A Few Post-SkeptiCamp Thoughts

For anyone who has done event planning, you know that the day after is typically spent reflecting on how it went.  I thought I’d share a few immediate thoughts about the 2015 SkeptiCamp:

  1.  A big THANK YOU to all of the day’s participants – sponsors, speakers, volunteers, and attendees! Without all of you the day would not have been a success!  To the attendees – we certainly appreciate you sticking it out as we got behind schedule.  To me, that’s a telling testament to the value you were experiencing throughout the day.
  2. For those who had to leave early, or who were unable to attend, Zi Teng Wang was presented with our Communicator of Science and Skepticism Award.  Zi was the driving force behind this year’s event.  And, it’s not like Zi just has tons of time on his hands.  He’s a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis and he volunteers his time to spread scientific understanding at a variety of events through his magic show.
  3. But, as we know, there is no “I” in “team” and Zi had a dedicated team behind him working the details to make SkeptiCamp a success.  Lance Finney helped us secure The Ethical Society of St. Louis as an event location and acted as our liaison with them.  Karl Wulff proved he had some mad brownie-baking skills and could whip up a salad as a side to a yummy Pointer’s Pizza lunch.  Meredith Rau showcased her retailing skills by finding the best deals on tshirts and notebooks as well as creating a lovely retail presentation for our merchandise table.  Dave Blue and Marc Rau worked technical support all day to ensure our speaker’s presentations worked as intended.  Last, Sara Patterson, Jamin Gray, Mike Hynes, and Mike Bateman all woke up early on a Saturday morning (some earlier than others!) to help with set up and then continue to help where needed throughout the day.
  4. THANK YOU to the 13 individuals who took the time to complete our survey about yesterday’s event!  Nothing is ever perfect and so your feedback means a lot to us as we work to plan an even better event in 2016.
  5. Speaking of surveys, I have to bring up the $80/person figure that we published in the survey.  As I was driving to Skeptics in the Pub, I was thinking about this figure…again…with my Thinking Cap on this time.  I want to assure you that we are WAY better stewards of your donations than our $80/person figure portrays!  No.  We did not spend $80/person to give you SkeptiCamp.  Where did we get that figure?  I have no idea.  Why were we not more skeptical of that figure?  I don’t know.  I believe in full disclosure so I will share with you what SkeptiCamp cost The Skeptical Society of St. Louis:  $2,800.  With nearly 100 attendees, that is NOT $80/person.  Also, several surveys mentioned the Skeptic Magazine included within our goodie bags as a way to cut costs.  We should have made it more clear that our thank you to Michael Shermer noted in the program was for those magazines.  Mr. Shermer is the editor of Skeptic Magazine and writer for Scientific American as well as the author of many books including “Why People Believe Weird Things” and “Why Darwin Matters.”  He was very generous and donated all copies of Skeptic Magazine that you found in your goodie bags.  So, please, enjoy and, if you ever run into Mr. Shermer at an event, be sure to thank him for his generosity to our little skeptical organization.
  6. Last thought: We received at least one written comment, and I heard some hallway chatter, about some graphic videos presented by one of our speakers.  I apologize if those videos upset anyone and assure you that we will do a better job vetting presentations so we can either ask the speaker to remove the items or, at least, provide a warning within the program.

Again, thank you to all who made yesterday a success!  The feedback I have received indicates you all had a darn good time and enjoyed your day.  Do we have things we can improve?  Of course!  Will we work on those? Absolutely!  If you have anything you would like to share about yesterday’s event, please feel free to private message me on Facebook or Meetup or send an email to skepticalsocietystl@gmail.com.


SkeptiCamp Details!


On Saturday, August 22nd, the Skeptical Society of St. Louis will be hosting the region’s third SkeptiCamp at the Ethical Society, 9001 Clayton Road, St. Louis, MO 63117, starting at 9am.  This is an all-day event.

This year’s event includes presentations on topics as diverse as anti-vaccination, Creationism, neurology, climate change, financial skepticism, child psychology, the Fukishima disaster, incorporating skepticism and critical thinking into the classroom, the psychology of magic, solar energy, stuff your massage therapist tells you, anthropology, non-profit myths, and more.  We will also be presenting a screening of “The Vaccination Chronicles” by Richard Saunders, former president of the Australian Skeptics and host of the Skeptic Zone podcast.

Pizza will be available for lunch and there will be a Skeptics in the Pub following the event. A silent auction for a signed copy of Bill Nye‘s latest book, “Undeniable,” and skeptical/scientific jewelry from Surlyramics will be available for purchase. The auction and a portion of the proceeds from the jewelry will help the Skeptical Society of St. Louis continue to promote science and critical thinking in the St. Louis community.

