Ally Skills Training at Skepticon

This weekend is Skepticon! (Have you donated yet?) Skepticon means lots of great speakers, Skeptiprom, and of course, Friday workshops.

Friday workshops means the Ada Initiative Ally Skills Training workshop at 10 a.m. on Friday. The Ada Initiative put this workshop up as an incentive in their annual fundraiser this year, and skeptics raised the target the day it was announced. In return, we get some knowledge transfer from the open tech and culture spheres. Valerie Aurora from the Ada Initiative is coming to run the workshop–and attend the rest of Skepticon as a bonus.

Because this workshop is structured to be a safe space, both for brainstorming ideas and for marginalized groups, there are a few things you should know if you want to attend the workshop. [Read more…]

Tell Me What You Want

A while back, I offered people one of those pain-for-funds incentives to donate to Skepticon. Apparently, however, Slyme Pit poetry is too painful for most or all of you.

That’s fair, but it still leaves Skepticon in need. As of right now, with less than two weeks to go before the conference, Skepticon still needs to raise $7,000 to cover their costs for this year. That’s a lot.



People reading this blog probably aren’t going to be able to donate all that money. (If you can, great! Go for it!) Still, whatever you can do would mean a lot to me, as you might be able to tell from my willingness to trawl slime for “poetry”. I’ve made my own donation and added Skepticon to my list of regular monthly donations, but we need a lot more than me.

Why should you donate to Skepticon? Several reasons. [Read more…]

It’s Skepticon’s Turn

Wow. You good folks floor me. The Skeptics for Ada fundraiser hit its goal in the first day. That means Valerie Aurora of the Ada Initiative will be coming to Skepticon to run their Ally Skills Workshop. So now that we’ve paid for the Ada Initiative to do their thing, it’s time to help pay for Skepticon itself. With the conference just over a month away, it’s only two-thirds funded. There is still over $13,000 to be raised.

Because Skepticon is a free conference in the south-central U.S., it’s the only conference that many of the attendees can afford. But someone still has to pay for the whole thing. If the attendees can’t, funding Skepticon falls to those of us who think access to these events shouldn’t be limited to those who can pay hundreds of dollars. Are you one of those people?



If you need another reason to donate, keep reading. [Read more…]

He Said/She Said at #TAM2014

I was at the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference all day yesterday, but I still had people asking me whether I was going to address the talk by Carol Tavris on rape allegations and rape culture that she gave at TAM on Friday night. The short answer is “Maybe”.

The problem is that I don’t have the talk. All I have is the tweets. They’re terrible, by and large, but most of them come from people who are already terrible on this topic. This was a talk given at a conference where the management has historically taken out extra liability insurance to deal with the risk posed by one of its keynote speakers. There’s a certain motivation for the attendees to pull out every dismissive, permissive, victim-blaming message possible from a talk on rape. The tribalism in the tweets is not subtle. I could give a talk on rape myths in front of that audience, and the Twitter feed would still be terrible.

So I’ll wait to see whether the talk is released to a general audience. If the point was to rally the troops, it may not be. And if it stays private, it can’t be used to bolster bad policy recommendations based on its credentials of having been delivered by a skeptic at a skeptic conference. If it does come out, then I’ll see what it actually says. I may write about some of the tweeted messages in the meantime, because they’re common enough to be worth addressing, but I won’t assume those were actually in Tavris’s talk itself.

So…maybe. We’ll see. In the meantime, here’s the tweeted account of the talk. [Read more…]

About This CONvergence Thing

I’m recovering from con crud (slept until four Tuesday afternoon and still got to bed reasonably early Wednesday night, as a measure of strain on my body). Since CONvergence has been with me a few days longer than expected, I might as well write a little bit about the experience. Goodness knows I’m not getting a lot else done.

CONvergence is a strange experience for me. As I said more than once over the course of the weekend, the con crosses all my streams. I would estimate that I know 3-5% of the attendees. When more than 6,300 people attend, this means I know an awful lot of the people there, and they come from all over my life.

In addition to the huge crew of volunteers that make SkepchickCon and the FtB party room work, there’s a large local contingent of atheist and skeptic geeks who find CONvergence friendlier to their interests since more skepticism and science programming has been added. I went to college with one of the founders of CONvergence and met more through the generation of Renaissance Festival workers that they and my husband are all part of. I’ve been attending cons in the region for well over a decade, meeting regular attendees. Many of CONvergence’s year-round volunteers also come from both of these groups.

Then there are the writers. At least four people I’ve been in writers groups with were at CONvergence. Two other writers groups where I know most of the members were well-represented, along with locals who aren’t in writers groups or whose groups are online. And because F&SF is a small field, these writers know all the other fiction writers there, from the guests of honor to all the writers who were guests once and keep coming back because CONvergence took good care of them and the spirit of thoughtful squee is appealing. They know the fan writers (a category that includes critics) too, because this isn’t so much a clique as an intellectual ecosystem, in which everyone creates and consumes and creates in a dialog with what they consume.

I don’t know quite all these writers, because I haven’t actively written fiction in a few years and because my own fan writing is not consistent or frequent enough to make me recognizable and because even in a four-day weekend there is only so much time to meet even very cool friends of friends, but I know a lot of them. I know so many of them that I can’t keep track of which of them are at CONvergence in any given year. We see each other serendipitously and often in passing, if at all.

This means CONvergence sees me pulled in lots of different directions, sometimes trying to manage an interruption to an interruption to an interruption, and sometimes finding myself with no dinner plans because everyone assumed I was busy elsewhere. It means spending a lot of time on the edges of social groups because I don’t have the time or attention to become central to them. It means sometimes being frustrated that I can’t spend the time I’d like with all the people at com whom I admire the hell out of.

