While listening to various skepticism-related podcasts over the last week, I've been hearing James Randi bragging about one of his latest exploits in the war against Uri Gellar. Apparently Uri did some really bad magic trick on Israeli television, and someone posted said trick on YouTube.
Randi talked about how the copyright owner quickly told YouTube to take it down, but not before he "made a copy and spread it all over the Internet," ensuring that everyone who wants to see it will be able to.
This from the head of the organization who began legal proceedings against me for (naively) trying to help spread the valuable messages of the speakers from The Amazing Meeting 4 by painstakingly recording, editing and posting them on the Internet. His wanton disregard for copyright (downright pride was shown in the fact that he did it) shows that other people's copyrights are of no concern to Randi -- just his.
I really hope things at the JREF start heading in a more above-board manner soon, as I think a lot of the work they do is very valuable. I just think they ought to behave in a more law-abiding manner in the future, especially considering they only exist because of the donations of people like me.
While I think the JREF has done some really great work for the scientific community in the past, I've been growing increasingly tired of Randi's antagonistic attitude, and feel that he may actually be hurting the "skeptic community" as well the public's opinion of science in general. I'd really like to get him to tone his act down a little, maybe stop trying to make people seem foolish in addition to pointing out where they're wrong. Unfortunately, though, he's loved (almost worshiped) by the majority of skeptics out there, so I can't see that happening on its own any time soon. Anytime someone makes a negative claim about Randi, no matter how valid it is, Skeptics just shout them down.
When I saw these Randi Voodoo Dolls, they seemed like just the thing!
I've been stabbing that thing with the included pins at regular intervals, hoping and believing -- 'cause that's the trick with Voodoo... you apparently have to believe in order for it to work -- but Randi keeps going strong, ranting about evil works of fiction and television programs (all the while decrying those that rant about how evil the types of television programs he would like to see are), seemingly unaffected by the magic I've been trying to work.
Strangely though, I've been noticing a correlation between my stabbing and the rise in popularity/credibility of anti-Darwinian proponents. Creationists and other Intelligent Design proponents attempt to cast the theories of Darwin in doubt, claiming "scientific" evidence, when really all they have to support their claims is religious Mumbo Jumbo1. It seems like more and more of the uninformed public are getting behind these people, thinking that what they're promoting is science despite the fact that their claims are downright loony. As a skeptic, I know that correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation, but as a Voodoo practitioner I suspect that this is causatory. My stabbing is having an unforeseen side-effect, and I don't know why.
I did a little investigating and uncovered something completely shocking! Take a look here at the tag affixed to mini-Randi's bottom:
What is the JREF trying to pull here? This is clearly a Charles Darwin Voodoo Doll, and they're trying to pass if off as a James Randi Voodoo Doll. Not only is this fund raising attempt dishonest, it's downright malicious! I mean, it's fine and dandy to sell a Voodoo doll of yourself, but selling one of someone else is terrible.
I did a little checking, and guess what I found out? Charles Darwin is dead.
Coincidence? I think not. Shame on you JREF.
1: I use the term "Mumbo Jumbo" because it seems to fit well with my little Voodoo motif, not because I want to be disrespectful. I have my own crazy religious beliefs, and I deeply respect yours. They just aren't scientific in nature, so please stop trying to convince people they are. "Because it says so in the Bible" has been good enough for 2,000 years, there's no reason you need to go trying to have science back you up now as well. In the words of famed theologian George Michael, "You gotta have faith. Faith-fa-faith!"
The 6 disc set is $69, but that gets you video of every speaker's talk plus extra bonus features.
If you found out about The Amazing Meeting from my now-defunct illicit podcast feed and feel like telling the folks at the JREF that, perhaps it might help them to realize the potential of actually podcasting TAM5 themselves. (Or, at the very least, not take legal action against people who were doing the work for them...)
Also, if you are planning to attend TAM5, it's even more important that you tell them how you heard about it.
I'd like to thank everyone who has contacted me with words of support regarding the actions the JREF has taken. Some of you have expressed that while previously interested in participating in the JREF's efforts, the way they've handled things has changed that and you no longer wish to be a part of the work they do.
I'd like to suggest that you think about joining the JREF anyway. The work they do is very important, and the fact that you disagree with the way they've handled something really shouldn't affect that. As a donating member of the JREF (or simply someone purchasing merchandise from them), you will be putting yourself into a position of influence. During any transaction with them you can point out where you feel they've gone wrong and increase the likelihood that they pay you any attention. As someone who chooses not to have anything to do with them, you won't have any influence.
I'm confident that this situation will eventually get straightened out. It seems pretty obvious that since James Randi has been incapacitated due to surgery since before any action was taken, that he was uninvolved in what the JREF has done. It is very likely that the threatening letter sent to me was the result of an overzealous staff member looking out for what he or she thinks is in the best interests of the JREF.
