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What amuses, annoys, concerns or otherwise interests me – Noodlemaz

QEDcon 2015

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As ever, the opening video didn’t disappoint – congratulations to all whose hard work made this tweaked Left Behind trailer funny and so technically impressive:

QED is my Christmas; or, what I imagine Christmas to be like for people who actually enjoy it. My family now is smaller than it was, and we do things our own way, so it’s better – but I’ve never been much of a fan. QEDcon is where I spend time with my chosen family, or most of them at least!

Topping 550 people in its 5th year, it had the same friendly, warm, welcoming and highly intoxicated atmosphere it always has.

Next time, as a 6-in-a-row attendee, I shall don the volunteer orange in a bid to make myself useful, meet more people and have even more interesting conversations; I go to a lot of lectures here in London so now, for me, QED is the time to stay up really late, get up early, drink far too much and talk to lovely people. I think the responsibility of volunteering will refresh it for me and I hope to impart some veteran’s wisdom as I go.

I encouraged a friend to join us who’d never been before, and despite unfortunately having to leave early, they’ve only good reviews to give. When asked for comment:qedcon

“It was BRILLIANT”

Not much more to add I suppose!

General positive aspects I’d like to give special mention to: no Twitter wall. Well done. These things have plagued events for some years now – never, ever have them in a room where people are giving talks. If you have them outside, do not have them in view of staff working in the venue you’re using, which people will inevitably tweet vitriol about.

Everyone loves the t-shirt

Everyone loves the t-shirt – qesqueeeee [So Fucking Excited]

Just don’t have them. Everyone can look at the feed on their respective devices. Happier faces.

The gender balance was excellent this year, and the organisers put a lot of effort in to make this the case, which is fantastic. We had two all-female panels, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, let alone twice in a weekend.

The main stage had equal representation too. It’s do-able; you just need to be committed. There are still various factors making women less able/willing to speak, so it does require effort, but it’s very much appreciated.

And it is worthy of comment. Men do need to refuse to speak at all-male events/panels. Organisers should be praised for their effort, and women who get up to speak supported. It’s not the norm, yet, so we have to applaud when it’s achieved. Not pretend it’s no big deal – that doesn’t help. In the future it won’t be, but we don’t live in the future.

Cosmic Genome Quiz

I’m a big fan of a bit of quizzing, me, and having won one just a few days before, I wasn’t feeling too confident about the Cosmic Genome‘s room-full-of-nerds-competing-on-an-intellectual-level event… but in the end, we came 4th out of about 30 teams, so go us!

ParaCellularPsychoPhysical did alright!!

ParaCellularPsychoPhysical did alright!! (Kevin, Neil, me and Chris)

Eating Insects

Speaking of the future, Marcel Dicke gave an excellent opening talk on the necessity of changing how we think of insects, and building them into our diets. The Netherlands has had some success with this, and if you’re interested in learning more about our unsustainable food production and how insects could be a solution, check out his TEDx talk:

I did try one crickety looking thing, and I must say it was quite tasty! Heather Doran agreed.

I’m very open to this change, there’s so much variety and as a take-it-or-leave-it meat eater (but massive seafood fan), I’m fully behind efforts to bring insects into our menus.

Cancer quackery and lighter notes

One of the all-female panels I attended was on alternative medicines for cancer. As I have my PhD in cancer biology and still work in the field, while having my skepti-senses, I knew the panel wasn’t necessarily aimed at me, but was interested in what it would cover. Audrey from Bristol Skeptics reviewed the session.

Mainly I considered an angle I tend to take when tackling this issue; when people suggest miracle cures exist and are hidden by conspiracies, or we don’t want cures because we want to keep our jobs – appeal to their emotions. How offensive is that? I’ve lost people to cancer; a dear school friend, relatives (including my dad) – why would I want to hide cures?! This affects all of us. Do not insult me by suggesting we hide things. We are human, too.

Cancer Research UK also has a new post on the harms of alternative therapies which is well worth reading, and Good Thinking Society has information on the UK’s Cancer Act.

On being skeptical, AC Grayling delivered a wondeful closing lecture; slide-free, peppered with amusing turns of phrase – who knew the history of skeptical thought could be so pleasantly comedic? I want him to be my grandpa.

Fantastic lectures were also delivered by Dame Sue Ion, practically oozing expertise, on renewable energy & nuclear power, and the super-charismatic Dr Lucie Green on our underappreciated Sun.

