You can help promote skeptical thinking

Last Fourth of July Weekend, I attended Skepchicon, which is a “track” at a “con” (where a con is a thing where everyone dresses up like Darth Vader or a Twilight character or whatever). I was on the panel for a couple of sessions and participated in others, and had a blast.

The most interesting thing that those of us involved noticed, on later reflection, is the sophistication of the audience. This is not a case of capturing the interest of a few hundred crazy woo-meisters and trying to talk them into science. Rather, the audience largely consisted of skeptical type people who wanted to advance their understanding of science and skepticism, and brainstorm about how to spread such heretical thinking more broadly.

I want to do this again, but there is a little problem with money. Here’s where you come in…

Skepchicon is organized by the Skepchicks, including some Skepchicks who fly in and others who live here. (We have a large number of Skepchicks int he Twin Cities area for some reason, or so it seems.) However there is a hiatus in funding for this program this year owing to transitions going on in the Skepchick Entity.

Therefore, fund raising is needed.

Please GO TO THIS BLOG POST and read about it, and donate a bit of money. It’s done using some bloggy widgety thing that lets you commit without giving unless the goal is met. Please commit to what you can. I know this is a tough time because the economy sucks and you already gave money to Haiti and stuff, but 20 buck here and 50 bucks there can make a difference. they only need a total of 1,500 US dollars.

And, if possible, go to the event!!!!!

Thank you very much.

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33 thoughts on “You can help promote skeptical thinking

  1. Just a comment. The site which features the link for donations clearly says “If we reach at least $1,500 by May 31, 2010, then We will be able to put on one bitchin party next July, with great guests, and more buzzed aldrins” That’s the alcoholic drink as shown on the YouTube video from last year, where they’re doing shots off the bodies of male attendees.

    Not advertising, as you put it, “advanc(ing) their understanding of science and skepticism, and brainstorm about how to spread such heretical thinking more broadly” is it? :/

  2. Ooooooh Twin Cities. I’ll be in range of there next year. Must go look it up.

    I am glad you have discovered Con People. We will turn you. Join the Dark Side. We’ll have you dressing up like a minor deity (Loki, perhaps?) in no time.


  3. Reader, good question.

    I’ll try to answer this but any available skepchicks may wish to step in.

    The skepchicon is a set of related events and activities with a “track” that involves panel discussions over a couple of days with various prominent and/or wonderful panelists and lots of attendees, the continuous maintenance of a “party room” which serves as headquarters for the whole event, as well as for various receptions and parties, and a large wall hanging proclaiming the presence of the skepchicks, etc. etc.

    The CON has a party atmosphere. During the late PM and through the night, revelers go from room to room which each room offering a different sort of experience. But, each room also offers its wares. Some are commercial, most are societies of once sort or another (like, I don’t know, the Iluminati and the Masons and such, I assume … I didn’t visit very many of them) and the SKepchicks offer science. THe room has sciencey stuff all over it, literature, Jenny McCarthy dart board, etc. etc.

    Oh, and Buzzed Aldrins. Those are the shots. Drunk, as the night goes on, off of various bodies as you say.

    The amount of alcohol consumed (in dollars) is meant to be equal to or less than the amount of money that is collected in the “tip jar.” I assure you that none of the donations will be used for the vodka. Or at least, it better not be. Because it is is it means a lot of cheap skates were taking shots! Last year I think they came away with several dollars more than the amount spent on the booze.

    That is what it is.

  4. I want to expand on what I say above, as I kind of lost track of my thoughts… Each party room is linked to something, often an organization, or a track, or something going on at The Con. The idea is to get people excited about, and to learn about, what you are doing and get them involved. A track without a party room would be poorly attended.

    My description in the post is very accurate (though not complete, I’m sure) as to what happened last year at the panel discussions. It may be different this year. Others with more experience, such as Stephanie Zvan (who did some of the panels as well) or Carrie, who totally organized last year’s event, may chime in here, or on Carrie’s post, regarding possibilities and with a broader set of experiences.

  5. Reader, the Skepchicks will party wherever they may be. The donations take care of getting them and those great guests here with us.

