Convergence is coming

Everyone is announcing their schedule at Convergence: there’s the whole dang SkepChickCon schedule, Jason Thibeault and Brianne Bilyeu of FtB have produced theirs, and Dr Rubidium is doing a bunch of panels (wait…they let chemists in?). So I guess I’ll mention what I’ll be up to.

We have a little family affair every year in the Sandbox — these are hands-on activities, aimed mainly at kids, but everyone is welcome to show up.

CONvergence 2014: Bones.

Discover what an owl had for dinner! Dissect an owl pellet to solve the mystery and reveal clues about the owl’s diet and predator/prey relationships. What types of bones will you find in your pellet? Panelists: Mary Myers, Skatje Myers, PZ Myers

Thursday July 3, 2014 2:00pm – 3:00pm

CONvergence 2014: Create a Real DNA Necklace.

How do you extract DNA out of living things? What does your DNA look like? Find out and make a special necklace using your unique DNA! Panelists: Mary Myers, PZ Myers, Skatje Myers

Saturday July 5, 2014 3:30pm – 4:30pm

Then there are the panels, lots of panels. I cut back on the number I was on this year, because last year I did something like a dozen and it was exhausting.

CONvergence 2014: When Science Isn't Your Friend.

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

Thursday July 3, 2014 8:30pm – 9:30pm

CONvergence 2014: Real Monsters.

Reality is stranger than fiction. The deep seas and uncharted lands hold unimaginably bizarre creatures. This panel explores some of the strangest, ugliest, and most unlikely creatures known to live. Panelists: Brianne Bilyeu, Ryan Consell, Matt Kuchta, Siouxsie Wiles, PZ Myers

Friday July 4, 2014 9:30am – 10:30am

CONvergence 2014: Ask a Scientist.

A general Q & A with expert scientists from a variety of fields. Panelists: Bug Girl, Dr Rubidium, Matt Kuchta, PZ Myers, Lathan Murrell

Friday July 4, 2014 12:30pm – 1:30pm

Friday July 4, 2014 5:00pm – 6:00pm

CONvergence 2014: Alien Conspiracy Theories.

The truth is out there, and we’ll help you find it! We’ll cover a wide range of alien-centric conspiracy theories and discuss the implications these have on individuals and society at large. Panelists: JD Horn, Jason Thibeault, Nicole Gugliucci, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch

That’s the Scott Lynch who wrote the Locke Lamorra fantasy novels, by the way.

Friday July 4, 2014 7:00pm – 8:00pm

CONvergence 2014: Coming Out Atheist.

Join us to discuss what it’s like to come out as an atheist in various parts of the country, with different religious backgrounds, and the intersection for many of us with coming out in other ways, such as in sexual orientation and gender identity. Panelists: Ashley F. Miller, Heina Dadabhoy, PZ Myers, Debbie Goddard, Brianne Bilyeu

Every year we do what is basically a biology of sex panel, held late at night after the kiddies have gone to bed. It tends to get a little raunchy and amusing — it also tends to be overwhelmed with attendees. If you want to get into this one, show up early.

CONvergence 2014: Superstimuli: My, What a Big _____ You H….

Doing stupid things to attract mates isn’t limited only to humans. From the peacock’s tail to the bird of paradise mating game, evolution itself makes animals go to ridiculous lengths for the sake of reproduction. Panelists: Emily Finke, Bug Girl, Sharon Stiteler, Matt Kuchta, PZ Myers

Friday July 4, 2014 11:30pm – 12:30am

There are lots of other panels going on — it’s non-stop brain stimulation all weekend long. There also the parties late at night. The Skepchicks host one party room — their theme this year is the Skepchick Space Lab — and Freethoughtblogs hosts the adjacent room, in 228. Our theme is…the Deep, to complement the spacey chicks next door.

Freethoughtblogs is hosting a party to celebrate the mysteries of the ocean: fierce sharks, grasping tentacles, an alien world right beneath us. Enjoy cool drinks, talk with deep thinkers, get eaten by a squid…oh, wait, no. No one will be eaten. Probably. We’ll just have fun.

