Sunday, July 20, 2014

What you can do to fight the Woo - Slides and Ideas

THIS is a Work in PRogress - Check back for updates

These are the slides I used for my TAM 2014 presentation "What you can do to Fight the Woo"

I'm embellishing the slides with my comments as well as the contact info for each idea.

The video of the conference lecture is here as well, but because of limited time (and my brain being fuzzy after so many days of TAM) it might be clearer to just read what I wrote.  

I had to leave a lot out of the lecture, but because this is my blog and space isn't an problem I have added a lot of other ideas and links below.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of things.  Some are projects others have already started, some are abandoned and others are just ideas I would love to see become yours.  Some are crowd-sourced like GSoW and Skeptic Action.  Others are single person (or just a few people) projects

One more thing, these ideas are just that, ideas.  I'm hoping that maybe throwing out a long list like this will get the gears turning in your brain and maybe one of these will make you think of something else and who knows, you might just come up with an amazing plan and we can (dare I say it) Change the World (insert Bill Nye's evil laugh here)

As usual if you have any questions, or would like feedback on your idea(s) please write to me at or comment here for all to see. 

 I would strongly suggest that anyone interested in skeptical activism they should subscribe to Tim Farley's blog.  He has all the tools that you need to make your project a success.

Obviously I'm going to tell you that the single best investment of your time to educate the world is to join GSoW.  We are rewriting the 6th (some say 5th biggest resource) in the World and we badly need editors.  But this isn't a project for everyone, you would be joining a strong team of like-minded people all focused on this task, you would also be joining a private forum, be given training and projects to complete. For some people learning how to edit may be a high learning curve.  This is not the project for people who have trouble finishing projects, or taking direction.  At the bottom of this blog I will have other ways to help out GSoW without becoming a member.
This project based on feedback from TAM will be going through a re-vamp.  I am always looking for persons to help me with this project.  Already I have two people (thanks Amanda & Steve) that look for daily targets for me.  But we are going to expand it even further once I get a little more help.

I am also looking for someone to run this project in other languages.  That person might be you. Please get in touch. 

From what I understand this is a UK invention that is rarely used. The owner grew frustrated with us not using it and I think it is still usable but not publicized. It took me about 30 minutes to set up all the templates for myself, but once those are set up it is easy to use.  In a nutshell what Fishbarrel does is for when you find a website that is making medical claims, you copy paste bits of the website into a form document and hit send.  This will go to the FDA (if you are in the US) and other places if you are not. They have to act on the information from what I understand. 

I wanted to run this along with the Skeptic Action project but have not given it the attention it deserves. I would love to have someone take this on so we can use it to its full potential.

Kitty Mervine is one of my favorite people.  She started this website a few years ago and I believe the site has become dormant.  I would love to see this started up again (hopefully with the over site of Kitty) It is badly needed.  Kitty is very kind and reminds us that we skeptics should not make fun of people who believe they are abducted by space aliens (as opposed to being abducted by Canadians or something I guess) To most of these people, it is a very frightening experience, and very real.  Kitty engages them and tries to get them to seek out medical attention (real medical attention).  In several cases people have told Kitty what medications they are using and Kitty was able to kindly suggest that some of these medications might be the source of the "visitations" and to please discuss this with their doctors.  She has had several people write to her, thanking her for her kindness and in fact it was conflicts between meds that were the problem.  

Anyway, I would love to see this site going again.  But only with kindness and caution.  

Another creative project by Kitty Mervine. She found this very talented artist Noah Whippie who has helped her put a spin on some old fables.  

One more thing.  If you have read this book and enjoyed it, please review it on Amazon and other book review places. We need to support our people and our projects. Today would be terrific. 

This is a fun new direction for skepticism.  Jeff Wagg wants to focus on getting people curious about science and I think he might be on to something, I'm very curious what he will do with this project. It might be a backdoor approach to getting people away from the negativity associated with skepticism and onto the joys of scientific discovery.  I'm sure Jeff can use some support and volunteers as he continues to grow this project.  Write to him care of the website. One more thing, Jeff Wagg is an expert tour guide, if you can manage to find the time and money to go on one of his cruises, you will have a blast.  Trust me on this. 

I love love love this project.  Started by the Merseyside Skeptics it was a terrific fun event that had wonderful potential to appeal beyond the choir.  I know many skeptics who had almost no knowledge of homeopathy before hearing about the 10:23 campaign.  

I have talked to the Merseyside Skeptics about continuing this campaign and they have decided that it has run its course and they are moving on to other things.  I politely disagree and think that there is more potential if the right person(s) got behind it and gave it a fresh start. Are you possibly the one who can take this on and get it on the nightly news?  CNN maybe?  

The photo above was one I took at SkeptiCal in 2011, the largest mass overdose every done.  Remember that not all homeopathic products are all water, use caution when overdosing. In the above case, the organizers Jerry Schwarz, Leonard Tramiel & Jay Diamond worked up their own batch of homeopathy. 

This was an idea Bob Blaskiewicz mentioned. Kinda of like Robert Lancaster's Stop Kaz or Stop Sylvia sites.  Something with well researched articles, maybe written by a medical student? 

Then a couple days ago I ran across this article.  Looks like someone is taking a new approach and maybe just needs some focus on how to implement this.

