Blogging And Back Home Again! #NZSkepConf

Back home again!

I kept taking notes during the time I was at the New Zealand Skeptics conference, with every intention of writing things up… and then I realised that with the insomnia, time differences, inability to get to sleep (add in a hotel fire alarm just as I finally settled in… and then a clock alarm that a previous resident of the room set for 4am that had me dashing across the room convinced that it was my computer for about ten minutes of panic)… Well, a lot of my reflections seemed to be negative ones due to being tired, or being down about the current state of skepticism. So, I didn’t blog as much as I’d planned to.

Yet there were so many great things – it was awesome to catch up with friends, to meet with people who listen to the podcast, to present on some ideas to do with science communication and some ideas to help improve skepticism. I was more inspired by what others had to say at the NZ event, and it was brilliant how so many of the talks complimented each other, to the point that we were often referring to each other’s expertise and content. If there’s one thing I’m proud about, it’s being included with such company and such a receptive and eager-to-be-challenged audience.

Regarding the photo of me above: yes, I hate having conference laynards around my neck and will usually tie it to hang off my belt or off the handle of my bag – but thankfully being a foreigner, it wasn’t difficult for people to figure out who I was, if my “trademark” Wheels and Dollbaby skulls headband didn’t give it away already.

The conference’s emphasis on relevantly qualified speakers and evident passion for issues raised really kept the energy levels going – which is probably why I crashed so hard after it all finished. I couldn’t even move beyond the front door yesterday. It’s just as well I Storified the Tweets before getting home. Huge thanks to Siouxsie Wiles who kept up a magnificent storm of notetaking and links via Twitter during the event.

So, I didn’t write during the few moments I did have. Self-deprecating negative stuff isn’t fun to write and I’m certain it isn’t fun to read. And I just have to look back at everything I got to experience and it’s still overwhelming wonderful, so it seems daft to reflect on the rare negative moments, like no sleep. Even the fascinating weirdness of hearing a psychic speak to a skeptics conference, without having to go undercover or be the solo skeptic in the audience was brilliant!

Let alone the fact that it’s resulted in some skeptical mainstream press (click the picture and see the comments, for example).

Some things do remain to irk me a bit – having a fellow skeptic post-conference exclaim that ” We just need to make kids do more science in schools!” made me deflate in my chair. Research has well and truly indicated that there’s so many factors that can influence understanding science concepts (let alone the challenges of resources and funding to make this simple solution of “more science classes” available – and with what extra qualified teachers and with what incentive?) - and it’s not just about making students do more science classes (at the expense of what other classes, I might ask? Music classes? Art? English? What if you just plain don’t want to be a scientist?) – and it’s something I did address in passing during my talk. So, I won’t rant here. Much.

I was also dismayed to learn more about the sorry state of support for women in skepticism first hand from Dr Pamela Gay, and I hope the points that both Dr Gay and I made about encouraging diversity and that overcoming the horrible sense of silencing and sidelining with issues such as harassment will be heard beyond the event. Having pled recently online to some people that I really like to reflect on their behaviour and stop being unkind to each other, it’s not easy, I know. Just how few people mention the name “Dr Karen Stollznow” and that she has a new book out soon says it all, really.

But I made a point of having slides that featured skeptics that I think should be more acknowledged and supported, like Dr Karen Stollznow, Dr Eugenie Scott, Sharon Hill, Alom Shaha, Daniel Loxton and Hayley Stevens; it was also a joy to discover that the high number of women presenters at the event was primarily due to an effort to promote quality content. In writing that, I have an overwhelming desire to hide behind the couch for the rest of the night, as I can still think of many ways I can improve my work and I found the Q&A particularly thought-provoking. It’ll be good to focus on different projects over the rest of the year and that will hopefully do more in regards to reaching out to an audience beyond the already-skeptical. I’m grateful to Vicki Hyde of the NZ Skeptics for that, as accountability and knowing that you’re not just preaching to the choir is an issue worldwide.

It’s also difficult to feel perpetually sad about the state of skepticism in general, when you can take a photograph of your feet as you float in a saltwater, warm pool on the top of a hotel as the Melbourne rain softly falls on your phone lens.

I’m glad I have a waterproof phone.

I’m glad I caught up with Jack Scanlan and the Pseudoscientists (Jack is now the one who makes sure that I find my way back to the right tram after a night recording with the team rather than vice versa – and I am so proud of what he continues to achieve with the show, the site and his studies), the Embiggen Book gang of Warren and Kirsty, who allowed me to record the talk by Dr Philip Nitschke - and that Ed Brown could get Alistair in to hear the talk by Dr Pamela when I asked at the very last minute.

No wonder I got so little sleep during my short time in Melbourne, now I come to think about it.

I’m glad that I was home in time to do a two hour radio show on superstitions and Abominable Science for Friday 13th, and that I have busy weeks ahead of me where I will do my Psychology assignment, grade Philosophy papers, attend classes and get back to a blistering dance and gym regiment to prep for summer months where I won’t feel like leaving the house due to the heat.

I’m glad I got to see Gold and Vicki and Del and Siouxie and Pamela and the very cool people who took photos of my shoes and everyone who picked me up at airports and helped me find a phone and a whole bunch of other things and experiences and folks that now escape me as it’s now twenty to twelve and I have class tomorrow.

And that I got to see Amanda Palmer perform in another country. That was freaking awesome.

 I have more videos, but even less time and more work this week. Expect podcast episodes too.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.


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