In the six months since I became the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, much of our time at the organization has been devoted to planning this year's Amazing Meeting, which is now just two short weeks away -- July 8-11, 2010 in Las vegas, Nevada. As plans came together over these preceding months, and the event expanded and grew, all of us at the JREF have become more and more excited. During a recent staff meeting, a longtime employee of the foundation argued that this will be the best TAM ever. Here are eight reasons I agree with him.
For the first time in the history of the Amazing Meeting, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), along with the Skeptical Society, will both be official organizational co-sponsors of the event, in support of the James Randi Educational Foundation, each providing promotions and underwriting. Although the Skeptic Society has always been very supportive of TAM and the JREF, this represents a considerable expansion of cooperation and mutual support among the three national skeptics organizations. Considering that there may have been some historic competitiveness among them, I consider this a major positive development. I am proud that the skeptical movement has grown to be so cooperative in working to promote critical thinking in society.
2. Best lineup ever
I have heard from a lot of people that this is the best lineup of any TAM so far. This is surely debatable, considering the phenomenal lineups of TAMs past, but I am gratified so many leading thinkers and figures in skepticism and science will be joining us this year, such as Richard Dawkins, Carol Tavris, Michael Shermer, Steve Novella, Simon Singh, Harriet Hall, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Paul Kurtz, Joe Nickell, Ray Hyman, Bruce Hood, Phil Plait, and so many others. Not to mention James Randi, himself. More information on the speakers this year can be found here.
3. Most workshops ever
A highlight at last year's TAM for me was the workshops. We decided to increase the number this year, and to offer an "all workshop pass," which has proven popular. With workshops on science based medicine, grassroots skeptical organizing, myths about human sexuality, advancing skepticism in education, skepticism and feminism, and a workshop introduction to skepticism, there is something for everyone. There is even a fun workshop on juggling, featuring famous juggler Michael Goudeau.
4. Highest registration ever
We are currently nearly sold-out at over 1100 registrants, with two weeks still to go before the event. There is a running bet within the JREF as to what the final number of registrants will be, but it is already higher than in any year past. This means, of course, that we may have to find a new, larger location for future Amazing Meetings in Las Vegas, which is kind of a good problem to have. Online registration closes in just about a week, so if you are going to try to squeeze into the event this year, now is the time to register.
5. Stellar shows
I am really excited about the evening shows this year. In addition to influential Las Vegas illusionist the Great Tomsoni and Company performing, singer/songwriter Roy Zimmerman will be regaling ticket holders. There will be a recurrence of "The Ham Party," where TAM attendees themselves perform in a talent show. And on Saturday night, one of the most creative minds in magic, Michael Weber, will be performing his wonders. I think this is one of the things people will really be talking about after this year's TAM and I can't wait to see the show. If you don't have your tickets yet for Tomsoni & Co., Roy Zimmerman, the Ham Party or Michael Weber, you still have time to purchase them by following this link.
Organized skepticism has occasionally be charged with being too male-centered, and too geared toward older folks. This year, with both a panel and a workshop focused on issues related to women in skepticism, in addition to a large number of women on the program, TAM moves in a more inclusive direction. In my view, the JREF has always been more diverse, at least in terms of age and backgrounds of its supporters, and we continue this trend by devoting time on the program to explore these issues.
7. A fantastic community
My partner Thomas and I went on the JREF cruise, the Amazing Adventure 5, this last March. One thing that stuck out for us on the trip was how amazing the skeptical community is that has developed around the mission of the JREF. Instead of a group of misanthropic sourpusses whose only commonality is a denial of others' beliefs, the community of skeptics attracted to the JREF is affirmative and fun-loving. JREF folks exemplify a generosity of spirit and friendliness. Tough minds, yes, but also tender hearts. I love these people, and I am excited to be part of TAM 8 where they will be present in droves.
8. James Randi
There would be no Amazing Meeting if there were no Amazing Randi. It is his work exposing frauds and charlatans over decades that has inspired and continues to inspire scores — hundreds — of ambitious skeptical activists. Involved with a number of sessions on the program, including a long-form interview with magician and skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, and panels on global warming, paranormal investigation, and an audience Q&A with Richard Dawkins, James Randi will be at TAM this year in full force. This is one of the biggest reasons TAM 8 excites me.
There are many more reasons to be excited about this year's Amazing Meeting. And we think we'll have some surprises in store for everyone at the event. I, for one, can't wait.