Liveblogging The Amazing Meeting 9: Friday Afternoon Sessions July 15, 2011

Liveblogging The Amazing Meeting 9: Friday Afternoon Sessions

***If you want instant updates, I suggest reading the #TAM9 Twitter feed***

Thanks to @UAJamie for the great pictures!

We’ll be providing updates on the conference all day while getting interviews with many of the speakers. Stick around and refresh the page for more info!

You can read about the Friday Morning Session here, the Friday Afternoon Session here, the Saturday Morning Session here, the Saturday Afternoon Session here, the Sunday Morning Session here, and the Sunday Afternoon Session here.

Hey everyone! Hemant’s off interviewing awesome people like Neil deGrasse Tyson, that jerk. So instead you’re stuck with the fabulous tag-team blogging due of @UAJamie and Jen McCreight.

Jen: Jennifer Michael Hecht was scheduled to start off the afternoon with “The Philosophy of Skepticism and How We Show That Some Things Are, Actually, ‘UnTrue’: Notes on Homeopathy, Agnosticism, Sex, Drugs, and Science.” Which would have won the award for longest TAM title – if she was actually doing that talk. Instead she’s going to condense all five of the talks she gives into a half hour speed run, and named it “Splash!” This should be interesting.

I got distracted while trying to figure out WordPress, and I just heard “sexy erogenous massage” and “two girls at one time.” Damnit, what did I miss?

Jamie: I think the bit Jen missed (the serious non-sexy bit!) is that some woo can be awesome on the surface, with massages, relaxes and theater, but depending on how seriously it is taken by the person paying for the service, it can also have dark undercurrents or be downright dangerous.

Jen: Now JMH is talking about ancient skepticism, which is a lot of the content in her book Doubt: A History. tl;dr: Skepticism, especially skepticism of religion, has actually been around for a long, long time. Also, I don’t think I’ve had enough coffee to follow this high speed talk. Though it’s entertaining in it’s confusingness!

Jamie: I’ve been waiting during the whole philosophy section of JMH’s talk for her to get to Hume and she finally did. She started it with a picture of Desmond Hume from Lost too, so even better! Also, I had no idea that the modern “Black Swan” statistical theory which says that just because you have never seen a black swan doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist actually started as the “white swan” theory of skepticism by Hume who not knowing that black swans existed said that if we’ve seen hundreds of swans and all of them were white, then back swans must not exist. Yes, I might have just picked out the one stats thing in the philosophy talk!

Jen: “Some things we can say no to.” We can’t say there are no unicorns, because look, here’s a photo of a goat with one horn! But we can say there are no pegasuses (pegasi?) because it would be physically impossible for a horse to develop wings large enough to fly.

“I know when and why God was make up. Because I’m a historian.”

JMH is really capturing the audience’s attention with her amusing, fast-paced style. Unfortunately, George Hrab is totally failing at catching her attention that she’s gone 10 minutes over her limit. Whoops.

Jamie: JMH might be over the time for her talk, but I sure don’t want her to end. She’s now going over a history of atheism going back to Greeks that doubted the existence of the Greek gods, Egyptians that doubted the existence of the Egyptian gods, etc. We think of atheism as such a modern philosophy, but there were freethinkers going back thousands of years!

Jen: Poets have historically been staunch doubters. If they weren’t, they’d be righting Christian music instead.

And she spontaneously ended her talk so PZ Myers of Pharyngula (who doesn’t know this by now?) could take the stage for “A Skeptical Look at Aliens.”

Phil Plait’s “Giant Balls…of hot gas” sound more interesting than biology, so PZ is going to try to prove him wrong by talking about aliens. This will probably work, but I may be a little biased.

Most aliens looks like us, except they’re blue or have latex ears. Their biology doesn’t differ much. Except that “Vulcans must have interesting pereniums because as you can see, Spock is using the Vulcan version of the shocker.” And potty humor has won the audience over.

