Suggestions encouraged

Hey, gang — you know Freethoughtblogs and Skepchick sponsor a whole science and skepticism track at the Convergence science fiction & fantasy convention in Bloomington, Minnesota every year, right? It happens over the Fourth of July weekend, but the planning begins in November — it’s a fairly involved process!

So I’m mentioning it now so that you can put it on your calendar and make advanced plans to attend. But I’m also asking you all to make suggestions. Next month, we submit a list of proposed panels to the con planning committee, and they make the final decisions about which ones to schedule…and that means we have to get creative now. Got any ideas? Share them here in the comments.

Here’s the Skeptic track panels from last year, to give you some inspiration. If you’re hoping to attend, feel free to suggest what you would like to hear about. Even if you aren’t going, please do inspire us anyway.


  1. says

    if you could to a panel helping people with science in their fiction again like you did 2 years ago, but this time with not just biologists, that would be awesome.

  2. michaelvieths says

    A trend I’ve noticed while listening to ‘Geeks Without God’ is that people often come up empty when asked ‘Who is your favorite atheist character?’. It might be interesting to have a panel discussing atheist characters in sci-fi/fantasy.

  3. says

    Here are some of the panels I am proposing for Norwescon next year. If any seem stealable, feel free to use them.

    The Facts and Fictions of Cancer – There are many different types of cancer, each with their own causes and treatments. Our experts will draw on their knowledge and personal experiences to present the facts and counter the fictions of cancer.

    The Ethics of Animal Experimentation – There are many reasons to conduct tests on animals when developing new drugs, surgical procedures and medical technology. But are they good reasons?

    Life from the Skies – Panspermia is the idea that life on Earth was seeded by organisms carried in meteors, comets and other cosmic arks. How likely is this to have happened, and where might that life have originated?

    Evolution is Just a Theory! – A theory is not a guess or supposition: it is the best model we have of how something works based on current understanding. Join our panelists as they discuss what evolution is and isn’t, and why it is our best understanding of natural diversity.

    Cryptids and Cryptozoology – Cryptozoology is the study of cryptids, animals some claim to be real but whose existence have not been accepted by the scientific community. Yetis and sasquatches, chupacabras and mermaids, jackalopes and bunyips: why do stories about such creatures persist, and why would well-meaning people dedicate their lives to finding them?

    Blinded by Pseudoscience – From miraculous cures being suppressed by Big Pharma to proof that the earth is actually flat, charlatans and con men have been pushing nonsense for centuries in the hope of parting the credulous from their cash. Join our panelists as they discuss pseudoscience, its impact on society and how you can tell good science from bad.

  4. DLC says

    Science delivers the goods! – a panel on specific developments in science which have pushed back the shadows of superstition. Not inventions, but actual things like how lightning bolts work, for example. Discoveries and works which have helped to shove “Goddidit” into the dustbin. The panel should cover several important developments but also be ready to field wildcard questions from the audience.

  5. Seven of Mine: Shrieking Feminist Harpy says

    I’d love to see a panel somewhere about basic logic and reasoning which discusses the fact that “rational” is not a state of enlightenment but an actual conscious method you employ. Maybe something like breaking down certain arguments against gods or against other pseudoscience or quackery and showing not only how they refute those specific arguments but also the basic principles behind them and how to correctly apply those principles to other arguments. Also how to judge whether a particular fact can be considered evidence for a particular theory, i.e. if it’s what you’d expect to find no matter which theory is correct, it’s not evidence for any particular one. How to recognize various common fallacies; the difference between formal and informal fallacies, etc.

    Another idea would be a panel on study methodology. What constitutes correct methodology and why it matters. How to read statistics and understand what it’s reasonable to infer from a statistic. Common ways statistics are used to distort facts, etc.

    Also, language and communication. We get a lot of “I didn’t mean it that way” around here. So many people seem to have no idea what an implication is and that it exists regardless of whether you meant it that way. That it’s on the speaker to consider the implications of their words and make sure they’re only implying what they actually mean and how to do that. For example, in another thread, someone used the phrasing “all sex, including consensual sex, is rape” and others pointed out that, by adding the phrase “including consensual sex”, you imply that it’s possible for non-consensual sex to not be rape. A lot of our interlocutors would lose their shit over having that pointed out to them and complain that they didn’t mean it that way therefor the implication isn’t there.

  6. blf says

    AGW and the implications on conferences / conventions: E.g., a discussion of that the convention and panelists did, and did not, do — and why — to reduce their carbon(/GHG) impact so as to make travel to/from, and attendance at, the conference sustainable, and/or environmentally sensible and viable. Plus improvements and alternatives which are improve the sustainability, etc., including actions / inactions recommended for attendees.

  7. Radium Coyote says

    @5 Gregory

    I would rather title your fourth suggestion: “Gravity, Weather and Evolution: Just Theories”. I personally don’t believe in weather.

    Cryptids is kind of interesting. “The Best-documented Animal that Doesn’t Exist” would make for an interesting panel.

    My own psuedo-science boner is for para-history and conspiracy theories, but a panel with a topic as open as that could drag on for years. So how about: “Conspiracy Theories that Turned Out to Be True”.

  8. says

    I like @5 Gregory’s idea on Panspermia. But what I’d also like to see happen is maybe you add to that by expanding on the idea of using developmental biology to show why humans look the way we do, (bilateral symmetry, laryngial nerves, five fingers, etc), and why aliens probably won’t. Your criticism of SETI post was really cool, and I’d hope to see something like that expanded upon.

  9. moarscienceplz says

    Well, I went to the NASA/Ames open house this weekend and asked a panel of six NASA scientists why we should send people to Mars. I wasn’t impressed with their answers, so maybe someone else can do better. As best I remember, the answers were:
    -Current mars rovers are slow movers. (So, what’s the hurry?)
    -Some lab equipment is too fragile to send to Mars. (Same is true if there are humans on Mars or not.)
    -It is expensive/difficult to send a lot of lab equipment to Mars. (Food and oxygen for 2 years is difficult to send, too.)
    -Human brains are going to have to be in the loop at some point anyway, so why not have them at the scene? (Earthbound brains are always going to be in the loop, what advantage do Marsbound brains have?)

  10. says

    @Radium Coyote #9 – I’m lead for the biological sciences track, so I need to keep that theme in mind. Many of the other panels I’m proposing are things like “why tossing seed on the ground of an alien planet and waiting for rain probably won’t work” and “how might suspended animation become a reality” and “wouldn’t it be easier to adapt Terran life to fit alien biospheres than to alter an alien biosphere to work for Terran life?”

    @Brian Radovich #10 – I’ve done the panel “Remedial Exobiology” before, which holds up the Federation as a text book example of what we will NOT find once we are traveling the stars. I’ve also done a panel on the amazing diversity of Terran life, which (being a science fiction and fantasy convention) segued into discussion about actual alien life forms.

    And if you are planning to be at Norwescon, please note that panels don’t always make the cut: it depends on what the panelists sign up to do. Hopefully, we’ll have your favorites.

  11. Bob Merlin says

    Anita Sarkeesian! It might have to be below the radar but it would be so worthwhile!

    Please do not invite any of the “Four Whoresmen of the Skeptocalypse” or the “The Amaz!ng Enab!er.” Do not let them sing their tune, “Boys will be Boys.”