What do you call 900 skeptics in a room laughing at a YouTube clip of an evil baby? TAM 2010.
TAM (or The Amazing Meeting) 2010 is an annual conference on science and critical thinking in its second year in the UK. The 2-day event, which took place this past weekend, brings together like-minded people to discuss ideas like internet piracy, digital copyright, the impact of creative participation, and the perils of pseudoscience. The event seeks to uncover falsehoods and bathe the world in the evidential light of skeptical enquiry (which is fitting, since it is sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) — founded by magician-turned-truth-hunter-and-charlatan-debunker James Randi, who famously offered $1 million to anyone who can provide evidence of the paranormal, a bounty that remains unclaimed after 11 years and a couple hundred applicants). The crowd was a geeky generation-spanning mix of skeptic fanboys/girls wandering around in TAM 2010 t-shirts, talking about flame-warring online with ardent creationists; the arch enemy of the skeptic.
The speakers throughout the event were varied, discussing everything from the need for a culture of self-criticism, to debating the most pointless thing on the internet (a laughing toddler, apparently), and the fact that social media is essentially creating a new “front page,” replacing editors by driving traffic through Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook. Cory Doctorow, co-editor of Boing Boing and sci-fi author who releases his books under Creative Commons license, discussed a topic that is currently at the forefront of internet creativity and collaboration: copyright law. Doctorow stressed the need for copyright reassessment, scrapping the old copyright collective method and introducing a new system which favours diversity and creativity, is evidence-based and fair, and is capable of providing an income for the creator (here, here). As it stands, the monetary and creative costs of implementing copyright law are ineffective, wasteful, and counter productive to the creativity of the web. You can watch his talk below:
Other speakers included Graham Linehan, writer of Father Ted and The IT Crowd, who’s apparently fond of using Twitter to crowd-source jokes. In his talk, he opined on the ideas of writer Clay Shirky who has said that the internet has revealed everyone wants to be creative, and not always to make money. The web is teeming with people’s creations, some good, some terrible, (it has a surplus of creativity, really), and while the web is still viewed with distrust, it’s a place that allows creators to take risks that could never be taken in mainstream media. As a writer and creator of sitcoms, Linehan feels piracy should be renamed “sharing” because it is actually beneficial, allowing the work to be seen in countries where the DVD wouldn’t be out for months, if at all. To encourage DVD purchases of his own work, Linehan often reaches out to file sharers by posting a comment on a torrent site asking users to purchase the work if they enjoy the episode.
As more skeptics took to the stage—DJ Grothe, PZ Myers—they all gave interesting talks focusing on the need to use empirical means over blind belief, but it was the last speaker of the event, comic book legend Alan Moore, who championed the importance of fiction, myth, and the imagination to enrich our lives while serving as a platform to critique reason and balance it.
Images show Cory Doctorow, Graham Linehan talking to Jon Ronson, and Alan Moore. Courtesy of Kelly Haddow