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Marc Abrahams

Want to laugh and think at the same time? Cascadia Con will give you the opportunity with its Science Guest of Honor, Marc Abrahams! In the grand tradition of Tom Lehrer, Cascadia Con brings you an established man of letters, gone, well, to the comic side of his area of expertise. He doesn’t sing like Tom, but instead is committed to bringing you both the fun and serious sides of science, all wrapped up in a package that will make you laugh, enjoy, and think. That is, after all, what makes a good human being–the ability to think. Or at least that’s the standpoint from which Marc Abrahams approaches his communications with the world. Read his weekly column in The Guardian (sample here: http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,5500,1402413,00.html ) and you’ll begin to get a sense of his irreverent approach to learning. Even better, it works.

Marc Abrahams is known for a number of things (most of them not worthy of arrest…), but probably the two best-known things he has created are the Ig Nobel Prizes and his magazine, The Annals of Improbable Research. The Ig Nobel Prizes grow out of Marc’s belief that research ought to be recognized for being different–not just good. He says of the Ig Nobel Prizes, “Each year, ten Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded. The selection criterion is simple: the prizes are for ‘achievements that cannot or should not be reproduced.’ Examine that phrase carefully—it covers a lot of ground. It says nothing about whether a thing is good or bad, commendable or pernicious. I raise this matter of good or bad, because the world in general seems to enjoy classifying things as being either one or the other. The Ig Nobel Prizes aside, most prizes, in most places, for most purposes, are clearly designed to sanctify the goodness or badness of the recipients. Every year, of the ten new Ig Nobel Prizes, about half are awarded for things that most people would say are commendable, if perhaps goofy. The other half go for things that are, in some people's eyes, less commendable. All such judgments are entirely up to each observer. This makes the Prizes potentially useful in a very nice, and very powerful, way.”

Marc’s magazine is in much the same tenor–he wants people to THINK about things–science, yes–but really, about all things. He says of his magazine: “The Annals of Improbable Research (also known as AIR) is a science humor magazine, full of genuine, improbable research culled from more than 10,000 science, medical, technical, and academic journals, with some deadpan concoctions stirred into the mix.

Our goal is to make people LAUGH, and then make them THINK.

We also hope to spur people's curiosity about science, and to raise the question: How do you decide what's important and what's not, and what's real and what's not—In science and everywhere else? AIR may be the only science magazine that's read by scientists, doctors, and engineers—and by their family and friends. Teachers love to use AIR articles as a sneaky way to get kids (and their parents) curious about science.”

Marc is one of those people who translates well from the page to the podium. He is a sought-after speaker by groups that appear to have little in common. He approaches his audiences with a very deadpan humor, reminding us that *paying attention* has its rewards. From Bryn Mawr to Caltech, from NASA to Los Alamos National Labs, from Bay Area Skeptics to City Club of San Diego, from the Exploratorium to the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society–Marc speaks to an amazingly diverse array of audiences. The best part is they all get something out of it–they walk away thinking (although according to his disclaimer, “what they think of him or of the topic is another question”). No one leaves a presentation by Marc without thinking about what was said. Good, bad, or ugly, it’s a thinking person’s event. And we just don’t get enough of that these days…

Cascadia Con welcomes Marc Abrahams as its Science Guest of Honor in September of 2005. Come enjoy his humor–and his science–and spend a little time thinking!



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The North American Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention

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Copyright  2003 Bobbie DuFault or the respective writers where noted. Seattle NASFiC in 2005.
Last modified: 06/20/04   
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