SkeptiCal 2017 Speakers


Eugenie Scott

The Science and Pseudoscience of Race

Species, subspecies, races, varieties, demes – although these scientific terms are sometimes difficult to apply in nature, they can be useful for communicating about groups of organisms. But when we talk about Homo sapiens, these terms often are understood differently than when they are used to communicate about plants and animals. Whether races of song sparrows are “real” as a scientific issue is not nearly as important to us as whether there are “races” of humans, and what we think are the attributes of such entities. Pseudoscience about the concept of race abounds, and these misunderstandings of science can have serious consequences for our society. What is the real science – the genetic key to understanding – the concept of “race”?

Dr. Eugenie C. Scott is the former Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education, Inc., a not for profit membership organization of scientists, teachers, and others that works to improve the teaching of science as a way of knowing, the teaching of evolution, and the teaching of climate change. A former college professor, Dr. Scott is an internationally-known expert on the creationism and evolution controversy and science denialism, and is called upon by the press and other media to explain science to the general public. The author of Evolution vs Creationism: An Introduction and co-editor with Glenn Branch of Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design is Wrong for our Schools, she is the recipient of numerous awards from scientists and educators, and has been awarded nine honorary degrees. Asteroid 249540 Eugeniescott was named for her in 2014.

Andrew Fraknoi 

Eclipse  Myths and How to Prepare for August's 'All-American' Eclipse

On Aug. 21, there will be a spectacular total eclipse of the Sun visible from one country only, the U.S.; it’s already being nicknamed the “All-American” eclipse.  You will have to be in a narrow path, going across the country from Oregon to South Carolina, to see the total eclipse.  But some 500 million people in North American will witness a partial eclipse, providing one of the largest science education opportunities and challenges in U.S. history.  Already, a great deal of misinformation about viewing the eclipse is out on the Web and through word of mouth.   In this illustrated talk, astronomer Andrew Fraknoi will discuss the basics of eclipses, the details of the August eclipse and where best to observe it, techniques for safe viewing, and some of the crazy things people have said and are saying about eclipses.

Andrew Fraknoi is an astronomy professor at Foothill College[1] and the 2007 California Professor of the Year awarded by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.[2] Fraknoi also won the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's 2007 Richard H. Emmons award,[3] the American Institute of Physics's 2007 Andrew Gemant Award (given for a lifetime of contributions to the intersection of physics and culture), and the American Astronomical Society's 1994 Annenberg Foundation Award (for a lifetime of contributions to astronomy education.) The International Astronomical Union has named Asteroid 4859 Asteroid Fraknoi to recognize his contributions to science education and to the public understanding of astronomy. In 2013, he was elected to the Board of Trustees of the Friends of the Lick Observatory. - From Wikipedia

Judith Horstman

Myths of the Brain

Do we only have a limited number of non-renewable brain cells --and is it true that we only use 10 percent of them? Do we really need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night? And is Alzheimer's inevitable? Is marijuana bad for your brain? What about alcohol, a known toxin?

Science writer Judith Horstman will talk about your amazing brain, dispelling myths and revealing fascinating facts from her four popular Scientific American books: A Day in the Life of Your Brain, Brave New Brain, The Book of Love, Sex and the Brain, and her most recent book The Healthy Aging Brain.

Judith Horstman is an award-winning journalist who has been a Washington correspondent, a university professor, a Knight Science Journalism Fellow and a Fulbright scholar. She is published in many media sources, is a popular public speaker, and is the author of seven books including The Scientific American Healthy Aging Brain (2012). Visit her website at

Marty Klein

Pornography 2017: PornPanic, Public Health, & Porn Literacy

For centuries, pornography was seen as a problem of immorality. In the 1970s, as the religious right expanded its political power beyond its religious base, it transformed the “problem” of pornography: they successfully marketed it as a public health danger.

Predictably, this invited a wide range of new stakeholders in the anti-pornography movement, including activists against human trafficking, domestic violence, child molestation, sex work, addiction, and divorce—along with many feminists. There was no science or data behind this. It is simply the latest American moral panic regarding sex, joining masturbation, comic books, rock ‘n’ roll, contraception, the morning-after pill, and satanic abuse.

This talk examines the consequences of broadband internet bringing porn into every American home in the year 2000, including junk science narratives. We’ll look at the real data on porn’s impact on sexual violence and child molestation; the myth of porn addiction; why building “porn literacy” in young people is essential to their digital and relationship health—and why American adults find this so difficult.

