Skepticon: A Personal Account by Steven Olsen

I’ve always been an atheist, but I didn’t come to love skepticism until I moved to Portland in 2006. I approached the subject very cautiously as I was worried about having my belief in alien abductions and bigfoot challenged. The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast was an amazing resource for me. It helped teach me the skills I needed to examine the truth claims that I had taken for granted and also did a good job of helping me to understand that being wrong is just something that comes with being human and it’s not something you need to be embarrassed about.

Theism isn’t as big of a problem in Portland as it is in most parts of Americaland. However, there is plenty of nonsense to be skeptical of. Alternative medicine, neopaganism and magic crystals are all very popular in the Pacific Northwest. Having the tools to address those claims, and the recent memory of what it was like to be confronted about having false beliefs served me very well there.

I had to move back to Springfield, Missouri in 2009 and was dreading it. I grew up in the Bible Belt and didn’t really want to deal with bigoted fundamentalists on a daily basis again. I decided to mitigate this by finding a freethought group and discovered the Springfield Freethinkers. At my first meeting there was this guy named JT Eberhard there talking about some project he wanted support for. He was talking about Skepticon 2. I came into the Midwest feeling very depressed about the sociological change of scenery, but to find out that there was going to be an atheist/skeptic convention in my hometown in just a couple of weeks filled me with hope.

I made a lot of new friends at my first Skepticon. I learned a lot. And I drank a lot. Those three things tend to go hand-in-hand. The initial nervousness I had about approaching the speakers–some of whom were crucial to my becoming a skeptic in the first place–faded quickly as they proved to be affable, accessible and more than happy to answer questions.

A lot has changed since Skepticon 2. For one, the event has gotten orders of magnitude bigger and better than it ever was before. And on a personal level, I’ve changed too. I’m not new to this movement anymore and I’ve become a very busy activist. The reason I mention that is because while podcasts, books and blogs helped me become a skeptic, Skepticon is what helped me realize why it was important to get out there and do something about it. I wouldn’t be a blogger or podcaster or help with group organization if I hadn’t discovered this wonderful conference. And guess what else? It’s goddamn free.

The problem with free things that are wonderful is they are almost universally not free to produce. Skepticon is no exception. Everything that can be done to cut costs is done. Speakers waive their honorariums and the entire staff is composed of volunteers. But the venue is not cheap. And the price is much higher this year than the organizers expected. If you’re planning on going this year please donate and make sure it can happen. If you can’t make it, I hope that you’ll still chip in a little bit. The good that this conference does for the movement is too great to be measured.

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This is a guest post by Steven Olsen. He has been a supporter of Skepticon for many years now and has been known to rock all the faces. If you’d like to make a donation to the largest free skeptic conference in the nation held in Springfield, Missouri, you can do so here. We appreciate your support!

About Lauren Lane

Lauren Lane is the co-founder of Skepticon, the Midwest's largest skeptic student-run conference and remains a lead organizer today. She has not one, but TWO fancy art degrees and is not afraid to use them.


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