Balticon is a conference done by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. I was asked to participate in their new mini-skeptic track that was developed by Marv Zelkowitz of the National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS). I thought it was a success. Throughout the day I was there, on Sunday, I saw a big skeptical respresentation. But, also, there were many people who hold that critical, thoughtful mindset but don’t associate themselves with that community. I was glad to speak to them.
My talk was on Being Scientifical: Amateur Research and Investigation Groups. I looked at 1000 web sites of these groups in the U.S. who investigate ghosts, UFOs, cryptids, and general paranormal phenomena. By mimicking science, or doing what they think is science (hence “scientifical”), amateur investigation groups appear serious and credible to the public. This image is effective in selling the public the idea that they find legitimate evidence of the paranormal. It’s concerning.
Watch for more on this…
I also participated in a panel called “Real Life Mad Scientists”. I didn’t know that much about the topic except through the representation of scientists in the media and how the public perceives how science and scientists work. So, I read the book by the panel moderator, John Monahan called “They Called Me Mad: Genius, Madness, and the Scientists Who Pushed the Outer Limits of Knowledge. I learned a lot and it was a fun book to read. When I started inquiring about scientists perceived as “mad”, I got a big list of geniuses and those who seemed to have gone off the rails. What an interesting subject. In our discussion we examined the idea that “mad” can be many things and it often depends on the culture and the politics at play at the time. Genius scientists see the world in a different way than the average person. This allows them to make fantastic discoveries.
Yet, long ago, we didn’t have the ethical considerations we have now. There was rampant and brutal experimentation on animals and careless use of human corpses. Quite morbid and disturbing but enlightening. Many of those experiments could not be done today. But, if you are a REAL mad scientist, you might experiment on yourself. Many did!
We also discovered that today’s mad scientists are different. They work in collaboration because that’s how science discoveries work today. Also, if a researcher is rejected by his peers in modern times, he can easily can a public following and appear credible. With the internet and television, we see looney ideas presented as “science” just because these people are media savvy and tell a very compelling and sensational story. I’m thinking disaster predictions, alien visitation, health cures, and health scares. I bet you can think of a few examples.
So, I had a fun time at Balticon. It was an experience. Too bad I forgot to record the events… oops.