The Amazing Cruise: Day 1

The Amazing Cruise: Day 1

The Amazing Cruise: Day 1

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Sept. 3 2007 6:49 PM

The Amazing Cruise: Day 1

Day 1:

Today is the first full day of The Amazing Cruise, and it's already been great!

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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When we got to the ship last night, it was pretty easy to find it:

Yikes! It's huge; almost 1000 feet long, and draughts displaces 91,000 tons. There are over 2000 people on board, including 90 or so skeptics. We're just now entering the Inside Passage, a long strait lined with majestic mountains. The weather is a bit grim, but it provides for dramatic imagery:

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As far as the skeptical gathering goes, we had an informal gathering last night with drinks and chat, and then dinner. Each Celebrity Guest Speaker TM sat at a different table, and I suppose we were the featured entertainment. It was a lot of fun! I knew most of the folks at my table through Randi's bulletin board, so we had a good time. Randi has a mascot, Pigasus, a flying pig... because pseudoscience will be true when pigs fly. To that effect, I gave him a toy I bought back home: a hand-held catapult that shoots little plastic pigs:

Today started with some Q&A with Randi his own self, and he told stories about him and Alice Cooper (yes, Alice Cooper), Woody Allen, Richard Feynman, and many others. As usual Randi was vastly entertaining to listen to. His history is in many ways a history of the skeptical movement, and I always appreciate any insights into that I can get from him.

Next up was Richard Saunders, my good friend from Australia, who spoke about the skeptical movement in Oz. The audience ate it up, and not just because he talks funny. He is a true gentleman and a model of how to be a critical thinker in a world immersed in bad thinking. His step-by-step explanation of a series of "haunted" places in an Australian school was fantastic: weird lights turned out to be reflections; creaking floorboards in an empty room turned out to be someone walking in the next room over -- the boards go under the wall adjoining the rooms, so someone walking over there would make the floor squeak over here; a staircase making your legs feel heavy was just a plain old staircase with an added dose of suggestion: who's not tired after climbing a flight of stairs?.

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After lunch, we had a panel consisting of Richard, Rebecca from Skepchick, Randi, me, and Hal Bidlack, who is a friend and a part of the JREF organization. We had a lot of Q&A with the crowd, and as usual (and how else can I describe it?) it was fun. We had questions on magic, art, the Big Bang, skepticism in general, and how to support it. I'm not sure I can do any of the answers real justice, to be honest: everyone had great things to say.

I was particularly taken with a question on how to get skeptics together locally and how to support such a thing. Rebecca and Richard talked about making it a social event, which I wholly support. Meet at pubs, meet at the movies and then go out afterwards, meet at the pool hall. If it's fun, more people are likely to come. Randi talked about calling the local media and getting them to know who you are, and volunteering to talk on air or be quoted about any topics that might need a modicum of critical thought (you can look up journalists who report on such things). I talked about supporting local skepticism by tying it in with the local population. If you live in a place where "alternative" medicine is rampant (like Boulder, say) then focus on that. Or maybe there are dowsers in your neighborhood. Whatever! But find that focus, research it, and get the local media to talk to you. You get attention that way, and more people. Hal talked about Skepticamp, a place where people can get together and give talks about their own efforts in promoting critical thinking.

And we all agreed: above all, be friendly, be warm, be courteous. Skeptics are not all dour, sour, jerks. And I can prove it!

See? We're human, we have feelings, and we care. Amazing, isn't it? My internet connection is spotty, and the schedule is packed, but I'll post more when I can. Stay tuned!