I ask that you at least reserve judgement until I can get a statement from JREF regarding the stance they're going to take before you write them off completely. I'd really like to stress how important the work the JREF does is, and how much your membership and contribution can benefit us all.
Sadly, the TAM audio is now offline. I recieved a cease and desist letter from the JREF lawyers, which due to contents you’ll shortly see, I’m going to go ahead and post it here.
EDIT: I wussed out and am not actually posting the letter.
In case you didn't make it through that gobbledegook, the lawyer referenced something I said in an email to someone not a part of the James Randi Educational Foundation. That someone was Derek from the podcast Skepticality, who asked me what the licensing details on my recordings were. (Podcasters are really careful about only using what the license allows them to in their shows.) I told Derek that I didn't technically have permission to record the lectures, and that he'd have to ask James Randi (who Derek was going to be calling anyways) whether it was all right to use on his show. I don't blame Derek at all, I'm sure he wasn't tattling, just trying to find out if it was OK to use the audio. I’m guessing it wasn't :)
In any case, I figured that since they're playing dirty by using emails not addressed to them as a scare tactic, that it'd be ok for me to post these letters not addressed to you.
Here's my reply:
Dear Michael F. Huber,
Being a staunch supporter of the JREF —and not wishing them any more grief or harm (whether perceived or otherwise)—I've removed the offending material.
It saddens me greatly that the JREF would choose to take legal action against someone who so obviously supports them both financially and in spirit and intent, when a simple email telling me they don’t want me distributing these files would have sufficed very nicely. I mean, obviously I'm a supporter, I paid over $300 to the JREF just to attend the meeting, let alone the $300+ I spent flying to Vegas. Heck, that alone ought to prove it; anyone who knows me knows I don't even get on planes, let alone go to that godforsaken city. Then there's the fact that I spent hours and hours of my time and money to help "spread the word" by helping people to hear the very important messages that the speakers wished others to hear.
How could that hurt the JREF? Isn't spreading the word about critical thinking the entire point of the JREF? Recording devices were not only NOT prohibited, they were extremely prevalent throughout the whole conference. Everywhere you looked you could see camcorders, cameras, laptops, digital recorders and other devices capable of recording. Is the problem that the JREF is afraid I will hurt the sales of the DVD? I'm sure not making any money off this as I'm sure you've seen, I don't even have banner ads on my site and if you actually listen to any of the audio, you'll see that it is of such poor quality that no one would dare trying to sell copies. Also, I'm willing to bet that they'll actually have more sales, as people who listened to the audio will want to see the stuff they missed because they couldn't see it. There was a some really great visual stuff.
Also, no matter what I jokingly said in the email you referenced -- you know, the one where I suggested that I "surreptitiously" recorded the speakers -- my recording gear was in plain sight on the table in front of me at all times. Bonus points to you for bringing up "eavesdropping" charges while referencing an email that wasn't addressed to anyone at the JREF in the first place. That takes class. While on the subject of that ill-gotten email: the context of what I said was that I told Derek (who is on speaking terms with James Randi) that since I didn’t have explicit permission to record the show, I was unable to assign a license to it, suggesting that he ask Randi himself if it was ok to use the audio on his radio program. If I were trying to be sneaky, do you think I would suggest that Derek bring the matter to Mr. Randi's attention?
As for those eavesdropping charges, I'm pretty sure that those don't apply to recording someone who is a) speaking into a microphone in public, b) surrounded by tons of people with visible recording equipment, and c) extremely passionate about spreading the word on the issues they're speaking about (unless, obviously, the issue they're passionately speaking about is unlawful recording, then there might be a problem..). I don't think I would have to worry too much about that, even if I weren't complying by removing the material, which I am.
In any case, I've done what you ask and hope that this won't affect my future dealings with the JREF in any negative way. I think they're a great organization, and I'd be very sad to be unable to pay membership fees to them in the future. I think I've made my case fairly clearly that no harm was intended and that I continue to support the work they do.
Oh also: seeing how part of your claim against me referenced an email conversation with someone uninvolved in this issue, I’m sure you won’t mind that I've posted both your letter and this reply to my website where other uninvolved people can read about it.
Here's the much anticipated Mythbusters Q&A. There's a 12 minute chunk in the middle where they are playing the "bloopers" reel (which consists largely of Adam hurting himself, natch), which you probably won't get much out of in audio land. I didn't want to just edit it out, because there is some pretty funny stuff in there, so I apologize if you feel at all lost.
UPDATE: I accidentally exported a stereo mp3 with only the left channel intact rather than a mono one, I've since reuploaded it. Sorry about that.
Whoops. I uploaded and created the blog post for Daniel Dennett, but I apparently forgot to click submit. His talk was actually right before Carolyn Porco's.
