After an official opening, that’s why this is Day 01, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid (right) took the stage. His “Sounds from beyond” included unexplained sounds from radio telescopes, explained but still amazing tones from rotating super massive collapsed stars. He demonstrated how those “hidden backwards lyrics” are much easier to decode if you are told what the hidden message is before you hear the sound. That is why ghost programmes etc always do it in that order. If you want to hear some examples check out his related Skeptoid episodes especially one about the missing Russian Cosmonaut conspiracy.
Loretta Marron (right), also known as “The Jellybean Lady”, talked about her wonderful work fighting “Woo-Woo” devices, medications, and techniques by having them struck off the Govt medical register. I had heard Loretta, on podcasts, and was pleased to get the chance to speak to her at a later break. New Zealand is, or is trying, to get similar process & legislation around “alternative medicine” so much of her work could apply across the Tasman. Something to follow up when I get home!
Psychologist, Actress Dr Krissy Wilson (left) was fun with a look at how “Believers” and “Skeptics” differ, or rather how they often don’t. She also discussed Elbology. It’s a new diagnostic technique based on the topography of your elbow. Look for it to feature at upcoming Mind, Body, Wallet events.
The next session was billed as “James Randi & Dick Smith in conversation” (below right) and that’s exactly what it was. Two old friends, they’ve known each other for over thirty years, reminiscing, laughing, and taking the mickey out of each other with an intimate group of six hundred or so hanging on every word. Topics included James’ infamous “Carlos” hoax, Dick Smith’s iceberg, the dowsing experiments, perpetual motion machines, DSE joke products from the catalogue days (some I remembered!) and Dick’s search for Lassiter’s Reef. I think Dick came out with the best line:
“Randi’s ego is so huge he has to put his photo on everything he does!”
After lunch it was time for the first live, 3D, surround sound podcast I’ve ever seen. The Skeptics Guide to the Universe. The usual SGU line up recorded/broadcast live from the stage with a unique Aussie twist. Science or Fiction launched a new star in the form of Eleven-year-old Alex. Although he didn’t win the test, he won over the SGU team and the audience with a wonderful performance. It had been mentioned but the SGU session highlighted the rather strange venue, for a Skeptics Conference.
The event was held in the Sydney Masonic Centre and on the whole it was a great venue. The main auditorium had great acoustics, the technology mostly worked (although Mac twin screen set-up seems a challenge at times) and bizarre “stage furniture” including a covered Alter added a mystical quality to the debunking that went on!
I thought the suspended “G” (as Tim Mendham mentioned “Hanging from a G String”) represented “God” but Jay Novella surprised me (most?) when he revealed he is a Mason, then explained the Masonic principles and how G represents Geometry!
I doubt I’ll be seeing the inside of a Masonic Centre again but it made for an interesting venue and was great they accommodated us. It is a tribute to the TAMOz team that apart from some minor flaws the event went very smoothly. The only real complaint I had was the break-out room was too small and the food a bit same/same throughout the event. Given the logistics of pulling together international & local speakers, hundreds of attendees and the AV demands of live broadcast & DVD recording for a first effort it really was superb.
Dr Fred Watson’s presentation on the likelihood of finding organic life on Titan was entertaining and inspiring. He made the point, and was not the only one, that when our known Universe and accomplishments are so fascinating why the need to invent a mythical one?
The Skeptics Awards followed with the Bent Spoon going to the “Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority Draft Science Curriculum”. It apparently leaves the door open to present creationism. I’ll leave that to the Aussie blogs to explain and just be glad NZ has it’s own education system (with local woo!). Quite how Bastard Sheep got up there with ‘Lil Randi and the Bent Spoon I don’t know!
I stayed for the Science Based Medicine Panel (the alternative was a Law workshop) which was interesting and I think quite controversial. Dr Rachie Moderated but I found some of Prof Ian Harris' comments about the efficacy and validation of some common surgical treatments interesting. I wonder about the “Specialists do what they specialise in” aspect as some treatments become fashionable. It’s not my area of expertise but was interesting to listen too. Dr Steve Novella provided an American perspective and I wonder how much the “correct” treatment is decided by facilities, resources, or the system that provides & funds the service?
Unfortunately Tracy King was unable to attend but the replacement was a fun, messy duck fat lubricated explanation of the link between Dinosaurs & Birds from Palaeontologist, Science Media star and Event MC Dr Paul Willis. He literally pulled a BBQ Duck apart showing how features of its anatomy tied back to various stages of Dinosaur evolution. It was clever, funny and I was surprised the victim didn’t turn up at the dinner later that evening!
The conference day ended with a session from Dr Simon Singh (below left). He started with his work on Code with a lovely demonstration of how the Bible Codes do look convincing until you look at other text and see how easy it is to find code in them. It was a nice approach to the skeptical debate. This led to his work on Chiropractic and the resulting legal fallout. That is all well documented so I won’t repeat but it was fascinating to hear.
I was but one of thousands of bloggers who posted, tweeted about the case and when I did never imagined I’d see him speak, let alone meet him. I must admit I haven’t read his books but will be rectifying that in the near future!
There was, just, time to scuttle back to the Hotel to change and get down to Darling Harbour for the TAMOz Dinner Cruise. It was a great opportunity to eat, drink & chat although the blustery wind was a pity. At least it wasn’t cold!