You’re all coming, right? Bloomington. 3-6 July. It’ll be fun.

Get used to it

My daughter is off to ACL 2014 (if you see her, say hello), and has discovered that some people are complaining that the main web site for the meeting features an anti-harassment policy. Why this disturbs some people is a mystery to me: if you aren’t harassing anyone, it won’t come into play; if you’re the victim of harassment it provides a clear guide to an appropriate response; only dedicated harassers will be perturbed by a discreet explanation for how to cope with a common problem.

If you’re one of those people still whining about common sense anti-harassment policies and meetings that expect you to treat other attendees fairly and equally and with respect, get over it. That battle is over, and the people who are expecting equitable treatment for all have won. Every worthwhile conference now sets up these policies. If you find them objectionable, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to switch to attending fundamentalist Christian meetings, or perhaps clandestine KKK events, or maybe you can find a Cigar Smoking Whisky Guzzling Sexist Boor club to attend. But professional meetings…I’m sorry, you’re now expected to make room for women as equals.

No, not evolutionary biology, too!

We’ve heard so much about bad behavior at conferences, and how sexist attitudes can suppress the contributions of women. And it doesn’t seem to matter what the conference is about: tech, gaming, atheism, skepticism, philosophy, you name it. Now Prof-Like Substance describes the scene at evolutionary biology conferences, explaining how many women are hesitant to participate in important events because of the predatory behavior of some men. And she gives a little advice.

So dudes, pull this apart a little bit. First off, the frequency with which inappropriate advances occur is causing some women to avoid after hours social events. Not only does that have consequences, but that very fact in itself should bother you. Also consider that even consensual sexyfuntimes have very different career implications for men versus women. These communities are small and things get around. Finally, are you going to be That Guy who women are warned against being around alone? Do you want the dumb things you say when you’re out late to be the reason a woman leaves the field or is uncomfortable attending social events? Consider that maybe your work colleagues are not the best target audience for your affections.

Interesting. She isn’t appealing to the altruistic best side of men, who ought to care about what’s best for their colleagues, but their self-interest. Sounds like an evolutionary biologist.

Talk to us about what you would like to talk about

FtBCon is coming on 22-24 August, and this is your chance: we are taking proposals for talks and panels.


Anything goes. You’ve got some subject you’d like to get in front of a camera and tell the world? You’ve got a group of people with a shared message you’d like to promote? You’ve got an idea that must be discussed, and you’d like to suggest a few experts who’d be recruited to explain it all? Go for it. There are only a few catches. You have to write a good proposal; you have to get it to us by 22 July; and it has to pass muster with our crack team of inspectors.

Do it nooooow!

I am also reminded that there is much I must do to prepare

Brianne reminds us all that CONvergence is coming — only a month and a half until the big event in Bloomington, with 46 panels on science, all-night party rooms full of nerds blissed out on fantastic science, and thousands of SF/Fantasy conversations going on nonstop. I overdid it a bit last year, and this year I’m only in eight events, including two with Mary in which we teach kids about bones and DNA.

Y’all are coming, right? It’s the greatest swarm of Skepchicks and Freethoughtbloggers in the known universe.

“Coming Out Atheist” is coming out now

Greta Christina’s new book, “Coming Out Atheist”, is now available. Get yourself a copy!

I’m hoping there will be some at the American Atheists convention this weekend in Salt Lake City. I’ll be speaking there, Greta will be speaking there (as will Sikivu, Matt, and Maryam) so I should be able to track one down, right? And get it signed?

And everyone else is going too, I presume? I’ll see you all in Salt Lake City, I arrive tomorrow afternoon!

(Warning: I’m doing one of my science talks. Don’t get too bored.)

Another free conference this weekend

I guess it’s that time of year — the Freethought Festival is taking place in Madison this weekend. Go!

