Netroots Nation is rolling out their panels for the next meeting (August 13-16, Pittsburgh, PA). It’s an interesting mix, with more than any one person can handle. If my experience last year is any guide, it’ll be a struggle just to keep up, and there will be lots of times when I’ll have two or more simultaneous panels I want to attend. I just hope my panel isn’t scheduled opposite anything really fun.

That’s right campers, I said my panel. The abstract isn’t live yet, but we’re just dotting a few t’s and crossing some i’s. The title is “Science Denial and Science Policy.” A group of scientists who have turned their attention to policy will discuss how nonscientists can clear the ground for science-based policies, overcoming science denial like creationism, global warming denial, anti-vaccination activism, etc., and generally stand up for honest science.

The abstract:

Science is increasingly vital to policymaking, but denial of basic aspects of science is increasingly well-organized, holding back science-based policies. Whether it’s creationism attacking state and local education policy, global warming denial distracting attention from the need for effective solutions, or anti-vaccine activism undermining vital public health programs, the public’s misunderstanding about science have dire consequences for society. Non-scientists and scientists alike are joining to defend science and to clear the ground for science-based policies. This panel of scientists and scientific policymakers will discuss ways that the general public can ensure that their government is informed by honest science.

The panel is stellar (if I do say so myself). Susan Wood, a veteran of the legislative and executive branches in D.C. who resigned in protest from the Bush FDA over their slow-walking of the Plan B approval. Joe Romm, the indefatigable editor of Climate Progress. Bryan Rehm, a teacher who stood up against the Dover Area School District’s creationism policy, and whose campaign for school board unseated one of the creationists. Me, talking about creationism and science education more broadly. We’re awaiting final White House approval for our final panelist, an senior science policy staffer who has been involved in elevating the voice of science through nonprofits and political action.

Most of the panel will be dedicated to discussion with the audience about what they can do, and what challenges they face. That discussion will be moderated by DailyKos front pager Devilstower.

This promises to be awesome.

That said, PZ Myers is upset. A panel will propose a (bizarre) “New Progressive Vision for Church and State.” The premise of the organizer, which PZ rightly calls inane, is that “total separation of religion from politics has been discredited,” and that the solution is to “admit[] that there is no political wall of separation.”

Vic Walczak is a panelist, and I’m fairly sure that the ACLU’s attorney in the Dover trial is not going to back this bizarre idea. Panelist Frederick Clarkson writes that “I have agreed to appear on [the] panel. But I do not agree with the premises of the panel? as described. As a matter of fact, that is why I am going.” Which is exactly the right thing. You don’t oppose bad ideas by hiding the ideas or hiding yourself from them, you oppose them by engaging them honestly and whupping their butts.

NrN instructed panel organizers to look for ways to generate heated discussion, claiming that attendees last year found too much me-tooishness on panels. I didn’t find that, and liked that genuinely stupid ideas were absent from panels (at least the ones I attended). But it’s their conference, and the contrary voices they’ve got on that panel (and on others, I’m sure) are serious people who will hold their own.

This panel is a bad idea only because the abstract will give opponents of church-state separation ammunition of the “even the liberal Netroots Nation sez?” variety. But the panel itself is sure to be heated, I suspect Clarkson and Walczak will have the upper hand, and I’m looking forward to seeing the fight. I hope that my panel is both useful and controversial. Indeed, I stuck that bit about anti-vaccination activists into the abstract to get back at NrN for giving prime exhibit space to a bunch of loony antivaxxers last year. If they’re back this year, they’ll have a fight on their hands, and I hope a few of them come to the panel and participate respectfully.

So register now, and come see the action. High power folks will be there to talk and to mingle. You too may bump into Paul Krugman, or spend an evening boozing with NASA’s shadow government, as I did last year. I look forward to seeing you there. The scienceblogging caucus meeting will be awesome.


  1. #1 llewelly
    June 18, 2009

    … or spend an evening boozing with NASA’s shadow government, as I did last year.

    After all these years of being ‘skeptic’ you finally admit you’ve met aliens …

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