I recently returned from The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This aptly named event is an annual gathering of the greatest minds and personalities in the skeptical and atheist movements. I felt privileged to be among the 1650 people in attendance and one of many there as the result of a grant. As a matter of fact, I attended the largest TAM ever, with more women in attendance than ever, with approximately (if my memory is correct) over forty of us with the assistance of various grants.
In reflecting on my adventures and trying to decide how to communicate them to friends and readers, I decided that the way to do it would to be to provide a “best of.” So, here it is.
The Amazing James Randi, Founder of the JREF and Host of TAM
James Randi is an incredible presence. He was kind and accessible. Shortly after stopping for this photo, he looked me in the eye (yes, at eye level) and said “Now go learn something.” So I did.
When I saw that deGrasse Tyson was going to be the keynote speaker at TAM this year, I knew I wouldn’t want to miss it. He is such an amazing spokesperson and advocate for science. His keynote speech was about the consequences of living in a society where science literacy is not given priority and let me tell you… it fired me up. He spoke eloquently about how the United States is falling behind. He gave examples from his own personal experiences as well as from recent events where people were harmed or progress unachieved due to a lack of science and critical thinking. The wonderful thing is that he did it all hilariously. He was so knowledgeable, funny, and down to earth. In my opinion, deGrasse Tyson is exactly the kind of spokesperson science and skepticism needs and it was an honor to hear him speak.
I wasn’t going to hear Wiseman’s 30 minute talk. I didn’t even put it on the TAM9 app I used as my schedule. His talk was sandwiched between a talk by Elizabeth Loftus on the fallibility of memory (which I really wanted to attend) and the buffet lunch (which I also really wanted to attend). I figured half an hour was too little time to do much else, so I decided to sit through his talk. I am so glad I didn’t miss it. He talked about perception errors, deception, and of course his book. He played video of people who believed they could walk over hot coals simply by meditating. He played songs while priming our brains to hear silly lyrics. I was laughing so hard the entire time that I frankly don’t remember much else. No exaggeration. For half an hour, Richard Wiseman owned that room. So smitten was I that when his presentation concluded, I rushed out of the conference center to get his book in hopes of having it signed. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one impressed because his book sold out in minutes and all I was left with was the stupid buffet lunch. Not to worry. There is his blog, his YouTube channel, and future TAMs (click the link above). I know who you are now, Professor Wiseman. Having learned my lesson, you will be on my schedule for next year.
Best Fan Girl Moments
It took me all of Thursday and Friday to get up my confidence to actually start approaching some of the people I had come there to hear.
Bob Novella and the rest of the team from The Skeptics Guide to the Universe opened up the conference on Friday morning with a live recording of the SGU. There, Bob recounted his trip to see the final launch of the space shuttle. This episode of SGU hasn’t yet aired, so I won’t go into any more detail. Later on, I spotted him at the SGU table and asked for a picture. He graciously obliged. And as an added bonus, check out the background over my left shoulder. TA DA! There is Dr. Steve Novella! Two Novellas for the price of one. And then Jay Novella tried to sell me a t-shirt. Count the Novellas. That makes three. It was pretty awesome.
BONUS: Richard Dawkins. After enjoying his appearance as “special guest” at TAM, I queued for the book signing. No surprise, Richard Dawkins and his staff comprise a book-signing machine. With my personal copy of The Greatest Show on Earth in hand, I quickly made my way through the queue and stood there just long enough to get this picture. Yeah!
Next Year: Dreams for TAM X
My dream for next year is to return and to bring my husband and my little skepling. During Richard Dawkins’ talk, he said that his foundation would be assisting with childcare during future conferences. In addition to cost, childcare was a major factor in my initial decision to not attend. I just didn’t think I could manage it. If my husband would have come along, then we would have had to take turns watching our son, never getting to attend any of the events together. Let’s make it as easy as possible for skeptical moms and dads to attend.
I’ll leave you all, dear readers, with words of advice from the Amazing Randi.
Now. Go learn something.