The Amazing Meeting 2014

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James Randi Educational Foundation
Reassurance: Brought to you by 97.1 FM, ‘The Point,’ Las Vegas PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Alison Smith   

With the popularity of the paranormal on a seemingly infinite rise, sometimes skeptics find solace in the little things – like a dose of critical thinking from a local radio station.

Today, I was driving in my car listening to 97.1 FM on the radio. They air a little comedy segment every now and again – just a couple of random jokes from a comedian. This particular segment reached out to me, and gave critical thinkers everywhere a big pat on the back. It made me believe that perhaps the paranormal is on the way out, and skepticism is the view that’s really on the rise. I’m going to paraphrase what the comedian said during his bit, because unfortunately I couldn’t slam on my breaks and dig out a pen.

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Saving Lives with Skepticism PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

071103-X-60-LX60We skeptics talk about many different things. Ghosts, psychics, intelligent design, cryptozoology, and dowsing are all frequent topics for our lectures and articles, but in most cases these are academic exercises. It's true that in some cases we might save someone pain and suffering, such as when people realize that the "psychic" who's been taking their $100 a week really can't talk to the dead, or when someone takes our advice and doesn't buy the $30,000 audio cables. For matters of so-called "complementary and alternative medicine," the stakes are higher and a skeptical viewpoint can actually save a life, as whatstheharm.net shows in some detail. But in the past year, we skeptics did something quite a bit more impressive. We literally saved hundreds if not thousands of lives, and it all started at a meeting at JREF headquarters.

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News on TAM 8! Lots of changes! PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

randi-jamyThe schedule is packed, and has changed considerably since its first incarnation. Speakers have been added, including comedian Paul Provenza, skeptic blogger Julia Galef, astronomical podcaster and skeptic Pamela Gay, and many others. We have a total of five panels this year, and Sunday's events have expanded to include more papers, a panel on the skeptical community's responsibility regarding global warming, and an afternoon Million Dollar Challenge presentation. And there are two workshops in the afternoon after the main event: Skepticism and Sexuality and Grassroots Skepticism.

The Committee for Scientific Investigation and the Skeptic Society are co-sponsoring TAM this year, which is an exciting development. They are joining the JREF to put on the Thursday night reception that's become an event unto itself. With live music and a special presentation, be sure to attend and arrive early! And don't forget the expanded workshop offerings earlier in the day. There are eight of them total, six on Thursday and two on Sunday, and they run two at a time concurrently. With the All Workshop Pass, you can attend any combination of our workshops for only $100.

In past years, TAM attendees have received tote bags, sharpies and even laser pointers. This year, we are excited to announce that you'll receive a limited edition piece of technology that will actually enhance your memory. This is one you'll want to keep with you always.

Our book tables have expanded with many more titles and other items of interest, and they'll be open during the entire conference.

While the special lunches with James Randi and Richard Dawkins and other speakers on the program have completely sold out, you'll still have plenty of opportunity to interact with guests throughout the conference. TAM has always been a place where the speakers are accessible to all, and that tradition continues this year. Also, we'll be having a silent auction that may provide even more opportunities to enjoy private meals and shows with select guests and presenters, as well as other unique items.

While Martin Gardner passed away before he could make an appearance at TAM, be assured that he will be there in spirit as well as in video form. And not to be outdone, a tribute to Jerry Andrus will bring back the magic that graced nearly every skeptical gathering for the last two decades.

Technical and logistic realities prevent us from streaming this year's TAM live. We regret this, but we will be videorecording the event, and the DVDs that follow will be expanded to include exclusive interviews and other interesting content. And for the first time ever, entire TAM Talks will be released on the Internet, with special content available for members of the JREF.

TAM is nigh, and this is the one not to miss. I can announce this now: it looks very likely that TAM 8 will sell out. If you're thinking of coming, right now is the time to register. Visit http://www.amazingmeeting.com today and reserve your space at the largest and most exciting skeptic and critical thinking conference ever.

 
Conversion by Kindle PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Naomi Baker   

amazon-kindle-ebook-readerGrowing up, you would have been unable to detect any hint of religion in my home other than a Christmas tree and a Bible on a shelf. Moving frequently because of my dad’s military career, a church was often the easiest way to find a pre-built social group.  I took my own sons to church for the same reason, and sent them to a Lutheran school. I recall ‘undoing the damage’ for certain aspects of their science and history classes, but generally was satisfied with their education. But we left religion and discussions of it at the church door.

When my oldest son Richard was a high school senior, his father left the family. In his pain, Richard embraced a group of kids who befriended and nurtured him, through the large Southern Baptist church in our city. Within a couple of years, he was baptized, attended mission trips, spoke of becoming a youth minister, and considered transferring to a bible college. The military intervened, and he left for boot camp and several years of high-tech training and service.

In the meantime, I had abandoned my decades-old habits and began to supplement my skeptical and science reading with New Atheism. However, Richard declined my offers of God, the Failed Hypothesis by Victor J. Stenger, and my Sam Harris books. He thought the titles were a bit too…offensive. He avoided discussions on the topic, instead preferring to answer “I believe what I believe.”

Ever been on a submarine? The personal space for an enlisted sailor is approximately 24” depth by 50” long by 4” high. Everything that you carry on a six-month deployment must fit in that space, including your clothing, computer, equipment, any souvenirs you buy, any care packages you receive, and your books. Richard was usually able to fit four books into his space, but only by sacrificing a few extra pairs of socks. He reported that of the 150-plus men on a sub, about half of them read books of any kind, about one-half of those actually brought books on a deployment, and maybe 10 of them had books he found worth borrowing. It’s a desperate plight for an avid reader.

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Vancouver SkeptiCamp 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jesse Brydle   

VanSkeptiCamp_1

Earlier this spring we held the third annual SkeptiCamp in Vancouver, Canada. For those still not in the know, SkeptiCamp, the brainchild of Reed Esau, is an open conference for skepticism and critical thinking based on the BarCamp tech conference model. The idea is to blur the line between attendees and presenters by asking everyone to prepare a short presentation on some skeptical or scientific topic in the hopes that it will help turn some of the skeptic enthusiasts into skeptic activists.

As our SkeptiCamp event has grown over the years, we've had to stray slightly from this ideal. The problem is that we simply have too many attendees for everybody to make a presentation. Our crowds have grown from about 15 the first year, to approximately 50 the second, to nearly 90 this year. There are plenty of ways to contribute though: designing posters or T-shirts, bringing snacks, or simply inviting a friend or two.

We met bright and early in our lecture hall at the University of British Columbia's main library, a real find as it gave us access to some spectacular A/V equipment (huge projection screens, wireless microphones, and a live Twitter feed). People began streaming in and collecting their gift bags stuffed with issues of Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, Brian Dunning's "Here Be Dragons" DVDs, and information about SkeptiCamp and our sponsors. The day officially began with a welcome from our excellent emcee Kennedy, and we jumped into the talks.

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