Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism

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Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism
NECSS Logo-white.png
Status Active
Genre Science and skepticism
Location(s) New York City
Country United States
Inaugurated 2009[1]
Attendance 500~[2]
Organized by New York City Skeptics, New England Skeptical Society & Society for Science-Based Medicine[3]
Website
NECSS.org

The Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS, pronounced as "nexus") is a four-day conference focusing on science and skepticism held annually in New York City. Its purpose is exploring the intersection of science, skepticism, the media, and society for the purpose of promoting a more rational world.[4] It was founded in 2009, run jointly by the New York City Skeptics (NYCS) and the New England Skeptical Society (NESS). The Society for Science-Based Medicine joined as a full sponsor of the conference in 2015.[3] Attendance is estimated at almost 500 people.[1][2]

Beginnings[edit]

The New York City Skeptics wanted to have a skeptical conference and invited magician James Randi to speak at their one-year anniversary. That lecture attracted over 400 attendees and so it was determined that there would be enough interest for a scientific skepticism conference in the area. The NYCS and NESS organizations began talks about combining to form NECSS.[5] The conference began in 2009 as a one-day event, popular science writer Carl Zimmer was the keynote speaker. Over the years, the conference has grown to include Skeptics in the Pub events, fundraising dinners, separately ticketed workshops and live-podcast recordings.

According to Steven Novella and Evan Bernstein, the NESS was asked to speak for the New York City Skeptics, September 12, 2009. That lecture was a tribute to Perry DeAngelis (died 2007), and as it was near the anniversary of both his birth and death in August, they continued the tradition of celebrating Perry at each conference. Even after the NECSS organizers decided to move the conference to April, the SGU cast continues to celebrate the life of Perry DeAngelis each year at NECSS.[6][7]

New York City Skeptic's co-founder Jamy Ian Swiss writes that the conference was created "because we felt there was a need for a regional skeptic conference in the Northeast", and because the organizers "were intrigued by and attracted to the prospect of creating the concept and content of such an event".[8] The first evening in 2009 was sold out with 400 attendees. According to emcee Jamy Ian Swiss, organizers turned people away.[9]

Details[edit]

According to co-organizer Michael Feldman, the conference regularly attracts about 400 attendees. In past conferences this has maxed out attendance, for 2015 they are using a venue that can hold up to 600 people. They want to continue to grow, but not to sacrifice quality with the conference experience. When asked what surprised him about the attendees he said "Even though the title of our conference is the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism and it takes place in New York City, the attendees are only about half from the tri-state area, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. A full 40-50% come from the rest of the United States... and other countries."[5] The 2016 conference attracted people from ten countries and thirty states.[10]

The 2015 conference organizing committee is made up of Steven Novella, Jay Novella, Michael Feldman, Jamy Ian Swiss, Benny Pollak, Spiro Condos, Mark Crislip, Heather Berlin, Deborah Berebichez and Brian Wecht. Others that have become involved in the conference are Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef.[5]

Full admission ticket prices (does not include workshops or special events) for Fri-Sunday for 2017 are $245 a person or $95 for students. Single day passes can be purchased for $120 or $55 for students. Individual workshop pass tickets are $35, and all-workshop passes are $100. Workshops are organized into two tracks. Student scholarships are available.[11]

Highlights[edit]

Emcee musician George Hrab outdrew the science-based medicine seminar in April 2015 with almost 500 attendees. His "hybrid musical act/quiz show, A Skeptical Extravaganza of Special Significance" pitted the SGU team and Bill Nye against each other with mock debates over "the Millennium Falcon vs the starship Enterprise ... and the American system of units ... [vs] the metric system. Hrab also managed to add in "rounds of Pictionary about Area 51 and water fluoridation."[2]

"Stimulus/Response" conceived by George Hrab and Brian Wecht was a three-act performance held on Friday night, and was separately ticketed from the conference. It was a night of discussion, performances and an improv comedy group.[8] This group roasted Jay Novella in 2013, brother Steve wrote "it was hilarious" so in 2014 Jay made sure that Steve was next.[12]