Love Lanryd!  Tim Farley is the one that turned me on to this, GSoW uses this site all the time.  You don't have to own the content to add it to this site.  This makes it so much easier to follow conferences.  Also nice if you know people are taking photos at events and you don't know where to find the photos later, just check this one stop site.

You know how at the end of podcasts they ask you to review them on iTunes?  Well it turns out they mean it.  We can really get beyond the choir when we build up the reviews and shares of a podcast.  GSoW has a podcast project where we are using podcast interviews for citations on Wikipedia.  In this way we are improving WP and also giving publicity to the podcast.  

I would love to see a project that somehow gets our community to mass rate podcasts.  Maybe twice a year (when the clocks change) someone could come up with a social media campaign to encourage rating favorite podcasts.  I'd really get behind this. 

Pamela Gay's project.  This isn't about skepticism, but about getting people excited about doing science.  But I'm all for that as well. Nathan Miller from GSoW has done his magic by creating a WP page for Gay, he also got it featured on the front page of WP for 8 hours, increasing her traffic.  

What a terrific idea, lets double NASA's budget.  Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks so, and I agree with whatever Tyson thinks.  This project has a take action area and I'm sure they will keep you plenty busy if you are interested.  GSoW has also done with it can to help publicize this project, GSoW team leader Nathan Miller added a mention onto Tyson's WP page, and then just in time for the release of Cosmos, Nathan launched a brand new WP page for Penny4NASA.  That page was receiving over 1,000 views a month when Cosmos was on the air. 

From my friend Shane Trimmer I bring you Franklin's List.  Something I really wish I had the money to back.  But it isn't only about the money, I'm sure they can use volunteers and of course people willing to run for office.   I've heard that one of the most important election you should pay attention to is your local school board. 

This is a most amazing project hurled from the loins of Wendy Hughes and Jarrett Kaufman as a Independent Investigation Group project.  They created it as a back door to talk about science, statistics and skepticism in a fun general way.  I love the stories and their podlet on Skepticality.  Jarrett has since left the project and has been replaced by John Rael from Skeptically Pwnd

This is a great site to share with your friends, family and co-workers.  Especially those people you really want to have that difficult conversation with but you don't know how to go about challenging their odd beliefs.  Start with this site and the conversations will evolve around solid scientific claims for evidence, and move to the topic you really wanted to discuss.  

Anyway, this project needs to move out of our choir and into the bigger world.  If you have a way to make that happen, please get in touch with TOMBC people.  They are also always looking for more stories, so please submit via their website or twitter.

I recently met Brad Levin at the QED conference this last April.  He impressed me with his knowledge and passion for these Woodstock like events.  He has run several in the past and thinks its time to organize one for Freethinkers.  He is looking to have this one in England, summer 2015.  He is in need of volunteers to help out.  If this is your thing, please get in contact with him via their website

What a great idea, and a great way to get beyond the choir.  Possibly Sharon Hill needs your help, maybe not.  But I'm mentioning this project here on this blog because I think that her site can be inspirational for ideas of things that need to be done.  Subscribe for a daily dose of rationality and maybe the next great activism project will come to you. Doubtful News 

In fact just this morning Sharon Hill released this bit of news, real life has hit and she is going to be cutting back on the site unless volunteers step up, is that you?

Here is an idea by the Edinburgh Skeptic's Ash Pryce. A lot of historic towns have ghost tours.  Maybe your skeptic group can run a ghost busted tour which gives the REAL history of the town?  Wouldn't that be nice for a change.  BTW the Edinburgh Skeptic Wikipedia page was written by Julie from GSoW last year. 

So this might not be the thing for everyone, but obviously it is the thing for some people.  Stirling got me to do one of these protests on his birthday a few years ago.  It was a lot of fun and I got some great photos (I didn't take this one though)  For news on Scientology you need to subscribe to Tony Ortega's daily blog.  I look forward to it every morning.  Occasionally there are activism ideas as well as the history and stories about Scientology.   I believe Ortega's readers and Anonymous were able to shut down a eager Scientologist that was leaving ads all over Craig's list.  Plus there is some terrific HoneyBadger undercover work going on behind the scenes that can be used in other areas.  Psychics and medical quacks beware. 

Everyone loves this project every time I link to it.  My friend Truckee Lynch has been working on this card deck for a couple years and every time I talk to him he seems to be almost done.  I'm super excited for this to come out, the art is fun and useful.  I don't think Truckee needs volunteers for this project, but I mention it here as it is a great way to bring art and skepticism together and possibly reach outside our community.  This might just inspire you to think of another avenue of activism. Logical Fallacy Tarot website 

Monterey County Skeptics Glenn and Kathy are working on a program for school children to visit Glenn's family Christmas Tree Farm.  They will focus on ecology and of course, evolution.  You might not have access to a Christmas tree farm, but maybe you have other skills and/or access to places that children might visit where you can introduce science topics?  Farms, gardens, fishing businesses... do you work for the mosquito abatement department in your town?  Mosquitos would be an excellent way to talk about evolution and resistance to pesticides, you get the idea I hope.  

Science Festivals happen in lots of cities or universities.  Why not add on the Skeptic lectures?  Edinburgh Skeptics added on several skeptic lectures to the city-wide science festival held every April, I know because I attended one when I was there a few months ago.  They also have a skeptic "track" for the month long Edinburgh Arts festival.  They set up a skeptic lecture every night for the whole month.  That is fantastic and a great way to piggy-back on the excitement the city is already pushing.  Here is the website for the Arts festival.

