FtB Interviews: Kylie Sturgess

Up next in the FtB interview series is super activist Kylie Sturgess, aka the Token Skeptic!

Though she lives in Australia, you can still see her rocking the Skepticon 4 t-shirt in the picture on the right.  Are you going to be at Skepticon 4?  Kylie won’t  be there, but PZ, Ed, Jen, Greta, Richard, and myself will be (and there’s even rumor of a special FtB skeptics in the pub running around…)

Anyway!  You’ve heard about the secret lives of Greg Laden and Jen McCreight, no you get to peer into the hidden recesses beneath the public face of Kylie Sturgess!

I’ve asked this of everybody else: how did you get into blogging?

My first effort at a blog no longer exists online; it was a kind of ‘poetry battle’ blog where I’d trade verses and literature reviews with Digital Cuttlefish (another FreeThought blogger).

Holy crap there’s a wikipedia page on you!  For what are you most known [for]?

I hope I’m not most well known for having a Wikipedia page…

I’m the co-creator (with Griffith University’s Prof. Martin Bridgstock) of what might be the largest paranormal belief survey done in Australia – it’s the basis of ‘The structure of superstitious action – A further analysis of fresh evidence’ and other forthcoming papers. The data also ended up being used in my UWA M.Ed thesis, called Anomalistic Beliefs in Australians: A Rasch analysis.

Other than that, I was a co-MC and presenter at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, Victoria and will return with Lawrence Leung in 2012. There’s around a hundred interviews for podcasts I’ve conducted, many of those can be found on the Token Skeptic podcast. I write for a number of publications and I’m the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website. My essay on working as a teacher in religious schools featured in the Australian Book of Atheism – which you can find at Embiggen Books. Plus – in 2011, I was the first prize winner for the Individual Activist Award from the Secular Students Alliance!

What are you afraid of?

That one day my fight to the death in order to get a regular podcast out every week will fail and my corpse will be found holding a Zoom H4 under the Parsec Awards stage.

Do you have any weird talents?

I don’t know if this counts as ‘weird’ but I’ve been a ballroom dancer for the past ten years – currently completing my gold medal in Latin.

What is a misconception people have about you?

That I care about pointless criticisms. I laugh at myself as much as I laugh at others. I’d rather have a life, like the one Amanda Palmer sings about. Which might come across as ‘the lady doth protest too much,’ but seriously, I try to live in the now.

What are you most proud of?

The opportunities I’ve had to work with and promote the achievements of true friends and brilliant people – Martin Bridgstock, the Skepticality podcast, Barbara Drescher and the JREF Educational panel, Desiree Schell and the Skeptically Speaking crew, Milton Mermikides, the Young Australian Skeptics podcast, the QEDCon crew, the ‘Ladies Who Do Skepticism’, the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the great many people who I’ve interviewed and worked with at events like Dragon*Con (Hi Ann, Mykel, Jennifer and Josh!) and the Global Atheist Convention.

I’m sure I’m missing people here, but they must know that they rock.

Who is/was your hero?

I don’t do heroes. Everyone has faults. I do, however, have people whose work I admire, like Jane Austen, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Susan Blackmore. Frank Zappa was pretty damned fascinating.

Are you famous?

‘Ya Famous?

“I graduated in 1993 from Amarvino College with a double-major in water-sports and pearl-diving. They promptly rescinded that degree and gave me one in Music out of sheer embarrassment that I managed to major in topics that they weren’t actually aware that someone could do at the institution (let alone possible to achieve with the human body).

My first album, ‘Unfortunate Choice Of Cyrillic Characters In Calendars’ was released in 1997 and was promptly banned by the BBC for impregnating Stephen Fry. My second album ‘The Size Of Things In My Trousers’ was released in 1997 and features a painting by my second-cousin twice removed, which was created by throwing themselves off the Sydney Harbor Bridge with a bucket of food dye.

In 2001 I produced ‘Snark’ with the aid of two empty cola-bottles and a lot of hot air. The ‘I Found A Fish!’ album came out in 2003 (complete with special packaging to emulate the bottom of a lobster net). 2006 was the year of the album ‘punctus percontativus’, which can neatly camouflage itself in your DVD rack and provide a horrid shock to first-dates when they browse through your collection. My latest work, ‘Flicked’ came out in 2010 and is best listened to in either the original demo versions that came out in my podcast and/or the brace position.”

In short, no.

Who is your arch nemesis?

According to my Skeptic Trump card, it’s “Scams, frauds and hysterias that challenge progress in science and culture”.

Did you ever believe in god?

I tried but it never really took.

What blogs do you read?  Which blog will you never miss an entry on ever!

Like Greg Laden, I’m not that big on blog-reading. I do have a long-term dedication to sites like IMDB.com, Salon, Feministing, Wired, Nature, Boing Boing, the New York Times and Ain’t It Cool News.