Daniel Dennett's research centers on philosophy of mind and philosophy of science, particularly as those fields relate to evolutionary biology and cognitive science. He is currently the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
BREAKING THE SPELL
What is the future of religion, and why should we all care? Like weather forecasting, religion forecasting depends on knowing the phenomenon, and seeing where it came from. Religions are biological phenomena that have evolved to coexist with human beings just the way pigeons and squirrels—and language and music—have evolved. Philosopher/evolutionist Daniel Dennett peeks under the hood and shows that when we reverse engineer religions, we find they have evolved some surprising adaptations in their competition for our allegiance. Should we try to tame religion, improve it, ban it or wait for it to go extinct on its own? The answer depends on learning more about why religions are so potent.
Greetings everyone coming in from BoingBoing. I'm still going through all the talks, about 2/3rds of which are currently online now, with more to post as I edit them down. Don't miss Penn Jillette's Q&A, the Mythbusters Q&A (which hasn't been posted yet) and Dr. Richard Wiseman's talk.
The ideal way to hear these is via the podcast feed, as they will be downloaded in the proper order, preserving some sense of what the Amazing Meeting was like.
The volume is pretty low on these, but I couldn't jack them up much more without distortion. You'll just have to turn it up yourself. Some of the talks are worse than others in the audio department, so don't give up on it if the first one you hear is too crappy for you.
Dr. Carolyn Porco is a leader in the exploration of the solar system. She wrote her thesis on Voyager, has worked on the Mars Observer, the Lunar Explorer, and Cassini. Her company produces space imagery in an artistic and educational manner.
A large part of her talk was in reference to slides she showed, so obviously that stuff isn't going to be of much use in audio format, but she did say lots of interesting things.
PLANETS, PIETY & POLITICS
As a veteran Imaging Scientist on the Voyager mission to the outer planets in the 1980s, and as the current leader of the Imaging Science team on the Cassini mission to Saturn, Dr. Porco has traveled the length and breadth of the solar system. As a former member of many NASA advisory committees, she has also observed first hand the changing political winds blowing through the hallways of NASA. Her presentation will take us to the spectacular realm of Saturn and alert us to what the President's `Vision' for the future of space exploration could mean for the scientific enterprise at NASA, while telling us why the exploration of our cosmic environment matters for the intellectual and spiritual health of our species.
This talk was a crowd favorite, and certainly my favorite of all the speakers. Unfortunately, some of the things he did involve visual things, particularly his experiments in backwards masking. I really wish I had some way of capturing these elements as well, because they were really great. There's one point where Richard is talking about an experiment done where they switched interviewers and the majority of participants didn't notice the swtich. He plays a video clip of the experiment and walks off the stage, only to walk back on after the clip -- only it isn't him, it's Phil Plait (whose talk I sadly didn't get to record) dressed just like him.
Award-winning magician, psychologist and author, the aptly name Dr. Wiseman is frequently seen on British television and has given lectures in many different countries. He pays particular attention to the psychology behind belief in psychics and most recently, alleged hauntings.
Professor Wiseman presents his latest research into magic, psychology, and belief. A unique opportunity to discover the hidden science used by magicians to perform the impossible, witness jaw dropping optical illusions, participate in the world’s largest scientific experiment, and find out how to sell science to an increasingly disillusioned public.
Here's the first panel from TAM4, featuring: Nadine Strossen, Randi, Carolyn Porco, Murray Gell-Mann, Lawrence O’Donnell, Penn Jillette, Michael Shermer, Leon Jarroff
During this panel, the sound system at the Stardust crapped out. Penn annoucned that he is loud enough to serve as amplification for everyone, and after alittle prompting began telling a joke. That man is incredibly loud; the crowd of 800+ people could hear him perfectly well (in contrast to a few of the people with mics on the panel that you can barely hear.) After this, there was a 5 minute break while they sawed the audio engineers in half. I've edited things back together, but wanted to leave in Penn's antics, so if it seems confusing, that's why.
Law Professor Nadine Strossen is president of the American Civil Liberties Union. She is the first woman and the youngest person ever to lead the ACLU. She also sits on the Council on Foreign Relations. No stranger to public speaking, she is the featured speaker at The Amaz!ng Meeting 4.
Her topic was:
"POLITICIZING SCIENCE: THE WAR ON CIVIL LIBERTIES"
In her debut TAM appearance, Ms. Strossen will express her views on the current politicization of science, and how it has undermined numerous civil liberties, including academic freedom and other First Amendment rights.
Penn & Teller defy labels, and at times, good taste. They’ve performed together for more than 25 years; skewering the genre of magic, their sold-out audiences, and themselves -- very often all at the same time, within one mind-boggling evening. Their Showtime series Bullshit! is currently in its third season.
Up next was James Randi and his special guest, astronaut Ed Lu:
James "The Amazing" Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world's most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.
James Randi presented some anecdotes from his years of testing supernatural claims, and did a brief Q&A with astronaut Ed Lu.