    After looking at the attendance at their programming track last year, they probably don’t even need to have a party for promotional purposes, but they will. During the day, they’ll sit on panels and be informative and entertaining for the people who are already interested. During the evening, they’ll show everyone very, very clearly that being skeptical doesn’t equal being dry and boring and pedantic. It will involve alcohol and sex appeal, but not particularly more so than the rest of the con (except that the Skepchicks come with added smart, which multiplies the sexy).

    When I interviewed Carrie for Atheists Talk last year, one of the people involved in the radio committee suggested I should be prepared if she wasn’t sober when she showed up. The Skepchick podcast can be somewhat boozy and very silly. Carrie, however, was well prepared for for our interview and, of course, sober. Information got shared, and time flew by because it doesn’t take booze to make skepticism (or big media cons) fun.

  6. Sure, you get to wear horns!

    Besides, most of us really worship Gandalf anyway, so you wouldn’t be stepping on any toes.


  7. “During the evening, they’ll show everyone very, very clearly that being skeptical doesn’t equal being dry and boring and pedantic. It will involve alcohol and sex appeal, but not particularly more so than the rest of the con (except that the Skepchicks come with added smart, which multiplies the sexy).”

    Very No. This is exactly what I cannot stand about skepchick, the bs with the calendar and all the other nonsense about how good it is for women to know they can be smart and sexy. women “defying the culture dichotomy”, etc. Its crap. I can cram myself into whatever contraption culture says will make me desirable too, but it sure as hell doesn’t empowerfulize anyone and its dishonest to act like it does. Who is casting a skeptical eye on contemporary female desirability? It seems to me like everyone is taking it as a given, and wants to toss in intellect as a sort of fetish item. The entire system of rules involved in this need to be questioned, not just the options currently available to women now. Maybe if the standards for contemporary female desirability were shown to be a construct rather than a fact of life more women would feel good about themselves on their own terms, instead of needing to prove their desirability via men. This could help out women who aren’t beauty 2K compliant or geniuses to feel good. Of course skepchick would be a lot less popular with horndog dudes if they did that so it probably wouldn’t work out, but I would certainly be more on board with skepchick if they didn’t make such a big deal about being conventionally sexy all the time. This is about catering to men more than anything else, if it wasn’t then I imagine that things like the calendar would showcase women who do not represent conventional beauty. Also, where are the skepchicks who could not possibly care less about being sexy for strangers? That is a very real point of view that doesn’t seem to be represented in skepchick at all. All of this is really heteronormative too, now that I think about it. The funny part is how much flak skepchick gets when they post some mildly feminist stuff, despite everything I mentioned. This group is so much more for the benefit of skepdudes than actual women who are skeptics that it bothers me to have it recommended to me so often.

    Oh, and as far as how smart all of the skepchicks are; this is another piece of the snobbery rampant in skeptic groups where intellect is equated with skepticism. Skepticism is a skill anyone can use to improve their lives, you really don’t have to be a genius to use it. Smart people can rationalize the hell out of things and be as not skeptical as any other person. Acting like it has anything to do with how smart you are alienates everyone. A focus on caring about the truth is something everyone can get behind, caring about the world you live in is something that doesn’t take any natural ability and is a really admirable quality of skeptics. Making it about intellect is almost like making it about how tall you are, it rejects people who could do some good based on an irrelevant quality. I could write so much more on this (and might when I get home).

  8. Skeptifem: At least one part of your comment would be an excellent premise for a discussion panel at Skepticon.

    (I’m not being snarky when I suggest that. Totally seroius.)

  9. On the other hand, skeptifem, there are also the Skepdude calendar and the fact that a number of sexy guys also attend the party. But if you’re looking for heteronormative, CONvergence/Skepchickcon is the wrong place to look. For that matter, so is Skepchick. Read the comments some time when the topic is sex.

    Yes, the Skepchicks get a bunch of seriously ridiculous comments whenever the topic of feminism is raised per se (fewer when they take on beauty/mommy/sex woo). Anyone who is doing education on the topic gets those. The only way to not get them is to not provide a place where people can be stupid while they’re learning.

