The weekend of October 16 and 17th saw The Amaz!ng Meeting come to London. Run by the JREF, it promised two days of “science, critical thinking and entertainment in the heart of the city”. I was a TAM virgin, so my expectations for the weekend were sky high. On the whole, the meeting lived to my expectations with some special moments, but like others I felt that some aspects could have been even better.
After we were introduced to our compare for the weekend Richard Wiseman, Saturday kicked off with one of many performances by the Amateur Transplants, who kept us all entertained with their nerd-inspired versions of pop songs. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will never think of tiny batteries in the same way again!
The first talk of the meeting was from Susan Blackmore, who told us about her research into the paranormal and how it eventually lead to her becoming a skeptic. As someone with a scientific background, I found the start of her story to be very strange, as she described how her quest to detect the paranormal began after a drug-induced episode when she was a student in the 70s. It reminded me of a story from Karl Pilkington, where he said something along the lines of “My mate took some drugs then had a telepathic conversation with someone across the room. How do explain that?”. Easy. Drugs. However, Susan’s talk was entertaining and she did believe the statistical analysis of her experiments, so although she pursued what I would call silly endeavors for a long time, it had a happy ending!
Following Susan was the speaker I was most looking forward to, one Richard Dawkins. His talk was based on his belief that evolution should be considered the new classics, to replace ancient Greek and Latin. The base of this belief is that evolution touches on pretty much any subject you can think of, from biology to history. Whilst I agree that an understanding of evolution is absolutely essential to comprehend life, I disagree with the classics analogy on a couple of points. Firstly, classics is often seen as the preserve of the more exclusive schools, whereas the teaching of evolution should be readily available to everyone. Second, it is a bit unfair on classics itself! Nevertheless, Dawkins was highly engaging and not at all aggressive, it was a very entertaining and educational talk.
Next on was Cory Doctorow, science fiction writer and co editor of the site Boing Boing. He looked resplendent in his bar code inspired suit and spoke very eloquently, but his talk was on copyright law. Now, I know that copyright law is a hot topic for many skeptics, and I’m all for the liberalisation of it. Cory used an evidence based approach to defend his position, which was great to hear, but I really struggled to maintain interest over the 50 minutes. Moving on…