The Skeptical Gamers

Bringing critical thinking to Gen Con Indy

Archive for the ‘Talks’ Category

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.

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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.

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