    Which brings me to smart vs. stupid. Having all the brain power in the world is pointless and ugly and sad if you don’t use it. Using your ability to think is generally referred to as “being smart.” Smart is as much a process as anything else, which is actually something that was discussed at the last Skepchickcon. Just as anyone can care, anyone can work that process. You don’t need to find that sexy, but you can certainly refrain from policing the fact that I do.

  10. This is me speaking as bug girl, and not an authorized Skepchick (TM) representative.

    There is a big difference between skepchick the reality, Skepchick the fun image we try to project, and skepchick the image that a whole bunch of people *project onto us*.

    I’m a little zaftig woman who is entering menopause. And I’m also a Skepchick. Other skepchicks are parents and loving spouses.

    I am not sure why there is this perception/concept that we’re boozy floozies, although I’d certainly be willing to have more random hookups if it would further the cause of skepticism. I will take that one for the team.

    The panels at SkepchickCon were the catalyst for the discussions that happened later in the party room. And because people at the con go randomly from room to room, there were a lot of discussions that only happened because people wandered in seeking booze.

    Renting that room is expensive. It’s also where several of the skepchicks slept, so having it subsidized our ability to bring a full SK crew to the Con for the panels.

    The points raised in the comments here are ones we’ve addressed many times over the years–I’ll let some of the other SChicks address them, since I’m sure they have all that bookmarked.

  11. Skeptifem,

    I’m not even sure how to begin to address your calendar accusations. You’ve clearly never seen one if you think that all the Skepchick models are actually model caliber models. Me? I’m January 2009. I’m plus-sized. Size 18 on a slim day. I’m in my 30’s and a suburban mom. If you have the copy of Vogue featuring fat 30-something women, please send it to me. I’d love to see it. Other models you might want to take a look at: Greta Christina, Naomi Baker, A Kovacs. That’s off the top of my head. If you want to criticize Skepchick for pandering to some modern beauty standard, take a look at what you’re criticizing.

    As for the video in question… the woman doing the shot out of the guy’s loin cloth is someone I don’t know. I’ve never seen her before. I’ve never seen her since. The guy was just some guy attending CONvergence. I don’t know who he is either. What I learned at the con is that con parties are sexually charged. This wasn’t because of the presence of 6 Skepchicks in a crowd of 6000 people… though if it were, that would be pretty fantastic.

    To me, being a Skepchick means that critical thinking isn’t just for people with advanced degrees and angry pedants. Skeptics can be fun. Skepchicks ARE fun. The fact that we drink alcohol and enjoy socializing and even… GASP… SEX!!! Does not mean that we’re any less committed to critical thought and helping the world understand the damage being done by the lack of it. Smart? I don’t know. Are we all smart? Maybe… but skepticism isn’t for the intellectually elite either. It’s for everyone. What’s sexy about smart is being willing to learn and wanting to think.

    That said, Skepchick isn’t for everyone. But I certainly don’t think we’re ruining skepticism.

  12. Thanks for the plug, Greg!

    Skeptifem: sorry you feel that way about . . . everything. The way you write about Skepchick it seems like you read the blog a lot, but I guess you don’t see what I and thousands of others see. Heteronormative, for example, is not a word I would use to describe Skepchick, particularly as we frequently blast the pink=girls and related BS, and we have bisexual, gay, and trans contributors (and many commenters).

    But hey, we can’t please everyone! Good luck with your own ventures.

  13. reader,

    i appreciate the comment. sometimes it’s takes a critic to hold a mirror up to what i’ve written to show me that i haven’t indeed properly put across the message that i intended. it’s easy to take for granted that our readers know us and understand that partying is only one aspect of what we do, and is secondary to the work we do everyday on the blog. i will be editing that text to make this clear.

    also, greg is right: our alcohol will be mostly covered by people’s tipping at the parties themselves. money donated via the point campaign will be focused on helping guests get to the con, paying for their rooms, etc.

    thanks for your comment.

    i have to say i’m mystified as to where you’re getting the idea that we’re in any way presenting a conventional standard of beauty. as elyse pointed out, our calendar models are diverse in size, and i think it’s safe to say none of the skepchick bloggers have supermodel bodies.

    also, i’d like to challenge you on this:

    “This group is so much more for the benefit of skepdudes than actual women who are skeptics…”

    this is something we’ve been accused of before, so we looked into it. skepchick has nearly equal male and female readership. just look at our comment threads. i challenge you to find a better balanced community on the skeptical web.

    as elyse said, we’re not for everyone. but please don’t assume that just because it doesn’t work for you, it necessarily is not working for women across the board, because that is simply not the case.

