One week ago today I attended NECSS, the North East Conference on Science and Skepticism. The event was held in New York City and attracted several hundred local science and skepticism enthusiasts. All in all it was a great event, both for the presentations and for the general crowd and socialization which occurs between lectures and panels and after the formal event. This was the second NECSS conference, the first one being held back in October of 2009.
The Skeptics Guide to the Universe did a live podcast to kick off the event and were followed by a number of different panels and speakers. I was happy to see James Randi was able to make it to the event. Mr. Randi is one of the most outspoken and iconic members of the skeptical movement. Randi helped found what is currently the modern skeptical community back in the 1970’s, a time when a lot of questionable research was beginning to come back into vogue.
Randi is the type whose always ready and willing to attend any event that can help increase education and awareness. Last year he had planned on attending NECSS but had to cancel and appeared only in a pre-taped video due to his health problems. At the time Mr. Randi had just been diagnosed with colon cancer and had to have a section of his large intestine removed. This was followed by chemotherapy for several months. Thankfully, Mr. Randi was looking perfectly at NECSS last week and it appears that the cancer was taken care of before it could spread and become a bigger problem.
As with last year, the event was MC’ed by Jamy Ian Swiss and featured the talent of George Hrab. D.J. Gorthe, the program director of the Center for Inquiry and president of the JREF also contributed as did Steve Mirsky of Scientific American.
Of all the presentations and speakers, I personally found the presentation by the doctors of Science Based Medicine to be the most eye-opening and in many ways the most disturbing. In recent years, “alternative medicine” has managed to work its way into the halls of academia and set up shop at otherwise reputable medical schools. Indeed, none seem immune as such courses are now being taught (and sometimes even required) at medical universities as prestigious as Yale and Harvard. Alternative medicine programs managed to work their way into the curriculum a number of ways, but in general it comes from warping themselves in legitimate and apparently important concepts like giving patients choices, treating patients with respect and improving quality of life.
Of course, the good doctors of Science Based Medicine have no problem with the concepts of improving patient experiences and providing things like music and recreational activities to those being cared for. Nutrition and exercise are certainly another area that, despite being labeled as “alternative,” have a great deal of medical value. However, likening it to a “bait and switch” or to the Trojan Horse, Doctors Gorski, Novella and Snyder demonstrated all too many situations when these benign concepts allowed quackery like homeopathy or energy medicine to find their way into the curriculum of doctors in training.
I’m a bit apprehensive to say anything negative about the event, because I really did have a great time and overall it went off without a hitch. I’m more than aware of how difficult these events are to put together and have come off seamlessly and those involved in getting it to work deserve a lot of gratitude.
However, there is one thing that could have been a bit better and raised my rating of the event from four to five stars. I really felt it was a bit heavy on the skepticism and light on science. What I mean by that is that nearly every speaker and panel talked exclusively about skepticism, anti-quackery, anti-bad science and anti-bad reporting. These concepts are important and certainly form the core of what unites the community, but at many of the meetings I’ve attended I especially enjoyed having some informative talks on general science added in.
For example, at TAM London, Brian Cox gave an excellent talk on fundamental particle physics and some of the things that CERN is hoping to learn with the new Large Hadron Collider. At TAM-6, PZ Meyers gave an excellent talk on the current state of research into evolutionary genetics and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson gave a great opening on the history of science and its conflicts with religion. Other great talks included one at TAM-5 by the director of the Center for Bits and Atoms as well as Scott Dickers of The Onion.
As the New York and New England Skeptics have plenty of in-house talent when it comes to cutting edge science, academics and research my suggestion would be that, in the future, they consider mixing it up a little ad adding some more general and special interest talks of the nature mentioned above.
Never the less, I still want to stress that it was a well done event that came off without a hitch and was more than worth attending.
This entry was posted on Saturday, April 24th, 2010 at 3:04 pm and is filed under Amazing Meeting, Announcements, Bad Science, Events, Good Science, Misc, Paranormal, media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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