The Amazing Meeting London (TAMLondon) kicked off today. My day started off at the back of a queue outside the Mermaid Theater in Blackfriars. Things started off badly for me as I spent most of my queuing time on my trusty Nokia E71 logged into Merlin removing a recalcitrant compute node from the job scheduling system.
All of TAM takes place in the main auditorium of the Mermaid which comfortably seats all ~600 delegates. First up on stage was Brian Cox to talk about the Large Hadron Collider and the scientific questions it is designed to answer. Although what his talk was really about was politician’s tin ear for the fundamental goals of basic science. This lead to a brief (but thoroughly deserved) shoeing for the shambolic STFC. Whenever I listen to Brian Cox I feel like I understand particle physics. This feeling usual lasts as long as it takes me to forget what a lepton is (i.e not very long).
Jon Ronson gave an entertaining account of his adventure at Bohemian Grove and some anecdotes about the people in his book The Men Who Stare at Goats. If you have read his books and seen his documentaries you probably know most of this already. This was lots of fun, but could have done with more David Icke reptile anecdotes.
Simon Singh rounded off the morning session with an update on his progress in the libel suit that the British Chiropracters Association brought against him. He outlined the gross unfairness of the English Libel system pointing out that not only is the burden of proof on the defendant, but it is 140 times more expensive to defend a libel suit in England that it is in most of the rest of Europe. The rapturous reception Singh recieved from the TAMLondon crowd shows that many skeptics share his disgust with English Libel law. As an added bonus superstar legal-blogger Jack Of Kent spoke from the audience.
Lunch was nice and I took the opportunity to wander around St Pauls. I lived in London for six and half years and managed never to visit it.
The glamorous Ariane Sherine lead off the afternoon session with a behind the scenes look at the Atheist Bus Campaign. This might have been usefully subtitled ‘Accidental Atheist Activism’. This section brought up the usual skeptics vs atheists debate which passed without rancor.
Ben Goldacre’s barnstorming presentation on the failures of science journalism was the highlight of the day for me. In particular Goldacre’s Law: ‘There is no piece of fuckwittery so stupid that I can’t find at least one Doctor or PhD to defend it to the death’. It almost goes without saying that Goldacre holds the current TAMLondon record for most profanities in a single presentation. This Brigstockian performance was punctuated by vehement applause from the audience on several occasions.
As a special treat James Randi joined us by skype. While I was disappointed that Randi couldn’t be here in person I’m glad he is listening to his physicians. Hearing Randi reminisce about the highlights of his career was a pleasure.
Drawing proceedings to a close Phil Plait presented Simon Singh with a JREF award in recognition of his on-going legal battle with the BCA.
Now that day one is at an end I must mention Richard Wiseman’s MC’ing, which has been a delight throughout. He is a genuinely funny stage presence and I was nearly in tears with laughter during his ‘teatowel into chicken’ trick.
TAMLondon day one has been more fun a barrel full of monkeys. My only wish is that tomorrow there will be a copy of ’59 seconds’ left so that I can purchase it and read it on the train back to Cardiff.