Live Blogging Tam Day Two (Friday)

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I am back at The Amazing Meeting (TAM) and loving it. There will be no blog for day one (the Thursday workshops) because I was delayed by transportation issues), but I am here at the Southpoint now and going strong.

In a change from the last three years,
breakfast was served in one of the banquet rooms instead of the main conference hall. This is a welcome addition, as eating at a table is much more comfortable than eating in an auditorium chair. Bravo, I say!

The food offerings are pretty much the same as the past few years.

# The Intro

George Hrab did a powerhouse intro. It was utterly fantastic, in my opinion the best TAM intro in the six times I have been to TAM. He came out dressed as Randi.

Hrab

After George got done, DJ Grothe came out and announced some interesting facts: Just over 1,100 people are here, and just over 50 pct are first timers. What does this tell me? First , it tells me that the Rebecca Watson campaign against Randi, the Jref, and TAM has been a total failure, and second it tells me that her attempt to scare women away has not been well received.

James Randi then welcomed everyone.

# Michael Schermer

Michael Schermer was the first speaker, talking about science and morality.

Schermer is a great speaker: “can we say female genital mutilation is absolutely, objectively wrong ? Yes! ”

In the past , Schermer has gotten grief for being –gasp–a bit of a libertarian, and for pushing that philosophy in his TAM talks. This time he focused on how science and democracy make life better for everyone, and the wold is becoming a better place because of the influence of both.
**Final SA Rating 17.5/18**

# Sharon Hill

The talk is “The Honest Broker Of Doubtful News”.

“This is a talk about positive skepticism”

So far, she is talking about her Doubtful News site. So far, this exactly the talk I was expecting, unfortunately. She followed Schermer, which is obviously an issue. At least she is an effective speaker who knows what she is talking about, and is excited to be taking about it. Another thing is that she is not overdoing the PowerPoint slides, which would be easy to do on a subject like this, which gives her some extra points.

Good point: “you have to see all sides, but there are often more than two.”

On objectivity: the problem with asking the audience to decide is only fair is all sides are represented fairly and completely, which doesn’t happen. Also the media uses “false balance.” Saying “you decide” can often be a false choice. I think that this part of the talk is excellent. Fresh and unexpected. “you cannot be positive or negative if you are neutral.” “People need to know what you are saying, and **why they should care**.” Anti-science lobby uses emotion, playing on fear and sensationalism.”

She says objectivity should not look like apathy. I could not agree more. Don’t do hype and mystery mongering, do doubt. Doubt is the key, done civilly and engage the paranormal believers. I really like that philosophy: raise doubt in the minds of the believers

She says that skepticism has a bad name in the paranormal crowd, which makes it hard. “Many people do not want the truth, they want validation of their ideas. They revel in their ignorance.”

Told by believers: “Why don’t you skeptics go cure cancer or something. Leave us alone.”

Drama made her question the effort to reach out to both sides.

Sharon: you have to consider the world view of the people you are talking to. If a strange story fits into a worldview, rational thought can go out the window and people can come to strange conclusions.

**SA Rating. I was very pleasantly surprised. I found this to be and interesting and engaging talk. 15/18 **

# Karen Stollznow

A talk about exorcisms.

Before the talk could start, we had an inevitable technical glitch.

After a few minutes, Matt Baxter (from last night’s entertainment) stepped in an saved the day.

Karen mentions that exorcism is across many religions, many cultures all around the world. In some religions, such as Sanataria, possession is considered a good thing.

Interesting point, in Old Testament, daemons possessing people often came from God, not Satan.

Karen’s talk is deep with facts and background. Absolutely riveting.

Catholic exorcism thorns out to be mundane. Protestant “deliverance ministries” are different. Called “spiritual warfare.” Demon can be manifested by any negative things going on in person’s life. Focus on the “legal right” of the demon to live in the body. Deliverances ministries exorcisms are often theatrical, and can be done over Skype’. Skype!

Interesting, there are new age exorcisms, often called cleanings or similar things. Often they often try to “help” the spirit try to “move on.” Video shows excorcism of “shape-shifting giant demon.”

**SA Rating: 17/18.**

# Marty Klein

Topic is moral panic and sex, but while there is the inevitable technical ,
George Hrab entertains the audience with his repartee of witty patter.

The repeated technical glitches are, if possible, worse this year than in the past. After about five minute, George: “Let’s see where we are on the moon launch, here.”

Finally the glitch is over. Marty is on stage, and mentions “condom efficacy deniers,” but moves on. If such people agree, would be a fascinating topic.

Per Marty, there is a “sex panic” in the USA, but blamed it only on “the right wing.” Does not apparently think that the feminists and their clams of “rape culture” and feminist attacks on pornography.” Says the “sexual disaster industry” and “victimization industry” is totally right-wing based. I think the fact he gives a pass to the feminists. In my opinion the religious right and feminist are perverse fellow-travelers on this issue.