Reserve your local library and show a science movie.  Maybe not Cosmos as it is copyrighted, but how about this one?  Here be Dragons - by Brian Dunning or any of his other awesome In Fact videos.  Maybe a whole series of homeopathy (or other topic) videos shown at your public library.  Why not, you might get some interest, you might get some homeopaths, you might even find like-minded skeptics that you can hang out with.  

Call or visit your local schools and see if there is any need for volunteers for science clubs, they may need mentors, or someone who will come in once a month and set up experiments.  Or maybe they want judges for the local science fair.  Possibly they would want someone to help with a class that is trying to get things ready for science camp.  I've met a ton of you people that are reading this blog right now.  You all are a very talented bunch of people.  Some of you are very hands-on and would be terrific working with children, inspiring them to achieve and love science.  Sometimes all a child needs is a mentor, I sure as heck didn't have one growing up and it would have made a world of difference to me.  

Call the local vaccine clinic in your area.  Same with the American Red Cross.  They may have handouts or flyers that you can give out at your workplace, or to your local skeptic's group.  Maybe your skeptic's group could sponsor a blood drive in your area? Ask them what their needs are and see if your group can help them out.  

Do you have a telescope and know how to use it?  You don't have to have anything fancy but if you can volunteer to set it up after some parent/student function that happens at night and just let the kids take a good look at the moon, that would be another avenue to bringing a love of science to people.  And it will make you feel great. 

Do you have extra money?  Even a few dollars a month can really help out.  That is when you and you and you and you all donate.  Face it, we skeptics don't really like to donate money, it reminds us of church tithing. But it is really important to keep organizations, podcasts, videos and all kinds of projects functioning. (not GSoW or Skeptic Action, we might be the only group out there that does not need money)

Micro payments really help out, I am now giving to 4 of my favorite skeptic projects.  It is just a little but it sure adds up when combined with others.  

Frequent Flyer Miles - some of you out there have a ton of them.  Why not sponsor a speaker you would like to see at your local conference?  Or use them as a scholarship for people trying to get to a conference? I would love to see someone figure out a way to get frequent flyer miles all gathered together for one use.  I have some that are with an airline that I will probably never fly again, my friend Nix told me he has bits all over the place and they are always expiring. Can someone figure out how to make sure these don't get lost?  Call the project Skeptic Miles. 

As I mentioned above, there are a lot of talented people in this community.  Lots of audio, web, graphic arts, music and everything in between skills just waiting for people to ask for their help.  Maybe someone can come up with a kind of repository of emails of people with skills that are willing to help out on a project?  I know that Kyle Saunders from Carbon Dating drew me a awesome piece of art for the GSoW project. (See above) Sarah Mayhew has often used her artistic skills to help fund-raise for conference scholarships.  She has given artwork to one of my favorite podcasts, Virtual Skeptics.  (BTW GSoW wrote the WP page for Sarah Mayhew)

Music talent in this community is also awesome.  Brian Keith Dalton has helped out several podcasts with original music, The Odds Must be Crazy and Oh No Ross and Carrie come to mind. Greg Perrine from the Skeptic Wire podcast has some charming songs here.  Make sure you ask him when he is going to record my favorite song he does about bigfoot.  We can't make the above do all the work, maybe someone can gather up names for music and art and put it together in a usable way for all of us non-artists to use.

Note: Here is another suggestion for free music (if you ask permission that is)

This is an action that one of my friends Gary Goldberg took when he saw his newspaper include a Red Plum advertisement for a homeopathic flu vaccine called oscillococcinum.  Gary wrote to the advertisers who actually wrote back. They thanked him and said they would talk to someone else and it has been 6 months and Gary said they haven't advertised again.  Sometimes it is just that simple folks. 

Gary also saw this advert in his newspaper and contacted Washington Post and made them aware of this ad.  The Post has since run a "correction" stating that the doctors mentioned in the lower part of the ad will not actually be present.  

Not all of us have the skill or the nerve to be Mark Edward.  Here he is with Theresa Caputo who didn't know that Mark is a upper case SKEPTIC nor that the picture he is wearing on his shirt is not of his dead son, but of his very living son.  She told Mark, that his son was a special soul. Just this photo of her with Mark is very telling... 

But if you hate the grief vampires as much as Mark and I do and want to get involved, here are a few ideas from Mark's brain. 

Your going to love this story that Mark wrote up for his blog. ABC has a medium on staff. And the follow-up piece you are just going to love.  Thank you Ramon Volz for stepping up and "getting it".  I could re-read Ramon's letter every day for a year and still smile. 

Mark has some advise for all over us.  Psychics on stage are PERFORMERS.  Shake then up a bit and it will completely change their performance. How can you do this without getting thrown out?  Laugh.  Laugh long and loud every time there is a mistake or something obvious is said by the performer. Go with a group of skeptics and sit mixed up in the audience so that the laughter is coming from all over the place.  They can't throw you out for laughing. But it might keep the grief vampire from visiting your city again.

