Join me at CONvergence 2015!

Skepchicks are ready for science!

The Skepchick Network is ready for Science! Photo by Fizzixrat

Once again, the Skepchick Network will be hosting SkepchickCON at CONvergence over July 4th weekend in Minneapolis. We will have four full days of panels about science, social justice, feminism and whole lot of geekery.

The Skepchicks will also be hosting smaller group discussions, activities and a low-stimulus party in the Skepchick Space Lab during the day and  (generally) louder and more crowded but still accessible parties in the evening.

Can’t go, but want to support us and get something awesome in the bargain? We have some great SkepchickCON Auctions going on right now, including one for a Furiosa belt crest by Ryan Consell, signed art prints by Amy Davis Roth and (for those who will be at the con) a cosplay photoshoot at CONvergence with Jamie Bernstein, among other things.

Join us! Or if you can’t join us in person, join us on the hashtag: #cvg2015. Often Skepchick panels end up using panel-specific hashtags, but we generally use the convention hashtag as well, so that should be your first stop.

Here’s my schedule for the con.  I’ll be talking about all manner of science, Marvel geekery, art and dystopian media, and in between I’ll be costuming, hanging out with awesome geeks and trying to catch all of the other fabulous panels on the full schedule.

How Good Science Can Make a Movie Better
Thursday, July 2nd – 8:30 – 9:30pm – Doubletree Atrium 4
At what point is suspension of disbelief not a good enough reason to mess up the science? What movies have good examples of getting the science right, and how does this make the movie better?
Panelists: Jennifer Ouellette, Renate Fiora, Sean Sullivan, Raychelle Burks, Emily Finke

Monster Madness
Thursday, July 2, 10:00 – 11:00pm – Doubletree Atrium 6
Who will be victorious in a post-apocalyptic tournament for monster domination? We’ll pit zombies vs. vampires, aliens vs. mutants, and more in head-to-head debates. The audience will choose the winner of each round and ultimately the victor.
Panelists:Brianne Bilyeu, Emily Finke, Raychelle Burks (mod), Jennifer Ouellette, Rebecca Watson

Marvel Movie Round-Up
Friday July 3 12:30 – 1:30pm – Doubletree Atrium 6
Since this time last year, we’ve seen talking raccoons, killer robots, the Scarlet Witch, and announcements for the films up through 2019! Join us for an hour of pure geekery on Marvel’s latest offerings and speculation about their future.
Panelists: John Seavey, Emily Finke, Dan Wallace, Romeo Azar, Christopher Jones

Art After the Apocalypse Friday July 3, 2:00 – 3:00pm – Doubletree Atrium 3
A review of the role of artists in apocalyptic fiction and a speculative journey into the value and nature of art at the dusk of humankind.
Panelists: Beth Voigt, Ryan Consell, Celia Yost, Emily Finke

Science vs. Religion in Dystopia
Friday July 3, 2015 5:00 – 6:00pm – Doubletree Atrium 4
Authors like Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien have often pitted religion against science, blatantly or through symbolism. How do these authors tilt their respective playing fields? How do their dystopian portrayals of the “other side” compare?
Panelists: PZ Myers, Heina Dadabhoy, Emily Finke, Cassandra Phoenix, Jairus Durnett

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2
Saturday July 4, 2015 5:00 – 6:00pm Doubletree Atrium 7
Ward’s in jail, Coulson’s losing it, Skye’s got daddy issues, Fitz has brain damage, and Simmons is deep undercover. And that’s in Episode 1! Join us for an hour of discussing Season Two of Marvel’s spy drama.
Panelists: Daren Johnson, Emily Finke, Marty Farley, Josie Browning, Cetius d’Raven

Cult of Talent
Saturday July 4, 2015 8:30pm – 9:30pm – Doubletree Edina
Join Mad Art Lab in a discussion about how the language of genius and talent discourages people from trying new things and undercuts the effort and time involved in developing artistic skill.
Panelists:Emily Finke, Ryan Consell (mod), Celia Yost, Beth Voigt, Amy Roth

Diversity in Dystopian Creators
Sunday July 5, 2015 9:30 – 10:30am – Doubletree Atrium 2
We have a diversity of dystopian characters, but still little diversity of creators. Beyond Octavia Butler, where is the next generation of POC/PWD/GLBTQ creators and how can we as fans promote them?
Panelists: Emily Finke, Jennifer Cross

Dystopian Planet
Sunday July 5, 2015 2:00pm – 3:00pm – Doubletree Plaza 1
How many ways can we make the world unlivable? Without clean water, air, and land. people suffer and societies can collapse. Climate change poses enormous threats. We’ll examine fictional accounts and the real threats we face from environmental harm.
Panelists:Benny Vimes, Jamie Bernstein, Emily Finke, Stephanie Zvan (mod), Maggie Koerth-Baker

Fixing Broken Things

In my day job, I am a QA Analyst for a software company. I spend every weekday from nine to five thirty(-ish) telling developers to fix things.

