The following preliminary schedule is for planning purposes and is subject to change. BLUE events are included with Basic Registration, while ORANGE events require separate tickets. All events take place at The Tropicana Las Vegas.
*Indicates workshops requiring an All Workshop Pass
Thursday, July 16 | Day 1
AM – PM
Welcome Reception and Informal meet-ups
The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam Performance
Friday, July 17 | Day 2
Luncheon with Special Guest James Randi, to Benefit JREF
Special Conference Sessions Paying Tribute to James Randi and Martin Gardner
SGU Benefit Dinner
Screening of “Merchants of Doubt” followed by a discussion with Director Robert Kenner, and Jamy Ian Swiss
Saturday, July 18 | Day 3
The Amaz!ng Celebration – a cocktail reception and tribute to James Randi
Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Full Frontal Nerdity & Informal Meet-ups
Sunday, July 19 | Day 4
Million Dollar Challenge
Workshop and General Session Schedule
*subject to change
Thursday, July 16
This workshop will consist of 1) a few video clips showing the cold reading in action; 2)an opportunity for each participant to give a reading to another participant with coaching from the workshop instructor; 3) suggestions for ways to enhance the effectiveness of a reading; 4) a discussion of why the reading works and what this teaches about the advantages and disadvantages of human cognition.
Each participant will be provided with a manual that will amplify the principles taught during the workshop as well as supply additional information on the practice and psychology of cold readings.
Presenters: Ray Hyman
10 Years of Skeptic Podcasting: A Panel Discussion
Join the hosts of some of the top skeptical podcasts as they discuss the history and future of skepticism in podcasting. Find out what convinced them to start their shows, what effect podcasting has had in furthering the issues which skeptics feel passionately about, and ponder where they see skeptical podcasting in the next ten years.
Presenters: Derek Colanduno, Dr. Steven Novella, Jay Novella, George Hrab, Richard Saunders and Julia Galef
Asking Good Questions
Skeptical thinking is more about asking good questions than knowing good answers. In this interactive workshop, we will practice methods for posing questions that avoid bias and hasty assumptions, and lead to better understanding and new ideas.
Presenters: Chip Denman & Grace Denman
Evaluating UFO Claims in the Media
Widespread claims are being made in the media concerning UFOs and supposed alien visitors. Newspapers, websites, and magazines often present UFO claims without serious investigation. Some cable TV channels offer a steady diet of unreliable UFO and alien claims. Many UFO books claim to be objective, but present dubious claims as factual, and give only a one-sided account. In many instances speculation is mixed with factual reporting. We show how to evaluate the foundation of such claims (or lack thereof). Often the reporting of a claim implies things about it that are not true. The purpose of this workshop is to help you evaluate UFO-related claims, and to be able to explain these evaluations to others.
Several well-known UFO cases are examined, with attention to how they were presented in the media. The importance of verifying the origin of the story is emphasized, with some illustrations of how to do this. Examples are given of certain “red flag” claims, indicating that a report is based on an extremely dubious foundation.
Presenters: Robert Sheaffer, James McGaha
Lunch on your own
Practical Skepticism — Promoting Everyday Good Thinking
Discussion with panelists on advocating for everyday skepticism for the benefit of individuals and society as a whole. We will discuss how to embrace skepticism for everyday life, reaching your target audience (women, minorities, politicians, teachers), deciding to commit to bigger projects and goals and getting and holding interest and attention.
Half the session will be Q&A and feedback solicited from the audience to discuss how we can promote skeptical ideals in everyday life. So come with your comments and questions!
Sharon Hill – DoubtfulNews.com, PracticalSkepticism.com
Simon Singh – Good Thinking Society (U.K.)
Investigating Mysteries: 10 Practical Tactics to Unravel the Uncanny
Investigating mysteries can be a tricky business. In this workshop you will learn by doing: you will be presented with a mystery and will be asked to come up with a possible protocol in order to test or investigate the claim at hand. We will then evaluate what is good in your approach and what needs rethinking. You will learn practical tactics and proven strategies that investigators, such as Randi and Polidoro, have used in the past and can be used again in similar circumstances.
