Atheism and Science Communication #aacon13

Atheism and Science Communication #aacon13
Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called "Talk Nerdy To Me." She's also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, "Hacking The Planet."

Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called “Talk Nerdy To Me.” She’s also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, “Hacking The Planet.”

This post is a continuation of what I learned at the American Atheists 2013 convention. Cara Santa Maria was one of the speakers at AACON that I had not heard of before, though I’ve likely come across her writings at one point or another since I have visited the Huffington Post from time to time.

According to her bio on the list of convention speakers,

Cara Santa Maria is the senior science correspondent for The Huffington Post, where she hosts and co-produces a weekly video series called “Talk Nerdy To Me.” She’s also a co-host on the new Weather Channel series, “Hacking The Planet.” A North Texas native, Cara currently lives in Los Angeles. Prior to moving to the west coast, she taught biology and psychology courses to university undergraduates and high school students in Texas and New York. Her published research has spanned various topics, including clinical psychological assessment, the neuropsychology of blindness, neuronal cell culture techniques, and computational neurophysiology.

Just in the act of showing up at a national atheist convention, Cara demonstrates that is not necessary to hide or downplay atheism to be a successful science communicator. She also showed a method of counteracting wrong religiously inspired beliefs about science by showing a video that explains why the creationist claim about inaccuracies of  carbon 14 dating and other radiometric dating methods is wrong. These methods are used very accurately to date fossils and even the age of the earth. It is also a good video if you are interested in how radiometric dating works. I’ll add it to this post if I can find it online.


In my experience, education about science will inevitably push against religious beliefs. I have personal experience from my childhood about my father scoffing at “millions or billions of years” statements in science programs that we all enjoyed watching. There was also the recent discussion that touched on religious belief with my trainer that started merely with an offhand statement about how people do not recognize randomness when they see it. You can’t really discuss science without bumping against someone’s religious sensibilities, and this is something that science educators need to contend with.

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American Atheist Convention 2013 Writeup #aacon13

American Atheist Convention 2013 Writeup #aacon13

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This year’s American Atheist convention marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of American Atheists in the city where the party was started, Austin, Texas. It is also where I spent this past weekend. As always it was a great time, and even though I don’t get the same high as I once did from seeing a big room full of atheists when I first went to the AA Convention back in 2010, it is still refreshing to be among a group of people who are so refreshingly enthusiastic and open.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with atheist conventions may be asking what do atheists do and talk about in their conventions? The topics at this year’s convention included the importance of grassroots activism in the protection of the separation between church and state, how atheism is now a community rather than a set of isolated individuals (and what that implies), why evolution makes sense of the human body much better than “Intelligent Design,” multiple talks on how to continue to increase the diversity of the atheist movement, the relationship between atheism and humanism, and feminism. That is the short list. In the next few days (or when I get the opportunity) I’ll be writing in more detail about what I learned at the American Atheists Convention about these topics.

Of course the convention was not all sitting around and listening to speakers though. Evening activities included a pub crawl, concerts, a comedy show and a costume party.

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Upcoming Women in Secularism Conference

Next weekend I will be attending the Center for Inquiry’s Women in Secularism conference in Washington DC.  I’ve been to multiple atheist conventions in the past, including the American Atheists Convention and Skepticon, but this will be the first time I’ve been to a conference focusing on the contributions of women to the secular movement.

Up to this point the secular movement has been focused mostly on single, individualistic, people who do not have children. This has been a setup that caters mainly to the needs of singles seeking a social scene, people who are willing to go to events alone, and people who are old enough to attend events in bars. And senior citizens and retirees, especially at meetings that have the word “Humanist” in the title. Unfortunately, many women though their 20’s-30’s have the brunt of child care responsibilities, and for social support and safety reason may not want to go alone to events with a bunch of strangers. And some women whose stories I have heard have not wanted to attend atheist meetups for the same sort of reason they might not want to step foot into a comic book store…there is the potential of meeting a bunch of geeky guys who see an unclaimed women in the room mainly as a potential date. (Just tread carefully here guys…) Or who could hear a great discussion points by a woman but can think of nothing but her appearance. (“You’re beautiful” is not an appropriate response to a woman who has just made an intellectual point.)

Fortunately as the secular movement has grown larger, there has been more focus on community building and issues that affect women have been brought more to the forefront. At the most recent American Atheists Convention, there was child care was provided by a local licensed nanny service. Other conferences, including this one, are having childcare expenses funded by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. Women’s contributions are being talked about more frequently. Convention organizers are making more of a deliberate effort to enlist women speakers.  And outspoken women leaders in the secular community have raised everyone’s consciousness about sexism among otherwise rational people.

