Thoughts from QEDcon ’13

Last weekend was QEDcon. Hundreds of skeptics, scientists and geeks of all types converged to celebrate reason and critical thinking in good company in the city of Manchester. I attended with my brother who didn’t identify as a skeptic or an atheist – it was his first conference of this kind and I was excited to see what he would make of it. He loved it and has now plundered my bookcase of many skeptical books. Thank you to everyone who made him feel welcomed and inspired him. You can follow him on Twitter @charlies91.

Lots of people have written very good summaries of the weekend but I’m not very good at those sorts of things because I find it difficult to take away decent summaries of everything that I saw that involves more than ‘wow’ or ‘woah‘. There were a lot of great and inspiring talks covering a whole range of subjects and I felt lucky to be present for the whole event – especially the Saturday evening entertainment that made me weep with laughter.

No, instead of writing my thoughts on the event I’m going to do something else. I’m going to write my thoughts on the people – or more specifically, the people who inspired and touched me (in a non physical manner) during the weekend.

For that is what QEDcon was for me, reader. QEDcon was people. It was people power, positive people, people who make a difference in the increasingly bleak world around us. Inspiring people. These people came together for one weekend as organisers, speakers, or audience members and taught each other new things, engaged one another with ideas, and motivated one another with battle scars, passion and success stories. There was this overwhelming sense at QEDcon that everyone can make a difference if they want to – and that they’re allowed to because there are no barriers. For me QEDcon was people, and what a bunch of inspirational folk they were.

I was inspired by…

Carrie Poppie, and the honesty in her talk about being scared that her house was haunted, and her compassion for those she encounters who believe in weird ideas. I was a fan before, but I’m an even bigger fan now.

Steven Colgan, who told us how commonality was the solution to fractured communities, causing lots of people to realise that commonality is what we as atheists, skeptics and non-believers should focus on too. His talk also demonstrated how sometimes the solutions to big problems are simple (so let’s not over think them).

Richard Dawkins, who during his interview with Robin Ince told such a beautiful story about the death of his friend that it reminded me that there is beauty in death, just as there is in life and its origins. My life has been quite full of the death of wonderful people this last year or so, and as Richard spoke I felt a calmness wash through me and I know many were moved to tears.

Michael Marshall, and his defense of the little guys during the Skeptical Activism panel – us regular folk who aren’t professional skeptics and do our doubtful outreach in our spare time. His advice to ’cause mischief’ struck a chord. There are many people out there deserving of mischief, so let’s organise!

Simon Singh for recognising that we all work in different ways, for kindly name checking me and Project Barnum during the Activism panel, and for having the courage to ask Sally Morgan in person whether she would undertake testing and, when she flew off the handle, for staying calm and engaging with her fans in the most admirable of ways. That really inspired me a lot.

Rose Shapiro, who told us how when she wanted to write ‘Suckers – how alt med makes fools of us all’ she was told nobody wanted that book, but she pushed on, wrote it, and provided vital information to the population when it would have been easier to cave in the demands of publishers. Thank you, Rose.

Josephine Jones, Alan Henness, Sandra Prow, Keir Liddle, Paul Morgan & co. for putting so much effort into defending reason on a daily basis against the likes of Burzynski. There are many names I haven’t mentioned because I don’t know them. Sorry.

Considered Creative, the folks who created the beautiful opening video sequence for each day of QEDcon. When it played it make me shiver.

Author, because despite peoples outrage this guy continues to make valid criticisms against religions and the religious through the use of the Jesus & Mo comics. It was such a pleasure to meet you!

Richard Saunders whose talk about Paranormal Research made the audience interested in something that is often dismissed as ‘not important’.

Laurence Krauss, not only for an inspirational talk (which I had seen in Zurich before) but also for being so approachable, friendly, and for his ‘Fictional Character’ t-shirt and Golden Converse shoes. Amazing.

Andy Lewis who apologised for beating my blog to the ‘best blog’ Ockhams award, despite deserving it so much more!

Mitch Benn who spoke openly and frankly about his criticism of Atheism+ when many people are scared to do so because of the backlash they fear they’ll experience.

Hayley and Mitch Benn on stgae
I collected an Ockham Award for ‘Best Podcast’ on behalf of Kylie Sturgess from Mitch Benn. Photo by Robert McDermott [source]
You, the readers of my blog for nominating Hayley is a Ghost for the ‘best blog‘ Ockham’s award from The Skeptic Magazine completely unprompted.  I didn’t win, but being shortlisted for the prize meant a lot. Knowing that there are people out there who believe this blog that I started when I was a 19-year-old Ghost Hunter who had started to doubt things is considered worthy of such a prize was humbling. Thank you.

and finally…

Everyone who came to speak to me, to tell me they liked my blog, Project Barnum or my podcasts. Strangers who weren’t scared to ask questions they knew I could answer, and wanted to learn more about paranormal research. This is why I love QEDcon – it reminds me that I am part of a scene within the UK that rocks, and despite the occasional infighting and setbacks, despite those times when reason fails and nonsense wins, I came away from QEDcon feeling hopeful for the future.

Published by

Hayley Stevens

Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

8 thoughts on “Thoughts from QEDcon ’13”

  1. Good points Haley. This was my second QEDCon, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The people are all amazing, and the talks are utterly brilliant. Every one of them.

    I left this years conference feeling inspired. Inspired by my fellow humans and how wonderful, friendly and amazing the other attendees were. And inspired by the great talks, and how much I’d learned in two days. Inspired to go away and read more science books, engage with more people, and learn as much about this wonderful world as is possible in our short lifetime on this planet.

  2. Completely agree.

    I said to someone yesterday, the thing about QED is that it renews my enthusiasm for all things skeptical, reminds me why I love it and the people I have met and continue to meet through it.
    It’s fun, but it has appropriate serious bits – a combination found in any good skeptical event I’ve ever attended.

  3. You think there’s a backlash many people fear for criticising Atheism Plus? Really? :S If anything it seems to me like there’s been a massive backlash against *it*, with a lot of people automatically thumbing down anything that even includes the phrase.

    1. Alex, when Rhys and I criticised a thread discussion over at A+ we were bombarded with nasty messages on twitter and on my blog. Recently I had another such experience when I tweeted critically of those demanding Harassment policies in an aggressive manner. So yes. There IS a backlash. I’ve experienced it. Unless you’re questioning my honesty.

  4. Thanks – I feel very honoured to get a mention in this post!

    QEDcon was fantastic and in so many different ways. As you say, there were (so many) (hugely) inspiring talks that it’s hard to put it into words. And for me, the Saturday night was just surreal – to meet so many people I admire and for them to be so supportive. By the time I spoke to you I was on a bit of a high, to put it mildly. I’m normally much more reserved!

    I must admit, I did feel myself welling up when Richard Dawkins was talking about the death of WD Hamilton. It was a very powerful moment and completely unexpected.

  5. Best. Photo. Ever! Thank you so much for writing up how great it was and for getting the award for me! Your blog rocks!

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