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Semiformalishmaybe

Thoughts on Skepticamp 2012

This Saturday I attended Skepticamp NYC 2012; there were sessions on a number of topics, and I was thinking about holding a session on feminist movements and the issues that divide them, but backed out a week or so before. Here are a few thoughts from the sessions:

  • Marc Barnhill talked about teaching skepticism - I wanted to raise a point that there's a different way to teach skepticism and critical thinking; I was raised by parents who encouraged creativity, but my father was also relentlessly contrarian, tearing down any argument I ever made while encouraging me to keep making them. I eventually internalised that, and came to think critically and avoid lazy thought by trying to make arguments that would withstand his efforts. I failed to make it into the question queue though
  • Bill Chapman talked about teaching engineering in K-12, which made a lot of sense from the advocacy perspective, but didn't go very far into how it should be taught. The while way through his presentation, I was trying to imagine a syllabus that would be just a bit more theoretical than shop class (which I enjoyed, but was taught for part of one year in middle school for me). I was basically sold on the idea - that technology is a distinct topic from science, and is itself worth teaching.
  • Gregory Lopez talked about effective altruism, which I thought was interesting; he made a reasonable argument that overhead costs are not a great metric from which to judge a charity. I have issues with altruism as a solution to world problems though; I've come to accept Zizek's 「argument」 that altruism can distract people from real solutions to problem, which I've recently been expressing in forums that the space for charity is defined by the space between recognition of a problem and failure by government to deal with it
  • Daniel TerribleLastName talked about crowdsourcing funding for science, which I felt was the absolute worst idea ever; he's trying to take qualified/expert judgement out of how science works, and that undermines academia.
  • Brian Gregory talked about the challenges he faces in designing robotics for space (his company's a NASA contractor). Cool stuff. I was daydreaming throughout the presentation about a small repair firm in the future that'd do repairs on satellites, having a dude up in space that'd actually make his way to them for the work.
  • Anna DifferentTerribleLastName talked about how terrible most shoes are and how they deform the feet. She was wearing Vibrams. I really want to try some of those the next time I can afford to buy things.
  • Amy Kelly talked about critical thinking and how tough it is to raise a kid with some genetic defects given how sellers of woo specially target that community. Really sad stuff, wanted to give her a hug at the end, wondering how society could better help
  • Reed Esau talked about how hard it can be to actually be a good skeptic, as compared to a good programmer. He brainstormed about this. I was thinking that participating in university research is reasonable formal training in this direction.
  • Mitch Lambert ranted for a bit.
It was overall enjoyable; I did misremember (or perhaps he misremembered?) an earlier conversation with Daniel when I was trying to jab more forcefully against his ideas, but the nature of Skepticamp involves batting at questionable ideas. I was a bit disappointed how lunch plans worked out; I misjudged the group dynamic and ended up eating alone (I thought the group was splitting when it was choosing not to eat at an Indian place). Oh well.

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