Author:Bardi, Jennifer
Position:Jennifer Ouellette and David Suzuki - Column

Two authors (one who writes about physics, the other on issues of gender and race), a trans activist, an environmentalist, and a couple of satirists walk into a Las Vegas casino ...

They make their way through the swirl of kitsch, smoke, hope, despair, and mirth (along with the occasional offense) permeating the lobby of the Flamingo Hotel & Casino and head up an escalator to the 77th Annual Conference of the American Humanist Association. That's where things get interesting. Challenging. Enlightening. (But don't take my word for it; see for yourself in their adapted remarks herein.)

The 2018 honorees who journeyed to the Nevada desert last spring gave AHA members and other attendees lots to think about. Humanist of the Year Jennifer Ouellette, a science writer who often uses pop culture, fantasy, and science fiction to illustrate physics, told me she visits Vegas fairly often with her husband (Sean M. Carroll, keynote speaker at AHA's 2013 conference). Her 2010 book The Calculus Diaries is even subtitled How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.

But Ouellette didn't discuss mathematical applications in her acceptance speech. Nothing about quantum cats or the physics of Joss Whedons "Buffyverse." Instead, she shared very frank and moving thoughts on the death of her brother and the need for humanists to call for honesty and compassion surrounding terminal illness and to advocate for right-to-die legislation. "As a science writer, my job is to not flinch and to tell the truth," she said. "And I think that's also the mark of a good humanist."

The recipient of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian author and host of scientific TV and radio programs David Suzuki, spoke at length about what's at stake in our energy future and about the need for more humility in science. My favorite line was something he said to an oil company executive who wanted to meet with him to discuss the mining of tar sands, a practice Suzuki has strongly opposed: "I said of course. I'm not into fighting. We've all got to be winners." We've all got to be winners--not a bad humanist slogan.

Sitting front and center for Feminist Humanist Award recipient Ijeoma Oluo's address was intense. Oluo is the author of the New York Times Bestseller So You Want to Talk about Race who often describes herself as an "internet yeller." Her...

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