Presenter: Massimo Polidoro
SGU Presents: How to Argue
This workshop will teach how to defend your position with effective arguments based in logic, critical thinking, and the best evidence. We will review how to effectively engage online and in person, with family, friends, work colleagues, and strangers. Attendees will have the opportunity to put their arguing skills to the test.
Presenter: Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe team
Million Dollar Challenge: How JREF Tests Paranormal Claims
Forty years ago, James Randi put $1000 of his own money on the table for anyone who could demonstrate paranormal powers in a controlled test. The challenge prize now stands at $1,000,000. In this workshop, you will use real-life cases from the JREF files to explore the issues faced when evaluating those who apply for the Million Dollar Challenge.
Presenter: Chip Denman
The Nigerian Spam Scam Scam
Friday, July 17
All General Sessions below are included with basic registration unless otherwise noted.
Welcome & Opening Remarks
Presenter: George Hrab
Big Feat, Small Steps: Sasquatch, Science, and the Search for the Golden Turd
Based on the amount of television, websites, and consumer goods dedicated to the ‘Big Guy’, there appears to be an unquenchable thirst to prove the existence of Sasquatch. However, what science is being utilized to discover the ultimate hide-and-go-seek champion? What empirical evidence is being collected? Bigfoot is thought to be a large-bodied, bipedal primate, thus, if those within the Bigfoot community are serious about their search, it is crucial that they become amateur or professional primatologists and follow the same protocol for discovering a new species of primate. This includes extensive research about the life history of primates (including primate diet, behavior, reproductive strategies, locomotion), data collection that adheres to strict protocols (to avoid contamination), and laboratory testing performed by scientists. Given the ability to extract DNA from feces, hair, blood, and blood meals of biting insects, ‘squatchers have a wealth of biomaterials to exploit and explore. If, perchance, I wanted to become a world-class physicist I would be expected to study the work of Newton, Schrödinger, and Einstein just as Bigfoot researchers ought to be quite familiar with the work of Darwin, Goodall, Disotell, and Fossey. Therefore, I hope to see the Bigfoot community embrace the field of primatology, the scientific method, and treat their search like real scientific inquiry.
Presenter: Natalia Reagan
What would it take for a woo-woo idea to succeed?
Skeptics and scientists are often concerned about fencing off paranormal and fringe-science ideas from the real stuff. In some contexts, this is vital—public health policy, for example, should not affirm untested alternative medical notions. Intellectually, however, policing the boundaries of science is more difficult. It does not look like philosophers of science will come up with any quick-and-easy checklist to separate legitimate science from nonsense. There isn’t even any such thing as The Scientific Method™. More importantly, setting aside certain claims as inherently unscientific would prevent us from learning from the many different ways in which paranormal ideas fail. We can, for example, take creationism and intelligent design as prototypical pseudosciences. And yet, we can still learn from asking what it would take for such ideas to succeed. In the case of intelligent design, design proponents insist that they can detect a signature of data produced by sources beyond any possible physics. They cannot, but asking what such a signature might be leads to interesting questions that sharpen our understanding of what it means to say that our universe can be understood entirely in terms of physical processes of “chance and necessity.”
Presenter: Taner Edis
Crossing the Line: The Challenge of ‘Post-empirical Science’
For the rationally-minded, right-thinking sceptical type, science is the ultimate blunt instrument. We use its logical rules to club pseudo-scientists, paranormalists and other snake-oil salesmen over the head. But here’s some bad news. Within the communities of scientists and philosophers of science there’s actually no general agreement on what science or the ‘scientific method’ really is. And debates are raging at conferences and in academic papers over whether a whole bunch of contemporary theoretical physics – of superstrings, M-theory, and the multiverse – is really science or what Jim calls ‘fairy-tale physics’. Some academics are calling for the ‘rules’ to be adapted to fit the demands of a new ‘post-empirical science’. In the meantime, our best, most successful theories of the universe are known to be deeply flawed. How did this happen? What does it mean? Should we care? In this session Jim shares one perspective.
Presenter: Jim Baggott
Science Has Left The House (And The Senate)
An anti-science sentiment is sweeping the state and federal legislatures, replaced by a Medieval mentality that deifies “Natural Law,” elbows evolution aside in favor of “Intelligent Design,” and stops critical curricular updates in science courses dead in their tracks. Even the US House Science and Technology Committee is calling into question many federal grants for research in the STEM sciences, while legislative bodies throughout the country are making advances towards anti-science positions such as abstinence only sex education. From incursions into reproductive rights and marriage equality, to the anti-skeptic denial of ,climate change, we will score the legislative initiatives that roll back our world to a pre-Enlightenment era and are most deserving of Dishonorable Mentions.
