QEDcon 2016 Reminiscipackage

So, the QED conference is all done and dusted for 2016, and I think it’s fair to say I had a blast! There are various other reviews and musings on QED 2016 out there already, but seeing as I spent most of my time outside of the main room (due to a combination of competing interests and general lethargy I only managed to sit through two of the main talks) I thought I’d add my voice to the satisfied cacophony.

Before I start I should say that I got to talk to plenty of friends old and new, but I managed to miss lots of people who I wanted to catch up with. So, if I don’t mention you in this blog or miss out on your talk/event, please don’t take it personally!

My personal highlights all came on the Friday. I managed to get the day off work so turned up promptly for the start of the Skepticamp (kudos to Chris Higgins for getting it all organised). I enjoyed all the morning talks, especially the one that concluded the session by addressing cannibalism. After that, we went for lunch. Unfortunately lunch took a bit longer than expected, so I missed the first couple of talks of the afternoon session. I really, really hate doing that so unreserved apologies to the speakers I missed.

I delivered the penultimate planned talk, regaling the audience with the story of wisdomofchopra.com, a Deepak Chopra quote generator I made in an evening that was later used in an academic study of bullshit receptivity. Before I started I asked for a cheer from everyone not from the UK, and I’m happy to say that I got a very enthusiastic response! I was worried that the whole Brexit ugliness would put people off travelling to the UK, but as it happens I was informed that the weak pound has some advantages. I’m pretty sure my talk was well received and it was definitely the right audience, it’s not everyday that I put up a slide containing a block of code and get a laugh without having to explain it! So, onto my first personal highlight. We got 5 minutes of Q and A, and the first questioner at the end of my talk was kind enough to inform me that  the study that used quotes from wisdomofchopra.com won an IgNobel prize! I really wasn’t prepared for that, I’m not sure whether to feel pride or shame!

Talking about wisdomofchopra.com at the Skepticamp

Talking about wisdomofchopra.com at the Skepticamp

Once the Skepticamp was wrapped up I needed to check in to my hotel. Oh dear. I was only paying £30 a night so I wasn’t expecting much, but as soon as I got in I noticed the Christmas decorations. Not a good sign. Neither was the handwritten one on the wall explaining that the decorations were up because a film crew was filming a Christmas show there. I mean, I was hardly tripping up over rigging or anything. Apart from that, the carpets were worn, wallpaper was peeling off, but it worked as a place to crash so not all bad.

After that I headed to the much anticipated Friday night pub quiz, hosted by QI elf and former show guest (yes, I used to have a show!) Stevyn Colgan. I’m a bit of a quizzer and this one was top notch, but then again I would say that because my team, “Breakfast means breakfast”, managed to win the bloody thing! We paraded our trophies around the hotel in triumph, superb!

Quiz winners!

Quiz winners!

Following that I headed for the mixer, chatting with skeptical friends from all over the place, late into the night.

Probably a bit too late into the night. I got up at a reasonable time but spent too long picking over a full English breakfast so I managed to miss the first talk. Never mind I thought, I was guaranteed a front row seat for the “Dental woo” panel. Dentistry is a subject that doesn’t get that much press in the skeptisphere, and despite being in a zombie-like state I enjoyed hearing about fluoridation scares, the problems with dental research and a particularly disgusting demo of oil pulling. Don’t worry, despite it’s rather terrifying name, oil pulling just involves swilling cooking oil around your mouth for a bit. Revolting, but probably not that dangerous.

Following the panel we were all spoilt for choice, with no more that FIVE things to chose from! I plumped for a live “Skeptics with a K” recording. The room was packed so I slotted in at the back somewhere. I couldn’t see much but it’s audio init? I managed to embarrass myself by asking a nonsensical question and almost falling off my chair. Looking forward to hearing it when it comes out as a podcast. :/

After lunch I sat my arse down in the film room to “enjoy” a screening of Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, the creationist propaganda film by Ben Stein, the bloke from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Thing is, if I was watching it at home on Youtube, I’d switch it off after 10 minutes in a minor fit of rage. However, watching it with two dozen others felt like a form of group therapy, with everyone throwing their heads in their hands and screaming “noooooo” in unison. Don’t get me wrong, the film is absolute unrelenting shite, but I somehow feel richer for having experienced it.

