Thoughts on TAM 5.5

By Phil Plait | January 29, 2008 12:10 pm

I was going to make a long post about my thoughts of The Amaz!ng Meeting 5.5, a conference about activism and skepticism, but others have already made lots of interesting comments (NPR radio host Peter Sagal also has comments on TAM 5, where he spoke last year). For example, Skepchick has several bloggers who attended and wrote about it.

There are lots of pix posted from the meeting; a thread on Randi’s forum is devoted to them. Rebecca has some photos posted on her Flickr account, including the one on the left. That’s Rebecca on the right, and Alison Smith, who does volunteer work at Randi’s Foundation, on the left.

See? Being a skeptic ain’t all that bad.

But I want to add some things. I was asked to MC, which is always an honor. I introduced the speakers, and made wrap-up comments after each one as well. That’s both fun and enlightening; it can be difficult to come up with just a few sentences that both convey and add to the previous speaker’s message and leads into the next speaker as well.

But just some personal observations:

1) Kelly Jolkowski was the first speaker. Her son was abducted many years ago, and she was preyed upon by psychics trying to help her find him. She was a believer at first, but learned that these people are the scum of the Earth (worse than doomsayers, even). She started the website Project Jason to help others who have been the victims of such evilness. Her talk on psychic predators was heart-breaking, uplifting, encouraging, and inspiring. It makes me want to double, triple, my efforts in getting people to think critically. Kelly is a wonderful woman, and I feel awful that I mispronounced her name at first. :-)

2) Mike Stackpole was as awesome as I expected. he gave good, firm advice on how to actually go out and be active in skepticism. I took plenty of notes, and I plan on implementing them.

3) The other speakers were great. Not a sour note in the bunch, and all of it was incredibly motivating and wonderful. From 9-11 Truthers to Sylvia Browne, from skeptical podcasting to mainstream radio, the discussions were interesting, fun, and exceptionally cool. If you read my site, and like it at all, then you MUST attend TAM6 in Vegas in June. We’ll have lots more great speakers and fun activities there.

There’s still so much to do, so many things we need to help others about. What TAM does for me, as I’ve said many times, is breathe new life into me. It gives me the motivation I need to continue on this journey, which is fraught with frauds, liars, hoaxers, well-meaning but misguided people, and of course hundreds of millions of people who are all too willing — and sometimes even eager — to give them their say.

We must fight this. We will fight this, and the fight will be ongoing and no doubt infinite in length. But it will be fought.

Comments (36)

  1. Richard

    Mike Stackpole…favorite star wars author..>_> I know I’m a geek.

  2. Yoshi_3up

    Seems that you had a lot of fun there. If I only lived in the USA, I would have went there, and I would go to TAM6, only if tickets to Las Vegas weren’t so damn expensive.

  3. Cid

    Stackpole is the greatest Star Wars Author. Fact.

  4. Michelle

    Unfortunately…. It would cost me a *fortune* to go to TAM6. The kind a 24 years old girl like me can’t pay. Darnit I’d love to go!

    Oh well, I’ll just settle on the DVDs instead.

  5. Michael Lonergan

    I honestly do not know how some of these so called psychics get away with what they do. I was dismayed to hear about the family of Steve Irwin having a private audience with John Edward. These people are like vultures. My own journey has taken me from the “charismatic” and evangelical movement, where many of the same tactics these “psychics” use are employed, we just called it “prophecy.” I was quite good at it, and it is really quite simple to do. Especially, if like me, you like to observe people. You pick up clues and body language. Anyway, thanks for being a voice of reason in a sometimes insane world. I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog and learning from all that contribute. Keep up the awesome work!

  6. Quiet_Desperation

    We must fight this. We will fight this, and the fight will be ongoing and no doubt infinite in length. But it will be fought.

    No! Not this week! Bad week for actiskepticism!

    You see Jupiter is currently retrograde in Ophiuchus, Mars has entered Capcom and Venus is in the seventh duplex. Upstairs, I think. With the Moon. Some sort of astrological hanky panky.

    But seriously…

    I don’t know how you maintain any hope. The world just seems to get worse every day. And it isn’t just metaphysics and religion. People are getting so ideological in their politics I can’t even discuss current events with friends and coworkers anymore.

    I remember recently saying to someone that one of the few things Bush got right was that Social Security needs a major overhaul. This person’s response was, “Yeah, well *your* expensive war in Iraq will make that hard.”

    And this is someone who *knows* I don’t like Bush and opposed the Iraq war. How does one even respond to that? It’s mental illness. It’s exotoxic memes utterly in control of people’s minds. And this is becoming more and more common. It’s the “think of the children” gambit on megadoses of acid.