Not because they’re bad developers, but because software is complex. It has lots of moving parts that can break in new and exciting ways. Once you get too close to it, you can lose sight of how it works for someone who has to use the product.

At least once a day, I have a conversation that goes like this:

“Can you fix the thing?”
“I didn’t break the thing.”
“I know you didn’t break the thing. But I still need the thing to work, so I’m asking you to fix it.”

Sometimes I need to have this conversation a few times before getting whatever the problem is fixed. But at the end of the day, everyone knows that if something is broken, it just needs to get fixed. No matter who broke it.

No, you didn’t mean to break anything in the process of deploying new code, but I still need you to go back and look at the five tangential processes that are now not working and fix them anyway.

Yes, I’m pretty sure most of the developers I work with hate me *at least* once a week. I’m sure I’m the cause of a lot of cranky chat messages and I occasionally get snapped at by a developer for telling them something is broken. But I don’t make developers fix things because I hate them. Or because I think they’re bad people. Or even because I think they’re bad developers. If I thought they were bad developers, I wouldn’t bother coming to them with problems in the first place.

I don’t make them fix things as a way of pointing fingers and saying they screwed up. I make them fix things because that thing is broken, no matter who broke it. It’s broken and it needs to be fixed. They know this and once the moment of “ARGH.I DIDN’T BREAK ANYTHING” passes, they get it fixed quickly and efficiently. It might be hard to deal with in the moment, but it’s an unavoidable part of life. When you’re trying to create new things, things break. My entire job as a QA Analyst means saying “Hey, this thing could be working better. Let’s make it better.”

This is what social justice is to me. No, I didn’t create racism. Or sexism. Or homophobia. Or transphobia. Or ablism. But it’s still a thing that’s broken. It’s still a thing that needs to be fixed. Just because I didn’t create it, that doesn’t mean that I get to pretend like it’s not broken. And that goes for every issue out there.

Misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism, ablism. These are all things that are deeply and intensely broken in society. There isn’t a single person among us who shoulders the blame for breaking these things. At the same time, there isn’t a single person among us who gets to walk away from the responsibility of fixing them.

That’s the thing that people miss about social justice: Saying that you have taken part in something that needs to be fixed does not make you a bad person. Saying that you need to help fix something does not mean you broke it in the beginning. You can be a really good person and still screw up phenomenally. We all do at some point.

I mean to do good. I have my heart in the right place. Still, sometimes in the process of working on one thing, I accidentally contribute to the brokenness of five other things. I may be trying to work on fixing sexism, but if in doing so, I say something transphobic or ablist, or ignore the intersections of race and gender, or if I reproduce classist rhetoric in critiquing behavior, I have caused harm in exactly the same way I would have created harm if I had intentionally set out to hurt someone. At the end of the day, my motivations didn’t matter. I still need to work to fix the harm I caused.

When this happens, I need someone who isn’t as close to my motivations to take me aside and say “Hey, that thing is broken. Can you fix it?” Most importantly, I need to listen to them. I can have my moment of anger and frustration, but I need to swallow that and think about what they are pointing out. I am too close to myself to see my actions in a non-biased way. My friends are not. It hurts to be told I caused harm, but that hurt is nothing compared to the hurt I could be inflicting on others if I continue.

I need to show up every day at work, ready to help troubleshoot problems. In the same way, I need to show up every day for equality. I can take a day off here or there in either venue, and I need to for my own mental health (we all need to, more often than we let ourselves), but the work still needs to be done. The bugs will still be in our software, and the problems will still be in culture. Ignoring them doesn’t help. It just makes life harder for the people who have to work around those problems, whether talking about computers or society.

I didn’t break our society. I don’t mean to harm anyone. Nor do most other people. That doesn’t absolve me from the responsibility to help fix it. These things are broken. They need to be fixed. Let’s fix them.

A Reference List of Excuses for Rape and Death Threats

It must be exhausting to come up with yet another new excuse to treat women horribly, so here’s a list for easy reference. Just pick one and you’ll be instantly believed by a large percentage of the internet, with no other actions necessary on your part!

Because ethics in gaming journalism.

Because she talked about not liking catcalling.

Because she wants to see women represented on her nation’s currency.

Because she thinks women should be treated equally as scientists.

Because she talked about sexism in book review practices.

Because she is causing deep rifts in the atheist movement.

Because she’s talking about academic philosophy’s deep misogyny problem.

Because she spoke out against a prominent skeptic’s sexual misconduct.

Because she spoke out against a prominent broadcast personality’s sexual misconduct.

Because she spoke out against any man’s sexual misconduct.

Because she stood up next to any other woman and said “I believe her”.