From there I moved on to the “Skeptical Activism Under the Microscope” panel. There have been quite a few skeptic wins in recent times, and it was good to note these wins as well as consider how things can be done better in future. Following that was the keynote from Dr Karl, who offered the audience a whistle-stop tour of various moments in science, both serious and silly. I particularly enjoyed the dig at the bloody stupid “paleo” diet!

For the first time ever I didn’t go to the gala dinner as I dilly-dallied with my booking and of course the dinner sells out in 24 hours. However, instead I hooked up with a bunch of Norwich skeptics/Last Tuesday Project contributors for a very pleasant curry. Nice to make a joke about Little Melton that didn’t fall on deaf ears! I also got to meet Natalie Newell from A Science Enthusiast (amongst other things) and I got the chance to personally thank her for giving me the opportunity to design the flag for the Confederacy of Douchecanoes (long story).

Flag of the Confederacy of Douchecanoes

Flag of the Confederacy of Douchecanoes

We sauntered into the evening entertainment and managed to miss the Ockham awards, but took our seats in time to witness the annual worshipping of the cloth chicken, before taking part in a huge card trick which worked for nearly everyone. The first act, Grace Petrie can consider myself a new fan. I loved her songs, especially one called “Ivy” which really hit home with me. We were then entertained by a great set from magician Dave Alnwick, I can’t wait to see him do his thing in Liverpool next month! Comedian Tiernan Douieb brought the evening to an end, but I couldn’t hear that much of his set thanks to the dickheads at the back who decided to have a loud obnoxious conversation. Thanks for that guys. Anyway, I retreated to the bar to have some more quality conversations and before I could say “Wait, what time is it?” it was past two again. Whoops!

So once again I didn’t wake in the best states of mind. I checked out of my dank hovel, but the weather had reverted to the Manchester default of “heavy rain”. After a quick detour into a newsagents for a Mars Bar breakfast, I arrived at the hotel tired, hungover, hungry and soaked through. I stumbled into the middle of Cara Santa Maria’s talk and attempted to tune in, but after five minutes and a mention of the Bechdel test I gave up and went in search of coffee, which I somehow failed to find.

Following that I was originally planning to go to the magic workshop hosted by Dave Alnwick, but I figured that it would be packed following his triumphant Saturday night spot. Added to that, my hand eye coordination has always been sub par, so wanting to make the least amount of effort I plumped for the showing of the original Ghostbusters, a film which I realised I have never sat down and watched from beginning to end. And guess what? I was the only person who did! It was great, I took in the film, stuffed my face with free popcorn and just took the chance to relax. Good stuff! I was also keeping one eye on Twitter and saw all the reactions to Sally Le Page’s talk about duck reproduction. I was quite glad I wasn’t there as I didn’t feel up to that, it was too early for 15 foot high genitalia.

Enjoying a private screening of Ghostbusters

Enjoying a private screening of Ghostbusters

Feeling recharged, I set off for the final two panels of the conference. These were easily the most interesting ones for me. The first was entitled “The march of unreason” and it saw QED dabbling in politics for the first time. There was so much to discuss in regards to the Brexit referendum and politics in general that it barely scratched the surface, I’d love to see more of this sort of thing in the future. In the Q and A I asked why politics was a taboo subject in skepticism and I wasn’t exactly satisfied with my answer. I’m a strong believer that politics and politicians should definitely fall under the umbrella of skeptical enquiry. After all, if there is one subject that is full of bullshit, it’s politics!

