Nov 05 2012

What should my Skepticon workshop be about?

Skepticon is just a couple of days away, and I’m super excited! I’m not speaking this year, but I had such a good time last year that I saved up the money to make this a little vacation. The boyfriend is also coming along, and I can’t think of a better con to be his first major atheist/skeptical event.

There’s one little thing though. I found out at the last minute that Skepticon wants me to run a 50 minute workshop on Friday for a room of about 50 people (first come, first serve). The workshops are technically supposed to be…you know, workshops. Educational. Teaching you something. But Skepticon said I can basically do whatever I want that would make my readers happy. I also have no idea what I should do.

So, if you’re going to Skepticon, what would you like to see from me? I’m honestly a little reluctant to talk about social justice/diversity since I’m pretty burnt out on that topic and don’t want it to be all I’m known for, but if there’s enough of a cry, I’ll do it. Some other ideas:

  • How to start a blog
  • How to deal with mean internet assholes
  • How to spot the red flags of shitty science journalism
  • So you want to become a scientist (advice for undergrads & high school students)
  • Religion & skepticism in Game of Thrones
  • Religion & skepticism in video games

Any additional suggestions or feedback would be very appreciated. I’m really open to any ideas, including other panelists I could recruit for a topic (if that’s what you want). It can be silly, wacky, and void of educational purpose if you so desire!


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  1. 1
    Stephanie Zvan

    My vote is for the science journalism idea.

  2. 2

    Ooh, ooh, shitty science journalism!

  3. 3

    Shitty science journalism! Or kittens. Or both! I’m sure there’s some fun crap in the noozpapers about how cats are poisoning us with Toxoplasma and making us into crazy cat ladies.

  4. 4

    Definately “Shitty science journalism”. A good skeptic needs to know!

  5. 5

    Yeah, spotting the red flags in bad science journalism was the one that jumped out to me, too. Although the “religion and skepticism in video games” sounds interesting, too.

  6. 6

    Dammit, why are all of you picking the topic that requires the most amount of work at the last minute?

  7. 7

    Also this: http://collectivelyunconscious.wordpress.com/

  8. 8

    Jennifer, I think you and I both know that combing through ASOIAF would take far more work!

  9. 9

    I vote for “So you want to eat a marshmallow larger than your head.”

  10. 10
    Stephanie Zvan

    Why? Aren’t atheists supposed to be evil?

  11. 11
    Brian Murtagh

    I hate to pile on, but I can’t think of anything more generally important than teaching people how to distinguish shitty science journalism from the good stuff, and I think you’d do it well.

  12. 12
    Brian Murtagh

    Also, please don’t attempt to eat a marshmallow larger than your head.

  13. 13

    Let me cast my vote for recognizing shiatty science journalism.

  14. 14
    Kate Donovan

    Shitty science journalism!

  15. 15

    Do religion in sci-fi/fantasy. That’s way more fun.

  16. 16

    I vote for the blog thing, but if you do gaming make sure to mention Katamari Damacy and Final Fantasy Tactics.

  17. 17

    As usual, in the minority–how to be a scientist. I wanted to be a scientist and didn’t knowhow and never made it there. Have a great time, Jen, I am really glad to see you back online.

  18. 18

    Do what you consider will be the most fun for you.

    Good to see you back even if only for a one off.

  19. 19
    Brad Emery


    Shitty Science Journalism will work in a pinch, though.

    Glad to see you back! :D

  20. 20
    Gregory in Seattle

    Given your field of study, would an investigation of pseudoscience be workable? Goodness knows, there’s a lot of crap out there that claims to be based on “genomic science.” That could tie together the “how to spot the red flags of shitty science journalism” with an introduction to science in general.

  21. 21

    I’m not going to Skepticon this year, but if I was, I’d love to go to a workshop on “How to spot the red flags of shitty science journalism”!

  22. 22

    My comment is hung in moderation, I think because of the links – don’t know if you have time to sort through, or if your mod queue is a morass of huge proportions that you don’t have time to deal with, so I’ll repost the text part only and apologize if it ends up twice:

    Here’s a good example of shitty science journalism:

    It was reported in 2002 that the gene for blondness was going extinct, due to it being recessive, and also that bleached blondes would fool men into fake-selecting the brunette genes that they thought were blondes. The funny thing about it is that it got the basic idea of dominance and recessiveness of alleles right, but knew nothing about Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium. This was not some little town paper, this was all over Great Britain, then went to Good Morning America, and CNN, and the New York Times. The explanation I heard at the time was that most science writers are working for big Thursday and Friday publication dates, and are therefore usually off on weekends, and that was when this story hit and none of the usual science reporters were around to know it was all wrong (yeah, likely story!)

