I’m back!

I spent the weekend at Gateway to Reason in St Louis, and I’m sorry, Iowans, but the worst part of the event was Iowa. I had to drive through it.

It was like Minnesota, only worse. Long drives from nowhere to nowhere through endless tunnels of corn, decorated with anti-choice signs, anti-government signs (Iowa farmers really, really hate the government — they must not get any subsidies at all), pro-Jesus signs, and nothing but Christian/far right talk radio being broadcast. It’s bizarre that this place is the first stop on the presidential campaign trail, and it’s no wonder we’re screwed up if this is the atmosphere of our politics.

It’s a bad sign when you feel relief the instant you cross the border into Missouri.

The conference was excellent. It was very well attended — they filled a large auditorium on the Washington University campus. The talks were diverse, and everything moved smoothly.

The press coverage was surprisingly good, too. That’s a substantial article in the Post Dispatch, and I read the comments: of course there’s the usual small group of know-nothings babbling about atheism being a religion, and of course a few of my chronic harassers show up, but for the most part there are a fair number of commenters being open-minded and expressing an interest in finding out what these atheists are all about.

That’s a good result.

Convergence stats

The Convergence convention ended a few weeks ago, but the survey statistics (pdf) are already out. If you like gender diversity, you might want to join us next year.


The attendees skewed surprisingly young, but then, as a geezer, I might have a skewed perspective myself.

One thing that is missing from the questions asked is something about race/ethnicity — I know, it’s Minnesota, we’re really pale, but it would still be a good thing to pay attention to, especially since I thought there was more diversity there this year than last.

Convergence gets good press


Look at that: the Mary Sue talks about Convergence Improving Diversity and Creating Safe Spaces for Geeks. It really is a delightful conference that way — 7,000 Social Justice Warriors all wanting to talk about science and books and movies and games, with a simple set of humane rules to help everyone get along.

We’ll be there again next year, and you should make plans to come out to Bloomington, MN, 30 June-3 July for Convergence. The theme for 2016 is …

[Read more…]

#cvg2015: Episode IV, A New Hope

It’s the last day of Convergence! We partied into the wee hours last night, and now comes the dreaded time when we have to break down and clean up the party room. It’s going to be drudgery all morning.

But I’m not done with the con! I have two science panels this afternoon before I can escape.

At 12:30 in Atrium 7, we’re discussing Human Augmentation.

We may not be able to fly or record our lives with memory implants, but existing developments are exciting, from 3D printed hands to mind-controlled exoskeletons and neuroprosthetics. We’ll discuss the latest advances and what’s possible for the future. Panelists: PZ Myers, Christopher Hunter, Tim Shank, Brian McEvoy, Cassandra Phoenix

At 3:30, it’s time for Genetic Engineering: From Fiction to Fact, in Atrium 7 again.

Dystopian books, movies and video games are filled with genetic engineering nightmares, from Oryx and Crake to Gattaca and Bioshock. We’ll discuss how much of this fiction is becoming fact (and the implications) in the growing field of synthetic biology. Panelists: Kris Coulter, PZ Myers, Ross Conklin

I’m also going to have say goodbye to my daughter and son-in-law, who have been tending bar all weekend and making sushi, and will be driving back to Colorado; my oldest son is heading back to St Cloud after his long weekend as a party gopher; and the middle son has a few more days with us before he flies back to Korea. I think we’re all going to sleep well tonight.

#cvg2015: The day that we’re supposed to rise from the dead

Day 3 of Convergence! Feeling a bit frazzled around the edges…I was up until 2am last night. And today I have a morning panel to attend, Getting Students Into Science, at 9:30 in Atrium 3. Coffee sings a siren song this morning.

As our society gets more technological, being scientifically literate becomes increasingly critical. Come discuss ways we can attract more non-scientists to be familiar with the subject matter. How can we keep young children’s interest as they grow? Panelists: Renate Fiora, PZ Myers, Dan Berliner, Steven Theiss, Matthew Lowry

This afternoon we’re going to have a few more salons in room 228 as well. Jason Thibeault will be leading a discussion on Ethics in Video Games at 2:00, and at 3:00, Jeremy Messersmith will be stopping by for a conversation about the Neurobiology of Music.

Yes, the party room will be open again at 8pm. We get a lot of people stopping by because in addition to vodka shots, we have a water dispenser and watermelon slices available. Hydration matters! Drink water in addition to all that booze, people!

#cvg2015: Electric boogaloo

We’re up all bright and shiny this morning, after partying until 1am last night with celebrities: Amanda Marcotte and Rachel Swirsky stopped by, along with milling hordes of people who burned through our party supplies a little faster (OK, a lot faster) than we expected. We’re making a grocery store run this morning.

Then at 12:30, we’re showing people how to do a simple alcohol extraction of DNA from fresh fruit. At 3:30, I’m off to the Edina room to answer science questions.

Working scientists take time away from their undersea labs and volcano lairs to answer your science questions! Panelists: PZ Myers, Gwen “Bug Girl” Pearson, Steven Theiss, Rachael Acks, Raychelle Burks

At 5, it’s Science vs. Religion in Dystopia, in Atrium 4.

Authors like Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien have often pitted religion against science, blatantly or through symbolism. How do these authors tilt their respective playing fields? How do their dystopian portrayals of the “other side” compare? Panelists: PZ Myers, Heina Dadabhoy, Emily Finke, Jairus Durnett, Cassandra Phoenix

Then, at 8pm, the party begins once again! I missed you there last night, I hope you can make it now.



I am full up on science — we had a long day of zebrafish-inspired talks (also sticklebacks! And Amia!), and I am dazzled with how far the science has progressed since my antique days as a graduate student. I’m also impressed with the legacy my graduate advisor has created — great labs live forever.

The science part is done. Tomorrow it’s an all day party at the Kimmel farm. I’ll be home sometime around 5, so if anyone in Eugene wants to get together in the evening (in addition to the meetup on Sunday morning), I’ll probably be hanging about the Valley River Inn bar.

I wish I could be in LA today

I could learn something. The Black Skeptics are hosting a conference, Moving Social Justice. This is what atheism needs.

Called “Moving Social Justice,” the conference will tackle topics beyond the usual atheist conference fare of confronting religious believers and promoting science education. Instead, organizers hope to examine issues of special interest to nonwhite atheists, especially the ills rooted in economic and social inequality.

“Atheism is not a monolithic, monochromatic movement,” said Sikivu Hutchinson, an atheist activist, author and founder of Los Angeles’ Black Skeptics, one member of a coalition of black atheist and humanist groups staging the conference.

“By addressing issues that are culturally and politically relevant to communities of color, we are addressing a range of things that are not typically addressed within the mainstream atheist movement.”

I am so tired of running in circles with people who insist that religion is evil and must be crushed, who then also declare that atheism has no implications or consequences and only means that there is no god. I would like to listen to people who actually have a goal of the greater good driving their atheism and secularism, rather than hiding behind evasions and abstractions. I’m also a bit fed up with the hypocrisy of insisting that atheism must reach a wider audience, while obliviously refusing to expand to meet the needs of more diverse communities.

We’re really, really good at making middle class white people with college educations satisfied. We need to learn that pandering to that group of people can lead to choices that make other groups unhappy.