Because she makes art that talks about her experience as a woman.

Because doesn’t do femininity in the way you think she should.

Because she has no interest in conforming to “proper, self-respecting, chaste” womanhood.

Because she has no interest in conforming to the idea of wild, nymphomaniac whore.

Because she is having wild, fantastic sex with other people and not with you.

Because her womanhood is not tied to the sex she was assigned at birth.

Because she wants to read books about women.

Because she writes books about women.

Because she wants to play games with women main characters.

Because she’s making games with women main characters.

Because she’s only getting attention in her Sailor Moon costume because she’s “con hot”.

Because she isn’t hot enough to be in a Sailor Moon costume.

Because her skin color isn’t right for Sailor Moon.

Because she said that she doesn’t want men touching her when she wears a costume.

Because she said that she doesn’t want men touching her at work.

Because she speaks out about how women only have a place at tech conferences if they’re scantily-clad booth babes.

Because she works as a booth babe.

Because she doesn’t think “make me a sandwich” jokes are funny.

Because she called out sexist language in speeches.

Because she called out misogyny in journalism.

Because she’s tired of seeing herself reflected as a sexual plaything in almost every bit of popular media ever.

Because she isn’t the perfect reflection of a sexual plaything that every bit of popular media ever has made men expect.

Because she dared ask for a better world.

Because she has a voice and is using it.

Where I’ll Be: DragonCon 2014

It's DragonCon. *Of course* there are Jedi and Sith staging a multi-story fight in the Hilton.

It’s DragonCon. *Of course* there are Jedi and Sith staging a multi-story fight in the Marriott.

So, it’s that time of year again. This week I pack up 50% (it feels like, looking at my suitcases) of my apartment contents and decamp to Atlanta for a week of science, costuming, nerdery and fantastic friends. DragonCon is a huge (50,000-ish people) multi-genre science fiction, fantasy, new media, science, steampunk, anime and everything else under the sun con that takes place every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. There is something for every flavor of geek. I started attending this con 14 (!!!) years ago, as a teenage Star Wars fan, and have since migrated through Firefly fandom, Battlestar Galactica fandom, Skepticism and now landing soundly in the middle of the Science track. This was my first con, and it’s one that I keep coming back to, whether as a fan, a costumer, a panelist, or just the geek girl sitting in a corner of the Atrium level of the Marriott, grinning at the 10 foot tall Totoro costume and spontaneous Obi-Wan vs. Link duel going on to a soundtrack of a guy with bagpipes and the squealing of anime kids.

This year I’ll be splitting my time between being on panels and costuming. My panels cover the gamut of science to… science. But all kinds of science! Steamships, zombies, Aquaman, animal sex and Wookie evolution are just a few of the things I’ll be getting overly excited about. Come prepared to ask questions!

Superheroic Science

Friday 11:30am – Hilton, room 202
Some superheroes are frankly impossible, while others are plausible. What’s the difference, and does your favorite make the cut? With  Torrey Stenmark, Michael Gilkey
Science Track

Zombies and Vampires and Mummies, Oh My!

Friday 8:30pm – Hilton, room 202
The undead fascinate us, but what does “undead” mean? Are all undead monsters created equal? Panel scientists will examine life, death, and undeath. With Raychelle Burks, Lali DeRosier, Kristopher Hite
Science Track

Nature is Kinkier Than You

Friday 10:00pm – Hilton, Crystal Ballroom
Dolphins’ mating habits. Fruit bats and oral sex. Octopuses’ detachable genitals. How did animals become so kinky? 18+ With David Shiffman, Rachel Pendergrass, Diane Kelly, Lali DeRosier
Science Track

FOR SCIENCE! The Myth & Realities of Steam Power

Saturday, 5:30pm Westin, rooms Augusta I & II
Scientists and Fabricators discuss the fantastic contraptions behind steampunk and the myth vs. the actual science behind steam power. Q&A to follow. With Scott Vigue, Dave Lee, Jonathan Strickland, Thomas Willeford
Alternate History Track

Applied Science in Star Wars

Sunday, 4:00pm Marriott, room A706 (behind the blood drive)
We give you a panel of scientists to discuss what can and can’t happen in a galaxy closer to home. With John E. Bradford, Sarah Milkovich, Erin Patricia Macdonald, Eric P Spana
Star Wars at DragonCon Track

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Good Clothes, Good Girls

I don't actually recommend this outfit for tortoise-wrangling.

It’s “appropriate”, but I don’t actually recommend this outfit for tortoise-wrangling.

It is really easy to find yourself fighting the wrong fight, particularly on the internet.

As people, we tend to get defensive when people argue with us, whether they’re right or wrong, justified or not, aggressive or friendly.

The impulse to defend yourself is strong, particularly when it comes to issues of your own body, your own identity, your own worth.

And so I found myself arguing the wrong question this week.

