TAM Australia wrap up

The post conference high is beginning to wear off and life starts to get back to a normal routine again.

For those Victorian Skeptics lucky enough to go to The Amazing Meeting the experience was quite amazing – and as a skeptic; it’s not easy to say that.

(If you’d just like to see a nice slide show of photos from TAM Oz and you don’t much care to read a summary – skip to here)

Expectations were high: so many big name skeptics where on the bill. Would it work?  Such a lot happened it’s difficult to summarize.  I’ll just mention some highlights in no particular order.

My favorite session was one that had to be put together quickly to fill in for a speaker who couldn’t make it – the twitter quiz.  Rebecca Watson quickly researched some questions. A panel of experts, mainly from the SGU, were pitted against the audience in a race to give the correct answer first.  The panel had the advantage of being able to answer directly into the microphones whilst the audience had to post the answer to twitter using the #TAMQuiz hashtag.  Audience answers were displayed real-time on the big screens.  What ensued was glorious, hilarious mayhem that left the audience with sore stomach muscles from laughing.  For instance, in answer to the question:

What is the second most dangerous animal in Australia?  The following tweets zipped across the screen for all to see: sheep, emu, BBQ duck, oranges, a cowshark, Tony Abbot, Zombies, Yahoo Serious, Meryl Dorey, Ray Comfort (about 10 times) Russell Crowe (about 10 times) and my favorite Koalas with guns.

(The answer is a cow – you know, due to car accidents)

At one point George Hrab made a joke comment, I don’t recall exactly what was said, he implied something about hanky panky at TAM Vegas.  The following tweets appeared to much laughter: it just got weird, Eww, Are you my dad?, DAD!!, I am Geo’s love child.

Many thanks to Rebecca Watson for putting on the quiz. It was definitely a big highlight –  and apparently Rebecca’s middle name is: Jane, Annette, Mary, Awesome, Middle, Man-killer and Goddess.

Three of the key people responsible for starting the Australian Skeptics in 1980 were present at TAMOz: Dick Smith, James Randi and Mark Plummer.

Dick Smith and James Randi held everyone fascinated for an hour as they spoke about the early dowsing tests that first brought James Randi to Australia.  James Randi also spoke at length about the “Carlos” affair.  It felt like a great honor to see these guys together again discussing the beginnings of the Australian Skeptics.

Brian Dunning showed how difficult it can be to identify naturally occurring sounds. Some deep ocean sounds have simply never been identified.  Sounds that have a perfectly rational explanation can also be perceived as creepy and bizarre.

Loretta Marron updated us with her battles against cancer quacks and their remedies.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki gave us a whirlwind look at Skeptical moments in history.

Dr Krissy Wilson talked about the psychology of belief and how really none of us can claim to be completely rational.

Dr Fred Watson showed us some amazing images from Saturn and its moons.  I recall one image showed that lakes are present on the surface of Titan.

Dr Simon Singh spoke about his book “Trick or Treatment?”.  In addition, he spoke about the effects of a libel action on his personal life and the on-going problem other writers and scientists have with the libel laws in the UK, noting that the issue also extends to Australia.

Pamela Gay gave an inspirational talk about how anyone can become involved with astronomy.  She spoke about the web project “Galaxy Zoo” which asks anyone with an internet connection to help classify galaxies.  This project can help answer some important questions such as “is the universe the same (homogenous) in every direction?”.  Some startling things have come out of the galaxy zoo project, including new classes of galaxies, one of which arose from a pun about green peas.

Dr Eugenie Scott talked about the development and history of the creationist movement in the US, Australia and many other countries.  She also highlighted to what extent creationist views are held by the public across the world.

John Smyrk spoke about Management Pseudoscience, how adoption of unproven management tools, (an example is the Myers-Briggs personality test which the majority of people in attendance had taken) can actually have a negative effect on your business.

Dr Rob Morrison (of “The Curiosity Show” fame) showed baffling optical illusions that once again showed no one is beyond being fooled.

