The Skeptical Gamers

Bringing critical thinking to Gen Con Indy

Archive for the ‘Presentations’ Category

Gen Con 2010 Presentation Videos!

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on August 1, 2011

After almost a year and just in time for Gen Con 2011, I have sat my ass down and put the videos of last year’s presentations on YouTube.

Did you know that YouTube removed all length restrictions on their videos? I didn’t, until after I had spent hours looking for a good free video editor. Then I spent days, days I tell you, trying to upload these giant files and hitting snag after snag after snag. I must have restarted the upload three times after hours and hours of progress.

But it all worked out! Below the fold you will find the videos we captured of two of last year’s offerings: the panel “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture” and the presentation “Cargo Cult Science.” If for some reason you must have HD, you can watch them in HD on YouTube itself.


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Audio: Cargo Cult Science Presentation 2010

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on March 30, 2011

I mentioned in an earlier post that a couple of gentlemen were kind enough to record our Cargo Cult Science podcast last year but that I had forgotten who or what or where.

Well, in digging through my Gmail, I have located the answers to all of those “w” words. The “who” was Kevin Weiser, the “what” was The Walking Eye Podcast, and the “where” is this link right here. That will take you to the page where you can download the audio from last year’s presentation so you have some idea what you’re getting into in 2011.┬áThe talk went really well last year and I hope you like it. Here’s a podcast they did that wraps up their Gen Con experience; I haven’t listened to it, but we’re linked on the page which implies that we were mentioned. Give it a listen.

Thanks for putting this together for us, Kevin! Sorry it took me so long to get you your official kudos.

Posted in 2010, Media, Presentations, Talks | Leave a Comment »

2011 Panel: “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture”

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on March 23, 2011

2011 promises to be pretty big for the Skeptical Gamers at Gen Con, and what better way to headline the festivities than with our annual panel?

Back in 2009 we threw our first “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture” panel and had a great time with our audience. In 2010 we revised the format to allow the audience to choose what topics we covered. In 2011 we’re retaining the “Choose Your Own Adventure” format and switching up the topics a bit.

The format: We present you, the audience, four options. You choose an option. We blather on about it for fifteen or so minutes. We do this six times to total one and a half hours. Then we open up the floor for our patent-pending “Stump the Skeptics” Q&A, where you can ask whatever the hell you desire and we will do our best to give you an answer that is both enlightening and hilarious.

Potential topics this year include but are not limited to:

  • Ghosts and ghost hunting
  • Cryptozoology
  • UFOs and alien abductions
  • Crop circles
  • Applied kinesiology
  • The anti-vaccination movement
  • Power Balance
  • Dr. Oz
  • Oprahwoo
  • Paranormal photography
  • Astrology (updated for the new zodiac!)
  • Psychics
  • Bullshit advertising claims
  • 2012 apocalypse!
  • Pseudoarchaeology (e.g. Atlantis, ancient aliens, etc)
  • The curse of Tutankhamen
  • The Bermuda Triangle
  • Spirit possession
  • The Secret
  • Nostradamus
  • Water woo
  • Folk wisdom and suburban legends

Posted in 2011, Panels, Presentations | Leave a Comment »

2011 Is a Go!

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on March 9, 2011

Sorry for neglecting things for so long. Grad school is kicking my ass, and that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. Wheel are turning for a Skeptical Gamers presence at Gen Con 2011, and we may have some big news in store for you soon…

Until then, know that we’re reprising all of our popular talks from last year, cutting the chaff, and generally bringing our A-game all over this bitch. More information once I’ve got all our events tackled and submitted to Gen Con. See you in August!

PS. I do have video of many of last year’s talks. No, I have not edited it down yet. Yes, I know that makes me an asshole. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

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Help Tom Foss!

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on March 30, 2010

Tom is looking for some help with his presentation on annoying chain e-mails. If you could pop on over to his place and drop him a line with a good annoying chain e-mail, you’d be helping him and making Gen Con just a little more awesome.

Posted in Presentations | 1 Comment »

Vaccine Drive Update

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 12, 2010

I spent half-an-hour on the phone today with the director of the Indiana Immunization Coalition, and we have banged out a preliminary plan to help change the face of vaccination in the state of Indiana.

See, Indiana is 44th in the nation in childhood vaccination rates, but that’s not, apparently due to lack of money, as was the case in Nevada at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7. No, the state Department of Health is rolling in dough to pay for kids’ vaccines as a public health measure, but our abysmal rates are due rather to misinformation and miseducation. In other words, Indiana has fallen victim to the antivaccination movement.

