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Truly Amaz!ng

I am back from The Amaz!ng Meeting 6 in Las Vegas, and it was one of the most incredible times I have ever experienced.

This annual meeting is a congregation of people who come together to celebrate all of the facets of the diamond that is ‘skepticism’; defending science and the scientific method, promoting critical thinking, attacking anti-science, debunking paranormal claims, exposing frauds and con artists – just to name a few. This year’s meeting did not disappoint in any respects.

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), the hosts of TAM, put on quite a conference for the rest of us. James Randi himself was as gregarious as he was accessible to us all. His staff was accommodating in every way to us at The Skeptics’ Guide, as well as the other organizations and individuals that were represented at the conference. The guests that they lined up were fascinating, and JREF made sure that we had an opportunity to interview just about every guest speaker. Most of all, I was very humbled that I had the honor of taking the stage at TAM not once, but twice, as The SGU presented live shows on Friday and Saturday mornings. To say that I actually shared a stage at a conference with James Randi as the host is an experience I can not sufficiently describe in writing, and one that I will never forget.

The guests at TAM were all fantastic. We had a chance to interview just about every guest speaker, along with Randi as well, and while I would have liked to have actually seen more of the conference, we sort of had our own private TAM conference as we conducted the interviews during the main events on Friday and Saturday. During the interviews, I had the honor to sit next to the likes of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Adam Savage of ‘The Mythbusters’, Banachek, and Matthew Chapman (Charles Darwin’s great great grandson). Talk about humbling! Not to mention Professor Richard Wiseman, Dr. Phil Plait, Dr. Ben Goldacre, Dr. Michael Shermer, and Dr. PZ Meyers. Had I paid for a year of college tuition, I would not have been better educated by a more knowledgeable group of scholars. The fact that many of these giants in their respective fields of expertise actually knew who I was from The SGU podcast, and treating me as they would any other of their fellow presenters at TAM was absolutely tremendous. In the immortal words of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey: “I’m not worthy!”

As if things could not get any better, compounding this tremendous experience was the copious amount of praise, positive feedback, and sheer admiration from The SGU fans that comprised a nice percentage of the audience. There were SGU listeners lining up to talk to me, to have their picture taken with me, and to have me sign their books or T-shirts. This was, by far, the most unexpected part of TAM for me, and also, by far, the most gratifying part of my TAM experience. It was absolutely surreal. For example, on Friday night at our “Dinner with The SGU” party, where we thought we would have about 60 people attending (based on the number of Facebook registrations), we wound up having 90 people packed like sardines in the restaurant, and they were turning away more at the door because the restaurant ran out of seating. I heard that those that were turned away went to another venue that held about 75 people, filling that to capacity as well, and then having to turn people away from that impromptu gathering. (We have taken note of this, and next year, we are going to do a better accounting of the number of attendees so that no one has to be turned away.) As Steve, Bob, Jay, Rebecca, and I made the rounds at the dinner party (I barely ate because we were so busy just trying to get around to every table to say hello to everyone) we had a brief few minutes at which all 5 of us were visiting the same table. As that happened, our fans all gathered around us with cameras in hand, snapping photos as we sat at this one table. The best way to picture this scene is as if we were on the red carpet on Oscar night. Flashes were going off like crazy, people were raising their drinks and toasting us, and I felt like I had a permanent grin plastered on my face. The SGU listeners were treating us as if we were Hollywood celebrities in their midst. It was entirely humbling, practically indescribable, genuinely affectionate, tremendous fun, and totally surreal.

Over the coming weeks, you will be hearing segments of the interviews and portions of our live performances on the SGU podcast. I hope we sufficiently captured the essence of the meeting, the greatness of the guests, and the emotional experience that made this meeting a very special event for us all. To all of you that I had the pleasure of meeting in person, I am deeply touched by your outpouring of appreciation for the work that Steve and the cast brings you each week. As I told so many of you this past weekend, for as much as you appreciate the work that we do, we are equally grateful for your listernership and support and your help in spreading our message to the masses.

Plans for TAM 7 have begun. The JREF “unofficially” announced that the dates are July 9-12, 2009 and the location will be The South Point Hotel, Casino, and Spa. JREF should have an official announcement coming in the next few weeks, and The SGU will most certainly be back for TAM 7, so mark your calendars now.

Thank you, again, to everyone, for your support, listenership, and continued efforts to spread the skeptical word. We, meaning all of you right along side with us at The SGU, are the the ground troops in the never-ending battle to beat back the forces that threaten science, rationality, and critical thinking. For as much as TAM 6 was an experience that I will never forget, it is all of you who are the ones that are truly amaz!ing.

13 comments to Truly Amaz!ng

  • Rob

    Evan,

    The meeting was great. I only met Bob when I saw him randomly late at night, but the rest of you were always surrounded by a mob. As I told Bob, I think the SGU is why the attendance was so large. I don’t think you guys got enough credit for that.

    Steve’s talk was great.

  • [...] Truly Amaz!ng For example, on Friday night at our “Dinner with The SGU” party, where we thought we would have about 60 people attending (based on the number of Facebook registrations), we wound up having 90 people packed like sardines in the … [...]

  • ddr

    My wife and I were there and it was great to be able to spend a few minutes saying hi and chatting with the SGU cast. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to sign my wife’s t-shirt on Sunday.