  14. This discussion raises an important point, I think. There isn’t one single “female skeptic” perspective. We can argue about what does or doesn’t make a skeptic or a feminist, but there definitely isn’t a single mode of behavior or dress that’s going to be acceptable to every skeptic with two X chromosomes. Even among the Skepchicks, there is a great deal of variety that isn’t captured by broad brush accusations of impropriety.

    There was an interesting discussion about gender and skepticism on Skeptically Speaking last summer, that explored some different viewpoints about the standing of women in the skeptical movement as a whole. It’s definitely worth listening to.

  15. I am so out of the loop but here is my two cents as someone who enjoys both the skepchicks AND skeptifem. In fact, you guys have more in common than you think.

    I don’t think skeptifem is saying all of the skepchicks are supermodels, she is claiming that the focus on being sexy is the distraction. It sets up an expectation on women being sexy to be heard in the skeptical movement. There are plenty of women who could not care a fig about being found sexy and/or fun, and they still have important things to say.

    By that same token, I think the skepchicks are using brilliant marketing strategies to get people interested in skepticism AND in feminist issues who may not have otherwise ever been. Some men WILL come for the hot girls, and actually learn a thing or two.

    There are more non-skepchicks in the skeptic movement than there are actual skepchicks. I don’t think that the Skepchicks put themselves out as a representation of all women in the skeptic movement, but as they are the most well known of the female skeptics, it can happen. However, this is resolved with education and involvement on the part of women who are not skepchicks.

    So to skeptifem I would say, you are well-spoken and have a definite voice, get your ass involved more ­čÖé I love your brand of old-school feminism even in cases where I disagree, although that is admittedly rare. You do not have to be a skepchick to be heard. Again though, you guys agree more often than not.

    To the skepchicks, understand that although you guys have members of different weights/racial makeups/ages, you are primarily seen as a a younger (less than 50), conventionally attractive group of women, who do place some level of emphasis on being sexy/looks (i.e. Reality never looked so good). There is nothing wrong with that, but it is going to annoy people who do not want to be judged on their looks at all.

    To me, the most interesting part of this debate is what skeptifem said about the intellectual snobbery rampant in the skeptical movement. I admit I had never thought of this before, and she is right. Skepticism is not a tool of intellect, it is a process that can be brought to everyone. The snobbishness over intellect is making us seem like condescending assholes.

  16. Let it be known that bragging about how good you look can also be seen as a humorous and self-deprecating bit of ironic overstatement to people who understand jokes.

    My giant cock, however, is deadly serious.

  17. I think many of the commenters have already hit on what I would say. Skepchick is one of the most open, fun, and stimulating forums in skepticism on the internet, IMNSHO. Although it appeals to a broad audience, I get that it’s not for everyone. But it’s not going to damage the skeptical movement to have fun and be yourself.

    However, I don’t get the point about intellectual snobbery in skepticism. If anything, I see it as opposite of what skeptifem describes. The skeptical movement has brought together a host of interesting and different people from all walks of life. And yes, many of these people are smart and talented and fun and from a variety of backgrounds. To me, that demonstrates that intellect is everywhere, not just guarded by some supermen-elite.

  18. *google images loki*
    Yes. That would suit you, Gregie.

    “(except that the Skepchicks come with added smart, which multiplies the sexy).”
    Yes Stephanie, you are very persuasive. I should like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    “intellect as a sort of fetish item”
    this is only a problem if one objects to being a fetishist.

    “This is about catering to men more than anything else, “
    Are you sure it’s not about catering to a complex amalgamation of various assorted ideas of attractiveness which exist within a patriarchical framework? Because I’m pretty sure conventional sexiness + intelligent = hawt to me. And I’m a girl. And I don’t want people to cater to me, but my preferences are probably shaped by the society I’m in more than I would like. It gets freakin complicated. Makes my brain hurt.

