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TAM London, 16-17th October

What follows is a summary of how the blogosphere reacted to TAM London this week. It’s quite a mix of views and opinions: some quite serious and critical, some hilarious. I encourage you to take a look at some of the blog entries themselves as you will get a real flavour of what worked and what didn’t work at the event.

We start with Iszi Lawrence (@iszi_lawrence). In her blog entry, she loved Jon Ronson, Alan Moore and Marcus Chown, didn’t quite get the point of Richard Dawkins’ speech (sex with chimps or something) and did NOT like the early start. Photo to prove it as well.

Martin Robbins (@mjrobbins) gives the blow by blow account of activities in The TAM London 2010 Live Blog, including some videos, quotes, twitter comments and links to relevant podcasts.

Crispian Jago (@Crispian_Jago) loved the conference but he had a few nitpicks. He was not a fan of the panel discussion accompanying the Storm video and he was slightly bemused about the point of Melinda Gebbie’s appearance. He also felt that Josie Long was slightly out of her depth. The commenters on Crispian’s blog were largely in agreement on this (except PZ Myers – ppfft).

Dave Gamble (@david_gamble) posted some of the most memorable quotes on his blog and also had something to say about the audience being perceived as great “Champagne Skeptics“. More anon.

Scepticool (@scepticool) in his blog post, The Brilliance and the Problems of Diversity, had a few quibbles about Alan Moore’s and Melinda Gebbie’s role in the proceedings. He loved PZ Myer’s speech and Rhys Morgan’s award.

English Atheist (@EnglishAtheistloved the whole event and wants you to sign his Tiger petition now.

Gimpy (he didn’t actually go to the event itself), found the whole idea of TAM London “expensive, insular and divisive” and accused us attendees of being “Champagne Skeptics”. He wrote that greater JREF involvement would suppress grassroots activism and suspects that the JREF have somewhat malign motives towards the UK Skeptic community. Needless to say, this blog entry received a whole pile of critical feedback, most notably from Martin Robbins who accused him of paranoia and having a distorted and fearful view of what is a very positive and noteworthy movement.

Paul S Jenkins (@PaulSJenkins), writing as An Evil Burnee, wrote 2 blog entries. Paul was very positive about the event, his only grumble being the frugality of the conference pack (I hear ya). Paul noted that perhaps there has been more a move this year towards atheism and informality.

Ben Warsop (@BENWARSOP) weighs in on the good vs dickishness debate between DJ Grothe and PZ Myers and finds little fertile territory in shrillness and combat.

Simon Dunn (@sighdone) came up with ten mind-blowingly provoking things about the event. Since I could not find any eclairs there, I must conclude that he’s the one who ate them all. I have no evidence whatsoever to justify this accusation but since he discovered that magic actually exists he must, therefore, agree with me totally. No takebacks or crossies.

Stevyn Colgan (@Stevyncolgan) loved the meeting and wrote two very comprehensive blog entries about the whole thing. His gripes concerned the expense of the event and the technical problems that frequently bugged the presentations.

Jim Christian (@jimchristian) wrote two great entries about the event. He enjoyed the speeches and captured the best moments very well. His only quibble was with the food, which had him nipping over to the local M&S on the second day.  (Day 01 / Day 02)

Trunkman (@TrunkmanUK) starts his review with an enjoyable review of Ghost Stories. I am now intrigued what THAT MOMENT was all about. His review of TAM London is divided into 3 postings where he covers each speaker in turn: how he was pleasantly surprised by Sue Blackmore and Cory Doctorow and awed by Richard Dawkin’s presentation; how he felt the second part of the first day was a bit flat (I agree completely). He also describes the evening show with Jon Ronson and Tim Minchin, and like many he felt it was far too self-congratulatory for his liking. It’s one of the best reviews (warts and all) of the event and I would love to read his thoughts on Day 2.

PadainFain (@PadainFain) doesn’t mince his words in his review. I think a lot of the criticisms are on target. The Green Room, where the speakers were separated from the audience, was brought up as a particular niggle about the event.

Stefano Borini (@forthescience) wrote extensively about the event. He said that the conference this year was perhaps more serious than last year, focusing on the emotional level of skepticism. He captured some of the best quotes from the event and was not a fan of the panel interviews. He also did a great job in capturing the essence of the Grothe / Myers debate.

Dr. Dean Burnett (@garwboy) describes how he tried to pass himself off as Tim Minchin, suspected Richard Dawkins of secretly harbouring an AK47 in his tweeds, uses the “g” word to describe Randi, discovered that the Alpha Course was, well, kind of what he expected it to be and captured defecatively the essence of Ghost Stories.

