Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TAM 2012 Friday - First day of talks.

WednesdayThursdayFridayPenn's PartySaturday, Sunday

Friday: First day of talks/panels, Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center, Vaccines, and Skeptic's Guide to Poker.

Morning Talks

The day started off with a humorous opening video that covered everything from why it wasn't called #tamX, to the fact that the MC George Hrab looks like Professor X and Michael Stipe. The Michael Stipe leads to George walking out on stage singing a TAM parody of REM's "End of the World".  I managed to record him singing the song, but I'm unhappy with the audio.

After the opening bit DJ Grothe and James Randi provided the opening remarks. By the way, the HAL like logo on the podium watched all of us all throughout the convention.

  I should mention that because I have bad hearing, the TAM folks let me sit in the reserved section. For that, I'm VERY VERY thankful.
James Randi took a bit of his talk to talk about Red Lights, which is a movie that recently came out staring  Robert De Niro and Sigourney Weaver which apparently was lifted off of Randi's books and JREF writings, but offered no mention or credit to either. They are apparently going after them. I'm not sure what the status is now. I can't find any local theaters showing it, and it's not on the itunes store. Maybe I'll watch the movie via other means.

Then it was time for the real talks to begin. Before each speaker or panel came out to speak, George Hrab came out and played an intro song of his own creation. I managed to record most of them, but the only one with close to reasonable audio was the one for Michel Shermer. 

Michael Shermer talk, "The Moral Arc of Science and the Social Singularity" went over the fact that most metrics show that the world appears to be a much more moral place then it use to be and that our lives are better then they ever have been. 

I thought it was pretty awseome that Randi sat so close to me for Shermer's talk. Though I'm not sure he was happy with the picture.

Next up was Eugenie Scott who's talk "The Future of the Creationism and Evolution Controversy" discussed the on going battle to keep science in the science classes.

Link video of her talk.

I skipped the "Skepticism about the Future: Techno-optimism vs. Reality?" panel, the "Future of Skepticism: New Adventures in Critical Thinking" talk, and "Talking to Tomorrow – Prediction and Language" talk. Instead I went to Friggatriskaidekaphobia clinic, got vaccinated, and ate lunch since Skeptics Guide to Poker was held during lunch. 


The sign letting us know where we can get vaccinated didn't look sketchy at all, so I also got vaccinated. With news of a possible pertussis outbreak, I'm glad I got it done.

Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center

Friggatriskaidekaphobia is the fear of Friday the Thirteenth. I believe this was put together by the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia. I made sure to set aside time to go to this event since one of my favorite caricaturist, Celestia of 2 heads studios fame had created a poster and a Myan calendar piñata for the event.

There was one side of the Myan piñata.

Here is the other side. Notice the small plastic bat. You were able to put your name in for a drawing to hit the piñata with that little bat. If you keep reading you'll see video of the piñata vs bat incident. 

Here is a timelapse video of the Celestia making the piñata.

The Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center was very educational. There were exhibits that detailed where many of the things people are scared of came to be. And, just how silly they are. 

Besides the drawing for being able to break the piñata, there was a drawing for breaking a mirror. You'll need to read to the end to see that video as well.  Also, I was lucky enough to be there when they had a (un)fortune teller. My fortune in this case was "Everyone will know it was you who farted". Another fortune read "You will die". or something like that. 

Skeptic's Guide to Poker

I don't have any pictures of the Skeptic's Guide to Poker, because it's my understanding that you can't take pictures on the casino floor. Later I saw others doing it, so maybe my impression was wrong. Either way, the poker classes were educational, but poorly handled. The instructor didn't show up very late. Some of us, myself included skipped out on other talks so they wouldn't miss the class and still able to get something to eat. Because the instructor was late, he offered to come again at night, which he never showed up for. He skipped on his offered evening sessions TWICE. He was also late to the scheduled class the following afternoon. I wouln't have been so irked if I had some notice of these delays and cancelations so that I would not have skipped so many things.

Afternoon Talks

The aforementioned Skeptic's Guide to Poker also ran late. This ment that I missed the first part of "James Randi in conversation with Jamy Ian Swiss". I also didn't get to watch it from my usual seat. It was very entertaining as Randi always is. :)
This was followed by an panel on the future of skepticism. Featuring Tim Farley, DJGrothe, Jamy Ian Swiss, Barbara Drescher and Reed Esau
I manage to completely miss taking a picture of Stuart Firestein when he gave his "The Values of Science: Ignorance, Uncertainty, Doubt" talk. The cornerstone of his talk was about how science and scientific discovery rewards us with more ignorance. It seems counter intuitive, but as science progresses we are able to ask more and better questions based on the things we learned. 

Next, Bruce Hood gave his talk "The Self Illusion – How Your Brain Creates You".  He used some visual illusions to show you that what you perceive is not controlled by you. You can look at an illusion, know what it is and how it works, but you will still perceive it the same way.  
Up to this point, I had felt like I had heard what most of the speakers had to say in some way shape or form before. Sure, I learned some. I got to hear some interesting ideas, but nothing really gripped me. Until Carol Tavris have her Keynote.

Carol's Keynote was "A Skeptical Look at Pseudoneuroscience" 

I didn't know how much quack science was happening in the neurosciences. There is a lot of questionable science around fMRIs.

Towards the end of her talk she reviewed an fMRI study on salmon, where the salmon were dead. Here is a wired article on the study.

She was also the first talk to get heavily quoted on twitter with: "If we can't recognize human suffering without an fMRI we are technomyopic indeed""

Here is a video of her talk.
After the talks the brought out a mirror and the piñata to be broken. You can tell they were extremely concerned about safety. They advised the person breaking the mirror to gently tap the mirror with the hammer at first. As for the piñata, the used that tiny plastic bat that you see in the picture I posted earlier.


Next TAM posting:
Penn's Private Bacon and Doughnut Rock and Roll Dance Party

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