Our host for the weekend Paul Willis (of ABC’s Catalyst) demonstrated why we know birds evolved from a subset of dinosaurs by pulling apart a BBQ duck on stage and discussing the bone structure.

Richard Saunders demonstrated how the tests used to market silicone wrist bands are just simple tricks.  Richard also discussed the predictions of Australia’s best psychics from January this year and showed how wrong they have been and which big news events they’ve missed i.e. all big news stories this year have been missed by the psychics Richard featured, but no one in the media looks back to check psychic performance.

So many other great events were on offer.  Discussion panels about science based medicine, the paranormal, Skeptical

Julian Morrow

Activism, Entertainment, Skepticism and the Law, Education and the Media.  The Skeptics Guide to the Universe did their podcast live. Simon Taylor put on one of his magic shows. The Skeptic Zone did their podcast live. There were plenty of opportunities to socialize at an SGU dinner and during a cruise of Sydney Harbour;  not to  mention  the many TAMOz fringe events that took place along side the main event (some of which are still to take place in Melbourne.)

What was your best TAM Oz moment? Please comment below.

A huge thanks the hardworking organizers, Richard Saunders, Dr Rachael Dunlop, Joanne Benhamu and Eran Segev (sorry if I’ve missed anyone).

[Update: I’m very sorry I neglected to mention Tim Mendham, as you can see from the comments below Tim’s fellow organizers think highly of him, so many thanks also to Tim.]

It was wonderful to be in the company of so many fellow skeptics.  In life there are so many pressures (family, media, commercial, religion) to conform and accept non-scientific and irrational beliefs and ideas.  And those powerful interests often work to marginalize skeptics. Being a skeptic often feels like a lonely pursuit, however, just for a while, during TAMOz, hilarity, fun and rational thinking ruled.  Roll on TAMOz II.


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7 Responses to TAM Australia wrap up

  1. Terry Kelly says:

    I loved seeing simon Taylor be a bit of a cheeky scene stealer seeing as we sponsored his first show last year and lobbied to get him in to TAM after he wasn’t on the original program. He wanted to “give something back” to the skeptics so good on him.
    Krissy wilson – not enough time
    Dr Karl.
    Rebecca Watson.
    Randi and Dick Smith’s chat.
    Simon Singh, an inspiration.
    I enjoyed seeing YAS and the University Free Thought Alliance so involved.

  2. Mick Vagg says:

    I agree…the quiz was my favourite bit of the weekend because it was lighthearted, hilarious and allowed the audience to be the stars ! It was a gamble which paid off really well. The rest of the weekend was of superb quality and I think it has been great for skepticism in Australia to do this type of meeting and prove to ourselves that we can have inspiring and awesome meetings as well as anyone else can !

  3. DrRachie says:

    Tim Mendham was also on the organising committee. He will be very upset if he does not get a mention (he’s a moody journo…)

  4. Joanne Benhamu says:

    Thanks for the lovely post. It is delightful to see how much people took away from the experience. I just wanted to mention our Executive Officer Tim Mendham who is also one of the organisers and did an absolutely fantastic job!

  5. malvickers says:

    Hi Jo and Dr Rachie, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and for setting me straight. I’ve updated the post, hopefully with enough due deference to Tim.

  6. Terry Kelly says:

    I would also like to plug the presentation by John Smyrk on Management Pseudoscience. Without the high profile whizzbang wow factor of some of the other presentations, I thought he was just as good. In fact he had a really hard act to follow and didn’t even try to compete – he just did his thorough, clear, low key presentation which was actually great. Many of us could relate to the misleading Myers Briggs stuff and he explained how it sets up “false dichotomies” very well. He had an interested crowd around him following up on his talk.

  7. Tim Mendham says:

    Due deference noted – though Rach and Jo are over kind. [They would never say such things to my face, normally “Hey you, what the hell do you …” etc ;) ]

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