Detailed Bios and Presentation Titles 2018
Detailed Bios and Presentation Titles 2018

     Sorted by last name



Yvette D’Entremont

Bio:  Yvette d’Entremont, also known as SciBabe, is a public speaker, science blogger, and former analytical chemist. She has a background in forensics and toxicology. Her blog, SciBabe, is dedicated to “clearing up misinformation about science, food and nutrition.”She also works to debunk falsehoods in alternative medicine, the anti-vaccination movement, and the anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) movement.

 Talk Title: The Business Of Being A Guru


Diane Goldstein

Bio: Diane Goldstein is a 21-year veteran of law enforcement who served as the first female lieutenant for the Redondo Beach (CA) Police Department. She is a speaker and Executive Board Member for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a group of criminal justice professionals that work advancing justice and public safety solutions. She is a guest columnist for many media organizations, and recognized as a subject matter expert on criminal justice and drug policy as well as playing a critical role in passing major legal reforms including cannabis legalization and civil asset forfeiture reform in California.

Talk Title: Why Legalizing Drugs Can Enhance Public Safety

Synopsis:  Public polling gauges the American sentiment on the drug war, yet holds little sway over the prevailing law enforcement belief that drug use is a morally flawed choice. Recent polls reveal declining public support for our current drug policies and a widespread belief that the drug war is a failure. But the law enforcement establishment continues to support the mass criminalization of a public health issue for ideological reasons—encouraging our political leaders to cling to an outdated approach that has no foundation in science.

Pascal Gagneux

Bio: Pascal Gagneux is Associate Professor of Pathology and Anthropology, and Associate Director of the UCSD/Salk Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny (CARTA) at UC San Diego. Gagneux obtained a Master’s in Population Biology and a PhD in Zoology from Basel University, Switzerland. Gagneux was a Research Scientist at the Zoological Society of San Diego before joining UC San Diego. His research experience ranges from behavioral ecology of wild chimpanzees, to population genetics of west African chimpanzees and molecular differences between humans and other primates. Gagneux is interested in the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for generating primate molecular diversity. His laboratory explores the roles of molecular diversity in protecting populations from pathogens as well as implications for reproductive compatibility. Specifically, Gagneux studies how differences in sperm surface molecules reflect sexual selection (via sperm competition and cryptic female choice) and whether such differences might contribute to reproductive incompatibility and speciation. Gagneux coordinates the Graduate Specialization of Anthropogeny, a unique, trans-disciplinary program allowing UC San Diego PhD students from 8 different graduate programs to complement their PhD research with explorations of human origins. In the last six years, Gagneux has brought 28 graduate students on Field courses to East Africa to allow first-hand experience of important aspects of human origins research, including fossils, ecosystems, non-human primates and hunter-gatherer societies. His great concern is that the current surge in interest for comparative genomics is not being translated into direct support for the conservation of non-human primates in their endangered natural habitats.

Talk Synopsis: Over the last 70 thousand years, one species of bipedal ape has spread across the planet, replacing most close relatives with minimal interbreeding. Today, the remaining great apes are endangered in tropical forests of Africa and Asia while humans are rapidly changing the planet and its climate. What were the evolutionary changes that allowed such a planetary takeover? How can a better understanding of human origins contribute to current affair?

Abby Hafer

Abby Hafer  has a doctorate in zoology from Oxford University and teaches human anatomy and physiology at Curry College  She is an author, scientist, educator and public speaker.  Her book debunking Intelligent Design, The Not-So-Intelligent Designer—Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not became a #1 bestseller on Amazon in the category of Theism.  (Abby Hafer is not averse to irony.)  Her public speaking has taken her all over the United States and she has given many radio interviews, including appearing on NPR and WBAI.

Her scientific career includes a doctorate in zoology from Oxford University, many research projects in physiology, and a stint monitoring fish populations on the Bering Sea.  More recently, she published “This is Your Brain on Trump” and “Trump and the Gish Gallop” in American Rationalist   and “Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong–Part 1: The Gender Binary” in The Humanist ( . 

Her journal article “No Data Required: Why Intelligent Design Is Not Science”, was published in The American Biology Teacher, and a chapter titled “Intelligent Design Isn’t Science and It Doesn’t Even Try to Be Science” was published in John Loftus’s 2016 book Christianity in the Light of Science.  She teaches human anatomy and physiology at Curry College and lives in Massachusetts with her husband, the astronomy writer Alan MacRobert

Talk title:  Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong: Part 1—The Gender Binary


Why does sex exist? What are males for? Is the gender binary real?  And why does a microbe have the swingingest sex life of all?  Biologist Abby Hafer will explain the answers to these and other crucial questions in the presentation “Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong: Part 1–The Gender Binary”.

