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24 July 2010

TAM, Day One: Opening Remarks

This is the second in a series of posts discussing The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, which took place at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, 8–11 July 2010. You can find the previous post here. You can find the next post here.

For other TAM coverage, you can visit Hemant at The Friendly Atheist (who liveblogged TAM) and Jen at Blag Hag (who had commentary to add after the fact).

The Skeptics' Guide Live

It was awesome. You can listen to it here!

Opening Remarks
D.J. Grothe, Phil Plait, Hal Bidlack

While George Hrab was unable to attend the conference, his new album, Trebuchet, was played between talks, which was a nice touch. It has several amazing tracks, including my favourite, "Death From The Skies", which features Phil Plait discussing the many ways in which the world could end.

The opening remarks begin with Phil, who jokes that Las Vegas in July is akin to the surface of the sun. The former JREF president talks about growth in the skeptic movement. There are apparently more than 1,300 of us in attendance at the conference, which is heartening indeed!

D.J. comments that Randi is unavailable for the opening remarks, as he's currently doing an interview for Playboy. The mic is quickly passed to Hal, who promises some bad puns. He says that he is pleased to see so many newcomers, because we haven't heard his one good joke. (Spoiler alert: I still haven't.) According to Bidlack, "Mr. Randi once referred to it as homeopathic humour."

Levity wanes, and things turn more serious. There was a brief discussion of Randi's recent illness. Bidlack sums it up nicely: "Randi, working with science, kicked cancer's ass!"

"This stuff really matters," he says. Skepticism is important in so many arenas. He talks briefly about the magic dowsing device sold by British company ATSC, the ADE651, and his part in having the company shut down.

Like so many of the speakers at TAM, Hal Bidlack is very welcoming. Although I didn't get the chance to meet him personally, every person I know who's had the opportunity just loves the guy.

Hal reminds us to be kind to those who disagree. I could veritably feel the admonishment to atheists coming—this is apparently a fixture at TAM, as Bidlack is a deist. And I quote: "Mr. Randi is an atheist. I am not. ... But we both agree that Uri Geller is an ass."

Fair enough.

Hal advocates the "big tent approach" to skepticism—and I agree with him! I have several theistic friends who are otherwise excellent skeptics, and I wouldn't want to sour anyone on skepticism. At the same time, sometimes it's necessary to ridicule faith, and I'm fine with that, too—I think that faith is a dangerous way to go about deciding what to believe.

More on this later, when I discuss Phil Plait's talk, but I think that the diversity of voices in the skeptic movement that we have right now is important.

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