Following that was a panel on “Legal Name Fraud”, a form of legal woo (you might have seen the anonymous billboards throughout the UK). This was the panel I learned the most from. People have tried to explain the “Freeman of the land” stuff to me before, but it always makes my brain explode. This panel explained everything patiently and concisely, and thanks to Geoff Whelan I have a whole new rabbit hole to get lost in!

The event was concluded with a talk from Meirion Jones about his investigation into fake bomb detectors, which for me was a familiar and utterly tragic story, a poignant note to end on. After all the congratulations had died down I quickly escaped and just about managed to make the train and hurried back to my family, so sorry if my departure seemed rather abrupt.

Overall this was a great QED. I’m looking forward to next year, but I think I’ll book a different hotel!

See you at Skepticamp and QED 2016!

qedlogoQEDcon, the biggest skeptical weekend of the year, is very nearly upon us and boy am I excited! The main event is sold out, which means over 600 skeptics from all over the world in one place. I can’t wait to see everyone, especial people who I have befriended on social media and finally get to meet in real life!

Before the main event is the Skepticamp, a series of short talks starting at 11am on the Friday. I’ll be there giving a talk about the slightly unusual story of wisdomofchopra.com so it would be great to see you there!

Sadly, due to the quagmire that is British politics, this could be one of the last QEDs where the UK is still in the European Union. I tried my best to get people to vote remain, I really did, so as a nod of apology to my European neighbours I’ve had a t shirt printed which features the word “sorry” translated into all 24 EU languages. I’ve used Google translate and I’ve already been told the Finnish is wrong, so I’m packing a couple of Sharpies so people can make corrections!

Really looking forward to seeing everyone, should be a barnstorming weekend!

QEDcon episode of The Skeptic Canary Show now available

Well, what can I say about QED? As expected, it was absolutely superb. The talks were varied and fascinating, the panels were engaging and at times unintentionally hilarious, and it was wonderful to meet up with so many great members of the skeptic community (apologies if I didn’t get the chance to talk to you, there were just so many people there)! Huge thanks to the organisers and everyone involved.

In the latest episode of The Skeptic Canary Show, myself and fellow QEDcon attendee David James discussed the event with Paul Hopwood, who sadly for him didn’t get a ticket in time (hopefully next year Paul!). Keir Liddle from the Edinburgh Skeptics was kind enough to call in, as was Rob McDermott who made history by being the first person to swear on the show! Don’t worry though, the recorded version has some hasty censorship applied. Go and have a listen at the link below.

The Skeptic Canary Show Episode 3 – QEDcon

Incidentally, I couldn’t resist posting this pic of myself at Richard Dawkin’s table at dinner. Cheers to Richard Cooper for taking it!

QEDCon Retrospective Part 2

Myself, Lee Christie, Tannice Pendegrass, Trish Hann, Alex Gabriel and Rhys Morgan discuss day two of QEDCon 2012, a weekend conference of science and skepticism. Highlights included talks by Edzard Ernst, Ian Ridpath, D.J. Grothe, Maryam Namazie and Joe Nickell. Looking forward to QEDCon 2013! The QEDCon theme is copyright Miltion Mermikides and is used with permission.

QEDCon Retrospective Part 1

Myself, Lee Christie, Tannice Pendegrass, Trish Hann, Alex Gabriel and Rhys Morgan discuss QEDCon 2012, a weekend conference of science and skepticism. Day one highlights included talks by Steve Jones, David Aaronovitch, Ophelia Benson, Sarah Angliss, Massimo Polidoro and Richard Saunders. The evenings entertainment featured the first ever Skeptic Magazine awards, as well as stand up sets from Alun Cochrane, Robin Ince and Paul Zenon. The evening concluded with an embarrassing incident involving trousers. Stay tuned for part two! The QEDCon theme is copyright Miltion Mermikides and is used with permission.

A Brief Write Up of QEDCon 2012

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.

