In light of our recent acceptance to present a poster at the Ancestral Health Symposium (to be held in Los Angeles on August 5-6, 2011), we wanted to bring our readers an exclusive “insider” view of the event. We called event coordinators Aaron Blaisdell and Brent Pottenger to ask them all about the AHS, from an attendee’s point of view. Read, register early, and get ready for an amazing two day event in L.A.!
How did the idea for the Ancestral Health Symposium (AHS) come about?
Aaron: Brent, Chris Owens, and I were attending a symposium in December, 2009 at UCLA titled “New Directions in Physiology”—but it was really the same old stuff. We thought “we should have our own symposium” and the rest is history (currently in the making).
Brent: What Aaron said. I advocate for engaging online tools to connect people in real life. Real life still exists, but so do online communities and connections, so hopefully this event will help bridge that gap in some small way.
And who are the brains behind this operation – besides the two of you, of course?
Brent: We have to give credit to the team nature of the organizational energy behind this event. Aaron and I are working as part of an amazing and ever-growing team of talented, passionate colleagues, which I believe is an important theme for the Ancestral Health movement: inclusiveness and connectedness. We’d be remiss if we didn’t thank, specifically, Brian Geremia (ancestry nonprofit co-founder and Web designer of ancestryfoundation.org), Michal Naisteter (Google Doc “Queen” and volunteer leader), Nate Rosenberg (legal and organizational assistance), Sarah Rebich (graphic artist and designer of all the logos pro-bono), and all the folks listed here: http://ancestryfoundation.org/Contact.html.
Aaron: We also have to acknowledge Mark Sisson as a kindred spirit and sounding board from the very beginning.
What is the goal of the event?
Aaron: We intend to bring together anyone and everyone who is interested in understanding the relationship between human evolution and human health and disease. To our knowledge, this has never been done before, at least not on this scale. We want to foster a dialog between scientists, medical doctors and other practitioners of human (and nonhuman) health, health specialists in other fields including complementary medicine, physical training, and nutritionists, and the lay public including all of the tireless bloggers who have cropped up over the recent past. This is citizen science in the sense that everyone has a voice. There are no gatekeepers, especially when we are talking about the power of self-discovery, such as through self-experimentation. It will be important for us to foster an understanding of the scientific method and critical analysis which requires the practitioner to be both open minded yet skeptical when interpreting every new fact that turns up.
Brent: We also want folks to have fun, meet new friends, and generate new ideas for ways we can restore, maintain, and enhance people’s health in the 21st century by respecting our unique ancestral heritages as human beings.
How many people are you expecting at the event? Should people buy tickets early, to avoid a sold-out announcement?
Aaron: Good question. I don’t have firm answers except to say that the space we booked can hold about 700 attendees in theater seating, so that’s an upper limit. As of early January, I think we’ve sold close to 200 tickets, but I don’t know for sure.
Brent: You can register for the event (and track ticket sales) here: http://ancestralhealthsymposium.eventbrite.com
What do you get with your ticket purchase?
Aaron: Admission to the symposium, of course, but also one annual membership to the Ancestral Health Society. The Ancestral Health Society is the non-profit scientific organization to host the annual symposium and to provide other membership privileges such as advanced opportunity to submit a presentation to subsequent symposia. We’re in our membership-drive phase of building the society, so we thought it would be nice to give every attendee to the first symposium free membership to the society for the first year to get the ball rolling. The society is not a for-profit organization and exists for me, you, and every other person interested in human health and disease in the framework of human evolution and ancestry. Members of the society will have a chance to vote on societal business and to participate in organizational activities for the society, either as an officer of the society (officers will be elected by the membership on a periodic basis) or as a volunteer.
Brent: We’re including free intermittent fasting with your ticket. We hope to get some goodies, foods, and drinks donated, but that’s all up in the air right now. Let me know if you have any ideas. We are all volunteering to make this event happen, so it’s a collective hobbyist-volunteerism model in action and thus we’re operating with a minimalist frame of mind.
What should attendees expect when they arrive at the event?
Aaron: Like many scientific conferences I’ve attended, we’ll provide a program, a map of local restaurants, and perhaps a few other odds and ends. Attendees can pick these up at the registration booth on Friday morning (or whenever they arrive). We’ll check that they have their ticket so we can give them their program and name tag.
Brent: Lots of people smiling and wearing Vibrams. Warm, sunny, California weather. Keith Norris bench pressing Mark Sisson. Those types of things.
What might an attendee’s day look like?
Aaron: The symposium will kick off promptly at 8am on both Friday and Saturday. There will be a series of 15-20 minute presentations throughout the day broken up by lunch, coffee breaks or other social breaks, etc. The poster sessions will take place during the lunch break. The event is scheduled to end around 5 or 6pm on both days, and there will be plenty of opportunity for spontaneous dinner gatherings and after parties.
