Well, TAM 2013 was a hell of a thing.
Eve and I arrived on Wednesday, the night before our workshop. Outside of the security area, we met our driver who we identified by his sign, which read “Blaskiewicz/Siebert/Blackmore.” Excuse me? Susan Blackmore will be sharing our ride to the South Point? Oh, well, if she must! We chatted with her on the way to the venue, and I brought up her work on memes, which you may have heard of. I took an interest in memes a couple of years ago, but was coming at it at a different way than Susan was, from the point of view of a lit/rhetoric guy, not a psychologist. I encouraged her to read Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy and indicated that she might find useful his discussion of the forms of memorable thoughts (which are valued in oral cultures).
And that was just the ride to the hotel.
As we checked in, Eve and I bumped into Sharon Hill, our friend and fellow virtual skeptic. She had come through the desert on a horse with no name with a viking. She was pooped. I went to my room, dropped off my stuff, and picked up my badge. I loitered in the Del Mar for a while and was going to go upstairs to drop off my program and “fighting the fakers” t-shirt when, holy crap, Sanal Sedamaruku steps out of the elevator and asks me where he can get his credentials. When someone is basically in exile because he demonstrated that a weeping statue was actually exuding toilet water and the Archbishop is a petty bully without a shred of dignity, well, you help the guy get his badge so he can point at it and justifiably brag about how awesome he is.
I met the rest of my morning panel (“Skepticism Across the Curriculum”) at the Del Mar that night. The panel in the morning went pretty well. We had a chance to include a number of the audience members in the discussion at the end, though through a series of (my) miscalculations we did not have as much time as I had hoped we would. (At the same time we were presenting, one group of skeptics decided to bungee jump off of the Stratosphere on the Strip, or as Eve put it, “would rather jump off of a building than see our panel.”) I made it to a couple of other panels during the day, including the “Preserving Skeptical History” panel and the “Skepticism Around the World” panel. I was, however, a right twit because I missed Tim Farley’s talk about skeptics’ conferences; I know how much work went into that presentation, and I will have to catch it when it comes up on youtube. And you will too….
Much of what happened over the next few days is a blur. I saw Sharon’s talk about being an honest broker of doubtful news, which was pretty kickass. I caught the beginning and end of Karen Stollznow’s talk, but when you come into the end of the talk and she shows the video of Pastor Jack casting out demons to the tunes of Tom Jones…you just want to know about the theology that suggested that should be in the exorcism ritual! (I fell over possessed—WITH LAUGHTER!)
Yes, it is unusual. It’s very unusual.
After Karen’s talk, I watched a bit of Marty Klein’s presentation and then bopped out for a bit. I was back for the Honest Liar presentation, which featured Jamy Ian Swiss, Randi and the folks putting together the biopic about Randi. That night, the Skepticality crowd gathered for dinner with people from IIG, and then the Skepticality crowd went upstairs to try to record an episode. We don’t know if Derek is going to be able to get anything this week because the recording was fairly chaotic. I skipped Penn’s Bacon and Doughnut Party (but dropped the requested funds in the till) and partied in the Del Mar instead.
Saturday morning was spent in silent contemplation. I had my talk coming up at 2:20. I missed a number of really remarkable speakers, but to be fair, I was getting in the zone and focusing on the job. I heard that the Skepticism and Philosophy panel was out of sight–it was an all-star cast–and Michael Mann knocked ’em dead. David Gorski and I had planned to give two parts of a larger talk. David prepared a talk about the history and schmience of the Burzynski Clinic. I talked about the patients. We split 40 minutes evenly, which was enough to give people a taste of the larger project we’ve been working on for the last several months. I was pleased with how our presentations went. Next I was on the Science-Based Medicine panel with Harriet Hall and Mark Crislip, David Gorski and Steve Novella. I like to think that I represented “the common man” on that panel.
That evening was the speakers’ reception with Randi, which was swell. The man has the patience of a zen master, posing for dozens of photos and giving the benediction–I’M KIDDING! It was a great opportunity to meet with the luminaries you had not yet bumped into in the lounge, at the Del Mar, or in the hall.
The evening entertainment, Magic, Mayhem, and Mentalism, was produced by Jamy, and I finally got to see Jonny Zavant and Caroline Gayle’s act. I met them in the elevator the night before and psychically predicted while floor they were getting off on completely by coincidence. Also, I was pleased to see Todd Robbins again, who makes the Sideshow look…really uncomfortable if I’m honest, but his delivery is very polished and smooth and you get the sense that he is curating a tradition of entertainment that is fading. (I saw him as the host of NECSS 2+ years ago, and he was superb.)
Then there was a lot of drinking.
In the morning, I managed to get downstairs for the Sunday morning papers. I missed only the first one, and they were all of exceptional quality. Standouts were Andrew Hansford’s talk about the Marblehead UFO, an old fashioned debunking, Shane Greenup’s vision for the rbutr tool, and Jo Benhamu’s closer about the (other) FSM. Eve gave a talk about how creationists ruin all areas of human thought, in this case literary studies. I really liked the variety and pace of these talks, and think that they might do really well as a bunch in the middle of Saturday to change up the pace a little bit when people are getting tired.
The Bigfoot Skepticism panel was totally misleading. There was no bigfoot at all, only Blake moderating, and he didn’t even have his bigfoot costume this year! Sara Mayhew gave her talk next, which I had to be there for since I missed it last year. (“Beta blockers, Bob…They are sooo great.”) I also witnessed the blow up on the Magicians vs. Psychics panel between, well, the other magicians and Mark Edward. I think there was a lot going on in the background there, I think, ahead of time, and I watched as the panel took the ethical stances that they had elaborated during the panel and applied them to Mark’s case. Mark has long been a liminal case, it seems, and I’m not sure what the full backstory is there. It was a great discussion and as the accusations flew; I know at one point I realized my mouth was agape. It was one of those confrontations you want to munch popcorn while watching.
Harriet Hall followed next and thoroughly complicated my feelings about my prostate in her talk about screening tests.
In the evening was the Million Dollar Challenge. This year, a remote viewer failed to describe the contents of a sealed room in Las Vegas from his home in Algeria. Apparently Ramadan threw off his mojo. The JREF has invited the applicant to revisit the test after the holy month has ended so that he may be tested under optimal conditions.
After the MDC, the Virtual Skeptics recorded a show from room 1942, where we did a wrap up of TAM with a select few chums, including Susan Gerbic, who won the Randi prize for promoting skepticism in the public sphere. It was well deserved. You will see that we had a great time:
TAM ended in the Del Mar, as we said goodbye to everyone and George Hrab struck up an acoustic sing-along. A great end to an invigorating extended weekend surrounded by clever people being goofy and clever. It was great to see so many friends who had only been internet buddies live and for real. Many thanks to DJ and Thomas for the opportunity to come out. You guys should totally have another one next year.