Are you local?  If you are, please help out those that will be visiting your local skeptic conference. Where to eat, what the weather is really like, places to see outside of the conference hours.  You don't have to act as a tour guide (unless you want to) but getting more information out there is very welcome to new conference attendees.  TAM might be the exception but CFI has recently held conferences in New Orleans, Nashville and Tacoma.  I just got back from QED in Manchester, England and welcomed all the advice that was given to me about bus schedules, money exchanging and all sorts of things.  A couple of you even stepped up and acted as a tour guide around Scotland, thank you so much for making the conference all that much more.  Now we need others to do the same. 

Here is a little fun project that I would love to see happen.  I'm sure there are travelers out there reading this.  I know there are books about finding odd places, road side attractions I think they are called.  But I'm thinking more of someone taking Tim Farley's "this day in skeptic history" posts and mapping them out.  And I mean just that.  Adding skeptic history and odd bits of places skeptics should visit to a interactive Google (or like) map.  This would probably need to be a project started by one person with some great web skills and then crowd-sourced to many people who can help add content.  I would love to see this, and know lots others that would love it as well. 

Where I live in Monterey County, I didn't know that in the next county over, Santa Cruz there is a Mystery Spot and down the street from that a Bigfoot Museum.  Both places a skeptic should be checking out.  Can you say Road Trip!

This next suggestion is a bit more select.  In the above case, Tom Flynn (another GSoW page rewrite) just so happens to live near the Ingersoll Birthplace, and Ingersoll just so happens to be a hero to Flynn.  But if you are in the right place with the right history, you might be the perfect person to fight to save that history.  Tom is doing just that and what an effort it has been to keep that building in shape. That area of New York isn't known for having mild weather.  Here is the birthplace museum Wikipedia page (yep another GSoW rewrite)

The lower home photo is preserved because of the care of the Oregonians for Science and Reason group. This is the Castle of Chaos home of Jerry Andrus. (and yet another WP page rewrite by GSoW)

Here is another great project idea by GSoW team leader Nathan Miller.  You know how various skeptic groups have that "donate" button on their website?  Some link to Amazon.  All you have to do when you are purchasing something (anything) from Amazon is to first click on that donate button and it will take you directly to Amazon where you can sign in and make your purchase.  Everything you buy will give a percent to the website you entered through.  It isn't a lot of money, but it is money.  What Nathan is trying to do is to make it possible for you to download a plugin so that whenever you go to Amazon it will go through one of these sites (of your choosing) even when you forget to click on the donate link.  

He was trying to set it up so that you could pick a few different groups, even rotate the groups, or randomize them.  There were a lot of technical problems he came up against, but I think they were all workable, he just got busy with other projects.  I love this idea, I think we are leaving a lot of money to waste by not remembering to first go to the donate page.  It is only a couple clicks more and you could be helping out a group or podcast or organization by completing your purchase on Amazon.  If you would like to know more or help Nathan out, please contact us at

I've been involved in this awesome CFI sponsored group for about 5 years now.  I could talk for hours about all the things they have done and are doing to fight the woo.  But this blog is long enough as it is.  Visit their website for more information.  And remember that this group does what projects its members want to focus on.  So if you have a pet project or are maybe inspired by something here on this blog but don't want to do it alone, you might try your local IIG for assistance. 

For the crafty ones among us.  There are many fundraising avenues just waiting to be organized.  The JREF forum all through the year auctions items off for scholarships to TAM.  I'm sure other organizations can start their own fundraisers. We seem to have a very talented group of knitters in our community.  Maybe we can take that talent and use it for donations or fundraising?  Here is yet another idea from my friend Kitty Mervine, it isn't fighting the woo, but it does fight the cold.  Here is a article about her alien hats. Kitty knitted me a Flying Spaghetti Monster hat many years ago that I just love.  These might be a blast for fundraising.  

Don't forget that your local skeptic's group might want to bring awareness to your group by sponsoring a team in your cities Run or Walk-a-Thons.

Being sued by Woo - Here is a website just for you.  What to do, who to contact and how to get money to help you out.  Where is the link to this amazing idea?  Sorry, it has not been started yet, just waiting for the right person to get the ball rolling.

As the JREF and CFI roll out the teaching guides, we need someone to coordinate to make sure to reach out to all the schools. 

To bring up conference attendance I think it would be a great idea if one person would coordinate an outreach effort to all schools and science clubs within a hours drive of the conference.  Educate them about the conference, try to run scholarships for attendees.  Possibly encourage one or more of the speakers to arrive a day early (or stay a day longer) and speak at the school or club.  Talk to the professors and teachers in the science areas and make sure they know about the conference.  Get that person a ticket (if only a day pass) and hopefully we can get them as partners the following year.  Offer extra credit to the students if they attend.  Some of our conferences are held in the summer months, but not all of them are.  This is a win win for our community and for those that should be attending, it is just waiting for someone to coordinate and make it happen.  Is that you?    

Don't recycle those old skeptic/science magazines.  Take them to work and leave them in the break room.  Leave them at your automotive waiting room.  Your doctors office as well.  Just get them into the hands of other people who might never run across them.  Monterey County Skeptics has a book trading party every few months.  Nothing formal, just people bring their old magazines and books and others borrow them. 

Let me take a few minutes and talk about Skeptic Love.  This is a small project that I think we should keep in mind as we navigate in our community.  We need to remember that we are all about the people.  People want to be thanked, they want to be appreciated and they want to meet like-minded others.  Skeptic's in the Pub events are an amazing place to network and socialize with other skeptics.  Monterey County skeptics is purely a social group with the main goal to bond with and provide support to others in our community, and I mean everyone, no exclusions.  

