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Monday, August 26, 2013

Thanks for the conference - speech at EuroSkepticsCon15

This weekend was spent as many a good holiday is in my life: attending a conference. This weekend was filled with statistics, astronaut dreams, science writing frustrations, and hunting for ghosts. It was wonderful.

As a member of the International Advisory Board of the European Skeptics Congress in Stockholm, I was asked to give a short celebratory speech during the Gala dinner on Saturday August 24th. This is a modified transcript of my speech, since Hayley suggested I put it online.

My friend Magnus Bernhardsen was the first person to talk about the two main reasons for being a skeptic, and he deserves the cred for that idea.

Photo by Ralf Neugebauer

In talking to my fellow conference guests this weekend, I realized we all have different reasons for being here. To network. To feel at home. To learn. To be inspired. To laugh.

A friend of mine said it well: Most of us are skeptics for one of two reasons.
- Hating stupidity, or
- Loving people.

I myself like to think I do this for my love of my fellow humans, but I have to admit I kind of love knowing things others don't know. Being a bezzerwizzer if you will.

Unfortunately, when we express ourselves like that, poeple think we are cynics. High in doubt, low in hope.

But we who are here and who are members of all the organizations across Europe (and even our visitors from the US), we are not cynics.

In the almost 40 years organized skepticism has existed, we have grown to be a diverse group with diverse activities. We are making conferences, podcasts, taking political action, and swallowing large amounts of sugar pills.

We are not cynics. Because we have hope. We believe in change. And we work for it.

This unity of hope is what brings us together. And that is how we can have a conference attended by such different people as Tim (Trachet) from Belgium, who is an ECSO board member who has attended every single EuroSkepticsCon. And like Hayley (Stevens), a young girl tearing down illusions by hunting ghosts. And trained professionals like Catherine (de Jong), who spends her free time on her job for our benefit. And Leonard, whose belief in the paranormal is so strong that he showed a blindfolded magician how far he was from the stage by gesturing.

We are skeptics together because we are curious about the world. Because we wonder and care about things like
- Women's promiscuity patterns
- Who makes a better pie, your mum or your girlfriend
- And the real size of Jeremy Clarkson's penis. 

I happen to disagree with one of today's speakers and I actually do wonder why the Eiffel tower looks smaller when you lean your head to the left.

But doing research isn't for everyone. One great thing about our movement is that we need all kinds of people and talents. Our organizations need translators, PR-savvy people, software developers to make new tools, designer to make appealing flyers, and even people who at conferences sing "Make sure that your question's a question!"

And if your task ever seems to big, just tip your head to the left a little.

Those of us who contribute and participate, we own this movement. And we can decide to be skeptics our of hate for stupidity, or for love of people.

No matter the reason for your being here, tonight we're all in this together. And I think we should celebrate ourselves and the hosts with a toast.