This blog is a focussed experiment. I wanted to test my ability to publish and produce a taut multi-media blog on something. I attended TAM7 in July. It struck me as the perfect 4-day crash course. The "course" didn't go as well as I hoped, but I learned a lot. I'm continuting to update as I have the opportunity to - eventually I'll have covered the entirety of my experience at the conference.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Robert Lancaster goes into lunch

Next up, Phil Plait talked briefly about JREF scholarships. If memory serves, there were over 40 of them - more than 40 people attending TAM on scholarship. 4% - I'd call that pretty good, myself.

He then turned the floor over to Robert Lancaster.

I have to admit that this is where writing gets tough. I feel like a bit of an ass talking about it at all, but I really want to make some effort to tell it like it is, and not add gloss where it was not already in place.

I don't think there was likely a single person in that room that wouldn't call Robert Lancaster a skeptical hero. If you do not know, he is responsible for the Stop Sylvia Browne website. If you don't know who Sylvia Browne is and why she needs to be stopped, then go to the site.

About a year ago - shortly after the last TAM to my understanding (certainly not before as one of the highlights of the Stop Sylvia Browne website is his recounting of his post-TAM6 encounter with that hideous harpy herself) - Robert Lancaster suffered a stroke. He is still recovering.

Mr. Lancaster seems to be the most pleasant human being you could imagine. I have no idea what he was like before his stroke, but today he could not come across as more gentle. And the respect in the room for him was palpable. There was a long ovation for him as he came on stage in his wheel chair. I mean long in the Hirohito's Funeral sense. And unfortunately that set the tone for the presentation.

Like I said, this is where it gets difficult. I don't know if Mr. Lancaster has always been such a slow speaker - I suspect not. I also do not know if he had seriously given consideration to the length of his presentation, but it was long. Very long. And it seemed longer as a result of his presentational style.

He was informed that he was going long, and presumably he began editing himself at that point, but he still went well into lunch before he was virtually cut short.

I know I was torn. It was difficult maintaining attention and out of deep respect I made every effort. So did most of the people in attendance. But with lunch pending and people getting hungry something had to break.

I was expected to man the SkeptiCamp table at lunch, so once I realized that we were past the time I was supposed to take the table over, I bit the bullet and left my seat. I honestly do not know if Mr. Lancaster got to a point in his talk where the various elements of his discussion came together in a unified manner, and as a result it's actually hard to summarize what his talk was about.

At it's core he was discussing the pre-history of his stroke, his desire to talk to other skeptics who had suffered from strokes - Derek Colanduno of Skepticality being the notable example. (I too wanted to meet Derek.) - the support of his wife and his appreciation of the people who helped maintain the Stop Sylvia site during his convalescence.

There is no doubt that getting up and walking away from his presentation was the hardest thing I did during the conference.


Over a month before TAM I volunteered to man the SkeptiCamp booth during lunch on Friday. I had made a few assumptions that resulted in me chosing that time. I had first assumed that the booth was outside the conference hall (Wrong! All the tables were at the back of the hall.) and that if I manned it at any other time I'd be cutting into the presentation time and who knew what great stuff I'd miss. I also assumed that lunch was not provided. I figured that people would be scattering in various groups to the numerous establishments within and nearby the casino. (Wrong again! A lunch buffet was part of the conference and that lunch-time mingling was a core element of the event.) Silly me. I assumed that by manning the table I'd actually be increasing the amount of interaction I had. Nope.... well, that's not fair.

Jesse Brydle - fellow Vancouver skeptic and CFI organizer - was also signed up for that window. We had a good chat while we sat there virtually alone. Got to know each other a bit better than Skeptics in the Pub had thus far allowed. We spelled each other off so we could go grab a plate of food from the buffet. (My bad on that, I grabbed a plate and sat a table with Ray Hyman briefly to listen, thinking that I'd scarf my food down and then tag-off Jesse and he could come do the same. But then they started packing up the buffet! So I ran back and sent him to get food before he missed his chance.)

As lunch wore on people returned to the tables, including Reed Esau who started SkeptiCamp. Reed fielded the most of the questions once he showed up. I suppose in a pure sense we could have abandoned our post then. Or official relief didn't show up so we ended up manning the table until the NEXT shift showed up just as the next round of presentations began. No issue with that really. I was happy to be chatting with people and talking about my SkeptiCamp experience.


  1. Thanks for helping at the table Kennedy. If things go as expected, we can see a number of events announced in the coming months.

  2. That's fantastic news Reed. At some point once I've finished the postings on this blog to get it up to date I'll do a piece on my main skeptical blog "Confessions of an Asshole Skeptic" about SkeptiCamp.