First things first: QED was great fun, entertaining and fascinating. It was a great event and the organisers deserve a big pat on the back. I would definitely try to go if it’s on again next year.
However, as a relatively new follower of the Skeptic movement – I always held back because the way “sceptic” is used in relation to climate change – I thought it might be worth noting down a few of my impressions from the conference.
A bit more context…
I realise it was relatively short event but I felt that a trick was missed by not having a longer introduction about what Skepticism is, what it’s for and what its big challenges are. These issues sort of came up at various points during the event but it might’ve been nice to have a reference point for everything that followed.
A little bit too ghosty…
Of the 12 1 hour sessions in the main hall, 2 were about ghosts (maybe 2.25 if you count the bits in Bruce Hood’s talk). I guess ghosts are quite fun and there are some serious issues related to them (e.g. exploitation of vulnerable people) but it felt like a bit too much. Surely there are other issues we should be thinking about?
A couple of odd quotes…
…and, oddly enough, both from Eugenie Scott. These were just a couple of things that were tweeted quite a bit by attendees and made me think. First up:
“Science is organised common sense”
I think I understand the point Eugenie was trying to make here – that science isn’t some distant, abstract thing that non-scientist can’t get to grips with – but this description just didn’t work for me. How does this describe quantum mechanics, Avogadro’s law or even evolution? It just makes science sound so… boring. Science is usually beautiful and unexpected – nothing even close to common sense.
“Evolution is the history of the Universe”
So this was a phrase that Eugenie re-used from a talk that she had previously given where she had to sum up her discipline in 7 words. Assuming that she was talking about evolutionary biology, then at face value this description massively overstates the scope of that field. I’m sure physics and chemistry play some role in the universe too! If inspiration was the order of the day, then surely being the “…history of life” is pretty important too. I’m probably being far too literal but I was really surprised at how well it was received by the audience, which is more the reason that I thought I should make this point than criticising Eugenie.
Simon Singh tried to tackle what I would consider one of the big issues facing Skepticism – that the word “skeptic” is beginning to be understood more widely as “contrarian” rather than someone who simply ask questions. In climate circles, some people use “denier”, “septic” or worse to refer to those who do not accept the IPCC-based consensus on climate change but I’m not that keen on being offensive. All the same, it’s often useful to have term to refer to that community. I’m not sure I agree with Simon that numpty should be that term but at least it got raised!
Again, just to sum up, I thought the event was brilliant. Simon Singh and Jim Al-Khalili gave brilliant physics talks. Helen Keen was wonderful and Jon Ronson and Chris Atkins gave insights into worlds that I knew little about.
Just thought I’d make a few points.