  • petrucio

    The trip from Brazil to Vegas is VERY expensive, but I’m planning on going next year. I’m hoping the World Series Of Poker schedule falls near it, so I can do both on one trip.

  • Hi Evan,

    It was great to see you all together at one time. What a great weekend for recharging the skeptical batteries! I now have far too many signed books to bring back in the same suitcase I used on the trip out. Oh well, I guess I can leave the Ouija Board in the room.

  • Is anyone else from other countries just really BUMMED to hear how much fun everyone had at TAM?

    Sob. Curse you Oil at $136 a Barrel!!!

  • reverend: It was a truly international event, there were people there from Australia, Brazil, Canada, etc. And that’s only the ABCs!

    The attendance was almost frightening, despite the huge cost of attending, there were still close to 1000 skeptics there! It’s easy to imagine this getting out of control. In order to keep the numbers down, they’ll need to have multiple equal sized TAMs (no ‘mini TAMs’, people will want to go to the big one), or charge thousands.

    These are good problems to have!

  • PD

    Whoa! What’s with all the adulation and hero worship, as well as the need to be treated as a “celebrity”? It’s so anti-skeptical…or should be. There’s a danger that the skeptics are falling into the same trap that plague religious organizations (and politics): the blind worshiping of “idols.” What’s the difference, really? I’m glad I didn’t go. I might have found it disturbing. How about a few doses of the late George Carlin to bring everyone back to reality? Is there a skeptics group out there that’s not into the “celebrity culture?” Hope so…or is it just wishful thinking? Yuck.

  • Jim Shaver

    PD:

    Hero-worship? Idol-worship? Skepticism equivalent to religion? Please. I think Evan is excited about having met so many accomplished and like-minded people, and about being able to call many of them “friends”. It’s all good.

    Also, there’s nothing skeptically wrong with having personal heroes.

  • PD

    JS

    You’re right. There’s nothing wrong with appreciating everyone’s talents, accomplishments, knowledge, and so on, as well as picking their brains and sharing conversations. And we all have our “heroes,” that’s for sure. And being surrounded by other like-minded skeptics (which doesn’t happen for most of us on a daily basis) is a helluva lot o’fun, and generally exciting. What I and others are beginning to observe, though, is that there’s a line being crossed, where some of the “celebrity” skeptics are being put on pedestals; there is a sense of worship going on (which is something we skeptics would never admit to): “we touched one of them…we got an autograph…we saw them…they talked to me…blah, blah, blah.” Let’s face it, even though we’re skeptics, we’re not immune to falling back on childish habits and behaviors. We’ve discussed this issue in our meetings, and there’s not a whole lot of disagreement on this point (of course in this space I can’t go into the same kind of detail). I’ve also been exchanging e-mails with one of the well known and popular skeptics on this issue; he (or she) is also in agreement. And, yes, maybe I came on too strong with the “religion” bit (although some of these skeptic/celebrities seem to be infallible), but we’re smack in the middle of a celebrity culture (which is about one rung down on the worship ladder), and I’m not sure that a majority of skeptics are resistant to its effect. It’s important to be a skeptic at all times, methinks. Appreciate the feedback, Jim. My brain neurons need firing up every once in awhile; keeps me in shape.

  • Jim Shaver

    PD:

    Your position is somewhat clarified by your response, and I do understand the value of your story as a cautionary tale. But I also think in this context your point of view is overly pessimistic. If one is among skeptics who throw the best part of reason out the window when in the presence of a leader in the skeptical community, perhaps one would benefit from finding a different group of skeptics with which to hang.

    But to be sure, being awed by someone who has proven himself worthy of respect and admiration is perfectly natural and is even healthy. Some of my best memories are of meeting one of my heroes and coming away with a story to tell. Everyone remembers their “brushes with greatness”, as David Letterman used to say.

    And I also know that my heroes are not necessarily infallible, and in fact I may disagree with them on some non-trivial issues. But even when such disagreements occur, I still allow myself to appreciate and admire those qualities and accomplishments that earned my respect in the first place. And frankly, until I succeed in a similar way or make a positive difference with my hard work, I cannot be so presumptuous as to equate my life with theirs. That’s why they are considered leaders.

  • Hey johnny_eh: If we had one down here in Australia, it would have to be a TIM TAM!

    (Sorry, that is an Australian joke, probably incomprehensible to 99% of readers here. Also, it was a rather poor joke, so not even many Australians would have laughed.)

  • PD

    Jim
    Pessimistic or realistic? And what do you define as “success”? There are many reasons someone becomes “successful” anyway. Most often, a person’s accomplishments have more to do with luck, contacts, prestigious educations, connections, and starting with privileged backgrounds than talent. The “brush with greatness” is really illusionary and ultimately meaningless. It’s entertainment; no more, no less. Our heroes may even be assholes. How would we know? Our skeptics’ group includes everyone from lawyers to physicists to dishwashers. Regardless of the “status,” everyone has something to offer. We’re all on equal footing. What’s important is that everyone’s nice folk. We, too, admire & appreciate talented people; however, instead of looking “up” to them, we feel much more comfortable looking them straight in the eye. Maybe humans are hardwired to lionize certain types of individuals. Who knows? For us, however, idolatry and skepticism do not mix. Whether it’s pseudoscience, public policy, or human behavior, skeptics need to be on alert 24/7.

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