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Thoughts About LogiCON

by Daniel Loxton, Apr 12 2011
Daniel Loxton Keynote Address at LogiCON 2011. Photo by Mark Iocchelli

Daniel Loxton Keynote Address at LogiCON 2011. Photo by Mark Iocchelli

Last weekend I was honored to deliver the keynote address at LogiCON, a skeptical event held at Edmonton’s Telus World of Science. It’s an amazing facility, and it was an inspiring event.

LogiCON

Organized by the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society, LogiCON 2011 was a curated sequel to (and departure from) a successful 2010 event built on the open SkeptiCamp model.

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.

Impressions

Barbara Drescher's "Advanced" track lecture about causal inference

Barbara Drescher's "Advanced" track lecture about causal inference

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.

Organization

LogiCON speakers Marie-Claire Shanahan and Desiree Schell

LogiCON speakers Marie-Claire Shanahan and Desiree Schell

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.

Location, location…

LogiCON organizer Rachelle Saunders. Photo by Forrest Caissie

LogiCON organizer Rachelle Saunders. Photo by Forrest Caissie

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”

Daniel Loxton Keynote at LogiCON 2011. Photo by Marc-Julien Objois

Photo by Marc-Julien Objois

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.)

Thank you!

I’d like to thank the Greater Edmonton Skeptics Society for hosting me, and for making me feel so welcome.

And especially, I’d like to thank the many bright kids and proud relations who took the time to speak to me about Evolution or Junior Skeptic. You guys made my trip!

Thanks, Edmonton!

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Rating: 4.5/5 (8 votes cast)
Thoughts About LogiCON, 4.5 out of 5 based on 8 ratings

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13 Responses to “Thoughts About LogiCON”

  1. Daniel, thank you so, so much for being a part of this. I cannot imagine a better keynote. Looking forward to reliving it on video!

  2. Daniel, Thanks for the great summary of a terrific day. It was my first skeptical event and I was really impressed. Your contributions were no small part of that! – along with the impressive organization and thoughtful outreach focus that you describe. I too am looking forward to the video!

  3. Mike K says:

    Fantastic review of the event. I am so glad the event went off without a hitch and I am very proud of the Edmonton skeptical community.

    I am, however, now extremely depressed I was unable to attend. I look forward to seeing the video.

    Perhaps I will be able to attend the next LogiCon.

    Well done everyone.

  4. Reed Esau says:

    Congratulations to Edmonton Skeptics (and all those involved in LogiCON) on what I’ve heard was a wonderful event.

    Departing from the SkeptiCamp approach is an excellent idea if one seeks to focus on outreach, as outreach isn’t an explicit goal of the SkeptiCamp events — they instead focus on two other goals: (1) lowering the barriers to distributing knowledge within one’s community of skeptics, and (2) developing one’s skills through giving interactive talks to one’s peers.

    Nevertheless having two approaches does not mean that we must choose one over the other. As Atlanta skeptics have demonstrated, they can be complementary, with accessible outreach events like LogiCON and Dragon*Con working jointly with peer education events like SkeptiCamps to move skepticism forward and help it grow.

  5. Thanks for coming out to Edmonton!

    I thought your talk was right on the money with respect to what we wanted the public to get out of LogiCON. I’m also really glad you and so many other people enjoyed it.

    We’re definitely going to put on more events like this, but I think we’re going to need a few sleeps before we start again. ;)

    Reed: You’re totally right. SkeptiCamp is awesome, but it’s awesome for the existing skeptical community. The goal of LogiCON is to promote critical thinking, which can only grow and diversify the skeptical community.

  6. badrescher says:

    Well said.

    The team of organizers did a stellar job. I felt appreciated and proud to be a part of it. I see a bright future for this not-so-little Con.

  7. Karla McLaren says:

    Oh, I wish I had been there! It sounds like such a wonderful approach, and I’m so glad they invited you to be keynote. They get an A+ from me. Huzzah!

    Video!

  8. Skeptiateach says:

    All of the sessions I attended, including Daniel’s keynote, Barbara Drescher’s session and a panel on Scientifically minded parenting with 5 panelists were extremely well done, personal and poignant. The key point that has really stuck with me from Daniel’s talk was the emphasis on recognizing most people’s good intentions to be informed, and critical thinkers, but not always having the best sources to draw upon. I am so grateful to have the opportunity of having such a dynamic skeptical organization right here at home. I am so incredibly proud of the organizers for putting together such a class act! Thank-you to the speakers that contributed and made this a great experience for my whole family!

    • badrescher says:

      If I remember correctly, you contributed quite a bit yourself from the audience (and between talks) with great questions and discussion. I enjoyed meeting you!

  9. Grant N says:

    Daniel, as I mentioned to you afterwards, your keynote could definitely be the seed for a Loxton family memoir. Very engaging, entertaining and thought provoking. Job well done Daniel and kudos to all the GESS organizers. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions I attended in the morning and having the keynote in the planetarium was, well, stellar. Daniel, you looked right at home. Waiting anxiously for the video.