TAM 6 Wrapup

Furry Geller

Furry Geller at work

As you all should know by now, I went to the Amazing Meeting 6 in Las Vegas last weekend. Here are a few thoughts and reactions.

The best reason to go is to meet all the different folks. Some of the highlights were connecting or reconnecting with PZ Myers, Phil Plait, Hal Bidlack, and Adam Savage.

If I have a complaint, it’s that it’s actually very difficult to connect with most of the speakers. Attendance this year was a record-breaking 900. With that many people, it’s hard to get more than a few minutes with any of them.

Of the many ordinary attendees I ran into, I did get a chance to converse with Robert Lancaster, who runs the Stop Sylvia website. I also got to talk to Comedy Jesus.

The Presentations

Here’s a brief rundown of my reactions to some of the presenters:

Neil deGrasse Tyson. Once he got rolling, he was very good. He talked about a variety of things that tick him off. My only complaint with him is that he scooted out pretty fast after his talk was over. All of the other speakers stuck around for most of the weekend, so you could talk to them if you wanted to.

Richard Saunders talked about a variety of things, but the best part was his demonstration for teachers in how to use a dowsing demonstrations to engage their students in science and critical thinking.

Penn and Teller are valuable members of the skeptical community, but their contribution to TAM 6 was low key. They just took a few questions from the audience. The more I hear Penn speak, the less I like him. His abrasive personality and extreme Libertarianism are best in (very) small doses. It’s interesting that Libertarianism is so disproportionately over-represented in the skeptical population compared with the general population. I haven’t completely figured out why.

P.Z. Myers talked about evo-devo. Although I enjoyed the talk, I would have preferred it if it had been more directly related to skepticism.

Michael Shermer talked about some ideas he has for his next book. I remember it was a very good talk; I just can’t remember any of it. I guess I’ll have to wait for the book.

Sharon Begley, Senior Editor for Newsweek, told us that we shouldn’t expect the news media to educate the general public in science and skepticism. The better ones try, but there is only so much they can do.

Steve Novella was brilliant. He’s a neurologist, host of The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, and a contributing editor to Quackwatch. He told us about some great brain research.

Phil Plait gave an excellent talk about how the universe is so darn cool, you don’t have to make up crazy things about it.

Adam Savage gave us two vivid examples of just how compulsive he is. He went to great lengths to create a complete dodo skeleton model and the world’s most accurate Maltese Falcon replica.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman is a hoot. I think he enjoyed his talk more than we did, and we enjoyed it immensely. He talked about this YouTube video of a card trick he made:


(YouTube page is here)

Then he passed out spoons, and we all participated in the world’s largest spoon-bending.

Other Stuff

During lunch on Saturday, they showed the pilot episode of The Skeptologists. It was pretty good. They investigated ghost hunting and wheat grass. If you want to know how those investigations turned out, you’ll just have to hope that the show gets picked up by one of the cable networks. My only complaint about the show is that it only has one woman among its seven hosts. Girls are very heavily socialized away from math and science in our society, and the casting of this show isn’t helping matters any.

TAM 7 will be July 9-12, 2009. I’m telling you now, so you won’t have any excuse for not going next year. (OK, Las Vegas in July is almost a good excuse.)

28 Responses to “TAM 6 Wrapup”

  1. podblack Says:

    Checked out the TANK Vodcast? Up to fifteen eps so far (included Richard Saunders, who’s presentation you admired, as the host) and two women presenters. One is Dr Karen Stollznow, the editor of the Australian Skeptic. The other is me. :)

  2. podblack Says:

    Oh – here’s a five minute preview of the TANK Vodcast, if you haven’t seen what the first season of 2008 has offered:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTz_eDUBRvs

  3. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I have the same opinion of Penn. Penn and Teller have been absolutely amazingly valuable to the skeptical community, but when they mix their skepticism with their politics, it’s a bit grating.

    I remember one of the episodes of their show Bullshit! where they tackled the issue of second hand smoke and all the smoking ban laws in various states. Neither of them smoke, but they clearly sided with “smoker’s rights.” The entire segment consisted of them interviewing this completely clueless moron who was involved in the effort in New York and problems with the evidence of how bad second hand smoke really is.

