THE 2009 annual NZ Skeptics Conference in Wellington was its usual mix of good times and thought-provoking material, though with some unique touches. The Kingsgate Hotel was a rather more luxurious venue than we’re used to; the few problems that arose were mostly due to the high number of late enrolments, making this one of the largest gatherings in recent years.

Friday night entertainment was the first hint things would be a bit different, when a barbershop quartet, Quarter Tone, appeared to serenade us, closing with a rousing skeptical anthem. The right-hand side of the room then trounced the left side in a quiz competition, with each side in turn having to come up with an obscure question to stump the other. We all learned something, not least what a Mongolian Death Worm can do to you.

Saturday saw a huge variety of presentations, from Hugh Young’s epic poem on the evils of circumcision, a subject he has written on previously (NZ Skeptic 86), to Brian Easton’s perspectives on the scientific status of economics (see this issue). Also in this issue is Loretta Marron, who put her scientific training to good use taking on the purveyors of dodgy alternative therapies in Australia, after being herself diagnosed with breast cancer. Then there was Matthew Dentith putting conspiracy theories in their proper philosophical perspective, John Robinson on how refutations of the Club of Rome’s gloomy predictions don’t stand close scrutiny, and Bernard Beckett, who gave a passionate exposition of what he thinks science is, and why he thinks evolutionary psychology isn’t it. Look for more of these in upcoming issues of the NZ Skeptic. Or, if you can’t wait, there’s audio of many of them available through the NZ Skeptics website, courtesy of the Science Media Centre.

The dinner was a memorable occasion – first the food, then a skeptically themed offering from Wellington Theatresports group The Improvisors. The Italian Renaissance song about the view from Sarah Palin’s window and the motion of UFOs was a highlight, although one of the performers had a bit of trouble picking that the channeled message from Vlad the Impaler was that it’s okay to smack your kids.

The main event for Sunday was the AGM, which as usual was a relaxed and painless exercise, followed by Matthew Gerrie on the fallibility of memory, and why police line-ups may have put many innocent people behind bars. Hugely enjoyable all round, I’ll definitely be back next year.

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