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TAM 7 – Miscellaneous mumbling..

by Yau-Man Chan, Jul 19 2009

Ok..unlike Kirsten,  I’m officially a TAM virgin no more!  Despite my very busy schedule and cost, (what with the State of California implementing furlough for their employee and all, I’m in the penny-pinching mode) I did manage to sneak off for a long weekend to hang out with big names in the skeptics movement.  All the TAM sessions exceeded all my expectations and I understand from reading my fellow bloggers here as well as every other blog and commentary about the gathering, a good time was had by all.
Everything that needed to be said about TAM 7 probably have been said and so I won’t be repetitive here.  Of all the activities I was involved with (sorry I missed the Skepchicks party but I do need my beauty sleep!) the Connie Sonne dowsing challenge was the most impressive.

Thanks to the organizers, I had a front row VIP seat to watch this experiment. (I guess there are some advantages to being a D-list celebrity!!)  I was very impressed with how meticulous the experiment was conducted and even more impressed with how all the audience (estimated at about 500) was able to keep absolutely quiet and still – not a cough, not a chair squeak – throughout the duration of the challenge.  I can’t imagine a room full of skeptics – outspoken skeptics – watching this demonstration of psychic power not wanting to scream out some invective or irreverence comment.  But we were all very well behaved and the demonstration of psychic Sonne’s ability to dowse failed – failed spectacularly.

The honest truth is that while I sat watching her dowse, I somehow wanted her to succeed.  Yes, my rational-self knew she would fail. I understand the laws of physics and that the fundamental forces of nature as well as statistics are not in her favor.  But yet, deep down, and for very selfish reasons I wanted her to succeed.  If she could indeed dowse for the cards under such strict conditions, she would be on her way to proof there there possibly could be another force of nature hereto undiscovered – and I was in a front-row seat to witness it – how cool is that?

I am trained as a scientist and worked in applied science and engineering all my working life but I grew up in a culture where existence of unmeasurable, undetectable imaginary force fields are taken for granted.  Perhaps if Connie succeeded and dowsing is indeed a reality, we can set out to find the reality behind the phenomenon. If we can find the “dowsing force” can we not find the “chi force” and rehabilitate my fore-bearers pseudoscience and bad medicine?  Wishful thinking!

There is one observation I would like to share with you – and that is the noticeable absence of attendees and panel participants of Asian descent.  This is not the only skeptics movement events where I have noticed this dearth of Asian (especially Chinese and Koreans) participation. Go to any science, technology events or to any science and engineering departments in any major universities in North America and you will see people of Chinese, Korean and Japanese ancestry very well represented. Yet, they are all but absent from the skeptics movement.  I met a couple of “pale white guys” (their words!) from the skeptic society in Vancouver, BC, Canada and they brought up the same observation.  Vancouver, BC has the largest Chinese population or any cities outside China, after Singapore, yet they are conspicuously absent from their local skeptic movement. I find it impossible to belief that all the professors in physics, chemistry,  or astronomy of Chinese ancestry in our great universities and research centers believe in chi, animal astrology, feng shui and other woo-woo nonsense.  I cannot believe that all the pharmacology professors in our most esteem pharmacy and medical schools would accept all the Chinese herb remedies that have been tested and found to be a placebo at best and harmful at worst. So where are they in the skeptic movement – are they not interested in getting the message out?  Are they not willing to “rock the boat” when it comes to skewering the holy cows of their own culture?  Is there too much respect for their ancestors and filial piety prevents them from criticizing their ancestors cherished believes?

I don’t know, but I’ll be looking in it and see if I can do some outreach!

7 Responses to “TAM 7 – Miscellaneous mumbling..”

  1. MadScientist says:

    It’s good to hear from you again Yau-Man. In Asia of course it’s an unspoken taboo to speak against woo treatments. My paternal grandfather was chinese and he’d scream at people who brought up traditional so-called medicine (he was a GP and surgeon), but he was one of very few people I’d ever known who was like that.

    I suspect some physicians tell their patients that traditional cures are mostly nonsense but perhaps not enough do that. I don’t believe that they have to be visible and attend meetings like TAM to be effective though. It might help if professional organzations like the AMA would periodically issue statements against woo cures and point out some facts; after all, it’s not only people brought up with an Asian influence who believe in nonsense.

  2. Podblack says:

    Hi, if you’re interested – several members of the Critical Thinking Education Group are interested in promoting a variety of cultures, backgrounds and experiences as presenters and stakeholders at science and skeptical conferences.

    There’s been some looking at research on skeptical conferences, on Podblack Blog. I suggest that further networking and interaction will help too – one of the reasons why the Australian groups like Skeptic Zone travel internationally and presented on ‘Global Skepticism’ at the last Dragon*Con. I hope that people will consider catching up with both CTEG and Skeptic Zone at Dragon*Con, which appears to be the next ‘big calendar event’ for skepticism. :)

  3. Podblack says:

    Oh, the Skeptic Zone episode which looked at what hindered Chinese nationals coming to the Amazing Meeting 6 and some of the issues that one skeptical activist faced can be found here: The Skeptic Zone, Episode #7 – 5th Dec, 2008. Listen in at 14.00min into the show.

  4. SF Reader says:

    Sorry, Yau-Man, but one of the two engineers of Chinese descent in my department believes in energy medicine. Yes, an engineer!

    She’s a good friend, so I’ve been gentle with her.

  5. Yau-Man,

    If you want to do some cool outreach at the huge Skeptic/Science event I run at Dragon*Con, please do! I can even squeeze you onto a panel or two I am positive. Nothing like a convention with between 45,000 and 60,000 people to get the word out! :)

    Just, give me a shout and I can get you information


  6. Trausti says:

    Vancouver, BC has the largest Chinese population or any cities outside China, after Singapore

    Really?? Thats fascinating if true. Do you have any references for that? (my sort google search was inconclusive).

  7. This is a fascinating question. I look forward to hearing what you discover as you dig into it.