When scientists go woo – in preparation for the “Science versus Skepticism” panel at QED

The Question Explore Discover conference (QEDcon) is merely days away. Last year’s was a fantastic spectacle of science, skepticism and having a laugh with friends old and new. If you want, you can hear some recordings I made, where I’m mostly jumping around like an excitable puppy. This year should provide more of the same (except I’ve calmed down a bit), but there was one panel in the schedule which particularly caught my eye: the “Science versus Skepticism” panel.

I read the title and straight away thought “Hang on, science VERSUS skepticism? Surely skepticism is based on the application of the scientific method?”. Then, I read the blurb and realised that throughout history, many scientists have and do hold views that are in contradiction of scientific evidence. In preparation for the panel, I thought I’d go over some of these historical figures and where they venture into the realm of woo.

Luc Montagnier

Luc Montagnier

Luc Montagnier

In 2008 Luc Montagnier (along with Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Harald zur Hausen) received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of HIV. His role in our understanding of the virus was pivotal, and helped greatly in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

However, in 2009 Montagnier produced a couple of very controversial research papers which reported the detection of electromagnetic signals in highly diluted and agitated solutions of DNA. Of course, homeopathy sympathisers like Dana Ullman jumped all over this, even though it offered no support for homeopathy. Critics such as PZ Myers pointed out the many flaws and suspicious circumstances of the research, including the fact that there were just between 72 hours between submission and publication and that the chairman of the editorial board of the journal in question was Montagnier himself!

Kary Mullis

Kary Mullis

Kary Mullis

Pretty much every biologist who has worked in a lab for the last 20 years should know who Kary Mullis is. In 1993, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Michael Smith (I’ve worked in a building bearing his name) for the development of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). Through this technique, it is possible to amplify specific DNA sequences. This ability has made a myriad of techniques possible, such as DNA fingerprinting, and PCR machines are ubiquitous throughout labs around the world.

Outside of the lab, Mullis has dabbled in various pieces of pseudoscience, from his belief in astrology to climate change denialism and AIDS denialism. He even wrote the foreword to “What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong?” by Christine Maggiore, a very tragic case.

Baroness Greenfield

Baroness Greenfield

Baroness Greenfield

Susan Greenfield is a scientist who specialises in brain physiology, researching diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. She sits in the House of Lords as a cross bencher, and was director of the Royal Society from 1998 to 2010. She has done much for the public understanding of science, and has presented the Royal Society’s Christmas Lectures.

Recently, Greenfield claimed that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were bad for children’s brains. Ben Goldacre quickly pointed out that it’s wrong to make that kind of claim without evidence and submitting to peer review, especially when the claims are on such a grand scale.

Brian Josephson

Brian Josephson

Brian Josephson

Hopefully you’ll have seen a pattern by now! Brian Josephson is a Nobel laureate, receiving the Nobel prize in physics in 1973 for predicting an effect that now bears his name.

Yet, when he was asked to write for the Royal Mail about a set of stamps to commemorate the centenary of the Nobel prize, he took the opportunity to mention that physics may one day explain telepathy. He has also leant his support to the ‘E-cat’ machine, which is supposedly a thermonuclear reaction that fits on a coffee table.

Linus Pauling

Linus Pauling Book

The cover of the book in which Linus Pauling endorses Vitamin C megadoses

Linus Pauling is perhaps the most famous case of a high-profile scientist turning to the dark side of woo. There’s no way I can do his achievements justice in a few short paragraphs, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of his greatness when I say that he’s the only person to have received two unshared Nobel Prizes. His contributions to chemistry are too numerous to list, and he was also a great peace activist, winning the Nobel Prize for a study that showed the damage overground atomic weapons tests were causing.

Sadly, as he got older he fell for the woo of megadosing on Vitamin C. This involves ingesting huge quantities of Vitamin C in the belief that it can ward off colds and even treat cancer. Although Pauling published papers to support his ideas, clinical trials conducted by the Mayo Clinic provided evidence that Vitamin C was in fact no better than placebo at treating cancer. Despite this, Pauling continued to research and promote the use of megadoses of Vitamin C, starting the quackery of orthomolecular medicine.

