Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Amazing Meeting 8, Day 3 (Saturday, July 10)

Things made more sense this morning. I got a good seat, four rows back from the stage. The improved quality of my photos of the SGU taping might be testament to that. The problem I found with photographing people on stage not using a flash was the stage presenters were so brightly lit they look like fleshy light bulbs. Maybe if I had more skills with a camera. I dunno.

The SGU podcast was the back half of what will be edited down to a single show. There were some amusing bits like photos from a "hot tubbing skeptically" event that's a recent tradition at TAM (80 shirtless men and 2 women some where or another).

The cast and Mike schlepping water for the cast:

Hot tubbing skeptically:

Massimo Pigliucci took the stage after the SGU boys. Massimo is an evolutionary biologist and philosopher who doesn't mind debating with creationists. Fans of the Infidel Guy podcast have heard him debate Kent Hovind a couple times. Massimo is always a compelling speaker owing to his great knowledge from several domains of knowledge and his charming mildly accented voice. Massimo, building on his Nonsense on Stilts book, decided to turn his eye towards skeptics themselves. Are skeptics over reaching? Are they trying to interpret science and analyze data when they should be sticking to trying to educate the public about what the scientific consensus says. The role of the skeptics movement seems to me to primarily be a resource when people take extraordinary claims directly to the public or the press without taking it first for peer review.

This is all well and good when its stuff like UFOs and psychics, domains scientists don't really work in and don't really care about, so skeptics are it. But when you're trying to take, say, climate data and as a lay skeptic trying to introduce your own interpretation of the data and research, that then becomes a problem. Massimo was there to gently suggests skeptics need to back off.

Massimo named names: Penn & Teller and James Randi. That might have ruffled some feathers but my reading of the crowd is they understood Massimo's bigger message and he wasn't picking on Randi, et al.

Me schmoozing with Massimo in the hotel bar:

Massimo and one very, very lovely TAM attendee. I forget her name.

I took an extendo break at that point. I wanted to use the hotel gym (I think you can see me literally getting fatter in the photos) but the hotel wanted $15 a day to use their empty gym. It did look well equipped, however. Still. I didn't much want to pay $15 for a quick 30 minute "reduce my guilt" work out. I ended up just chilling pool side and catching some rays. I back for Bruce Hood. Who? Yeah. I discovered some of the best factual presentations are done by people relatively unknown. Hood is a psychologist and had a really fascinating powerpoint-based talk about how the mind and perception can be fooled in simple ways. He had a really stunning demonstration of a man apparently saying "bah bah bah". But when you close your eyes he was saying "pah pah pah" or something. As it turns out, the "bah bah bah" audio is overlaid a video of the man mouthing "rah rah rah". What's happening is you're actually reading his lips of him mouthing '"rah" and the raw audio is "pah" so you brain actually meets it half way and resolves it as "bah".

The ultimate implication is people who claim "I know what I saw" are on less sure scientific grounds.

Following Hood's talk, Dr. Novella headed up a panel discussion about homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic and other dubious health care systems. He was joined by Ginger Campbell, Rachael Dunlop, David Gorski, Harriet Hall and Simon Singh. Missing was Dr. Crislip from Quackcast. Oddly I kind of came to TAM hoping to meet George Hrab, Penn & Teller, and Dr. Crislip. (I did meet Penn but that's for a later post.) So it was kind of funny to meet the people I was jonesing to see at a TAM weren't scheduled for this TAM. I was hoping the panel might deal with the rather poorly publicized victory science had over chronic lyme disease. The infectious disease doc society was actually sued by a state government because they followed the best science: there's no chronic lyme disease and you can't treat a non existent disease with expensive, dangerous mega doses of antibiotics. It's really weird when the alt med crowd suddenly WANTS the most expensive big pharma drugs. As part of an out of court settlement, the ID docs agreed to submit their standard of care to an independent body. The body rules the ID docs were spot on in their standard of care. Feel the burn, alt med.

The alt medicine panel:

Anyway, the panel was fairly by the numbers. I did manage to ask a question which I think I kind of flubbed. I wanted to ask if there was an upside to the "university of google" in terms of the doctor/patient experience. It seems so many patients come in armed with crap about vaccines and Morgellon's. But what's the upside? I left off the bit about the doctor/patient relationship. So most interpreted my question to mean, how has google benefited them. Which seems kind of like a "duh" question.

Schmoozing with Simon Singh:

After that, lunch. The food at the South Point conference center always seems to look pretty good but doesn't really end up being all that scrumptious. It was a build your own burrito bar and I only managed to scarf down one plate.