    The first (clueless moron) was 90% ad hominem attacks against the guy, which pissed me off. Penn and Teller should know better than that.

    The second was more solid and perhaps some of the health reports of how bad second hand smoke really is might be exagerrated in the media (I’m reserving judgement on that one).

    But they intentionally (or ignorantly) never mentioned the OTHER reasons for smoking bans.

    1. Those with asthma/emphazima/etc. can be affected in a very serious way by even the tiniest bit of smoke — there are, indeed, many that cannot go to certain restaurants as a result. This is why ERs always have big signs that say NO SMOKING AROUND THE ENTRANCE.
    2. The majority of people don’t like how smoke smells, how it makes their clothers smell, and find meals more enjoyable without a smoking section (which inevitably leaks into the non-smoking section).
    3. Restaurant owners do not suffer lost business as a result of not having a smoking section. In fact, they may actually benefit from higher profit due to faster turnover of tables when customers are not sitting around enjoying a post-meal smoke. (A study was carried out in my city of Raleigh before NC passed the so-called “Smoker’s Bill of Rights” which outlawed anti-smoking ordinances in invidual cities.)

    Needless to say, I was very disappointed in the segment. Afterwards, I noticed more and more that episodes of Bullshit! relied heavily on ad hominem attacks. Some of the people they covered (psychics and so on) are self-parodying, so I don’t know why they did that, but it really rubbed me the wrong way. Especially after so many years of good work on their part exposing psychic frauds (and so on) by basically doing the psychic’s thing in their magic shows and then revealing to the audience how it’s done.

  4. Ron Britton Says:

    Podblack:

    It looks good. Glad the women are represented. I’ll have to sit down and watch them all. Too bad you can’t get it onto TV. The airwaves are full of so much filth these days (psychics, anti-vaccination crazies, etc.).

  5. Ron Britton Says:

    ParrotLover:

    I agree with you. I’ve seen some of those shows, and I’ve been dubious of some of their claims. It’s interesting that a skeptical show commits some of the same crimes it rails against.

    Penn was asked if he has any blind spots. He admits that he may be too in love with libertarianism/objectivism to see it clearly. He also seemed to say that he hates Al Gore so much that he tends to have a gut reaction of rejecting everything Gore promotes. Penn doesn’t believe in global warming, but he acknowledges that just maybe there’s something to it.

  6. Nigel Says:

    You know, I agree with the fact that skeptics sometimes just find the most outlandish “psychics” and the like. However, any “psychic” that makes a name for themselves is usually an outlandish fraud, and gives people like myself who believes that there is a SMALL set of things science can’t answer (like really really small) that can be explained by mysticism and the like. But a lot of skeptic shows are better then any number of crap that Discovery runs on ghosts and the like, they’re almost like a sci-fi original picture.

  7. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Funny, I didn’t know Penn was a global warming denier. Again, odd a skeptic isn’t going with evidence but intead “gut reaction.” Well, everybody has their weak spots, I suppose. I will concede that my liberalism probably interferes with some objective analysis of certain political points without my knowing. Basically, what I mean is I’ll think a certain policy is right, but maybe it’s not “best” because I’m blinded by my personal beliefs in the way a government should be run. I think everybody does that to a degree. I just hope my blinders aren’t shielding me as much as Penn’s seem to these days. I mean, to me, global warming deniers are about as crackpottery as creationism kooks. You see, if evidence came out that all this climate change actually was the result of, say, sun spots (or whatever), or isn’t happening at all, I wouldn’t argue against it. I let the science lead me for topics I am not an expert in. The problem is that’s not where the evidence is actually leading.

    Skepticism is healthy, but there is a cynical degree where it begins to become unhealthy, I think. At some point you have to trust somebody as an expert. We can’t all be experts in every field.

  8. S. Says:

    I’m glad to see there’s a stop sylvia website.the woman is annoying,just annoying,and is such an obvious liar.I really don’t see how anyone can think she has any credibility at all.

  9. LadyRavana Says:

    I remember she once slipped up on Montel Williams, something about a firefighter that had died in September 11th…and it turned out that he had actually died in Iraq.

