So you know before we get going, some of this is meant to be tongue-in-cheeck, mainly because I wanted to make use of a pun. It’s also got little serious bits in it and partly it’s because I just got home from QED and I need a bit more of it in my life before I let it go for another year…
Also I haven’t been blogging much lately, I don’t know why. Haven’t been inspired, also busy with new job(s) and imminent moving house! I didn’t write a post about QEDcon 2012 because I was mega-stressed with thesis-writing at the time (nearly couldn’t attend because of it) but this year I shall follow from the 2011 posts:
I love QED
As does everyone I speak to who’s been. This was its third year and it certainly lived up to expectations based on the last two. I’d looked forward to it since I left in 2012; extremely tired on the Sunday evening, I slept through the whole train journey back to Euston. Cleverly, this year I booked the room for Sunday night too – to anyone who can afford a bit of Monday off and the extra expense, I highly recommend this!
Some of the organisers are good friends of mine (do listen to Skeptics with a K if you haven’t before; one of my favourite podcasts! Also check out the infrequent but giggle-inducing InKredulous) but even if they weren’t I’d still have to give them many hugs/hi-5s/no-contact congratulations (delete as preferred) because, together with all the volunteers, they do a truly amazing job. I think I’ll be joining their ranks next year!
Rocking up on Friday evening for the mixer in the bar, coming back to a now familiar place and seeing lots of familiar faces (as well as plenty of new ones!) is brilliant. Some drinks, some chat, some hugs and a lot of excitement.
On Sunday we made a bit of a snap decision to listen to Natalie Haynes talk about similarities between Greek tragedies and soap operas, and the relevance of other classical authors such as Pliny, Juvenal and Virgil in modern life. Her explanation of why people saying quis custodiet ipsos custodes is quite hilarious was just perfect. Despite clearly being high on caffeine and sleep-deprived (which she acknowledged with comedic excellence), I hugely enjoyed her talk. With a Latin A level from school, I have missed classical literature and ancient history ever since and it was a lovely reminder.
Just before this, Carrie Poppy, all the way from the US of A, gave her talk on the value of anecdotes. I very much appreciated this. As an intactivist, a lot of the research I do in this area involves listening to people’s stories of how circumcision has had a negative impact on their lives. This is not valueless, quite the opposite. When an argument in defence of something often contains “but I’ve never heard anyone complain about it/I’m fine!”, exposing the truth that in fact a great deal of people have been harmed is very important indeed. I think a lot of skeptics could learn from this, and rein in the (often appropriate, admittedly) data or gtfo kind of attitude.
There were so many other things. I collected a promised hug from Colin, due to my having Tweeted a semi-regular plea for cheery thoughts when I was feeling sad one time… and having walked past him on the way to the station one day but not managing to stop and say hi in time!
For the unaware, here’s a quick bit of background on an incident you’ll need to know something about for the rest of this section to make sense.
There are other skeptical conferences. At one such event, a female speaker gave a talk that included some advice on being respectful to women, and after some time at the bar got into a lift (or an elevator, if you’re from the other side of the pond) to go to bed.
In said lift, a male delegate at the conference decided to ask her to his room for coffee. Possibly innocently, possibly with hopes of some kind of friendlier-than-that situation, who knows. After the event, said female skeptic (who is well-known to most skeptics) made a video for her website that was about an hour long, which included a short statement on this incident.
She asked him, and guys like him, not to do that kind of thing. If it’s late and you’re in a confined space alone with a woman, don’t proposition her (or say something that’s likely to be interpreted as such). It’s just a bad idea.
Fair point. Unfortunately this exploded into ridiculous discourse and all kinds of people jumped in with their views; why is she implying he might be a rapist and why doesn’t she shut up and die – together with deeper and deeper analyses of male privilege, misogyny and all sorts. Including a very misjudged and sexist comment from Richard Dawkins. The fall-out is still happening, somewhat absurdly.