(Jamie has deserted me. You’re stuck with me now!)

Why do we think that all intelligent tool using beings have to look like us? PZ’s now going to inform us with how aliens ought to evolve, starting with the idea that aliens evolving to be human-like isn’t totally crazy. That’s because of convergence – that when two divergent species have the same niche to fill, they tend to evolve similar traits independently. But they still inherited the same initial toolbox of genes, so there’s not much choice about what potential traits can evolve.

Eels have two sets of jaws. The small internal jaws hold the prey in place, and the outer jaws chomp it up. And of course, PZ thinks this is “sexy.” And should look familiar, since it’s like the alien in Alien.

I spaced out for a bit, but the general message of the next topic was “Squid are awesome.” Surprise, surprise.

And now I got lost again because Hemant returned and told me about his Neil deGrasse Tyson interview fail. I’m sure he’ll let you know. No, you don’t get the computer back yet.

But we can’t assume that intelligence is one of those traits that evolves all the time, like eyes or fangs. We’ve technically had 6 “alien” worlds to look at — past species from various ancient eras marking by mass extinction events that basically reset biological life. But we don’t see intelligence popping up.

This is Hemant, reclaiming my computer again. I have no idea what Jamie and Jen just wrote. Should I be worried? Hmm… anyway, moving on.

It’s Pamela Gay of Star Stryder! She’s talking about astronomy as a “gateway science.” It’s what got her hooked to science in the first place and what instilled the passion in her.

Now, space exploration is getting defunded — and fast. She’s encouraging all of us to write our representatives to make a case to fund space exploration in the future.

“With NASA going away, that could be me going away,” she says.

The new project Gay says she’s working on is, a website that allows you to see through the “eyes” of New Horizons and help astronomers map out what’s in the Kuiper Belt.

In some states, teachers are being asked to cut back (or stop) teaching Science because it’s not on standardized tests and not affected by No Child Left Behind. We’re not teaching enough science to create new leaders.

When NCLB was passed, one of the goals was to make U.S. students the best in the world in Math and Science. We’re soooooooo not there.

Her passion is definitely evident and she gets a standing ovation from a good portion of the room.

Next up: A panel discussion on “Our Future in Space” featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Pamela Gay, and Lawrence Krauss.

Jen is in the middle of squeeing, so I’m going to hand it over to her…

Jen: Squeeing is an understatement. More like having a Bill Nye-induced seizure of happiness. HE WALKED BY ME IN THE HALLWAY AHGGBALGGHGBLL!

Write your Senator to not cancel the James Webb Space Telescope. Because all of these awesome people said so. But really, because that will lead to the demise of US astronomical research, way more than the end of the shuttle program.

And now, the most badass pairing you’ll ever see on a panel about space:

Bill: The Soviet Union was the first to bring back samples, Mars rocks from the moon.
Neil: …Mars rock from the moon?
Bill: Er, moon rocks.
Lawrence: SHHHH, you weren’t supposed to tell anyone!

Tyson says there’s no business incentive to create a space frontier. Whenever you’re exploring new areas, you’re going to make mistakes, and private investors don’t want to lose money. That’s why you need the government to fund exploration, just like Ferdinand and Isabella.

Also, Bill Nye singlehandedly killed the ozone by cleaning his bicycle as a child.

Bill Nye also mentions that if the US doesn’t make scientific discoveries, someone else will. And that’s a really good motivator to get the government to fund something. Pamela notes that especially China has been very productive. Even though we banned them from the space station because of human rights violations, they just said “Fine, we’ll go do it on our own.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson is being particularly ornery tonight. I don’t know why, but it’s amusing.

Lawrence: It’s much cheaper to send people one way.
Bill: I have many people I’d like to suggest for that job.

Neil is laying the smack down on Lawrence. Neil says we shouldn’t assume that everything is in the name of science – that geopolitical issues (primarily war) fuel human space travel. This is like the best internet flame war ever. The audience is giggling with glee.

