Monday, July 13, 2009

TAM final day

Today was the final day of TAM and I spent the morning listening to the presentation of papers by different individuals on rational inquiry into various subjects. Canada was represented byDavid Green, senior Patent Examiner fro the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. He told us the story of the Perfect Sommelier which purports to increase the quality of a cheaper wine with the use of magnets. He was able to scare the company away from further seeking patents in Canada with the use of a randomised control trial, the gold standard of scientific inquiry, that showed that the device made no difference to the taste of cheap wine.

The rest of the morning was much the same and had the general theme of the application of critical thinking when engaging with the larger world. One very good presentation was on how to focus your web presence given your audience. I started this blog not quite knowing what I wanted to focus upon or even who my audience was. It soon became clear that I was more interested in tackling the reasons behind fear and anxiety in our society, and with rational thought and as much research as I was capable of, promote a science based inquiry into pseudo-scientific claims that were are motivated to believe due to this fear and anxiety.

Though many of my friends may, by now, be thinking that I have drank the cool-ade at some cult-like retreat, I would offer that I have found a community of individuals from around the world who are very inclusive, charming, and rational human beings and who think nothing of finding the flaws in one another's argument. We believe in two things: accepting a notion as fact when there is evidence to back it up and reserving the right to change our minds when a better solution comes along, and the right of each individual to believe in what ever political or religious ideology they wish, as long as they hold basic ethics and morals that we can all believe in.

Today a really wonderful thing happened. The James Randi Education Foundation, the organisers of the conference, have what they call, the Million Dollar Challenge. It is one million dollar fund that will pay out if anyone can proove the existance of a paranormal activity. ESP, telekinesis, dowsing, psychic ability etc. is all up for testing, under the strict scientific protocols that have to be agreed upon by both parties. Today a dowser, Connie Sonne, stepped up to the bar and it was arranged that a preliminary trial of her powers would be tested at TAM 7. The methods of the experiment and its exact outcome can be found at the JREF, but I can say she failed to get even close to proving her powers. What was amazing was that a room of around 700 delegates, skeptics all, remained perfectly silence while she attempted the test. There were 1700 people online viewing the procedure and they stated that they did not know there was an audience in the room until the camera zoomed out at the end. There was no hooting or cat-calling or even a twitter of laughter at the end of the test. On the forum there was, mostly, respect maintained for Ms. Sonne and thanks to her for participating.

I was really hoping that the test would prove positive. Ms. Sonne had a 1 in 1000 chance of making the correct guesses and, though pretty good odds, it would have been somewhat exciting to have a positive preliminary test. This was not the case, however and she failed entirely. She made some post hoc rationalisations about the spirits not wanting to reveal her powers but no matter, it did not work. I was very impressed with the respect given to Ms. Sonne and it made me very proud to be a part of that audience.

I made some good connections today and even got to have a picture taken with James "the amazing" Randi who also inscribed a book of his for me. It was a real pleasure to have met him and he remains a man of great inspiration for the struggle to tell the truth. I also made contact with Desiree Schell from Skeptically Speaking, a weekly radio broadcast from the U of A and an engineer with Skeptography. Hopefully I will be able to provide some content for both of these projects in the future.

We had a great time at the Penn and Teller show tonight. Their bit on cold and hot reading was great and the bullet catch is classic. Quite an awesome show.

I go back to Toronto later today and I am excited to get back to school and work. This was a great session and we will return next year. There is much more to see in Vegas, but I would not care if it was in Nebraska or Minnesota, the people are what make TAM enjoyable and I will be happy to see them again in one year's time.

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