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Passing through my third-life crisis peacefully in South London, finding out new stuff, and then getting cross and excited about it.

Friday, 9 April 2010

TAM London 2010 - Who I'd like to see

A small bird is twittering that this year's TAM London may take place on the third weekend in October.

I didn't make it last year, and I really, really want to go so I'm waiting expectantly for more details. So much so, that I've found myself fantasising about who might speak.

This is partly because it's only just over 6 months away, partly because I've been enjoying Crispian Jago's Skeptic Top Trumps, and also partly because I went to see the monstrously good Ghost Stories at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Last year's speakers suggest four broad categories of speakers, although there was a strong weighting to the Brits:

  1. JREF Reps - Phil Plait (Randi was sadly too ill to fly)
  2. UK based skeptics - Richard Wiseman, Ben Goldacre, Jon Ronson, Ariane Sherine, Tim Minchin, Brian Cox, Simon Singh, Robin Ince (Richard Dawkins was also scheduled to speak but couldn't make it)
  3. US based skeptics - Adam Savage, George Hrab
  4. Speakers from left field - Glenn Hill
Entirely selfishly, I'd like to see the balance shift this year.

I've seen or heard all of the British skeptics speak at some point over the last 12 months, and they already get a decent and increasing amount of exposure in mainstream media. Given TAM's profile, I'd like to see some slightly less familiar names given a bigger platform than they might otherwise get. 

I'd also like the chance to see more big names from the US, since there aren't many opportunities to do so.

And, most of all, I'd love to see some people who might not yet call themselves skeptics. The only name on last year's list who wasn't a well-known, card-carrying member of the movement was Glenn Hill, son of Elsie Wright who produced the 'Cottingley Fairies' photographs. 

To my mind, that made him the most intriguing speaker.

TAM is a great opportunity to bring in those whose expertise lies slightly outside traditional skeptical fields, but who are natural bedfellows for the movement. The last 18 months have, I would argue, seen skepticism in the UK emerge blinking into the light, having an impact in wider areas than before, and I'd like to see speakers at TAM who reflect that.

In what I think was my best post to date, I wrote in January about 'The Skeptics Who Never Were' because the movement came to late for them. And so here, using the same categories as above, is my fantasy list of speakers for TAM London 2010.

1) JREF Reps
  • James Randi - Every skeptics' favorite uncle, Randi has just come out at the incredible age of 81 and was too ill to make it last year. He has to be first on the list.
  • DJ Grothe -  As the new President, DJ is pretty much now the leader of the free-thinking world. He has had some very interesting stuff to say recently about 'kneejerk skepticism' and the importance of the grass roots. And, when I spoke to him a while back for the Pod Delusion, he said he'd break bread with me.
2) UK based skeptics
  • Andy Lewis from Quackometer. I was fortunate enough to see him at CFI's Alt Med on Trial, and he was sensationally good. Very insightful and very funny, I suspect he would completely own the event.
  • Bruce Hood - Author of Supersense and baiter of ADE651 proponents, he has atypical views on homeopathy on the NHS and how & when skeptics should engage. Would challenge more preconceptions than other speakers.
  • Richard Wilson - Not the aging actor who can't believe it, but the trouble-making journalist and author of Don't Get Fooled Again. It would be great to hear Wilson's take on the Climategate emails and tactics of the deniers, since he's an expert on the methods the tobacco industry used in the 60s and 70s.
  • Josie Long - Co-presenter of Robin Ince's much-missed Utter Shambles, Long is a stand up comedienne full of wit, eccentricity and sense of wonder at the world. Kind of like a female, funnier-but-less-well-qualified, whimsical English version of Carl Sagan.
3) US based skeptics
  • Jennifer Michael Hecht - Another one to challenge and stretch the standard skeptical outlook, she argues that there is truth to be found in the arts. A poet & historian, she wrote The Happiness Myth and Doubt: A History as well as the gorgeous Dear Fonzie blogShe is the most erudite speaker on my list, and I can't imagine we'll see her in the UK unless it's at TAM. My absolute first choice
  • Michael Shermer - Presumably everyone knows who he is? Runs The Skeptic magazine among other things, if you aren't sure, and (again) someone who we don't get to see in the UK so often.
  • PZ Myers - Just because he'll make me laugh harder than anyone else and, if we ask him nicely, he might come over a month early and help to irritate the Pope.
  • Eugenie ScottFrom her position as executive director of the National Centre for Science Education, Scott is the doyenne and heroine of the movement to preserve the teaching of evolution in the US education. The faith schools agenda suggests we may need her expertise in the UK sooner rather than later.
4) Speakers from left field
  • Nancy Cartwright - Important to note that I'm talking about this lady, the LSE-based philosopher of science and economics, not the voice of Bart Simpson. Cartwright would really help widen the boundaries and scope of UK skepticism. She would go a long way to ensuring philosophy wasn't a dirty word for skeptics, and would also have important things to say about the role of critical thinking in policy making. 
  • Becky Hogge - Hogge is best known as writer a on technology, editor of openDemocracy and was previously executive director of the Open Rights GroupSeeing as Web 2.0 played such a crucial role in the explosion of skepticism, who better to talk at TAM in a year when the traumatically awful Digital Economy bill has been passed? She has also worked for Little Atoms and Index On Censorship, perennial friends of skepticism.
  • Andy Nyman - There are nowhere near as many magicians associated with skepticism in the UK as there are in the States, and while Derren Brown might be the obvious choice, Nyman is the man behind the curtain, as co-creator and co-writer of all of Brown's shows. He is also responsible for the incredible Ghost Stories, and I'd love to hear his thoughts on things that go bump in the night.  
  • Jasper Fforde - We missed Douglas Adams by a good few years, and for some reason I don't think Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman would fit in. But Fforde is a author who understands science, and he is a worthy heir to Adams' manthle. The Thursday Next books are full of science-based humour and illogical flourishes, and The Fourth Bear features a degree in pseudoscience alongside all sorts of technological nonsense. If you haven't given Fforde a go, do so as quickly as you can.
  • Armando Iannucci - Quite simply, no one has made a more persuasive argument for evidence-based policy in the last year than Iannucci and co did with In The Loop.
  • Alan Rusbridger - Finally the current editor of the Guardian. While the temptation must be to ask Simon Singh to speak again, or his fellow libel sufferers like Peter Wilmshurst, I'd be intrigued to hear Rusbrider's take on libel-reform, as well as the role of science in politics, and where blogs, newspapers and other media go next.
So there you go. 

