Loscon 35
November 28-30 2008, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Loscon
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Science, Space and Computers Panels



21st CENTURY SNAKE OIL It must be true; I saw it on the Internet. How has pseudo-science infected popular culture lately? How does this kind of charlatanism interfere with progress and rational discourse? Are there things we can do to counter the untruths that are spread around?

ALIENS BEYOND PROBABILITY Some fictional creatures are just too fictional to exist. What are some of the more outlandish and improbable aliens and mythical creatures you’ve read about or seen in the media?

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES AND CONSERVATION Thirty years since the first energy crisis and what have we accomplished? The cost of gasoline has gone through the roof and is going higher while the supply dwindles away. Hydrogen power is in the distance but does it even make sense (other than to the oil companies)? What about windmills and solar panels? Ethanol and bio-diesel? Nuclear fission (or even fusion) are another kettle of fish, plagued with problems and bad PR. What’s to be done?

ANCIENT DISCOVERIES How did ancient peoples living on the banks of the Nile know that crocodile dung had medicinal properties? A discussion of the innovations of the ancient world before the scientific empirical method and double blind studies were de rigeur.

ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE FUTURE With all the changes in our world — political, social, economic, and scientific — what will it be like for us, as people, to live in the future? What will the human condition be like?

ARE CLONES KOSHER? When we’re finally able to clone a chicken breast, will it be something that vegetarians will eat? Will it be Kosher? Halaal? Will it taste the same as the “original”? Will anyone want to eat it? Many science fiction authors have speculated about “vat-grown meat”, but are we actually on the verge of having it to serve on the dinner table? Will it help end famine and starvation, or just make things worse?

CASSINI: SATURN & ITS MYSTERIES Come see and hear the latest results from the Cassini mission to Saturn! Learn what we’ve found so far in the extended mission, and what the plans are for extended-extended mission.

CHANGING HUMAN NATURE Has human nature changed through recorded history, or are we the same old apes with new technology?

COOL NEW TECHNOLOGY What new technology is out there, knocking on our doors, just waiting for us to make use of? Some of it’s useful, some of it’s good (some not), and some of it’s just silly.

DOES SCIENCE HAVE A FUTURE? With science budgets declining, does non-applied research have a future? What does this mean for researchers? For research? What will a world without basic research be like?

THE ETHICS OF CLONING At some point, it seems pretty likely there will be clones. Body parts at first but, eventually, cloned beings. What rights would they have? What rights won’t they have? What about for robots or androids?

EXPLORING SPACE What are our options for future space exploration? What should we be doing? Where should we be going? How can individuals get involved? Should it be government sponsored or come from the private sector?

EXTRATERRESTRIALS Where are the Extraterrestrials? Why haven’t we been contacted? A gold mine for SF ideas, the academic study of this problem has come a long way in the last 10 years. Are we victims of a galactic conspiracy, or is the forest full of wolves?

FRANKENFOOD TO FRANKENPEOPLE Genetic modification from food to people; how far is too far?

FUNNY STORIES FROM SCIENCE RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT Our panelists will entertain you (and frighten you) with personal experiences and other true stories about the R&D business.

THE FUTURE IS NOW! Flip-open communicators and the global central computer were science fiction twenty-five years ago. Today cell phones and the internet are ubiquitous. Technological advance keeps turning science fiction’s starry eyed dreams into reality — almost. This panel discusses SF dreams come true, and how the reality has turned out to differ from the vision.

THE FUTURE OF CITIES Growing seemingly beyond their ability to sustain, is there a future for mega-cities like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Mexico City? What about smaller cities? Their budgets are stretched to the point of snapping, too. What can be done to save cities

THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION It’s a system we all know is broken but what really needs to be done? What can be done? Our panelists share their thoughts with audience participation encouraged.

THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE Medicine is evolving at an amazing pace. New discoveries, technology, etc. are announced every day. What will medicine be like in 100 years? Will we have tricorders and neuroscanners like in Star Trek? How about growing or cloning organs? Will we be using organics to solve problems instead of nanobots?

THE FUTURE OF RELIGION What should we expect from our many religions as we enter the new century? If we ever leave Earth will we take our religions with us? Should we?

FUTURE SPACE: NEW NASA INITIATIVES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY Current planned, and proposed space science, applications, and transportation missions being undertaken by NASA. And just how likely are they to happen?

THE FUTURE WE DIDN’T EXPECT Who would have thought that we would live to see an international plague, the fall of the Iron Curtain, or the virtual end of the Space Program? What’s next that we aren’t expecting?

HOW TO DO RESEARCH The trick to “getting it right” is doing research. Experienced researchers and writers will tell you the secrets to good research.

I WAS PROMISED FLYING CARS! The promises of the future and why they haven’t been kept.

I, ROBOT TO MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER Right now robots are pretty much remotely-controlled devices to conduct certain tasks like bomb disposal or mindless repetitive-motion machines for chores like vacuuming rugs. But what will “real” robots be like? Will be Asimov’s dutiful three-laws obeying pals or our sneaky lords and masters a la the Magnus comics? The singularity suggests, perhaps, the latter. Or will it be somewhere in between?

IS THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD THE DEATH OF GOD? Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein have included religion in their commentary. How have scientific methods changed over the centuries and how has it affected science’s relationship with religion? When all actions can be described by physics and all life can be described by biology and chemistry, is there any room for the miraculous, the ineffable?

MAKING SCIENCE STUPID EASY Innovative ways for the ordinary person to comprehend complex scientific concepts, both in the real world and in fiction.

NUCLEAR WEAPON STRATEGIES Historical elements, Mutual Assured Destruction, strategic counterforce, and “bunker busters.” What are the near-future scenarios for the next 5, 25, and 100 years? What are their probabilities? And what’s the role of SF literature and cinema in steering popular culture toward and away from nuclear scenarios will be studied.

REAL ALIENS Aliens in science fiction come in virtually all shapes, sizes, and colors. But, if they’re out there, what will real aliens be like? Not just physically. How will they think? Will they have the same type of emotions and moral/ethical feelings we do? How will we say “Hello”?

ROBOCOP VS. REAL COP: FUTURE LAW ENFORCEMENT The crime labs of today make any major police department into a Sherlock Holmes. What will the future bring? Criminologists and others discuss what changes they’re already seeing in their work and what they expect for the future.

SCIENCE IN THE NEWS What can you believe?

SCIENTIFIC FRAUD Perpetual motion machines, converting water into gasoline, and the Dean drive. Famous scientific frauds all. But what are some others? And how do you distinguish a real scientific breakthrough from flummery?

SECRETS OF AREA 51 Area 51, The Ranch, Dreamland. The names conjure images of mysterious black airplanes and UFOS. For half a century this remote desert outpost has served as a breeding ground for cutting edge technology. It is a place with a history of dark rumors and speculation and a name that has become an object of folklore. Based on declassified government documents, personal interviews and extensive fieldwork, aerospace historian Peter W. Merlin reveals the secrets of Area 51.

SOLAR SYSTEM WALK Want a feel for just how empty the solar system is? Come join us in laying out a scale model of the solar system! With representations of the planets and the sun, we will mark out the distances between the planets’ orbits on the same scale, using paces as our measurement. Good for young and old; old space hand or solar system newbie. (This walk will take place outside the hotel, and you must be able to walk, crawl, or roll for a little more than a mile to participate. Hopefully, there will be no stairs to negotiate, but I can’t be sure of that.)

WEAPONIZING SPACE Good idea? Bad idea? Inevitable whether or not we think it’s good or bad? How do you define a weapon when a rock dropped from space can create massive damage?

WHAT IF SUPERHEROES WERE REAL? Superpowers we’ll accept as a given. But what effects would there be on society if there really were superheroes? Would governments just let them act? Would near absolute power corrupt? Would the existence of superheroes ultimately bring forth supervillains? What toll (or benefit) would the world see from years or decades of superpowered daring-do?

WHEN THINGS GO WRONG IN SPACE A discussion of how scientists discover, analyze, and work around spacecraft problems. Do they still do it like they did in “Apollo 13″? See how the scientific method really works.

WOMEN IN SCIENCE Barbie says “Math is hard!” Women scientists talk about how science fiction gave them confidence to pursue careers in male-dominated fields such as theoretical chemistry and nuclear physics. What sort of resistance or encouragement did they encounter? How can we get the next generation of girls excited about math and science?

THE WORST IDEAS IN FANTASY OR SCIENCE FICTION We’re always hearing the science fiction is a literature of ideas. And that this or that was a great idea. What just didn’t work? What seemed like a good idea at the time but…