This was Friday's lunch:

This was Saturday's lunch:

I was feeling pretty sick and headachy and blew off David Javerbaum's talk. I probably should not have. He's a producer of the Daily Show and I came in for the tail end of his talk and it was hilarious. The guy I really wanted to see was for USAF fighter pilot James McGaha. McGaha is a veteran UFO skeptic with top secret clearance. He had a pretty good joke that he had some kind of top secret clearance that was so top secret he couldn't even tell you what the acronym stood for. His talk was pretty much by the numbers and I'll confess I fell asleep through most of it. They only had time for one question and my question didn't get picked. I did manage to corner him in the hall and he was gracious enough to answer my question: UFO believers think pilots are reliable witnesses of aerial phenomenon. What was his take? He said "no way". The deal is they're trained to over interpret everything as a threat. It's the classic type 1 error Shermer spoke about earlier. It's better to think Venus is an airplane and look foolish than think an airplane is Venus and die. Anyway, dull enough talk about interesting guy when you get him one-on-one.

The Paranormal Investigations talk was pretty interesting. It was hosted by Julia Galef. She's Massimo's co-host on their Rationally Speaking podcast. She's a great foil to Massimo. This was the first time I've seen what she looks like. And, boyee, she's a stunningly beautiful woman. Tall, dark features, she was wearing a smart Chanel type suit, and a statistician by training. See me sheepishly getting a photo op of her below:

I seem to recall there being other people involved and they said something. Maybe. I dunno. I think they talked about lemonade? Did I mention Julia Galef was the moderator? And she was tall and beautiful? Kidding aside, the panel was comprised of Karen Stollznow (an amazingly beautiful woman herself), Joe Nickell, James Randi and Ben Radford.

First picture EVER of Ben Radford wearing an Amateur Scientist podcast tshirt. A first! I'm so great! I'm first with that photo!

Schmoozing with Karen Stollznow, Ben Radford, and Blake Smith (the Monster Talk gang):

I took another longish break and came back for Paul Provenza. Provenza did some readings from a book of comedian interviews. He's a flat out funny guy. He produced that movie The Aristocrats. He went over long on time but it was welcome.

Snack Time: Cookies and coffee were served in the afternoon. The cookies were pretty good:

Dawkins took the stage and was interviewed For Good Reason style by the charming, affable DJ Grothe. Again I dozed off. Maybe I shouldn't because I gather some of what Dawkins talked about caused a bit of a firestorm in Twitter space. Something about feeding children's fantasies are bad. All 'n' all Dawkins was another speaker that tended to lecture to the skeptics more than dazzle us with science.


I forget to mention, Friday night, Rich Orman, from Dogma Free America, was kind enough to include me in an off-site visit to a buffet. Before I went to Vegas I printed out a long list of buffets with an intention to fully enjoy a representative sample. I never managed that. The hotel I stayed at before decamping at the South Point had a nice breakfast and light dinner buffet in the club room and I kind of porked out on that.

Orman and his Colorado posse, which included an interesting fellow who works at Google, went to a buffet at the M Resort, an oddly located luxury casino/hotel well south of the strip. The buffet was $30 and that included all the beer you can drink. Pro-tip: always carry your picture ID. If you look under 70 years old they routinely check for age of majority. The buffet featured crab legs, peeled shrimp, pizza, Asian dishes, sushi, prime rib, what have you. It was pretty decent.

The M Resort Buffet

Saturday night I found Jacob Jax and Jamye from Dogma Free America and bought them dinner at the South Point's buffet. It was about half the price of the M hotel's buffet and about half as scrumptious.

Jacob is trying to get the taste of Vegas buffet out of his mouth by washing it down with the 75 cent hot dogs they serve up in the South Point near the sports betting area. Actually they're pretty good and:

I'm trying to get Jamye drunk. Quicker she gets drunk, quicker she'll forget my Skep review where I trashed her:

Joe Nickell: King of all Skeptics:

Phil wasn't even talking and he was as mobbed as the speaker after his talk:

Me and "alpha kid" Banacheck

Me and BJ: BJ is famous. He met Penn after a show and explained he de-converted from being an orthodox Jew and had never had bacon. Penn & Teller took him for eats after the show and fed him his first bacon.

Big Frankie of Penn Radio fame requires the presence of James Randi:

Update - Video of the creepy moon hoaxer kid

- Karl

1 comment:

  1. The picture of the shrimp and crab legs was so impressive even Lady who dislikes such faire found it scrumptious appearing.

    You meet Stollznow and Watson, but did you finish the trifecta of female skeptical awesomeness and meet Dr. Dunlop? (Stevens and Sturgess not being in attendance)

    Wonderful stuff Karl.


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