Category: JREF

TAM Australia site online!

By Phil Plait | June 17, 2010 1:40 pm

tamozlogo2On November 26-28, 2010, the very first official TAM Australia will be held in Sydney! The Aussie skeptics have put together that website to give you all the info you need on the meeting, including the current guest list and all that.

Registration starts on June 20 for members of the JREF and the Australian Skeptics, and then open to the public two weeks later.

I was in Australia for the national skeptics conference in 2004, and had just about the best time of my life. If you’ve never been, now’s your chance to kill two birds with one stone. And you can bring me back Minties.


Two skeptics meetings in Europe this fall (and one in the US)

By Phil Plait | May 27, 2010 10:39 am

If you happen to find yourself in The Old World this autumn, then you may want to attend one or both of these conferences…

1) TAM London 2010 will be October 16 – 17 in (duh) London. The speakers list is every bit as impressive as last year’s! The highlight, no doubt, will be the premier of Tim Minchin’s animated short film "Storm", which is destined to become a skeptical classic — watch the trailer here.


Before you ask, I won’t be at TAM London this year; the point is to make it Eurocentric, so American speakers are kept to a minimum. But of course, TAM 8 will be in Las Vegas this year from July 8 – 11. I’ll very much be there!

2) The 14th annual European Skeptics Conference will be from September 17 – 19 in Budapest, Hungary. That’s run by the European Council of Skeptical Organisations. I’ve heard Budapest is lovely, and someday I hope to get there.

If you’ve never been to a critical thinking conference, then you really should attend. And if you want to go to TAM, you’d better be ready to buy tickets when they become available; last year they sold out in less than an hour. There was a reason for that: it was awesome.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, JREF, Skepticism

James Randi comes out of the closet

By Phil Plait | March 22, 2010 11:00 am

James Randi — one of the founders of the modern skeptical movement, a leading rationalist, thinker, and fighter of antiscience — has made a big announcement: he’s gay.

A lot of us already knew this, although I don’t know how widespread the knowledge is. I imagine this will surprise some folks, but not others. Some may wonder why he waited this long… but he makes it clear why in both his announcement on Swift as well as in his interview with JREF President (and openly gay man) D.J. Grothe on his podcast For Good Reason. D.J.’s interview with Randi is excellent; they discuss how this molded Randi’s life, his thoughts on gay marriage, his frequent mentioning of Sophia Loren (which made me smile), and how this affects (or more accurately, does not affect) the JREF’s mission.

I found out about the announcement right before a friend came to pick me up, and I told him about it. We chatted about it for a moment, and then he asked me, "What difference will this make?"

That’s a darn good question. For me it makes no difference, and wouldn’t had I known or not before the announcement. At some level it’s always interesting to find out personal information about someone you know, or someone you respect — it’s not exactly gossip, just more info that leads to a feeling of knowing someone better. I know most people, certainly an overwhelming majority, will support Randi with this. Some won’t like it, and it may be that a lot of Randi’s detractors will delight in trying to use this against him. I look forward to watching them reap that whirlwind.

In the end, it’s a good thing for the LGBT community, because now yet another person of some stature will lend his own credibility to the movement. Just being open and comfortably gay without making a point of it will establish that this is just another of the many flavors humans come in.

So to answer my friend’s question, this won’t change Randi or the JREF. But there is still a lot of prejudice about homosexuality — and certainly a lot of that comes from "cultural conservatives" as D.J. called them — and the more we have this out in the open, the more people will be used to it. As that happens, that sense of "other" diminishes, and we learn to accept differences and diversity more easily and naturally. And that is a very good thing indeed.

I’m glad Randi has talked about this, and I’m proud of him.

Rebecca posted some nice thoughts on this, too. Picture of Randi courtesy Andy Ihnatko.


TAM 8 registration is now open!

By Phil Plait | March 2, 2010 10:14 am

Registration for The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 is now open!

Wow, what a lineup. Richard Dawkins, folks, as well as a whole passel of skeptical stars. I couldn’t help but notice I’m on that list as well. I’d better come up with a talk.


But I have a little while; TAM 8 is July 8 – 11. Maybe by then I’ll be able to open up on My Sooper Sekrit Project™. And show my tattoo!

So go and sign up. TAM 8 is the Woodstock of skepticism, and has earned that moniker. Man, it’s 5 months away and I already can’t wait!


Iraq still embracing the magic

By Phil Plait | February 23, 2010 6:02 pm

Oh, FFSMS. After countless tests showing them useless, articles about them being useless, challenges from Randi and others to prove they are not useless, and the company head arrested for suspicion of fraud because they’re useless, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki has ordered that the (useless) magic wand dowsing rod bomb-sniffers should still be utilized.


At least al-Maliki wanted them tested. Still. This angers me:

The survey, ordered by Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, found the British device, known as ADE651, generally worked. However some of the gadgets, found to be ineff­ective, would be replaced.

A government spokesman later said only 50% of the devices worked.