If there aren't skeptic's in the pub events in your area, then consider starting one. You might be the only person to attend, but then maybe not.  Meet-up, Facebook, Twitter, local newspapers, Yahoo Groups all exist for the sole purpose to help you find people that will attend your SitP event. (trust me, I know this)

If there is a event in your area. Attend it.  RSVP's are wonderful and courteous.  Please thank your organizer, buy them a drink or help pay for his/her meal once in awhile.  These people aren't doing this for the fame or the money, if you enjoyed yourself make sure they know this.  

We have a few great places that already review our books.  Skeptic Magazine and Skeptical Inquirer (the JREF forum as well) offer scholarly reviews.  But what about getting to the general public, you know move beyond the choir.  If you have read a book by one of our spokespeople and have something to say about it, please review it on Amazon (or whatever review site you use).  This means a lot to our authors, and it really does help spread our books out into the world.  By all means share that review in your social circle, a couple clicks on Amazon should allow you to do that.  Our authors aren't getting rich from these books, and helping out with sales keeps them researching and writing more. 

I would love for someone to find a way to make this kind of thing more commonly done.  Some kind of reminder to always take the time to write a review.  A media campaign that focuses on our community?  Maybe like the "rate a podcast on iTunes" project I mentioned earlier?  Lots of our podcasts interview authors all the time, can we add these interviews to places where other people will see them?  Like maybe on a reviewing site like Amazon?  I don't think they allow URL's but there are ways to get around that, we are clever people.  GSoW already has several podcast spreadsheets with every episode listed.  We use this for backwards edit training.  Every podcast that has an interview segment will get gleaned for quotes to use on that interviewee's Wikipedia page.  We have already done hundreds of these backwards edits.  Thousands remain to be done.

At the CFI Summit I attended Oct 2013 this kept coming up.  Make sure you pay attention to who is running for your school board.  Your vote will have a much bigger impact than your vote on a presidential election. School boards can create a lot of craziness when the wrong people get elected.  So pay attention, vote and possibly maybe run for office yourself.  

Here's a great idea.  Become an expert on something.  Robert Lancaster started out with he didn't know who this woman was, just someone that came to his mom's church and made some really odd claims.  He became an expert on her.  Next up Sylvia Browne, he was kind and detailed. No ad hominen attacks, just straight up articles.  

Ron Tebo

Saturday, June 28, 2014

TAM for Beginners

This will be Stirling and my 9th TAM so new TAMers listen up.

First thing to know.  You know that saying ... What happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.  That is a lie.  

I'm including a list of my tips from the past years, it is very long and maybe others will share more in the comments. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Susan and Iggy the Honeybadger

Want to introduce everyone to my new friend Iggy.  Came home from a very busy day at work to find a box waiting for me.  No idea what is inside, didn't order anything from Amazon, can't imagine.  So Stirling opens it up for me (let him take the hit, hes young and healthy) and inside is Iggy the Honeybadger. Took me a bit to figure all this out and who sent it.  (I was busy looking for anthrax spores at first) 

Found this message... "From all of us at the IIG, we wish you god(less) speed to perfect health!" 

WOW - They got someone at build a bear to type that and attach it to my gift?  What is really cool.  

If you don't know the significance of honeybadger then watch this video.  And the military outfit Iggy has on is because of my Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project.  And the name Iggy is from the IIG (Independent Investigation Group) from LA.  

I really feel loved guys, I laughed a lot once I figured it out.  So totally cute and meaningful.  So I wanted to tell people and show you how Iggy and I are going to start hanging out when I'm in my activism mode.  

This is Susan and Iggy working on a blog for GSoW

Here we have on our headphones and are recording a podcast.

This is one of our deep meaningful conversations. 
I think he had just asked my opinion on Duck Dynasty.

Here I'm giving Iggy a piggyback ride.

Here we are jumping for joy because I just got a new editor for Wikipedia!

Now we are sharing High-Fives because Iggy came up with the most awesome idea for my next blog.

Here is a close-up of Iggy just in case you wanted to see his little outfit.  He wears dog tags too.  But it says Build-A-Bear, So I'm going to have to get him some tags that are more fitting. 

THANK YOU ALL IIG!  I feel very loved!  And very guilty as I haven't updated First Responders or Interskept in months.  But I've saved everything and hopefully will get it done by the first of the year.  I'll see you all in January as the chemo is all done and almost out of my system.  Just the 5 weeks of radiation (20 treatments) to go, which will be a walk in the park in comparison to chemo.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

CFI Summit in Review

(Photo by Jeff Taylor-Kantz)

Fresh back from the CFI Summit.  I will share some of my observations as well as some of my favorite photos.  This is my first CFI event of this type, I've attended other functions by CFI in the past including the Student Leadership Conference in August 2013 as well as the Skeptic's Toolbox (4 times) held in Eugene, OR every August.

Let me first mention that this blog will say very little about the lectures, I attended very few full lectures.  My purpose for this conference was to spend as much time networking and recruiting as possible. The staff set me up with a table with power, and the hotel provided me with wifi. This allowed me to be set up right next to the food/drinks area and lure people over to sit and work with me. I was able to pull up Wikipedia pages and train as well as explain exactly what WoT is, how to download it and how to use it. This was a blast, and several people took the time to spend time with me getting all kinds of questions answered as well as real-life training.