Given this, just about every time a few of us got in the lift, someone would make a joke about “ElevatorGate”, as it’s now known. It was very funny.
We giggled. It was also nice when loads of us packed into the lift at one point and, to save space, partner and I took the opportunity to have a cuddle. After laughing about the close quarters, one girl did ask: “You do know each other, right?” – I think it’s great that people are coming out and asking that, rather than making assumptions or keeping quiet when they witness what might be an uncomfortable situation. Progress.
What wasn’t so funny was when I was chatting, wine in hand, with some other drunk folks after the Saturday night entertainment, trying to work out what strange game they were playing (it involved placing a wine bottle upright on the floor, using teamwork to avoid touching the floor with anything other than that bottle past a certain point).
When my flatmate said something like “Maz, be on our team, you’re light!” and picked me up briefly, a little way off the floor, to demonstrate this fact, we were amused.
However, when a random guy I had never met, who did not introduce himself or ask before going ahead with his copycat behaviour, proceeded to wrap his arms around the tops of my thighs and pick me quite high up off the ground with a grin on his face, which was pressed against my front – we did not laugh.
In fact, my partner told me afterwards that he’d felt like punching him at that point (not usually a violent person). In different circumstances, I might have let him.
Now, I’m not insinuating that this person was anything other than an inebriated reveler who saw something mildly amusing (he was not to know the previous lifter was well-known to me) and decided to join in the fun – I hope that’s the long and short of it.
However, at the risk of kicking off #liftgate, here is my advice – don’t do that. Don’t approach strangers and touch them somewhat inappropriately, even in a partying environment. My displeasure at this may have been enhanced by the fact I was wearing a loosely hanging dress I hadn’t worn before – and I don’t wear dresses often anyway.
But there it is. In the grand scheme, a small thing – I am not traumatised or accusing this person of deliberately treating me a bit like a bit of sports equipment free to be tried out in the shop, I expect he just wasn’t thinking.
That’s the point though; a lot of us are socially awkward, and it’s worth taking a second to think before you act (or speak). All of that is overridden by meeting loads of brilliant people this weekend, catching up with friends, learning some cool stuff and having a generally awesome holiday. Plus I got to use my pun-thing.
Edit: Following some commenting and Twittering, all is well – let this be an example of How Not To Be A Dick. We all make mistakes. Pointing things out, accepting our errors, apologising for them and being forgiven – it’s easy and it doesn’t have to turn into a giant flame war. Live and learn.
I will try to update this over the coming week or two with links I find to other posts, picture albums and so on relating to this year’s event. Feel free to tweet them at me, that would be helpful!
Here’s Stevyn (with whom we had a lovely lunch discussing Qi curiosities and other things on Saturday) with his favourite bits. He mentions our protesters, and I’ll try to find more mention of them. You can also read more about his Skeptical Bobby talk!
You can even listen to Saturday’s Pod Delusion Live recording!
Robin Ince mused on his panel conflict, which I unfortunately missed, but I liked reading this anyway. Here’s a summary of that session by Violetta Crisis. Daphna Shezaf has also written about the conference, and the aforementioned panel.
Some of Robin’s rage was expertly captured by @gwendes – have a look here.
Pixie359 thinks about what more can be done in skepticism.
Alex Gabriel defends Atheism+ for The Heresy Club (I missed this session too).
Hayley has put her thoughts into words.
Eventifier keeps track of twitter traffic generated by events, pretty cool stuff. Over nine thousand tweets… >480 photos, 26 videos – from more than 1200 accounts, apparently!
See Liveskeptic for some storify (collections of tweets on a particular subject/talk).
Here’s a Flickr album from Richard Cooper and here’s an open Flickr group by Kevin Friery that anyone can upload their images to. Friday (including afternoon tweet-up), Saturday and Sunday photos by Rob McDermott, plus a lovely pan of the RDF hall. The Hampshire Skeptics page also has some great images.
My photos are here but I’ll try to put them on Picasa at some point.