Bad Astronomer Phil Plait and musician George Hrab performed a song Hrab wrote called Death From the Skies based on Plaits book by the same name. This performance has Harb playing guitar and signing "This is the way the world will end" with Plait speaking statistics about the likelihood of various astronomical deaths, such as meteors, super-novas and solar flairs.[13]

Doubtful News creator Sharon Hill compared the 2009 conference to the 2011 one. She felt that things were improving, great speakers and wonderful meeting new people. She bemoans that it would cost less for the attendees if held outside New York City, but understands that for many people, this is a more convenient location. She also wishes that there were more quiet areas to allow for more socializing with old and new friends.[14] In 2009 when Hill was attending the very first NECSS she mentions that the theme of the conference was very relative to her own current college degree work in Science & the Public. She says "the overarching theme was science portrayed to the public – how the media delivers a message, how even scientists screw up and take missteps, how we can get better."[15]

Magician and author Richard Wiseman performing at the 2009 conference explained in answer to a question by an attendee, people believe in the paranormal for many reasons, they might need to believe and it's possible that they have had "personal experiences" that convinced them. '“It is not clear to me that by robbing people of their beliefs, we always make the world a better place.”'[16]

According to James Randi, "I recently appeared at the annual NECSS – Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism – in New York (think of it as a superb mini-version of our annual The Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas), and was asked to speak on the faith-healing racket. As I walked on stage, I switched from my original intention, and decided to handle a specific example of the subject that I find very difficult to address, an example of the faith-healers’ perfidy and cruelty that I’d previously only mentioned in the introduction to The Faith Healers."[17]

When interviewed about the New York City Skeptics, Julia Galef responded, "I think a lot of people felt the same way as you did, Karl -- there seemed to be a lot of pent-up demand for an organization devoted specifically to science and reason, not just secularism. In terms of our success, I have to give a lot of credit to our president, Michael Feldman. He's a fantastic organizer, and the kind of person who really makes sure things get done. We've also got a dedicated team of volunteers, the Gotham Skeptic blog, and of course our annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS), which sold out two years in a row and drew people from all over the U.S. and several other countries."[18]

The special “Evening with James Randi” event at the ninth annual NECSS in 2017 was open to the public and is estimated to have drawn a crowd of over 600. Randi performed an escape and took an "overdose" of a Homeopathic remedy to demonstrate that it had no actual effect. The focus of his talk was on educating the younger generation. The first day of the 2017 conference had to be relocated at the last minute due to an earlier fire at the Fashion Institute of Technology.[19] Cohost of Star Talk podcast, Leighann Lord emceed.[20]

Dawkins controversy[edit]

In early 2016, the NECSS dis-invited the prominent evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins from speaking due to a tweet Dawkins had made in the weeks prior which drew parallels between extremist Islamists and extremist feminists. Many free speech advocates such as Sam Harris criticised the NECSS decision, labelling them "fools".[21][22] In a press release the NECSS defended the decision stating "We believe strongly in freedom of speech and freedom to express unpopular, and even offensive, views. However, unnecessarily divisive, counterproductive, and even hateful speech runs contrary to our mission and the environment we wish to foster at NECSS."[23]

After much criticism, the NECSS apologized to Dawkins, admitted their dis-invitation was "not professional" and re-invited him, stating, "There is room for a range of reasonable opinions on these issues and our conversation will reflect that diversity."[24][25] Dawkins was unable to accept the re-invitation, as he had suffered a stroke in the interim. At NECSS 2016 a panel was designed to address what had happened with Dawkins, this panel was moderated by Jennifer Lopez from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. Also on the panel were Heather Berlin, Will Creele, Julia Galef, John McWhorter and Yvette d'Entremont and titled "Free Speech, Social Justice, and Political Correctness". According to journalist Russ Dobler the panel came to "common ground" by agreeing that unless the person you are talking to is "completely unreasonable, we should seek out and talk to the people we disagree with most."[10][26]

Summary of Past Conferences[edit]

