TAM London, Sunday

I type this during the last act of TAM London, Alan Moore, who is being gnomic in a basso north English working-class accent. Interesting character, a little perversely irrational (“I worship a 2nd century snake goddess”) while leaving no doubt that he’s keen as a whip.

The day began with a talk by Randi where I learned that he was friends with Richard Feynman! I knew that though my acquaintance with the Amazing One I’m only two steps from Alice Cooper, but Feynman as well – wow!

Science writer Marcus Chown then gave us his ten most mind-boggling physics facts. Good stuff! He could have skipped the scifi slide show and 70s pop tunes though.

D.J. Grothe gave a long “skeptics policy” talk, outlining his position in the accommodation/confrontation debate and taking a centrist stance. He suggested that what really unites the skeptical movement isn’t shared opinions about factual matters but shared moral values. Does a pro-science critical-thinking approach automatically lead to liberal humanism? Maybe.

A panel about the new media chaired by Rebecca Watson gave us the views of Tracey Brown, Gia Milinovich, Kate Russell, Martin Robbins and Neil Denny. Interesting stuff, though I was seriously distracted by Mrs. Milinovich’s looks. That woman should wear a burqa! No, I mean, really I don’t expect her to wear anything. Errr, that didn’t come out right either. Anyway…

An interview with feminist erotic comic artist Melinda Gebbie came across as completely irrelevant to the conference’s theme. But it was interesting in itself and I’m sure it helped the conference’s demographics greatly, so I’m all for it.

We then saw a new video “interview” where Tim Minchin and Stephen Fry were talking at the same time, both coming across as highly intelligent and well-read and funny skeptics, though hard to make out individually.

Jon Ronson interviewed Graham Linehan, writer of hit TV shows Father Ted and The IT Crowd, and they talked largely about Twitter. Fun and interesting!

PZ Myers gave an excellent talk about the accommodation/confrontation debate, one of the few during which I felt no need to fiddle with my smartphone. He recommended ridiculing stupid adversaries. I agree, though I prefer to do so in a quieter and more ironic manner than he does. Of course, my road to work isn’t cluttered with anti-abortion billboards like his is.

And then on came Alan Moore.


  1. #1 Birger Johansson
    October 18, 2010

    (OT) -Martin, have you had time to read Science magazine, 1 October; “Archaeologists see big promise in going molecular”?

  2. #2 Martin R
    October 18, 2010

    Thanks for the tip-off! Link?

  3. #3 Birger Johansson
    October 19, 2010

    Here we go:
    “Archaeologists See Big Promise In Going Molecular”
    Creative applications for ancient DNA emerged at a meeting, where researchers also described studies of other preserved molecules, including ancient RNA and proteins.

    (Subscription to Science required))

  4. #4 Birger Johansson
    October 19, 2010

    Molecular archaeology:
    The reference to Roman herbs in the summary made me think: There was a herb from Cyrenaica that was used to prevent pregnancy during the ancient era (“the pill” of ancient times), but the greedy greek colonists exploited the herb to extinction.
    If this or other medical herbs are found in graves, Svante Pääbo et al should have little problems reconstructuring the genome (especially for specimen found in tombs in the arid Cyrenaica region) since we are talking about a time lag of two millennia instead of thirty-fifty millennia.

    And in regard to plants, we already have techniques to trace the “home region” of wood that has been transported long distances, since the wood has a “fingerprint” of rare elements from the site where it grew. Combine the high-tech methods and you should get much information about trade routes from a few biological samples. depending on the precision of carbon dating, you would even get a chronology of how the trade routes shifted over time.

  5. #5 Relativist Rupam
    October 19, 2010

    “Does a pro-science critical-thinking approach automatically lead to liberal humanism?’’

    Very important question. In my opinion, pro-science critical-thinking only leads to a non-judgmental mind. That there is no absolute morality, truth or meaning of life. If liberal humanism means zero judgment, then yes it does lead to that. But, liberal humanism, I believe, is judgmental about many things. For example, Isn’t it against violence, killing and won’t it even campaign politically for these causes?

    Doesn’t liberal humanism also define life arbitrarily and hold the conviction that unborn babies are not lives? Defining life is an unscientific act, in my opinion. 🙂

  6. #6 Martin R
    October 19, 2010

    Doesn’t liberal humanism also define life arbitrarily and hold the conviction that unborn babies are not lives? Defining life is an unscientific act, in my opinion.

    Liberal humanists understand that embryos are living beings. It’s just that we don’t define such a clump of cells as a human being. It belongs, along with gnats and herrings and cows, to the category of living things which it is OK to kill (but not torture). The line is drawn at the age after which medical science can save the life of the fetus if it happens to pop out of the womb.

  7. #7 Sandgroper
    October 19, 2010

    Being only two steps from Alice Cooper could be pretty scary. (Just kidding, I know he’s really a nice guy and all that.) (But on the other hand, he does play golf.)

  8. #8 Martin R
    October 19, 2010

    I went to church incognito.
    When everybody rose, the Reverend Smith,
    He recognized me,
    And punched me in the nose.
    He said:
    No more Mister Nice Guy,
    No more Mister Clean,
    No more Mister Nice Guy,
    he said you’re sick, you’re obscene.

  9. #9 Birger Johansson
    October 19, 2010

    More OT: “Stone Age flour found across Europe”
    — — —
    Randi is of the same age group as Feynman’s remaining colleagues, such as Freeman Dyson.
    — — —
    Marcus Chown? He often writes in New Scientist! (a highly recommended weekly magazine, BTW) Those writers have mastered the art of science communication to a mixture of laymen and professionals- a rare skill.

  10. #10 Sandgroper
    October 19, 2010

    Martin, I nearly posted the Youtube link.

    Maybe I will. There must be at least one person out there who has never heard of him.


  11. #11 Relativist Rupam
    October 19, 2010

    Thanks for your reply, Martin.

    “The line is drawn at the age after which medical science can save the life of the fetus if it happens to pop out of the womb.’’

    That is a pretty definition that science can rescue. 🙂

    Any consensus about the particular age of a fetus for being recognized as a medically salvageable human being?

  12. #12 Martin R
    October 19, 2010

    Dunno, not my field. It’s not an important issue to me.

  13. #13 SkepticCanary
    November 4, 2010

    I thought TAM was a success overall, but for the ticket price of over £200 there were some major issues.

    Firstly, Melinda Gebbie. Why on earth was she there? Not only did her talk have nothing to do with science or skepticism, she wasn’t even being skeptical. She declared her own opinions as fact (“mainstream porn is a slow form of rape”) which is the antithesis of skepticism.

    The Fry interview: why did they get Tim Minchin to do it? His interviewing technique was dreadful! He’d let Fry speak for two seconds, then start going “yeah, yeah”, before second-guessing Fry’s next words and turning them into his next question. It was unwatchable.

    I really enjoyed TAM when I was there, but the more I think about it, the angrier I get. I certainly won’t be back next year if the price remains high and the minority of speakers are irrelevant. However, I’ll certainly be going to qedcon.org! Half the price of TAM, plenty of interesting scientists and skeptics and not a comic book in sight!

  14. #14 Martin R
    November 4, 2010

    Several of the speakers at TAM London would have been right at home at DragonCon, where there is a skepticism track and a lot of general geek culture going on in parallel. I was generally happy with it, though it wasn’t as interactive as I would have liked.

    QEDCon looks good! The Swedish and Norwegian skeptics are bringing George Hrab over here afterwards.

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