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Dragon*Con 2010

by Brian Dunning, Sep 09 2010

I just got back from Dragon*Con 2010 in Atlanta, had an amazing time, and came straight here to share my thoughts with you.

It is an interesting conference. Although 99% of it is a celebration of geek culture, fantasy, sci-fi, gaming, entertainment, comics, art, and just about anything else you can think of, its Skeptic Track (under the capable guidance of Skepticality's Derek Colanduno) has grown to be one of the world's largest critical thinking gatherings. Its differentiating factor is that outside the door of the 350-seat Skeptic Track room pass 70,000 other conference attendees, and it's thus uniquely positioned for outreach. And outreach it did: Talks by James Randi and Adam Savage draw such large audiences that they are out in the main halls, where hundreds of non-skeptics hear them. Both discussed The Amazing Meeting and skepticism by name. Both probably piqued a lot of interest, if not converts, and probably put curious butts in the seats of the Skeptic Track room.

Skeptoid has a bare bones budget, and as such, I have to be very careful about where I spend money. Dragon*Con is fun, but it's not right for me to spend my budget (most of which is donated) on fun. It's best spent on outreach, which I define as anything that increases the size of the audience. This year turned out to be unexpectedly successful for me as far as outreach is concerned, as I was fortunate enough to win the Parsec Award (one of the most prestigious podcast awards, and given out at Dragon*Con) for Skeptoid. I got direct feedback from a number of people who only learned of Skeptoid because of that, and tuned in as a result. The Parsec will, no doubt, continue to be an ongoing source of promotion for Skeptoid, and by extension, for critical thinking as a whole.

To be honest, I very nearly did not attend this year, because I was dubious of the value. Dragon*Con is very expensive. The hotel is full 5-star hotel priced, for 5 nights, and it's a cross-country flight. It's the most expensive conference I've attended on behalf of Skeptoid by a wide margin. I ended up going, and only at the last minute, only because so many east coast fans emailed to ask me to come. Flattery gets my fans everywhere, so I went, and had a fabulous time with everyone. (The camaraderie is by far the best part of the conference.)

Much discussion was had among myself and the other speakers about outreach, and how best to leverage such conferences. I was surprised to learn that there is not a consensus, and that some folks prefer that conferences be only for the enjoyment of the attendees and not about reaching new audiences. I disagree, and consider outreach to be, overwhelmingly, the most important reason to have a conference. Randi and Adam, and other popular names like Brian Brushwood and Jamy Ian Swiss and George Hrab, accomplish this in spades. When these folks gave their talks, the rooms were bursting at the seams with non-Skeptic Track attendees, and this put huge smiles on our faces. I wouldn't spend Skeptoid money on a conference that was for my enjoyment only, but I would spend money on a conference that increases the visibility of critical thinking and helps to make it more mainstream.

Without a doubt, the quality of the lineup that Derek assembled for Dragon*Con 2010 rivaled that of any other critical thinking conference I've attended. Kudos to him for putting on a fabulous show (and to Swoopy for her equally fabulous podcasting track), and I hope to see many more in the future.

10 Responses to “Dragon*Con 2010”

  1. steelsheen11b says:

    Isn’t 99% of geek life fantasy?

  2. Rick Smathers says:

    It’s very difficult to generalize about such a diverse group with any degree of accuracy. There are many different types of people at Dragon*Con and it is a much broader spectrum than many such conventions.

    There certainly are a subset of fantasy prone people there, but no more than the general population I think. It’s just that their fantasies tend to be more fantastic and frankly, I’d much rather hang out with someone who believes in Unicorns than someone who believes God is telling them to carry out anti-social acts against their fellow man.

    Many geeks revel in fantasy because they realize that it isn’t real, but want to enjoy their fertile imaginations in a harmless way. Many (though not all) have a keen sense of reality vs. fantasy and rather than believe something which they know is not true, they indulge in their fiction of choice as a hobby.

    They put on their Storm Trooper Armor and various other costumes; belt on their light-sabers, wings, or capes; and become actors on a stage of their own creation for a short time, then they quietly rejoin the rat race.

    While this might seem a bit odd to those who have no desire to engage in this kind of hobby, it is infinitely more rational than actually accepting the fantasy at face value and adopting a belief in it.

  3. Dave Jones says:

    Well, with a 10 month old kid we only got sitting for one day. And then we missed your big presentation because of location confusion. :(
    We are still glad that you used some of the pittance we donate to Skeptoid to come to Atlanta and share the skeptical movement with a broader audience.
    BTW, I heard yet another example of Skeptoid’s effect on podcasting and skeptical outreach just yesterday. A horror podcast called ‘Horrortech’ did a full show on skepticism of paranormal stories and events (it’s a few shows back in their feed now), and your name was mentioned often. You should check it out, the skeptic of the pair did an admirable job with the ammo that Skeptoid provided.

    • Malachi Constant says:

      Are you sure it was called “Horrortech”? I searched for it on iTunes and on the web and couldn’t find it. Do you have a link?

  4. Max says:

    Skeptoid is not tax-exempt, right?

  5. Brian,

    When you come next year, purchase your Dragon*Con membership as soon as you can, the prices go up by about $20 every 2-3 months starting pretty quickly.

    Also, look into booking a room at the Atlanta Downtown Red Roof Inn on Courtland Street. It is cheap, and RIGHT next door to the Hilton and Marriott. It is where me and Swoopy always used to stay until we became directors. :)

  6. David says:

    Brian, outreach is the main job. Large groups of skeptics having fun being skeptical is a huge and potentially transformational event. I know we skeptics love our logic but even Mr. Spock understood the value of human emotion. We want to be part of groups that are cool and fun. It gets people in the door. Once they come inside and find out that skeptics are fun, then they can listen to reason.

    Have fun. Be skeptical. At the same time!

  7. Steve says:

    Brian, it’s always great to see you and the other Skeptics at DragonCon. As for outreach, I didn’t know that the skeptical community existed until DragonCon ’08. I saw some of the programming listed on the schedule, stopped by a panel, and loved every minute of it. After that, I checked out every skeptical podcast, website, and blog that I could find.

  8. Donna Gore says:

    Brian, I am so glad you did attend because SkepTrack just wouldn’t be the same without you. I think we can have fun AND outreach. I’m working on an idea for next year to have a sash made for my costume that says SKEPTIC FAIRY GODMOTHER in big letters. I’m going to put a little pocket inside for business cards, which will have skeptic websites printed on them. When someone in the crowd stops me with a comment or question, I’ll hand them a card. Also, Margaret and I were talking on FB about getting a “skeptic contingent” to march in the parade. The parade is seen by thousands of people lining the streets, it’s always posted on You Tube, etc. This is a huge opportunity for us to be seen, let’s DO IT!! Randi was mobbed by young people after his talk, and it made me so stoked, seeing how he inspired them.