Liveblogging The Amazing Meeting 9: Friday Morning Sessions

***If you want instant updates, I suggest reading the #TAM9 Twitter feed***

Thanks to @UAJamie for the great pictures!

We’ll be providing updates on the conference all day while getting interviews with many of the speakers. Stick around and refresh the page for more info!

You can read about the Friday Morning Session here, the Friday Afternoon Session here, the Saturday Morning Session here, the Saturday Afternoon Session here, the Sunday Morning Session here, and the Sunday Afternoon Session here.

First up this morning: A live broadcast of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe (to be aired later)!

(Paraphrased) question from an audience member: What do you consider some of the wins in the skeptical community in the past year?

Response: Skeptics in Australian getting Power Balance to admit to false/misleading claims, getting Steve Novella on The Dr. Oz Show, and Charlie Sheen going crazy. All wins for the rational community.

George Hrab is singing the introduction during the Opening Ceremonies, channeling Neil Patrick Harris. (Great voice!)

Oh dear god, there’s the talking head of Sylvia Browne:

Lyric in Hrab’s song: “Make sure that your question’s a question!”

Bravo, George — that was a fantastic way to start the show :) Not often you see a standing ovation for an opening!

DJ Grothe says that attendance is a record 1652 people (including 200 students!)! Over 50% of the people are here for the first time. 40% of registrants are women.

Why are we are? DJ reminds us: “Undue credulity harms people.”

With all the awesomeness that is at TAM9, no one thought to get James Randi a stool to stand on for the podium. Then again, he wouldn’t be Randi if he used one…

Randi states that JREF may be moving to Los Angeles — more media attention available at that site, among other reasons. The old office has closed (though the Isaac Asimov library will stay open in Florida).

He reminds us of an important message: “Skepticism must never devolve into cynicism.”

Michael Shermer is up to speak about his new book, The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths

One thing we learn about Stephen Colbert (whose show Shermer was on earlier this week), he’s never out of character:

It looks like Shermer has done away with his usual PowerPoint slides, opting instead for a static image of his book/magazine while he talks. Probably for the best?

Shermer says that someone sold two shirts worn by Brad Pitt on eBay — one washed, one unwashed. Which one sold for more? Unwashed. Why? Maybe because they wanted to “essence” of Pitt, whatever that means. Why do we do things like that?

Similar question: Would you rather wear Hitler’s sweater or Mr. Rogers’ sweater? (Does it really make a difference…?)

Shermer also mentions how he has a statement ready just in case it turns out God exists:

All of this is well and good, but I wonder how much Shermer is saying in his talk that the people in this audience haven’t heard 3928423 times before. Share with us something new! Tell us something we haven’t heard before! Inspire us!

Rule for all speakers: Don’t give the TAM9 audience the same talk you would give the general public. We deserve more than that.

Next up: a panel discussion on Skepticism on TV, featuring James Randi, Richard Wiseman, Phil Plait, Joe Nickell, and MIchael Shermer. (Adam Savage of Mythbusters was going to be on this panel but he had to cancel.) It’s moderated by Sadie Crabtree.

Why on earth would they put Wiseman next to Plait? That’s just cruel…

No women on this panel. I don’t blame JREF for that, but we need to find a way to get more female skeptics in the media.

Phil Plait: It’s not that skepticism isn’t good enough for television, but producers have a very different idea of what makes for good television. They’d rather give away the JREF $1,000,000 than just put together a show where people who claim psychic powers try to win it (but always fail).

Richard Wiseman: “TV’s job isn’t to inform; it’s to get you to watch the TV program.”

James Randi: “The media is a whore… (I’m part of the media, you see.)”

Sadie Crabtree asks: How do we get skepticism on TV?

Joe Nickell: A producer once asked his boss if he could use me in a segment. The boss said (paraphrased) yes, but make sure he’s not too convincing this time.

Phil Plait: Suggesting that you’re going to test urban legends (a la Mythbusters) has a better chance of getting on air than a show that actively seeks to debunk urban legends.

Sadie Crabtree asks: Are there any bright spots to skepticism on TV?

Panel: Neil deGrasse Tyson :)

It also helps to make your own videos on YouTube and the like. You edit those yourself. You decide what gets said. It’s powerful.

Also, want to avoid getting quotemined? Cough during your remarks if you screw up. Or swear. Or speak in long sentences with lots of conjunctions. Make it so they can’t possibly edit you down any shorter.

Side note: Here’s a cool panoramic view of the audience, courtesy of @RichOrman:

Next up: Eugenie Scott to discuss the “Denialism of Climate Change and Evolution”

She mentions how the non-science side loves to quote their own scientists, which leads to this aphorism:

“For every Ph.D., there is an equal and opposite Ph.D.” (Obviously, it’s not true, but it seems to be the M.O. for the opposition.)