So first off, why Tacoma, WA?

View from plane on way to Tacoma, WA

As it was explained to me, CFI had already selected the Pacific Northwest as the region for the next conference because of the demographics associated to secular thinking. Center for Inquiry is the “mother” organization, and Center for Skeptical Inquiry CSI (further known in this blog as the skeptics) and the Humanist group are under the umbrella of CFI. This is the first time that a conference was organized to include the two organizations. To be clearer, the skeptic group focuses more on the scientific aspects (things that can be tested) of CFI. The Humanist group on religion, legalization and secular values (social issues). There were two 3-hour panels that split off into opposite rooms in which the attendees where forced to choose which to attend. (on Thursday that was an extra price from the normal conference admission)

Brian Engler from GSoW was a MAJOR help.  He was everywhere taking images for the GSoW project,
I was able to relax and concentrate on finding editors and working one-on-one with them.

This conference's theme questioned if CFI should combine their conferences in the future to save money, and draw bigger crowds. After all, attendees for the most part are interested in the same themes and have the same world view, we also usually use the scientific method as our guide. This question was hotly debated all the days I was there, sometimes one-on-one with people at lunch or during a formal lecture.

What the skeptics told me at the beginning - Overwhelmingly the discussion turned to people saying that the Humanists (most of the time called Atheists) were not good skeptics, it was felt that they were more interested in “bashing religion” than combating medical quacks and doing research/investigations. There was some “hurt” that the skeptics felt they were not treated equally to the humanists because the lectures and speakers were slanted towards the humanist agenda. The general opinions I heard were that we should stay separate if we are not going to be treated equally, but on the other hand maybe we should combine in order to “teach these humanists to be better skeptics” so opposite opinions.

What I generally heard from the Humanist side (remember I am very social, and as I was not attending the lectures I was in a position to listen, and people were very open to ask me questions and give me their opinions) Lots of people referred to the conference as a “Atheist conference” I heard this from young and old, but mostly from first time attendees. These attendees were extremely knowledgeable about religion, they quoted Bible verses as well as knew a lot of history and were really well-versed in the subjects. In the entire time I was at the conference I never once heard someone from the humanist side say anything that I would consider pro-pseudoscience.  But the opinion from the skeptics was that the humanists were not interested in what the skeptics had to talk about,  personally I think that was not true.

I also asked people if they had attended other conferences in the past, to a lot of people, this was their first-ever event of this kind and were motivated to attend more in the future. They were really excited that this was happening in their “backyard”, but had such a great time they might be lured to events in farther locations.

The best part of attending conferences is sitting down with old friends and total strangers.
Conversations are always interesting. 

Loved meeting Ian Harris - His gig was really great, he has done his research when it comes to skepticism.
 Us bald people have to stick together after-all

Personally my thoughts taking all the feedback into consideration were that skeptics were very interested in most of the lectures except when the lecturer seemed "angry".  When the lectures dealt with humanism, science, investigation and legalization they were very enjoyed. Even when the topics were anti-religion they were enjoyed, it seems that it was any appearance of “ranting” was the problem. People who came for more of the atheist agenda seemed to love the talks concerning science, investigation and so on.  So for the most part, I heard from all sides that they enjoyed lectures that they might not have attended been exposed to.

My opinion is that I'm sure that the biggest donors are from the Humanist side of the organization, if that is true then of course CFI is going to probably lean more towards conferences that focus on that agenda. They need butts in seats after-all, and I can't say I blame them.

Overwhelmingly though with that said, everyone seemed to be interested in both “sides” once they heard the presentation. There was a lot of common ground, but it was not discovered unless they were “forced” to watch the lecture. When I say forced I mean that there was not a competing lecture running at the same time.     

Susan as Medusa

I had a different agenda, I want to appeal to all "sides".  I want all people to hear the message of crowd sourced activism.  My message is fitting to everyone at this conference, activism is activism whether it is claims of the paranormal or convincing the public that atheists aren't baby-eaters.  Editing Wikipedia is still the best way to spread our message, and GSoW has written (or rewritten badly written) pages for people on many sides of the community.  My Skeptic Action project is clearly only aimed at claims of the paranormal, we do not venture into pages that are religious only in nature.  But exorcisms and creationism are free game. 

So I decided that because I would be attending the conference bald, I would take full advantage of it.  Everyday was Halloween for me.  Working in the retail world this is a busy time for me, I normally tell myself I'm too busy to dress up, every year I say "next year".  Well having cancer has really made me stop and re-assess my life.  Next year is never here, so I decided that this year was going to be different and go all out on Halloween.  I knew there would be a contest, but decided not to wait for that night.  I was apprehensive about my reception.  As I speaker I thought maybe I should reflect a more professional attitude, at least for my personal lecture.  That didn't end up happening.

I wanted to attract people over to my table to talk to me.  I'm friendly, but really don't want to approach people unless they are comfortable being approached.   The general attendees and most people loved the outfits.  I changed clothes/hats half-way during the day, and people came over all day to thank me for wearing the outfits and tell me they were curious what I would wear next.  It was a lot of fun, got my photo taken a lot, and generally won over people to come sit with me, ask me questions and tell me what they thought of the conference.