    I don’t remember exactly, but I think that was pretty telling, and should have exposed her for the fraud she really is.

    And plus, her smoker’s voice grates on my nerves. I think she also predicted that Elizabeth Taylor was going to die in the next year (2007, I think, she was making predictions for the coming year.)

    As far as I know, Liz Taylor is still alive and kicking. :p

  10. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I saw that on YouTube. She said she saw that he died in water and the lady revealed he was a first responder at 9/11. Despite this glaring impossible-to-rationalize mistake, she actually tells the lady she was wrong! He died in water! He has to have died in water! There’s no way the mighty Sylvia Brown could possibly be wrong…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRc4LkBRjIc

  11. S. Says:

    I’ve seen that one,and the one about where she tells a mom and dad their daughter was shot..and she wasn’t.Montel jumps in trying to rationalize the whole thing,and it just doesn’t work.You’d think she’d at least learn to stop blurting out random comments by now.
    There was another episode where she was arguing with a woman about lottery no.’s she gave her.She’s was quite the obvious liar there.
    I think the funniest one was where this lady was talking about how she saw trolls going by her window at night,and Sylvia told her that trolls are real! I was literally ROFLMAO!! OK,I guess we know where Don King got his hairstyle from now….

  12. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Sylvia has so many people hook-line-and-sinker that she doesn’t even try anymore. Her cold reading skills are getting rusty. What really burns me is that Montel Williams buys into her BS. In a lot of situations, he’s a very reasonable person who tries to do good, but giving her a platform to spread her BS was just awful. I wonder what she did to convince Montel she was real? And so real, in fact, that he rationalizes away the mistakes she makes on his show?

  13. S. Says:

    I don’t know,but I can’t help but think that if he didn’t see the truth then,he surely does now(?)And as long as it gets him the ratings…but I read the show is coming to an end soon anyway,so I wonder how Sylvia is going to keep spreading her nonsense.

    That was the funniest video you posted…she truly looked like a deer caught in the headlights!!

  14. Ron Britton Says:

    I’ve been meaning to post this for the last couple of days. While he was at TAM, Robert Lancaster took the opportunity to go see Sylvia Browne’s show at the Excalibur. You can read his description of the events on his website.

  15. Parrotlover77 Says:

    That’s brilliant! I didn’t know she was a Vegas stage “magician” act. That makes her that much less credible — as if she had ANY credibility whatsoever.

  16. S. Says:

    WTG, Robert Lancaster! That was interesting,thanks for posting.

  17. LadyRavana Says:

    PL-

    Thanks for correcting me. My memory was pretty spotty. (To say the least) Yeah, that was the story I was talking about.

    Sylvia Browne is a real piece of work. She’s as bad as some of the Fundies, preying on the weak, the vulnerable, and the grieving. It’s sickening. Although, admittedly hilarious when she messes up, and gets “caught.”

  18. Parrotlover77 Says:

    The Lancaster account of Sylvia’s Vegas show is really worth a read, if you haven’t yet, LR. Yet another fine example of how disgusting a human being she is.

  19. S. Says:

    Sylvia seemed to be trying to antagonize RL,and he didn’t fall for it.Good for him.And now,thanks to Sylvia herself,I bet ppl will visit his site. :) She would have been better off just staying quiet about him! lol.

  20. LadyRavana Says:

    PL-I’m reading it right now. Right in the middle of the story in fact.

    And…shaking my head in disgust. So far, this is what has stuck out to me the most:

    Another woman stated that doctors had given her a very short time to live, and that she had survived beyond that by many years. Browne assured her that she was a survivor, then launched into an odd story wherein she said that she (Browne) had major surgery when she was twenty-six, and the doctors had given her two years to live. She then said that she has now outlived all of those doctors, and that, when the last of those doctors was dying, she went to visit him and said “See?” This got a small laugh out of a few in the audience, but it struck me as being made up for humorous effect, and, whether true or not, seemed rather heartless.

    That callous bitch. Sylvia Browne makes me ill. I wonder what she says to cancer patients with only six months to live? Oh, you’re gonna be fine!

    I think it’s incredibly cruel to not only dupe people out of their money, it’s also cruel to give them false hope.

