#TAM2014 recap

randiphoto
Photo with James Randi

#TAM2014 was a great experience.

The long experience that was The Amazing Meeting (#TAM2014) has concluded. Thanks to fundraiser supporters and promoters — some of whom I was able to meet at the event — I was able to afford the conference excursion and archive the conference via Twitter – mostly in the form of live-tweeting – and provide updates and photos through Facebook.

As The Amazing Meeting program and website promised, the conference was packed with panel discussions; presentations; talks; workshops; movie screenings; comedy acts; and Penn Jilette’s Rock & Roll, Donut, and Bacon Party which included filming for an upcoming movie dubbed Director’s Cut in which the audience was included.

The schedule was so packed I was quite tired throughout the event – even after naps and about five to six hours of sleep each night. Travelling, too, and waking early for a 6AM flight (which was later delayed) likely contributed to my exhaustion, but I was able to live-tweet throughout the event and not skip sessions for need of sleep.

Conference hall of ~1200 attendees
Conference hall of ~1200 attendees

TAM2014 staff recommended, during the opening remarks and throughout the conference, to engage in conversation with conference goers and JREF staff. Throughout the experience, since most of my time was spent live-tweeting, I did not have too much time for social interaction outside of scheduled meals, but the social interaction – when it happened – was worthwhile.

People were friendly, talkative, open to discussion, and positive. I met many people with whom I have interacted with in online forums and social networks. Some approached me thanking me for my activism and shining a skeptical light on goings-on in online spaces. Those who did not know who I was, though, were still happy to chat and – like the others I was familiar with – were very pleasant.

I arrived in time for the Thursday welcome reception which was a great time to socialize. I particularly enjoy when conferences build in time to interact with staff and attendees )not all conferences do this and instead cram the schedule with talks and panels). Friday started with a breakfast buffet which, like the other conference meals, had great variety including vegetarian options. There was more than enough food allowing for multiple trips to the buffet line in the large conference room for anyone who was very hungry.

Live-tweeting
Live-tweeting

Carol Tavris’ speech ‘Who’s lying, Who’s Self-Justifying? Origins of the He Said/She Said Gap in Sexual Allegations,’ (see a Storify here) well-received by the crowd, was a personal favorite of mine. Tavris said that as skeptics we should question everything, including sexual assault allegations, and should not be considered ‘rape cultured’ for doing so.

She also highlighted the fact that people are quick to believe testimony [of women] about sexual allegations – so much so that faculty members of Duke University, in a famous case of a false allegation, before a collection of evidence [outside of mere testimony] or a trial, collectively signed a letter siding with the false accuser.

Tavris cautioned people about jumping to conclusions and encouraged a skeptical mindset when evaluating allegations. She also noted that people can be mistaken and not necessarily lying when making accusations because memory is faulty, miscommunication happens, and people are often not direct about their wants.

Tavris’ talk was a much-needed strong rebuke of modern feminism and its common memes — ‘a woman would never lie about a sexual allegations,’ ‘our society glorifies, excuses, and contributes to common sexual violence against women,’ ‘a drunk woman in all cases (even when she and her partner are intoxicated) is considered to have been raped if she has sex,’ — as advanced by popular and influential commentators.

Of course not all feminists are like that, but many are — including those from well-funded advocacy groups, government organizations, and popular commentators – so much so, I would suppose, that Tavris felt the need to address these issues and note, “this is not the feminism I signed up for” within her speech.

Tavris noted ‘sexual stupidity’ which results in criminal charges including a case at Occidental College in which a woman was asking – through text messaging — a man about a condom because she wanted to have sex. Following the sex, coupled with alcohol, the man was charged with rape and expelled from his university. Tavris also explained that alcohol leads to people making poor decisions and that consent is a blurry, confusing, and complicated topic which does not always include verbal, direct, and clear affirmation.

Photo with Zoe of the Antisocial Justice Podcast
Photo with Zoe of the Antisocial Justice Podcast

Elizabeth Loftus’ talk ‘The Memory Factory,’ Bill Nye’s keynote address, Daniel Loxton’s talk ‘A Rare and Beautiful Thing,’ Steven Novella’s talk ‘How to Think Like a Skeptical Neurologist,’ and Richard Saunders’ talk ‘Looking into the Psychic Mirror’ were five other speeches which I found compelling. I will not go into great detail about these talks in this piece (I don’t want a super-long blog post).

This conference – outside of the entertainment, social networking, and archiving through live-tweeting — was quite valuable for me because I will be able to use the information in my professional role of working with students who have disabilities — better relating with them and adding skeptical thinking into the classroom setting – and in my study of Mental Health Counseling in addition to my internship and practicum hours which are approaching.

I would like to attend this and similar conferences in the future if I am not working and/or have vacation days in addition to having the required funds (conferences often are not inexpensive for me), but do not have any specific plans in mind for 2014 at the moment apart from the 2014 Pennsylvania Counseling Association Conference which I hope to attend this Fall with my peers and instructors from Marywood University because the trip is affordable – mostly paid for by the university I attend. It’s additionally difficult to plan at the moment because my schedule for the Fall semester, because of approaching practicum hours, is uncertain.

Thanks again to the JREF staff; supporters who made this conference experience possible through donating to and promoting my fundraiser; those who thanked me for my live-tweeting, activism, and online contributions; and everyone who was so welcoming and friendly at #TAM2014. I would rather not name names because I would surely forget someone. You know who you are!

As always, feel free to comment below. Consider surveying my live-tweets from #TAM2014 and watching videos of TAM presentations when they become available. JREF staff promised videos will be uploaded following the conference.