Context: I know not to fight with the trolls. I skim comment threads to get a general feel for them, but I can usually avoid reading them in their entirety.

I can let the insults roll off my back in most cases. After all, this is the internet. I am a woman. I have strong opinions. And I am using what little platform I have to fight for those opinions. This means I get insulted. A lot.

But then something small will happen. It could be one comment in a 300+ comment thread.

In this case, it was an accusation that I was, in reality, flashing people in my costume.

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Dear News, stop trying to entertain me.

No, really. Stop it.

I don’t need flashy graphics, scary music and breathless reporters. I don’t need to “Find out after the commercial break!!”

I don’t want you to be the first with your breaking news and speculations.

I *really* don’t want you to interview heartbroken relatives, shell-shocked neighbors and terrified kids.


You don’t need to make this a human interest story. You don’t need to create false suspense.

It is a human interest story already. Anyone with a heart and a mind is already interested.

You don’t need to relate it to local people. What is local in the age of the internet? When we can watch our friends tweeting from lockdown? When we can read their fear in Facebook updates and see through their eyes on Instagram?

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Star Stuff and the Beauty of Ideas

My tattoo - spells out "I am star stuff" in amino acids. Photo by Colin Schultz

My tattoo -  “I am star stuff” in amino acids. Photo by Colin Schultz

There are many beautiful ideas in science.  We see them as beautiful because they seem to have some sort of unifying force. Or because they’re simple and elegant. Or because some talented writer put words to them that are so perfect that they ring in our heads as we go about our day to day life. But most importantly, they’re beautiful because they’re true.

The idea that strikes me as the most beautiful is one that has been said by many, many scientists, in many many ways.

As Carl Sagan said, we are all star stuff.

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Social Media, Silence and Tragedy

My cat, in her Fortress of Solitude. Following the grand internet tradition of expressing emotions through cat pictures.

My cat, in her Fortress of Solitude. Following the grand internet tradition of expressing emotions through cat pictures.

Social media creates an interesting paradox. It allows us to express emotion communally. To work through fear and confusion and anger and sadness with likeminded individuals, in a way that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. When I watch a tragedy unfold, I can’t help but take a step back and look at how people are relating to it, and to each other.

I don’t comment on it, most of the time. In fact, I don’t say anything at all, most of the time.

I’m sure it makes me look callous, and unfeeling. Or at the very least self-centered and oblivious.

And therein lies the paradox. Social media creates a communal place to pour our emotions. To share them, and to work through them publically.

So what about those of us who don’t do public emotion?

Those of us who, when faced with something horrible happening are just as likely to stare dumbly at the imparter of the news and mold their face into some approximation of sadness or sympathy, or whatever is the expected outward expression of our inner turmoil

I’m not saying that I don’t feel sadness for the lives lost, or anger at the person or people who did hurt others. I’m not saying I don’t sympathize with those who feel pain or fear that something else is coming.

I feel it. Intensely. Deeply. To the point of paralysis.

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It’s Not You. It’s Me. Misogyny, Social Justice and (My) Personal Narrative

Pendant by Amy Davis Roth.

Pendant by Amy Davis Roth.

My last post focused on the microaggressions that women face, both online and off. Because of it, I was asked, by a good friend and a feminist ally who wishes to remain nameless, why I focused so narrowly on women’s experiences when it might have been stronger as a post about all the experiences of non-privileged populations, one of which he belongs to.

I originally wrote the introduction to the post with thoughts about how my experiences extended beyond my feminist outrage. It was a more academic and less-personal post. Then I took that out. I feel like my writing stands better as a personal account. This doesn’t mean that I believe women’s issues are the end all and be all of social justice. I write about them because they are what I experience. I have a personal narrative for them because they are *my* personal narrative. I don’t have a strong personal narrative of racism, transphobia, homophobia, body shaming or any of the other issues that mean just as much to me, and anger me just as much.

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It’s Not Just the Internet. It Never Has Been.


One of my favorite necklaces, by the fabulously talented Amy Davis Roth at Surly-Ramics.

You hear the lament again and again, while reading about anti-woman trolling online.

“Oh, the anonymity of the internet makes people behave badly!”

“If we just used real names, there people wouldn’t be as vicious.”

“Oh, that’s just 20-something guys in internet chatrooms. That’s how they all are.”

On the contrary, the viciousness we see, isn’t just a side effect of the internet. It’s a side effect of our culture.

No, I would go beyond that. It isn’t a side effect of our culture. It *is* our culture.

Why would I ever say this? I mean, everyone knows that those anonymous trolls on reddit would *never* act like that in the real world. It’s the structure of the internet that allows them to be assholes. Everyone knows that if we just avoid the problematic sites, like reddit, or the skeptics movement, or, well, anywhere else online, we wouldn’t have to deal with this.


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