Ignite Skepticism will launch tomorrow at #DragonCon #Skeptrack in Atlanta

Ignite Skepticism logoBack in June I wrote a post about innovative mixes of curation and crowdsourcing that I’ve seen skeptic events adding these days. I included some ideas that (to my knowledge) have not yet been tried at the end of that post.

At DragonCon 2014 in Atlanta on Monday, I am going to curate an attempt at one of those new ideas (previously mentioned in my schedule here)! It’s called Ignite Skepticism, and it consists of a series of 5-minute lightning talks.

I hope many of you who are attending the event right now will attend this session, which is in the Skeptrack room, 204 to 207 in the Hilton hotel. The session begins Monday at 10am.

But let me tell you a little bit more about what Ignite is all about…

Curbing Boredom and PowerPoint Abuse

Almost everyone who has attended a conference, or a business meeting (or even a friends presentation of vacation photos) knows the drill. The presentation that goes on way too long. The speaker who manages to bore their audience. The long anecdote that doesn’t add anything. There are so many ways to go wrong in giving a presentation. It’s terribly easy to run past your audience’s interest in your topic, especially if you’ve never given this presentation before.

In recent years a new wrinkle on this has appeared in the form of so-called PowerPoint abuse.  Microsoft PowerPoint is a somewhat ubiquitous tool for creating slide presentations, and it offers thousands of options. Many combinations of these options result in illegible, confusing or simply ugly slides – and this happens every day. The eminent statistician Edward Tufte even called PowerPoint evil and some netizens gather collections of the world’s worst PowerPoint slides.

A few years ago an architectural firm invented a way to (in part) combat this among architects and artists, and they called it Pecha Kucha. To reign in their speakers, they prescribed a strict format of 20 slides. To further reduce the chance for boredom, they also decided each slide would only be on screen for 20 seconds. And to top it all off, they dictated that the presenter would not control the “clicker” – an emcee would tell them when to start, and their six minutes and forty seconds of fame would begin.  Once the last slide disappeared, they had to leave the stage.

As strange as that may sound, it took off and became very popular. Since being launched in 2003, Pecha Kucha Nights have expanded to an amazing 781 cities around the globe.

It has even spawned a mutation in the high tech world called Ignite. The only significant difference in Ignite is that the slides stay on screen for only 15 seconds, making the entire presentation exactly five minutes long.

The short length limits these presentations to simple concepts and subjects. But their short length also means you can pack more of them into an hour. This allows more niche topics to be covered. And the short length makes them perfect for online sharing via YouTube.

Ignite Skepticism at DragonCon Skeptrack

As I wrote in that June post, I’ve always thought lightning talks like this would be a great addition to a skeptic event. There are just so many smaller topics, obscure investigations, niche pseudosciences and so on within the realm of skepticism. These short talks could be a good way to get to these topics within the limited time of a skeptic event. They also provide an excellent way to extend and diversify your slate of speakers economically.

Now, other skeptics have experimented with the Ignite format. Ignite Liverpool in particular has had several of the local skeptics group (Merseyside Skeptics) do presentations. If you’re interested in seeing them, I’ve attempted to curate the skeptical Ignite and Pecha Kucha presentations I could find on YouTube into this playlist. But as far as I know, nobody has ever programmed an entire set of skeptical talks of this type at a skeptical event.

When I expressed my interest in this idea to Derek Colanduno (the director of Skeptrack at DragonCon here in Atlanta) he thought it was a great idea. So he set aside an hour in his schedule for me to curate in this format. I applied for permission to use the name Ignite Skepticism. You’ll get to see the result at 10 am on Monday in the Skeptrack room at the Hilton. If the network feed is working at that time, you may even be able to watch from home by clicking to video.skeptrack.org (Adobe Flash required).

Speakers for Ignite Skepticism 1

One of the advantages of curating an Ignite within a larger event like DragonCon is there are many terrific speakers already attending the event.  I did my best to recruit a diverse group. Some are familiar speakers but others you probably have not heard of before.

The speaking order hasn’t been finalized as I write this, so there they are in alphabetical order:

Ani Aharonian

Ani Aharonian

Ani is a research analyst who studied experimental psychology and lives in California. She has previously spoken at the last two Skeptracks as well. Her topic: “Justice for Some: Mistaken Identifications

Ben Blanchard

Ben Blanchard

Known for his sweater vests, Ben is a microbiology and pre-med student who recently participated in an international humanist charity trip called Pathfinders Project. He has previously spoken at 10 events around the U.S. and his topic is “Intro to Woo Science.” He is @BenSweaterVest on Twitter.

Loren Collins

Loren Collins

Loren Collins is an attorney working in Atlanta. In 2006 he ran as a write-in candidate in the Fourth Congressional District of Georgia. He wrote a book on skepticism called “Bullspotting” and spoke at last year’s Skeptrack. His topic is “How was the ‘Barack Obama was Born in Kenya’ Rumor Created?“. He is @LorenCollins on Twitter.

Pamela Gay

Pamela Gay

Pamela is an astronomer well known to the skeptic community who (among many other things) runs a citizen science program called CosmoQuest. She’s previously spoken at every Skeptrack and many other events, and her topic is “Getting Cratered – Critical Thoughts on Rocks from the Sky“. She is @starstryder on Twitter.

Vandy Beth Glenn

Vandy Beth Glenn

Vandy Beth is also local to Atlanta and often participates in our Atlanta Skeptics events. She was the plaintiff in the successful (and landmark) U.S. Federal civil rights case Glenn v. Brumby over transgender rights. Her topic is on misconceptions about artic explorers. She is @RedVelvetCakes on Twitter.

Angie Mattke

Angie Mattke

Angie is also a local Atlanta Skeptic who has spoken at our Skeptics in the Pub. She is an emergency room physician, and her talk is titled “Popped: The Bubble of Chiropractic“. She is @diverdowndoc on Twitter.

Blake Smith

Blake Smith

Blake is the host of the Atlanta-based podcast MonsterTalk. He has spoken at Skeptrack three times before as well as several other events, and his talk is titled “Who Invented Pasteurization?“. He is @DoctorAtlantis on Twitter.

Mandisa Thomas

Mandisa L. Thomas

Mandisa is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. and also lives here in Atlanta. She has spoken at many other events around the country, and her talk is titled “Healthy Skepticism in the Black Community“. She is @mandy0904 on Twitter.

Please Attend or Watch from Home

Ignite Skepticism will take place at 10:00 am on Monday, September 1st Eastern U.S. time. If you are in Atlanta at DragonCon, please attend.

If you are not in Atlanta, you should be able to watch from home via the live video stream at video.skeptrack.org (Adobe Flash required).  10 am EDT is equivalent to 14:00 UTC if you are converting for other time zones. Keep in mind that live streaming from a remote location is difficult and Skeptrack is a non-profit event, so the stream may or may not work reliably. We will post recorded videos of the individual presentations at a later date.

The event information is here in the DragonCon app and also here on Lanyrd.

I hope you enjoy our effort, and Ignite Skepticism becomes a regular event.

5 thoughts on “Ignite Skepticism will launch tomorrow at #DragonCon #Skeptrack in Atlanta

  1. Tom Williamson (@skepticCanary)

    I would encourage anyone to give an Ignite talk a go, you are only on stage for 5 minutes and it’s great fun! I’ve done about 12-13 talks for my local group (Liverpool, UK) on various subjects, here are a few that might be of interest to skeptics:

    Being a skeptic

    The planet that wasn’t there

    Yeast: Man’s best friend

    ATP: Nature’s unsung hero

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