For the uninitiated, TAM Oz is shorthand for The Amazing Meeting Australia, and it’s a regular event in various parts of the world at which skeptics and critical thinkers gather to revel in the fact that they have reality on their side. And have fun too.
Ironically, this event was held in the Sydney Masonic Centre.
This was my first one, so didn’t really know what to expect. I’ll be honest and say that I was expecting it to be mostly nerds (like me), wearing star trek t-shirts and talking klingon at every opportunity. But I was wrong – sure there were some of this type, but it was quite a blend of age groups and, happily, gender.
One of the dangers of this type of event is that it can engender ‘groupthink’ – which is, by definition, the antithesis of critical thinking. It’s when we let others do the thinking for us, and just go along for the ride – safety in numbers, and all that. However, while there was a lot of agreement on topics, I still found the content thought-provoking and stimulating. Speakers and sessions were generally entertaining and enthusiastic, and that’s always a great start. Lest you think this is a whitewash, the coffee was execrable, and the food pedestrian.
The event was attended by a lot of the celebrities of the movement, including it’s eponymous founder, The Amazing Randi (James Randi). I don’t really go in for the hero-worship thing (ok, maybe a bit where Randi is concerned), but it was quite nice to be able to have a conversation with some of these people about various topics.
My highlights centred on listening to some of the real heroes of the movement, including:
- Simon Singh – outstanding author who took on the British Chiropractic Association after they sued him for libel, endured 2 years of misery, but emerged with a moral victory and led to the inevitability of libel-reform in the UK.
- Dr. Eugenie Scott – Exec Director of the National Center for Science Education in the US, which took on the creationists as they tried to sneak religion into science classes under the guise of ‘Intelligent Design’. The creationists were slapped down hard in the Dover vs Kitzmuller trial (millions of references, but start at the wikipedia entry). The panel discussion here was about getting critical thinking into schools and all the issues around that – a personal interest of mine.
- A live recording of Skeptics Guide to the Universe (SGU, see link on your right), which was great fun
- Loretta Marron – an ordinary person who has taken on the Therapeutic Goods Administration here and had dozens of dodgy devices removed from the approved schedules.
- Dr. Pamela Gay – runs the popular Astronomy Cast podcast, and her enthusiasm is catching. Her passion for ‘citizen’ science – i.e. online projects in which ordinary citizens can participate – was great to watch.
- Rebecca Watson – member of SGU, and runs the Skepchick website – super fun, smart and zany, and the quiz session she moderated was great.
And special mentions for Dr Karl, who gave one of the most energetic and entertaining lectures on science I’ve ever heard, and to Dr Rob Morrison, (whom many of us will remember from the Curiosity Show when we were kids) who gave an outstanding presentation on how the brain perceives reality.
All in all, worth going and would go again if it were held in Melbourne.