SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2012: A Sampling Sampler

On Saturday, 29 September 2012, the Winnipeg Skeptics held their third annual SkeptiCamp event. SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is a conference for the sharing of ideas. It is free and open to the public: anyone can attend and participate! Presentations and discussions focus on science and free inquiry, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas.

Dr. Laura Targownik is a professional gastroenterologist and health services researcher (and yes, she was already heard your colonoscopy joke). She is most interested in discussing how to improve the public’s understanding of medical issues, better living through statistics, and in improving resources for skeptical families.

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2012: Do This, Lose Weight (Fast)

On Saturday, 29 September 2012, the Winnipeg Skeptics held their third annual SkeptiCamp event. SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is a conference for the sharing of ideas. It is free and open to the public: anyone can attend and participate! Presentations and discussions focus on science and free inquiry, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas.

Laura Creek Newman is a registered dietitian in Winnipeg who has a passion for everything involving food and nutrition. Her favourite skeptical topics are health, wellness, and the latest “miracle foods”. She is an active member of the Winnipeg Skeptics with a particular interest in building community ties through volunteering events.

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2012: How to Run 100 Miles

On Saturday, 29 September 2012, the Winnipeg Skeptics held their third annual SkeptiCamp event. SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is a conference for the sharing of ideas. It is free and open to the public: anyone can attend and participate! Presentations and discussions focus on science and free inquiry, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas.

Scott Burton is a professional motivational speaker and corporate entertainer. His hobby is participating in ultramarathons (races longer than 42.2 kilometres) while continually testing his abilities. Scott believes that we can all benefit from reaching for big goals and challenging our self-limiting beliefs.

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2012: Measures to Avoid Adverse Consequences of Fossil Fuels

On Saturday, 29 September 2012, the Winnipeg Skeptics held their third annual SkeptiCamp event. SkeptiCamp Winnipeg is a conference for the sharing of ideas. It is free and open to the public: anyone can attend and participate! Presentations and discussions focus on science and free inquiry, and the audience is encouraged to challenge presenters to defend their ideas.

Dennis LeNeveu worked for 20 years at Atomic Energy of Canada doing research on nuclear fuel waste management, focusing on probabilistic risk assessment. Subsequently, he did consulting work in the area of risk assessment of carbon dioxide capture and sequestration in oil fields. Through this work, he became interested in the consequences of fossil fuel extraction and usage.

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2012 Feedback

We solicited feedback from participants at SkeptiCamp, and here’s what they had to say!

The feedback cards asked participants to rank various aspects of SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2012 from 1–5. Of the roughly forty-five participants, we received nine completed cards. I’ve summarised the results below, including numeric mean and median scores and a verbal interpretation of the median (my preferred form of average, due to its resistance to outliers).

Please bear in mind that our sample is self-selected.

How was the conference as a whole? Mean Median Verbal
Did you enjoy yourself? 5 5 Yes
Did you learn anything useful? 4.67 5 Yes
Were the breaks adequate? 5 5 Yes
Was the conference too long? 1.22 1 No
Were you able to participate? 4.56 5 Yes
Would you attend in the future? 5 5 Yes
Would you recommend SkeptiCamp? 4.89 5 Yes
How was the venue? Mean Median Verbal
Was it clean and comfortable? 4.67 5 Yes
Was it sufficiently large? 4.78 5 Yes
How were the presentations? Mean Median Verbal
Were the talks interesting? 4.75 5 Yes
Did they encourage discussion? 4.88 5 Yes
Were the topics diverse? 4.89 5 Yes
Were the talks easy to understand? 4.67 5 Yes
Was the atmosphere friendly? 4.89 5 Yes
Would you consider presenting in the future? 4.67 5 Yes

What was your favourite topic?
Robots and Emotions: Science Fiction Hype or Real Science?
A Sampling Sampler: Statistics for the Non-Statistician
How to Run 100 Miles: Challenging Self-Limiting Beliefs
Next Generation DNA Sequencing: Small Technology, Big Changes
The Good Ship Self-Esteem
Measures to Avoid Adverse Consequences of Irresponsible Extraction of Fossil Fuels

What topic do you wish had been covered?
The Role of Skepticism in Society
Religion
Something by Anlina

(Anlina Sheng was originally scheduled to speak at SkeptiCamp this year, but was unable to present due to a sudden family emergency. We encourage everyone to check out Anlina’s popular talks from last year’s SkeptiCamp.)

Do you have any complaints, suggestions, or other feedback?
“Load presentations onto one laptop ahead of time.”
“It was fun!”
“Keep doing a good job.”
“Some quiet fans would be nice to cool the room. Perhaps when question period becomes a discussion, more control could be used to allow more response & questions.”

