Program

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Conference open day 1


Official opening of Skepticon 2020 with MC Jane Ubrien and Gold Coast Skeptics President and Conference Chair Dr Paulie followed by Welcome to Country by Yugambeh clan member Maggie Dillon.

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Great moments in Skeptical Science

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Extreme Physics with Single Atoms

How can we show what we know about atoms? Experiments with a single atom are a good starting point. In this talk Erik will describe how he and his team captured the first image of a single atom’s shadow and subsequently adapted that experiment to measure extremely small forces, roughly a millionth billionth (10^-15) that of gravity on a grain of sand.

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Morning break with music from George Hrab

15 min break.

George Hrab

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Water fluoridation: Gobs, mobs and nutjobs

Fluorides strengthen teeth against tooth decay. They have been added to drinking water since the 1940s, and to toothpaste since the 1950s. However, while fluoride toothpastes are almost universally accepted, fluoridated drinking water is much more controversial, despite being endorsed by all reputable health and scientific agencies. Opponents of water fluoridation are passionate, relentless, and will twist the science until it squeals. Who are they, what are their tactics, and is public health still worth fighting for?

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The Search for Alien Worlds

As recently as the late 1980s, we knew of just one planetary system – the Solar system. In the decades since, we have witnessed a great scientific revolution, with the dawn of the Exoplanet Era. We now know that our system is just one among many – and that planets are ubiquitous. When we look at the night sky, we are now certain that the stars we observe are all accompanied by planets, large and small, near and far.

 

But how do we search for these alien worlds? What will the next decade of the search reveal? And how is a small observatory in southeast Queensland helping to lead the search for another Earth? During his talk, USQ’s Prof Jonti Horner will answer these questions (and more!).

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Lunch break with brand new music from Conspiracy of One

1 hour break.

Conspiracy of One

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A supercharged climate: Grand challenges of adaptation in Australia

Climate change is exacerbating extreme weather events and Australians must prepare for escalating threats. Climate adaptation, along with tackling carbon pollution is crucial but adaptation is a new reality for countries like Australia. This panel will discuss a wide range of issues including last summer’s bushfires, how we can manage disasters better, which policies should be put in place to secure resilient communities, and how we can make decisions now that can help us to thrive in an uncertain future.


The panel members all work on climate adaptation and will bring their expertise to unravel this complex topic with practical examples.

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Afternoon break with music from Mitch Benn

15 min break

Mitch Benn

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Outcome of the Independent Review of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Framework

Major changes were made to the therapeutic goods advertising framework during 2018-19. These included a legally enforceable advertising code, stronger investigative and compliance powers for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and enhanced educational resources for industry. The Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, committed to an independent review of the impact of these new measures within two years of its implementation. Skepticon 2019 included a regulatory panel which outlined initial concerns about the new system.


Skepticon 2020 features a panel session organised by Dr Ken Harvey that discusses the outcome of the independent review carried out by Ms Rosemary Sinclair AM, and the response of the government, TGA and others to the recommendations made. It will also provide the audience with the opportunity to question the key players.

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Conference open day 2

Opening of day 2 followed by the annual Skeptical awards ceremony presented by President of Australian Skeptics Inc Jessica Singer, Executive Officer of Australian Skeptics Inc. Tim Mendham, and Chief Investigator of Australian Skeptics Inc. Richard Saunders.

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One-thousand Years of Pandemics, What Have We Learned?

Pandemics are a hot topic. Epidemiologists have been trying to prepare us for the inevitability of a global pandemic, and this year it has become a reality with the rise of COVID-19. Let’s talk about evidence-based approaches to pandemics and explore some of the pseudoscience that arises from them.

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Anti-Environmental Environmentalists - How Irrational Environmentalists Impede Their Own Cause

How most modern human societies gather and consume food and energy have placed a tremendous amount of pressure on the natural world. These pressures have manifested itself in the forms of deforestation, topsoil erosion, pollution and climate change. If unchecked, either one of these pressures can destroy both the natural world and modern human societies as we know it.


Fortunately, some people are aware of this self-destructive path and are fighting not only for the protection of the environment but ultimately for our children's children's future. These people, collectively termed "environmentalists" and have done great good in the world. However, there have been instances where environmentalists have impeded their own cause by following ideology rather than taking an evidence-based approach.


Using examples from Australia, this presentation will seek to:

  1. Examine from an evidence-based environmental-perspective heated topics such as genetic engineering, organic farming, vegan ideology, animal rights activists, and nuclear energy;

  2. Highlight contradicting discrepancies and debunk particular positions within the environmental movement regarding these topics; and

  3. Communicate to a broad audience the importance of evidence-based environmentalism as opposed to adopting an environmentalist ideology

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The Dark Triad: A Clinical Psychologist’s Take on President Donald Trump

Everyone knows there is something wrong with Donald Trump. But how does emotion-free scientific psychology explain him?

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Morning break with music from Helen Arney

15 min break

Helen Arney

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Human Evolution Panel

This double whammy of talks will consist of two world class human evolution experts followed by a joint Q&A.


