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Are you frustrated that TAM & the JREF are no more, and the skeptical community has disintegrated?

by Brian Dunning

March 19, 2016

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Donate Are you bummed and disappointed that our favorite annual reunion The Amaz!ng Meeting is no more? That James Randi's JREF has ceased operations? That the community of like-minded enthusiasts of skeptical thinking -- once called "organized skepticism" -- seems to have exploded into feuding factions of atheists, social justice warriors, and rage bloggers?

You're not alone. I hear it a lot. I hear it in casual emails from listeners, and I hear it from my long-time friends and colleagues with whom I spent many happy hours in the Del Mar lounge at the South Point. While I don't deny that TAM will be sorely missed, these changes have all happened for the right reasons, and in that sense, constitute something that we all still share.

First, the demise of TAM and the JREF happened for exactly the right reason, and no other. Our friend James Randi, considered a mentor by many of us, has simply retired. TAM was a great success. The JREF was a great success. Randi continues to symbolize "Better living through less woo". JREF didn't go out of business or fall apart or have some giant drama; it simply closed, quietly and appropriately, as its central figure steps back. We should all be so lucky. Mourn the loss of TAM, but don't read it as some sign that things are going to hell. They're not. They're getting better.

The fractioning off of splinter groups whose priorities were other than "Better living through less woo" is not a sign that critical thinking is crumbling. In fact it's almost the opposite; it's a cleansing, like one of those organic gluten-free detox coffee enemas we all love. For now, when we do attend a conference, we're less likely to get punched in the face with some drama that has nothing to do with the reason we attended.

And, attend those other conferences, we are doing -- from my read, attendance at skeptical conferences continues unabated. NECSS is having its eighth annual conference this year in New York, and it continues to draw rave reviews from those lucky enough to go. The seventh annual SkeptiCal in the San Francisco Bay Area is always surprisingly fun and affordable and with a speaker list that punches way above its weight. CSICon, which traces its lineage all the way back to the original CSICOP crew who got us started, remains the solid heavy hitter every year, and this year is moving to Las Vegas to fill TAM's much-missed gap. But keep a wide-open eye on SkepTrack at Dragon Con, the skeptical mini-conference within the world's largest gathering of our best potential new compatriots. This year SkepTrack is now in one of Dragon Con's large halls, and that's significant. More new people will probably be introduced to great skeptical content at this year's SkepTrack than at any other conference past.

And those are just in the United States, hardly the world's center for rational thinking. Look for QED in Manchester again this year, the Australian Skeptics National Convention in Melbourne, and the European Skeptics Conference every year. And these are to say nothing of the many smaller conferences worldwide.

It's noteworthy also that a number of these conferences are run by the same people who bring you the podcasts you're still listening to after an entire decade, which is a gargantuan achievement. Skeptoid is your favorite OF COURSE, but SGU, Skepticality, and The Skeptic Zone have all been around 10 years (!!!!!!!!!) and organize, or have been instrumental in, some of these great conferences. Support the podcasts; we need you in order to provide what you expect from us.

Yes, be sad that we can't all go to TAM anymore. But be glad of the reason why, and make a point to attend an alternate conference instead. You'll find many of your same old friends are there, we're all still passionate about "Better living through less woo", and we'll be glad to tip a glass and remember the JREF, and insure that "the good old days" are still rolling.

by Brian Dunning

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