My First Amaz!ng Meeting – Prologue
About eighteen months ago I started listening to the podcast Skepticality, an official podcast of Skeptic magazine. The hosts of Skepticality would often begin a podcast by promoting the upcoming annual skeptics meeting known as The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM). At that time I had no idea how big TAM really is, so I made the mistake of not attending TAM 8. After the meeting came and went, it was clear from all the dedicated podcasts and blog posts that TAM was something special and needed to be witnessed in person, so this year I made the trek out to Las Vegas and experienced TAM for myself.
For those that haven’t been to a TAM, the meeting lasts four days and consists of a combination of workshops, talks, and activities. This year’s meeting was formally called TAM 9 from Outer Space as a homage to the classic(?) movie Plan 9 from Outer Space. Although the general theme was space, topics ranged from the paranormal to medicine and psychology to magic. The list of invited speakers was a who’s who of skepticism, which included the likes of Michael Shermer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugenie Scott, Richard Wiseman, Bill Nye, and Richard Dawkins. This year’s meeting had a record attendance with over 1,600 participants, roughly half of which were experiencing TAM for the first time.
Originally I was going to write a single blog post on my personal retrospective of the meeting, then I began writing. It was quickly evident that this meeting had a large effect on me. That single post quickly grew into a monster, so I’ve decided to break apart my account into a sequence of posts each of which will represent a single day at TAM.
I will not be able to comment on everything. There simply was too much. Instead I’m going to describe what I personally found most memorable. For those speakers I don’t mention, my apologies. Every talk—and I mean this sincerely—was fascinating, but from my point of view certain talks piqued my interest more than others. For a more complete retelling of the events at TAM 9 see the live blogging at the Friendly Atheist.
TAM 9 started off with a full day of workshops. Unfortunately, because I flew in during that morning I missed the first set of workshops. From what I heard from other TAMers, the workshop on faking your own UFO pictures was interesting. Although I missed it, this workshop gave me an idea for a future Astro 101 assignment. More on that in a later post.
The first workshop I was able to attend was on Problems in Paranormal Investigation. After famed paranormal investigator Joe Nickell spoke (which was fun and interesting to hear), the guys from the Rocky Mountain Paranormal Research Society spoke on their punking of a claimed ghost detective. Their talk was not only interesting, but it led into some very interesting questions and discussions on the ethical boundaries paranormal skeptics must work within. Is it justifiable to lie, work undercover, or blatantly deceive an individual to gather pertinent information about a supposed paranormal occurrence? There’s not a simple answer to this question. Sometimes it may be worth fighting
fire with fire ghosts with ghosts.
The second workshop was on Skepticism in the Classroom. While most of the discussion was not directly applicable to my own teaching, I was impressed with how effective the use of simple magic tricks could be in a physics/astronomy course as a gateway for discussing the scientific method. (The intersection of magic and skepticism was a common theme at TAM—well duh given it was hosted by the James Randi Education Foundation.) It seems I may need to learn a little magic before the start of the next semester.