Dates Speakers Location Notes
September 12, 2009 Richard Wiseman, George Hrab, James Randi (recorded message), Jamy Ian Swiss, Carl Zimmer, John Rennie, Rachel Dunlop, Paul Offit, Howard Schneider, Michael De Dora, Massimo Pigliucci, Kaja Perina, John Snyder Held at the French Institute, Manhattan Campus, New York, NY Keynote: Carl Zimmer - All Aboard the Science-Media Express![27]
April 17, 2010 David Gorski, Jamy Ian Swiss, PZ Meyers, George Hrab, John Rennie, James Randi, D.J. Grothe, Julia Galef, Kimball Atwood, Steve Mirsky, John Snyder Held at the French Institute, New York, NY Keynote: DJ Grothe - Skepticism is a Humanism[28]
April 9–10, 2011 Brian Dunning, Jamy Ian Swiss, Jacob Appel, Susan Jacoby, Phil Plait, John Allen Paulos, Brooke Allen, Hai-Ting Chinn, Todd Robbins, Dan Gardner, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Steve Mirsky, Michael De Dora, Massimo Pigliucci, Julia Galef, Carl Zimmer, Massimo Pigliucci, John Rennie, Eliezer Yudkowsky, Sadie Crabtree, Kendrick Frazier, Eugenie Scott Baruch College (CUNY), New York Keynote: Phil Plait The Final Epsilon[29]
April 21–22, 2012 James Randi, Hai-Ting Chinn, George Hrab, Seth Shostak, J. Scott Armstrong, John Bohannon, Jamy Ian Swiss, PZ Meyers, Joe Nickell, Ethan Brown, Deborah Berebichez, David Kyle Johnson, Massimo Pigliucci, Michael Rogers, Meghan Groome, Deborah Feldman, Kevin Slavin, Julia Galef Held at the French Institute, Manhattan Campus, New York, NY Keynote: James Randi - Surviving the Quacks![30]
April 5–7, 2013 Leonard Mlodinow, Bob Blaskiewicz, Sharon Hill, Hai-Ting Chinn, Mariette DiChristina, Karen Strachan, Brian Wecht, Simon Singh, Natalie Molina Niño, Cat Bohannon, Michael Shermer, Massimo Pigliucci, Jamy Ian Swiss, Deborah Berebichez, Julia Galef, Syd LeRoy, Jim Holt, George Hrab Held at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, NY Keynote: Leonard Mlodinow - Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Influences Your Behavior[31]
April 11–13, 2014 Lawrence Krauss, Massimo Pigliucci, Jamy Ian Swiss, Deborah Berebichez, Julia Galef, George Hrab, Paul Offit, Cady Coleman, Elise Andrew, Sally Satel, Alison Gopnik, Angie McAllister, Heather Berlin, Jeanne Garbarino, Oliver Medvedik, Brian Wecht, Hai-ting Chinn Held at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Manhattan Campus, New York, NY Keynote: Lawrence Krauss - The Secret Life of Physicists[32]
April 9–12, 2015 Massimo Pigliucci, John Rennie, Jamy Ian Swiss, Deborah Berebichez, Julia Galef, George Hrab, Heather Berlin, Brian Wecht, David Gorski, Jann Bellamy, Mark Crislip, Harriet Hall, W. Ann Reynolds, Marty Klein, Mark Siddall, Jeanne Garbarino, Simona Giunta, Latasha Wright, Stephen Hall, Rachel Meyer, Yelena Bernardskaya, Allan Adams, Laura Helmuth, Linda Curtis-Bey, Marc Randazza, Maria Konnikova, Mark Weckel, Sabriya Stukes, Simona Giunta and Steven S. Hall Fashion Institute of Technology New York, NY Keynote: Bill Nye
May 12-15, 2016 Julia Galef, George Hrab, Michael E. Mann, Harriet Hall, Baba Brinkman, Jamy Ian Swiss, Brian Wecht, Bill Nye, John McWhorter, Jennifer Lopez, Heather Berlin, Will Creeley, Yvette d'Entremont, John Horgan, Jay Novella, Neer Asherie, Deborah Berebichex, Shari Berkowitz, Hai-Ting Chinn, Jann Bellamy, Scott Gavura, Saul Hymes, Evan Bernstein, John Snyder, Cara Santa Maria, Grant Ritchey, Clay Jones, Steven Novella, Steve Lundquist, Hussein Jirdeh, Maria Konnikova, Jacob Appel Fashion Institute of Technology New York, NY Keynote: Richard Wiseman
June 29 - July 2, 2017[33] James Randi, Leighann Lord, Gavin Schmidt, Britt Marie Hermes, Summer Ash, Richard Sanders, Julia Galef, Cara Santa Maria, Massimo Pigliucci, Nina Burleigh, Steve Novella, Helaine Olen, Jay Novella, Jennifer Lopez, George Hrab, Brian Wecht, John Rennie, David Gorski, Harriet Hall, Clay Jones, Brooke Binkowski, Robyn Stein DeLuca, Spiro Condos, Yelena Bernadskaya, Steve Lundquist, Evan Bernstein, Bob Novella, Niki Athanasiadou Fashion Institute of Technology New York, NY Keynote: Michael J. Massimino

