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A misleading claim by a skeptical organization

Say, I got this same email from the JREF that JT did.

TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference when hotel, travel, and meals are factored in. Hotel rates for similar conferences range from $150-200 per night, while our TAM group rates go as low as $45 a night! But the group rates end tomorrow, so book your hotel room right now with JREF’s group code AMA0707!

That’s just plain bullshit. TAM is actually one of the more expensive conferences around — it’s a fundraiser for the JREF. There’s nothing wrong with that — TAM has always positioned itself as a kind of premium event that brings in professional entertainers and big name celebrities. But Skepticon is a free skeptics conference in a city that isn’t particularly expensive; I don’t understand how they can claim that TAM is cheaper than any other.

Here’s a full breakdown of the costs of attending a couple of different conferences. TAM is the most expensive. If you really want to attend a national conference that is as easy on the pocketbook as possible, Skepticon is probably the best bargain.

On top of that, there are growing numbers of free skeptical conferences that serve different regions &mdash in this area of the upper midwest alone we had the Madison Freethought Festival and SkepTech this past year, all free, so it’s getting easier and easier to find local events that make travel and lodging even cheaper. And most importantly, they build regional talent and communities.

Again, TAM has a niche, and there’s nothing wrong with filling that niche — but to claim to be the budget conference is thoroughly dishonest.

Isn’t one of the planks that the JREF builds their version of skepticism on “consumer protection”? Let’s have a little truth in advertising.

Comments

  1. consciousness razor says

    But of all the skeptic events happening in Las Vegas this year, TAM is the cheapest. Probably.

    Besides, Skepticon and so forth are not “skeptic” events, strictly speaking, but actually for the atheist/skeptic/feminazi/Marxist/tree-hugging/anti-nihilistic crowd. Big difference.

  2. says

    They repeat the claim on their website. Another misleading claim there:

    TAM has become the largest conference to focus on science, skepticism and critical thinking over the past ten years

    Uh, no. Skepticon was bigger than TAM last year. It was within a few hundred attendees, so maybe they’ll top them this year, but you don’t get to count that yet.

  3. Kate Donovan says

    @consciousness razor:

    Of all the cons happening in Vegas this year, I’m going to posit that the SSACon happening in Vegas is cheaper than TAM. Given that registration, IIRC, is under $100. And travel grants are available.

  4. consciousness razor says

    Kate Donovan:

    Well, the point stands that of all the skeptic cons happening in Las Vegas, during July 11-14 at the Southpoint Hotel & Casino, which are run by the JREF, TAM is (probably) the cheapest. Context, people.

  5. Stacy says

    Skepticon was bigger than TAM last year. It was within a few hundred attendees, so maybe they’ll top them this year, but you don’t get to count that yet

    Word is TAM’s registration is down again (so far) this year, so I doubt it.

    We’ll see.

  6. johnwalker says

    You forgot the fine print regarding skeptic* conferences.

    *The true skepticism, apparently innate to heroic magicians, applied strongly to homeopathy and bigfoot. But never to libertarianism, social issues** or religion***.

    **But always be hyperskeptical of females and their issues and complaints

    ***Except islam, where evidence not required

    TAM is the only true skeptical conference, therefore the claims are true!

  7. says

    TAM is in Las Vegas, isn’t it? I suppose there’s a hotel in Las Vegas (what, the Thunderbird Motel?) that has $45/night rooms but in Vegas they even charge you for the air you breathe. I work there a lot and assume it’s about $200/day to live in that hellhole. If you brought your own granola and tinned spam, water, and air, maybe.

  8. brive1987 says

    In context they are simply trying to soften their (comparatively) high ticket price by noting they have cheaper than usual accommodation. It is a call to do some netting off in your mental ROI arithmetic.

    I think we can grant they weren’t comparing themselves to a free conference you can drive to but rather “similar conferences” with cheaper tickets (hence their desire for you to net off).

    It would have been less problematic if they had spotlighted this goal with 1 extra word – “TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other comparable skeptic conference”.

    But as I said you will die old before seeing advertising and precision together.

    On a more positive note I see TAM has maintained a 40% female speaker rate which (I am guessing) will be far better than the comparable participation rate. As always though, plenty of room for improvement.

  9. brive1987 says

    Playing games of apples vs oranges I could do a per day comparision –

    Empowering Women
    $66 per day ticket +
    $231 per night for the Callaghan* =
    $297

    vs

    Tam
    $118 per day +
    $45 per night hotel =
    $163

    And then I could complain about the Intl airfair when I could go to a perfectly good conference in Vegas. :-)

    * Their website price for following weekend as it is full for the conference. No discounts were advertised to my knowledge.

  10. mythbri says

    @Marcus Ranum

    I work there a lot and assume it’s about $200/day to live in that hellhole. If you brought your own granola and tinned spam, water, and air, maybe.

    Hellhole indeed. You can see that stinking city polluting the light at least 30 miles away, perhaps 50 miles at night. Nothing but artifice and fakery and sadness.