    Story can be found in BBC Health for Sept. 27, 2002, retractions in SFGate Oct. 3, 2002, and NYTimes Oct. 2, 2002.

  23. 23

    Video games!

  24. 24

    Hi, Jen McCreight. Discovered your blog only recently, and it’s great reading. Sorry about the jerks harrassing you. I’m not attending Skepticon (no $), so my vote/opinion shouldn’t count for much, but I’d say
    1. How to deal with mean internet assholes
    2. How to spot the red flags of shitty science journalism

    Keep up the good work!

  25. 25

    If I was going to Skepticon (sad that I can’t) I would totally go to a workshop on shitty science journalism. That is just sooo important, because the worst thing about woo is “B-BUT I FOUND A PAPER! THAT SAYS SCIENCE! PEER REVIEWED!”

  26. 26

    Why did the Romans ruin Dionysus?

    Who would win in a fight — Trigger Happy or Gill Grunt?

    That “shitty science journalism” thing you put up as a choice.

  27. 27

    I vote for video games. First, it’s a fun and diverse topic. Good opportunities for messing about while making serious points. Second, it exposes a lot of bad behaviour which lots of people deny exists. Third – and most importantly – I think it’s a topic that can raise consciousness.

    Tooling people up to recognise bad science journalism is obviously important. But tooling them to recognise bad and unskeptical behaviour in communities whose members generally consider themselves skeptics is even more so.

    Skepticism as a broad set of beliefs, behaviours and activities or even as a movement doesn’t have the checks and balances it (perhaps) ought to because it’s just people saying stuff in random places. So it relies on communities policing themselves and as we’ve seen, this doesn’t always happen. But the first step – recognising that there might be a problem at all – is a doozy.

    I’m thinking about what would make a fun and productive workshop and on those grounds I vote video games.

  28. 28

    If you do science journalism, it might make it easier to structure your talk around this PHD cartoon (which I expect you’ve already seen, but just in case): http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1174

  29. 29

    I won’t be attending, so I don’t care about your workshop. I’m awfully glad you are back to blogging. DON’T LET THE HATERS WIN!!!

  30. 30

    I won’t be attending either, but I still care because there’s an opportunity for education to take place. I find John’s attitude puzzling unless the implication is that all choices are equally awesome.

  31. 31

    First time commenter, so, Hi!

    Welcome back to blogging!

    I wish I were going to Skepticon. I’m sure your talk will get put on the web somewhere, though, so I’d like you to talk about advancing feminism in comics. You could use the modern Captain Marvel comic (from Marvel Comics, where Captain Marvel is the Carol Danvers) as a good example of when comics do it right. As for when they do it wrong, well, Star Sapphire anyone?

    Or, you could take a different route and tackle the abundance of faith pandering in comics. Like with AVX where they say that science has limits and magic/mysticism is the only way to save the day. Iron Man, Man of Faith really bugged me.

    Just some ideas.

  32. 32
    Prof. Bleen

    I vote for Mean Internet Assholes (though, alas, I won’t be attending). It’ll be very little work to prepare, and you’ll easily be able to speak on the subject with passion and conviction.

  33. 33

    May I suggest, “How NOT to handle internet assholes*” ?

    You seem to be a pro at that.

    * or whatever PZ, Jen, et al. and their parrots are calling the enemy these days.

  34. 34
    Tâlib Alttaawiil (طالب التاويل)

    (justwantedtosay i’m glad you’re posting again!)

  35. 35

    Here is a (totally safe for work) photo of what looks like some grad students having an outdoor party. Is the one on the far right Jen?


  36. 36

    I was there and learned a lot about blogging and quite a bit about evaluating science articles. So, I was very pleased with the session. Thank you.

  37. 37

    Like Reality @ 31;
    Welcome back to blogging!

  38. 38

    Now that you are back from Skepticon, I hope that you will consider taking up the keyboard again and slicing up the internet once in a while. You delivered me and countless others to FTB and for that alone I thank you. But even the other great blogs at FTB don’t fill the gaping void left by your non-blogging. I certainly understand your reason for abstaining and support your decision. But, you see, you were particularly brilliant at recognizing and calling out the implicit inequities in the world, some of which I was completely oblivious to. You educated me and many others in subjects I didn’t come here to learn about because I thought I already knew it all. Your blog was a transformational source of material that evoked deep reflection in me, and the one I always looked forward to reading first. To put it bluntly, you are a kick-ass writer, and you are missed.

    So, while you owe us nothing, know that we are still wanting much.

  39. 39

    I vote for:
    •So you want to become a scientist (advice for undergrads & high school students)

    I am currently enrolled in Liberal Arts/Biology, it would be awesome to get some advice on that.

  40. 40
    Gregory in Seattle

    So what was your Skepticon workshop about?

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