It also means that spending a good chunk of time interacting with someone I’ve never met is a rarity. Sometimes it’s even a bit of an oddity. [Read more…]

Returning to the Scene, Or Coming Back After Harassment

This isn’t a post I wanted to write. In early April, I wrote a 900-word letter to the chairs of Wiscon 38 in hopes that, not only would I not have to write this post, but I would be able to write a much happier post instead. The letter started:

I am, of course, writing to you about Jim Frenkel.

I’m a long-time WisCon attendee, although I haven’t attended the last two years due to a scheduling conflict. I still consider WisCon one of my “home” cons even though I live in Minneapolis.

I’ve also been in the middle of the sexual harassment storm in the atheist and skeptical movements. I led the push to get policies in place for our conferences. I’ve consulted with organizations writing policies. I’ve written extensively about the topic. And I’ve both whipped up and eased anger on the topic as I felt it was appropriate and could be productive.

So when I say WisCon is headed for an internet explosion, I both know what I’m talking about and am invested in heading it off. I’ve been talking to several friends who have received their programming information, and the chatter isn’t pretty, as I’m guessing you already know. I would much rather see WisCon be an example of what to do right than end up a patch of scorched earth. To that end, I’m offering some unsolicited advice and some help to make my recommendations easier to follow if you think they have merit.

The rest of the letter consisted of three specific recommendations and a template for a statement proactively addressing the return of Jim Frenkel after a harassment complaint last year led to the sharing of additional harassment complaints* and ultimately Frenkel’s parting ways with the publishing company for which he had long been an editor. I sent the letter because friends had noticed Frenkel’s name showing up in the preliminary programming for this year. They had written to the co-chairs or to the concom (convention committee) and not been pleased with the responses they received.

So I put in hours of work on that letter and statement, covering both the possibility that they were lacking only in communication and the possibility that they hadn’t worked the decision through in an organized fashion. I did some of the work they would need to do in order to get ahead of the problem and offered to do more or to find them a person acceptable to them who would. I didn’t insist that Frenkel not be allowed to return, but I did make it clear that they would need to be able to explain their decision if he came back.

This is the response I received a few hours after I sent my email.

Stephanie,

Thank you for your input.


Piglet Evans, chair@wiscon.info
WisCon 38 co-chair

[Read more…]

How to Moderate a Panel

So you’re thinking about running a session for FtBCon, but you haven’t moderated a panel discussion before. Or you ran one, but you didn’t feel that you knew quite how to make it go the way you wanted it to. We’re here to help.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Moderating a panel discussion, like most complex skills, looks effortless when done by someone with experience. It’s easy to underestimate how much work it is until you’re the person expected to keep things moving, on topic, interesting, and interactive all at once. Here’s a guide to make it easier when you find yourself in that position with no idea what to do. [Read more…]

Find Me at CONvergence

I’m not sure why everyone is so excited to get their CONvergence/SkepchickCon schedules up. I mean, the con is a whole week away! (Eek, it’s only a week away!) (Yay, only one more week to CONvergence!)

All right. Here’s where I can be found over the Fourth of July weekend:

Thursday, July 3

When Science Isn’t Your Friend 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When has science hurt people in reality and what has that taught us about how science should be practiced? We’ll discuss everything from the Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks to continuing issues like surgery on intersex babies. Panelists: Stephanie Zvan (mod), Caleph Wilson, PZ Myers, Mary Brock, Debbie Goddard

Saberhagen’s Dracula10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., Atrium 3

Fred Saberhagen wrote a series of books from Dracula’s point of view, including The Dracula Tape, Old Friend of the Family, and more. We’ll discuss his work, particularly the more complicated moral portrayal of vampires. Panelists: Paul Weimer, Stephanie Zvan

Saturday, July 5

Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down? 8:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Edina

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done? Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6

I’m starting Sunday morning at 9 a.m. by interviewing Dr. Rubidium for Atheists Talk radio about, among other things, using pop culture to communicate science.

Evaluating Scientific Claims 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., Plaza 1

You’ve just heard or read about an amazing scientific claim. Where do you go to start vetting the claim or the study, especially if you’re not a scientist? What are the signs that it might be hyped, misleading, or false? Panelists: Caleph Wilson (mod), Siouxsie Wiles, Stephanie Zvan, Shawn Otto, Heina Dadabhoy

Science of Group Differences 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Atrium 6

Men are from Sirius; women are from the Pleiades. Am I right? Let’s talk about all that research on sex and racial differences and what it means in day-to-day life. Is there any significance beyond the statistical? Panelists: Will Robertson, Stephanie Zvan, Betsy Lundsten, Desiree Schell (mod)

Science ‘Fiction’ Journalism 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., Plaza 1

When more and more news outlets are dropping their dedicated science staff, what happens to the quality of the news coverage? How much of what we read is just plain wrong, and what can we do about it? Panelists: Rob Callahan, Shawn Otto, Debbie Goddard, Stephanie Zvan

I’ll also be in the FtB party room each evening.

Then I collapse and hope I haven’t gotten con crud or can get over it before the Minnesota Atheists and Humanists of Minnesota All-Star Conference the next weekend.

Tell Us What You Want to See at FtBCon3

In case you haven’t already seen the news, July 22 is the deadline to submit your panel proposals for FtBConscience3.

Graphic of call for proposals. All information included in the link above the image.

Don’t want to run a panel but you still have ideas about what you want to see? That’s okay too. While proposals that come with a moderator and participants baked in save us time and energy and are viewed with gratitude, your con runners are happy to do some recruiting for topics you particularly want to see. [Read more…]