It’s almost that time of year again! Things are buzzing at the Skeptics Society with excitement for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s upcoming “The Amazing Meeting” conference in Las Vegas—skepticism’s big show! There’s really nothing else like TAM. I’ll never forget what it felt like to attend for the first time, back in 2004. I walked into TAM2 as the newly-minted editor of Junior Skeptic, and as a long-time enthusiast for the literature of scientific skepticism—the only such enthusiast I knew, apart from my brother Jason. But there in that room were almost 300 skeptics! I’d never experienced anything like it.
Today, TAM attendance hovers between one and two thousand curious, upbeat minds. The energy is incredible. The whole place hums, vibrates. I come out of every single TAM vibrating myself—buzzing with ideas, new connections, new energy for the year ahead.
I’m tremendously excited that I’ll be back at TAM this year (despite having to fly) after my schedule compelled me to miss last year. It’s a hoot to follow the fun from afar on the Twitter hashtag (#TAM2013) but it’s not the same. I’ll be at TAM to help represent the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine—the Official Magazine of The Amazing Meeting!—and to reveal some details about my newest book, Abominable Science, co-authored with Skepticblog’s own Don Prothero (in stores August 6, available now for pre-order from Amazon). I hope I’ll see many of you there! There’s still time to register today (save $25 with promo code SKEPTICMAGAZINE). And, especially, there’s still time to register for the additional workshops,** including the Thursday event I’m moderating, Workshop 4B: Preserving Skeptic History (2:30–4 pm, July 11)! With the recently added participation of skeptical luminary Ray Hyman—a co-founder and architect of the modern skeptical movement—it’s going to be a workshop panel to remember.
Workshop 4B: Discover Skepticism’s Vital Heart Through History
Science and scholarship advance by building on the work of the past, and by remembering the hard-won lessons of those who have toiled in each field before us. Skepticism is no exception. But how can legacy knowledge be transmitted to new generations of skeptics? This question lies at the heart of fierce debates about the scope and mission of scientific skepticism, its practices, and even its ethical responsibilities. Moreover, many paranormal and fringe claims are actually claims about history, from the origins of the sea serpent, to the events of 9/11, to alleged crashes of flying saucers. (Abominable Science, for example, is to a very large extent a book of historical investigation.)
This workshop will dig down to the roots of the modern skeptical movement and its paranormal counterparts, with the help of people who were there. Participants will gain tools for conducting their own research into the history of skepticism and paranormal claims, and learn how to share that historical understanding with the public.
For my contribution, I will describe the practical tools and techniques of my own skeptical historical sleuthing for Junior Skeptic, Abominable Science, Why Is There a Skeptical Movement? and other projects. Expert UFOlogy critic Robert Sheaffer will speak from his more than thirty years as a Skeptical inquirer columnist to explore how skepticism unfolded in response to seemingly-credible paranormal claims that required very specific and knowledgeable refutations—not mere general statements about the burden of proof. Psychologist and CSI (CSICOP) co-founder Ray Hyman will discuss longstanding, unresolved questions about skeptical practice, arguing that instead of paying lip service to science, we skeptics should use science to measure our successes and failures. Tim Farley, creator of the What’s the Harm? website and the Today in Skeptic History app, will explore the astonishing growth and trend lines of skeptical events over the decades. And, Guerrilla Skepticism‘s Susan Gerbic will teach you how to put your historical understanding to work for the public good through one of the world’s most consulted resources—Wikipedia.
**Remember that the TAM workshops are offered in addition to the basic TAM attendance, and require specific additional registration.