Presenter: Edwina Rogers
Martin Gardner – Skeptic Supreme
Martin Gardner (1914-2010) (www.martingardner.org) was The Best Friend Mathematics Ever Had, and for many is best known for his “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American, which ran from the 1950s to the 1980s, introducing hundreds of thousands of readers to elegant ideas which still inspire “Aha!” moments today.
Martin’s first loves, however, were magic, rationality and philosophy, and his favourite targets were pseudoscience and bogus science and medicine. He was first and foremost a debunker, and his book “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science” from 1952 set the stage modern science-based skepticism. Martin later played a major role in the founding of CSICOP and “Skeptical Inquirer” magazine.
His death five years ago ended a remarkable publishing career spanning 80 years, and over 100 books. October 2014 marked his centennial, and this is a good time to survey some of what he achieved and the legacy he leaves behind.
Presenter: Colm Mulcahy
Gardner’s Life as a Skeptic
Martin Gardner, known for his quiet demeanor, became a leader in the skeptical community. How did he get there? What are his roots? His inspirations? In many ways Gardner was unique, bringing together so many threads that he could weave the fabric of arguments that held together in the face of the blast of complaints. During this session, Dana Richards will trace his development through his papers, correspondence and recollections.
Presenter: Dana Richards
Martin Gardner: Skepticism, Magic, and Whimsy
Martin Gardner displayed a shy, unassuming personality. On paper, he was an eloquent and commanding writer who – to quote Wikipedia – was “an uncompromising critic of fringe science and was a founding member of CSICOP, an organization devoted to debunking pseudoscience.“ He considered James Randi one of his closest colleagues, confidant, and in many respects a “partner in crime.“ Hi son Jim will share some insight and anecdotes what it was like growing up in the Gardner household in the context of skepticism, magic, and Martin’s whimsical personality.
Presenter: James Gardner
VIP Lunch with special guest James Randi
Skepticism as a form of public intellectualism: the case of Martin Gardner
What is skepticism for? What are, or should be, the goals of a skeptic movement? These are crucial questions to ask ourselves, as they go to the core of what we want to do and why. Martin Gardner was in many ways the quintessential skeptic, fighting the good fight against unreason and pseudoscience, while at the same time adopting controversial positions of his own. How could the same person be devastating in his critique of Uri Geller, for instance, and yet profess to be a philosophical theist? During this session attendees will explore selected aspects of Gardner’s work and thought in order to shed some light on what skepticism means, what it is, and perhaps what it ought to be.
Presenter: Massimo Pigliucci
Martin & Me
Simon Singh explains the influence of Martin Gardner on his writing, covering topics such as Fermat’s Last Theorem, The Simpsons, cryptography, cosmology and quackery.
Presenter: Simon Singh
Panel discussion with James Randi
Stories vs. Statistics, Numbers vs. Narratives in the News and Elsewhere
During the first part of this session the presenter will deal with some general issues contrasting mathematical logic and the logic of narrative and their corresponding mindsets. The second part will examine a slew of mathematical solecisms that infect our view of the the news and and of much else, including, of course, pseudoscience.
Presenter: John Allen Paulos
Keynote Presentation: Comics, Censorship, and Fear Itself
Outside of comic geeks, few people know that the comic book industry was a sort of natural experiment in censorship. In the 1950s, under threat from congress, comics went from a vibrant storytelling industry to a goofy, moralizing, adolescent art form. Zach Weinersmith will discuss the history of that change, what followed it, recent developments, and why we should all be a bit skeptical of claims that media is corrupting the youth.
Presenter: Zach Weinersmith
Skeptics Guide to the Universe Benefit Dinner
Film Screening: Merchants of Doubt
following by a panel discussion with Director/Producer, Robert Kenner and Jamy Ian Swiss
Saturday, July 18
All General Sessions below are included with basic registration unless otherwise noted.
Presenter: George Hrab
Who Speaks for Skepticism?