  21. LadyRavana Says:

    I just gotta add: I thought the exchange between Lancaster and Sylvia was great! Too funny! He didn’t even call her out on anything in public, was polite and respectful to her, and SHE resorted to childish attacks. If anything, she was the one that got “nasty.” I think RL showed a lot of class.

    *snicker* Man…I’m not even a fan, but if I’d gone to that show, the price of admission would have been worth it to see that!

  22. S. Says:

    yes,and ppl who’ve lost loved ones would be better served by trained professionals who do grief counseling;believing in God certainly isn’t required in order to gain some hold over grief.Let’s help expose ppl like Sylvia, so the world can truly benefit from the ones who KNOW how to counsel,rather throwing good money away on charlatans like her!

  23. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I know this is entirely anecdotal and non-scientific, but it seems to me that unbelievers tend to do better with grief than believers. I’ve been through quite a bit of death in my life and I truck on. I grieve like any normal human, but eventually find a good place where I can continue to live on in honor of my lost loved ones without needing to know that I will “see them again” someday. I mean, if I’m wrong about the “afterlife” and I do actually see them again when I die, great! It’s not like that’s a bad thing, just an unexpected bonus. But I’m okay with moving on and content just honoring their memory and having the same done for me when I pass.

    Whereas many “fundie” relatives of mine seem to never be able to get through much of the grief without constantly repeating that they know they’ll be able to see the lost ones again someday. And even then, it seems to take extraordinarily long to go through the stages of grief. Now of course everybody is different and there is, by no means, a timetable for this sort of stuff, but if “faith in God” is supposed to help you get through grief better (fundie relative once told me “I don’t know how anybody gets through this without God”), why doesn’t it seem to actually help them at all?

    Completely anecdotal, no evidence, nothing. Just a personal observation. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was zero correlation between grieving time / return to happiness after loss of a loved one and religious affiliation/belief, but just wanted to throw that out there as a personal observation.

  24. Sue Blue Says:

    Sylvia Browne is waste of human flesh. Vultures and hyenas exhibit more warmth and human compassion than this bottom feeder. Dung beetles shovel less shit. I can’t think of a sleazier way to make money except maybe by ripping organs out of kidnapped children and selling them on the black market.

  25. LadyRavana Says:

    Sue Blue:

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve come to loathe this woman, preying on people’s hopes, telling them what they want to hear. Her predictions are a crock of shit. I don’t know which is worse: those televangelists that promise miracles while scamming people out of their money, or people like her.

    I have to wonder, if she’s been proven a fraud, why hasn’t she been prosecuted yet? I remember several years back, that Tarot lady, Miss Cleo, got nailed. (Anyone remember her?) And the Pet Psychic lady some years back.

    I’m sure there are others. I may be leery of psychics, but I like to think that karma exists, and karma will eventually catch up to Miss Browne, and land her sorry ass in jail.

    But no. She’ll keep peddling her psychic “abilities” and no matter if it’s been proven otherwise, will have her loyal following that treat her “astounding psychic insights” like the freakin’ gospel.

    I find that incredibly depressing.

  26. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I don’t know which is worse: those televangelists that promise miracles while scamming people out of their money, or people like her.

    I don’t really see a difference between those two groups of people. lol

    I rememebr Miss Cleo got nailed, but I thought it was for something non-psychic related, like tax evasion or something. I could be completely wrong about that.

    I didn’t know the pet psychic got nailed! Good. That was the stupidest cold reader I’ve ever seen. She couldn’t quite read people well enough to make a living, so instead she just makes shit up about their pets. It’s not like Fido is going to suddenly say, “no, actually it wasn’t the lightning storm where I developed my fear of the travel cage, it was actually this time that Garfield hid in there and swiped my nose when I didn’t notice him. Thanks for trying.”

  27. Ron Britton Says:

    She didn’t even know animals that well. The show’s audience was always filled with animals and their owners. On one show, she was talking to some woman about her rabbit. The pet psychic said “Oh, he’s so happy to be here!” The woman replied “Actually, he’s really nervous about that snake over there!”

  28. Parrotlover77 Says:

    But, Ron, see what the animal meant was, although the snake is making him nervous, he’s still happy to be here and have his MIND TAKEN!!!