This presentation debunks the gender binary. I start by talking about how sex evolved in the first place, and then talk about sex and gender in the zoological realm, and then end by talking about how morality should not be based on the say-so of supernatural beings and their supposed interpreters. 

People sometimes ask me why I labeled this talk as “Part One”.  The answer is that there are so many misconceptions about sex that they can’t all be covered in a single talk, but I really like the title.  Calling it Part One leaves room for further explorations of this rich and important subject at a later date.

Harriet Hall 

Harriet Hall is a retired family physician who writes about medicine, alternative medicine, quackery, science, and critical thinking. She writes the SkepDoc column in Skeptic magazine, is a contributing editor to Skeptical Inquirer, a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, co-author of the textbook Consumer Health, and one of the editors of the Science-Based Medicine blog, where she has written a weekly article since January 2008. Her book Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon recounts her 20 years in the Air Force, where she retired as a full colonelHer 10-part video lecture series on “Science-Based Medicine” on YouTube is a distillation of all she has learned over the years.

Title of talk: Enjoying Alternative Medicine

Synopsis: “Alternative” medicine is medicine that hasn’t been proven to work; if it worked, it would just be called “medicine.” Without proof of efficacy, alternative medicine is not a good choice for treating health conditions. But it can be enjoyed, in several senses of the word. And it can be very entertaining. Dr. Hall will explain, and her examples will make you laugh.

Sheldon W. Helms

Sheldon W. Helms is a Professor of Experimental Psychology at Ohlone College in Fremont, CA where he serves as senior faculty member in the psychology department. He holds a master’s degree in psychology, and is currently a doctoral candidate in the School of Education at Alliant International University.

In addition to his fulltime teaching role, Sheldon serves as faculty adviser to the Ohlone Psychology Club through which he runs their successful Ohlone Speaker Series, hosting lectures and presentations by top-name scientists and skeptics.

Sheldon is co-author of “Magic in the Classroom: Using Extraordinary Claims to Teach Critical Thinking,” and has written numerous articles for the James Randi Educational Foundation and the Bay Area Skeptics.

Sheldon is also the host of the popular ShelShocked podcast, whose wide variety of guests have included magician and skeptic James Randi, memory expert Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, and pop star Belinda Carlisle, to name but a few.

Talk Title: Straight Talk About Gay Conversion


As our country tackles the issues of marriage equality, gays in the military and other issues of inclusion of gays and lesbians into mainstream society, and as Russia and other countries enforce laws limiting the rights of their gay and lesbian citizens, fringe religious and therapeutic organizations have operated mostly in the shadows, attempting to convert their homosexual clients to heterosexuality through a mixture of prayer and pseudoscience.

Sheldon describes the history of attempts to define homosexuality as an illness, and to make gays go straight. Some forms of gay conversion therapy have been outlawed in a few states, and one of the primary institutions that promoted it has announced its closure, but what are the real stories behind these announcements, and do they go far enough?

Cheryl Hollinger

Cheryl Ann Hollinger is a TIES Associate and Teacher Corps member who is passionate about teaching evolution. Cheryl has taught biology at both the high school and college level. She is an experienced Science Education presenter/consultant for multiple organizations. Cheryl has been recognized for teaching excellence several times. Awards include the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching, and the Siemens Award for Advanced Placement Science Teaching. Cheryl is an adjunct faculty member at 2 universities in Portland, Oregon and volunteers for Wolfways, a wolf conservation education organization

Talk Title:

Helping Teachers Teach Evolution in the United States
Synopsis: In April of 2015, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science launched a new project, The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES). Why? Because many high school and middle school science teachers struggle with teaching evolution, but more middle school teachers struggle because they typically teach other topics in addition to life science. This presentation includes an overview of the history of evolution education in this country as well as how TIES came about and it briefly reviews national and state middle school science evolution standards. It also highlights the TIES site and TIES Teacher Corps members who give presentations to interested middle school science teachers about the most up-to-date information on natural selection, common ancestry, and diversity so they can confidently teach the topics in their classrooms.

Professor Lawrence M. Krauss

Lawrence Krauss is the director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University and Foundation Professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department.  Krauss is an internationally known theoretical physicist with wide research interests, including the interface between elementary particle physics and cosmology, focusing on the origin and evolution of the Universe and the fundamental structure of matter. He has written over 300 scientific publications and 10 popular books, including the international best-sellers, The Physics of Star Trek, and A Universe from Nothing.  His latest book, The Greatest Story Ever Told–So Far was released in March 2017.  He writes regularly for magazines and newspapers including the New York Times and the New Yorker, and frequently appears on radio and television, as well as, most recently, in several feature films.  Among his numerous awards are included the highest awards from all 3 US physics societies and the 2012 Public Service Award from the National Science Board.