    It’s the reduction of the world by broken minds to complete monochromality. Christian versus non-Christian. Muslim versus non-Muslim. Liberal versus non-liberal. Conservative versus non-conservative. False dichotomies litter the landscape as far as the eye can see.

    And if you’re like me, someone who tries to look at issues without the coloration of some fixed ideology, people stare at you like *you* are nuts, and then pigeonhole you anyway into one category or another.

    I’ve personally steered about nine people away from Sylvia Browne. It wasn’t that hard. But I have never been able to get a person to see past their political ideology in other than one case, and that too *years*. The very idea that they don’t *need* an ideology is utterly alien to most people.

  7. Looks like fun; sorry I missed it.

    If I had known that astronomers got Teh Hawt Bab3z0rz like that, I would never have changed majors to computer science… :-)

  8. One Eyed Jack

    Each time I come across a reference to Kelly Jolkowski I’m both saddened and uplifted. Saddened because of her loss and uplifted by the good that came out of it.

    I’m immediately drawn to the thought of her appearing on Montel. I don’t think that worm of a man would have the brass to have her on his show. Considering his track record, how would he deal with confronting the consequences of his ratings pandering?

    OEJ

  9. QD, yeah who whould have thought we would miss the commies, who united us in our hatred for them…

  10. I really need to try to get to TAM this year.

  11. janes'_kid

    Off topic I know but us non-astronomers who lurk here need a primer on falling spy satellites or a link to a primer on falling spy satellites.

  12. Lledowyn

    @Berry
    They might have Teh Hawt Bab3z0rz, but they are sorely lacking on Teh Jobz0rz. :(

  13. @Michelle

    “Unfortunately…. It would cost me a *fortune* to go to TAM6. The kind a 24 years old girl like me can’t pay. Darnit I’d love to go!”

    If funds are tight for you, look into assistance from the James Randi Educational Foundation. There is often “scholarship” funding that TAMsters put together to help those for whom attending is a financial hardship.

    Unless, of course, you live in Ouagadougou, then you’re probably stuck with the DVD.

  14. QD, I feel your pain. More and more, people feel they have to line up on the right (or left) side of a long list of issues, and that someone who disagrees even on one of those issues is an enemy and is on the “other side.” I can’t count the number of liberals who think I’m a reactionary and conservatives who think I’m a socialist. It doesn’t occur to them that those terms are, at best, points on a spectrum, and that a person is not necessarily inconsistent if they take one from column A and two from column B.

  15. Wayne

    I’d like to echo the lament that labels and pidgin-holing really stops the dialog and only serves the political ends of further dividing us. It’s amazing how much people actually have in common when they take time to exchange ideas and find common ground. It’s sad that people like Glenn Beck talk about this all the time, but get vilified anyway just because they’re behind the curve on their understanding of Global Warming (or whatever). Next time you feel like going after someone for saying something you don’t agree with, try to find something you DO agree on before you decide you know everything about them. We have more in common than most people seem to believe.

  16. Pat

    I remember an argument I had with a friend, who insisted that the “Fingerprints of the Gods” Graham Hancock was right in his documentary, and I was close-minded. I asked him to watch it again, and see who claimed the language of the high ground of absolute certainty: the scientists and anthropologists, or Graham.

    Success. He apologized later for calling me closed-minded, having seen that the scientists, to a person, had said “it seems,” “we think” and “the best data we have suggests” to Graham Hancock’s “it looks like so it must be.”

    No amount of shouting or cajoling or mocking would have done that.

    Sometimes patience and persistence are the best tools for reason. Keep showing folks cold reading techniques. Keep putting out the lists of standard excuses for failure of psychic predictions. Keep track of the yearly forecasts of famous charlatans and archive them along with scoring of who got what right or wrong.

    Being able to forecast and predict the behavior of failed forecasters and predictionists is sometimes the best way to beat them at their own game. And be aware that no political bent has cornered the market on magical thinking, be it a new-age Reiki practitioner drinking homeopathic remedies or a devout faith healer on a pilgirimage to see a tortilla.

  17. Quiet_Desperation

    Pieter Kok: QD, yeah who whould have thought we would miss the commies, who united us in our hatred for them…

    Well, I prefer a common *goal* rather than a common enemy, but at this point I’ll take what I can get.

    Wayne: I’d like to echo the lament that labels and pidgin-holing really stops the dialog and only serves the political ends of further dividing us.

    A more atypical one I ran into:

    I saw a picture in the paper last year from a trial for a man just convicted of murder. Pretty much cut and dry case. Now, I’m generally Mr. Law and Order when it comes to something like murder (but ambivalent about the death penalty), but I saw something in the picture that really got to me. It was the defendant listening to the verdict. The expression on his face was that of an utterly broken man. His eyes were just devoid of humanity and you could almost see the reflection of the abyss there. His life story was one of endless mistakes- from the time he was born, through a childhood with horrific parents and afterward when he was old enough to start making his own stupid mistakes until he made the stupidest one of all.

