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NECSS 2016

NECSS 2016 will take place the weekend of May 12-15, 2016 in and around FIT’s Manhattan campus.

This year our keynote address will be given by Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology Richard Wiseman! He will be joined by world-renowned science communicator Bill Nye “The Science Guy,” the full Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe “Rogues,” and over two-dozen other speakers, panelists, and workshop leaders for 2016’s best celebration of science and skepticism.

 Additional speakers include:

The full NECSS speaker lineup is available here, and stay tuned for future speaker announcements — we’re not done yet!


The SGU Extravaganza

George Hrab and the SGU once again bring their hit stage show to NECSS! Special guest star Bill Nye joins the Novellas, Evan Bernstein, Cara Santa Maria (and a surprise or two!) for a celebration of science, skepticism, and everything geeky! Best of all, tickets are open to the general public; conference registration is not required to attend!

  • Date: Friday May 13
  • Time: 7:30PM
  • $15 NECSS attendees / $25 general public
  • Location: Haft Auditorium, 227 W. 27th St., NY, NY 10001


The Broad Street Score

For over twenty years George Hrab has been writing songs about science, skepticism, love, life, loss, and interesting animals. The Broad Street Score is a newly created retrospective arranged for string quartet and voice featuring these very songs. With brand new orchestrations by Veikko Rihu and Slau Halatyn, the song-cycle covers such varied subjects from the ridiculousness of pining for the “Good Ol’ Days” and questioning whether or not heaven would be boring, to the grief non-believers deal with after a loss…and even includes the subject of how great the TV show Mission Impossible was. Featuring George’s trademark humor, wit, and lyrical dexterity, The Broad Street Score is an unique musical experience not to be missed.

  • Date: Thursday, May 12
  • Time: 7:30PM
  • $15 NECSS attendees / $25 general public
  • Location: Katie Murphy Amphitheatre, 227 W. 27th St., NY, NY 10001


The Rap Guide to Religion

Recently nominated for a Drama Desk Award in the category “Unique Theatrical Experience,” The Rap Guide to Religion is a new species of theatre, part hip-hop concert, part stand up comedy, and part TED Talk, exploring one of the most heated subjects of our age. Taking a scientific approach, Canadian hip-hop artist Baba Brinkman performs faith-illuminating songs inspired by the best of evolutionary and cognitive science, seeking the natural origins of our supernatural beliefs.

  • Date: Sunday, May 15
  • Time: 8:00PM (NEW TIME)
  • Free for attendees / $25 general public
  • Location: Haft Auditorium, 227 W. 27th St., NY, NY 10001

Maria Konnikova has a Bridge to Sell Us in “The Confidence Game”

Report by Russ Dobler on January 13, 2016 event.

“No PowerPoint today,” said New York Times bestselling author and former NECSS speaker Maria Konnikova as she introduced the lecture on her latest book, The Confidence Game:  Why We Fall for It … Every Time.  “So you guys are actually going to be part of the story here,” she said. As the combined members of the New York City Skeptics and the Jolly Thirteen Club of New York and New Jersey would find out on this January 13, that’s not always something you want.

Al Capone found out the hard way. Konnikova, who has a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University and has contributed to The New Yorker and The Atlantic, among other publications, said the famous gangster fell prey to her favorite con in history, at the hands of one of the all-time great hucksters, Victor Lustig. Instead of simply taking the $50,000 Capone gave him, with the promise twice that amount would be returned in two months, Lustig stuck the cash in a safe deposit box and later gave it back, lying that the supposed investment hadn’t worked out how he expected. Capone, knowing something about shady characters, had expected Lustig to run away with his money, and was prepared to have restitution beaten out of him. Instead, stunned by his honesty, “Scarface” duked the conniver five grand to help him get back on his feet.

“Vick, satisfied with himself, left,” Konnikova said. “Because that had been the scam all along.”

“What is it about what he did that made Al Capone give him the money?” Konnikova asked. “He appealed to Capone’s vanity,” she said. And the more confident you are in being able to judge someone’s character, the more likely you are to get hustled.

“You guys are the best marks there are,” Konnikova told the audience of skeptics. “One of the strong biases that allows con artists to keep going is that we are better than everyone else at everything, including judging character,” she said. For that reason, Konnikova explained, con artists themselves also make for great patsies. I guess you can bullshit a bullshitter.

Take Oscar Hartzell, whose tale Konnikova tells in The Confidence Game. Hartzell invented what was essentially the first Nigerian prince email scam, convincing people they could grab part of deceased explorer Francis Drake’s fortune if they’d pony up some legal fees to free it from the English court system. Hartzell ended up giving a significant portion of his ill-gotten gains to a phony psychic, who, after seeing how fat the pigeon really was, went ahead and blackmailed the master con artist, threatening to expose his hustle if he didn’t pay up. 

“Which once again just goes to show every single person can be conned,” Konnikova said. “There is no amount of skepticism that can actually protect you against this.”

Ferdinand Waldo Demara even conned his own biographer! “The Great Impostor,” played by Tony Curtis in a film of the same name, fired several potential candidates before settling on Robert Crichton, who Demara got to pay for his education and buy him a ranch, on top of portraying Demara as almost a hero in the story of his life. The glowing account stands in stark contrast to the documentation of the deaths Demara caused, not to mention his less-than-pure interest in young boys. 

If it all makes you think that trying to foil conmen is a futile task, Konnikova agrees. “Ultimately, I don’t think it’s possible to arm yourself against them,” she said. “I’m sure that even though I’ve written this book, I will be conned in the future.”

But maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. Konnikova referenced studies that suggest more trusting societies are typically better off, and proposed that victims might feel better when hoaxers take advantage of their hardwired instincts if they remind themselves about the truth of falling for scams. 

“It doesn’t make me greedy, it doesn’t make me stupid, it doesn’t make me dishonest,” she said. “It just makes me human.”


Jolly Thirteen Predictions for 2016

It's that time of the year again. Everyone from the halls of power to the doomsayer on the street corner has something to say about the coming year. How do the predictions of the Jolly Thirteen Club stack up against the rest? At an unseasonably warm December 13th, the Jolly Thirteen Club had brunch outside and wrote down our predictions for the coming year. If you missed it, feel free to leave your predictions in the comments below! This time next year, we'll be reviewing everyone's predictions to see how a few skeptics stack up against the experts and psychics.

Click below to read the predictions.

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