Tag: Skeptic

Shameless Video

Whilst I was at the conference I recorded both an audio diary (which allowed me to sleep in on Sunday when I was meant to be appearing live on the radio) and a video diary. They both tell the same story, essentially, but the video is what you’re getting (whilst I await the podcast of the slot’s arrival on the shores of the bFM web presence; English is not a strong point in this boy at the moment).

The Presentation

Well, the Skeptics Conference has been and gone. A complaint was made about me (but not really about the presentation); I’m apparently too young to be giving papers at a Skeptics Conference. I should come back in ten or twenty years time.

I would say that this is good evidence that this older member of the congregation needs a bit of critical thinking training.

The talk went well; there seemed to be less overt Climate Change Skepticism at the conference this year and so the slippery slope of the talk went unchallenged ((I’m thinking about giving a talk next year on teaching critical thinking skills; I am tempted to point out to them that the most obvious problem with the talk, the move from Peer Review Skepticism to Climate Change Skepticism, could have been challenged.)).

Still, I’m too young.

You can hear my thoughts on the conference in general on the bFM slot this weekend; I’m too tired at this point to wax lyrical about it. Still, you can enjoy a snippet of the conference by listening/watching the following; it is my talk in glorious black and white with associated mono sound. Due to some incompatibility with the movie plugin for this blog, you’ll have to click here to view (or right-click to download) the (Quicktime) movie.

There is also a PDF here.

And, for further enlightenment, you can listen to my talk (and others) as an MP3 here.

Prepping the slideshow for the Skeptics Conference

Well, today I fly down to Wellington for the Skeptics Conference, to deliver my paper ‘The Slippery Slope of Conspiracy Theories.’ Here’s a short five minute video about it. I’ll report back about the paper’s success (or lack thereof) soon.

The Peril of Youtube

I spent Sunday afternoon watching documentaries, because, on occasion, I like to catch up on what people believe about certain Conspiracy Theories ((I should do this more often, but I find it depressing. Like reading the comments on Kiwiblog.)). One of the chief problems, I’ve discovered, in writing on Conspiracy Theories is just how much of the literature, so to speak, is visual or aural rather than written. Conspiracy Theorists are often demagogues with an attendant audience who want to see or hear the latest news, rather than read about it.

The uncharitable part of my brain suspects that this might be due to the fact that a written argument is something that can be fairly easily dissected and anaylsed, whilst verbal diatribes get sometimes get way with murder against Reason. I think it’s also the case that style likes to triumph over substance ((Of course, some of the written Conspiracy-Theorists-on-Conspiracy-Theories material is terrible in an almost exactly opposite way. Many Conspiracy Theorists have managed to ape the academic style so completely that it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction (or, in many cases, the facts from the selection of facts often employed to support a particular thesis Further blurring this line is the indisputable ‘fact’ that we academics sometimes commit exactly the same sin.)).

A telling point. In one of the documentaries I watched a young man, convinced by “The Ripple Effect,” ask how it was possible for people (the Conspiracy Theorists) with such limited resources, compared to the Government, to produce such slick and persuasive videos arguing their cases? The implication was “The video is slick, it is persuasive, therefore the story it tells must be true.” Now this is obviously specious reasoning. However (the big “but” of the situation), he is right to ask “Why can’t the Government do as well, if not better?” Why are they not trying to win that PR game?

NASA, famously, tried to debunk the Moon Landing Hoax theories, only to find that the debunking attempt just confirmed the Conspiracy Theorists. “If they have nothing to hide,” they reasoned, “then why are they trying so hard to deny it?”

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Still, it bears mentioning, given that caveat, that there are no obvious parallels to things like “The Ripple Effect.” Perhaps the Government/The Man/The Establishment might well just confirm the suspicions of their opponents by engaging with them, but surely the natural enemies of the Conspiracy Theorists, the Conspiracy Skeptics, should be stepping up? Yes, there is “Screw Loose Change” as a counter-part to “Loose Change,” but the skeptics and the sceptics have not, for the most part, tried to compete in the YouTube landscape.