"Replaced?" With what, fairy dust? Unicorn horns? And I’d love to know how those tests were done. I bet it would’ve been cheaper to send a dozen of the wands to Randi and let him take a look. And if they did work, not only would Iraq get the wands back, but Randi would include a check for a million bucks which they could use to buy more of the kits.

I have to say, it’s been a good year for skeptics, but we clearly have a long way to go. Thailand and Iraq are both relying on provably worthless junk to find bombs, and what will happen instead is that those bombs will find people. Hundreds of them, thousands. That’s what happens when we turn their backs on reality and instead rely on superstition and antiscience. It’s way too late in this world to do such a thing, and when people in power do it, a lot of lives will be lost.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, JREF, Politics
MORE ABOUT: ADE651, Iraq, Randi, Thailand

Help UK libel reform

By Phil Plait | February 22, 2010 9:10 pm

I’ve written about the horrible state of libel laws in the UK before, but there are a couple of new developments:

1) Simon Singh wrote about the issue for the JREF’s Swift blog. He asks people to sign the online petition for reform, and it helps even if you’re not a UK citizen. In general I don’t support online petitions, but in this case it will have a real and important impact; they can present it personally to people who make the laws and show them this is an important issue. I signed. You should too.

2) Simon’s libel case goes before the Court of Appeal in London on Tuesday, February 23 (today for most folks reading this). No doubt the major media will be covering it, as it’s a big story. I’ll try to post something here if and when I hear anything.

You can find out more at the Libel Reform website, including how (if you’re local) you can go downtown to show support for Simon on Tuesday morning at 09:45 (here’s the location).

MORE ABOUT: Simon Singh

Two skeptical podcasts, both new and kinda new

By Phil Plait | February 15, 2010 1:39 pm

With my friend D.J. Grothe taking the helm of the JREF, the question came up with what would happen with his old podcast, Point of Inquiry, that he did for the Center for Inquiry. The solution is interesting, and doubles your skeptical outlets: D. J. is doing a new podcast for the JREF, and PoI has been handed over to some new folks… with familiar names.

First, D. J. is now podcasting for the JREF on For Good Reason, an appropriately-named ‘cast where he interviews, as usual, leading lights in critical thinking. The premier episode was with Randi hisself, the second with Daniel Loxton (who wrote a kid’s book on evolution I really liked), and the latest is a talk with Richard Dawkins. It’s a good podcast, which is no surprise! You can subscribe to it via iTunes too.

Point of Inquiry is continuing on as well, with new hosts Robert Price and my friends Karen Stollznow and Chris Mooney (who blogs here at the Hive Overmind at The Intersection). The first installment is Chris interviewing Paul Offit on the evils of the antivax movement. I have that one cued up in my iPod and I’m looking forward to listening to it when my schedule allows. I actually don’t have a lot of time to listen to podcasts, but these two are definitely on my subscription list.

If you’re a skeptic, and especially if you’re not, you should give these shows a listen. They may make you laugh, or make you angry… but they’ll definitely make you think.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience, JREF, Skepticism

Swooping in on NASA

By Phil Plait | February 12, 2010 1:30 pm

skepticalitySwoopy from Skepticality interviewed me about NASA, and the whole shebang is now live (you can also just grab the MP3).

I talked about Obama’s plan for NASA, the JREF, Pluto, Mars, my tattoo (sorry, folks, no news there), and doted on Swoopy maybe just a little because she is made of awesome and win and unicorns. She and co-host Derek run the Skeptic and Podcasting tracks at Dragon*Con, because that’s just how cool they are.

Skepticality is the original skeptical podcast, and still one of the best. You really should subscribe to it if you don’t already. And if you do, you are already smart and good-looking and likely to be President one day.

MORE ABOUT: Skepticality, Swoopy

Captain disses illusion

By Phil Plait | February 5, 2010 12:19 pm

Captain Disillusion is the reigning superhero of skepticism, and his video exploits are legendary.

Of course, he’s also a filthy liar, saying I don’t like cats:

[Shh! I have to say I like cats, because if I don’t then my cat will steal my breath in the middle of the night and kill me.]

Click through to see the rest. He’s funny. And Bolingbrook Babbler somehow caught wind of this as well, to my chagrin. Of course, it’s one of the few MSM outlets that gets quotes from me right…


NECSS registration open

By Phil Plait | February 4, 2010 12:15 pm

Just so’s you know, the NYC Skeptics and NESS are throwing a big skeptic meeting in New Yawk called the Northeast Conference on Science & Skepticism, and registration just opened. This will be a really fun event with lots of cool people like George Hrab, Jamy Ian Swiss, the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe wackos, and apparently someone named D.J. Grothe who is also apparently the President of JREF.

Oh yeah: Randi will be there too! You can see the entire speaker list here.

I really really want to go to NECSS, but I don’t know if my schedule will allow it. Be assured that if I can, I’ll let y’all know here. And if so, see you there!


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