* Note: This edition corrects the previously sent version, distinguishing between CSI's newly-elected Fellows and its Scientific and Technical Consultants, as well as correcting the spelling of the name of one of the new Fellows.
CSICon 2012: The Varieties of Skeptical Experience
CSICon, the experience, was relentless. In the best sense, of course. Walking through the doors of the Music City Sheraton last month, one was instantly in the midst of some of the smartest, wittiest, and accomplished people one could ever hope to meet. And these were just the folks milling about the lobby.
No time to settle in, because events began bright and early every morning (with coffee mercifully provided). A quick glance in the ballroom for each session would tell a similar story: Educated Person or Persons giving a PowerPoint presentation on Some-Such Topic. But of course, each presenter was distinguished in his or her own way, each presentation with its own angle on skeptically themed topics, almost all of them genuinely entertaining, while also enlightening and eye-opening.
Perhaps it was Carol Tavris’s blunt delivery and sharp humor, discussing gender issues in science. Or maybe Sara Mayhew’s examination of themes in science fiction and fantasy, complete with her own brilliant artwork. You couldn’t miss the guffaws from the audience as a grinning Massimo Polidoro dissected the “Paul is Dead” Beatles conspiracy theories. The tales of the Paranormal Road Trip really were as bizarre and hilarious as you’d expect. The Skepchicks doled out faux remedies in a highly entertaining presentation on dealing with everyday nonsense. And everyone who showed up for the investigations presentation by Joe Nickell, Ben Radford, and James Underdown left with real how-to knowledge and insights from those who actually do the work we skeptics love to hold up to others.
Slides and a podium were not the end of it, of course. George Hrab wowed us with music and the interpretation of tweets. Alas, Houdini once again failed to show up, though called with great effort back to the material plane. But the Halloween party, complete with a truckload of moonshine and even more weirdness, did not disappoint, as costume prizes were awarded to a zombie cowboy fetus, a blood-weeping Virgin Mary, and one prize was not awarded when no one on this beautiful planet of ours could ever have predicted that CFI chief Ron Lindsay would come disguised as a Lithuanian gold medal bicyclist. (At least, I think that’s what he was.)
If you were there, you know how smoothly it all went (save for the coming Superstorm Sandy, which stopped some folks from leaving as scheduled, but we can’t be responsible for, as it were, “acts of God”).
The events, the food, the swag, the party, the scheduling, all of it had to be masterminded, and the staff from CSI and CFI kept everything running on all cylinders with nary a hiccup—and you can thank folks like Pat Beauchamp, Cheryl Catania, and Lauren Becker (logistics), Matt Cravatta and Tim Binga (bookstore), and Matt Licata (tech) for that, as well as the all-purpose fixer himself, Tom Flynn. Richard Wiseman’s stint as conference emcee meant that transitions and introductions were as unmissable as the presentations themselves.
But none of it would have existed if not for the heroic efforts of CSI Executive Director Barry Karr, for whom every moment of time, every atom of his body, and every synapse of his brain has been devoted to a triumphant CSICon.
(Note from Barry Karr: I think this is nice, but just a bit understated.)
A real success, indeed. The Tennessean gave it very positive coverage, and people are still talking about it. It’s a heavy lift to match it for next year. Somehow, though, we will.
(Photos from CSICon courtesy of Brian Engler.)
Feel around your skull, and you may come across the region of your brain responsible for magazine subscriptions. Give it a good massage, and then have a look at the latest Skeptical Inquirer, which delves into the deeply strange but once-popular pseudoscience of phrenology.
Phrenology, an area of study that presumed that the mind could be understood by analyzing the shape of one’s skull and the size of so-called “modules” in the brain, became something of a pseudoscientific craze in the nineteenth century. Geoffrey Dean, in his cover story “Phrenology and the Grand Delusion of Experience,” explores what it was about this pursuit and its claims that was so attractive to so many, finding that it offered what seemed to be “a recipe for living and self-improvement based not on metaphysics but on claims testable by experience.”
Also in this issue, our favorite famous investigator Joe Nickell recounts his experience as the token skeptic on an episode of Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show (giving high marks to the skepticism of the host); Benjamin Radford shatters the illusions about what seemed to many to be a UFO buzzing by a crowd at the London Olympics (it was a Goodyear blimp); Simon Davis reports on the penalties facing the purveyors of so-called “nanobiotic” clothing, a kind of high-end snake oil in Greece; and Massimo Pigliucci takes apart the extraordinary predictions of futurist “prophets” such as Ray Kurzweil who believe humans are only a few decades away from the human-computer “singularity.”
The November/December 2012 edition of Skeptical Inquirer, is available on newsstands now or by subscription at www.csicop.org/si.
Hall and Novella Join Executive Council, Plus New Fellows & Consultants Elected
Two figures rise to leadership positions at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and seven others join its formidable brain trust with the announcements of elections to the Committee’s Executive Council and its Fellows and Consultants.
The Executive Council is a body responsible for setting the course of CSI, developing programs, making recommendations, giving advice, and representing CSI in the media and at events. Joining this important institution are Harriet Hall, a former Air Force flight surgeon and skeptic champion who is a contributing editor and frequent contributor to both Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic magazines; and Yale academic clinical neurologist Steven Novella, a Skeptical Inquirer columnist, host of the podcast The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, and founder of the website Science-Based Medicine.
Meanwhile, new members have been elected to join CSI’s slate of Fellows and Consultants. An impressive array of thinkers, academics, and activists, hailing from a wide range of disciplines, were picked for their significant contributions to the general public’s understanding of science, reason, and critical inquiry through their scholarship, writing, and work in the media. They are joining the likes of such legends as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, James Randi, and of course the late Paul Kurtz.
2012 additions to CSI’s Fellows are:
And our new 2012 Scientific and Technical Consultants:
Highlights of the original writing at the CSI website.
When the general public gives up on science, you get trouble. Sharon Hill talks to Dr. Andrew Read, who has developed a way to make practical science and science appreciation feel relevant to students.
Kylie Sturgess: Decoding Immortality and Jabbed: Love, Fear, and Vaccines
Kylie interviews science documentarian Sonya Pemberton, whose next film, Jabbed, tackles the controversies surrounding vaccinations.
Daniel Norero: Skepticism in the Southern End of the World
Skeptic activist Daniel Norero wants you to know that the nation of Chile is more than trapped miners, Pinochet, and wine. There is a robust and growing skeptics’ movement there, with a daunting task of battling pseudoscience in a superstitious culture.
An interview with Quackometer’s Andy Lewis on the pseudoscience surrounding the controversial Steiner/Waldorf schools.
Caleb W. Lack: How to Protest a ‘Psychic’
When fake-psychic John Edward comes to town to prey upon people’s grief, psychologist Caleb W. Lack prepares to air skeptic grievances to inform and educate (rather than simply anger and upset).
In Memory of Paul Kurtz
As most are probably already aware, Paul Kurtz, founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and singular pioneer of the secular and skeptical movements, passed away on October 20 at the age of 86. His death is mourned by all at CSI, as well as at its sibling organizations which he also founded, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Center for Inquiry. Our official obituary for Paul Kurtz can be found at the CFI website.
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The Skeptical Inquirer News is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Center for Inquiry.
©2012 Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, 3965 Rensch Road, Amherst, NY 14228, firstname.lastname@example.org