Third Annual Freethought Fest To Draw Crowd This Weekend

The UW-Madison student organization Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics is holding their third annual Freethought Festival this weekend, set to take place at two venues in Madison, WI. The Freethought Festival is a free, student-run secular conference held annually in Madison, Wisconsin. Authors, bloggers, activists, and scientists from around the country come to speak on secular and scientific issues.

The event’s headliner is Dan Savage, the prominent gay rights and atheist who
founded the It Gets Better Project and creator of the “Savage Love” advice column and podcast.

Freethought Fest will also include a debate between Dan Barker, the Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Matt Slick, the President of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, on the subject “Does God Exist?”

“Freethought Festival will give the spotlight to many prominent atheists who are making positive differences in the world,” AHA President Sam Erickson said in a statement. “It will be exciting to be a part of that and hear all of the speakers share their experiences and perspectives.”

Along with Barker and Savage several atheist activists will speak, including comedian Jamie Kilstein, fellow Co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation Annie Laurie Gaylor, parenting expert and author Dale McGowan, three-­time Emmy winner Jay Rosenstein, and blogger/author Hemant Mehta.

Freethought Fest is open to everybody, free to attend, and has a predicted attendance rate of approximately 1,100.

AHA is one of the largest atheist college groups in the world, and is proud to provide a safe space to nonreligious people on campus where they can express themselves and connect with other nonbelievers, while promoting the discussion of religion on the UW-Madison campus.

“We wanted to create an event that would enrich the UW Campus and inform as well as entertain members of the UW Community,” Erickson said.

The event is funded by AHA through an annual operations budget received from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. AHA is proud to put on an event that will draw a wide range of attendees from the UW community while promoting freethought, secularism, and skepticism.

For more information, please visit

A good weekend at Skep-Tech

I’m home from Skep-Tech, and I just have to say that that was one of the better conferences I’ve attended — which is remarkable considering that it was student-run and -organized, and completely free.

It was a good mix, too. There were several people I hadn’t heard from before, Kate Greene and Jessica Kirsner, who brought in fresh blood and interesting ideas. There were surprises: Ian Cromwell is a really good science communicator, and I learned a lot about the technical details of managing a health care system from his talk. You mean black people can talk about things other than race? Spread that news to other conference organizers.

Other standouts were Debbie Goddard, who gave a heartfelt talk about bringing meaning to atheism/skepticism, and Rebecca Watson, who gave an evidence-based and humorous talk about using social media — it’s not all selfies and photos of your dinner plate. Jesse Galef also accomplished a great synthesis of pop culture and a game theoretic approach to morality that explained how it evolved. They were all good talks, not a flop among them (well, I had to miss the last few because I had a long drive ahead of me…but I have complete confidence that Heina Dadabhoy was good, because she always is).

It also had an interesting audience. It was down a bit from last year, as Stefanie explains, but it was a healthy mix of familiar faces from the atheist community in Minneapolis/St Paul, and new strangers who wandered in. I didn’t bother to try and count heads — it was held in a gigantic auditorium, with a lot of flux as people drifted in and out (long breaks between talks encouraged a lot of discussion) — so I only took a quick count on Sunday morning, which is usually the worst time as people are recovering from all the late Saturday partying and increasing conference fatigue, and I saw about 60 people there. Total attendance was either significantly higher than that, or the talks were so engrossing that no one wanted to miss even the one held while they were hung over.

It was well worth the time, and it was held right there in my back yard, which was sweet. You should go next time it’s offered. Or if it’s too far for you to travel, organize your own — this was excellent outreach.

Skeptech 2 today!

It’s not too late, get signed up at Skeptech (it’s free, but they do hope for donations).

I shall be there, along with my bodyguard, the mighty Connlann, who happens to be passing through on his way in a transfer from California to Georgia. If you’re thinking of arranging a boycott of my talks (you know who you are, you wacky lunatics), please do — no one is going to show up at my talk this weekend, because I’m not giving one. I’m going as an attendee because it looks to be an excellent event.

Any one of you who is going but is not giving a talk, meet with me and I shall do you the honor of organizing a non-boycott of your non-talk, and then we shall sit out our non-existent sessions in the bar.