Thus my original plan of trying to get the money to directly fund vaccination really isn’t going to fly. Instead, what money we manage to raise is going to be donated 100% to the Indiana Immunization Coalition, who will use it to help fund new educational initiatives to try and counter the antivaccine nonsense that people are picking up just as a consequence of living in the world these days.

The IIC’s director seemed quite excited to have such an opportunity, as their funding is meager and nobody has ever offered to raise money for them before (which, I told her, is appropriate, because I’ve never raised money for anyone before). In order to best support the work of the IIC, we’re going to supply congoers with information about their mission and the amazing benefits of vaccination. We plan to trade our amateur magician and mentalism skills for donations. Our continual fundraising activity will be augmented by at least two presentations detailing the immunization demographics in Indiana, why the low rates are such a bad thing, and just what is so great about vaccination.

At this point, it’s in the hands of the Gen Con event organizers. I’ve sent them a proposal for the fundraiser, and I hope they see the extreme positive benefit we could have here and give us the thumbs-up.

I’m really excited about this! We really have a chance here to do lots of good for the children of Indiana!

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Talk: "Culture and the Paranormal"

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 8, 2010

Another of the talks we’ll be bringing to Gen Con is a one-man talk by me (Don) called “Culture and the Paranormal.” This is one I’ve been mulling over for a long time.

“Culture and the Paranormal” will be a broad cross-cultural survey of paranormal beliefs and occurrences in order to examine the hypothesis “If paranormal events and beings exist in reality and not just in the mind, then they should be relatively homogeneous and not differentiated along cultural lines.”

My main thesis, to answer that hypothesis, is “Paranormal explanations for experiences generally draw almost exclusively from prevailing cultural narratives and fill in perceived holes to help explain the anomalous or extraordinary.” I’ll look at different cultures across time and space, and what they view as anomalous or extraordinary circumstances, and the different ways in which they recourse to paranormal or supernatural explanations for those circumstances.

I’ll also look at how different cultures conceive of analogous supernatural beings, from ghosts to werecreatures to nocturnal visitors. Finally, I’ll bring things forward to the present and look at how modern popular culture affects paranormal beliefs and experiences. Modern pop culture has inundated us with flying saucers, alien abductions, ghost orbs, and crop circles, and there’s scientific evidence that our perceptions of such things are heavily influenced by their portrayal and popularity in the mass media.

This talk will be perhaps the most academic of all of our talks. I’ll be drawing on disparate fields, from cultural anthropology to folklore to media studies, and, with some work and some luck, I’ll pull together the different threads into a wide-ranging and thought-provoking presentation.

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Talk: "Cargo Cult Science"

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 8, 2010

Today I’m gonna give you a brief look at an event called “Cargo Cult Science.” “Cargo Cult Science” is a two-man talk given by me (Don) and Tom Foss. We will, in the grand tradition of Richard Feynman, examine Melanesian cargo cults and expound upon their utility as a metaphor for pseudoscience.

This talk will be an expansion of a single slide from last year’s “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture” PowerPoint that really entranced the audience. I had inserted a single slide about cargo cult science and expected it to be a quick throwaway before moving on to the next topic. As it turned out, the great majority of the audience wasn’t familiar with cargo cults at all, and so I gave a brief explanation of them, which everybody seemed to find fascinating. For this year I thought “Go with what works,” and decided to spin it off into its own talk. After all, it’s such a useful metaphor.

Then, of course, I found out that Richard Feynman had already covered cargo cult science, which made me feel a bit sheepish, but kind of awesome at the same time. After all, I’m in some good company.

The talk will begin with a more detailed description of the history and formation of cargo cults. From there, we’ll move into cargo cults as a metaphor for pursuits that are all style and no substance, that mimic the external trappings of a thing without replicating or understanding the internal workings. Pseudoscience, of course, does precisely that with real science: pseudoscientists may toss about scientific-sounding words, they may wave around high-tech gadgets, and they really think they’re doing science, but at the end of they day, they don’t understand at all what science really is.

We’ll also extend the metaphor to as yet unexplored territory: cargo cult skeptics. Yes, they exist, and it’s only fair that we talk about them, too. If you’ve ever met someone who utterly dismisses the existence of bigfoot but can’t tell you why, or who has strong opinions on scientific topics but isn’t familiar with logical fallacies and the scientific method, you’ve met a cargo cult skeptic.

“Cargo Cult Science” will cover a little anthropology, a little philosophy, and a lot of pseudoscience. Hopefully, by the end of the talk, the audience will have obtained a new understanding of science and a useful heuristic for telling science and pseudoscience apart.