This is why it’s bad science when the opposition uses petitions to point out that many scientists don’t accept global warming. Even if many scientists don’t accept it, there are *far* more who do, and the petitions are misleading because (of course) they would never point this out.

I love Eugenie Scott, but once again, I’m not hearing anything I haven’t heard several times before. It’s a great talk for the general public, but it’s preaching to the choir at TAM9.

One positive note: NCSE is going to expand their reach to help protect educators against climate change denialists. They’ve already recruited a climate scientist to help with the efforts.

Next up: Lawrence Krauss on “Richard Feynman and the value of science.”

Truth: Feynman taught himself integral calculus at the age of 12. I think I was watching Duck Tales around that time.

Truth: Feynman fell in love as an undergraduate. He learned a lesson in that relationship: It doesn’t matter what people think; it matters what reality is.

Truth: Feynman had the highest physics scores of anyone applying to Princeton, but he had the lowest English scores. (He’s not perfect! There’s hope for all of us!)

A message to young people: It takes all types in science. You don’t have to be a certain kind of person to do it or contribute to scientific knowledge.

We end the talk with a video of Feynman talking about himself.

Incidentally, there was some drama with Krauss a few months ago, but it doesn’t seem to have affected interest in his talk here. No walkouts or anything of the sort.

Finally this morning, a retrospective on Project Alpha with Jamy Ian Swiss interviewing James Randi.

Project Alpha was (in short) when two magicians (Michael Edwards and Steve Shaw, better known as Banacheck) posed as psychics for a paranormal experiment. They were so good, the researchers believed their powers were real. Later on, the hoax was revealed.

Edwards and Shaw have now joined Randi on stage for the first time in nearly three decades:

We’re hearing a lot of anecdotes about how they fooled the researchers. It sounds easy to do in retrospect, but keep in mind that one slip-up could have ruined the whole plan.

This retrospective makes sense if you knew about Project Alpha beforehand, but I’ll admit to never hearing about it until about 4 minutes ago. It’s like a cast reunion for a show I never watched. It might be interesting to a handful of people, but I’m not one of them. I don’t know how many people in the audience are interested, either. That said, most of us would probably listen to James Randi tell stories all weekend, so maybe it’s all a moot point.

Time for lunch! Be back in a couple hours, when Jen McCreight will take over the blogging for a while!

The afternoon session can be read here!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Be sure to get your picture with zomgitscriss or epic fail on your part.

  • GregFromCos

    So jealous! Think I may need to plan a vacation around the next TAM.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Shermer: “Lord, I did the best I could with the tools you granted me. You gave me a brain to think skeptically and I used it accordingly. You gave me the capacity to reason and I applied it to all claims, including that of your existence.

    I look forward to Shermer applying his brain and capacity to reason to Libertarian economics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerry-Loethen/100000040629827 Jerry Loethen

    Not as good as being there but this was a great summary.  Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerry-Loethen/100000040629827 Jerry Loethen

    Not as good as being there but this was a great summary.  Thanks!

  • Bruce Hood

    Heh that cardigan thing sounds familiar! Wish I was there to bask in reflected glory. Nice pics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Macker/518709704 Brian Macker

    “This is why it’s bad science when the opposition uses petitions to point
    out that many scientists don’t accept global warming. Even if many
    scientists don’t accept it, there are *far* more who do, and the
    petitions are misleading because (of course) they would never point this
    out.”

    Yeah, they only did that because many people are arguing that there was a consensus.  Also the flip side of the coin is that most scientists could agree and be wrong.    Climatologists and the IPPC just make too many mistakes to be trusted on something as complex as climate.  Obvious and laughable mistakes like claiming that the Himalayan glaciers would melt in twenty years.

    Sure given a greater quantity of CO2 you will tend to have higher temps but how much is the question, and they don’t actually understand the overall climate system yet, despite their bravado.   The worst part is that they’ve corrupted the scientific process in their chicken little pursuit, turning it into a political not scientific method.

  • GARY GABBARD
  • Trace

    Thanks, team Hemant!

  • JohnA

    I am baffled about the comment on “climate denialists”. There are many climatologists, as well as geologists, mathematicians, physicists and statisticians who regard global warming as so much hot air.

    Clearly there are skeptics who are clearly not skeptics on some issues.

  • http://twitter.com/chivas3 Drew Mattke

    Great job posting updates, Hemant- I did kinda chuckle as your running commentary about how speakers weren’t tailoring their content to the ‘inside’ audience, you then seem to gripe about Randi reminiscing about Team Alpha, which was practically a mainstream crossover event, that you weren’t in on that. Seems the TAM organizers couldn’t win :-)


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