I could go on for some time on the why of this; part of the answer is that (many) skeptics don’t care why people believe the things they do, they just don’t like it that they think that way. Another part of the answer is that skeptics, being often quite dogmatic, can’t see any more persuasive line of arguing than “No… Just no!” But I won’t go on about that, because it will just make me depressed.

You wouldn’t like me when I’m depressed.

No, really, you wouldn’t.

I was actually meaning to get this post to swing properly towards the peril of YouTube sources; watching a documentary by the BBC or the History Channel is one thing; I can cite that with great ease and, like a book, I can reasonably expect a peer or fellow traveller to be able to get access to the video through the magic of the interloan system, et cetera. YouTube though… There is no guarantee the video will be there in a few months time.

Which is a peril. Of the YouTubes.

Thus the title.

I would say more; the thrust of the post went off in a far more interesting direction and my complaining about the ever-changing geography of cyberspace is neither original nor particularly interesting.

The Slippery Slope of Conspiracy Theories – Skeptics 2009

I’ve booked me tickets (as a posh pirate might say) for me trip to Wellington; Skeptics Conference 2009 here I come! Given the exclamation mark, a ‘thing’ I hardly like to employ in scribblings such as these (my pirate grammar is interfering with me normal speaky-writey transcription) it seems timely to post some more information about the when of the talk entitled ‘The Slippery Slope of Conspiracy Theories.’

The presentation is on Saturday the 26th at the pleasant time of 11:45am ((I say “pleasant” because last time they had me on first thing in the morning.)). I’ll blather on for about half an hour, offending some people (one person quite deliberately) and amusing others, before the brief fifteen minute window for questions (most of which will be used up by people asking overly long questions and get short replies).

Here is the draft programme for the conference; the topic and speakers, on the whole, seem much more interesting than last year’s offerings; I’m quite happy to be on after John Robinson’s talk on unwarranted skepticism in regards to Climate Change, because it feeds nicely into my talk and might even lend weight to a section of it, if the audience reaction goes the way I think it will.

I’m willing to take bets it will.

I’m both looking forward and not looking forward to the conference; I’m not the biggest fan of the so-called sceptics called ‘Skeptics;’ a lot of them are just really big fans of Science who don’t really know how it works. Whilst I’ll enjoy the trip down and the reconnection with the friends I made last time I probably won’t enjoy the predictable, naive empiricist-style questions that will have to be fielded by the other presenters and me.

I should point out that I don’t tend to enjoy attending conferences but I do enjoy presenting at them. I look forward to a world where I can present hologrammatically.

More news as it comes to hand.

On holograms.

And the conference.

Post-mortem, sort of…

Yesterday (all my troubles seemed so far away…) saw me present the first draft of ‘The Slippery Slope of Conspiracy Theories’ to the Department of Philosophy. It was only the second time I had performed it live, with a preview to a very select audience the night before (the audience, numbering one, is probably the best person I know for questioning what I say) and on both occassions no major criticisms were brought forth about the presentation’s thesis or content. Yea, verily, some of the text on the slides was fixed up, but that was due to awkwardness of sentences rather than errors of thought.

Just like that sentence.

Which is good (the pleasing reception, not the awkward phrasing of ideas, et cetera). The duration of the presentation is on target (30 minutes, give or take a few seconds) and it flows together nicely. I now have two things to do with it before the conference:

One. I still think I need a snappier conclusion.

Two. I’m going to have to force myself to keep practicing giving the paper over the next two months; given just how easily it all went yesterday my intuition is to let it lie fallow until September. This is not a good idea; ideally I should practise giving the paper a few times a week so that I become less dependent on looking at the slides to work out where I’m up to. I want to be facing the audience the entire time rather than looking back over my shoulder (I don’t want any accusations that I’m reading the slides; I’m not, but constantly looking at them rather than my audience gives the wrong impression).

Roll on September. Actually, given that I’ve just said September, here’s Earth, Wind and Fire.