How to avoid the SFCon From Hell

Mark Oshiro had an extremely unpleasant experience at a Kansas City science fiction convention last year: shabby treatment, sexism, racism, the whole works. It’s a sordid read.

But something useful emerges: Rachel Caine has posted some guidelines to individual responsibility for panelists. This is the time of year many of us are planning our summer con schedule — I’m going to Convergence, as always — but I’ll take these suggestions to heart. Except the ones about YA panels. I’m no authority on YA fiction. On the other hand, if I’m asked again to sit on a panel with someone proposing evolutionary absurdities, I’ll be quick to snarl.

Oh, wait. I’m always quick about that.

FtBCon4: call for proposals

We’re going to have another FtBCon on 22-24 January 2016, and we’re beginning to assemble a program. Your friendly bloggers here have some plans and ideas, but one of the virtues of having a conference entirely online, besides the fact that you all get to watch, no matter where you are, is that we can open it up to suggestions for talks and panels from you, the readership. If you are interested in putting your face and voice online, talking about freethought, science, social justice, video games, whatever, we have an online form for you to fill out. It’s easy!

A few important points: only fill out the form if you want to host a session. Don’t nominate others: you might want to hear Neil deGrasse Tyson (so would I), but we don’t need you telling us that you want us to draft him to speak. If Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to address our little con, on the other hand, he should fill out the form. We’ll probably accept his proposal.

You can propose talks, where you all by your lonesome talk at your computer’s camera, or panels, where you get together a small group (keep it to 4 or fewer, please: big groups don’t work well) and have a round table discussion. It’s all good. Again, don’t tell us you want to host a panel and ask us to fill up all the seats: you find your co-panelists first.

This form is for proposals. They won’t automatically be accepted. Make it enticing so we want to accept it.

Do tell us when you’d be available that weekend, and when you’d prefer to have the panel. We also love to have people outside US time zones participate, so it’s great when we’ve got panels/talks at times convenient for Europe or Australia.

Trolls: don’t bother. Submissions from this form will not be displayed publicly — we’ll just screen them first, and we’re quick on the delete key. If you think you can lie your way into getting on the schedule and then switch topics on us at the last minute…won’t work. All talks and panels will be sponsored by an FtB member, who will be able to pull the plug on you. So don’t waste your time or ours.

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.