The Skeptical Gamers

Bringing critical thinking to Gen Con Indy

Archive for the ‘Vaccine Drive’ Category

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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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!

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