England March 2012
London, Manchester, QED Conference, The Humidiflyer and the Cock Inn
On March 6th this year I headed off to England.
As usual I got sick on the plane and spent the first 2 days in bed.
That weekend I headed off to Manchester for the QED conference on science and skepticism
The conference was very educational and insightful. It was my first skeptic conference and I learnt a lot.
The conference started with Deborah Hyde giving a fascinating talk on ‘The Natural History of the European Werewolf.’ I had never realised that like witches, people once really believed in werewolves and that men were tortured and killed on such charges. She shared with us some documented historical cases as well as attempts by doctors of the past to explain the phenomenon in medical terms. The parts that stuck with me were that it seems people were trying to pin the darker side of man on an exterior source. As with witches, in times of civil unrest, accusations increased. Either due to the society searching for a scapegoat or people with political motivations wanting to get rid of their enemies.
Next was Steve Jones on ‘Why Evolution is Right and Creationism is Wrong’ which was more of a thrilling and fast-paced lecture on the wonders of the evidence for evolution.
There was a panel on ‘Science vs Skepticism:Working scientists on the use of skepticism in science.’ They discussed several issues such as bias and fraud but also the nature of the scientific method in eventually rooting those problems out. They said fraud and bias can be encouraged by the current ‘outcome-based’ industry. Competition for funding brings about an overstated importance of press worthy results.
Other issues included science journalists perpetuating misinformation with a habit of presenting two sides as well as a lack of understanding of the science they are reporting and scientific journals preferring to risk printing incorrect results over missing scoops.
Another panel, including Paul Zenon, was on ‘Mediums and Psychics.’ Paul has recently been in a legal battle with Psychic Sally Morgan and didn’t discuss the case with us The phrase “robbing last memories of loved ones” really stuck with me as one example of the harm psychics can cause. The panel discussed ways to bring about regulation of psychics. Would a board for mediums/psychics get rid of the worst cases or would it lend legitimacy to the practice? Should they be made to have counselling quaifications? Enforced trading standard codes? It is hard to combat without lending crediblity. Some ways to combat it are of course, skeptics and debunkers, collecting evidence of the impact and improving bereavement therapy to minimise their appeal and impact.
‘Sarah Angliss: Voices of the dead.’
This was such an interesting talk/exhibit.
Sarah showed us how to record on a phonograph and even had some audience participation. She explained how before the phonograph, people used recorders to allegedly teach popular songs to birds. There were musical performances with robots and saws
‘Massimo Polidoro: The Search for Superman’ Massimo was very charming and told some sad and also hilarious stories of some of the claims he has had to disprove. One gentleman claimed he could change the numbers on a digital clock, by dressing in jumpers and jumping up and down….
The day finished with ‘Richard Saunders: The delights and dangers of being a TV skeptic.’ Richard talked about his experience on Australian Television show ‘The One’ -a search for Australia’s best psychic talent on which he was the skeptic judge. He also discussed the Australian Skeptics inspiring victory against power sports bands.
The Gala dinner was much fun. Drinks with new friends and some great entertainment. Sarah Angliss’ duo Space Dog performed some very unusual peices including a theremine and robots I purchased her album ‘Juice for the Baby’ and have enjoyed it. You can listen here http://spacedog.biz/
We also had the comedic talents of Alun Cochrane, Robin Ince and magician Paul Zenon who is definitely a comedian as well. It’s a special treat having jokes especially tailored to such a niche group of people. As Alun said, not very lucrative though
A panel called ‘A Question of God’ featured Maryam Namazie, D.J. Grothe, Ophelia Benson & Paula Kirby.
D.J. Grothe’s ‘How to be a bad skeptic’ was very very funny.
Maryam Namazie’s ‘Secularism, Social Cohesion and Citizenship’ was for me, the most influential talk of the conference. You can see her speech here: Seriously, we are intolerant . I found myself to be moved by her eloquence, passion and fearlessness to stand for secularism, to push back against the discrimination and abuse of religion. She talked about Islamism and the Islamic inquisition. Of the horrors faced by men and women under Islam, in Britain and overseas. She spoke of the requirements for secularism, a space where the rights of the religious and the non-religious can be protected. She spoke of how identity politics and multiculturalism take away the capacity for true freedom of belief. Pretty much as soon as I had time to myself I wrote a song that was inspired by Maryams talk. I’m still in the recording process but I’m hoping it will be ready soon.
The final talk of the conference was Joe Nickell: ‘Investigating the Paranormal’ Joe was also very inspiring. Joe has dedicated his life to investigating the paranormal. He is qualified and meticulous in his studies. An ex-magician he is also now an author, an inventor, a senior research fellow and columnist.
While I wasn’t at the conference I spent time catching up with a friend, Eleanor Lyons, a very talented Opera singer on a scholarship in Manchester.
She may kill me for sharing this but here she is rehearsing with the St Petersburg Conservatoire Conductors Orchestra: Verdi La Traviata Scena ed Aria Violetta Rehearsal
It was great catching up and she also shared with me a singer’s tip that’s changed my life…..
It’s called the humidiflyer and it stops your throat from drying out on the plane. Now I won’t get sick from the plane again and it also gives me plently of space as no one wants to sit next to me I wore it on the train home to London.
Back in London I had a friends wedding, then travelled up to Harlow to visit my friend Helen (and her springer spaniel, Honey) who now works in a pub called the ‘Cock Inn.’ No joke! And she answers the phone with “Cock Inn, Helen” haha
Here’s a pic from the wedding with my bandmates; The groom and his best man
I had a gig at the Half Moon in Putney. Other highlights include staying with Sam Brown, seeing old friends, learning how to use Chat Roulette which is interesting for 15 minutes and of course my London launch of ‘An Atheist Album!’ One of the drummers from the other bands gave me a hug for singing about atheism I also got to meet the infamous Jen Robinson, thanks to Rachael Brown. What a fun trip…then off to the US