Last weekend I attended the QED (Question Explore Discover) conference in Manchester, UK. It was the sixth installment of this very successful skeptical conference. It was the first I’ve attended, and I regret only one thing: that I didn’t go to the previous ones. It was an absolute blast, a weekend full of skepticism and science together with 650 like-minded colleagues.
Describing the program in a detailed fashion wouldn’t do it justice, especially since there were sometimes as many as five events being held simultaneously. It was difficult to choose at times. Luckily, I’ve been informed by one of the organizers that the talks in the main hall will be put online soon, and a few podcasts who recorded live shows at the conference—including Cognitive Dissonance, God Awful Movies, InKredulous, and Skeptics with a K—are already beginning to post their live shows online, too.
What impressed me most was the sheer breadth of skeptical topics—from a panel on paranormal investigations to a magic workshop, from skeptical (and nonsensical) movies to investigative journalism, without forgetting interesting talks about futurology, sex science, and bogus bomb detectors. And that’s just a small sample. There were speakers from all over Europe, the US (Captain Disillusion) and Australia (Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki).
It is clear for me that there is no such thing as the skeptic, and neither is there the subject with which a skeptically minded person is occupied. It’s a big tent, and anyone can specialize (or not) in a topic they are most interested in. It was therefore good to see that ample place was given for workshops and panels on how to organize skeptical activism, Skeptics in the Pub, etc. And of course, conversations about what to do and how in trying to spread the critical thinking continued well into the night at the bar. Because that, too, is part of the value of such an event: the informal exchanges and getting to know new people.
Personally, my goal was to meet several of my favorite podcasters (Cognitive Dissonance, Inkredulous), meet Dr. Karl (a long-time favorite of mine, whom I have blogged about before) and reconnect with skeptical friends from around the continent. I can honestly say that it was a complete success on all three points and, even more than that, I met a lot of interesting people, learned a lot, and laughed quite a bit, too. We even sang during the Saturday evening entertainment!
Chris Hofstadter, an attendee, remarked to me how much more this event is focused on sharing and participating, and not on “celebrities.” It’s true, it’s quite easy to walk up to one of your heroes and start a conversation about skepticism, science or even beer. When Dr. Karl sat next me during a talk, I was absolutely flabbergasted by the open and respectful conversation we had (during the break!).
In part, it’s exactly this type of mutual respect and willingness to learn from one another, without the celebrity barrier, that makes big events like QED a success. It serves to charge up one’s batteries and go out back into the world to make a difference. I cannot thank the organizers of QED enough, along with all the conference’s volunteers, by the way, for doing such a great job and making these exchanges possible. I’m quite certain from now on to mark QED on my calendar for the years to come.