skepical conference 2014


This is now a thing. A thing I do with Caralyne.


I took Caralyne last year and we had a fun time. It was a little over her head, but since she enjoyed listening to Eugenie Scott so much, I knew there was great potential to bring her back.

Plus, and most importantly, it’s a day her and I get to spend time together. We joke around, I ask her questions about what we heard, what does she think about that.

We also swing by Little Star Pizza on the way home! Man, I miss Berkeley.

The speaker list this year was amazing, just like last year. What really nice about it, is it was all TOTALLY different. The vibe and talks were just as fantastic, but all about different topics.

Lets go down the list of speakers we saw:

Sheril Kirshenbaum - Science Literacy in the 21st Century


Sheril had a very well done and entertaining presentation about science literacy in politics and popular culture (Spoiler alert: we’re dumb as a society). Her overall message was stressing how important it is to be brief and clear when communicating, especially to a policy maker.

I think she is doing the right thing by getting politically involved.

Dan Dugan - Thirteen Years to Failure: A Federal Lawsuit to Stop Public Funding of Cult-Like Waldorf Schools

This was insightful, I’ve never heard much if anything on Waldorf Schools, but the evidence presented, and they fact that they receive public funding through their charter schools is concerning.

Ben Santer - A Discernible Human Influence on Global Climate


Every conference has its high point. A keynote, or just an out of the blue great speaker.

This was it.

Ben’s talk was great, and the nearly overwhelming mountain of evidence he presented was great.

I think when it was over, I asked Caralyne if she got any of that and she said no. The only thing I could say at that point was “I’m sorry that we ruined the earth for you”. It was a tad technical for her.

I geeked out all over Ben as he was rushing out for lunch, I shook his hand, said it was great and that I used to work at LLNL, right around the time of climate gate.

He was puzzled and scared, and I’m sure he was glad he had an entourage taking him away.

I’m sorry Dr. Santer :), what I wish I could have said elegantly was that your voice is greatly appreciated, and I hope the data continues to guide us in the correct direction. What I also wished I could have expressed, is that it was people like him that made my job at LLNL enjoyable. There was nothing better than helping someone out, and then asking them what they do. It was always fascinating.

Andrew Fraknoi - Nancy Reagan’s Astrologer, Jetology, and the Zoodiac: An Astronomer Looks at Astrology

Last year, I think the post-lunch talk Caralyne and I attended was not compatible with our lunch crash.

This year, we were treated to Andrew Fraknio, a hilarious and energetic Astronomer. I liked his idea that instead of Astrology, we should have Jetology, where instead of the positions of celestial bodies, it uses the positions of jumbo jets in the sky at the moment of your birth (or is it, conception?)

It was a funny tongue in cheek comparison, very light hearted and fun.

Frank Mosher - Kids, Science, and Skepticism… For Adults!


By far, Caralyne’s favorite moment here, and it was right up there with me.

Frank Mosher had setup a little lab on each table, and it was designed to have all of us perform 4 different experiments, while he went though how he coaches and teaches this to kids.

What was interesting, is that Caralyne got to see behind the curtains from an educators perspective. It was very meta for her even if she didn’t grasp it all.

What were the labs?

  1. Color explosion with Milk
  2. Displaying the properties of polymers with a plastic bag and a sharp pencil
  3. A fun water rising experiment
  4. ferromagnetic putty!

Each table had 8 seats, and we had a nice fun group:


I was able to get a few shots of the mess we made:


Caralyne loved the putty with iron filings, here it is “eating” a magnet:


Paul Doherty - The Boundaries of Science


I want to go the Exploratorium again!

Paul was inspiring, very funny, and it was super interesting to watch him talk about space, science.

He made the point that there were a lot of people in the audience with grey hair, and he wanted to stress that we need to get kids involved in exploration and science. Of course that is important to me, thats why I drag my kids to those places.

I need to make the effort again, and more often. So aside from having these moments with Caralyne, the conference reminds me that I can do a lot more with them, it takes planning and effort though, which I lack most of the time.

With Summer coming up I have no real excuse besides my own laziness.

Final Thoughts

I did not have a pen at the conference, so I did not fill out the questionnaire. With that, here is my open feedback.

The talks and breakout sessions were perfect, I could not have asked for anything better.

There is a lot of overlap between critical thinking, secularism and skepticism, and I like how the conference is not preachy or combative in that sense. It’s much easier for me to take Caralyne who has some religious influences in her life, and not have people shame that. I like to keep Caralyne practical and non-judgemental, so keep this up! Its easily one of the best parts of the conference, just let the science and critical thinking speak for itself.

One think I can only think to ask for, is to create a youtube channel and record the talks. I would love to show these talks to friends of mine, and I since I cannot be in two places at once, I would have liked to see the other breakout sessions I could not attend.