The Tales Teeth Tell: Human Development, Evolution, and Behaviour 

Prof Tanya Smith

This talk will illuminate how a small part of our anatomy can teach us myriad things about how we grew up, evolved, and behaved during prehistoric times. Professor Smith will explain how careful scientific investigations have debunked controversies about the presence of faithful biological rhythms in teeth. This ultimately led to resolution of a century of debate over whether ancient human ancestors had childhoods like our own today. Teeth also have much to say about our ancient diet, ranging from their specialized shapes to tiny microscopic hints preserved on their surfaces for millions of years. These clues challenge popular mythology around the Paleo Diet, revealing just how unique our species is!


Who owns humankind - at the crossroad between scientific object and spiritual subject

Dr Renaud Joannes-Boyau

In this talk, we will first present the crucial role of fossils to advance our understanding of human evolution in particular (i) timing and (ii) ecology of our ancestors. We will present briefly the dating techniques and their importance in defining the sequence of events. We will then follow our discussion with the recent advance made in investigating early-life record of our ancestors. At last, we will end our talk by broadening the discussion to the complex aspect of fossil status as subject or object, investigating the legal, scientific, ethical and spiritual aspect of remains.

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Lunch break with brand new music from Distill

1 hour break

Distill

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Skeptic Activism Workshop

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of concerned humans to the influence of pseudoscience and woo when it comes to health. This is not news to Skeptics who have long been working globally to push back against the social injustice of non-evidence-based healthcare. Jo and Mandy are Australian healthcare practitioners that work in fields of health often targeted by alternative therapies. They have worked separately and together to advocate for evidence-based health care and believe that every Skeptic can achieve great outcomes for the health. In this workshop Jo and Mandy share their strategies for working with healthcare regulators and having impact when taking action for science-based medicine.


  • What’s the harm?

  • Who can advocate for safe and ethical healthcare?

  • The anatomy of a good complaint

  • What to expect from the regulators?

  • Skeptic activism supports social justice issue

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Keeping science S.E.X.Y. - Creative approaches to Skepticism

There are many roles in teaching science and critical thinking. Some people have expertise in a field and the qualifications to back them up, some have a background in psychology and others in teaching.

But what if these aren't our chosen career path? How else can we contribute to skepticism in a meaningful way?


Nathan's talk will include examples of music, film & TV, board games, social media and more that demonstrate and encourage critical thinking using today's tools and most importantly, a good sense of humour.

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The prevalence and problems of thoughtless statistical analysis

An ideal statistical analysis will use appropriate methods to create insights from the data and inform the research questions. Unfortunately, many current statistical analyses are far from ideal, with many researchers using the wrong methods, misinterpreting the results, or failing to adequately check their assumptions. Many researchers may not have received adequate training in research methods, and statistics is something they do with trepidation and even ignorance. However, using the wrong statistical methods can cause real harm and bad statistical practices are being used to abet weak science.


Even when the correct methods are used, many researchers fail to describe them adequately, making it difficult to reproduce the results. I will describe our team's research looking at how statistical methods are described and applied. We will show the prevalence of "boilerplate" statistical methods sections in papers, where virtually the same text is used regardless of the research question.


We will examine researchers' use of linear regression, which is a widely used and useful method for uncovering associations between variables. Unfortunately, most researchers apply this method badly, with a focus on the p-value rather than the strength of the association, and little to no checking of the key underlying assumptions. These results will look at papers published in the multi-disciplinary open access journal "PLOS ONE". I will discuss potential ways these problems could be reduced, including education, journal policies and automation.

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Afternoon break with music from Conspiracy of One

15 min break

Conspiracy of One

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Circular Reasoning: The Rise of Flat Earth Belief

In 2013, when Michael Marshall first interviewed the Vice President of the Flat Earth society for his show Be Reasonable, people could scarcely believe that anyone could genuinely think the Earth was flat. Five years later, Flat Earth belief has gone mainstream, spawning thousands of hours of YouTube videos, gaining widespread international media coverage, and attracting countless followers. How did we get here?


In this talk, Marshall will talk through his experiences of the Flat Earth movement, take a look at the leaders and some of their reasoning, and report back from the weekend he spent at the UK’s first ever Flat Earth convention.

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The Vagina Mystery

In 2013 when Alice Howarth joined the Merseyside Skeptics Society’s podcast, Skeptics with a K, to talk about unsubstantiated or pseudoscientific claims in the media, she quickly realised the volume of claims made about the vagina are insurmountable. Over the past five years she’s considered countless claims from a variety of different types of people about how exactly you “should” care for a vagina, should you ever encounter one. These claims might seem light and fun, but they can have damaging consequences for people who have vaginas and the wider society. In this talk Alice will take us through some of these claims, the sources they come from and the wider impact of those claims.

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Conference close

Closing remarks from MC Jane Urbrien and the Skepticon 2020 team.

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Sponsored by:

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Q Skeptics

Queensland Skeptics Association Inc.