This July, the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) put on their 16th TAM (The Amaz!ng Meeting). For us, this was our 8th and it was every bit as enjoyable as the first one we attended in 2007. The theme this year was Skepticism and the Brain. George was once again this year’s very capable and talented master of ceremonies. He kept the talks on time and flowing along with introducing each speaker with an original limerick. While not all of the presentations were thematic, most were. Every year I look forward to TAM and catching up with old friends in Skepticism. This year, many of the friends did not attend but instead there were many “First Tammers” to get to know.
TAM is first and foremost a Skeptical event and Atheism is not a required prerequisite to attend or enjoy the conference. In the past, the organizers consciously decided to distance themselves from Atheistic discussions. This is as wrong as making it all about Atheism. In the world of Skepticism, religion is just another thing to be skeptical about just as UFOs, 911 conspiracies, ghosts, and homeopathy. It is not right to treat it differently and give it special treatment. Skepticism is about critical thinking and is more methodical than positional. Here in Tucson we have a Meetup.com group, Skeptics of Tucson. The end of our mission statement says, “We don’t advocate WHAT to think, just to THINK CRITICALLY.”
The Amazing Meeting is supported in part by Atheistic supporters such as; The American Atheists, The Ardent Atheists Podcast, and Penn Jillette. Other sponsors include: John W. Carson Foundation, Skeptics Society and Skeptic Magazine, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Australian Skeptics, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Foundation Beyond Belief, Independent Investigations Group, Institute for Science and Human Values, New York City Skeptics, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, Skeptic Ink Network, and Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Individuals that sponsored this year’s TAM include: Michael Shermer, Barbara Drescher, Edward Clint, Max Maven, Sara E. Mayhew, Greg Stikeleather, Brian Walker, and Toni Van Pelt along with many other supporters.
TAM is one of two conferences that I attend each year. The other one is the American Atheist conference. While I consider attendance at the AA conference part of my job as Regional Director for American Atheists, I attend TAM simply because I want to and I know I’ll have a great time. I enjoy hanging with like-minded Skeptics from literally around the world and there were over 32 countries represented among the 1100 or so attendees.
Our annual trip to Las Vegas and TAM is personally demanding. It has been two weeks since my last posting because it has taken till today for me to muster up enough energy to report on it. After our drive to Vegas, we hit the ground running and don’t stop for the four days of TAM. We don’t leave the South Point Hotel. I get a seat near the front and watch every presentation. That means getting out of bed and to the convention room before most everyone else. I know I’ll be missing out on sleep because the evenings and nights during the convention are also full of activity. At least for the 4 days of TAM, I’ve found that 4 or 5 hours of sleep are enough.
If you missed it or want to see them again, the presentations will available on line and on a DVD but you can see George Hrab’s opening HERE.
The conference ends right after the “Million Dollar Challenge.” This year the applicant believed that he could emit energy from his hand that could be felt by another person. The subjects of the test were screened by the applicant as sufficiently sensitive to feel the energy and there were to be 9 trials. The subject and the testers were double blinded to the testing activity. To meet the challenge, the applicant would be successful in 8 out of 9 attempts. The testing protocol and success criteria were negotiated ahead of time. After two trials and two misses, the challenger failed to demonstrate his power. In the interview after the test, the challenger claims he’ll return to take the test but he’ll have to wait for a full year according the Million Dollar Challenge policies.
On Monday after TAM, we drove home and I conducted a meeting of the Skeptics of Tucson immediately after the drive …then I slept…
If you’re in Tucson, there is no need to wait an entire year to get involved in Skepticism. Check out the multiple activities held each month by the freethinking community in Tucson, especially Skeptics of Tucson.