Newsweek Features James Randi and The Amazing Meeting in Latest Issue

Michael Moynihan went to The Amazing Meeting and wrote a long feature in Newsweek on James Randi, skepticism, and the movement’s overlap (or not) with atheism:

The activists of TAM see themselves as waging a broad, multifront battle to drag American culture, inch by inch, away from the nonscientific and the nonlogical. This turns out to be a surprisingly uphill struggle. Probably the majority of Americans believe in some degree of what JREF’s founder, James Randi, calls “woo-woo.” (“Please use woo-woo,” he instructs me. “I’m trying to get it into extensive use.”) In 2005, for instance, Gallup found that 73 percent of Americans subscribed to at least one paranormal belief. Television personalities like John Edward earn huge audiences by purporting to commune with the dead. Numerous Americans swear by homeopathy, ingest supplements with no proven medical benefit, or believe, against all available evidence, that genetically modified organisms might transform humans into tumor-covered golems.

As an outsider, Moynihan did a nice job of picking up on the unstated themes of the conference as well as a lot of the on-topic chatter that occurs outside official conference hours. (Feminism is notably absent from his piece. As are women, period. Of all the skeptics mentioned, discussed, or quoted in the piece, I didn’t spot a single female voice… which just seems weird.)

The hardest thing to digest, even though it’s admittedly accurate, is the idea that we’re “sort of insufferable” for questioning things that people really want to believe. There’s an art to getting people to hear you out when you point out that their beliefs are silly and many of us lack that skill. Yet, we do a really good job of making people aware of the issue and helping them recognize bullshit when it’s right in front of them. Moynihan, after spending time at TAM, even writes about how he picked up on one fraudster’s tricks and counteracted them.

It’s a surprisingly balanced piece. Not bad, coming from the same magazine that had this as its cover story last October:

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