Posts Tagged ‘skepticism’

QED 2013

Friday, May 10th, 2013 | Events

Last month, I attended QED for the first time. I’ve not been in previous years due to the cost, but having more disposable income now, I’m making an effort to get round the various conferences.

They certainly had a good speaker line up. I don’t think it was as good as TAM, but is better than the BHA’s conference this year, and both TAM and BHA Con are twice the price that QED was. In value for money terms, it was OK. There was no food provided during the weekend, so the £99 ticket price is actually more when you factor that in.

I also attended the Gala Dinner, which was supposed to have Brooke Magnanti on our table. She missed the dinner, which I didn’t mind too much as I was hosting her at Leeds Skeptics a few days after, but I might have been rather disappointed if not.

The speakers themselves varied in quality. Natalie Haynes was a bit of a disappointment because her speaking style is incredibly erratic – she was constantly darting back and forward on the stage and her talk had very little structure. It was still interesting and funny, but could have been a lot better. Rose Shapiro also seemed a bit out of her depth when it came to public speaking.

Stevyn Colgan justified his place as opening keynote though, with a brilliant talk about applying skepticism to police work, Rachael Dunlop was as entertaining and charming as ever, and Carrie Poppy delivered a brilliant talk too. Brian Thompson was a delight as Master of Ceremonies as well – imagine an American version of Andrew Copson and you’ve got a pretty accurate picture.

The star of the show for me, and I imagine many other people too though, was Lawrence Krauss, who presented an outstanding talk on how you get a universe from nothing. Well worth watching the video for that once it is posted.

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Wrestling the Troll

Friday, August 24th, 2012 | Religion & Politics

A few months ago, Paula Kirby, executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation, publicly wrote about some of the problems see saw in the freethought movement, in her essay Sisterhood of the Oppressed .

Since then I’ve found an increasing number of blog post and other links arriving in my inbox regarding the current splits in opinion. I hadn’t actually seen The Amazing Atheist’s Don’t Take This The Wrong Way video, nor indeed had I see Rebecca Watson’s original video until I saw it embedded in that one. I hadn’t heard about Thunderf00t getting kicked off FTB for daring not to toe the party line either.

PZ Myers video response is worth a watch too, as it lays out a good dogma for atheist. Perhaps dogma isn’t the right word, but I’m not being sarcastic there, if you wanted to lay out what movement was about, it was a great way to do it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the video ended as strongly as it began. PZ then to try and what I can only describe as deliberately trying to divide people into an “us and them” mentality when he suggests that FTB is going to continue to promote “equal respect for everyone at conferences and in everyday life”, suggesting (or in Thunderf00t’s case, openly stating) that anyone who doesn’t conform to the FTB dogma is against equality. This is obviously nonsense.

It’s concerning how often PZ and FTB’s name keeps coming up in a wide range of criticism from lots of other atheist writers. As I mentioned at the start, Paul Kirby was already aired her concerns, and now Sam Harris has become the next big name to speak out against how he feels mistreated in his blog post Wrestling the Troll.

Sisterhood of the Oppressed

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 | Humanism, Religion & Politics

All I ever wanted to do was run a local free thinking group and stage lively though provoking events. It was a simple dream. Because of this, I don’t tend to read all the skeptics blogs. Fair play to you if you do, a lot of them are good, it’s just that I would rather go out and do something positive.

I compromised my principles along the way. Throughout my leadership at Leeds Atheist Society we operated a policy of positive discrimination to get more women involved in the society. All well and good put there is no such thing as positive discrimination, it’s just discrimination, and “positive” normally means that the flip side, and there is always a flip side, is directed at the majority, so it’s OK to discriminate. In fact, by our third year, six of the nine committee members were female.

I even launched a pro abortion campaign with the society, in conjunction with the then-not-even constituted feminist society, and ensured women were represented on the board of trustees of my charity and that women spoke at my conferences.

But none of this was enough to keep the wolves from the door. When Leeds Skeptics booked a speaker that we originally hoped would provide an empowering talk for women, discussing research suggesting gender stereotype threat wasn’t holding them back, we soon came in the firing line. Not a “hey, I’ve done some more research about this speaker, here it is, maybe you should reconsider”, but a you clearly hate women and want to “punch them in the mouth”. As Trystan Swale points out, I clearly deserve the stake.

Given all the discussions surrounding it however, I couldn’t help but to be dragged into what turns out to have been an on-going debate for several months regarding feminism and skepticism. It seems to be mostly making a mountain out of a mole hill – very serious issues but the resolution seems to be a) put a harassment policy in place and b) don’t bad mouth TAM, and everybody would be happy again. But go read about it for yourself, I haven’t read all the blog posts and I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.

However, now that I have been dragged into some of it, ended up reading one of the most controversial pieces of the whole debates – Paula Kirby’s open letter, Sisterhood of the Oppressed. It turns out to be an excellent read. Lest I not be called fair, you can read the rebuttals and background too.

In it, Paula suggests that a positive attitude of empowering women, it is a much more powerful too than constantly playing the victim card. This is exactly what feminism should be about in the modern day, and indeed, it is the fact that some branches of feminism don’t adopt this attitude that causes such a rift between equal rights campaigners and some of the feminist movement.

While everyone will have their own points of view on the issues raised, I think that Paula should be commended for having the courage to put topics into the public sphere for discussion.

P.S. It is issues similar these that Ken McLaughlin deals with in his new book “Surviving Identity: Vulnerabity and the Psychology of Recognition”, of which he will be discussing at the next meeting of Leeds Salon on Monday. An event I would highly recommend attending for anyone in the Leeds area.