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.
#1 Craig Anderson (Guest) on Friday September 17, 2010 at 9:14am
Before I found Skepticism, I used to go on a few Ghost Hunting with a local(-ish) investigation group. Great group of people, but I feel like I was just too skeptical for them. I always felt like the wet blanket with my nitpicking details anytime anyone discovered any “evidence”. I wasn’t trying to be a downer, really. I just wanted there to be absolutely iron-clad evidence of a ghost so that THIS time we’d be able to show all those stupid skeptics who don’t believe in ghosts.
That’s what pretty much put me on the road to Skepticism. I’d love to join a genuinely Skeptical group of ghost hunters now, but I can’t seem to find any. Most groups around here use psychics and EMF detectors and St. Michael prayer cards. But I do enjoy the hanging around in dark rooms with perfect strangers. :D
Maybe I need to start my own group. >:)
#2 Benjamin Radford on Friday September 17, 2010 at 9:43am
We may be starting a skeptical investigations group in your area! Contact a local skeptics group, see what they have going on.
#3 paulas (Guest) on Saturday September 18, 2010 at 4:58am
What is a St Michael Prayer card in relation to ghost hunting?
#4 Craig Anderson (Guest) on Saturday September 18, 2010 at 6:52am
@Ben—Oooh, that really does interest me. I will most definitely look into that.
@Paulas—As crazy as it sounds, I was with a group once that would read the prayer off a St. Michael’s Prayer card (available at your nearest Catholic bookstore) as a defense against any “demonic” spirits that might be lurking nearby. I think it was actually one of the things suggested by the Warrens way back when. If you couldn’t find a Catholic Priest trained in exorcism to accompany you, the least you could do was to pray to Saint Mikey for protection. Although I wasn’t Catholic, the prayer never bothered me, since I always thought, “Hell, it’s 2 minutes of my time, and what if there ARE demonic spirits poking around here?”. But there were a number of occasions where we DIDN’T use the prayer card at the beginning of an investigation. That seemed even stranger to me, since: “Um ... guys? Aren’t we all in danger of a malevolent spirit reaching through from the netherworld and ripping us to pieces now??”.