Ron Lindsay welcomes us to conference on Thursday night

The first workshops were on Thursday and required a special ticket, I attended the skeptic one with Ray Hyman, Harriett Hall and Loren Pankratz.  It truly was a mini-Toolbox (held in Eugene, OR every August) the three speakers each took 20 minutes talking about investigation.  Then Hyman told the audience to break into groups of 3 and come up with a list of things that every skeptic should have in their "Toolbox".  The audience was a bit confused that they were asked to actually mingle with strangers and answer such a open-ended question.  But Ray knows what he is doing, the attendees moved their chairs around and formed groups and assigned a leader that had to report back in front of the entire group what their findings were.  As usual (I've been to a few Toolboxes) the audience rose to the occasion and came up with some great ideas.  This activity on the first day was a wonderful way for people to break the ice with each other.  After-all they said they came to hear the lectures, but really they came to interact with like-minded people.  There was a lot of laughter and socializing through-out this and afterwards.  We need more of this at the beginning of our conferences in the future.  

Harriet Hall in the Skeptic's Toolbox workshop

The amazing Ray Hyman

Jim Underdown was a fantastic Master of Ceremonies

The majority of the time we met in the bigger conference room where the audience was addressed by panels and lecturers.  It would have been nice to have a second large screen for the presentations (this is what I heard from people who did not get seats close enough to see the screen well).  As you can see from the images, in this main room everyone had a large table to sit at, this was really awesome as I saw a lot of people taking notes, and again it made it easier to socialize with people at your table.  So a major PLUS that probably no one noticed (but would have if the tables were missing).  

The main room where most lectures were held. Notice the tables

Wesley Da'Nomad from the Atheist Nomads Podcast who have 
interviewed me about GSoW.
Photo-bomb by Ben Radford.
Lectures video-tapped so I felt confidence that I could miss them and watch them when they come out.

Tim Binga and Tom Flynn turned to stone when I approached dressed as Medusa

The "Skeptical Investigation and Activism" breakout audience.  They are lining up to ask us questions.

When I got up last to do my 20 minutes I took the fortune from the cookies we had had at lunch and read it aloud, I said "My fortune says that I should beware of men with 3 letters in their name.  So Ken, Joe, Jim and Ben keep your eye out for me" Yep, the panel consisted of Joe Nickell, Ben Radford, Jim Underdown and me - moderated by Ken Frazier.  

Several people had tables set up to promote their groups

Great food every day.

Banquet Reception

Bill Nye giving it his all to inspire

This is Bill taking a photo of the standing ovation he received after his lecture.

This man drove over 20 hours to be here.  He (and others) thanked Bill for the reason why they have a love of science.  It was very moving and tear-jerking all the love aimed at Bill Nye that night.

Another of my costumes.  This is Suzy Beyerstein whom joined the GSoW team.  Great spending quality time with her, I've met her at the Skeptic's Toolboxes before, but didn't get to spend a lot of time with her like I did this week end.
(photo by Jim Underdown)

Jeff  and Jon (brothers) as well as Suzi joined GSoW.
Ray Hyman is just hanging out looking at crazy Susan.
(photo by Jim Underdown)

Another new GSoW recruit - I got to spend really quality time with him sitting beside me also.
 This kind of one-on-one makes it possible to train and show them real pages in real time.
 We were able to make edits and look over the forum,
when I was all done, he was totally sold on the project and ready to start training.
(photo by Jim Underdown)

Leonard Tramiel looking all spiffy. No snakes on his head.

Susan and Ian Harris

Bald and Proud! Ian Harris, Susan Gerbic and Ben Radford

Point of Inquiry finally back to recording with a whole new crew.  This was the first interview. 

Dinner with some of my Skeptic Toolbox friends.  The food was good, but the noise level was too much for great conversation.  We are such nerds that one of us even had a way to measure the noise from their phone app.  This is Jeanine DeNorma, Richard Wackrow and Herb Masters.  Richard gave me a copy of his book "Who's Winning the War on Terror" which I planned to read while waiting for the plane, but I was with Leonard and we talked the whole time. 

(Photo of head painting by Herb Masters)

My Halloween contest outfit was kept a big surprise. People were expecting me to wear some kind of fancy outfit and hat (think skeptical Lady GaGa) but I went totally in black and brought eyeliner and a list of phrenology terms so I could become a phrenology dummy for the contest.  Jeanine and Suzi were very generous with their time and skill to make this happen.  One of the funnest parts of the whole Summit was this hour we took to put the words on my head.  They started off really serious, looking at diagrams that we found on-line.  They were being careful for the first 20 minutes, then after awhile could not stop laughing. We went with traditional sayings, and then got really silly with things like... "42", "Press Here", "666", "this space for rent", "post no bills" and so on.  I have no idea how they managed to get so much writing on my head, I kept thinking they were all done, but Suzi and Jeanine kept saying "what do we want to put in this spot, and what about this one?"

I get my first look at what they have done to me.  Wow!

Jeff is a homeopathic doctor, he said it took him a whole week to earn his degree
A black hole (from the neck up she tells us) 
Harriet is a quack, she had all kinds of toys
Jon is a knight that says "Neh!"