It’s a step in the right direction.

For more reading on women and women’s issues in the secular movement:

Where are all the atheist women? Right here!

More Women in Skepticism Blog: This blog addresses myths and questions regarding sexism in the secular/skeptical community. I have learned quite a lot from following this blog.

SkepChick Blog: Not exclusively women’s issues, but a quick search of the site will find relevant posts.

See more information about the Women in Secularism Conference at

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War on Women Rally

War on Women Rally

Last Saturday I went to the War Against the War on Women Rally in Louisville, Ky. There were rallies in multiple cities across the country, which were organized by Unite Women. These rallies are mainly in response to the surge in conservative politicians attempting to roll back women’s rights and healthcare. Not only abortion rights are precarious, but also access to birth control and sex education are being framed as frivolous and unnecessary by mostly male politicians and pundits. It’s amazing and a bit disheartening that even in 2012 we are having to protest this nonsense.

Even so, I did have a fine time at the rally, meeting up with old friends and making some new friends.

While I was there I met some of my friends from my time as a Clinic Escort.

And I saw a friend I had met though the Atheist Women of Louisville group.

I also took the opportunity to do some atheist activism at the rally, wearing my American Atheists convention t-shirt and taking slips of paper with the information for Louisville Atheists and Freethinkers. In all, about four or five people expressed interest in discussing atheism and I handed them information. Maybe we will see some more new faces at the meetups.


I was a bit nervous on the way there about being so open about my atheism at the rally, but I am glad I did. I’m not usually good at going up to complete strangers and striking up conversation, but this gave me a topic to start with. The first response I got was from a couple of younger women who got excited when they read the back of my shirt and asked if I’d heard of the Rational Response Squad and the Infidel Guy (I had). One of the volunteers at a table looked over my shirt and replied “I’m kind of an atheist too.” I also got to hear the story from another woman about how her daughter (now grown) had been called out by school administration in a Louisville high school for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. She was sent to the principle’s office and her mother called. The daughter’s reason? She was an atheist and didn’t agree with “under God” being in the pledge. The mother pointed out that this was her daughter’s right to expression, and the school administrators didn’t argue with her on this point. But they vaguely noted that there could be ‘consequences’ for such actions. Apparently these consequences never materialized in any real way besides her being sent to the principal’s office and having her mother called, as if she has started a fight or something similarly disorderly. How many such stories do we never hear about?

There were some speakers too, and I listened when I wasn’t busy talking to the attendees. Rep. John Yarmuth was there, though unfortunately I got there just as his speech was ending. I heard a talk by a representative of the Kentucky Coalition for Reproductive Choice, who spoke about why people of faith should support sex education and abortion rights. Cate Fosl was there from the University of Louisville and spoke about social activism and the Anne Braden Institute, which I had not heard of before but will now need to look into.

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Memorable Moments from the American Atheists National Convention

Memorable Moments from the American Atheists National Convention

I have the privilege of attending the American Atheists national convention this year after the Reason Rally. Following the trend of the past couple years, AACON 2012 was the best attended AA conference yet. And, if I heard correctly, the largest atheist conference ever! It was too much for me to give a comprehensive report, but below I have posted my favorite parts of the conference with pictures where I was able to get them.

  • Taslima Nasrin describing her story of exile from her native country of Bangladesh for daring to speak out and write about the oppression of women due to religious customs there.
  • Keynote by Richard Dawkins, where he discusses (among other things) the fine line between being too strident and not strident enough.
Richard Dawkins at AACON 2012
  • Christina Rad was totally impressive, and also managed to sneak in two different topics: the state of and importance of religious liberty around the world, and a statistical demonstration of why US criminalization of drug use is failing compared to other countries that do not criminalize drug use.
  • The coming out of the pastors from the Clergy Project, including one on the panel who came out for the first time at the convention. The female pastor pictured below made a surprise coming out as an atheist for the first time using her real name rather than the pseudonym she had been using with the Clergy Project.
  • Impromptu breakout sessions at the last session to help coach anyone desiring to come out as an atheist to their friends and family and painlessly as possible.
  • Lawrence Krauss explaining why it is plausible that our universe came from nothing, because the more we learn about the universe “nothing” is a lot more interesting and dynamic than always we thought it was.

Lawrence Krauss at AACON2012

  • Sam Singleton comedy night!
  • Costume party! And I got to get my picture with Thor (aka AronRa)

  • Poetry by Victor Harris.
  • On the way home: Airport security officer in the DC Airport stopped me briefly to read my convention t-shirt. He approved 100% and was pleased to find out that atheists have conventions.

These are my top 10 favorite memories from  the American Atheists national convention. I am looking forward to next year in Austin, TX!

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