    Now, in my mind he must still pay for his crime (IMHO, life in prison, no parole). But I really felt bad that our society could produce such a broken man. I dared mention to someone that I sort of felt bad for the guy, and the response was (sarcastically) “Oh, well, let’s just let him go and forget about the victim.”

    This someone who made the comment was my own sister, who has known me for 40+ years, and has NEVER known me to anywhere even CLOSE a soft on crime type. I just stared at her.

    Wayne: It’s sad that people like Glenn Beck talk about this all the time, but get vilified anyway just because they’re behind the curve on their understanding of Global Warming (or whatever).

    Eh, I have no opinion on Glen Beck or any other infotainer, but similar things have happened here. Ron Paul had a difference of opinion on a Constitutional issue, and he’s declared a “theocrat” in skeptical circles. WTF???

    Sweet Feathery Bouncing Baby Jesus, at least the man remembers there *is* a Constitution and is willing to debate finer points about it in public and in front of a camera. This sort of response is what drives politicians deeper into their reality distortion bubbles.

    Michelle: Unfortunately…. It would cost me a *fortune* to go to TAM6. The kind a 24 years old girl like me can’t pay. Darnit I’d love to go!

    Maybe some kind sugar daddy will take you. :-) I’m a SWM, 42, gainfully employed in the space communications field and, well, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? My FICO credit score is 850. It doesn’t get higher than that. :-) I’m just sayin…

  18. Michael Lonergan

    QD, you beat me to it with Michelle :) Maybe BA has a new opportunity for making money, “The BA Matchmaking Co.”

  19. Michael Lonergan

    Arghhhhhh! I’m still getting some weird message about posting. Does anyone else have the Captcha thing where you have to enter a code to post?

  20. Great pic you skeptic stud you!
    Keep up the good work and hope to meet you at TAM6.

  21. Quiet Desperation

    QD, you beat me to it with Michelle :) Maybe BA has a new opportunity for making money, “The BA Matchmaking Co.”

    Ah, I’m just flirtin’

    It really is 850, though. :)

    Maybe skeptic_match.com? critical_thinking_and_dating.com?

    the_dating_delusion.org? Ha ha! I crack me up! Dawkins humor!

  22. Michael Lonergan

    QD, “The Dating Delusion” – KACHING!!!! You win hands down!

  23. a.real.girl

    QD & Michael- I think the Infidel Guy already has something like that…freethinkdating.com, or something.

    But, you keep going with your bad selves, because perhaps Michelle will get to TAM 6, and we need every chick we can get!

    geek grrl power!!!

  24. Michael Lonergan

    QD, I think we’ve been PWN’d!

  25. Falyne

    Just commenting to join the chorus of Stackpolian Star Wars fans/dorks. :-D

  26. Michael Lonergan

    Falyne, “May the Force be with you!”

  27. Quiet Desperation

    I am unpwnable. Or is that unknowable? Unpossible? The alpha and omega?

  28. Michael Lonergan

    I am man hear me burp…

  29. madge

    OK I’m a 46 year old Mum of two who would REALLY love to go to TAM6 next year but also can’t afford it…..any offers? :)

  30. Michael Lonergan

    :) Are you asking, Madge?

  31. “There’s still so much to do, so many things we need to help others about. What TAM does for me, as I’ve said many times, is breathe new life into me. It gives me the motivation I need to continue on this journey, which is fraught with frauds, liars, hoaxers, well-meaning but misguided people, and of course hundreds of millions of people who are all too willing — and sometimes even eager — to give them their say.”

    For some reason the irony cracks me up that at your core, you’re no different than the evangelicals out there promoting their cause. :)

  32. Just Al

    Um, okay, I’m a 42 yo male trying to get to TAM as well, couldn’t even make Florida this year though it’s a lot closer. Any geek grrl power takers?

    I probably should mention that I have a girlfriend, so no for-realsies, just betend.

    [Just to help this thread get completely out of hand ;-) ]

  33. Hey, Phil, thanks for the props here and on my site as well. Obviously, I had a wonderful time last year, and hope to see you all again. Why? Because skeptics are sexy. And because I enjoy being mistaken for you by stoned conference goers.

    Your fellow bald guy in a purple shirt,

    Peter

  34. madge

    ;) @ Michael….LOL, did I mention that I am VERY married and also far far away in the UK! I was just fishing…..SOZ :(

  35. You guys are killin’ me with all this dating stuff…

    Seriously I hope to get to one of these AM’s one of these days… They sound like a blast!

  36. taiki

    Tell james to lower the price for us broke ass college students. *asdf980#$(*)*(!@#

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