Before I gave my TAM 8 talk — now known as the "Don’t Be a Dick" speech — I was more nervous than I had been before a public speaking engagement since high school. Watching the video, I’m surprised that I appeared so composed. I was sweating bullets up there, and had an emotional catch in my throat several times that wasn’t so obvious in the video.
After the video, my friend Pamela Gay was waiting off stage for me. She had given an impassioned talk about "science evangelism" literally minutes before I took the stage, and I could tell she was warmly received. I’m not speaking out of school when I say she was more than a little concerned talking at a skeptic conference; as an active Christian she knew she’d receive the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism… and she did, during the meeting and since. Having her support me after my talk meant the world to me.
As we left the auditorium and went out into the hall, someone beckoned to me. I went over, and they told me that an old friend wanted very much to talk to me. Down the corridor I saw Kitty*, indeed an old friend and someone very active in the skeptical community in general and the JREF community specifically. As I approached her, to my distress, I saw she had been crying. Read More
[Note: As is obvious by the title, the article below contains mildly NSFW language.]
In July, I spoke at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 in Las Vegas. Sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation, it’s the largest meeting of critical thinkers and skeptics in the world. Unlike my usual talks about the abuse of science that I had given at previous TAMs, this time I wanted to tackle a much thornier issue: how we skeptics argue with believers of various stripes.
My first point was that we must keep in mind our goal. If it’s to change the hearts and minds of people across the world, then at least as important as what we say is how we say it. And my second point was pretty simple… but you’ll get to it around 24 minutes in. It’s obvious enough.
Here’s the video. The whole thing is about a half hour long.
I’ll admit I was pretty nervous about this talk, as I was basically telling people to be nicer. It’s hard for some people to hear a message like that, and I knew there would be backlash. There was. I have heard from quite a few people about the talk, as you might expect. They fell into three basic categories: some agreeing with me, others saying being dick has its place, and still others who misinterpreted what I was saying.
That was not a typo. My friend/part-time stalker Ashley Paramore interviewed me at TAM 8 during the "Skeptics in the Tub" after-hours get-together. So yeah, we’re in swimsuits, and she interviews me. It was my first time being interviewed in a hot tub, so that all by itself is rather exciting to me. For you, seeing me partially naked may curb that somewhat. YMMV.
The background audio is a bit loud, but it’s not too hard to hear us. The red color is due to low light conditions plus the weird lighting outside at the casino.
As usual when someone interviews me, I’m a smartass for the first few minutes, but then we get down to business: my tattoo, Bad Universe, Universe Today, Pamela Gay, and skepticism. I listened to the interview, and I have to say I pontificate an awful lot for a guy standing around in swim trunks. Still, I’m glad I got a chance to say some of that stuff. The last three minutes or so are actually rather important… they’re important issues to me, but also, I think, to the skeptic community at large. And I’ll have more to say on that subject hopefully soon.
While I was at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, attendee Scott Carnegie (from the Winnipeg Skeptics) grabbed a moment with me to ask me which of the ways the world might end would look coolest from the ground. Here’s what I said:
I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be able to actually see a comet in the sky, and know that in some amount of time, months say, it will 100% for sure and for real hit the Earth. What would happen? Riots? Panic? Or acceptance? Probably disbelief until the last minute, and then panic.
Yikes. Good thing there’s nothing out there so far that can hit us. But that day may yet come… and I hope by then we have a space program in place that can take care of it.
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.
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!