Report from TAM 7 (Part 4)
Even though you haven’t been waiting for it, this is the summary of the speakers on Saturday (July 11).
During breakfast, we got to watch another taping of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. This was notable for two things. The first was a video, which was a very funny parody of that horrible TV show Ghost Hunters. They haven’t put that video up on the web yet. Keep checking their YouTube page.
The second thing that occurred during the taping was Rebecca Watson’s wedding. You can probably find a video of that on the web somewhere.
Things officially got rolling with Michael Shermer. He talked about the need to rise above traditional left-right politics and the need to develop a more sophisticated society.
Next was Adam Savage. He told about how very early in his career he completely ruined some guy’s movie. The guy had worked at 7-11 all summer to pay for his little film and then made the mistake of asking Adam to build an ATM for the set. Adam completely botched this, which was apparently central to the movie.
Next up was a panel, Skepticism and Magic, with a bunch of magicians. They talked about whether being a magician automatically confers upon you greater skeptical skills. The consensus was no. There are several famously credulous magicians (e.g., Doug Henning).
Penn Jilette came off as much less of an asshole this year. In fact, he was probably the moral center of the panel. He said lying to a stranger is never acceptable. It bothers him when magicians don’t state strongly enough that everything they do is trickery and they don’t have psychic powers. There are some magicians who don’t make this statement and instead allow people to think what they want.
An interesting thing about that statement is it contradicts what James Randi told me at TAM 4. At that time, I had been watching Criss Angel’s TV show. (This was before I discovered he cheated, thereby losing all credibility with me.) I said to Randi that it bothered me that Criss Angel never made the statement on his show that everything was just trickery. This was important, because in some of the on-the-street reaction shots, the people were saying “You must be psychic!” and “Are you psychic?”. Randi refused to condemn this. He said it was up to each magician to decide how he wanted to do his act.
Randi may have said that because he is friends with a lot of magicians. One thing Penn has going for him is he doesn’t care whether people like him or not.
Another interesting thing to come out of this panel was Penn’s statement that it bothers him greatly that there are two lies that he tells during his own show, and that he’d love to find a way to get rid of them. He wouldn’t tell us what they were, though.
I did see his show that night. The first lie was obvious. In the introduction to the magical polyester, he said that Teller had godly powers. I couldn’t figure out what the second lie was. There were three or four statements that I thought were lies. If only one of those was, that means that I’m completely wrong on how those other tricks are done. It seems to me that a lie as part of the misdirection is OK. Does Penn consider those lies? Or is he only talking about big statements that could be construed to extend outside the act, such as Teller being a god?
After that panel ended, they presented the first of what they hope to be an annual award, the Citizen Skeptic Award. This year’s winner was Robert Lancaster.
After lunch was attorney Steve Bauer. This was one of the more interesting talks. He told us about how he worked for a year trying to wrap up Jerry Andrus’ estate and all of the wondrous things he found in Jerry’s house.
Next was another panel, this one on Skepticism and Broadcasting. They said that things aren’t as bad as they could be. In fact, Penn pointed out that there are a lot of shows on network TV right now that have skeptical characters: The Big Bang Theory, Bones, The Mentalist, House, and Numbers.
The last speaker of the day was Phil Plait, who told us why we’re not all going to die in 2012.
Next up: Sunday.