Learning more about the universe demonstrates just how much more we need to learn about life on planet Earth. That’s something noted US astronomer, writer and podcaster, Dr Pamela Gay, will be talking about at this year’s NZ Skeptics annual conference in Wellington next month.

From 6-8 September, at Victoria University’s Rutherford House, there’ll be talks, workshops and New Zealand’s first-ever Skepticamp centred aground the theme of science communication.

Gay will be the keynote speaker in a lineup of local and international speakers covering a broad range of topics from climate change to education, critical thinking tools and the science of doubt.

“As our understanding of our universe expands, it is becoming harder and harder for individuals to critically evaluate all areas of knowledge,” says Gay. “At a certain point, we have to learn to trust specialists. But we also have to know how to question those specialists enough to know who and what we can and can’t trust.” Her presentation will explain how to critically assess ideas put forward as scientific realities.

As part of the new wave of science communicators using new media, Gay focuses on projects using the internet to engage people in science and technology, such as the citizen science project Cosmoquest and the podcast Astronomy Cast. Currently teaching at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, she regularly travels the world giving talks and lectures on astronomy and skepticism.

Other speakers include Dr Matt McCrudden, on how a person’s beliefs affect their reaction to new information; Elf Eldridge will discuss how to educate people to differentiate between good and bad information; and Kylie Sturgess will speak on the science behind effective communication. Professor Martin Manning will cover the problems faced by climate scientists; Loretta Marron, twice Australian Skeptic of the Year, will talk about her work against pseudoscience in medicine; and Vicki Hyde will be introducing some useful thinking tools and examples to those new to skepticism.

The conference is open to all, including the Friday evening social Skepticamp, which combines debate, discussion and entertainment in a fast-moving look at science, pseudo-science and the just plain weird.

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