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The Skeptic’s Guide and The Bad Astronomer @ DragonCon 09 September 6, 2009

Posted by rationalskeptic in Science and Skepticism.
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On a whim, my friend Elliot and I decided to take a day trip to Atlanta for DragonCon 09.  Our primary motivation for going to the convention was the SkepTrack, organized by the Atlanta Skeptics.  The SkepTrack was organized well and the schedule was filled with panels, lectures, and discussions that would make any skeptic euphoric. I am a huge fan of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast and Phil Plait’s (The Bad Astronomer) blog Bad Astronomy, and meeting all of them was the icing on the proverbial cake.

Me and The Bad Astronomer (Phil)

Me and The Bad Astronomer (Phil)

Me and Rebecca of The SGU

Me and Rebecca of The SGU

Jay, Me, Evan, and Bob (of The SGU)

Jay, Me, Evan, and Bob (of The SGU)

Me and Steven Novella (The Holy Grail)

Me and Steven Novella (The Holy Grail)








Steven Novella is the host of the The Skeptic’s Guide, a Neurologist, a daily blogger, and in my opinion the most effective (in many ways) voice for scientific skepticism.  Steve gave a wonderful lecture on why skepticism is needed and below are my notes from that lecture:

Dr. Steven Novella, September 4, 2009 Lecture @ Dragoncon

Why We Need Skepticism: Lessons from Neuroscience 


  • Visual processing and optical illusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Inability to judge distance, size, speed
  • Pattern Recognition                                                


  • Memory Fusion
  • Selective and False memory (Confidence does not predict accuracy)

 Altered States:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Hypnagogia, Hypnopompia
  • Seizures (right temporal lobe seizure)
  • Encephalopathy, Intoxication, Anoxia                                      


  • Bias– Pattern Recognition, Agency Detection, Ego gratification, Attribution error, Confirmation Bias, Negative Bias                                                      
  • Emotion– Dislike uncertainty, Desire a sense of control, Desire to be liked or to be perceived positively by others

 Heuristics (mental short-cuts): (default mode for human thinking)

  • Conscious vs. Subconscious                                        
  • Anchoring and Marketing
  • Automatic Choice (gut feeling)
  • Barnum/Forer Effect (fMRI): most decisions made prior to awareness; conscious selves accept or reject subconscious decisions, mostly rationalize


  • Science works
  • Skepticism can mitigate the frailties of human thinking; knowledge of statistics trumps probability heuristics.