Billed as “Critical Thinking for Everyone,” LogiCON was explicitly conceived and promoted as a science outreach event rather than as a rally for self-identified skeptics. Though it incidentally did bring together Edmonton’s skeptical community, it was designed first and foremost to introduce the public to science-based approaches to evidence in general — and to many paranormal claims in particular.
As the organizers described it,
outreach is something that skepticism is sorely lacking. Here in Edmonton we have a fantastic team, a strong skeptical community, and a wider community that appears quite happy to show up and learn a little something about science. We saw the opportunity to make the outreach event that we wished already existed elsewhere, so we got to work.
In keeping with that introductory mission, LogiCON offered three tracks: a “Beginner” track, an “Advanced” track — and another full-day track of programming for children!
All programming was open at no additional cost for anyone who paid the admission price to the World of Science. This put the cost for the conference at a very accessible 17 bucks per adult (including a substantial lunch for pre-registered attendees).
For members of the public who were already visiting the World of Science that day, LogiCON was free.
This outreach approach clearly paid off. Turnout was substantial (I’d guess 150 adults). Even by the radically altered demographics of skeptical events in the wake of skepticism’s digital renaissance, LogiCON skewed young. I’d bet that the average age of attendees was about 30. (I saw a few grey beards, but just as many children attending the adult lectures!)
I’ve never seen that before.
As well, my sense is that both the speakers and the audience had a roughly even balance of men and women.
I’ve never seen that before, either.
And, finally, thanks to the welcoming, science-based philosophy of the event, actual educational outreach occurred. I took questions from paranormal believers. In one introductory lecture I watched, a speaker took a show of hands asking who in the audience had ever heard the phrase “cognitive bias.” Some hands went up — but many did not.
Logicon was a large, complicated, first-time-event organized by a regional skeptics organization. When I accepted the keynote spot, I anticipated a certain amount of chaos.
Boy, was I impressed! I’m sure the event had the normal share of panic and mistakes behind the scenes; but, speaking as a member of the audience, the whole thing looked flawless. From signage, to audio-visual preparation, to speaker wrangling, LogiCON unfolded like clockwork. Everyone had a role, everything a place.
I extend my thanks to the organizers for the long hours and sleepless nights it must have taken to achieve that.
The collaboration with the World of Science was key to the success of the project. Not only did the center and its individual staffers contribute lectures, scientific content, credibility, and a simply extraordinary facility (go there!) but the location also underlined the traditional, science-based skepticism the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society emphasizes.
The result was a conference devoted to brass tacks scientific skepticism, distinct from other rationalist projects — and almost free from metaphysical speculation. (I heard only one reference to atheism or religion all day!)
“The Reasonableness of Weird Things”
Speaking from the center stage of the planetarium was an astonishing, humbling experience.
I’m pleased to say that my talk enjoyed encouraging advance press, and a friendly reception upon its delivery. It was a very personal talk about my own childhood, so I’m grateful for the kind words shared by members of the audience.
(Plans are afoot to make the talk available online — stand by for that.)
I’d like to thank the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society for hosting me, and for making me feel so welcome.