Superstars, Timely Insights, Fun: Latest CSICon Was Biggest (and Best?) Ever

Kendrick Frazier

It had superstars: The witty and erudite Renaissance man Stephen Fry in a lively onstage discussion with his fellow English countryman Richard Dawkins. Steven Pinker of Enlightenment Now! book fame telling us why things are better than we all think. James “The Amazing” Randi on stage with colleagues who helped create the modern skeptical movement. And Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” who just dropped by to ask Pinker a question, greet Randi, and hobnob with fans.

It had timely topics: psychologist James Alcock on how skilled propagandists can create an “us vs. them” mentality and stimulate existing prejudices; Dr. Jen Gunter on Gwyneth Paltrow’s vaginal (and other) snake oils; New York Times science journalist Carl Zimmer on the potentials and problems of DNA test kits; “Science Babe” Yvette d’Entremont on surviving fake news; health-policy researcher Timothy Caulfield on pop culture’s assault on science; zoologist Abby Hafer on why everything you know about sex is wrong (e.g., that gender is binary); political scientist Joseph Uscinski on conspiracy theories; medical scientist Paul Offit on what he got wrong in campaigning for vaccines; science teacher Bertha Vazquez on dealing with creationism in the classroom; “Science Mom” Kavin Senapathy on her own personal path “from reason, to Oz, and back again”; psychologist Susan Blackmore on what out-of-body experiences are about; climate communicator John Cook on the fake news about climate change; genial debunker Mick West on 9/11 microsphere myths; Massimo Polidoro on the mind of Leonardo da Vinci (the subject of his forthcoming book); and—well, you get the idea. That was just the start.

It had humor and even song and music courtesy of multi-talented host George Hrab and his irreverent personal takes on … well, whatever might occur to him at the time.

It had skeptical entertainment: Adam Conover, star of Adam Ruins Everything, led off the first evening with a routine built around, yes, parasites, and Banachek was back with his mind-boggling mind tricks that puzzle even most fellow skeptics.

And before the formal proceedings, there were well-attended workshops on climate literacy (Mark Boslough), skeptical activism (Susan Gerbic), investigations (Joe Nickell and Kenny Biddle), and health numeracy (William London).

The Saturday evening Halloween Party this time was a pajama party. That allowed the imaginations of scientific skeptics free rein (as if they need more of that)!

CSICon 2018, the annual celebration of science and reason by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and the Center for Inquiry, had something for everyone. With more than 650 participants gathered at a new and larger Las Vegas conference venue, the Westgate Hotel, just far enough off the strip to seem suitable, it was the biggest—and some said best—CSICon yet. 

Before my opening remarks I asked for a show of hands. How many were attending their first ever CSICon conference?  Hundreds of hands shot up.  We were surprised and delighted. So many new faces! Skeptic Rob Palmer talked to some of these first-time attendees—who came from all over the world. He subsequently published on our csicop.org website “Meet the First-Timers,” a fascinating report filled with anecdotes on why they came and how positive their experiences were. (See https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/csicon_2018_meet_the_first-timers.)

Said conference organizer and CSI Executive Director Barry Karr:

The conference was a great success. Although not the largest conference we’ve ever had, it was certainly the largest CSICon, with over 650 people. It was great to see so many old friends, and it’s always a pleasure to welcome first-time attendees. I think the highlight for me was watching James Randi in conversation with Ray Hyman, James Alcock, and Ken Frazier discussing the founding of CSICOP (now CSI) and the dawning of the skeptic’s movement. I am not sure how you can top a line-up like the one we had, but you know we are certainly going to try next year!

Added exuberant Center for Inquiry CEO and President Robyn Blumner afterward:

CSICon 2018 was a rousing success. People were regularly coming up to me and other CFI staff overflowing with enthusiasm for what they were experiencing. The speakers were tremendous. There were impactful and thoughtful talks but also plenty of humor. This was the best CSICon so far. I simply don’t know how it could have been better. Attendees walked away saying they would be back and would bring spouses and friends to the next one.

The next CSICon will be a joint conference with CSI’s sister organization, the Council for Secular Humanism, October 17–20, 2019, in Las Vegas at the Flamingo. 


For more extensive coverage of CSICon 2018, we next offer adapted excerpts from Paul Fidalgo’s session-by-session coverage done live at the time on the CFI Live website. For more, see https://centerforinquiry.org/blog/category/csicon/.

Kendrick Frazier

Kendrick Frazier is editor of the Skeptical Inquirer and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is editor of several anthologies, including Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience.