SkeptiCal, the Northern California science and skepticism conference is now in its third year, and we are proud to once again bring together a sterling cast of excellent and knowledgeable speakers on science and skepticism. We anticipate another day of stimulating ideas and conversation.  This conference covers interesting topics in psychology, brain, creative thinking, and human development.

2012 Conference Speakers:

Dr. Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD. from Oxford University. She is an internationally recognized leader in the study of children’s learning and development and was the first to argue that children’s minds could help us understand deep philosophical questions. She is the author of over 100 journal articles and several books including “Words, thoughts and theories” (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff), MIT Press, 1997, and the bestselling and critically acclaimed popular books “The Scientist in the Crib” (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl) William Morrow, 1999, and “The Philosophical Baby; What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life” Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009. She has also written widely about cognitive science and psychology for Science, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, New Scientist and Slate, among others. And she has frequently appeared on TV and radio including “The Charlie Rose Show” and “The Colbert Report”. She has three sons and lives in Berkeley, California with her husband Alvy Ray Smith.

Alexander Zwissler has been the Executive Director/ CEO of the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland California ( since 2007. Serving diverse communities throughout northern California, Chabot sees 190,000 annual visitors, including over 50,000 students and provides nationally recognized innovative programs such as Bill Nye’s Climate Lab, Techbridge and Galaxy Explorers.

Zwissler has led Chabot’s development of new programs in the field of climate change education and communication. Along with Bill Nye’ Climate Lab at the center, these include, a NASA funded Climate Change High School Teachers Institute, a partnership with UCB on student led GHG monitoring project, environmental intern programs, NOAA’s Community Conversations on Climate and NSF funded Communicating Climate Change.

Zwissler served as the Principle Investigator on National Science Foundation grant Maya Skies: Research and Capacity-building in Fulldome Planetariums. The project has resulted in the production of a new fulldome show, “Tales of the Maya Skies”. The show, for which Zwissler is the Executive Producer, is now showing in over 20 planetariums around the world. Two complimentary websites, and have also been produced.

Zwissler serves in the leadership of both local and national non-profits, currently on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Market Street Railway and as President of the Board of Techbridge. Zwissler has also served on the boards of the Oxfordshire Foundation, the NonProfitCenters Network, the Conejo Future Foundation, the San Francisco Business Arts Council, Tau Kappa Epsilon at UC Berkeley, the National Park Service Friends Alliance and the American Southwest Theatre Company.

Brian Thompson is director of outreach for the James Randi Educational Foundation. He co-hosts the video podcast The Randi Show with James Randi, writes the weekly column Combing the Fringe for, and co-produces the audio podcast For Good Reason. His writing has appeared in Skeptical Inquirer, Turnrow, and Carrier Pigeon. His voice has appeared on Skeptically Speaking, Skepticality, and InKredulous. And he manages a network of ridiculous comedy podcasts at

Christopher C. Burt is the author of Extreme Weather: A Guide and Record Book published by W.W. Norton. He is the weather historian for The Weather Underground, a leading weather web site. He blogs every week on extreme weather events from around the world, having compiled a comprehensive database of extreme weather records.

Chris is one of NOAA’s climate experts in their media portal program. He works with a United Nations committee to verify claims of record temperatures. See the blog post "Hottest air temperatures reported on Earth" and "Not So Hot".

He was born in New York City in 1954 just as Hurricane Hazel hit the city. His father was respected author Nathaniel Burt. Chris grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, in the home next door to Einstein. The late David Ludlum, editor of Weatherwise, mentored his early interest in weather and climate extremes. Chris studied meteorology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He was co-founder and publisher of the acclaimed Compass American Guides series of well-written travel books. His articles have appeared in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, among others. He lives in Oakland in spite of its non-extreme weather. He spoke to the Bay Area Skeptics in 2006.

David Morrison is Director of the Carl Sagan Center for Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute. He is also a Senior Scientist at NASA Ames Research Center. Dr. Morrison obtained his doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University, where he was one of the first graduate students to work with Carl Sagan. He has held a variety of senior management positions with NASA, including “Director of Space” at NASA Ames and founding Director of the NASA Lunar Science Institute. He is recipient of the Dryden Medal for research of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Sagan Medal of the American Astronomical Society for public communication, and two NASA Outstanding Leadership medals.

Morrison was a founder of the multidisciplinary field of astrobiology, and he provides on-line answers to questions from the public sent to the NASA website "Ask an Astrobiologist." He is widely known for his leadership over two decades in defining the hazard of asteroid impacts and seeking ways to mitigate this risk. Asteroid 2410 Morrison is named in his honor. Recently he has focused much of his energy on the struggle against pseudoscience and popular misunderstanding of science, particularly in the areas of climate change and widespread public fears of disaster in December 2012. Science recently called him “Science’s Point Man on Doomsday”.

Elyse "MoFo" Anders is the bad ass behind the Women Thinking Free Foundation, a science and critical thinking organization focusing on women and women's issues; and the superhero in charge of the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign, a vaccine advocacy and education project; as well as a podcaster emeritus, Skepchick, writer, and pants-less activist-extraordinaire who takes on multi-national corporations from her living room. As mother of two, Elyse is heralded as the anti-Jenny McCarthy. She's not the hero you deserve, but she is the hero you need. No, Elyse is not Batman.

Dr. Indre Viskontas recently made her television debut as a co-host of Miracle Detectives, a six hour-long episode documentary series airing on The Oprah Winfrey Network. In this series, two investigators travel to the US to uncover answers to mysterious incidents that transcend logic. Called "the new Scully", Dr. Viskontas brings science to the public with warmth and intelligence. She has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and has been interviewed by Entertainment Tonight, CNN, Access Hollywood, E!, TV Guide, and AOL along with several major radio stations across the US. She has also been featured in articles in Trinity magazine as well as The Skeptical Inquirer and can be heard on podcasts by Token Skeptic, Point of Inquiry, This Week in Science, and Strange Frequencies Radio.

Based in San Francisco, Indre Viskontas holds a Master of Music degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, a Doctor of Philosophy from the UCLA and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Toronto. She is currently affiliated with UCSF. She has published more than 30 original papers and chapters related to the neural basis of memory and creativity, including several seminal articles in top scientific journals such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of Neuroscience, Current Opinion on Neurology and Nature: Clinical Practice. Her work has been featured in Oliver Sacks' book Musicophilia and Discover Magazine. Her dissertation was recognized as the best of her class at UCLA, and was a finalist for the New York Academy of Sciences dissertation prize. Dr. Viskontas is currently affiliated with the world-class Memory and Aging Center at UCSF. Her ongoing collaborations include projects with internationally-acclaimed artist Deborah Aschheim, with whom she is creating art pieces highlighting the interplay between memory, creativity, and the brain. She has been invited to speak at scientific conferences around the world, and is the Associate Editor of the journal Neurocase.

She is also an accomplished opera singer.

Drawing a picture of Santa Claus with a rocket booster attached to his sleigh, 6 year old Joey Fabian could say this was his first "skeptical moment". He eventually gave up drawing pictures for the bass guitar, but the skepticism has remained.

He has many years of experience performing and recording. Joey has been the bass instructor at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto since 1994, in addition to running a small production studio in Menlo Park known as The Tomato Farm. He has shared the stage or recorded with Bartron Tyler Group, Alana Davis, Mumblefinger, Chris Rossbach, Will Ray, Nir Z, Celso Alberti, Michael Zanabili, Huge., Drew Youngs Trio, Ronny Crawford, Ashia, Paolo Baldi, Bole Bantu, Hershel Yatovich, Jack Chernos, Tony Stead, Garrick Davis and others. He now meshes his musical talent with his passion for skepticism via "The Skeptic's Jukebox". Joey performs the "Greatest Hits of Skepticism" - songs by Gershwin, Zappa, They Might Be Giants, Randy Newman, George Hrab, Monty Python and Tim Minchin.

Jonny Zavant began handling applications and designing testing protocol for James Randi's $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge in 2003. Since then Jonny has become an internationally touring mentalist, speaker, lecturer, and author. His demonstrations of "Subliminal Entertainment" defy the power of reason; not to mention common sense. Jonny reveals secrets, forecasts the future, and demonstrates X-Ray vision in a show consistently recognized for his creative approach to entertaining. Jonny prefers to share the spotlight with the audience. Volunteers perform feats including lightning fast mathematics and mind-to-mind communication. Jonny performs at corporate events, colleges, fundraisers, and soirees. His talents have taken him around the world, including South Korea where he entertained United State Troops. (He's also intensely proud to be left handed.)

Kernan Coleman is the creative director at Ranch7 Creative in Santa Rosa, California ( As a child he was equally fascinated by science and the arts, and began drawing spaceships, cars and monsters before he could even walk. Career-wise, art won out (seeing as you have at least know your times tables to do science) and art meant a higher education fraught with unintentionally hilarious postmodernism (even at UCSD). This led to a decade-and-a-half dalliance with pseudoscientific, magical-thinking. He got better. His escape from Wooville is the stuff of legend and will soon be a major motion picture . . . okay, not really, but he does have some awesome stories of new age nuttery with which he will gladly regale you over a dram of sinlge malt. He is still somewhat stunned that he gets to work on an almost daily basis with many of his heroes of science and skepticism through his work with SkeptiCal and the James Randi Educational Foundation.

Dr. Kiki Sanford is dedicated to making science accessible.

She is recognized as one of the top science media personalities in the nation, having produced and hosted programs featuring scientific luminaries such as James Watson, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Green, Lisa Randall, Leonard Susskind, and Michio Kaku among others.

Dr. Kiki holds a doctorate in Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology (emphasis in Neurobiology) and a Bachelors degree in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology from the University of California, Davis, and is a specialist in learning and memory.

She is the founder and host of the popular This Week in Science podcast and radio show, a weekly program broadcast by the This Week in Tech (TWIT) Network and KDVS 90.3 FM at U.C. Davis, and avidly followed by thousands of fans worldwide.

Additionally, Dr. Kiki produces and hosts Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour, a weekly in-depth science-focused interview program, and previously produced the TWIT Network's top 25 green tech innovators series with Becky Worley, Green Tech Today. Until the birth of her first child, she was a regular co-host on Tech News Today with Tom Merritt.

Working to promote engaging science education materials beyond the internet, Dr. Kiki is the creative director, writer, and host for an international collaboration by The Video Project developing supplemental video materials about coral reefs for classroom use: Climate Change and Coral Reefs: Comprehensive Classroom Resource and Exploring Coral Reefs: Reproduction and Survival.

In 2005, Dr. Kiki was awarded the American Association for the Advancement of Science Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship. Following the fellowship, she worked as a television news producer at WNBC in New York City with noted health and science reporter Dr. Max Gomez. Later, Dr. Kiki expanded her communications work into online video, starring in both On Networks successful series Food Science and Revision3's variety show PopSiren. She also appeared regularly on Revision3’s Systm, and hosted several episodes of MacBreak during PixelCorp’s coverage of the MacWorld conference.

She worked as reporter-at-large for the Science Channel and as a contributor to their show, Brink, and has appeared on CBS’s The Doctors.

In her spare time, Dr. Kiki has dabbled in sailing, gymnastics, martial arts, hula hooping, and yoga. She enjoys bird-watching, cooking, reading fiction novels, watching movies, dancing to loud music, and a nice glass of red wine… not necessarily in that order or at the same time.

Dr. Sarah Strand earned her B.S. at Iowa State University in Animal Science. She conducted an undergraduate research project in which sow mothers received ibuprofen to determine whether this would alleviate post-farrowing discomfort. Sarah collected and analyzed behavioral data for this study.

After graduating from Iowa State University, Sarah moved to Amherst, MA where she earned her M.S. degree in Veterinary and Animal Science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her master's thesis asked whether a novel environment was more stressful than short-term social isolation in a group of Morgan mares. Sarah collected and analyzed behavioral and physiological data for this study and published the results in Applied Animal Behavior Science.

Once earning her M.S. degree, Sarah transferred to the Neuroscience and Behavior program at UMASS Amherst and entered the Ph.D. program. Her Ph.D. dissertation examined the effect of early rearing experiences on the social development of juvenile rhesus monkeys. Sarah collected and analyzed behavioral and physiological data for this study and presented the results over the course of three years at the American Society of Primatologists annual meetings.

In addition to teaching part-time for California State University Sacramento, Dr. Strand also works at the University of California Davis California National Primate Research Center in the Brain, Mind, and Behavior Unit.

Sarah lives in downtown Sacramento with her boyfriend, Steve, and her dog, Juno.

Sarah appeared on Fox40 News (air date: 8/17/11) discussing the neurobiology of religion: The Neurobiology of Religion: Behavioral Neuroscientist Dr. Sarah Strand -- KTXL.

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