TAM6 – Day 3

July 6, 2008

Saturday at TAM began the same as Friday – the long, obnoxious trek to grab breakfast and back to the conference room. This time I took a tip from the prior day’s experience and claimed a seat before heading to breakfast. Even at that I was four rows back – some folks had begun claiming seats the night before (or, likely, kept them claimed at the end of the conference the previous day). Another interesting SGU live podcast and then the talks began.

Hal Bidlack brought on Michael Shermer by saying “A man who needs no introduction to this audience…” and walking off the stage (to much laughter). Shermer showed us one segment of the Skeptologists pilot before launching into a discussion of his upcoming book, “Why People Believe in Unseen Things.” I took a few notes on Type I Errors (false positives – believing something is real when it is not) and Type II Errors (false negatives – believing something is not real when it is) before fading off. His talk went on a bit longer than I could handle at that hour.

After Shermer, Newsweek senior editor Sharon Begley took the stage with a talk titled “Creationism and Other Weird Beliefs: The Role of the Press (Hint: Don’t get your hopes up.)” It was an interesting talk on how the press has been reacting to various movements (e.g., bringing in opposing views on science stories where there really is no serious science opposition). All in all, interesting although not terribly exciting.

Steven Novella
from the SGU (as well as publisher of the Neurologica and Science-Based Medicine blogs) spoke on Dualism and Creationism. He describes dualism (the idea that the mind and brain are separate entities) as neuroscience-denial and creationism as evolution-denial. As always, Steven was entertaining, well-spoken and well-prepared.

Continuing the “war” between Pharyngula and Bad Astronomy, PZ Meyers interrupted Hal’s introduction of Phil Plait with a bribe to give a humorously scathing introduction of Phil. Phil responded by commenting (to a room of atheists) that “PZ’s writing is godlike” before going on to give a tour of the solar systems from Mercury outwards. Poor Pluto got dissed again. When he got to this poor binary planet system, Phil merely said “This is Pluto. Since it’s not a planet, we don’t care” and clicked to the next slide. His final slide stated it all: The universe is cool enough without making up crap about it!

Next up, Mythbuster’s Adam Savage talked about his obsession with recreating rare items (such as a dodo bird skeleton) through sculpture in a hilarious tale about his quest to rebuild the perfect Maltese Falcon. He also discussed the Mythbusters viral videos concept, the “Plane on a Conveyor Belt” advertising debacle and then went on to show us what he and Jamie call “Explosion Porn” to uproarious laughter. Finally, he indicated he had brought 1000 of the ping-pong balls that he and Jamie used to raise a sunken ship and gave them away to anyone who wanted one (along with an autograph). Adam seems a rare celebrity – someone who loves being amongst his fans and willing to just sit and chatter with them all day long (with many, many breaks for snapshots and autographs).

Following Adam was Matthew Chapman, the great-grandson of Charles Darwin, discussing some of his experiences related to evolution (e.g., The Dover Trial) and organizing ScienceDebate2008 (which, sadly, is being ignored by both Republicans and Democrats).

Another quick auction raised a boatload more money for JREF in the form of $800 for Adam Savage’s steel-toed boots (worn an entire season of Mythbusters), $400-$2600 for signed posters from prior TAMs, and $2000 for a nice, useable set of bent silverware (in a gorgeous wooden case) from Banachek.

Richard Wiseman came up next to entertain us, talking about his upcoming 20-part BBC series on psychology, “Change Blindness” (or the psychology of magic misdirection), including outtakes from the wonderful “Color Changing Card Trick” video (it took 62 takes to film!). He brought in a guest spoon-bender – Teller! – to teach us how to do spoon-bending, then regaled us with a tale of spoon bending and an heirloom 12-place dinner setting (moral: Make sure you’re not doing it with an irreplaceable piece of art!). He finished up his talk by filming what he hopes is a world record-breaking bending of 800 spoons simultaneously. You can read about it and see the video at his new site. (I am visible in the video at 0:57, fourth table back on the left, 2nd person in.) Richard is an amazingly-dynamic person. I could listen to him talk for hours.

The day closed with a Q&A panel on the “Limits of Skepticism” consisting of Steven Novella, Ben Radford, Banachek, Adam Savage, Richard Saunders, George Hrab and James Randi. The best quote of the day, from Adam, was “The plural of anecdote is not evidence.”


One comment

  1. So, I started finishing one of my books from my undergrad evolution class and realized the author was Skeptics magazine publisher Michael Shermer. I had a hunch that he must have been at your TAM6 meeting…and he was (the one you fell asleep to hehe)! It’s an alright book if you are interested sometime…more for people who are not already full believers of evolution and that ID is crap ;-).

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