    “Acting like it has anything to do with how smart you are alienates everyone. “ technically, it only alienates those that think they are not smart. Or those that are SO smart they realize smartness is only marginally a qualification of skepticism and who are otherwise disinclined to align themselves with the ‘skeptic community’.

    “a number of sexy guys also attend the party.”
    yes, but the bitter truth is that objectifying *people* has worse effects on women than on men. Thus leaving me with my conundrum.

    “Using your ability to think is generally referred to as “being smart.” “
    Nah. *displaying* your ability to appear thoughtful is generally referred to as ‘being smart’. Lots of people look smart but aren’t (and the inverse: many people look dumb but aren’t; although some kinds of dumb are just dumb)

    “little zaftig woman who is entering menopause. And I’m also a Skepchick. Other skepchicks are parents and loving spouses.

    I am not sure why there is this perception/concept that we’re boozy floozies”
    Is little zaftig woman vs. boozy floozie just a more sophisticated Madonna vs. whore complex? Women are complex. PEOPLE ARE COMPLEX.

    “I’d certainly be willing to have more random hookups if it would further the cause of skepticism. I will take that one for the team.”
    I was totally gonna call that bluff… but I clicked to your blog. Maggot therapy? Not Hawt. I tried. I like to think I’m pretty open minded. Really. But Not Hawt.

    @K.O. Myers – well said.

    *commence whining*
    Why do sexiness + intellectual snobbery (both of which have a place) need to be seen as in opposition?
    Mind, intellectual snobbery as in “you are not capable of intelligent thought” needs to be tossed, generally. But intellectual snobbery as in “you are not thinking correctly/you are demonstrating sloppy thinking/that word does not mean what you think it means” definitely has a place.


  19. “I am not sure why there is this perception/concept that we’re boozy floozies”

    Naive, much? Welcome to the elephant in the room and the clique in the clubhouse.

    One good thing from all of this is the ‘if you don’t want to support, then feel free not to.’ Makes a nice change to ongoing attacks and bitching for daring to say ‘no thanks and you can keep it’.

  20. I can’t control what you *think* you see, reader.

    But I can clarify what I said in my earlier comment, since it appears from this it wasn’t clear:

    “Is little zaftig woman vs. boozy floozie just a more sophisticated Madonna vs. whore complex? Women are complex. PEOPLE ARE COMPLEX.”

    Yes! That is exactly what I meant. You can enjoy smartness, hawtness, and sex no matter what your size or appearance. And the skepchicks do.

    And, no matter what your size, intellect, or appearance, someone will find it offensive on the interwebs. Sigh.

  21. the bitter truth is that objectifying *people* has worse effects on women than on men

    Becca, sexual intercourse does as well, but we still do it. The question is where we draw the line, how fuzzy it is, and what it actually consists of.

    Your statement contains some assumptions about reductionism and application of unrealistic standards that I don’t think apply here. It’s definitely good to ask whether the addition of “sexy” to the description of a person makes everything else evaporate, but you have to listen to the answer too. When it comes to the discussion of Skepchicks, I don’t hear that, except from their critics and a few people I know well enough to know they’re going to make the joke no matter how badly the audience wants to be taken seriously on the subject.

    As for unrealistic standards, Bug Girl and Elyse have already spoken to part of that. However, you should note that Skepchickcon also sported visible disability, crossplay, and PoC, just among the Skepchicks. None of the Skepchicks in evidence were there because they fit some mass-produced definition of sex appeal.

    At some point, you have to ask when the objection to calling someone “sexy” becomes an objection to women’s sexuality. When we’re sitting someplace, as we are, where no one objects to people saying they find PZ sexy (except PZ, of course) but they do to the same description being applied to the range of talent and physical characteristics found among the Skepchicks, I think we have some kind of problem.

