Coalition for America.
Bad Astronomer Phil Plait and Di. We love Phil. We really got a bargain when Benjamin Radford missed his panel on Saturday and Phil stepped in for an hour of unstructured conversation with the audience.
Di and the Right Rev. Chumley, host of the Cult of UHF.
James Randi challenges Graham Watson to accept a million bucks. Watson called Randi a fraud at the end of last year’s debate. Watson complains about lack of funding for paranormal research, but will not take 1 million dollars for repeating his telekinetic mouse-healing experiments under scientific conditions.
FSM and Pastafarian Pirate. These two were EVERYWHERE this weekend. All hail the noodly appendages.
Skeptics Panel with James Randi, George Hrab, Jeff Wagg, DJ Grothe, Lori Lipman Brown, Ben Radford and Dr Karen Stollznow.
James Randi was tired, too. Check the cool “orb” floating between DJ and Lori!
Panel list and more info below fold.
Phil Plait, Ben Radford, James Randi, Richard Saunders
Why Magic is important
Randi, DJ Goethe, Jeffrey Wagg
Skeptics and Non-theists, a politically powerful alliance
Lori Lipman Brown
Are humans still evolving?
C Kevin Barrett
Les Johnson, Richard Altstatt, J Medkeff
Cult of UHF LIVE
Shermer’s Last Law
Get a Life, Keeping a sense of fun in Non-Theist politics
Lori Lipman Brown
Bad Astronomy and Death from the Skies
2nd annual Skeptics vs. Believers debate
Patrick Brown, Dr. Michael Shermer, Benjamin Radford, Allison Smith and Dr. Steven Novella
Issues in Education
Plait, Shermer, Lipman Brown, Karen Stoltznow
An hour with Phil
Phil Plait (b/c of cancelled Radord panel)
Evening with George Hrab
The Battle over Evolution
C. Kevin Barrett
Pastafarian, Zoroastrian, Atheist, Monotheist? Can’t we all just get along?
Lori Lipman Brown
Skepticism vs Dogma
Jeffrey Joseph Wagg
The Future of Skepticism-Where do we go from here?
George Hrab, Benjamin Radford, James Randi, Lori Lipman Brown, Karen Stollznow, D.J. Grothe
Practical Techniques in Public Skepticism