Great fun with these boys
The Heathen's band was a blast, everyone kept telling me afterwards that the bass
 and guitar players were great to talk to, sadly I didn't get a chance to talk to them.   
This Father and Daughter team were Mormons from the "Book of Mormon" 
Home made outfit, Marvin the Martian won first prize.
He told me that he got the ray-gun from ACME 
Love this photo - Joe says "Susan I always said someone needed to examine your head"
Jeff lends a hand with Ray's part of the Houdini Seance.
Jim Underdown is super talented, here he appears as The Pope.
The Heathens were a lot of fun, wish they could have played longer.
Other great costumes, lots of dancing
Joshua is a PastaFarian.
More of The Heathens
This is Richard Dawkins - He even did a great job on the accent.
Multi-talented Jim Underdown and friend 
Joe Nickell ends the Houdini seance, Harry was a no-show again this year.
Ray Hyman in a quiet moment at our hotel 
Out for a walk to the Glass Museum.  Mike, Herb Masters and John DeNorma
The glass bridge a couple blocks from the hotel
See I did bring normal clothes
The glass bridge a couple blocks from the hotel
The glass bridge a couple blocks from the hotel
The glass bridge a couple blocks from the hotel
The glass bridge a couple blocks from the hotel
This is the lecture hall as well as where the glass artists have their kilns
At the glass museum
My favorite piece from the entire museum. This piece is from Tom Moore from Australia
This hotel was amazing (Hotel Murano) 
Loved these lamps
One of many areas to hang out at the hotel
There was glass art everywhere.
Fantastic chandelier
This is the view of the front desk.
Leonard and Joshua - bearded men flaunting off all their hair to us bald people.
Daughter and Father, they go to a lot of science events, this was their first CFI event.
Last day here, Mount Rainier is above Brian Engler's head but I didn't have the exposure correct.
Herb Masters is getting very friendly with my head.  Note the bruising on my fingers from the chemo. Interesting! 
Another really amazing moment that I have no photos from, was the drive to the airport in a van shuttle.  Joe Nickell, Richard, Leonard and I got in the van with 3 strangers and the driver.  They mixed us up depending on what order we would be getting out.  So we were talking across several rows in the van.  We talked about the conference and mentioned Tyson several times.  One woman finally said "Are you talking about Neil deGrauss Tyson?" To which we said, "yes, we know him" She was stunned.  Then we were talking about some of Joe's investigations, he said he interviewed a woman who reported that monsters lived in the water near her home, she knew this because of the small black creatures she sees in the lake, they make a slapping sound on the water, apparently exactly like raccoons. She thought that they had learned to imitate the raccoon in order to hide.  The stranger next to me bust up laughing, and he started telling us bigfoot stories.

Then we talked about UFO's and other investigations, then right next to us on the freeway was a city bus that CFI had paid for with Bill Nye's face and advertisement for the Summit.  Leonard noticed it first and man were the people on the van impressed.  We said "this is the conference we just finished attending" The woman asked if she could start hanging out with us, so I gave her my card.  

When we got to the airport to drop everyone off, that same woman said she was a little concerned when we first got on the van as she thought we might be kooks.  She was so excited to hear our conversation.  The driver said that he really enjoyed us and "way better than the rug people I picked up first".  The other two people told us they had a great time also.  It was a blast to meet average people who are excited about these kind of skeptic things we are so interested in.  I felt it just showed that we are making a difference.  It was a blast!

So to sum up the entire conference - I had a blast also.  Everyone I talked to and all the CFI staff were wonderful. The conversations were great, and people loved my outfits and hats.  I was able to recruit and train 5 people.  That's a lot, so very exciting.  I got a bunch of people who joined Skeptic Action (maybe at least 15)  Trained several people how to use a QR code and that made them very happy.  

I think I'm going to have to fall into the camp of blending conferences in the future.  But only if skepticism is given equal time.  I really don't like us splitting off into different rooms so that people have to choose.  I understand that it is one way to get more speakers/workshops.  But I think we really need to hear each other's message, its how we are going to learn to grow and work together.  I think we discovered by the end of the conference that we have more in common than we thought.  Sure we focus on different areas of CFI's big umbrella but we can come together and learn a lot from each other's approaches. 

At the final Q&A I stood up and made a statement to the panel of CFI staff.  I said that I understand that these conferences lose money overall.  But it is important to remember that they not focus on the monetary only.   There is no price tag they can put on the value of meeting people face to face, bonding with them over a drink or dinner, and learning from each other.  As I said, I go to these things to network and gain editors.  Everyone wanted to meet each other and form friendships.  People like Harriet Hall and myself came from the Skeptic's Toolbox (CFI event) and Debbie Goddard (who has the patience of Job) gave a lecture this summer that listed all the people that have come from CFI leadership training that have gone on to become the workhorses of the movement.  We have to keep our focus on training up new leaders and organizers.

One more thing, we need a lot more activism.  Overwhelmingly at the end of each lecture someone asked "what can we do?" Of course donating money to the mission of CFI is always a great idea, but people still wanted to know what more they can do.  My projects Skeptic Action and GSoW are terrific ways to change the Internet as well as educating millions.  One idea that was discussed a lot was making sure you vote whenever there is a local election, especially school boards.  We talked about getting libraries subscriptions and also just leaving older magazines in any place that has a waiting room.

So more activism, less "angry/ranting" lectures.  A big YES on having tables in the lecture area and probably we need to keep these conferences together (though I still could be convinced otherwise).

BTW here is the album with all the CFI Summit photos in one place