And Neil just called Pamela delusional for saying unmanned programs can still be charismatic like the probe. “No one would have given a rats ass what that probe was doing” if there wasn’t astronauts active at the same time. Lawrence: “I hate to agree with Neil at all, but…” people are interested because the risk of a human dying is fascinating to us in a twisted way. But robotic is cheaper and better than nothing.

Bill: By that line, are we going to have the next TAM all by Skype? Would it all be robotic?
Neil: He shoot, he scores.

From twitter: Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson need to start a buddy cop program.

Apparently with Lawrence as the foil.

Sorry, I was listening so closely that I forgot to actually report what they’re saying. Imagine the smack down continuing. Pamela just shushed Neil to much applause.

Seriously, this is the best panel ever. I don’t care that it’s 10 minutes over – let this go on all night. Man, my panel is going to be boring as hell compared to this. …Hemant’s diversity panel has the potential to explode with drama, though. HAVE FUN HEMANT!

Neil: I have to rebut Larry here —
George Hrab: Keep it short, because I heard our keynote is a real diva.

Hint: The keynote is Neil. Who is coming on now, because they finally stopped the panel.

Hemant here. And the Diva is up next! Neil deGrasse Tyson is going to be talking about… oh, who cares. He could read the fine print for an iTunes update and I’d still listen. (Can we get a Neil deGrasse Tyson audiobook version of Go The F**k to Sleep?)

He actually has a topic: his adventures in science illiteracy. No notes. No podium. Just him talking. Kick ass.

Even though he has a book to sell, he’s going to talk about something we can’t get from there. (A subtle jab at some of the previous speakers, perhaps…?)

Then he goes right into the content of The Pluto Files. Hmm…

He gives us his quick take on Pluto: “Get over it.”

The best tweet he saw after his NOVA scienceNOW special on Pluto aired?

And now, everyone is following @goaty_koala.

A lot of Tyson’s talk is about mathematical illiteracy and how we’re afraid of numbers (like buildings that refuse to have a floor #13… even though Floor #14 isn’t fooling anyone). It’s the part of Statistics 101 where you talk about misuse and misunderstanding of numbers.

Now, we’re on Bad Physics.

In 2003, it was reported that Mars was closer to Earth than at any time in the past 60,000 years. That’s true… but no one ever seemed to ask: “Does that matter?” So paranoia set in, even though there wasn’t any noticeable difference.

Side story: Tyson tells us he was once called in for jury duty… but was rejected as soon as he told them he taught a seminar on the “Unreliability of eyewitness testimony.”

Time for Religion Vs. Science! YAY!

The American public is 90% religious.

The number of people with Ph.Ds who are religious? 60%.

What about the number of scientists (with Ph.Ds) who are religious? 40%. (A drop of 20% from Ph.Ds in general.) So science may not do as much “damage” to religious minds as a higher education does in general.

What about the number of elite scientists (with Ph.Ds) who are religious? 7%.

Tyson states the story here is not that 93% of elite scientists reject god. It’s that 7% of them don’t! Why is that? We should find out.

(Religious philosophers who are religious, by the way? Less than 1%.)

What about the Bible in the Science classroom? Tyson says we shouldn’t go after that on a church/state violation standpoint. Don’t focus on the First Amendment issue. Here’s what Tyson wrote in a letter to the New York Times:

To the Editor:

People cited violation of the First Amendment when a New Jersey schoolteacher asserted that evolution and the Big Bang are not scientific and that Noah’s ark carried dinosaurs.

This case is not about the need to separate church and state; it’s about the need to separate ignorant, scientifically illiterate people from the ranks of teachers.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York, Dec. 19, 2006
The writer, an astrophysicist, is director of the Hayden Planetarium.


Tyson’s most viewed YouTube clip, by the way? It’s when he rebukes Richard Dawkins for being less than compassionate to people with a religious mindset — and he’s playing it for the audience. (Wonder if Dawkins is in the room…):

His point of showing the clip? Tyson suspects it’s popular because people resonate with the idea that being sensitive to what others are feeling/thinking is a better way to educate them.