Presenter: Jamy Ian Swiss
The Anatomy Of A Takedown: The Fall Of Food Babe
Yvette d’Entremont, aka SciBabe, started her website as a parody with a serious mission; to use science and humor to debunk charlatans. When the site was launched, other scientists were already speaking out about the blogger Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe. Unfortunately a dent hadn’t been made in her mainstream media popularity despite a cavalcade of information about her deceitful tactics and non-scientifically based advice. Yvette’s presentation will focus on how to communicate using humor and social media to beat the modern day snake oil salesmen at their own game.
Presenter: Yvette d’Entremont
Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash
Our perceptions of beauty, health, success, and happiness are framed by a popular culture that is increasingly disconnected from reality. This isn’t just a hyperbolic assertion. Research tells us that our health decisions and goals are influenced by both celebrity culture and celebrity endorsements, that our children’s ambitions are now overwhelmingly governed by the fantasy of fame, and that our ideals of beauty and success are mediated through a celebrity-dominated worldview. The celebrity brand is at once the most desired state of being (modern-day royalty!) and one of the most socially problematic. In this presentation professor Timothy Caulfield looks at what the emerging evidence tells us about the influence of popular culture on a range of issues associated with our health and well-being and on representations of science.
Presenter: Tim Caulfield
The Elusive Placebo
The placebo effect is one of the most widely misunderstood things in medicine. Most people believe placebos have powerful effects, but when science tries to pin down what is really happening, the placebo effect eludes our grasp and appears to either be nonexistent or inconsequential. Placebos are essential for placebo-controlled studies in research, but in clinical practice the idea of “placebo effects” is best replaced by the idea of “contextual effects” that can be achieved through the doctor/patient encounter without any need for a placebo “object” like a sugar pill.
Presenter: Harriet Hall
Vaccines: The Vanishing Victims
If somebody offered you the chance of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars…if you said that a vaccine caused autism…would you do it? Well, would you?
Presenter: Brian Deer
Confessions of a Skeptical TV Doctor
After 35 years as a “TV Doctor” and a skeptic on national radio and television, Dr. Dean Edell has learned some lessons about trying to communicate the most scientifically accurate information on science and health to a lay audience. It’s all complicated by the fact that one has to be entertaining to get ratings and survive in commercial broadcasting. Some anecdotes are funny, others sad. The American media plays a powerful and often underappreciated role in promoting irrational health behaviors and scientific beliefs. During this session attendees will explore his view from inside the beast.
Presenter: Dr. Dean Edell
The End of Religion & the Rise of Enlightenment Humanism
In this talk based on the last chapter of his new book The Moral Arc, Dr.
Shermer considers the future of morality and religion in light of the
current trends of the decline of religion and the rise of secular values as
embodied in the worldview known as Enlightenment Humanism. The fastest
growing religious group in the U.S. are the “nones”—those who have no
religious affiliation. Will they ultimately displace all religion? What
about ISIS and fundamentalist believers around the world? Shermer considers
these and other exceptions to his thesis that the world is becoming more
Presenter: Dr. Michael Shermer
When Beliefs Collide
Evolution vs. creationism. Science-based medicine vs. homeopathy. MMR vaccine vs. the anti-vaxxers. Science and reason vs. conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, therapeutic touch, psychic readings…. Reason and scientific evidence are not enough to overcome the passionate convictions of those whose beliefs do not rely on reason and science. By understanding the underlying nature of belief systems and recognizing that logic is a weak weapon against beliefs not based in logic, we can improve the likelihood of successful influence while minimizing our frustration when pleas for reason fall on deaf ears.
Presenter: Jim Alcock
An Interview with James Randi
Presenters: James Randi, Jamy Ian Swiss
What if “Intelligent Design” Had Won? Reflecting on 10 Years Since Kitzmiller v. Dover
What if the judge in Kitzmiller had ruled that ID was legal to teach? Very little would change in the science community – ID repeatedly has been shown to lack scientific merit. But the politicization of education and science would have increased exponentially. What are the legal, political, scientific, and educational implications of the trial and its aftermath?
Presenter: Eugenie Scott
Keynote Presentation: The World Demystified
Gapminder´s mission is to fight devastating ignorance with a fact-based world view that everyone can understand. In this session you will meet the three founders of Gapminder. They will show how wrong people are about the world, what the World really is like and how they believe education tools have to developed to communicate the state of the World.
