This past weekend (June 24-26) I attended the Skeptic Society's 2011 Science Symposium. The Skeptics Society is a nonprofit, member-supported organization devoted to promoting science and critical thinking while resisting the spread of pseudoscience, superstition, and irrational beliefs. I'm personally fascinated by conspiracy theories, the paranormal, and the supernatural - heck, I even ran a counterculture store for the second half of the 1990s. However, at heart I'm a pretty die-hard skeptic and have been a member of the Skeptic Society for many years.
The Science Symposium was three days of lectures, discussions, videos, and rubbing elbows with fellow skeptics like Bill Nye the Science Guy, Skeptic Society founder Michael Shermer, and magician and psychic-debunker James Randi. Sunday we were given the choice of a San Andreas Fault Geology Tour led by paleontologist/geologist Dr. Donald Prothero or a tour of historic Mt. Wilson Observatory.
I opted for the Observatory Tour, and wasn't disappointed. I had wanted to visit the Observatory since falling in love with a peculiar exhibit at the Museum of Jurassic Technology. The MJT displays a number of extraordinary letters written to the observers at Mount Wilson Observatory between 1915 and 1935 by people from all walks of life and the world over expressing their idiosyncratic understandings of the universe. In other words - aliens, flat Earth theories, and other weirdness. In case you want to check it out, they've also published a book of these letters: No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again.
Bill Nye The Science Guy's
Big Blast Of Science Book Signed by Bill Nye
Though I'm a bit too old to have grown up with Bill Nye the Science Guy, I've probably seen every episode of his ground-breaking show with my 10 year old son. Kids love him, but this weekend he was just as inspiring to a room full of jaded adults about changing the world for the better through science education.
The Amazing Randi gave an extraordinary presentation in spite of just recovering from some major health problems. Magician James Randi is known as as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience which he collectively calls "woo-woo." Randi founded the James Randi Educational Foundation which offers a million dollar prize to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of the paranormal or supernatural under test conditions agreed to by both parties. The money is still sitting in the bank after several decades.
If any of this sounds interesting to you, I'd also recommend checking out the Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas July 14-17. Four days of fun, fellowship, and critical thinking! I won't be able to make it, but you know who will? The Amazing Randi, magicians Penn and Teller, Bill Nye, Mythbusters' Adam Savage, the Skeptic Society's Michael Shermer, NOVA's Neil deGrasse Tyson, The God Delusion's Richard Dawkins, and a bevy of top-notch scientists and writers.