Talk Title: Rivers in the Dark:  Exploring hidden wonders in the sky, and things that go bump in the night. 

Synopsis: The wonder of science, as opposed to religion, is that we can follow nature beyond the evidence of our senses in an open minded fashion, where pre-conceptions disappear in light of fascinating new discoveries about the cosmos.  Almost anywhere one starts, a grain of sand, a speck in the night sky, if one follows the evidence nature has provided us, new and wondrous hidden realities become exposed.  To the ancients, the night sky seemed contiguous with rivers, lakes, and oceans on earth.  This made sense at the time, given the evidence available, and the myths about nature that primitive societies developed to explain the world around them.  I will take attendees instead on a tour of the real river in the sky, our Milky Way Galaxy, to explore what we now know, what we don’t know, and what we hope to learn about our home in the Universe. 


Julien Musolino

Julien Musolino is a Franco-American cognitive scientist, public speaker, author, and professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, where he holds a dual appointment in the Psychology Department and the Center for Cognitive Science. He is the author of numerous scientific articles, and is regularly invited to give lectures in the United States and around the world. His research has been published in top scientific journals and has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. Julien is also known for his passionate advocacy of science, reason, skepticism, and critical thinking. He is the author of the recent popular science book The Soul Fallacy. Julien has appeared on national television, his writings have been discussed in popular magazines, and he has been a guest on radio and podcast programs in the United States and abroad.


Alex J. O’Connor

Bio located HERE

Talk Title and Synopsis: 

‘Why smart people believe silly things’ . Alex will be covering the ways in which people are fooled by others or by their failure to apply unbiased reasoning into believing irrational things about science and the world such as climate change deniers, flat earthers, conspirators, creationists .


Sian Proctor

Dr. Sian Proctor is a geoscience professor at South Mountain Community College (SMCC) in Phoenix, Arizona. She is currently a featured scientist on the Science Channel show called Strange Evidence. She was also featured in the PBS series Genius by Stephen Hawking. She’s in Episode 2: Are We Alone where she demonstrates how to search for intelligent life in the universe. Sian did her sabbatical work at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute developing their science of disasters curriculum and spent 10 weeks surviving the apocalyptic world of The Colony which aired on the Discovery Channel. She also hit the high seas as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 2017 Teacher at Sea and was a 2014 PolarTREC teacher studying climate change research in Barrow, Alaska.

Dr. Proctor has a passion for space exploration and spent this past summer at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum doing astronomy education outreach. She was a finalist for the 2009 NASA Astronaut Program and was the Education Outreach Officer on both a 2-week and a 4-month NASA funded Mars simulation. Dr. Proctor was a 2016 ACEAP Astronomy Ambassador to Chile where she spent time at ALMA, CTIO, and Gemini observatories. She is currently a 2018 NASA Solar System Ambassador and a NASA Space Station Explorers Ambassadors. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science, a M.S. in Geology, and a Ph.D. in Science Education.

Talk Synopsis: Ever wonder what it would be like to live on Mars but never leave Earth? In this interactive discussion you will learn about the NASA funded Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS). It is a research habitat on the big island of Hawaii where 6 scientists live a simulated Mars life. I was a member of the first HI-SEAS crew and lived in the Mars simulation for 4 months. In this presentation we will discuss the ins-and-outs of living in the ‘Hab’ and why space exploration is good for planet Earth. 

Brian Palermo

Brian Palermo is an engaging actor with an impressive resume of performances in television, film and top comedy venues. He graduated from the University of New Orleans with a degree in Drama and Communications.   He has been a performer and teacher with The Groundlings Theatre for 20 years.  Since 2010, Palermo has led workshops using the skills of improvisational theatre to teach effective communications techniques to professionals throughout the scientific landscape.In 2013 he co-authored the book “Connection: Hollywood Storytelling Meets Critical Thinking” with Randy Olson and Dorie Barton. He has taught workshops for JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),  the National Parks Service, Monterey Bay Aquarium and ASLO (the Association for Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography)   among many others. 

Talk Title: ”How Do You Talk Logic To Those Who Don’t Use It?”

