Monday, May 23, 2016

The NECSS of Thought and Reality - Year 6

May 13-15 marked the eighth annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS). This was the sixth time I've attended, though I almost skipped this year (more on that later). For those who have never attended, NECSS is a joint effort by the New York City Skeptics and The New England Skeptical Society. The conference, once more held at the Fashion Institute of Technology, fills three days of science, critical thinking, and education for attendees on a wide range of subjects. Some topics are geared toward the general public, while some sessions are more introspective, looking at the skeptical community itself. If you weren't able to make it, don't worry; videos from the conference will be posted on the NECSS YouTube channel. You can also get a taste of previous years' conferences from my reviews of 2011, 2012, 2013 (part 1 and part 2), 2014 (part 1 and part 2), and 2015 (part 1, life unfortunately intervened, so I never got around to writing up days 2 and 3).

As always, I like to take this time to summarize what skepticism means, at least to me. Many people have a caricature image of skepticism in their minds as people who simply reject things out of hand, arguing against things simply for the sake of disagreeing. Contrarian would be a better word to describe that. Skepticism, on the other hand, doesn't have to do with what you think, or just dismissing things that you don't agree with. It is how one approaches the world. Skepticism involves questioning claims and investigating evidence to see where it leads, always open to the possibility that what we may have thought was true is actually wrong. When we read something on the internet, whether it's the latest celebrity gossip or questions on the nature of the universe, we use skepticism to evaluate the claims and weigh the quality of the evidence. Skepticism isn't just critically examining others' claims, though. It's also taking a critical look at our own beliefs, and a willingness to change our beliefs to match the evidence, rather than trying to fit reality to our beliefs. As for the skeptical community, we're just normal people from all backgrounds. It's the way that we examine the world around us that brings us together.

Now that that's out of the way, how was this year's conference?