The Course of Reason

“Carl Sagan Days” at Georgia Gwinnett College

April 18, 2011

The Gwinnett Rationals for Reason organized a successful series of educational lectures on campus.

The Gwinnett Rationals for Reason (GRR), resident skeptics at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, GA, have successfully run our first series of events. We wrangled in some excellent lecturers, figured out the logistics and promotional whatnot necessary to get things moving, and even talked GGC into giving us some money for food. We are, accordingly, pleased as punch with ourselves.

The GRR is a small group. Attendance at our weekly meetings ranges from 4-8 participants, which is actually pretty good given that we are at an upstart school in the deep south. We've satisfied ourselves during our first year by hanging out at our weekly meetings and staging events in conjunction with other student groups. GGC's Psychology Club in particular is old and well-funded, has an excellent rapport with the school administration, and shares our group's interests in science and education. It has been a great ally for event organization in the past, but we decided that it was time for us to fly solo and start trying to make a name for ourselves.

As seems to be the case with most skeptical student groups, religion, science education, and medical pseudoscience are among the most discussed topics at GRR meetings. We wanted to tackle these topics in a public forum as a way to advertise our club and its stances. The easiest way to do this was to present a series of lectures. We elected to debunk homeopathy for the medical pseudoscience portion of the event, to discuss evolution for the science education portion, and to make some criticisms of traditional views of God for the religion portion. Because Carl Sagan generally finds his way into the discussions at our weekly meetings, we decided to name this series in honor of him and to screen an episode of Cosmos after every lecture. We are aware that there is a broadly celebrated Carl Sagan Day in early November that coincides with his birthday, and we had originally decided to hold this lecture series then. However, budget constraints and various other delays held us back. Rather than wait a full year to hold the event, we decided to just wait one semester and throw the early November thing out the window. Every day can be Carl Sagan Day, right?

Once we had our lecturers in place, we kicked off a several-week scramble of semi-organized flyering, paperwork, and begging our school for pizza money. Eventually, our efforts came to fruition. The word got out that events were being held, we were allowed to use the nice auditorium, and Georgia Gwinnett College was more willing to help us get funds together than I think most schools would be.

One of the benefits of being at a small new school like Georgia Gwinnett College is that all of our faculty is very accessible. We were able to pull together a qualified set of lecturers with very little trouble. Dr. Richard Pennington, a professor of chemistry at our school, offered to present on the implausibility of homeopathic medicine. For our evolution day, we roped in Dr. Drew Benson (a professor of biology) and Dr. Steven Platek (a professor of evolutionary psychology). Dr. Benson presented on the evidence for evolution, then Dr. Platek spoke a bit about the basics of his field and explored some concepts related to the psychology of belief. Dr. Aris Winger, a professor of mathematics and the main advisor for the GRR, spoke on "Scale, Orders of Magnitude, and the Re-Imagination of God" for our religion day. Everyone was fantastic!

Carl Sagan Days 2011 was a great success for the GRR. More than 60 people showed up for the evolution day, which is an exceptional turnout for our school. We ate pizza and watched Cosmos (two of my favorite things to do). Better still, we managed to put our ideas out there for consideration in the process. Hopefully this will serve as some kind of inspiration to other small student organizations. You don't have to be huge or super-well-funded to throw events on your campus. You may not be able to host Skepticon (we sure aren't!), but it's pretty easy to rope in a professor or two for some informative lectures and good times. It makes your group look good, it gets your name out there, and hopefully it even teaches some people some stuff.

 

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