It’s been a month since the Australian Skeptics National Convention and I have been terrible lax in not writing anything about it. It’s actually been a little difficult for me to write anything because I honestly don’t know where to begin.
Simply put, it was one of the best weekends of my life.
Thursday night was a very special (and exclusive!) fund raising dinner. 20 guests got to mingle with James Randi, D.J. Grothe, Brian Thompson and Rebecca Watson for an amazing dinner at the Royal Society of Victoria. The special guests moved around the room to sit at a different table each course. What made the evening wonderful was the opportunity to chat about things non-sceptical with the guests. I discussed Dr. Who fans with Brian, horrible siblings with Rebecca, favourite comic books with D.J. and Isaac Asimov with Randi. Plus, Randi showed us a rude trick you can do with a spoon. Dinner just doesn’t get any better than that.
Friday night kicked off with a meet and greet cocktail party at the Immigration Museum. It was a great way to start the event as it gave me the opportunity to catch up with some people I hadn’t seen in a while (such as Lawrence Leung and Eran Segev) plus meet some people I had been contact with but never met face to face (like Tim Mendham and Lynne Kelly).
Saturday was the big day for me. I was given the opportunity to truly live the expression “hard act to follow” by giving my talk directly after Randi. Fortunately my nerves kept themselves under control and I was able to enjoy his presentation without fear of killing him.
I gave my talk and answered a few questions. I think it went well judging by the laughter. I get nervous making small-talk but I love being in front of a large crowd. I think I should admit that the only reason I became a teacher was for the captive audience.
Later in the day Dr. Krissy Wilson gave a very entertaining talk about her research into the psychology of belief and her research laboratory, Science of Anomalistic Phenomena (SOAP). According to her profile page at the Charles Sturt University website, her main claim to fame is once playing a prostitute on The Bill.
Lynne Kelly gave a riveting talk on the history of oral cultures and some of the techniques they used to remember the vast amount of knowledge needed to survive in the world. Her doctoral theory is that stonehenge is a giant mnemonic device used to record information. What I loved about her work was that everything she said made so much sense and made me think “That’s so obvious! Why didn’t I figure that out?” I love that feeling.
Rebecca Watson gave a fantastic presentation on how to use social media to further the goals of scepticism. She also showed us some interesting techniques that can be used to determine whether or not an image file has been altered. Many photos of cats were also shown.
Saturday evening was capped off with a gala dinner hosted by the wonderfully funny and sardonic Brian Thompson. He shared his thoughts on Australia with us to great applause until he lost us by criticising Vegemite. A rookie mistake which I’m sure he won’t make on his next visit. One of the personal highlights for me happened during the dinner but I will speak of that in a future post.
Sunday was opened with a talk by D.J. Grothe about scepticism around the world. We tend to hear mostly about scepticism in Australia, America and England so it was wonderful to hear about what is going on in other countries.
A thrill for me was when he displayed a photo from my website and said he wished he could bottle me and send me around the world. D.J., I would love to. Also, a 1.5l bottle would easily be big enough.
During question time I asked him whether or not we were winning. His answer was “yes and no”. We are constantly preventing the spread of dangerous thinking but it keeps springing up all over the place. The trick is to not stop fighting.
Lawrence Leung stole the show by giving the funniest talk of convention which was appropriately enough about using comedy to engage people with scepticism. He shared some highlights and behind-the-scenes stories from his sensational TV series, Unbelievable.
Dr. Rachael Dunlop spoke to us about scepticism in science, and when it can go too far. What is worth delving further into and when should we walk away?
Finishing off the convention was a twitter quiz led by Rebecca Watson. Contestants were Brian Thompson, Lawrence Leung, Richard Saunders and myself. She asked a series of science and scepticism themed questions which we had to answer while the audience sent their responses to the big screen via twitter. I had a wonderful time, especially after making a joke that earned me nothing but silence. A great feeling.
A student of mine was at the convention and Rebecca asked her to be the judge on the quiz. As a teacher the sensation of being marked by a student was an uncomfortable one and one I hope I never have to experience again.
During the lunch break on Sunday I had a moment that I will never forget. James Randi took me aside and showed me an old magic prop of his. He explained what it was and how it worked, then handed it to me and said “I want you have this.”
All photos shamelessly stolen from Mal Vickers.