    *displaying* your ability to appear thoughtful is generally referred to as ‘being smart’

    Well, that depends on whether you’re talking about someone being praised for what they’re doing or whether you’re talking about “being smart” in the abstract, Madame Snarky. :p

  22. *eyeroll*

    Every time women who promote a cause, or are professionals, or are feminists, get caught having fun, a bunch of concern trolls fill up a few threads with lots of tiresome off-topic comments about how said women are not really professional, are doing their cause a disservice, or are not really feminists. And I feel I’ve been time-warped back to the high schools I went to while growing up in Utah, hearing overly-loud Mormon girls whine about a terrible “slut” so-and-so was. A puerile and stupid conversation, entirely not worth having.

    Now, if you wish you were at the party, if you wish you were the satyr they took body shots off of, or, if you are, like me, the sort of person who never has an opportunity to go those sorts of parties – I can empathize, but only about 500 times or so. Unfortunately for you, those 500 times went by a long time ago.

    I came here because Greg left a comment at Henry Gee’s blog. That comment was quite interesting (sorry, no link, closed the tab by mistake), and was, as far as I could tell, the only thing on that blog worth reading. I wanted to thank Greg for it, and raise some minor issues I had with it.

    But I didn’t find an appropriate thread, and I ended up in a thread so full of garbage the garbage washed those thoughts out of my mind, and now Greg will have to do without my thanks and my quibbles.

  23. I am sorry that I wasn’t more aware of the diversity on skepchick. I did not see it when I had visited or reviewed the calendar. The most visible skepchicks (and the ones I have heard dudes lust after the most) gave me the impression that it was very conventional. Teek’s opinions on feminism colored my perception of skepchick as conventional as well. I still do not think the calendar is a good thing, and that the topic of what sexuality means for women in a patriarchal society desperately needs to be had.

    Regarding “getting involved”, I thought I did? My blog is there for people to take or leave.

  24. The biggest part of the joke here–that joke about men being somehow more horned up and raring to poke some chick more eagerly than chicks are horned up and raring to poke THE SAME CHICK: is that it ain’t no joke. Females are as turned on by images of females as any dude ever wuz, So
    ” This is about catering to men more than anything else, ” is the same redundant crock of pro-fem publicity genrating shit as it ever was.

    Boobs? I dare you to do your own anecdotal study TOMORROW. Here is the test: you cannot look at boobs, but you must look at the boobs who look at boobs. Chances are ( based on my own anecdotal evidence) is that you ( male) will not look at boobs until the woman you are looking at ( her face, her hair, her dress, her eyes, most of which was triggered by her speech or the manner of her entrance into your space) looks at a pair of boobs, in which case, your own etes will follow HERS.

    Then, if you are a woman, you need only admit to yourself that you looked first, before you noticed the guy whose attention you were trying to garner , looks second, after your own glance at the same boobs.

    The result: you are all a bunch of boobs, and twice the tit if you are a woman, complaining about boob glances…

  25. I must admit, I went to CONvergence last summer because I was curious what exactly a “sci-fi / anime convention” really looked like.

    It was nothing like I expected it to be.

    The skepchick room was, by far, not the “sleaziest” or most sexed-up room there. Not to mention there’s the secret BDSM room somewhere on the 18th floor that you have to know about in order to find.

    I think what happens at the parties at this con (and probably many others) is less a result of the skepchicks profiling themselves as smart or sexy women, and more the result of 6000 horny nerds (both male AND female) getting drunk and finally letting go of the inhibitions they’ve lived with throughout the rest of the year. Dressing up as a character just makes it easier to let go and be who you really want to be.

    If that kind of thing is not for you, then that’s fine. I did not go looking for the BDSM room for the same reason. But I wouldn’t judge the people who did.

  26. exarch: I didn’t see you there!

    What I saw at the same Con was this:

    During the day: A few people in costume, most not, wandering from event to event; Dozens of people piling into the Skepchicon sessions and very seriously discussing skeptical issues.

    During the night: Many people dressed up in sometimes very spectacular costumes wandering in a mostly clockwise direction around the hallways that encircle the reception room, stopping in some of the rooms, and continuing to wander, getting increasingly drunk. I didn’t go into those rooms. I assume they were full of people fucking and doing drugs, or at least, that it the impression I get from what people are saying. In the skepchicks room, people were watching Dr. Who on TV.

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