Tuesday, 22 March 2011

James Randi at TAM London 2010

TAM London's first day's talks concluded with the man himself, James the Amaz!ng Randi, who was interviewed on stage by Robin Ince. He talked about his skeptical origins and some of his encounters with so-called psychics, mediums and faith healers. It was clear that Randi's preoccupation with such people is not merely idle interest but an abiding passion. They may be deluded about their "powers" or they may be out-and-out charlatans; Randi has encountered both extremes and everything in between, and in all cases he is dedicated to exposing them for what they are, not least because they mislead innocent people who pay good money for something that isn't real.

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It was inspiring to hear Randi speak live about his life in skepticism, but if I have one niggle it would be that he and Robin Ince should have swapped places — Randi was positioned on stage such that he gazed mostly off to the side, away from the camera producing the view that filled the big screen.

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After his discussion with Robin Ince, Randi presented two awards. The TAM London 2010 award went to Ben Goldacre, who accepted it by pre-recorded video. Ben was unable to accept the award in person, but the video was an unexpected bonus — it initially freeze-framed, giving us a static second or two of typical zany Ben Goldacre expression. (And check out what must be the geekiest bookcase ever....)

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The second award was for Grassroots Skepticism, and went to Rhys Morgan for his single-handed stance against quack-remedy "Miracle Mineral Solution", which despite being basically bleach, has been promoted as effective against ... pretty much anything except amputation. Rhys has Crohn's disease, one of the huge list of afflictions that MMS is claimed to cure, and it was this that led him to investigate it, and subsequently to campaign against it. Such activism is to be commended in anyone, and so the award is richly deserved — more so in this case as at the time Rhys was only 15 years old.

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