When the JREF opened up registration for TAM London (our critical thinking conference to be held on October 3-4 of this year), the response was literally overwhelming: the server and database both freaked out. Now that the dust has settled and we've confirmed how many people got tickets, we have a pleasant bit of news: more tickets are indeed available!
Rather than simply do a first-come-first-served offer, which can be biased towards some time zones over others, we have opted instead to have an email lottery. Here's the deal, as enumerated on the TAM London website:
1) Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org from the email address you wish you register. You don't have to put anything in the email (unless you really want to), the subject and body won't be read.
2) You will receive an automated response confirming you've been added to the database.
3) 25 email addresses will be chosen at random on Sunday 7th June. If yours is chosen, you will be notified by email no later than Monday 8th June 2009 with a link to buy a maximum of two tickets.
4) Your purchase link will expire after two weeks. If you have not made a purchase after that time, another email address will be drawn.
"When you run your hands through your hair like that it makes me think you're flirting with me," a colleague said recently.
I replied, "Maybe I'm not flirting, but I'm getting my hair out of my eyes, or detangling my hair, or it's a nervous habit, or I have dandruff, or I'm readjusting my wig."
Someone's been reading those self-help books about so-called "Body Language"…
Linguistics, kinesics and semiotics are among the disciplines that attempt to observe and describe gesture and other forms of non-verbal communication.
On the other hand (excuse the pun), Body Language "experts" claim they can "read" posture, facial expressions, and other body movements. But people try to conceal their thoughts and emotions, and our own bodies reveal too much. It's a conspiracy.
In 2004, I attended my first Amaz!ng Meeting at the Tuscany Hotel in Las Vegas. It was an event that changed my life. Hungry for more, I subscribed to Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, and it was there that I found an advertisement for something called "The Skeptic's Toolbox."
This event has been held for the last twenty years at the University of Oregon in Eugene. Led by skeptic, scholar and magician Ray Hyman, The Skeptic's Toolbox is an intense weekend devoted to a single aspect of skepticism. This year's topic: "The Scientific Method." August 6-9 is going to be an interesting weekend in Eugene.
From the site:
Skeptics believe that unusual claims should be backed by evidence which is supported by sound scientific method. However the status of science and the existence of scientific method are currently highly controversial issues. Cynics argue that scientific method does not, and cannot, yield objective outcomes. Indeed, they argue that all scientific knowledge is relative to a given culture or social group.
I recently attended a rather special conference at which was held the 2009 Best Illusion of the Year contest. There, I met Dr. Shen Lin, a mathematician, who soon solved one of my mentalism tricks, after some head-scratching and deep thought! At dinner that night, I also met Professor Thomas V. Papathomas, Director of the Laboratory of Vision Research with Rutgers University Department of Biomedical Engineering. He forwarded me an excellent illusion, to be viewed at YouTube. Take a look, and be amused and amazed!
We received an inquiry on the forum from Dmitry:
Looks like circus magic to me. Can you have your staff take a look at it and drop me a short message as to how it's done?
In this video from Russia, we see a man waving his claw-like hand, chanting, and burning things with no obvious explanation.
Why not turn this into a group activity? Watch the video (which is over 30 minutes long - well suited to fast forwarding) and consider how this man might be accomplishing this feat. I do not speak Russian, so I don't know what he's saying, but as I imagine what he's saying is misdirection, this is actually to my advantage.
You've seen your share of informercials: over-the-top claims, annoying announcers, and products that seem miraculous. Why do I know the name "Billy Mays"? Do I care who's pitching this stuff?
Anyway... what if skepticism was sold the same way? What if you turned on the History Channel at 4am, and found a pitchman selling critical thinking, science, and skepticism?
No, I don't think it will ever happen either, but the folks at Action Skeptic decided to play with the idea in their 111th Skeptics Circle.
At the JREF, we're pleased as punch to find out that National Center for Science Education executive director (and two-time TAM speaker) Genie Scott has been named by Scientific American as one of the leaders in science education today. This award, called the Scientific American 10, recognizes outstanding people "who have recently demonstrated outstanding commitment to assuring that the benefits of new technologies and knowledge will accrue to humanity."
On their page honoring her, they said:
Eugenie Scott has emerged as one of the most prominent advocates for keeping evolution an integral part of the curriculum in public schools in her role as head of the nonprofit National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
We at the JREF couldn't agree more. Genie, who spoke at TAMs 2 and 5, is a tireless defender of evolution and its teaching in the classroom. She and the NCSE have fought creationists in many states, and are in many ways responsible for keeping back the rising number of politicians trying to wedge religious teaching into the public school system
Dr. Seth Asser spoke at TAM 3 about how religious beliefs can kill children through lack of vaccination. He's asked me to share this with you:
MEDICAL NEGLECT IS CHILD ABUSE! JOIN VICTIMS IN PROTEST!!!
June 8, 2009 from 11:30-4 PM
200 Mass Ave., Boston, Mary Baker Eddy Library & CS Church HQ
Imagine you are a 7-year-old child awakening in the night with sharp abdominal pains. Your parents arrive at your side, feel your fever and look concerned. Then they tell you not to worry, that it's all in your head, and they will pray with you to correct your illusion of illness. The next day you're much worse and a woman from your church comes to pray with you, too. But you can no longer, doubled-up in pain, vomiting, unable to eat, crying and screaming in pain. Rather than taking you to a hospital, your parents tell you to be quiet, that if you believed in your prayers then all would be well. After you slip into a coma, you die the next morning….of a ruptured appendix. Your brother and sister are told not to cry, that you have merely passed into the next plane of existence and this episode is not to be spoken of again.
The James Randi Educational Foundation (www.randi.org) is a not-for-profit organization that promotes critical thinking, science education, and skeptical inquiry by providing the public and the media with reliable information about paranormal, supernatural, and pseudoscientific claims.