We plan to release videos of all of the presentations in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Episode 35: Talks from SkeptiCamps Past

Episode 35: Talks from SkeptiCamps Past

In this episode of Life, the Universe & Everything Else, Laura Creek Newman talks about supposed “superfoods” and Anlina Sheng tells us everything there is to know about polyamory.

Life, the Universe & Everything Else is a program promoting secular humanism and scientific skepticism presented by the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Humanists, Atheists & Agnostics of Manitoba.

Links: Nutritional Facts and Fallacies: “Superfoods” | Polyamory and Questioning Mononormative Assumptions | PolyWinnipeg | SkeptiCamp Winnipeg (2010, 2011, 2012)

Contact Us: Facebook | Twitter | Email

Listen: Direct Link | iTunes | RSS Feed

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 3

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 1
SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 2

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

Scientific Spirituality

Dr. Ali Ashtari obtained his Bachelors and Masters degrees in Electrical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran, and his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Manitoba. He currently holds a post doctoral fellowship at the University of Manitoba. He describes himself as a “militant atheist”, and has recently developed an interest in meditation and the scientific study of spirituality.

Science & Media: A Love Story

Richelle McCullough is a medical student at the University of Calgary and is graduating with a Masters degree in Physiology from the University of Manitoba this spring. She blogs at Subspecies and for the Winnipeg Skeptics, and is proud that she is frequently trolled by people who think that the Sun revolves around the Earth.

Realities and Myths About Sex Work

Anlina Sheng is a freelance graphic and web designer, a feminist, and a sex-workers’ rights advocate.

How to Change Minds

Mike Innes is former born-again Christian, and is now a passionate activist for skepticism and equality. He is the father of two boys, and he spends much of his time building more computers than he knows what to do with. The text of this presentation is also available on the Winnipeg Skeptics blog.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 2

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 1
SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 3

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

Polyamory and Mononormative Assumptions

Anlina Sheng is a freelance graphic and web designer, a feminist, and a polyamory activist. For more information about polyamory in Winnipeg, visit PolyWinnipeg.org.

Perpetual Motion and Free Energy… Science or Pseudoscience?

Javier Hernandez-Melgar is a student at the University of Manitoba, pursuing a joint honours degree in math and physics.

Evaluating Rational and Emotional Arguments

Brendan Curran-Johnson is a software developer, unrepentant geek, and incorrigible satirist.

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 1

SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 2
SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011: The Videos, Part 3

SkeptiCamp is an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking. For more information please visit SkeptiCamp.org.

Logical Fallacies (A Spoonful of Sugar)

Paul Nordin is a member of the Winnipeg Skeptics and the Winnipeg Secularists. He is currently majoring in philosophy at the University of Winnipeg.

Free Will: What is it? and Do we have it?

Gem Newman graduated with distinction from the University of Manitoba with a B.Sc. in Computer Science, specialising in Artificial Intelligence. He founded the Winnipeg Skeptics in 2010, and more recently he co-produced a short documentary called “The Nonbelievers’ Beliefs” with fellow skeptic Scott Carnegie. He blogs at WinnipegSkeptics.com, StartledDisbelief.com, and occasionally at SkepticsOnThe.Net.

Denialism

Jeff Olsson is a former Anglican priest and the current president of the Humanist Association of Manitoba. His book, Leaving Faith Behind, is available on Amazon from Xlibris. The Humanist Association of Manitoba can be found at mb.humanists.ca.

How to Change People’s Minds

What follows is a transcript of Mike Innes’ presentation from the Winnipeg Skeptics‘ second annual SkeptiCamp Winnipeg, an open conference celebrating science and critical thinking.

Computer! Make me an idea! or How to Change People’s Minds

I’m hear to talk to you about how to change people’s minds. With any luck perhaps I’ll be able to change yours as well. Wish me luck…

As you may know, skepticism is about a certain way of looking at the world, just like any other “ism” out there today. But Ideally it is more than that; more than just maintaining a particular list of beliefs. Ideally it should be a way of understanding how we form beliefs in the first place. This is what ought to set a skeptic apart. A skeptics tool-set might be said to include:

  • a curious mind
  • a rational method
  • and a willingness to question everything (especially one’s self)

Such have been the tools of the modern enlightenment. With ideas is big as these, it’s not surprising that we’d want to not just act on them, but to share them, and with any luck to change the world we live in.

But how do we do that?

I’d like to start the task of answering that question with a quote from Einstein:

“The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution.”

—Albert Einstein

I think I could speak for many here that we have participated in, if not experience second-hand many debates where it seemed like one or both of the people involved could never be persuaded by any argument, no matter how logical. I might have sounded something like “YOU’RE WRONG BECAUSE <insert logical argument here>, SO CHANGE YOUR MIND ALREADY!” I liken this to kicking the tires on your car when it won’t start and demand it to answer for itself. Or for the geeks in the room, like being on Star Trek and saying “Computer, make them understand!” We just want to know what the trick is. What’s that bit of magic that unlocks Pandora’s Box? What’s the solution?