Synopsis: Possessing knowledge is very different from communicating knowledge to other people. So how do you do it?  How do you engage your audience, whether one person or thousands, in the most efficacious way?  The “deficit model” of throwing facts at people who lack them, does not work. You have to Connect with your partners and audience. And do you know who practices constant connection with their partners and audience?  Theatrical improvisors. The only way to improvise with other people successfully is to forge that connection.   Brian has been deep in the world of improv for 30 years and has distilled some of the essential guidelines  of improv to help you improve your communication skills.   There is no magic wand to make communication easy.   But the skills presented in this talk will give you a much greater chance of success when conveying any information to anyone.


Jamy Ian Swiss

Jamy Ian Swiss [] is a magician, author, and public speaker with more than 30 years of skeptical activism experience. He has appeared internationally for presenters ranging from Fortune 500 companies to the Smithsonian Institution. His U.S. television appearances include PBS Nova, CBS 48 Hours, and repeat appearances on The Today Show and The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

He is a founder of the National Capital Area Skeptics; a founder of the New York City Skeptics; has  spoken and performed across the U.S. on behalf of the Center For Inquiry; was a founding producer and on-stage host of the annual Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism in New York City for eight years; served as Senior Fellow at the James Randi Educational Foundation; and currently serves as Vice-President of the San Diego Skeptic Society.

Title of Talk: “Credit the Con Man”

Synopsis: This presentation is particularly relevant for skeptics  because it explains why people get taken in, talks about cognitive dissonance, and  makes a plea for empathy for believers and victims. Rather than blaming the victims—  believing that victims and believers are simply credulous or stupid—skeptics who hope  to change minds must first learn to understand why people think and believe as they do,  and … to credit the con man


John Wathey

John C. Wathey is a computational biologist whose research interests include evolutionary algorithms and the biology of nervous systems. He got his PhD in Neurosciences at UC San Diego and has spent most of his career working on computer simulations of protein folding. He recently published The Illusion of God’s Presence: The Biological Origins of Spiritual Longing, which explores the evolution of the emotions and intuitions behind religious belief.

Synopsis: Science has only begun to make sense of religion’s powerful grip on the human mind. Why do seven percent of members of the National Academy of Sciences believe in a personal god who answers prayer? The question is important because it probes the most irresistible essence of the appeal of religious and spiritual thinking. Using evidence from visual illusions, behavioral biology, and neuroscience, I offer an explanation in terms of a cognitively impenetrable illusion, one that science has largely overlooked.


Our Friday evening Panel of Speakers

Bob Novella

Bob Novella is a co-founder and Vice-President of the New England Skeptical Society. He co-hosts the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast and blogs for SGU’s Rogues Gallery. He has also written numerous articles that are widely published in skeptical literature. Bob’s scientific interests lie in the extremes, from the gargantuan to the infinitesimal: astronomy and cosmology to particle physics and quantum mechanics. He is especially fascinated by the human capacity for self-deception and anticipated future technologies such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and human augmentation.

Donald Prothero

Donald Ross Prothero is an American paleontologist, geologist, and author who specializes in mammalian paleontology. His research has been in the field of magnetostratigraphy, a technique to date rock layers of the Cenozoic era and its use to date the climate changes which occurred 30-40 million years ago. He is the author or editor of more than 30 books and over 250 scientific papers, including five geology textbooks.

Cara Santa Maria

Cara Santa Maria is an American science communicator, journalist, producer, television host, and podcaster. Santa Maria wrote her first blog for The Huffington Post in March 2010 before joining the publication as its founding science correspondent and host of the Talk Nerdy to Me web series from October 2011 until April 2013. She also co-hosted Take Part Live with Jacob Soboroff on Pivot TV.  She officially joined the online political and social commentary program The Young Turks as an occasional panelist in May 2013. She currently hosts her podcast Talk Nerdy and co-hosts The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast, and was a co-host of TechKnow on Al Jazeera America.

Ross Blocher emerged from a childhood of Bible memorization, literal Creationism, and numerous books about ghosts and aliens as an adult with a keen interest in belief and the paranormal. Along with his co-host Carrie Poppy, Ross investigates fringe science, spirituality and all manner of extraordinary claims first-hand for the podcast “Oh No, Ross and Carrie!” He is also a decade-long member of the Independent Investigation Group, helping design and administer challenges to test extraordinary claims for a $100,000 prize.

Margaret Downey is the founder and president of The Freethought Society. She has represented the Skeptic community for eight years at the worlds-largest fantasy and Science Fiction convention. DragonCon is held every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta, Georgia. Margaret organizes and conducts the skeptic entry in the world-famous DragonCon parade. The entry includes funny characters and a “Skeptics in History” section. The entry is recognized as “the most educational” section of the parade and Margaret considers it the perfect example of positive Skeptic outreach.