  11. says

    Empowering Women
    $66 per day ticket +
    $231 per night for the Callaghan*30 bucks for the B&B down the road from the venue =
    $297$96

    FTFY

  12. chrislawson says

    brive, the problem isn’t that TAM advertised itself as having associated discounts on food and accommodation. They could even have said “cheaper than you might think” (which of course is advertorial junk-info as it depends on what an undefined reader might be thinking! — but at least it would be an honest attempt to get people to look at possible savings against the relatively high cost of registration). But as soon as they said “actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference when hotel, travel, and meals are factored in”, then this is a testable claim that is clearly false for just about anyone other than Las Vegas residents.

  13. Sili says

    rorschach, I think the argument was meant to show that’s it’s easy to lie with numbers.

    But now I’m feeling stupid for not checking out the B&Bs …

  14. babanani says

    Linked to this, can anyone point to a good site that lists all the upcoming skeptic/atheist/good stuff conferences that are coming up over the next six months to a year? I have not been able to find a place that tries to bring them all together. I am trying to plan a visit to the US related to work and would love to build in a few days of personal leave at a conference.

    Oh, and a cheap one would be nice as well!

  15. brive1987 says

    Yes I should have clarified beyond the smilee:

    Empowering Women

    Value of content = $priceless

  16. satanaugustine says

    Linked to this, can anyone point to a good site that lists all the upcoming skeptic/atheist/good stuff conferences that are coming up over the next six months to a year?

    This is a great idea. There should be such a site, but I don’t know of one. Maybe someone else will chime in with an answer.

    Hellhole indeed…Nothing but artifice and fakery and sadness.

    This, in addition to the price (and a few other things about JREF & TAM that have come to light over the past couple of years), is what has kept me from TAM. I don’t ever want to go to Vegas. I don’t understand the appeal. I have always imagined it exactly as you describe it.

    And that claim about being less expensive is such easily disprovable bullshit. $45 a night for a hotel room and having some meals provided is great, but every other conference I’ve attended – Atheist Alliance International, American Atheists, and Skepticon – has had reduced hotel rates (not as low as TAM’s, but $79 – $89) and the AAI conference provided as many meals as TAM. Which isn’t to say that having a meal provided is necessarily ideal. When I go to Skepticon I get to choose what I eat, can eat on a budget, and all of the restaurants are within walking distance. Skepticon is far less expensive than TAM…and it’s not held in a city that I imagine to be a waking nightmare.

  17. okstop says

    I can’t help it – I love Vegas. I don’t even gamble. But I’m a night owl, always have been, so the appeal of a city where I can do at 4 AM virtually everything I could do at 4 PM is vast. Besides, I love the shows.

    That said, I’ve always found the hotel rates pretty reasonable. That’s the thing about Vegas; they don’t do themselves any favors by making the hotels pricey. They want you to come and gamble – that’s where the real profit is. Last time I was there, I stayed in a room that was 550 sq ft – bigger than my apartment when I was in grad school – but only payed a shade over $100 bucks a night. And that’s at one of the “name” hotels on the Strip. It was during March Madness, too, so I wasn’t getting an “off season” rate. The food was a little pricey, but it was oh-so-good, just everywhere I ate.

    But I’m still not going to the firk-ding-blasted Amazing Meeting.

  18. says

    The figure I’m interested in is the gender makeup. Open letters about women being welcome or unwelcome don’t count for very much, as there’s an inherent sample bias. How women vote by attending or not attending is a far more reliable measure.

  19. says

    Tony Sidaway:

    Actually, there _is_ something wrong with TAM’s obscene prices. They create a layer of celebrities and a celebrity culture.

    To a certain extent, they’re failing at that. While they’ve still got many excellent speakers, the list doesn’t compare to previous years. It’s still a good event (or at least it would be without the undercurrent of harassment), but it’s no longer the preeminent event they’re trying to bill it as.

  20. babanani says

    Lance Finney,

    You rock. Really. You do.

    Sorry they put that one conference on your anniversary though…

  21. says

    Ironically enough you can thank the JREF for those conference guides at Lanyrd.com. I curate that as part of my role as Research Fellow for JREF. (I estimate I personally entered around 90% of the skeptic/atheist/secular stuff on Lanyrd). If you run a conference, Lanyrd is a great way to publicize your event and provide a free Smartphone-compatible schedule. We use it to manage the schedule at several events I’m involved with, including TAM.

    For those who will be attending TAM, I’m presenting some output from that curation work in the form of a report on the growth in skeptical conferences over the years. It will be in the workshop titled “Preserving Skeptic History”.

  22. says

    Linked to this, can anyone point to a good site that lists all the upcoming skeptic/atheist/good stuff conferences that are coming up over the next six months to a year?

    I’m coming in late to this, but I’ve summarized some upcoming conferences here: http://skepchick.org/2013/02/events-2013-upcoming-cons-festivals-skepticamps-more, although it’s incomplete. I’ll be doing another soon.

    We also have a calendar at Skepchick Events: http://events.skepchick.org/calendar that will be searchable for cons as soon as our plug-in upgrades this month.