Talking about the conflating of sex trafficking and prostitution. True, this is an issue, but “progressives” are leading that charge, but this guy seems to only blame the religious right.

This guy has lot of interesting things to say, but his willful blindness to the feminist/progressive stance on these issues, and only blames the religious right. This makes it very hard for me to take him seriously.

**SA Rating 10/18. Entertaining, with facts, but his obvious bias really made it hard to take him seriously.**

# Woo In the Martial Arts Panel

A good start, in that John Rennie doing a great job as moderator.

The panel starts out with a discussion of Chi, and how it is a pre-scientific idea. Claim is that there is some benefit, and “don’t through Buddha out with the bath water.”

Video shown of man who thought that he could make himself machete-proof through a ritual. He was not machete-proof. Gross!

Videos show the power of belief and suggestion. Some of these martial arts schools essentially become cults, with people believing that they can know people over with no contact. Can drive some people out of the martial arts.

MMA Fighter Brent Weedman is stealing the show. He really knows what he is talking about.

**SA Rating 15.2/18. Would be 12/18 without Brent Weedman **

# Max Maven–The Truth Lies Here

He is wearing very distracting puffy trousers, but I will do my best to ignore it. He is very well-spoken and eloquent.

“What makes a painting if a tree ‘art’ is that it isn’t a tree in the first place.” Deception can be beautiful. Don’t throw out the baby with the homeopathic bath water.

Argues that some deception can be morally good.

This is an old-fashioned talk. No PowerPoint, and none needed. I can’t imagine a PowerPoint helping with this topic, and I am a big believer in using PowerPoint. This talk is riveting.

**SA Rating 17/18. Really fantastic talk. **

# Cara Santa Maria

“I’m going to talk about myself .” Ugh. I really can t understand why she thinks that people are so interested in her professional career, which she talks about at (extreme) great length . She apparently mostly does atheist conventions. She essentially says now: “I have spoken enough about me, so let’s change subjects. Let’s talk about me.”

Talking about how the LDS church is attractive to people, from a personal perspective.

She is engaging, and obviously a polished public speaker, but so far doesn’t have much to say about anything other than her personal history, and I don’t care about that. She equated her relationship with her father after she told him she no longer believed in the LDS religion to “Sophie’s Choice.” Give me a break, where a woman had to decide which of her children would the Nazi’s kill. Talk about using a self-important metaphor.

This talk is really horrible. Who cares about your personal history, lady! A meandering journey through the land of boredom. At some point I thought she might start talking about something other than herself, but really doesn’t happen, except for platitudes that non-believers need to be more visible in the community. Like who hasn’t heard this stuff a thousand stuff before.

SA Rating 3/18.

After Lunch, we appear to be operating about 15 minutes late. At 2:15 the next event stated, The Making Of An Honest Liar, a film about James Randi.

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Jamy Swiss is doing a good job interviewer.

Just showed a bunch of old clips from Randi’s magic career, including TV show called “The Magic Clown.”

There could be a number of movies, or a mini-series about Randi’s life.

Now showing portion of the film, as yet unfinished. Looks “amazing.’ Looks like they are putting together a really great film.

Randi answers a question about Peter Popoff:

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Per the producer, Randi is obsessed with the accuracy of clocks.

Discussing Randi’s personal life. I had noticed a wedding ring on his hand. He announces he got married in Washington, D.C to his longtime partner Deyvi Pena, and received a standing ovation and thunderous applause. The session ends with a poignant look at their home life. A lovely couple.

SA Rating: 18/18.

Panel–Going Forward, the Prospective Future Of Skepticism, moderated by Sharon Hill, with Steve Novella, Daniel Loxton, Barbara Drescher, and Jamy Ian Swiss.

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Sharon Hill listening to Jamy Ian Swiss.

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Even though it has an all-star cast, this panel is not nearly as good as the martial arts panel from this morning. I feel my eyes glazing over.

Susan Blackmore–Fighting The Fakers, and Failing.

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She starts with an excellent explanation of a test of a “bio electric shield” that was prominently worn by Hillary Clinton and Cheri Blair. A nice explanation of double blinding in such a test. Susan is an excellent storyteller, keeping the audience interested. Explanation of post-hoc explanations of shield-makers is fascinating. This is the epitome of a what a TAM talk should be.

Line of the day so far: “When I was a believer, I never got hate mail from skeptics. When I became a skeptic, I sure got hate mail from believers.”

SA Rating 16.9/18

Massimo Pigliucci, the demarcation between science and pseudoscience

Says pseudoscience is like pornography, you know it when you see it. There are all kinds of pseudoscience .