What causes respectable scientists do delve into quackery? I’m looking forward to this and other questions being discussed at QEDcon!

QEDcon announces lower prices for next year!

Not only will the fantastic QED conference be back in Manchester next March, but the QED team today revealed that ticket prices will actually be lower than they were this year! A full ticket for the weekend will cost just £89 (cheaper for students) compared to £99 this year. I think that this is amazingly good value (TAM London take note) for what was a cracking weekend this year, just another reason why next year’s event is not to be missed! Tickets will be available to buy on the 29th of August, appropriately enough at 10:23am.

There is also a special rate for the hotel, with rooms available for £85 for a single and £95 for a double. I’m assuming that’s per night, and although it’s a pretty good rate for a top-quality hotel I’ll see if I can go for the hostel again. I really enjoyed the community atmosphere, but I think I’ll need to remember the ear plugs this time! Hope to see you all at QEDcon!

Reflections on QEDcon

Well, what on Earth can I say to convey my thoughts on QEDcon? It was an amazing weekend for so many reasons. The speakers, the events, the organisation, the venue, everything contributed to an experience that all who were there will never forget. I’d like to sincerely thank everyone involved for such a great time!

The Friday night mixer was a real eye-opener, everyone was so friendly and it was great to put lots of names to faces that were previously just words preceeded by ‘@’ symbols! Immediately the atmosphere was jovial, warm and friendly. It gave me a certain energy, which I think can definitely be heard in the first iPadio ‘phlog’ I recorded at the conference. That carried on throughout the night, I even got to have a chat with one of my scientific heroes Eugenie Scott of the NCSE, before finally retiring to the hostel with 7 other skeptics who I’d met an hour beforehand!

So after a fair amount of alcohol and little sleep, I approached the first day of QEDcon on a haze of adrenaline and enforced insomnia. After a viewing of the collaborative intro video and a hearty welcome for host George Hrab, the first talk of the day was given by Professor Bruce Hood. Entitled “Hugging Murderers and Stabbing Teddy Bears”, it gave a fascinating insight into certain aspects of psychology. I don’t want to give too much away, but Bruce equally enthralled and surprised the audience by dropping a hand grenade as part of a demonstration! I was so impressed by the talk that I bought a copy of his book Supersense from the stall. I wasn’t the only one, as the book was sold out by day 2!

Up next in the main hall was Kat Akingbade, who told us about her families experience with religion, while a panel discussed skeptical outreach in the breakout room. I was torn between the two (always a good sign at a conference) and plumped for Kat’s talk, but I was kept updated with the panel’s activity thanks to constant tweets on the #qedcon hash tag. Following Kat was a panel on ghost hunting. I’ve never got the skeptical ghost hunting thing (ghosts don’t exist, move on), so I popped upstairs to watch a little bit of The God Who Wasn’t There, a documentary on the historicity of Jesus.

After lunch I was once again forced to choose between two excellent events: Jim Al-Khalili talking about time travel or a live recording of InKredulous. I figured that I could listen to InKreduolous when it comes out (hopefully not in 4 months this time Andy!) so I watched Jim Al-Khalili take us through some complex but fascinating physics of spacetime, focusing on the problem of paradoxes. He came up with my favourite quote from the weekend: “Why does everyone say ‘what would happen if you went back in time and killed your grandfather?’, why not kill your mother and have done with it!”.

He was followed by Chris Atkins of Starsuckers, Taking Liberties and the “Urban Fox Hunters” hoax fame. His talk focused on his most recent film Starsuckers, where we were treated to some behind the scenes footage, but he also talked about his analysis of Bob Geldof’s role in subduing coverage of the Edinburgh ‘Make Poverty History’ march, and showed us unseen footage of the ‘Urban Fox Hunters’. It turned out to be made in a hilariously amateurish way, which included faking footage of a ‘fox’ by strapping a rug to a dog!

After that I had to man the stall for an hour so I missed Chris French, but it was a joy to see Steve Novella (speaking in the UK for the first time I believe) take to the stage afterwards to talk about brain development and behaviour. He was very eloquent and concise, a great talk and an excellent way to wrap up the first day.

