Our story starts on Saturday at 7:30 AM...
The show was to start at 9 AM. However, we had been informed that those who had not yet received their badge due to a postal strike in London the previous weeks, could show up at 7:45 to pick up one. Marit had received hers, but not I. So we got up reeeal early to navigate a foreign city. When we arrived at The Mermaid conference centre, we were greeted by this...
A crowd of a couple hundred people who also had not received their badges. Joy.
After a while though, I had gotten to pick up my badge, so we patiently waited and mingled until the main doors opened into the hall. We were pleasantly surprised when Phil Plait himself stopped by us to say hi to Marit, who had had the good fortune of meeting him in a more private setting earlier. What a champ, stopping to say hi even while he was hosting a major event like this one! We both swooned for a while after that.
Marit and I found ourselves some seats almost way at the front, off to the side. Excellent seats, really. We took a look around to scope out the crowd:
We were very delighted to see the diversity in both age and gender in the crowd! No offense to The American TAM-Vegas crowd, but from the pictures I have seen from those (without having been there to see for myself) it looks like an old sausagefest. The European crowd averaged much younger and a much better gender split. Still some ways to go, but it made me very optimistic for the future of Science and Skepticism in Europe.
Richard Wiseman introduced our Emcee for the show, Richard Wiseman. He did a tremendous job keeping us all entertained in between the talks, with his own mix of magic, science, humor and psychology. Wiseman then introduced Phil Plait, Bad Astronomer and President of the JREF, for the opening words.
Phil talked about how great it was to finally have a TAM in Europe as well, and that the crowd (that's us!) would be a great future for Europe. We agree. :)
There was supposed to be a prerecorded message from Randi, who could not attend himself due to a doctor's order, but technical problems delayed that until later.
After a few minutes he left the microphone back to Wiseman, who introduced our first real speaker, Brian Cox.
Brian Cox managed something incredible: At 9 AM on a Saturday morning, when most of the audience had been up traveling late, or at the TAM pre-party at The Black Friar the night before, he kept us all enraptured with his talk about particle physics and the Large Hadron Collider. We will have more details on this and all the other talks in later posts.
After Cox, our next speaker was author Jon Ronson, famous for his books such as The Men Who Stare at Goats (soon to be released as a feature film featuring George Clooney)and Them: Adventures with Extremists. Both of us were familiar with Ronson's work ahead of time, and the talk did not disappoint. We are very much looking forward to seeing the movie and his next books.
Ronson led the way to Simon Singh. Singh talked mostly about chiropractic, and his lawsuit where the British Chiropractic Association has sued him personally for libel against them. Singh wrote an article about chiropractic for his newspaper, and the BCA took offense to that and rather than trying to disprove his claims, they just sued him for libel. In the UK, libel laws are different from the rest of the world, in that it is now Singh's job to prove his claims, rather than the burden being on the BCA to disprove them. He is guilty until proven innocent. The rest of the talk was about libel laws in the UK, and how they need to change. We of course support Simon Singh's struggle against the BCA and libel laws in general in the UK.
After Singh we broke for lunch, which was a simple affair culinary-wise, but more complicated when 500 people all wanted food and there were no tables to sit at. Standing is better for mingling, sure, but leaves a bit to be desired when trying to use both a knife and fork...
After lunch we got our introduction from Randi, and when his (pre-recorded) message about how he was sure all the technical problems would be handled, we had a good laugh. It was sad that he could not come, but we expect to see him here for the next TAM London in 2010...
Ariane Sherie was next. Ariane was responsible for starting and organizing the whole "Atheist Bus Ads" campaign in London this year. You would not believe the amount of attention she and the campaign got for just wanting to put up a couple of ads on a bus.
Ben Goldacre was next. His talk was about the scares about the claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism, and an MRSA scare that swept Britain a couple of years back. Our father was diagnosed with MRSA a couple of months ago while he was at a hospital, so hearing Goldacre talk about other scares of MRSA was very interesting to us.
James Randi came on next, via a live Internet link. Yay for technology! It was of course not as good as having him there in person, but them's the breaks. We were very happy to see him, he is a hero and inspiration to us all. Next year he said, they will defintly try to have another TAM London, and he will hope that his doctors allow him to be there in person then.
Randi led into an award. It was a new award, the James Randi Award for Outstanding Continuation of Scepticism in the UK. There was not much surprise as to who received it for his efforts and troubles in the last year: Simon Singh. Well deserved, Mr. Singh. He also took the opportunity to announce that he was going to be a father in 2010, congratulations there too!
Later in the evening there was a comedy show for us, it was named An Evening with Robin Ince and Friends. Robin Ince and his friends put on a fantastic show, tuned to our tastes. As he said in his introduction, this was "A gig where I can mention Richard Feynman and get a round of applause."
The show ended at 23:00. Afterward we tried to go out for some drinks with about half the Norwegian crew, but there was not an open pub in sight. This was very unusual for our expectations and presuppositions of Britain being a pub-happy country. So we just went back to our hotel instead and prepared for the next day, which would be just as packed with excitement and awesome people...