This event is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.  You can find more information about this event on our website www.skepticalstl.com/skepticamp or by searching for Skeptical Society of St. Louis on Facebook or Meetup. We do ask that you RSVP for this event so we can get a good headcount for the lunch.  You may RSVP here.

We hope to see you on Saturday, August 22, 2015!

Give STL Day 2015 Results

Our 2015 Give STL Day total!
Our 2015 Give STL Day total!

The second annual Give STL Day was held May 5, 2015.  This is a 24-hour, online giving event coordinated by The Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation to promote philanthropic giving across the greater St. Louis community.  It’s a wonderful event for small non-profits, like The Skeptical Society of St. Louis, to be involved because the Foundation takes care of all of the logistics, including setting up the donation website, developing promotion materials, creating social media message suggestions, obtaining sponsors to donate prizes and matching funds, and helping to promote the event via media campaigns that include television, radio, and billboard.  All we have to do is promote the day to our potential donors!  This is a high-quality fundraising event with a potentially big impact for small organizations and a decidedly significant impact to the region.

The Skeptical Society of St. Louis was honored to be one of 790 non-profits throughout the region to participate in this year’s giving event.  As of May 6th, the event generated 20,260 gifts totaling nearly $2.1M (as in million)!!  The 2014 event had somewhere around 13,000 gifts for a total around $1M – so 2015 more than doubled the amount raised!  Well-done St. Louis! (in case you were not aware, St. Louis is consistently ranked as one of the most philanthropic cities in America).

SSSL’s fundraising goal for our first Giving Day was $1,000.  We ended at $890!  Am I disappointed?  Sure.  But, I also see this as a big win for our little organization.  We had 12 donors who got us to our total.  A couple of them have matching gift companies so their donations will be multiplied.  And, $890 allows us to do the following:

$400 – to set up 2 (two) $200 special awards for K-5 students at the 2016 St. Louis Science Fair. These funds are deposited directly into the winning students’ 529 education savings accounts to be used for their future education.

$50 – to purchase a couple of critical-thinking books to be packaged with the special award money.

$440 – to cover expenses for the 3rd Annual SkeptiCamp to be held Saturday, August 22, 2015.  Any additional donations (matching gifts, etc.) will be used to fund this annual event.

Not too shabby for a small, grassroots organization with a renewed focus on promoting science and critical-thinking in the St. Louis area.  We will continue to grow and continue to have more impact in our community.  The Give STL Day event is one of the ways we will be able to accomplish our goals.

To everyone who donated, THANK YOU!  We are a 501c3 organization and you will receive your donation acknowledgement letter for your taxes in the mail soon.

Our 2015 Science Fair Special Awards Winners!

Yay! The 2015 Academy of Science St. Louis Science Fair results are finally posted online! I have attached a screenshot of our winners (the red and blue “ribbons” are the “grades” our winners were awarded by science fair judges, not by us).

Our 2015 winners
Our 2015 winners


Our first awardee listed is Carissa, a 5th grade student in Chesterfield. Her hypothesis was the size of the payroll on major league teams impacts win percentage. She evaluated all four major leagues: baseball, football, hockey, and basketball and discovered that payroll size did not matter. We chose her project because it was well-designed, it was obvious she did the majority (if not all) of the work, it showed good critical-thinking, and she indicated in her notes that she loves math and wanted to do a project with statistics since there are not many opportunities to do statistical projects in grade school. Congratulations Carissa!

Our second awardee is Bennett, a 4th grade student in Kirkwood. Bennett’s project tested the common assumption that refrigerating batteries will prolong their life. His hypothesis was that refrigeration would NOT prolong battery life and it was supported. We chose his project because it was well-designed, it was obvious that he had done the majority of the work, it tested a common assumption (critical-thinking), and he noted in his conclusion that even though his hypothesis was supported, the data was hard to differentiate and so further studies on a different scale may yield different results. This shows knowledge of replication and demonstrates skepticism of his results. Congratulations Bennett – and thank you for freeing up freezer space at my house!

Both students will receive $100 awards from SSSL which will be deposited directly into their higher education 529 savings plan. They also received a certificate and a letter of congratulations. I will be sure to share their thank you letters with you all when they arrive.

Just a couple of other quick notes: 1) The Academy of Science was absolutely thrilled that we are participating in the science fair in this way. They appreciate our focus on grades K-5 and our reinforcement of critical-thinking skills. 2) Several individuals at the Academy have shared with me that students who have even $1.00 in their 529 account are 40% more likely to attend college (I forgot to get their citation on that one – shame on me!).

I hope you all find our participation in the St. Louis Science Fair as rewarding (in a vicarious sort of way) as I did. Let’s up the ante for next year and present 2 $200 awards!!