In other words, Tyson just gave the “Don’t Be a Dick” speech.

OOH! Dawkins IS in the room! And Tyson named names. The shit is totally about to hit the fan.

Other countries revere science much more than we do. When we think about Brazil, we tend to think of bikinis and thongs. Yet, they have a aerospace industry that employs 18,000 people and has a huge budget.

Even the currency in other countries celebrates scientists. Not ours. Our $100 has Benjamin Franklin on it, but not a kite! Or a lightning rod! It’s because he’s a Founding Father.

American engineering is declining. Our levees broke in New Orleans. The I-35 bridge collapsed in Minnesota. (But some Roman aqueducts are still standing today!) Cranes collapse. Trains collide. Oil spills. We can do better than that but we need to support science much more than we do now.

Now, we’re getting into Naming Rights. Like the Periodic Table. The countries who discover the elements get to name them:

Why are the elements in the right-hand column the “Noble Gases”? Because the British discovered most of them!

Most of the stars that have names? They’re Arabic, because they’re the ones who discovered the stars a millennium ago.

15 million Jews have won 25% of the Nobel Prizes in science/economics
1 billion+ Muslims have won 0.5% of the same Nobels.

How many “thoughts went unthought and discoveries went undiscovered” because those Middle Eastern countries are not participating in the scientific world? It’s a sad state of affairs.

Tyson is ending his talk by deflating our egos and reminding us that, in the grand scheme of things, we’re not all that impressive. One planet of many, one species of many…

BUT don’t get depressed about that. We are the universe. The universe is in us. And that’s something to be very excited about.

Time for dinner! We’ll see you all tomorrow, when Bill Nye and Richard Dawkins speak.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Inferno

    This sounds absolutely amazing. On a side note, why can’t we login with our Patheos login to comment on your blog?

  • Hitch

    Still love the Dawkins reaction to Neil’s rebuke. One can say lots about Dawkins, but a lack of humor is not one of them.

    Lo0ks like a blast at TAM9.

  • “Science is interesting and if you don’t agree you can f-off!”

  • Bob Becker

    This may have been asked before; forgive me if it’s a repeat question:   Will the TAMS panels/talks be available for viewing via  YouTube at some point?

  • I’ve been told they should be available on video soon!

  • Trace

    Great job!

  • Anonymous

    Is the site supposed to look like this? It’s really bad. It looks like a mobile phone formatted version of a site from five-ten years ago.

  • Refresh your browser. The CSS isn’t always showing up.

  • This is a great post – giving us a little taste of what is going on there.

    On a minor note, about 6 paragraphs in the middle of the post are unnecessarily linked to the photo above them.

  • guestola

    Any video links to this?

  • Not yet. Soon!

  • Meyers A Skeptical Look At Aliens TAM 2011 part 1 (uploaded by TalladegaTom)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Jen: Now JMH is talking about ancient skepticism, which is a lot of the content in her book Doubt: A History. : Skepticism, especially skepticism of religion, has actually been around for a long, long time.

    A fascinating book, but some of the scholarship is less than excellent. For example, Hecht wrote about the Carvaka school of atheism in India, which dates to 3000 years ago. That was the first mention of it I had ever read. But apparently Hecht had read just one book on the subject, and it was a modern Marxist interpretation of Carvaka.

  • Stephanie

    I think the main point Tyson was making with naming rights is how prior to the 20th century, almost all the elements discovered by Great Britain. Most of the great elemental discoveries of last century were American. But the future? Those elements will probably hold Chinese names, or perhaps one of the other up and coming countries that will eclipse the United States if we do not do something about our current lack of priority for science and technology.

  • Helios

    Polonium and Radium should have a Polish flag not French….sprising Neil didn’t get that Polonium is named after Poland….I thought he was meant to be clever

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