Dr. Klein will be drawing on data from his new book, His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic With Honest Talk About Sex.

Dr. Marty Klein is a Sociologist, Certified Sex Therapist, and Policy Analyst. For 35 years he has studied sexual decision-making on both the personal and cultural level, while promoting the sexual health and rights of all Americans. Marty is the author of 7 books, including the award-winning “America’s War On Sex” and the new “His Porn, Her Pain: Confronting America’s PornPanic With Honest Talk About Sex.” He has keynoted TAM and NECSS, and has been on Skeptic’s Guide to Universe—as well as the Daily Show, National Public Radio, and The New York Times. He provides expert testimony in sexuality in state, federal, and international courts. His popular blog is


Edward Wasserman

All The News That’s Fit To Fake

“Fake News” came to prominence in the last political election, but journalistic ethics, source reliability, and trust have been evolving for as long as people sought to distinguish fact from fiction.

This talk will cover the different definitions and categorization of fake news, its attributes, origins, and evolution, and what its practitioners hope to accomplish. Learn about actions that you can take to identify and discuss truth in media.

Edward Wasserman is professor of journalism and dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

Before coming to Berkeley in 2013 he was for 10 years the Knight Foundation professor of journalism ethics at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va. He writes and speaks widely on media rights and wrongs, technological change, and media ownership and control. His academic specialties include plagiarism, source relations, confidentiality, and conflict of interest.

From 2001 to 2016 he wrote a biweekly column that was distributed nationally on the McClatchy-Tribune wire. He was a member of the executive board of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) and serves on the editorial advisory board of the Journal of Media Ethics. He has spoken to professionals and academics throughout the U.S. and in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Great Britain, India, the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar, and China.

Wasserman’s career in journalism began in 1972. He worked for news organizations in Maryland, Wyoming, Florida, and New York. He was CEO and editor in chief of American Lawyer Media’s Miami-based Daily Business Review chain, executive business editor of The Miami Herald, city editor of The Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, and editorial director of Primedia’s 140-publication Media Central division in New York.

Wasserman received a B.A. cum laude in politics and economics from Yale, a licence in philosophy from the University of Paris I (Pantheon-Sorbonne), and a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, where he studied media politics and economics.

Brian Dunning

"Waterspouts & Swamp Gas: Challenging Popular Assumptions"

Science communicators do almost as much bad science as anyone. This talk blows the lid off some of the huge mistakes the media has made, some terrible but popular so-called "skeptical" explanations for famous phenomena. It's a lot of fun, covers a lot of ground, and exposes a lot of stories and urban legends you've heard of. The concepts it presents — thinking errors, perceptual errors, preconceived notions and biases — are universally applicable to professionals in any industry or to students in any subject.

Science writer Brian Dunning is the host and producer of the podcast Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena (, applying critical thinking to urban legends and popular pseudoscientific subjects promoted by the mass media. Skeptoid has a weekly audience of 158,000 listeners. Brian is also the author of five books based on the podcast. A computer scientist by trade, Brian uses new media to showcase the rewards of science and critical thinking. He has appeared on numerous radio shows and television documentaries, and also hosts the science video series inFact with Brian Dunning ( He is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and lives in southern California with his family.



Luigi Anzivino

"The Science of Magic"

Luigi Anzivino wants to live in a world where people can learn by doing in messy, unusual, and inventive ways, without fear of failure. Hoping to pull that off, he works as an educator at the Exploratorium, where he helps design, prototype, and facilitate hands-on making activities in the Tinkering Studio.

After 24 consecutive years of formal education culminating in a PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience, Luigi discovered informal education, constructionism, and tinkering; he never looked back to academia. In his work at the Exploratorium, Luigi focuses on developing, documenting, and sharing rich learning experiences, with the goal of creating a physical, cultural, and social space that is safe for trying out tentative ideas, not knowing the right answer, and developing the skill of posing—even more than solving—interesting problems.

During his academic years, Luigi’s research focused on uncovering how the brain is able to to pay attention to its surroundings, and learn from previous experiences. After developing an interest in studying and performing sleight of hand, he discovered that magic is the perfect conduit not only to talk about our current best understanding of the science behind perception, illusions, and attention, but also to give audiences the gift of uncertainty, and make them feel that the world is not as it seems. And that is ultimately what science is all about.