Posted in Presentations, Talks | 1 Comment »

Panel: "Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture"

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on February 7, 2010

Today, I’m going to start a series of posts detailing the events that we have thus far planned for Gen Con. I’ll begin with the centerpiece of the whole scheme, our big two-hour skeptical panel titled “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture.”

We ran a previous version of this panel last year and it went far better than we could have expected. We had a larger audience than we thought we would, and lots of people came up afterward and thanked us for running the panel. They said it was most unexpected.

This year, the panel will be reworked and much improved. First off, we’ve altered our lineup. Myself (Don) and Sean will return, and Tom, who had to bail last year to attend a wedding (but did help us with the material) will be taking his proper place at the table. Coming with him is Jon Maxson, who attended Gen Con with us in 2008 but did not help with last year’s panel. Unfortunately, Rob will likely be leaving us to seek graduate studies in whatever state his soon-to-be wife will be living in come August. We’ll miss him, as he complied lots of our alternative medicine and antivaccination information last year, but we wish him the best of luck and hope the panel won’t suffer for his absence.

We’re also changing formats. Last year we went in a sort of serial lecture format, which had a couple of downsides. First off, it was kind of dry; it lacked life and dynamism. Though most of the audience didn’t seem to mind, we want the panel to be as engaging as possible. Secondly, it limited banter and interplay between us panelists and made it less a panel and more of a, well, serial lecture. It also gave us little control over our time restrictions, and as such, we had to lose a lot of our material because we had packed in too damn much.

To help correct all of these problems, this year we’re going with a “Choose Your Own Adventure” model. Instead of us deciding what the audience needs to know, we’re going to let the audience pick what they want us to talk about. We’ll present them with a bunch of options to choose from and then let them have at it. We’ll riff on one choice for a while, and then let them pick another. Our topics are drawn from TV, books, movies, and the headlines; in other words, we’re tearing through as much pop culture paranormalism as we possibly can in two hours.

The topics we’ll cover include (but are not limited to):

  • Ghosts and ghost hunting
  • Cryptozoology (e.g. bigfoot, Nessie, Mothman, etc.)
  • UFOs and alien abductions
  • Crop circles
  • Alternative medicine and those who promote it
  • Conspiracy theories
  • Astrology
  • Psychics
  • Advertising claims (e.g. HeadOn and anything that promises to lengthen “that special part of the male anatomy”)
  • 2012 apocalypse!
  • Pseudoarchaeology (e.g. Atlantis, the Nazca Lines, etc)
  • Crystal skulls
  • The curse of Tutankhamen
  • The Bermuda Triangle
  • Spirit possession
  • Popular quote mines
  • Deepak Chopra, Choprawoo, and What the Bleep Do We Know?
  • Nostradamus
  • Water woo

Once we’ve run through our topics (or hit the 90 minute mark, whichever comes first), we’re going to follow the panel with a Q&A titled “Stump the Skeptics,” where we invite the audience to hit us with their craziest, most esoteric woo-woo claims and see what we can make of them. We hope to be surprised and have a lot of fun, and we hope that the audience does, too. Last year most everyone seemed to.

Posted in Panels, Presentations | 1 Comment »

So What's the Deal, Exactly?

Posted by Adversarial Writer #2 on January 12, 2010

It occurs to me that our plan to bring skepticism to Gen Con might require a brief explanation. To begin, we have to look back into the past…all the way to the year 2008.

In August 2008, I attended Gen Con with my friends Sean Bennett, Rob Gilham-Westerman, and Tom Foss. We were having a good time geeking it up when, and while looking through the program for stuff to do we saw a panel titled “The Science of EVP” organized by the Indiana Ghost Trackers. We decided we had to attend. In short, it was entirely laughable. The main speaker was a ditzy twenty-something girl who clearly didn’t understand the psuedoscience she was supposed to be pushing let alone good science. During the Q&A following the panel, when we asked a couple of polite but pointed questions, we learned two big things: “theory,” to the Indiana Ghost Trackers, means “something I made up,” and “parsimonious” is outside their lexicon entirely.

Upon leaving, we decided to counter the Indiana Ghost Trackers and their Gen Con incursion with our own skeptical panel in 2009. We planned off and on for a year and in August 2009 we (minus Tom, who had to attend a wedding the weekend of Gen Con) presented a two-hour panel titled “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture.” It was loaded with skeptical goodness. Too loaded, in fact. We had to skip large sections of it because two hours just wasn’t enough time. In the end, we talked at great length about the scientific method and logical fallacies, covered deceptive advertisement, alternative medicine, antivaccination, and cryptozoology, but had to cut out our sections on ghost hunting, financial scams, and psychic powers.

