Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Powerless to Powerful

It's the little steps you take that allow you to cover a great distance. It's the small interactions that can make a big difference in a life.

Long story short... I was producing a meeting for a large food corporation. As a guest speaker, they invited the president of a sister company to talk and take questions from the audience. let's call him Al.
He is an engaging speaker and spoke very personally about the recent passing of his mother. He also spoke of the joy of seeing his daughter dance in competitions. Because my job requires me to sit in these corporate gatherings, I've seen a thousand speakers and usually tune out because they all say the same things. "Shifting the paradigm to think outside the box will allow our team to add value to shareholders!" I was paying attention to him.
But then it turned south and the winds were sucked out of my sail (recently filled by SkepChiCamp). He started talking about Quantum Mechanics and this amazing video he had seen.

What he had just seen was a video about science called What the Bleep Do We Know. I won't link to it. For me, that would be like someone at the Holocaust Museum linking to a Neo-Nazi site. The video is actually well produced and "stars" Marlee Matlin. What it doesn't have is one ounce of scientific credibility.

Short story long, he started talking about people being able to walk thru walls because "atoms are mostly empty space" and "You can change the molecular structure of water by thinking positive or negative thoughts near it." Seriously.

All I could do is sit there quietly as he talked on and on about this nonsense. I was waiting for him to bring up The Secret. I wanted to stand up and yell to the crowd "He's feeding you bullshit! Soylent Green is made from people!!!"

I felt absolutely weak and helpless. Until I decided not to be weak and helpless.

When "Al" finished, he sat at a table next to mine. It was time for a break and I knew he had to leave quickly to catch a plane. My plan was to quickly introduce myself, let him know I enjoyed MOST of his talk but that I had an issue with the last part. I would ask if I could send him an email with some links that may offer a rebuttal to the video he had seen. The worst thing that could happen is he takes offense and has me shot.

As the break was called, I walked up to him and was immediately cut off by someone else who wanted to talk business. fuck. For a moment I thought of turning around and not pursuing it but I shook off that idea quickly. Finally, they finished and he acknowledged my presence.

I introduced myself, we shook hands and I followed my game plan to the letter. And then something weird happened. He was interested and started asking questions. He admitted that he thought most of the video was crap. He wanted to know what parts of the video I had an issue with (ALL OF IT!) . We talked for several minutes before he excused himself to catch his flight but gave me his business card so I could send him the debunking links.


I spent the rest of the day in the boring meeting but I had a big smile on my face knowing I was able to shine my little flashlight into the dark abyss and help someone climb out.

So anyway, that's what happened.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Makes Me Happy? - Skepchicamp 2010

Last Saturday, March 6th, I was proud to be part of the greatest gathering of brains I've ever experienced.
Skepchicamp 2010, created by Chicago Skepchick Elyse with the help of a great planning committee, was a day-long gathering of skeptics and critical thinkers.
Held at the Brehon Pub in Chicago, the event was a whirlwind of talks ranging from the debunking of a water-softening product to the science behind martial arts demonstrations.
The day started and ended with panel discussions featuring several Skepchicks, including Rebecca Watson skyping in from London. We also heard from Dr. Jen, who talked to us about how she communicates with her patients while promoting science-based medicine. Several teachers spoke about education and getting kids interested in science, and Don spoke of his experiences with a martial arts cult called Warrior School. Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, gave a great talk on being attacked by the right wing.
As the afternoon continued, we learned about opera myths and superstitions, pet food regulation (or the lack thereof), that there is a large UFO base in Bolingbrook, and Jamie told us we're all stupid.
During breaks, the Tense Kids rocked us with their smart, witty and catchy music. They even played a Mountain Goats cover just for me! I've had their latest CD "Oh, Idaho" on constant repeat on my iPod for the last three days. Check them out!
In the back, books and magazines were available and "Surly" Amy sold her jewelry.
But as much as I enjoyed the talks, the best thing about the day was meeting and interacting with 80 like-minded folks who have a passion for skepticism and critical thinking. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I'm not much of a social butterfly, but in this environment I was bouncing from person to person, trying to soak up knowledge from people way smarter then I. I was more than happy to be the dumbest guy in the room. I think everyone there felt the same way I did.
This is the true beauty of Skepchicamp.

Elyse, next year "you're gonna need a bigger boat" -- and for this, I congratulate you!

Enhanced by Zemanta