The Most Amazing Meeting

July 27, 2009

Photo by Fred Bremmer

Magic and Skepticism panel featuring James Randi, Penn & Teller, Ray Hyman and Jamy Ian Swiss

A couple weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending THE AMAZ!NG MEETING in Las Vegas, the annual critical thinking convention put on by the James Randi Educational Foundation. As I've told many of my colleagues at CFI and many of my skeptic friends since, TAM is easily the best convention of its kind anywhere. Why? Well, among other things, TAM excels at coalition-building, fostering community, and putting on a great program.

Skeptical Coalitions

TAM has become a convention for skeptics of all stripes: skeptics of religion and skeptics of the paranormal. Skeptics of alt med and skeptics of conspiracy theories. There were even a few skeptics of skepticism (of the knee-jerk variety).

With over one thousand attendees this year, I think TAM has become the annual mecca for science boosters and science teachers, secular humanists and religious humanists, atheists, agnostics, and ignostics, deists, rationalists freethinkers and nullifidians, and on and on. It's the place where all the local and national skeptical organizations come together and build coalitions around the common goal of advancing a critical, skeptical and scientific approach in society. Dozens of local skeptical groups were represented (including many of the Centers for Inquiry from around North America, and especially the Skeptics in the Pub crowd, as the all-nighters in the Del Mar bar in the hotel evinced). And of course the national skeptical organizations such as CFI, Michael Shermer's Skeptical Society, and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry were also officially represented on the program. Additionally, nearly all of the skeptical and many of the humanist and atheist podcasts were present, with many recording episodes right during the convention.

Most exciting to me was to see how the many citizen-skeptic projects were recognized and given a platform. These include things like the SkeptiCamps started by Reed Esau and the web-based projects What's The Harm? started by Tim Farley and Robert Lancaster's site devoted to exposing psychic medium Sylvia Brown. (Lancaster, who is suffering from health problems, was honored with an award during the convention.)

Community

TAM is not just a critical thinking convention. It is a community of skeptical people who like liking each other.

I've been to innumerable skeptical and humanist meetings and conferences all over the world. And at TAM more than any other -- honestly -- you could really feel the skeptical love. This community is warm and inclusive, and celebrates its existence. TAM is a gigantic party for people who love being skeptics. It's not just for the crotchety sourpusses who feel weary of how gullible the world is. The folks who attend TAM don't only come to hear lectures by well-known skeptics decrying superstition and religion. They come to enjoy time with one another.

Fun Programming

While the schedule was light on public policy discussion and activist training, it was heavy on entertainment value and celebrations of skepticism as a way of life. We were treated to a retrospective of James Randi's life in magic (did you know he once toured with Alice Cooper?), panel discussions featuring TV writers and producers talking about skepticism in the media, and a beautiful memorial of sorts for magician and skeptic Jerry Andrus, among other sessions. I enjoyed moderating a panel discussion on the intersection of magic and skepticism that featured Penn and Teller, James Randi, Jamy Ian Swiss, and Ray Hyman.

Sid and Rebecca getting married

Sid and Rebecca's marriage at TAM7.

And there was even a surprise wedding on stage: the fabulous Rebecca Watson and Sid Rodrigues tied the knot, with over a thousand skeptics in the audience forever holding their peace.

There were also a number of skepticism workshops before the official convention began (to list just a couple: leading paranormal investigator Joe Nickel led a workshop on how to conduct skeptical investigations, and magician Jamy Ian Swiss and I did a workshop on the role of magicians in the history of the scientific research of the paranormal.)

Plan on TAM Next Year!

When I was a teenager and involved in a glorious cult called the Worldwide Church of God, in addition to tithing ten percent of my income to help bankroll church operations, I was taught to save another ten percent of my income to pay for my attendance of the church's annual fall conference. I'd suggest to all my skeptic friends to start saving now to attend next year's TAM, and I promise you'll get more out of this nonreligious conclave than I ever got out of my church conventions as a teen.

Comments:

#1 bigjohn756 (Guest) on Tuesday July 28, 2009 at 7:07pm

Really, DJ? You were not impressed with your stay in lovely Big Sandy? Every time I drive through there on my way to Dallas I try to remember to notice it. Now that I know that it was a part of your life it will have some meaning for me.

#2 onionigirl on Wednesday July 29, 2009 at 12:26pm

Nice summary of TAM7!  But you forgot to mention your role in the proceedings moderating a panel that included Penn, Teller, and Jamie Ian Swiss!

#3 onionigirl on Wednesday July 29, 2009 at 12:27pm

Oh wait, you did mention it.  Whoops.  You just buried it in the middle of a paragraph.  Well, good job moderating and it was good to see you there!

#4 Surveillance (Guest) on Wednesday August 12, 2009 at 10:32am

My Girlfreind is the most amazing loving women i ever met, but the problme there always problmes?!!!?
Surveillance

#5 julianna on Friday August 14, 2009 at 1:42pm

Minutes do not have to be amazing, nor are they expected to be. Good minutes for any type of meeting should be concise and factual. They are a form of recordkeeping, not entertainment. Stick to the facts and you should be fine.Dining Chair

#6 education (Guest) on Tuesday August 18, 2009 at 5:05am

Hi , Thanks for provide information.MBA core business school stands for Master in Business Administration. This is most popular course in all over India and across the world.

#7 Online universities (Guest) on Monday August 24, 2009 at 1:45am

Opportunity is a powerful idea.  It reveals a sense of chance and possibility, but there’s so much more inherent in the notion of an opportunity.  The power of creating opportunities is at the core of William Paterson University’s purpose…Online universities

#8 makrbd on Wednesday August 26, 2009 at 1:36am

It was a great experience, @Surveillance what was the problem which is always with you hanging up? insurance quote

#9 education (Guest) on Thursday August 27, 2009 at 5:31am

Hi , Thanks for providing information .

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.