Brent: Opportunities for movement sessions and alternative presentation formats are still being discussed as well. It’ll be an action-packed, yet relaxing day.
Can attendees record or photograph the presentations? Will there be any options for streaming or downloading presentations during or after the event?
Aaron: We’re still figuring out some of the streaming and video options. We plan to video record the entire event one way or another. This is an open society event, so we hope to allow photographs and audio/video recording by attendees themselves. The only caveat is that we are contracting the UCLA Ackerman Student Center and the contract places some restrictions on what can and cannot be recorded, pending permissions and the like. We’ll let everyone know what is allowable at the time of the conference.
How are you scheduling the keynote speakers? Will attendees have to choose between presentations, or is there opportunity to hear everyone?
Aaron: For this first symposium, we will not hold parallel sessions, so attendees should be able to see every talk and have an opportunity to browse posters. But, as this annual event grows in future years, we may have to move to parallel sessions.
Brent: I hope to have a formal presentation schedule for both days ready in the coming months.
What kind of subjects will the keynote speakers be covering?
Aaron: Well, Ancestral Health is a term we use to mean looking at human health through the lens of human evolution and ancestry. So any topic that somehow touches on this theme or is compatible with this framework is acceptable. The list of speakers is available on the event website (http://ancestryfoundation.org/Ancestry/Ancestral_Health.html), and includes a who’s who of paleo/primal folk, medical doctors, academics, well-known bloggers, pharmacists, dentists, veterinarians, movement specialists, a comedian (guess who!), etc., etc. We’re starting to build the program now so we should be able to publish a list of presentation titles in the coming months.
Brent: Everything from John Durant talking about how different personality types interact with and perceive Ancestral Health concepts and modalities to my topic of an Ancestral Health Insurance (AHI) entity. The presentation topics will be really diverse, which will be nice.
We heard a rumor that Sisson will be dressing up like Grok for the event. True or false?
Aaron: (laughing) That’s the first I heard of it! Of course, he sort of looks like Grok in his regular clothes, so who knows.
How do the poster presentations work? How many posters will be presented during the weekend? What kind of topics will they cover?
Aaron: We’re still working out the details of this. The poster format will be conventional 4’x4’ size. Poster presenters will bring their poster pre-printed and we’ll provide stick pins by which to tack the posters to the poster boards (also provided). Poster registration is still ongoing so we have yet to attain the ultimate number. Posters can cover any topic looking at human health and disease through the lens of human evolution and ancestry.
Brent: We hope this forum will add tremendous value to the event. There are lots of great people involved with the Ancestral Health movement, and they all have tremendous ideas to share with audience members.
Are there other vendors or offerings besides the speakers and posters?
Aaron: We also plan to have some movement sessions (e.g., by Erwan Le Corre and Frank Forencich) that will likely take place at an outside patio we’ve rented. We would like to set up a space for vendors to sell their wares, such as books, DVDs, primal leap kits or other ancestral/primal/paleo themed foods, & etc. Again, we’re still figuring out how this will work.
Will attendees have the opportunity to network with the speakers and presenters?
Aaron: Absolutely! We are still working out the details (see a theme here?), but intend to provide ample opportunities for schmoozing and networking. One thing that I’d like to see is an online forum by which people can begin to interact in the months leading up to the event to get the social ball rolling, so to speak. This is another feature that the Ancestral Health Society will provide, a membership base for networking and communication. We’re tapping into a real society that’s been building both on and off the internet, and we’d like our society to reflect that.
Brent: We’d like to encourage those interested to utilize our Facebook page for online interaction. Personally, I look forward to meeting everyone in August.
The event currently runs Friday and Saturday. What’s going on Sunday – anything formal planned?
Aaron: Nothing formal, but I’ve heard rumors that people plan to spontaneously gathering or making plans to connect beyond the two days of the event. There’ll be a whole lot of interesting folks descending on LA that weekend from all parts of the world, so I see lots of opportunities for spillover Sunday events or Thursday pre-conference gatherings. I would certainly like to get in on some of that action.
Brent: I’d like to organize a golf outing on Sunday for those who’d like to play.
If you could offer attendees one or two “insider” tips about the weekend, what would it be?
Aaron: Hmmm… Not sure we insiders have any privileged info except to say, “Come and you won’t be disappointed!” Hope to see you in LA in August!
Brent: Keep an open mind (m=1) and an open heart (n=1). Working on issues and challenges related to human health and well-being are both humbling and exciting. Hopefully we can respect the grace nudges embedded within our ancestries to avert chronic illnesses and metabolic dysfunction in modern day.
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