My husband and I went to TAM 2012 this year and have finally had a chance to settle down from our vacation following the conference. This is a short summary of the highlights and low-lights of TAM – in my opinion! Different folks will have liked/disliked other things. I welcome people to share their thoughts on what were the best/not-so-best parts of TAM in the comments.
We arrived on Tuesday too late to do much of anything but sleep off some jet lag from the eastern time zone. On Wednesday, we went to the cafe and I attempted to order a reasonable breakfast.
What America thinks a French croissant is: A carton of eggs, half a pig, and 8 pounds of cheese.
On Thursday, TAM had their workshops, which we didn’t attend, though Skeptic North’s Dianne Sousa did.
On Friday the conference started officially. Highlights for me were the SGU Live recordings, George Hrab’s individualized theme songs for each speaker, Carol Tavris’ keynote, Randi’s interview, Jamy Ian Swiss (angrying up the blood in a good way), Deidre Barrett (supernormal stimuli), Lawrence Krauss (which I can’t believe wasn’t the keynote instead of Penn & Teller, but he went long anyway so it evened out), Pamela Gay, Tim Farley (which caused a bit of an uproar on Twitter among people who were not at TAM and did not hear the full context of what was said), and Carrie Poppy. I unfortunately had to miss something I was looking forward to due to being over-tired: the Sunday morning paper presentations. Dianne assures me that they were fabulous.
The interview with Randi is something that I have only experienced once before, but feel I can safely assume is always great because it was just as fascinating as TAM7. If he had the endurance for it, I would listen to his stories for hours. This year he discussed Uri Geller’s new angle of being an “entertainer” and their previous history with each other, including the infamous interview of Geller on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
In the not-so-best category, I’d have to say that the panels were a bit of a let-down. They had a tendency to move slowly, be loosely moderated, and sometimes not quite address the topic that was listed in the program (for example, the “Future of Skepticism” panel was more like the “Present of Skepticism” panel and was a bit navel-gazing). There also didn’t seem to be a consistent format between panels, with some leaving time for audience questions and some not. The stand-out was the alternative medicine panel on Sunday, which was interesting, structured, and well-moderated by Steven Novella. The Humanities in Skepticism and Paranormal Investigation panels were also interesting, though were moderated a bit less successfully.
Oh yes, if some TAMer out there could get a hold of the DVD and make a supercut of speakers saying “could we get the slides back up, please?”, I think many TAM-goers would be very amused. The AV issues were sometimes amusingly intrusive, sometimes unfortunately interfering with aspects of the speakers talks, perhaps contributing a bit to timing issues where talks went long.
One of the major themes of TAM this year: Get out and get involved. Do something resembling anything, whether it be rating websites on WOT, writing letters, or doing some old-fashioned face-to-face investigation. (Side note: Canadians who want to do something for skepticism can visit Bad Science Watch and contact them with ideas or offers to help with current projects.)
Other highlights: An impromptu Canadian lunch, which included Skeptic North member Michael Kruse, some Canadian friends we had made over the weekend, and Dr. Joe Schwarcz of the Discovery Channel. Luckily Dianne didn’t recognize him right away and therefore wasn’t too nervous to discuss Skeptic North’s coverage of Magda Havas and her involvement in the anti-WiFi movement.
My husband and I also got to spend a lot of time “bullying” Dianne into getting all of the skeptic signatures she wanted on her ouija board.
We started big so the others would be easy.
The last TAM event, on Sunday night, was the highlight of nearly the whole conference when a gentleman was tested for the Million Dollar Challenge. He was testing another version of the power bracelets we’ve seen on the market already with applied kinesiology. It was fascinating both to see how procedures are completed to test these individuals, but also the cognitive gymnastics the person goes through to justify negative results. Amazing, indeed. Even better, later that evening we got to discuss the challenge more in depth with Jamy Ian Swiss, who couldn’t quite comprehend our masochistic desire to watch all 20 excruciating trials (the claimant stopped at 10).
But I think the best part was meeting new people and having great conversations about things like homeopathy, applied kinesiology (which turned out to be relevant to the Million Dollar Challenge), sexism, climate change, anti-WiFi, and lots of other topics:
Testing my centre of gravity.
Well, that was my highly abbreviated TAM experience. I actually “live-blogged” the whole thing, but without WiFi in the convention area I wasn’t able to share most of it and I didn’t want to be super detailed 2 weeks later when it was no longer news-worthy. If anyone wants other details, of which I have plenty (including specific questions that were asked during panels, the exact results of the Million Dollar Challenge, and some behind-the-scenes info such as meeting some of the speakers, etc), please ask in the comments. Also, any readers who have some TAM stories to share, please speak up in the comments!