Online Skepticism, Demystified

It all started with a nudie calendar. Not your typical “Girls With Ladders” or “Hot Rod Honeys,” but a tongue-in-cheek assortment of hilarious (science-themed) cheesecake pics – the stars of which were skeptics, rational thinkers, or just girls who have denounced god’s existence and figured, “Why the hell, not?” The lass who pieced it all together? May we introduce the Wonkette of science skepticism: Rebecca Watson.

Watson met the others in online debunking forums, the kinds of sites where individuals can type in all caps to express their dissatisfaction with bad science. These sites also double as havens for open debate and exchange; the women who frequent them vent to one another about everything from feminist issues to the latest absurd Tom Cruise Scientology YouTube video. These online communities meet in three dimensions during James Randi’s Amazing Adventure events, the latest of which is occurring this weekend in Fort Lauderdale. When Watson went to her first Randi-sponsored activity -- an Amazing Adventure Cruise to Alaska – it was, for her, divine debauchery. She was hooked. Could partying with atheists and debunkers really be that outlandish? “Well, the first rule of partying with skeptics is: DON’T talk about partying with skeptics,” Watson says with a laugh. From there, it spiraled. Soon the website turned into a monthly online magazine, next it evolved into a blog ( Eventually a podcast sprouted up (, with episode topics covering everything from incest to dousing rods. And now, in addition to the before-mentioned feats, she’s one of three finalists in NPR’s Talent Contest: If her program is picked, taunting pseudoscience and its practitioners could become her new, full-time gig. It sounds fun, right? You’d love to follow suit, but mastering all of that technological wizardry makes your head spin. The process will be demystified during James Randi’s The Amazing Meeting 5.5. The event is happening all weekend long at the Plantation Hotel and Conference Center (1711 N. University Dr., Plantation) under the heading “Skepticism and Activism: Go out There and Do Something!” The event’s lecturers -- accomplished speakers, bloggers, and podcasters all (Watson included) -- will teach you everything you need to know about the craft, from getting started, to scavenging information, to building an audience. There will also be dinners, a tour of the Randi facility (on Sunday), workshops, Q&As, a pool party, and after-parties aplenty (at least one of Watson’s after-parties has involved a scotch-swigging Christopher Hitchens and, eventually, police intervention; you don’t want to miss that.) Be a part of this community, learn new things, make interesting friends, and just have an all-around great time when you attend TAM (The Amazing Meeting) Fort Lauderdale. See the lengthy list of esteemed guests and lecturers when you register online at (you can also sign up by phone at 954-467-1112, or in person on Friday beginning at 12:30 p.m., and Saturday beginning at 7:30 a.m.). A basic Saturday Only package will run $175 for JREF members and $200 for non-members.
Sat., Jan. 26, 2008