In between the talks and dinner, I experienced my personal highlight of the weekend. I’d charged myself with the duty of ‘phlogging’ (I’m still really not sure about that term) using iPadio, recording semi-live interviews. In the crowd I spotted Jon Ronson. He signed my copy of ‘Them‘, we had a chat and he agreed to do an on-the-spot interview! I was as nervous as Gillian McKeith before a bush tucker trial, but Jon was incredibly kind and couldn’t have been a nicer interviewee. I sat next to him at the gala dinner too, where he regaled us with tails of his experiences with Insane Clown Posse, eccentric American generals and the like.

As the evening’s entertainment kicked off, we sadly learned that Robin Ince had to cancel for family reasons. However, in his stead was Helen Keen, one of the great surprises of the weekend. I don’t want to give too much away, but she gave a great stand up set based on the Space Race, splitting the room up into Americans and Russians. We even got a unique John F. Kennedy ‘impression’ from MSS treasurer Andrew Johnston! Matt Parker followed up with a set that included an impromptu recreation of the Dr Who title sequence, and a great dismantling of wingnut website conservapedia.com. He revealed that some Christians are so anti-science as to come up with moral objections to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which almost gives credence to the Family Guy quote “Christians don’t believe in gravity”. The final act for the night was compare George Hrab, who entertained us with his skeptical songs before John Tatlock hit the decks. I retired to the bar and managed to recording a very rambly phlog before ending the day in a very tired but happy state!

Day two started with this year’s 10:23 campaign against homeopathy, Michael Marshall updating us with events from around the world. I was amazed to find out that someone in Antarctica had taken up the challenge, but my favourite photo came from a group who had managed to put a 10:23 cap and tshirt on a statue of the founder of homeopathy Sam Hahnemann! Geo counted down to 10:23am, and with much crunching we downed our 31C bella donna with no ill consequences.

Following the conclusion of 10:23, Wendy Grossman took to the platform to talk about unfortunately widespread policy-based evidence, before Simon Singh gave his talk on big bang cosmology. He also addressed the tricky problem of what to call people like James Dellingpole. ‘Climate change denier’ seemed too strong, whereas ‘climate change sceptic’ was just completely wrong, so Simon Singh suggested that we refer to Dellingpole and his ilk as being ‘climate numpties’, a fairly trivial and mocking term with I think fits rather well. It was happily refreshing to see Simon talk about something other than libel reform!

After lunch it was the turn of the aforementioned Jon Ronson to take to the stage. He gave us a few slightly worrying (in a good way) glimpses into his forthcoming book, entitled ‘The Psychopath Test’. Geo was accused of meeting the criteria, which he took with good humour! Jon inevitably played the video for Insane Clown Posse’s “Miracles“, and it was great to hear several hundred people chant the tagline “Fucking magnets, how do they work?” in unison!

After Jon came another great surprise in juggler Colin Wright. Again, I don’t want to give much away, but his appliance of number theory to juggling gave results which were both enthralling and extraordinarily clever! The closing lecture was given by Eugenie Scott, who gave a summary of the global state of the anti-science of creationism. She was kind enough to sign my copy of her book “Evolution versus Creationism: An Introduction” which left me one happy skeptic!

The weekend was bought to a close by Mike Hall, one of the tireless organisers of QEDcon. I think he got the biggest cheer when he thanked his girlfriend for dumping him a few months ago, giving him time for some serious organising! As the organisers got together for a photo-op, they received a well deserved round of applause from the audience for a job well done!

Although QEDcon may be over for now, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. As I type, the #qedcon hashtag on Twitter is still active, and there are lots of podcasts to look forward to, including InKredulous, the Pod Delusion and Strange Quarks, which will feature an interview with Eugenie Scott. As QEDcon was an immense event, hugely important for UK skepticism, I’m already looking forward to QEDcon 2!