Day 1 at #TAM2014

Yesterday was the first day of official programming at TAM (see yesterday’s post for my Day 0 experiences), and it was as much fun, and as stimulating, as expected. The problem is: with such a packed schedule (well, to be honest, with every night involving a few cocktails at the bar until late in the night), it’s going to be difficult to post updates that are as comprehensive as I’d like. I’ll try to do better tomorrow (if circumstances – those being Penn & Teller’s Bacon and Donut party – end up allowing for a post at all).

A brief recap of the day:

My first scheduled appearance was the panel on skeptical blogging, which went well on the whole. We surveyed aspects of the good, bad and ugly with regard to skeptical blogging, and even though parallel sessions ended up thinning the crowd a little, it was great to meet a few of my colleagues on SkepticInk, and I hope that those who attended got some value from the thoughts we shared. It was recorded, and I’ll post a link to anything that emerges from that process when it/if comes out.

The other two panels that I attended yesterday were very good – one, on teaching critical thinking in college curricula, will end up being very useful for my “real” job (namely, teaching critical thinking at a university). The other, on science-based medicine, provided some great ideas and resources for combating pseudoscience and lazy scientific thinking.

Many of the panelists on both were very good, with Harriet Hall, David Gorski, Steve Novella and Ray Hall standing out as folks to watch if you’re interested in these sorts of things. At the welcome reception, I also had a chance to chat for a half-hour or so with Steve Novella on some of my interests, like dietary fads and Professor Tim Noakes’ “real meal revolution”. He was dismayed to hear of the populism that is gaining traction in South Africa in scientific matters, to the detriment of sound scientific thinking.

And the last session was a screening of the Randi documentary “An Honest Liar“, which you should really try to see if you get a chance to. It’s currently doing the festival circuit, but the director and producer assured us that cinema and digital releases are to be expected later in the year.

Other brief highlights: it was of course great to see Dan Dennett again, and he regaled us with stories of a Greenland philosophy of mind cruise he and other big hitters recently took part in. DJ Grothe looks like his batteries haven’t run flat just yet, and AJ’s don’t seem capable of running out, ever. He greeted us all with big hugs, even the friends I’m travelling with, whom he’d never met before.

Okay – I’m running late for the welcome, and then the first session for today: “Can rationality be taught?“, with Dennett, Drescher, Galef and Lilienfeld.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.