Snipe also does a review where they describe Alan Moore’s voice as “congealed thunder”. I also note they got the spelling of Crohn’s Disease wrong which makes me feel better – I tweeted it as “Chrome’s Disease” during the meeting myself.

In conclusion, yes, there were tons of niggles and some very pointed criticism, but the general impression is of a very enjoyable, meaningful conference. Roll on TAM London 2011.

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TAM London

I’m going! Or at least I think I am…

TAM (“The Amazing Meeting”) is the brainchild of James Randi, a magician who has spent his life debunking psychics, UFOlogists, quacks and all sort of random frauds and charlatans. He is one of the main drivers of the modern skeptics movement, and an all round good guy.

I first came across him, wow, years ago, when the world was still in black and white and when a row of houses cost thruppence haypenny. Well, about 1995 to be more exact . Randi is pretty outspoken when it comes to people who make money by pretending that they have real psychic powers. Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne are some of his more high profile targets. He has even put up a prize of 1 million dollars to anyone who can prove a supernatural occurrence (ESP, clairvoyance, dowsing etc, etc) in a controlled scientific test. Needless to say, the prize has never been claimed.

TAM is THE event for skeptics and to date it has only been held in the US. No more. In October it comes to London. Attending it will be Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh, Adam Savage and Phil Plait, the author of the Bad Astronomy blog. It’s fantastic!

Access to the website yesterday was a bit of a joke. First of all, the order told me that the fee was 175 pounds, but shipping and handling would be 999.99 pounds. Oops. Then when that issue was fixed it wouldn’t allow me to enter my order because I live outside the UK. My sister’s address in the UK was promptly used and eventually my order went through. I still haven’t seen a confirmation coming through as yet though. Nevertheless the demand was extreme. The whole event sold out in an hour or so, much to the amazement of the organisers and to the intense disappointment of those who failed to get a ticket in time.

I’m lucky I persevered, I think.

The creationists are right. We need academic freedom. We can’t just have one view, pounded into us by those pesky scientists. Schools and universities must be forced should be allowed to teach alternative views to their students side by side with science. That’s what education is for, isn’t it? We need Academic Freedom in our schools and we need it NOW!

Here are the principal areas that our educators need to focus on right away:

1) The Earth is Flat. When I go outside the door, it’s flat. Even when I climb a mountain (and I did that once) it still looks flat. Even when I go on a plane, (and I’ve done that too), it’s flat. So the earth being flat is a legitimate scientific view and must be taught in science classes alongside the (rolls-eyes) “oblate spheroid” dogma.

2) The Moon, the Sun and all the stars revolve around the Earth. Well, they do, don’t they? All rising in the east and setting in the west just like they are meant to by God. This Copernican stuff doesn’t wash with me, it didn’t wash with countless popes until 1992, and it shouldn’t wash with you either. So let’s teach the controversy and make sure that those Galileans are knocked back in their corner.

3) If waves need water to pass through to splash on us, then there must be a similar medium in which light passes through in space! It’s called Aether and it deserves a shot. Better than that weird quantum electrodynamic stuff (and far more understandable too, IMHO). Down with Quantum Mechanics! BOO! Up with Aether!

4) Now the “scientists” are always drumming up silly ideas like atoms and molecules when there was a perfectly legitimate theory in place before this new fashioned stuff came into play. It was called Phlogiston Theory. A cool name, eh? Every time you burn something, Phlogiston is released! When you burn an every day object: a match or a heretic perhaps, the weight afterwards is less than the weight before, and the difference is Phlogiston. Academic Freedom dictates that we see Phlogiston get equal treatment to chemistry. 

5) Of course medical doctors are always going on and on about saving people with antibiotics and vaccines and using approaches involving “studies” and “evidence” to find a cure, when there are lots and lots of alternative theories with the great advantage that you don’t need to perform any proper studies at all! Much cheaper, no need to learn tough mathematics like statistics and many of them feel nice and tingly. All you need to do with your chosen therapy is to believe that it will work. If it doesn’t, there are lots more to choose from. We have therapies that give dilute water magical healing properties, that control the flow of chi in your body and that shield us from toxins that cause imbalances. Some of the theories conflict with each other completely but hey, you can choose what theory suits you best! All you need is a big wallet and a mind unbridled by critical oversight. 

So let’s put science in it’s place for once and for all! Let’s ensure that every half-baked hypothesis we have ever dreamt up has legitimate pride of place beside scientific views in our schools and colleges. Just because a theory has “weighty evidence” and “a solid scientific consensus” around it, just because it been tested a million times and has never been disproved, doesn’t mean it should be treated any more seriously than its rivals no matter how off-beat and nonsensical they are. So, let’s take a moment and celebrate the great wonder of ignorance. It beats reality anytime.

(Inspired by this article)

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