Editor's Note: This here fellow, Don Riefler, is a good guy. Please read about his plan to bring a skeptical perspective to the freaks'n'geeks of Indiana, and consider helping out. Danke. - BKT
Gen Con is coming to Indiana from August 5-8, a Thursday through a Sunday. It's an enormous convention ostensibly oriented toward gaming (pen and paper RPGs, tabletop games, wargames, etc.), but in reality serving just about every aspect of geek, nerd, and dork culture: comic books, sci-fi/fantasy, anime, video games, board games, card games. You name it, Gen Con has it. It's roughly equivalent to a midwestern Dragon*Con, and pretty much the same size, too.
Our guerrilla skeptical symposium (“symposiums” are Gen Con's equivalent of Dragon*Con's "tracks") is so-called because those of us working on it have been doing it from the bottom up with no official recognition (as yet) from Gen Con itself. It started back in 2008, when some friends and I attended and sat through a panel by the Indiana Ghost Trackers called “The Science of EVP.” Suffice to say, it wasn't worth the price (free) and, after a few polite but pointed questions about the nature of their research, we decided that 2009 would see a skeptical response. We organized a panel called “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture,” and spent a couple of hours riffing on logical fallacies, alternative medicine, the antivax movement, bigfoot, and a whole host of other skeptical topics.
We expected to have maybe 15 or 20 people in attendance. We had closer to 40 or 50, and many of them came up afterwards to thank us for bringing some critical thinking to Gen Con. They were surprised and excited to see that someone had put on a panel like ours. Our success led to bigger dreams, and thus, in 2010, we are bringing skepticism to Gen Con in force.
Our model, roughly, is Dragon*Con's Skeptrack — with the distinction that we're organized bottom-up whereas Derek Colanduno organized Skeptrack more-or-less top-down, with official support from the administration. This means that we don't have any “big name” skeptics yet, but with enough work, support, and luck, we hope to attract some in years to come.
This year’s plans include a revamped and much-improved version of last year’s panel and half-a-dozen other presentations on every topic from pseudoarchaeology to scams to cross-cultural patterns of paranormal belief — as well as a presentation from a bona-fide Skepchick, Jen Myers! Most importantly, though, is the fundraiser I mentioned. I was inspired by Dr. Joe Albeitz's fundraiser at TAM7 last summer and, with some advice from him, dug into organizing one for Indiana at Gen Con last fall. I coordinated with the director of the Indiana Immunization Coalition, who was quite excited to be working with us — they’re a small, struggling group themselves. Gen Con also loved the idea and agreed to give us a free booth in their Family Fun Pavilion, the perfect place to distribute educational materials about the power of childhood vaccination, while trading donations for amazing feats of amateur magic and mentalism. We'll also be delivering a presentation tentatively titled “The Power of Vaccination” that will speak for the extreme benefits of immunization, counter some antivax claims, and introduce people to the mission and goals of the Indiana Immunization Coalition.
100% of our proceeds will go to the IIC and be used to help spearhead new educational initiatives. It was originally my intention that our money go directly toward getting vaccines for kids, but research revealed that Indiana's abysmal vax rates (in the low 40s out of the 50 states) are due not to a lack of funds; the state Department of Health has money to spare for immunization. Rather, Indiana has fallen victim to the misinformation of the antivaccine movement, and as such our fundraiser will go toward countering their bad science and propaganda and getting parents educated about childhood vaccination.
As Gen Con approaches, we are in dire need of more volunteers, especially to help run the fundraiser booth. We need someone there in the exhibit hall every day from open to close, and between panels, presentations, meals, and other responsibilities we have, we'll be hard-pressed to do it all ourselves.
For more information, please visit our website, SkepticalGamers, which has in-depth summaries of most of our talks (with more coming as I have the time), details about the fundraiser, and a contact form. Perhaps the most succinct summary of the entire program is the one I wrote at my personal blog. For more info about Gen Con itself, please click here.