Taking a look at my (not-often-looked at enough) RSS feed, I notice that I have the ‘usual suspects’ like Gawker, i09, Feministing, Jezebel, Wired, The Bloggess, VF daily, SheThought and various news sites like The Guardian and The Australian – but I usually check those without needing to be reminded. Others that are listed include Digital Cuttlefish, Stephen Law, Jennifer Ouellette, Derren Brown, Nigel Warburton, Orac, Alom Shaha, Michael McRae, Barbara Drescher, Joey Hayban, Hayley Stevens and the occasional CSICOP article by Dr Karen Stollznow. There’s a bunch of random others, usually to do with literature, film, science or art in general.

Never miss an entry: Daniel Loxton on Skeptic Blogs.

On what projects are you presently working?

The Young Australian Skeptics Blog Anthology Is Nearly Out! Head to the Young Australian Skeptic site at www.youngausskeptics.com to get your copy very, very soon! It’ll feature essays by Dr Phil ‘The Bad Astronomer’ Plait, Evan ‘SGU’ Bernstein, Greta Christina, Yau Man Chan, Stephanie Zvan and many more.

I have just submitted a short podcast interview to the UK Pod Delusion show; it should be out next week, all about skeptics contributing to Wikipedia. I have another podcast episode out soon and I have another book that is winging its way to me so I can check over the typesetting before I release it to the world. It’s called ‘The Scope Of Skepticism’.

I’ve also just this minute sent in my passport details for the World Skeptics Convention, which will be held in Berlin, May 18-20th. I still can’t believe it!

What has the transition to FtB been like?

I appreciate the kind words and hope to contribute further to the site.

What do you do for fun?

Dance, listen to music, travel, make films, interview people, write and practice the bass line from ‘Call Me Al’.

I also had a quasi-mission since February to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen and I just finished making her Asian-braised shin of beef with hot and sour shredded salad for tonight’s meal. I suggest you don’t forget what bowls you’re using and instead put them immediately in to wash – I ended up accidentally mixing an ice-cream drink in the bowl I used for the beef stock.

If you were limited to one adult beverage for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Diet cola (I don’t drink alcohol).

How did we not bump into each other at Dragon*Con?

At the last Dragon*Con (2011), I presented on six panels, along the likes of DJ Grothe, Desiree Schell, Barbara Drescher, Debbie Goddard, Dr Phil Plait and Dr Steve Novella. The recordings of those panels appear on Skepticality podcast and my own podcast, Token Skeptic – Education Vs Debunking is one of them. There’s about a dozen YouTube videos that I’ve made about all of those conferences online as well – some are ‘vodcasted’ on the Token Skeptic podcast stream.

Over the past four years I have done 22 panels at Dragon*Con. I also have worked behind the scenes (and behind the Skeptic.com table) for every SkepTrack. I am infinitely grateful to Derek and Swoopy for those opportunities.

It’s not unusual in the slightest for people to overlook me. When skeptical and atheist communities talk (as they have done over the past few months) about how women are marginalised in comparison to men, how prejudices exist despite our ‘rationalist’ status or how only a few people get recognition, promoted or given opportunities while others are subtly or overtly ostracised – I shrug and say ‘This is news?’

I have joked for a long time that I am just considered the ‘black sheep’ or (as my podcast/blog says) the ‘token skeptic’ – last Dragon*Con, someone who knew me since 2008 called me ‘Karen’ in passing!

My response is to just laugh, keep on working hard and not take it personally. Maybe that’s a little ‘Boxer’-like of me, but thankfully there are wonderful groups and individuals who work every day to make things change and promote inclusive attitudes – which gives me hope.

In the movie of your life, which characters would be indispensable to the story?

The green-eyed girl with the bright red hair under the hijab.

The man who still sounds like Kermit the Frog.

The classy ladies who took it on the chin and kept on fighting.

The monster under the bed.

The cat with the freckles.

The once fat-guy with the beard, who never knew how much he meant to me.

What motivates you to do what you do?

Caffeine and the love of good people.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Crommunist

    Cool!

    You should work in some of the items from the Proust Questionnaire a la James Lipton.

  • Kylie Sturgess

    Funnily enough, Crommunist – if you look on the Freethought Forum we have, you’ll see that I suggested the ‘Proust’ Questionnaire as a suggested FtB blogging feature! I’m very fond of Vanity Fair’s version. :)

    Thank you JT – and many thanks to the people behind taking the photos as well (mouse over to see their names) – and Crispian Jago of Skeptic Trumps fame!

  • Brian Gregory

    “That one day my fight to the death in order to get a regular podcast out every week will fail and my corpse will be found holding a Zoom H4 under the Parsec Awards stage.” – hah! =)

  • Aliasalpha

    “The once fat-guy with the beard, who never knew how much he meant to me.”

    Ooh how long until auditions for this movie? This part sounds great for me!

  • Grendel

    And the caffeine loves you too!


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