17 October, 2010

TAM London Day 1

I'm just back from TAM London. It was amazing alright. Here's a brief summary of Day 1...

(photos from various TAM London Facebook members - cheers!)

Richard Wiseman was the host and he did a great job all weekend, breaking up each talk with a few jokes or a magic trick. My favourite was probably this:

I've just signed up to Reincarnation Weekly. It was a bit expensive - £200 - but then I thought, what the hell, you only live once

Susan Blackmore was first up. She spoke about her journey from being an avid believer in the paranormal through to becoming a skeptic. She talked us through some of the experiments she did on paranormal activity and ESP, including when she debunked a series of ganzfeld studies. Her talk was very interesting and she is a good enthusiastic speaker. She is also known for expanding on the theory of memes, although she didn't go into this aspect of her work.

Next up was Richard Dawkins. He gave a lecture entitled "Evolution: The New Classics" in which he proposed the idea that evolutionary mechanisms tie into to almost all other aspects of education and are important for many seemingly unrelated subjects, including engineering, computer science, etc. I was glad that he came up with new material for the talk as I had been worried that he might just rehash the same old stuff we've all seen him say a million times. So I was impressed, although I heard a few other participants say otherwise. Dawkins doesn't really engage with the crowd much and comes off a bit robotic so this might have disappointed some people.

Cory Doctorow gave a talk about copyright law and related issues. This area isn't of great interest to me so my mind tended to wander a bit but he is a great speaker and I would recommend going to see him talk if this is your thing.

Adam Rutherford was next up and his talk was very entertaining. He mostly spoke about his experiences in the Alpha Course, a program which attempts to re-educate and re-convert Christians who have fallen away from Christianity. He spoke of how they use airy fairy language to make points about Christianity and regularly use strangely conceived metaphors and analogies about the Bible including, apparently, several references to Frodo and Lord of the Rings!


First up after lunch was Andy Nyman, who is probably best known for being the co-creator of all of Derren Brown's TV shows and live performances (or at least this is how I know of him). He was interviewed by Richard Wiseman and spoke a bit about his work with Derren, but most of the time was spent discussing Ghost Stories, which is a live horror play he created. I haven't seen it, but am planning to go soon.

Paula Kirby came next and gave a talk about the political manifesto of the fundamentalist Christian Party. It was quite entertaining, especially when she read out some of the more absurd statements - and there were plenty of those to choose from, e.g. “The fact that we’re not allowed to hit children any more is the root of all crime in society”. Nuff said.

A panel discussion discussing Skeptical Activism was then hosted by Tracey Brown, managing director of Sense About Science. The panelists were Simon Singh, David Allen Green (who blogs as Jack of Kent) and Evan Harris (Lib Dem politician). This was an interesting discussion and there was a lot of talk about alternative medicine. Indeed, in the Q&A session, Jonathan Ross's daughter, Honey, informed the room that her school gives out homeopathic remedies to the kids - a revelation that stunned many of the crowd.


The last official talk of the first day was actually an interview of James Randi by comedian Robin Ince. This was a great end to the day and Randi told some stories about how he messed with Uri Geller and Peter Popoff back in the 70s and 80s.

Randi then presented two JREF awards - one to Ben Goldacre and a special one to a 15 year old boy called Rhys Morgan with Crohn's disease who managed to take on the dodgy drug companies and get an alternative remedy called Miracle Mineral Solution off the market, because it was basically just bleach. Brilliant!

The evening event with Tim Minchin and friends was optional and I went along. It was very funny and they premiered Tim's new short animated video Storm - trailer below.

Sorry for the short synopsis but if you want more see the Guardian Live blog here. Day 2 (and some photos) to follow...


BeamStalk said...

Sounds like you had fun. I enjoyed TAM7 and know how exciting it can be. My gf and I plan to go again someday but cost is the main prohibition.

rhiggs said...

Yeah the ticket was over £200 but the line-up was so good that I think it was worth it. Plus I met loads of really nice people...

BeamStalk said...

About 350 American then. For the TAM's here it is 500 if you aren't a member but they also last a day longer. Of course it is extra for certain things.