Nov 29 2010

Report From TAM OZ

The first TAM Australia meeting is now over. I always find these events a good opportunity to take the pulse of the skeptical movement. So what did I learn?

First – Australia has a vibrant and fun skeptical movement. Richard Saunders, Eran Segev, Rachael Dunlop, and Joanne Benhamu did a fabulous job of organizing and running the event. The Australian Skeptics are an active group with a great deal of energy and ideas. Beyond the coordinating committee there are many skeptics in Australia who are positive and enthusiastic.

The crowd at the meeting was composed of a broad age range, with a lot of young people and a lot of women. The demographics of skepticism are certainly changing – the fact that younger age groups are getting involved is a good sign for the future. I believe the youngest attendee was 11 years old – a boy named Alex who will be making an appearance on the podcast we recorded during the conference. Imagine an eleven-year-old whose heroes are not rock stars or sports legends, but scientists and educators. (OK, sure, that describes many nerds, but Alex was a cool kid and it’s good to see that the skeptical movement can inspire one so young.)

Another trend apparent at the meeting was the fact that skeptics are expanding their activities from education and analysis to direct activism. The Australian skeptics have been very active in opposing the Australian Vaccination Network (which is really an anti-vaccine network) – including successfully challenging their non-profit status. Rebecca also recounted the story of how the Skepchicks pushed a campaign to send complaints to AMC to pressure them into withdrawing an add campaign by anti-vaxers that was to run in theaters during the holiday season.

While our numbers remain relatively small, the movement is growing rapidly. We are also finding more ways to influence society, rather than just complain about rampant pseudoscience. The skeptical movement continues to evolve into robust intellectual and activist movement, with a disproportionate effect on society. As Richard Wiseman once observed, we are punching way above our weight.

I am sad to see TAM Oz end – after a year of prep, it seemed to be over so quickly. But these events also recharge my batteries. Thanks to everyone who took the time to come up to me during the meeting to say “hi” and express their appreciation for the SGU, NeuroLogica, or Science-Based Medicine. Your words do matter.

I am still traveling this week, seeing more of Australia while I’m down under. But I will try to squeeze out a blog post or two. I will be back to my usual schedule next week.

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