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At this point he has been discussing philosophy. The talk started out with so much promise. About 20 minutes in, a lot if eyes glazed over.

At the end of the talk, I know nothing more about the demarcation than I did 30 minutes ago. SA Rating 7/18.

And then at 5:05 the Friday Keynote, Susan Jacoby.

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Talk starts with a argument with brief spat with an audience member who took a flash photograph after Susan requested no flash photographs.

She calls the distinction between skeptics and humanists is stupid and meaningless. I think I disagree with her, although she defines humanism as realizing that Homo sapiens is the only thing we have to help is solve our problems. I think many humanists do not fit the bill, nor some “skeptics.”

She is now saying that the USA is in trouble because current intellectual failings of our society. The old canard about how things were so much better in the past. Maybe next she will be talking about “these kids today.”

Saying general public knows less than people 3 or 4 generations ago knew after 8th grade. To that I say hogwash. Again, there was no golden age in 1900-1920.

Apparently she thinks that smearing text on the pulp of dead trees is superior to digital media. Ugh. Just untrue.

Oy Vey. This has become a talk about how horrible things are in the world today, versus how things were so much better in the past. In my opinion this is the best time in the history of the USA and the western world to be alive.

She says there is to much “junk thought.” Junk science, she says is a subset of junk science. Apparently the recent opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts on the Voting Rights Act is an example, and a dissent by Ruth Bader Ginsberg will be storied in history as one of the best dissents ever. To that, I say bollicks. I get the opinion that junk thought is any thought she disagrees with. And apparently we are in “cultural decline.” Again, a reference to a golden age in the past.

I would bet $25 there will be a standing ovation for this drivel. She doesn’t deserve it. All it deserves is polite applause/.

Happily only about 30 percent stood. Yea, TAMites!

SA Rating 8/18

And that’s it for the day for SA. See you all tomorrow.

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  • Didgya

    Thanks for the breakdown, WISH (pray..haha)I was there!

  • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

    The MMA fighter is Brent Weedman, Reed Kuhn is the fight statistics analyst.

    TAM attendance this year is down–about 1100 (D.J. said that was the count as of Wednesday), vs. about 1400 last year (if I recall correctly), vs. 1652 for TAM 9 (the largest TAM to date).

    • shanepbrady

      Jim, I remember last year being 1100 on the Wednesday night and ending up somewhere over 1200.

  • Astro

    Sitting in the Massimo talk, I think Susan has probably been the best talk/panel of the day.

  • Tai Fung

    I know Sharon Hill bristled at your pre-gaming the various talks, but I
    do recognize the analogy to trying to predict which baseball teams will
    make the playoff, etc. So I appreciate these updates, and note that you were obviously pleased by some you weren’t optimistic about, and vice-versa.

    But these liveblogs are very detailed, which I like very much. I try to find a way to make it to TAM yearly, but the demands of daily life are always so difficult. Attending TAM and supporting the JREF specifically is a bucket-list level goal for
    me. Thanks for these updates, and I hope to check in on the rest as well over the weekend.

  • skeptixx

    Re attendance: DJ said #s were from Wed PM so not final. Would help to know how the % of new attendees, % from outside US compare to last few years to assess how the (US-based) in-fighting might have affected attendance.

    Re Cara Santa Maria: This was her first TAM, perhaps she didn’t know what the audience would be expecting, and/or wasn’t given clear guidelines from organizers as to focus/content of talk. Poking around a bit online, though, I’m not sure what they might have intended her focus/content to be at TAM. She’s been a science journalist since 2010; there are others who have much longer-term experience.

    Couple of pieces of info that came up:

    1) Her Wikipedia page describes her as formerly an “adjunct college professor”. Her LinkedIn page says formerly “adjunct professor – Queens College” in NYC and also lists 3 yrs as Adjunct Instructor in biology at the University of North Texas. From info at Queen College’s site it looks like adjunct faculty are mostly “graduate assistants” & “adjunct lecturers”, plus just a few “adjunct assistant professors”. Without a PhD, it would be unusual for anyone to be hired as a biology professor, even as assistant level. At QC, she taught at least one biology course that was also taught by an “instructor” who appears to be on permanent faculty (per 2008 QC course info) and was a research technician (per her LinkedIn info). So, while I find no direct confirmation of her title there, “adjunct professor” *looks* to be at least a shortening of her title while there, and possibly a “rounding up” from adjunct lecturer (or adjunct assistant professor) to adjunct professor.

    2) From her Wikipedia page and his: she dated Bill Maher for 2-3 years, and she says under “Why did you choose this career” here that that’s among the reasons she left Queens College:
    http://www.stem-works.com/subjects/21-other-stem-subjects/cool_jobs/143

    For whatever all that is worth…just a couple of details that seem unusual among TAM speaker histories…