The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 Was Great Eh?

Over the past week I saw two incredible sights, the first was the Grand Canyon (pictures don’t do it justice) and the second was a gathering of over 1300 skeptics in a Las Vegas hotel. (Or was that three?)

For the past 8 years the James Randi Educational Foundation (aka the JREF)  has hosted a gathering for skeptics called The Amazing Meeting (aka TAM). Every year it has grown in popularity to the point where it is now the biggest, and dare I say most important, skeptical meeting of the year. This year was the first year to also benefit from the participation of the United States’ other two national skeptical organization CSI (formerly CSICOP) and the Skeptics Society.

This was the third year in a row that I have attended TAM. Like each year before it I had a blast attending interesting lectures and panels, getting my picture taken with skepticalcelebrities“, meeting new people, and catching up with friends I met online or at previous TAMs.

The purpose of this post is to share my experience of TAM8 and hear from other Canadians (or Canuckophiles) about their experiences. If you couldn’t make it this year, what did you miss the most?

I know that there were a lot of Canadians at TAM this year, I saw a good number of them at the meetup in one of the Casino’s bars. People were also constantly discussing how Canada seemed to be over represented (statistically speaking), yay!

My personal highlights from this year’s TAMs were:

  • Being able to meet Simon Singh and thank him for Trick or Treatment, a book that somehow made a family member of mine give up homeopathy. He also gave a great talk about his case with the BCA and his efforts to amend British libel laws, this rightly deserved him a standing ovation.
  • The global warming panel on Sunday morning was very educational. Global warming is an issue that has unnecessarily divided people in the skeptical movement. I thought that panel’s supporters of the AGW theory (like Canada’s Daniel Loxton) did a great job supporting the case for global warming.
  • Learning to juggle with Joe Nickell. He didn’t teach me, he was just standing next to me at the juggling workshop with me for a couple hours trying to keep 3 balls in the air. Sorry Joe for constantly (but accidentally) throwing my balls at you!
  • Meeting Carol Tavris, the co-author of Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me. This book is a must read for not just skeptics, but everyone. It is the only book that I have forced nearly everyone in my family to read.
  • Steve Cuno’s presentation on how to influence people. It’s his third year in a row giving a talk about skepticism and marketing and never fails to be one of the best talks of the show. Choice quote: “You don’t turn a light on in someone’s head by using a baseball bat.”
  • Meeting Canadian skeptics for the first time like the guys behind the new Canadian skeptic web comic The Placebo Effect and Skeptic North’s very own Ethan Clow from Radio Freethinker.
  • Recording a live session of my podcast The Reality Check. Unlike fellow Canadian podcasters Desiree and Ethan, my show is not usually recorded in front of a live audience, so this was a special treat. On Friday night we not only recorded in front of a live studio audience (just like Family Matters) but we were also joined by the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe’s Jay Novella. And look! It’s already available for download, how did that happen?

Another interesting phenomenon at the show was there was more serious chatter about hosting a similar event in Canada. The JREF is about to host their second TAM in London and their first in Australia. Why not Canada?

As a start I think it would help if various cities were to organize SkepiCamps. These are one day conferences organized by ordinary skeptics with talks contributed by ordinary skeptics. Vancouver has already hosted what I’ve heard was a very successful event this year and it looks like Edmonton has one on the way. And if I have my way, Ottawa will have one in the near future too.

What do people want from a future Canadian meetup? Which cities would you like to see host a SkeptiCamp? Should we work to get existing conventions like Toronto’s FanExpo to include a skeptic track (like the one at Dragon*Con)? Can we dare to dream about a TAM Canada?

Share your thoughts about TAM past and future :)

6 Responses to “The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 Was Great Eh?”

  1. xinit0 says:

    I’ve been talking about a real convention like that in Canada with Desiree and others… I think I’ll try a Skepticamp in Toronto FIRST and screw things up there first, before going for something bigger and scarier.

  2. PharmacistScott says:

    London and Australia work because they’re far enough away from Vegas to draw from a different population. My hypothesis is we’re too close to the States to draw a large audience to a Canadian event. More Skepticamps may be the best approach to support Canadian skepticism. At a minimum they could build more grassroots networking and local collaboration, which might support larger Canadian events in the future.

  3. Kim Hebert says:

    There are sci-fi cons around Canada. Perhaps we could get in a skeptic track at one of them, much like Dragon*Con and others, as a first step in building to a bigger Canadian con in the future. For example, there’s HalCon 2010 in Halifax this October. Too late to get in on that now, perhaps, but maybe in the future.

  4. @PharmacistScott: Agreed. Skepticamps will be a good start in order to gauge Canadian skepticism interest. They’re a lot cheaper to get started so if it turns out no one is interested, we don’t lose too much. It will also help give the organizers some experience, which is quite valuable.

    The fact that TAM Vegas is so accessible to Canadians is a good point. IIRC, I talked with DJ Grothe about this in an interview for my podcast recorded at TAM (should be available next week). Our TAM may not be as big as TAM London or TAMoz, but there may be a good chunk of people that would still come. If it’s held in Ontario or Quebec we could also draw a lot of people for the North Eastern states.

    Another possibility is that we can make it a unique event, one that even people in California would want to attend. Anyone up for “Skeptics on the Slopes”?

    @Kim:
    Yup, I mentioned that, great minds think… the same. I thought of FanExpo in Toronto. You may know of more cons like HalCon that I never heard of. Any other ones we could go after?

    Dragon*Con seemed like a good one since it’s already designed to have “tracks”. Do Canadian cons have something similar?

  5. I had a quick conversation with one of the content organizers for Polaris and suggested a skeptic track like at Dragon Con – she recognised the model, and I think they have similar structure at Polaris – and she sounded as interested as she could be, given the event is happening this weekend and she must be swamped with work. I will let you know how it turns out.

    The skepticamp model is a great one, and CASS had discussed piggy-backing on existing conferences, like the fan expo’s , as a way to share organization and budgeting. I think both are certainly good models. I am going to DragonCon this year to see what is involved and their experiences down there……

  6. I asked D.J. Grothe about the possibility of TAM Toronto in a video I did with him, you can see it here…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmFXesG6wnY&feature=player_embedded

    Winnipeg is organizing a SkeptiCamp for this October

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  • Jonathan Abrams

    Jonathan Abrams is the latest founder and president of the Ottawa Skeptics. He organizes local events, makes media appearances as the token skeptic, and is one of the website maintainers. He is the host of the skepticism podcast The Reality Check. When he’s not thinking about science and skepticism, he’s working as a computer engineer, playing pinball, or doing the dishes.