Dragon*Con 2010 and a Call for Investigation
September 16, 2010
There was plenty of skepticism (though relatively little investigation) at Dragon*Con, the massive science fiction/fantasy conference held annually in Atlanta, Georgia, over Labor Day weekend. Amid the bizarre costumes and assorted geekery, the skeptic’s track drew sizeable crowds. The skeptical presence at the event has flourished in recent years, due largely to the effort of Skepticality podcast co-host Derek Colanduno.
There were far too many talks, panels, presentations, and events to mention here—about forty in all. Topics ran a wide gamut, including skeptical parenting, magic, fiction writing, Tim Minchin’s new animated film Storm , pop psychology myths, skepticism and sexuality, blogging, and critical thinking in education—all subjects vital to skepticism.
My specialty, however, is investigation, and that’s what many professional conferences are about: updating members and the public about what’s new. The paranormal is not a static field; there are always new developments, new revelations, and investigations afoot. I took the opportunity to present my recent research and new investigations. I gave two talks, one about my participation in a ghost hunting television show last year, and the second on a discovery I made revealing the origins of the famous chupacabra vampire beast.
As Dan Loxton and others have noted, skeptical organizations are uniquely suited (and qualified) to actually investigate unusual and paranormal claims. There are many professional groups and organizations whose goals overlap that of skeptics (such as those promoting science and education), but very few whose mandate includes investigation.
Investigation is only one part of skepticism, but it is a vital part. For the first 30 years of its existence, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry was known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. It may have been an unwieldy name, but I have a fondness for it because of the specificity of its stated purpose: investigating paranormal claims.
While I had a fine time at Dragon*Con, I couldn’t help but notice the dearth of talks and discussions about current or recent skeptical investigations. I’d have loved to hear more about what other researchers are doing, what new cases they are tackling (or, better yet, solving). I recognize that there are relatively few skeptical/scientific paranormal investigators out there doing research, and thus there’s a smaller pool of talent to draw from when it comes to investigation.
But that is changing; at Dragon*Con I gave my sold-out workshop on Scientific Paranormal Investigation (based on my new book of the same title), and organizations such as the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) are working on starting up local skeptical investigation groups across the country. We are hoping to engage and encourage new generations of skeptics to take up investigation—or at least understand the principles behind it. Hopefully in coming years, skeptics conferences at Dragon*Con and elsewhere will include more presentations by skeptics who showcase their own investigations.