The Amazing Meeting 8 is being held right now in Las Vegas and I am here with 1300 other skeptics and luminaries from the skeptic world. Notable presentations from yesterday include:
Sean Faircloth. Sean is the director of the Secular Coalition for America and he gave a passionate and convincing speech on the importance of moving back to a secular nation as was intended in our constitution. He was a past assemblyman in Maine and his political background was clearly apparent in his professional rhetoric. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though I’m sure many of the skeptics in the audience were not swayed by the rhetoric (but probably still agree with the message). I think we, as skeptics, need to understand that having the right data or being right isn’t enough to change minds in many of the populous. People, as people, react to stories not to data, and sometimes we have to couch our arguments into stories that touch more than the left side of brains. The secular coalition is a great, necessary organization and I urge you to at least take a look at the website (www.secular.org) and see what they’re up to.
Pamela Gay. As a part of the Astronomy Cast podcast (http://www.astronomycast.com/), Dr. Pamela Gay is a distinctive voice for the advancement of science and. in particular, astronomy. But her live speech was inspiring, to say the least. She described the opportunities for ordinary people to do real science and to contribute to man’s knowledge. Her examples were the websites Galaxy Zoo, Moon Zoo, and Solar Storm Watch (http://www.zooniverse.org/home) where data is put out there for people to analyze. She talked about discoveries of new phenomena by these non-scientists and encouraged everybody to participate. She ended with stories about cuts in science education budgets that were alarming and touching. Dr. Gay is a passionate and articulate ambassador of science and I hope she never stops spreading the word in her wonderful style.
Phil Plait. Phil “The Bad Astronomer” Plait is a well respected voice in the skeptical movement but he was understandably nervous about the topic of his presentation: tone. This has been the bone of contention in the movement for a while now and seems to be the main polarizing force in skepticism with the strident on one side and the courteous on the other. Phil contended that nobody has ever been swayed to the skeptical side by being told that they are morons for believing what they believe. I think he is right, but I think their probably is a role for the rude passion of the other end of the spectrum. True, I don’t think those people do anything for the movement with the great moderate majority of the populous, but I think those people should be used to attack the extremes of the world of woo. In other words, let PZ Meyers attack the Ken Hams of the world, but don’t sic him on moderates who will only be pushed into the other camp if they are told they are idiots. No, better to have people like Phil courteously discuss the issues with the moderates. Phil’s message is to do skepticism but “don’t be a dick” which is Wil Wheaton’s succinct and wise aphorism. I would change that a little: don’t be a dick, unless you’re talking to a dick. Even so, I’m not sure if any good comes of that except to maybe quash the fundy voices for a bit. But, yes, tone matters. Let the data speak, and don’t be a dick about your skepticism. I know Phil will get a lot of flack from his presentation but I, for one, think he is on the right path. (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/)
Adam Savage. This mythbuster is a great popularizer of science and engineering and he openly supports the skeptic movement and the TAM events. He read his acceptance speech for a humanism award which was poignant. But where he really shined was in the Q&A. He related funny stories from the show and his passion for the work, and the science, came through clearly. He was accosted by a moon landing denier in the audience and he disarmed the man in a respectful but amusing manner. This is a guy that you would love to sit down and have a few beers with.
more to come…