Last Saturday, Aaron and I went down to DragonCon. It’s a science-fiction, fantasy and pop culture convention. As I grow older I don’t enjoy crowds nearly as much as I used to. So I have avoided these types of scenes for quite sometime. (I’ve been more claustrophobic at a movie theater than I’ve ever been in a cave.) However, a few years ago I got involved with an online community of skeptics, critical thinkers and rationalists. Piggybacked with all the actor autograph sessions, how to make cool costume classes and Dungeons and Dragons game sessions they a have a science and skepticism track too. This is only the second year for it and I wanted to get a chance to meet and talk with some of the folks I’ve been emailing, blog commenting, facebooking, listen to their podcasts and otherwise internet stalking for the last several years. So I braved the crowds and the chaos and Aaron and I went down.
I could only manage to squeeze in one day of the lectures so we were running back and forth to make sure that we saw the ones I wanted but I also had to make sure that Aaron didn’t feel like I was forcing him to sit through something he felt was boring. So I had to throw in several hours of shopping for costumes and looking at mangas and comic books. That was actually very fun too, but I was pleasantly surprised that Aaron had such a good time hanging out with me at the skeptical events and lectures.
The first lecture that we attended was Seth Shostak from the SETI institute. I’ve been listening to his podcast, Are We Alone for a few years. I’ve seen him on Colbert Report and so I knew that he’d be entertaining. Seth did a great job of explaining the “real” search for aliens and really showed that science and reality can but just if not even more interesting than the science fiction being show in neighboring rooms of the same hotel.
Next we saw Richard Saunders do a great little presentation targeted at teaching kids how to be critical thinkers. They did a live dowsing experiment and Aaron actually got to participate. I was very impressed with the relatively simple way that they showed the importance of making sure that any tests and experiments are blinded. Then they showed the added layer of making the test double blind. Saunders did a great job of making skepticism seem fun. All too often skeptics get portrayed as being cynics. Saunders and everybody else did a great job of debunking that notion.
Between lectures I was able to talk to the folks at the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. I would have loved to have stayed through Sunday to have seen their live taping of their podcast but I just couldn’t fit it into my already hectic schedule. I thanked them for saving me from talk radio. I like listening to news and information rather than just listing to music while I work and years ago their podcast was one of the first that I found to fill the void after I started boycotting the noise, illogic and repetition coming from talk radio.
The last lecture before we heeded home was a panel discussion With Seth Shostak, Joe Nichol, and Phil Plait that was moderated by Pamela Gay. Each panelist talked for about ten minutes about their own area of expertise and then opened the floor for questions. The questions were the most enjoyable part of the discussion. A few folks from the regular DragonCon crowd had wandered in and I’m not sure it was exactly what they expected. The phrase “alien hunter” was in the lecture description. All the members of the panel did a great job of explaining that it’s not that we don’t believe, belief has nothing to do with it. We just haven’t seen enough evidence to convince us that flying saucers are real.
Shostak made the comparison of aliens visiting Earth to Spaniards visiting America. 50 years after the Columbus everybody in America had mounds of evidence that Spaniards were here. It’s been 50 years since the first flying saucer and alien abduction stories jumping into the culture. Why don’t we have a comparable body of evidence? I thought the analogy was perfect and actually rather funny.
I knew that I would enjoy the skeptic events, but I was again, really surprised how much Aaron enjoyed them. Victoria and I have always been science geeks. We hardly watch any TV and the shows the kids really like are educational stuff on PBS. We check out Nova videos from the library. Even the few fiction series that we watch have a high level of science and rationality to them. I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised that Aaron would enjoy it. After all he’s been hanging out with me for the last 15 years. I guess I just didn’t realize that so much was rubbing off.
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