I realise it's an improbable, lenghty and entirely selfish line-up, but to hell with that. 

I know TAM will be a fascinating event whoever is speaking, and I'll be intruiged to see if any of my names overlap with the real list.

Hope to see you all there.


  1. Some excellent suggestions. Having attended TAM London last year, my main wish and hope is that they change the format this year from purely sitting and listening, and bring in some smaller, more interactive workshops. I also hope there is more publicity for the after parties, which to a certain extent were insider events for the inner clique last time.

  2. Hi Jon,

    I'm the organiser of TAM London, thanks for your comments. Some of your suggestions are already on the cards for 2010, but I would like to point out that the more non-UK speakers we have, the higher the travel expenses and therefore the higher the ticket cost, so we need to maintain a careful balance. Also important to remember is that not everyone lives in London so haven't necessarily had the same access to the Brit speakers that you have - this is true for UK skeptics as well as those from elsewhere in Europe. That said, this year's event won't be a repeat of last year's in terms of speakers.

    Josie Long did perform at last year's event, as part of the evening of comedy.

    Andy Lewis spoke at one of our fringe events, which was available to non-TAM ticket holders too.

    I think you'll be pleased with this year's line-up, some of the names in your list are included, and we're also doing workshop and panel events.

    Elbuho - slightly confused by your comment because there weren't any after parties. A lot of people ended up in the nearest pub on the Sunday, but that wasn't by design and anyone could have attended. If by 'clique' you mean 'staff' then I did buy the staff a drink, yes :)

  3. Don't think it's fair to class Tim Minchin as a UK sceptic, although he does live in London now I suppose.

  4. Tracy again - I meant to say, to Jon and any commenters here, please do keep the suggestions coming! It's all really useful. Thanks :)

  5. Good post, John. Some excellent ideas, especially from left field.

    Tracy did an outstanding job last year; I cannot wait for London TAM 2011.

  6. Thanks for the all the comments.

    Tracy - Completely understand that you have a tough balancing act satisfying many agendas with limited resources and, from everything I've heard, last year was an amazing success. Thrilled to hear some of the names on my list are in the frame, and if JMH is one of them I'll be the one at the bar buying drinks for staff.

    Dominic - Good point. Will edit to say UK based skeptic

    Elbuho - Agree with you on interactive sessions, as although I wasn't at TAM, I always prefer to get my hands dirty. I wonder if there might even be a Skepticamp-style fringe event? Tracy's comment suggests there'll be more of this kind of stuff.

    Jack - Ta. I thought it makes an interesting list, not least becasue there are 2 more philosophers in the list than there are lawyers.

  7. That'll fall exactly on my birthday if that's true...

  8. Mike, Marsh and Colin from MSS talking about the 1023 campaign would be worth seeing, imho.

  9. Where can we pre order some tickets ???:P


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