Presenters: Hans, Ola, and Anna Rosling
The Amaz!ng Celebration
a cocktail reception and tribute to the Amaz!ng James Randi
The Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Full Frontal Nerdity
Sunday, July 19
All General Sessions below are included with basic registration unless otherwise noted.
Presenter: Ray Hall
Sunday Paper Presentations
Outrageous Acts of Thinking
We are bombarded with many falsehoods about science—pseudoscientific claims, urban legends, ads—disguised as facts while many marvelous truths about the natural world are ignored or unappreciated. An overview of the true, the false and the just plain weird in the world of science today.
Presenter: Debbie Berebichez
Why do the General Public Believe the Unbelievable & Hate Skeptics?
Much human decision-making, preferences and attitudes are underpinned by implicit processes that we are not aware of. Beliefs can also be driven by unconscious processes that shape what people think even in the absence of reliable evidence. I will describe the research on these implicit mechanisms that emerge spontaneously in the human mind over childhood which lend themselves to adult superstitions as well as describe how implicit processes also shape much of the general public’s prejudices and biases against atheists and scientists.
Presenter: Bruce Hood
Lunch on your own
Growing Up a Skeptic (when I didn’t know what it meant)
Skepticism can lead to some amusing situations and more than a few sideways glances, especially during childhood. While teachers and parents might become exhausted by the constant questioning and experimentation (usually to prove them wrong), we skeptics know that it is just our way of navigating through life and we wouldn’t change a thing.
Presenter: Robin Cornwell
Evolving Roles for Skeptics Battling Misinformation Online
Tim has long advocated for skeptics fighting against misinformation online in various ways. In this talk, he will explain how recent changes in online technology, including social media, algorithmic curation and annotation tools, may require skeptics to adapt our methods and evolve into new Internet roles.
Presenter: Tim Farley
The Science of Wisdom
As individuals, we’ve all asked ourselves, “How did I wind up making this same mistake again?” — whether it’s an argument you keep getting sucked into, a deadline you keep missing, or something else. And as societies, too, we often end up sticking with policies long after they’ve proven ineffective, or failing to foresee catastrophes we could have prevented. I’ll delve into the science behind how humans learn from the past to create a better future, and some of the ways we could improve.
Presenter: Julia Galef
Presenter: George Hrab & James Randi
Learn to Edit Wikipedia like a GSoW Editor and Change the World (Mwahahahaahhaha!)
You will leave this workshop learning how to edit the 6th most viewed website, Wikipedia. Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia editors are normal Wikipedia editors but with a few twists. In this workshop you will learn to think like a GSoW editor and leave having made real live edits (that is if you bring your own laptop, which is highly encouraged). No need to have a Wikipedia account, or have any experience editing, you will NOT have to join our secret cabal in order for you to make improvements to Wikipedia. This is a hands-on workshop, with very little lecture, come prepared to work, you will need your thinking cap on.
Presenter: Susan Gerbic
How Should Philosophy of Science Inform Rational Skepticism: A Panel Discussion
Skeptics often appeal to science when criticizing paranormal and fringe science claims for their failure to meet appropriate standards of evidence. Some common criticisms are that claims are unfalsifiable or that conclusions are drawn using something other than “the scientific method.” But philosophers of science have expressed serious doubts about the use of falsifiability to distinguish science from pseudoscience, as well as doubts about the idea that there is a single unifying “scientific method” used by the sciences. The panel will discuss what philosophy of science currently has to offer regarding questions about scientific methodology and the distinction of science from pseudoscience, in contrast to 1950s philosophy of science or complete dismissal of philosophy by some science advocates.
Presented by: Jim Baggott, Taner Edis, Jim Lippard, and Massimo Pigliucci
Live Million Dollar Challenge
The James Randi Educational Foundation will pay US$1,000,000 (One Million US Dollars) to any person who demonstrates any psychic, supernatural, or paranormal ability under satisfactory observation. Join us as this year’s challenger is tested LIVE ON STAGE! Over a thousand people have applied to take the challenge, but none have yet been successful. Is 2015 the year where someone claims the prize?! Join us to find out!