Those of you who also attended The Amaz!ing Meeting last weekend were probably as overwhelmed by content as I felt, and continue to feel. Halfway through the first of three full days (8am – 6pm) of plenary sessions, I blogged some impressions – but that proved to be the last time I found the time to write anything about what was going on. Not only was the schedule very busy, but it was filled with content of sufficient quality that I could hardly bring myself to miss anything, despite the fact that evening entertainment, then drinks at the Del Mar and elsewhere, meant an average of 4 or so hours of sleep per night. TAM is worth not sleeping for, or at least 2013’s edition (my first) was.
To supplement what I’ve already said about the first morning, here’s some comment on (aspects of) the rest of the programme:
Cara Santa Maria: Perhaps the lowlight of the entire weekend for me. Beginning a talk by telling your audience that they might want to temper their expectations, in light of the speaker having played poker until the early hours, didn’t seem like the most effective route to audience engagement for me. When the talk that follows was mostly personal anecdote, my skepticism turned into downright annoyance.
The philosophers: One of the things that made TAM far more intellectually rewarding than most of the conferences (in related areas) I’ve been to in recent years was the strong representation of philosophers on the programme. Speaking as someone who studied, and has now taught philosophy for the past 15 or so years, having these creatures on the stage is by no means a guarantee of comprehensibility or enjoyment, as each can delight in being more obscure and technical than the other. Plus, philosophy is often home to needless obscurantism, or sometimes, simple bullshit. But Massimo Pigliucci, Peter Boghossian, Susan Haack and my SkepticInk colleague Russell Blackford all gave engaging and insightful talks. Watch them all when the videos appear on YouTube – I’ll certainly be re-watching them. Susan Haack was particularly good, I thought, speaking on credulity and its consequences.
Bacon & donuts: Penn’s party on Friday night was good fun. Ribald and loud, he ensured that all pretensions were checked at the door, and entertained us mightily in the process. Beginning with a rant regarding Dr. David Gorski’s (also on the programme) open letter to Penn regarding Penn & Teller’s appearing on Dr. Oz’s show, Penn basically told Gorski that if he was here, he wasn’t welcome and should simply f*** off. That effectively set the tone, whether or not you agree with Penn’s response to the letter – this was not a place for sacred cows. (Gorski was there for the first few minutes, but left shortly after this rant began.)
James Randi: What an inspiration to those of us who spend time “fighting the fakers” (the theme of this year’s TAM). The man is unfailingly generous with his time and his affection, and continues to set an example for the rest of us of how one can fight the fakers while retaining sympathy for their victims, who frequently merit our understanding rather than our condescension. His career has been guided by exposing the fakers in order to help the next (hypothetical) set of victims from becoming victims – and ridiculing those who fall for the tricks and promises of charlatans does nothing towards that worthwhile goal.
D.J. Grothe and the JREF in general: The event would not have been the success it was without meticulous planning and careful, attentive execution. Besides the occasional tech glitch with microphones or slides, everything went off smoothly. For an event this size – 4 days of content, with over 1000 people in attendance, this is no mean feat. So, thanks and congratulations to all of you who were involved in making TAM such a success.
SkepticInk: It was great to meet, or in Russell’s case, re-acquaint myself with, my co-writers on the SkepticInk network. Russell Blackford, Caleb Lack, Ed Clint, Damion Reinhardt and John Loftus were all great fun to hang out with, and we made the most of TAM, attracting plenty of interest at the SiN table (selflessly manned for many an hour by Ed Clint in particular). We were able to have numerous fruitful discussions, which will hopefully result in the network growing from strength to strength.
To conclude, an index of how rewarding I found TAM2013 to be is simply this: even though getting there involves at least 24 hours of transit and a frightening impact on my bank balance (not because TAM is unduly costly, but because 1USD costs 10ZAR), I fully intend to go to every TAM after this. It was just too much fun – and too instructive – to miss out on again.
Also published on Medium.