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Jul 19 2011

TAM Sunday: I give a presentation to a zillion people

I got up early to get ready to see the papers, and to make sure I was there to watch everyone else’s papers because they usually aren’t crowded.  TAMmers leave in droves on Sunday before the event is over and the papers were really poorly advertised this year.  There was no program, there was no schedule that anyone had access to, our names weren’t printed anywhere, certainly our subjects weren’t printed anywhere.  It was poorly done, I have to say — we’re not headliners, but we are people who still had to pay despite the fact that we’re talking.  The least they could have done is put our names somewhere so people would know what they were listening to.

Anyway, I went to the papers.  I was fairly nervous, but it was OK, I was the last to go, so I had to sit through 6 other papers before it was my turn and, unfortunately, the paper before me ate into my time a little, so I had to shorten mine up on the fly.  Which was also fine, because I could see anything thanks to the lights reflecting off of my glasses, so I couldn’t really read my notes anyway.

It went over very well.  The presentation was about the importance of using emotion and recognizing emotion in discussions, using the failure of the LGBT side in the Prop 8 campaign as an example of how emotional messanging works.  There’s a huge tone debate in the movement at the moment, for those of you who don’t remember DBAD, because some people think that other people are too mean or confrontational.  The point of my speech was to say that emotional content is one of our most useful tools, and being a dick creates an emotional response.  It’s a useful tool in the tool box.  But most importantly, just because the movement is about logic and rationality that doesn’t mean that ignoring emotion is the right way to go about convincing others — ignoring human emotion is irrational.  Including within the movement — skeptics are not immune from being human, we should start taking that into account better when we argue.

I got a large applause when I was done, and after I left the stage a little crowd of people came over to thank me or talk with me about the issues.  It was very cool.  I was expecting some backlash — perhaps from being on the internet for too long — I thought some people would tell me that emotions have no place in rational debates or that they didn’t appreciate my assumption that everyone in the room was pro-gay rights, but the responses were great.

I was too keyed up to sit through the next presentation, especially as the World Cup Final was about to take place, so I just went into the hallway and talked to people who came up to me to say thanks about my presentation.  To pat myself on the back a little, I’m going to write some of the Twitter responses:

kefox: Great talk this morning on communicating w/emotion. Our side is smarter & really ought to be the Jedi masters of this.

Tasutari: Ashley could easily have given a full talk – good slides, good content, well presented.  Plus, there was a Joss Whedon quote.

charlesj: Ashley tells us what we need to hear, continuing from Tavris’ talk yesterday

jennifurret: Ashley nailed it on using emotions when arguing skepticism.  Sometimes you need to be a dick!

TCTheater: Ashley is kicking ass and taking names.  Excellent capstone to papers segment.

SkeptiCareBear: Propaganda bad, but lack of all emotion worse.  Good talk by Ashley.

StevenTheWonky: Ashley is kicking ass.

ArcheoWebby: A presenter that knows how to use a computer.  Nice.  Good Job Ashley.

So that was awesome.  Then I went to watch the soccer game and it was so depressing, partially because there was no food at the bar and I was starving to death while also watching the US kill themselves — I’m happy for Japan, but we lost that game because we made a lot of stupid, careless mistakes and couldn’t get shots on Target.  My heart goes out to Abby Wambach.

Then I heard the end of the diversity in skepticism panel, which I sort of lost interest in thanks to DJ seeming to think that getting conservatives and religious people in the movement should be some sort of a priority.  I’m with Jamila on the whole getting active about causes that skeptic people should be able to see are ridiculous — the war on drugs, the prison policy.

Sean Faircloth gave essentially the same speech he’d given at the SCA Summit and it went over very well.  He’s a very good cheerleader.

Then there was the closing remarks from Randi and we were done.  I ran into Randi in the hallway and thanked him for letting me speak and he said he’d heard I’d done very well.  I’m sure he was just saying that, but it was still awesome.  I went down to the Del Mar and hung out with a lot of people who were still there and then went to Penn and Teller over at the Rio.  Boy are Las Vegas cabs expensive, by the way.  We were in the first seat in the Mezzanine, which was actually excellent because it was easier to see how they were doing the tricks.  A lot of their tricks have been on their show or on other shows, but it was still a lot of fun.  And then someone in the line for cabs recognized me and thanked me for my talk, so people at the Rio cab line probably thought I was some important person.  Buahaha.

Then I packed and went to bed.

Monday, I got on the airplane and swallowed my crown.  And I’m freaking out about it.  Yep.

3 comments

  1. 1
    Bryon Sutherland

    I was in the crowd for your presentation and I think you did a great job! Your speech (and a couple of others) made the point that those of us with very rational minds are already in the skeptical movement. I agree that if we want to sway the masses we need to appeal to them on a different level. The challenge is that those of us in the moment aren’t always effective at emotional appeals. That’s one reason we need you. :)

  2. 2
    werggwer

    Your presentation was one of the better ones at TAM9, I was disappointed you weren’t given a full time slot or question time because a number of the people who were actually given full panels were kind of crap. Especially Dawkins, which was a shame because I was expecting him to be one of the better ones (if I wanted to hear about your book for 15 minutes and some biology most of which someone else had already touched on I would have gone to your damn book tour).

    I’m all for emotions in argument. After all, we’re human, we have emotions; we’re not hard-wired machines using only cold logic. That said, I think arguments should be supported by logic, and not simply emotional appeals (which are logical fallacies), but that’s different from saying we should be open to our emotions when arguing.

    And then of course there’s the irony that your presentation was right after that Rogerian argument presentation.

    “Let’s find the common ground between us!”

    “Women are inferior and should not be allowed to drive/make decisions about procreation/vote/speak in church/complain if they’re raped while married.”

    “Uh…”

    “I believe that God created the world and evolution is a dirty lie from Satan that says everything came from nothing.”

    “We both breathe oxygen, isn’t that wonderful how we have common ground?”

    Rogerian arguments only work when you’re both playing on the same field, but most of the people we’re dealing with are the sort that feel like you’re (to sum up Scott D. Weitzenhoffer) playing chess with a pigeon. There’s no “I win, you win too” if you’re arguing nicely with someone whose position is fractally wrong. It’s more akin to “we all lose and wasted our time”. Sorry, but I fail to see the benefit of acting like someone’s views on a subject aren’t completely, utterly wrong when they are.

    There’s no point in polite debate when one position has no legitimacy whatsoever and is only there to gain the appearance of being a legitimate view.

  3. 3
    werggwer

    Oh, and “It was poorly done” pretty much sums up TAM9. To have no real open socialization/seating space available within the convention space (there was the Del Mar, but I’d rather not have to be in the middle of the casino where it’s noisy and smells like you’re surrounded by cheap cigarettes and alcoholics), no workshop/panel schedule posted on like a nice big board in the con space, etc. There was also no time allotted specifically for questions (with 1000+ people, you need at least 20 or so minutes for questions, bare minimum) and no ‘setup’ time between each speaker (I lost track of the number of workshops/speakers who wasted 5 minutes at the start due to technical difficulties).

    Considering the big names at the convention, the little things show they didn’t know how to run a convention. The chairs were also unbelievably uncomfortable, even by hotel con standards. Lastly, who the hell thought a casino of all places would be an appropriate location to host a skeptics convention?!

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