What is a Skeptic's Role at a Paranormal Conference? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Reader (and typo-hound) Dave G. reports the following:

There will be a huge convention in Minneapolis come November, where thousands of members of the woo-woo fraternity will congregate at The Edge Life Exposition. In looking at the booth location floor plan, I noticed that booth numbers ending in 13 are absent. Thus they have #100-112, then 114...; 200-212, then 214, etc, which has caused me to wonder if perhaps those people know something to which the rest of us are not privy.

I took a look a their site, and yes, it does read like the anti-TAM. You can learn how to connect with your angels, discover your inner psychic, and even discover how the secret to happiness is in your mouth – namely through holistic dentistry. Dave continues:

Another anomaly: The convention is scheduled for two days- Saturday, Nov. 14th, Sunday, the 15th. However, apparently you can purchase a three-day pass! They do not give particulars, but it is ranked with the Gold Card Pass as far as its privileges are concerned.

I can only assume the 3rd day would be the dreaded Friday the 13th (insert hockey mask), and they just can't bring themselves to mention it.

I find triskaidekaphobia to be fascinating... and advantageous. When I fly, I try to pick row 13 because I'm more likely to have an empty seat next to me. No, I haven't done a study on this, but it sure seems to be accurate. I wonder why hotels often avoid having a 13th floor, but every golf course I've ever seen has a 13th hole. And imagine how much better Spinal Tap would be if their amps went to 13. BTW, I'm writing this from apartment 148.. which adds up to 13. But I digress... now on to the point of this article. Dave G.:

I'm chuckling here, because I just had a great idea for a T-shirt to wear while strolling among the various booths, and especially along the dozen "Intuitive Reader" tables:

Certified Psychic

Do you know where the restrooms are?

Where the $%&#**! are the restrooms?
"I'm getting a B, or maybe it's an R...
yes, it's an R...
does Restroom mean anything to anyone here?

Dave's idea for a shirt bears some consideration. How should we represent ourselves if we decide to attend conferences like this?

There is much debate in the skeptic community over the best approach for dealing with blind belief. One opinion, shared by Bob Park, Penn & Teller, and apparently Dave G. is that ridicule is good way to expose unsupported credulity. While I can find ridicule amusing (this Onion video was particularly poignant), I tend to take a different approach.

I attended UnivCon this past year. This is a conference dedicated to psychics and ghost hunting, and it was far from skeptical. I could have gone in and challenged the speakers, called BS on their conclusions, and made a general ruckus. But instead, I decided to be silent and just observe. For me, it was a research project and I needed to not influence the system so I could experience it.

On the last night, I let my colors fly. There was a party, and people were talking about ghosts they'd seen, and I revealed who I am. I was warmly received, and people came up to me and said "Hey, I'm a skeptic too!" Of course, their definition of "skeptic" and mine vary a bit, but instead of challenging them, I used the illusion of common ground to try to find some actual common ground. And I did. I was able to get a least a few people to admit that their evidence was weak, and though they really want to see something, they just don't have the proof yet. What more could I ask for?

So I put it to you: should skeptics attend these conferences, and if so, how should we represent ourselves? What kind of t-shirt would you wear? And is ridicule better than trying to find common ground?