We had perhaps 40 people in attendance, which was, frankly, 40 more people than we had anticipated. We got warm acclaim from many of them afterwards and, in reviewing our performance, noted many things that we could have done better. We also noticed that the Indiana Ghost Trackers had hosted three panels in 2009, and so, in the great spirit of escalation, we decided to expand our program as well. We met with skeptic and author Mike Stackpole, who offered lots of good advice. I e-mailed Derek from the podcast Skepticality, who runs the Skeptrack at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, and he also offered his advice and insights. I set up a planning forum (linked in the sidebar), decided what I was going to talk about, and tried to get the others excited about 2010. We pressed the flesh at CFI Indianapolis.

And then I got sidetracked as the Supreme Speaker Conjurer of Skepchicamp Chicago 2010 and nothing happened for months.

I don’t really want to say “nothing,” though. I continued formulating outlines for my individual presentations, taking notes and doing bits of research here and there. Together we would discuss our plans to streamline the 2009 panel (in short: cut the section on logic because it is boring and can be covered in context anyway, and practice more beforehand). I was also working slowly but surely toward organizing a vaccine drive that would go hand-in-hand with our program of events at Gen Con 2010.

Well, it’s a new year now and it’s time to get things moving again. Last week two things happened that got me back on the horse: I finally got a reply from the Indiana Immunization Coalition, who will hopefully set us up with a beneficiary for any money the vaccine drive collects, and one of the folks we met after last year’s panel signed up for the forum and asked me how things were going. I realized “They’re not,” and decided to do something about it.

A lot has been accomplished in the past week, at least as far as organization goes. Gen Con 2010 will not be a humongous breakthrough for skepticism; we won’t take over the con by any means, but neither will we be four guys with a half-crocked panel hoping for the best. With some good buzz beforehand and some good performances in August, we’ll likely set the stage for even bigger events at Gen Cons to come.

So what exactly are we planning this year? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, the original four of us will be delivering our “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture” panel lecture again. It’s a new and improved version with more focus on fun pop culture paranormalism, some cold reading, and less dry logic (we actually lost a couple of people during that section last year). This year we even plan to leave time for a Q&A called “Stump the Skeptics,” which we hope will be a fun chance for folks in the audience to hit us with their most esoteric and weird woo-woo and see how we respond.

The basic “Intro to Skepticism” panel (which is basically what it is) will also be accompanied by a plethora of individual presentations by the original four and others. Topics are multifarious and awesome and include

  • The evolution/ID “controversy” and how differnt views of biology can enhance a game world
  • Cargo cults and what they can reveal about pseudoscience
  • Street scams, financial schemes, and how to avoid them
  • The cultural roots of different paranormal beliefs

Other ideas being tossed around include a presentation on mass hysteria and the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, Illinois, how to tell the difference between bad math and good math, and perhaps a more in-depth examination of alternative medicine. Look for more in-depth summaries of the various talks here in the future.

As I mentioned above, we’re also working on running a vaccination drive out of Gen Con to benefit needy kids in Indiana. Dr. Joe Albeitz, who organized the TAM7 vaccine drive and writes at Science-Based Medicine, is acting in an unofficial official advisory capacity (he’s just an awesome dude like that), and the Indiana Immunization Coalition seems to be on board to help us where we need it, too. Once we get everything legitimized, I’m going to make a formal pitch to Gen Con. I don’t see them rejecting the idea, as their annual Cardhalla and Klingon Jail-n-Bail events collect for charity.

If the drive can be successfully implimented, it will give us an avenue not only to raise money and awareness for childhood vaccination, it will give us a prominent position to plug the rest of our events and give people more information regarding science in general because Gen Con will likely give us a table at which to collect donations. We plan to trade donations for close-up magic, startling acts of mentalism, and/or whatever flavor of cold reading the donator desires. Palm reading? Dead relatives? Iridology? We’ll give you what you want as long as you give to the kids.

Another consequence of a successful push for the vaccine drive is that we will spin the antivaccination section of our basic talk off into its own full-fledged presentation focusing on the safety and extreme positive benefits of childhood vaccination and exploding the falsehoods and misconceptions that the antivaxxers are peddling.

And on top of all that, we have plans to film each and every event for internet posterity. YouTube really is a marvelous thing.

All in all, 2010 is shaping up to be quite a Gen Con for skepticism.

If anybody wants to help out, even just to supply ideas or advice, sign up at the Gen Con Skeptics forum and start posting or just contact me at causticbox at gmail dot com. Hopefully with enough work, we can get our own Skeptical Symposium in the coming years!

Posted in Plans, Presentations, Vaccine Drive | Leave a Comment »