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Skeptracking at Dragon*Con 2010

Ben Radford

September 17, 2010

Amid the bizarre costumes and assorted geekery, the skeptic’s track drew sizeable crowds...

Dragon*Con, the massive science fiction/fantasy conference held annually in Atlanta, Georgia, came and went this past Labor Day weekend. Amid the bizarre costumes and assorted geekery, the skeptic’s track drew sizeable crowds. The skeptical presence at the event has flourished in recent years, due largely to the effort of Skepticality podcast co-host Derek Colanduno. The pro-paranormal X-Track, often a source of friendly friction in past years, was somewhat anemic this time.

There were far too many talks, panels, presentations, and events to mention here—about forty in all. Guests included a who’s who of skeptics, as well as some fresh faces. Topics ran a wide gamut, including skeptical parenting, magic, fiction writing, Tim Minchin’s new animated film Storm, pop psychology myths, skepticism and sexuality, blogging, and critical thinking in education. Several sessions of Skeptical Coffee Talk (“An informal chat with three of your popular skeptic guests”) were conducted, though the 8:30 AM start time dampened the attendance—at least for those who had indulged in late-night revelry.

For those who couldn’t make it to Dragon*Con (or prefer their skepticism digitally downloaded), there were podcasts aplenty. Rebecca Watson and the Skepchicks hosted a late-night Friday podcast with special guests Bill Corbett and Scott Sigler, while Desiree Schell’s talk radio show Skeptically Speaking, normally broadcast from Edmonton, Canada, originated for the first time from Atlanta. The inimitable and ever-dapper George Hrab (nee George Harb) spewed forth his joculomusicommentarial Geologic Show podcast from Dragon*Con once again, featuring a special phoned-in, homoerotic-tinged appearance by The Bad Astronomer himself, Phil Plait.

I joined Blake Smith, my co-host of the MonsterTalk podcast, for a special live show in which we discussed monsters, the history of the show, and took questions from the audience (our other co-host, Karen Stollznow, was unavailable). Richard Saunders, Kylie Sturgess, and Rachie Dunlop did their Skeptic Zone Live, and Brian Thompson broadcast his Amateur Scientist podcast as well.

I took the opportunity to present my recent research and new investigations. I gave two talks, one about my participation in a ghost hunting television show last year, and the second on a discovery I made revealing the origins of the famous chupacabra vampire beast. After all, my specialty is investigation, and that’s what many professional conferences are about: updating members and the public about what’s new. The paranormal is not a static field; there are always new developments, new revelations, and investigations afoot.

Organizations such as the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) are working on starting up local skeptical investigation groups across the country. Hopefully future Skeptracks at Dragon*Con will include more presentations by skeptics who showcase their own investigations. Until next Dragon*Con!

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Benjamin Radford is a scientific paranormal investigator, a research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, deputy editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and author or co-author of six books and over a thousand articles on skepticism, critical thinking, and science literacy. His newest book is The Martians Have Landed: A History of Media Panics and Hoaxes. Radford is also a columnist for Discovery News and LiveScience.com.