The second Question Explore Discover Conference (QEDCon) concluded yesterday. It was a packed and exhilarating two days of skepticism and I had an absolute blast! I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to all the organisers for their very hard work in putting the conference on, and I’m sure many will agree when I state that it was a roaring success. I thought I’d write a very brief overview while it’s all still fresh in my head.
I rolled into Manchester on Friday evening, and found the mixer in the bar to already be in full swing. I had a great time chatting with lots of people who I’d previously only known through Twitter (although I didn’t get round to seeing everyone, sorry about that!) and I plucked up enough courage to make an iPadio recording, having a natter with a few attendees. Highlights for me included watching one of my copies of the Giant Book of Fantastic Facts being worshipped by an Australian (Hi Keiran!) and the one and only Joe Nickell inspecting my trilobite (not a euphamism). In fact, the general consensus on my Moroccan trilobite was that it’s real, which just made me even more smug!
The Saturday started with Deborah Hyde talking about werewolves. She was followed by the legend Professor Steve Jones, whose talk I had been particularly looking forward to. He didn’t disappoint, giving a confident and sometimes controversial (especialy if you are a psychologist) talk on evolution. I’d brought my copy of “The Language of the Genes”, a book of his which I purchased about 12 years ago before I went to study biochemistry and he was kind enough to sign it, which really made my day! I then had to make my first tough decision: see the excellent David Aaronovitch talk about his book Voodoo Histories or go the the British Humanist Association room and see the “science versus skepticism” panel. I’d done a little bit of blogging for the panel so I plumped for that. To my surprise, Steve Jones had agreed to be on the panel at the last minute, and we spent a fascinating hour discussing various matters pertaining to science. My only criticism was that it could have gone on for another couple of hours!
After lunch, I took in Ophelia Benson‘s thought-provoking talk on religion, where I embarrassed myself in the Q and A over my ignorance over the US constitution. I then did my shift on the book store which meant I missed Sarah Angliss (whose talk on ‘Voices of the Dead’ received high plaudits from everyone I spoke to), before going back to the BHA room for the Pod Delusion recording, where yours truly opened with a piece on the Planet Vulcan. You should be able to hear that in the not-too-distant future! That session featured what I thought was the most controversial opinion of the weekend, I didn’t think I’d hear a gay man arguing against gay marriage! Certainly food for thought. The afternoon was rounded up with the wonderful Richard Saunders from the Skeptic Zone podcast regaling us with his many tales from Australia, including his role on “The One” show and the inevitable demise of Power Balance bracelets.
I was a member of the elite who had paid for the gala dinner, so after a nice meal we were in a prime location for the evening’s entertainment. An early highlight for myself was seeing the Pod Delusion win a Skeptic award for best podcast, it was very richly deserved and a huge endorsement for James, Liz and everyone else involved in putting the show together. Richard Wiseman was effortlessly entertaining as compère, and all the comedy acts were side-splittingly funny! After partying late into the night, I went to bed very happy and contented with an excellent first day.
Some sore heads were pretty clear to see on Sunday morning, which started with Edzard Ernst telling us about his career researching alternative medicine, and his many battles with woo-pusher extraordinaire Prince Charles. Ernst received a huge round of applause for his tireless work, and the crowd were even prepared to forgive his use of Comic Sans! Ian Ridpath followed with a talk on UFOs, which included some sage advice on how to fake them (which I might try to do at some point). After lunch JREF president DJ Grothe gave a very clever and introspective talk on skepticism which dismissed the myth that Americans don’t get irony! Maryam Namazie followed with a talk on secularism and religious freedom. She repeatedly had to stop for applause, and I got quite riled when I heard that Unite Against Facism sided with an islamist group rather than her secularist group at a recent rally. After an unexpected bonus of Colin Wright, Joe Nickell gave the last talk of the weekend, telling us about his many adventures in the world of paranormal investigation.
Overall, a fantastic weekend and a great opportunity for the skeptic community to get together. I’m already looking forward to QEDCon 2013, assuming the world doesn’t end this year of course.