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "About NECSS". NECSS website. NECSS. Retrieved 11 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c Dobler, Russ (2016). "Skepticism in Popular Music: The Art of Discourse". Skeptical Inquirer. 40 (1): 20–21. 
  3. ^ a b "Save the date for NECSS 2015". NECSS website. NECSS. 28 November 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "NECSS on Vimeo". Vimeo. 12 December 2010. Retrieved 11 March 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d "UndeNYEable". Skepticality. Retrieved February 4, 2015. 
  6. ^ "SGU Evan Bernstein on Perry DeAngelis". Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  7. ^ "Steve Novella on Perry DeAngelis". Retrieved December 3, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Swiss, Jamy Ian. "Back from the Northeast". JREF. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  9. ^ "NECSS 2009 - Welcome". NECSS. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c Dobler, Russ (2016). "Skepticism at the Center: NECSS 2016". Skeptical Inquirer. 40 (5): 11. 
  11. ^ "Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism 2017". necss.org. Retrieved May 29, 2017. 
  12. ^ Novella, Steve. "NECSS 2014". Neurologica. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  13. ^ Plait, Phil. "NECSS of DEATH!". Bad Astronomy. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  14. ^ Hill, Sharon. "NECSS 2011 SIGN IT, BABY". Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  15. ^ Hill, Sharon. "NECSS SKEPTICS IN THE CITY". Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  16. ^ Habib, Shahnaz. "Wise Man". New York Times. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  17. ^ Randi, James. "The Unsinkable Rubber Duckies". Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Interview with Julia Galef of Rationally Speaking". The Skeptical Review. Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  19. ^ Dobler, Russ. "NECSS 2017 Honors the Past While Looking Ahead - CSI". www.csicop.org. Retrieved 2017-08-13. 
  20. ^ Dobler, Russ (2017). "NECSS 2017: Skepticism Making Connections in Midtown Manhattan". Skeptical Inquirer. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. 41 (6): 8–9. 
  21. ^ "Ask Me Anything #3". www.samharris.org. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  22. ^ "Sam Harris addresses Richard Dawkins invitation withdrawal at NECSS in his Waking Up podcast • /r/SGU". reddit. Retrieved 2016-03-09. I just think these people are fools and their treatment of Richard is shameful and embarrassing 
  23. ^ "Concerning Richard Dawkins - NECSS". necss.org. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  24. ^ "Executive Committee Statement - NECSS". necss.org. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  25. ^ Stephanie. "An update on Richard's condition in his own words". Richard Dawkins Foundation. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  26. ^ Dobler, Russ. "Skepticism at the Center: Event Report of NECSS 2016". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 18 August 2016. 
  27. ^ Zimmer, Carl. "All Aboard the Science-Media Express!". Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  28. ^ Grothe, DJ. "Skepticism is a Humanism". Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  29. ^ Plait, Phil. "The Final Epsilon". Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  30. ^ Randi, James. "Surviving the Quacks!". Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  31. ^ Mlodinow, Leonard. "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Influences Your Behavior". Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  32. ^ Krauss, Lawrence. "The Secret Life of Physicists". Retrieved December 4, 2014. 
  33. ^ "NECSS Save the Date". Retrieved January 30, 2017. 

External links[edit]