Huge congrats to all the Ockham award winners, especially the team behind Stop The Saatchi Bill, who’ve worked hard to save our health service from – to use this year’s new term that caught on – woofuckery.

“Why are you so angry?”

Privilege - you has itOccasionally, because I’m quite an emotional, passionate person, people take it upon themselves (generally uninvited) to critique how I write or what I choose to discuss online.

Tone-policing is a bit of a menace when it comes to feminist discussions in particular, as well as social issues more widely; there are many things to be angry about in this world (and happy, and other things, obviously – but not everyone finds evangelising about their awesome life the most productive use of their time), and it’s just as valid an emotion as any other. Discussing with passion does not preclude feeling and doing other things.

Sure, it depends what you do with it, and I don’t consider words and conversations to be inherently negative just because they’re heated or critical. As a general tip: if you don’t like what people post, don’t follow them. Don’t tell them to modify their behaviour or even feelings just for you, you special flower.

Listening to Matt Dillahunty was interesting and reminded me of these ongoing trains of thought. As he spoke I considered the many reasons for laying our thoughts out in online conversations:

– Talking to other people – we often accept that we are unlikely to change the mind of the person/people we’re directly addressing. That often takes years of learning and consideration. But many more people are watching, and often they’re the people we’re really talking to. Whether that’s the people ‘on your side’ or not.

“Watching someone else who shares your views being embarrassed when they express them, with the protection of it not actually being them, can make them rethink their position in future “

– Matt Dillahunty

– Arming others with confidence & solid arguments to help them in stressful conversations – I’ve often been thanked for taking a stand on something when others haven’t felt able to, and while I’d never inflate my ego so far as to think this is some major contribution to the world, if I’ve irritated 3 people but made 1 feel more secure in themselves, it’s worth it.

It can also be useful for people reading to see how others’ thought processes work. I know I’ve read some fantastic comments that have informed my own conversations down the line.

– Thinking through one’s own beliefs – discussions are a good place to challenge ourselves, to try taking on positions we’re not too familiar with and arguing from different points of view, and seeing where it takes us. We can find we’ve changed our minds, or become more resolute.

Therapeutic expression – some people aren’t a fan of this, but again if you don’t like how people use their own online spaces, just move away from them. It can be a huge help for people who aren’t so comfortable in big, loud, social situations to be able to talk online.

by Dave Hughes, 2015

Alan Turing room – by Dave Hughes, QEDcon 2015

If something frustrates us in the real world – whether it’s a harasser who’s walked off and left you reeling, or something wonderful you couldn’t express thanks for, online discourse can be a godsend that helps people work through their feelings. Plenty will listen and enjoy even if you won’t.

Choice – if people want to talk about things, let them. When there’s no harm (slander, hate speech or some such), there’s little reason to tell people not to use their words as they see fit.
Emotions are valid, anger is valid. Aloof, emotionless engagement is not always the best or most appropriate course of action – others will do that, and I will at times, but certainly not always. People are generally multifaceted.

Final thoughts

On the subject of butting in, an anecdote: as I queued to get off the train with my friend in Manchester, we discussed meeting up at the main hotel after checking in at our respective places of rest.  I said I’d be 20-30 minutes. Random man next to us:

“Oh you’ll be waiting about 3 hours then, mate, women eh!”

Friend was visibly uncomfortable but I just said no, actually, if I say I’ll be there in 20 minutes that’s how long I’ll be. [In my head: fuck off with your ridiculous sexist bullshit.]. Another time, someone slightly in our way on the pavement, said “Sorry!” to my 6’5″-ish male friend, and “Oh sorry love, darlin’, aye” – yeah, ok…

Someone else lamented Manchester’s 50s-style atmosphere in a tweet I no longer recall the specifics of – reminded once again how lucky I we are to be in a bubble of generally considerate people.

That’s the thing about QED. Even if the odd person has some wonky views, everyone else is just rolling their eyes, and we’re all getting on with it, having a laugh and learning stuff. It’s reassuring, it makes me feel positive about the future (and indeed the present) and that is one of many reasons I’ll keep going.

Join us!

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Author: noodlemaz

I prefer to think of myself as a realist rather than a pessimist, but perhaps that's just optimistic. Honest, atheist, scientist, feminist.

One thought on “QEDcon 2015

  1. Pingback: VOLUNTEERING AT QED 2015 | I Am A Science Lady

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