If you hold to the notion that all people or even most people believe what they do for reasons which they’ve carefully thought out… think again. In his article “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science”, Chris Mooney describes how “we may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers” when prompted to evaluate our most favoured beliefs. In other words, we can sometimes become so emotionally invested in our beliefs that we seek to defend them like a lawyer who will use any argument necessary to win.

So you might ask “why all this emotional investment”? Have we not yet evolved to realize that the truth or falsehood of something is more important than how we feel about it? Certainly it would be advantageous if we had.

Dan Pearce of the Single Dad Laughing blog in a post titled “Why do you believe what you believe?” wrote that “everything always went so much smoother in all the dynamics of [his] life” when he adopted the beliefs of his family and friends. He said it was fear that motivated him; fear that discouraged anything that might threaten the family bond. You see, these beliefs are not merely a database of discovered facts collected and stored in the brain:

They are the building blocks of our identities, the social glue that ties us together and the measure by which we judge those whom we encounter. They mean a lot to us!

One of the most important adaptations in our evolutionary history was to become a social animal. It would seem that this was more immediately accessible and advantageous for our survival than developing swollen heads with three pound brains in them capable of rational thought. So I think that this might be why those simplistic and self-preserving instincts are still more prevalent in us than unbiased rationality.

Evolution is not perfect after all. It is not survival of the fittest, but merely survival of the good enough.

Evolution is change, and change is struggle, and adaptation often comes at the fringes of normalcy.

What seems relatively fringe even now in this age of supposed enlightenment, is having a nature of true self-awareness.

Robert Kegan, developmental psychologist of Harvard University and author of The Evolving Self says that “successfully functioning in a society with diverse values … requires us to have a relationship to our own reactions rather than be captive of them.”

By “reactions” what he means is “our tendencies to make right or true, that which is merely familiar, and wrong or false, that which is only strange.”

But we don’t just do this with ideas. We also do it with people. If we are not self-aware, we have a tendency to think of the people we’re trying to persuade as embodiments of wrongness and falseness without being consciously aware of it. Not just incorrect, but bad and unworthy.

While our words may be all fact and logic, we may also be communicating unwittingly and sub-consciously these perceived value-judgments of them as people. If this is the case, you might as well be holding a gun to their hand and demanding that they trust you as you will have already triggered their psychological defenses.

Historically new ideas have been spread by one of two methods:

  1. By decree of authority, power and force.
  2. Through relationships of trust.

If you were at the MASH film festival you might remember the RSA video about the empathic civilization. It talked about how as a species, we have redefined many times what community means to us. We have expanded our concept of community from our immediate blood ties and tribes, to religious and national identities, and to identities based simply on shared ideology.

I’m here to say that the key to unlocking ideological barriers with others in this global community is not the BIG GUN of a better, stronger and more logical argument. At least not exclusively. The key is empathy. To have empathy is to see that other person as someone who is (for the most part) like you, sharing many of the same values, needs, and reality. This attitude is emitted subconsciously and helps to unlock the door of trust. Even for me it took hearing it from someone I could trust before I would try on some of the new ideas that are now core to me.

Of course I’m not saying that facts don’t matter. Of course they do, but when it comes to changing minds, facts are like food. It’s hard to eat when it’s being thrown at your head. 😉

You might be disappointed at this point that this was not a step by step “how-to” with lots of tips and psychological tricks on how to win at the game of bending people to your will. There’s a parallel that comes to mind here from a personal story of mine.

I remember a few years ago being drawn into the PUA (or pick up artist) online community. I remember thinking “This is so cool!” If I can just learn all their awesome tricks, I can make women like me, and then I’ll be popular and happy and life will be perfect. What happened though, was that in listening to all their tricks and the explanations and why they worked, it became apparent to me that these tricks were designed to emulate something more substantial and fundamental than just behaviours. It also became apparent that trying to keep up a facade of something that wasn’t really there would be exhausting, and besides I didn’t just want to emulate that thing. I wanted to have it. So instead of becoming a PUA, I decided to work on becoming a better person.

And so we come full circle to the quote at the beginning by Alfred Einstein. Sometimes choosing the right goal is more important than figuring out the best methods. To rework a complex machine requires spending some time figuring out how that machine works. But more than that, we might find out that the best place to start, is to rework ourselves.

Thank you.

The video of this talk, and of the other eleven from SkeptiCamp Winnipeg 2011, will soon be available right here on the Winnipeg Skeptics blog. Stay tuned!