DJ Grothe responds


He didn’t care much for my criticism of their advertising copy yesterday, so he sent me an email.

I’m not sure if you [it was cc’ed to several people] want to be kept up on things like this (we try not to get distracted by bloggers who have a habit of taking aim at JREF, RDFRS, CFI or Skeptics Society, etc.) [it’s a “habit” now? And oh, yes, let’s belittle those bloggers. Did he even notice who he was sending it to?], but just in case: PZ did a blog post against TAM today [No, I didn’t. You might have noticed I called it “premium event that brings in professional entertainers and big name celebrities”; that is not a criticism of TAM at all. I criticized their misleading ad.], contra our recent promo email.

http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/06/11/a-misleading-claim-by-a-skeptical-organization/

I’m not going to respond [What do you call this?], but it is worth noting that our numbers do hold — TAM is actually significantly cheaper than CSICon, NECSS, etc. [Cherry-picking cons now, I see] when factoring in our low hotel costs, included meal’s, etc. — and it is a much higher quality event by many measures [Do CSICon, NECSS, etc. know of DJ’s opinion of their quality?]. Not to mention that it is a full four days, not just two and a half days. And 3-4 times as many presenters on the program. [That’s the first legitimate point he’s made. It is a bigger event…but that does not make it a cheaper event. That’s reason to say TAM is worth the money, not that it is cheaper.] (The cost factor, the value of TAM, was a bullet point in the recent promotional email.)

PZ compares TAM to a free student-run conference in Springfield Missouri. False comparison, obviously. [Oh. TAM is a cheaper conference as long as you don’t include all those conferences which are cheaper. Got it. And is there something wrong with a conference being “student-run”? I’ve found student-run conferences to be among the best experiences.]

A regular TAM attendee and good egg, Jim Lippard, posted this comment on PZ’s blog, which PZ apparently deleted [Say what? I checked everywhere, and nope, Lippard left no comment here. He did leave this same comment on another blog at exactly the same time. How did Grothe copy and paste the comment without noting it wasn’t on Pharyngula at all? A mystery. Put a skeptical investigator to work on it right away.]:

Jim Lippard says:
June 12, 2013 at 2:20 AM
FYI, TAM does include three breakfasts and two lunches with the registration. Your Skepticon comparison is rather location-dependent–for me, I’d have to fly to Skepticon, while I could drive or fly to Vegas for less than the cost to get to Springfield. A round-trip ticket for TAM today would cost me $197, vs. $504 for Springfield with the same dates (according to Google’s ITA Software). The overall costs would be comparable if I wanted to stay at the conference hotel in both cases (the South Point Casino JREF rate was $45/night for Thu, $85/night for Fri, Sat)–TAM $475+$197+$215 = $887, Skepticon free+$504+$417 = $921, without comparing meals (are they included at Skepticon?). [I responded to this elsewhere (like, where he left the comment), but factoring in the momentary vagaries of airline pricing really is a colossal cheat. I’ve had domestic prices to the same destination wander up and down by $400 over the course of a month. But especially when he’s close enough to drive to TAM, while Skepticon is farther away for him…don’t you think that might contribute to the price difference?]

D.J.

As I said in the previous post:

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.

There was no criticism of TAM at all there — it has a role, it does it well, if you enjoy it and can afford it you should go — but I do think the advertising copy was dishonest and, for a consumer protection organization, they should take a little more responsibility to avoid stretching the truth. I have my doubts that Grothe even read my post, and is instead regurgitating something one of the haters sent to him without verifying its contents…which may be where this claim that Lippard posted it here came from. Also note that the article where Lippard actually commented did a breakdown of costs for him to attend a CSI conference, and it came down cheaper than TAM. Not very skeptical of him, is it?

What is it with these big-name skeptics that they are so thin-skinned about any criticism at all?


Oh, dear. DJ sent me email informing me that the above note was sent to me by mistake…so apparently it’s all my fault now.

Hi PZ — did you miss these emails? I am really surprised you posted the email that I explicitly said I sent to you by mistake, instead seeming to suggest I sent it to you intentionally, and that you actually neglected to mention the correction I immediately sent to you below regarding Lippard. It is a pretty impressive mischaracterization. Does it feel underhanded to you in the least? Do you think you are one of the good guys? It is pretty disappointing, and I wonder if you are able to see why.

D.J.

No, I didn’t see any other emails until I went searching through the mess in my inbox. And now I see that he didn’t intend for me to receive his sneering dismissal of bloggers and people who criticize skeptics, which explains the rather unhelpful attitude in the first message. It doesn’t explain the continuation of that attitude in the message above, though. Still, it’s good to know how he talks about us behind our backs, I guess.

What mischaracterization? I must be one of the bad guys for pointing out the obvious fact that TAM actually IS a rather expensive conference. Everyone knows it; at TAM London I heard a lot of complaints about the ticket price, compared to other events there; every year I see people experiencing a bit of a shock when they learn how much registration costs. And that’s OK — the JREF organizers could be telling everyone how good it is and pointing out all the talent on display (although, really, this same talent often appears at other cons as well). But claiming that it is the least expensive conference is rather ridiculous, don’t you think?

Apparently, the only greater misrepresentation is to dare to point out that it is so.

Comments

  1. Stacy says

    What is it with these big-name skeptics that they are so thin-skinned about any criticism at all?

    And so fucking un-skeptical.

  2. says

    Will the “regular TAM attendee and good egg”, Jim Lippard, at least attest to his pleasant ovalness by calling DJ out on the latter’s misrepresentation of the venue of Lippard’s comment?

  3. says

    Well, I am just a blogger. We don’t have many human qualities, like genitals. Little known fact.

    And that business of “a habit of taking aim at JREF, RDFRS, CFI or Skeptics Society, etc.” really grates. I support these organizations, and have for years — but that doesn’t mean I am uncritical, and will never call them out when they do wrong.

    Apparently, it’s a case of “Skepticism–love it or leave it” with these guys.

  4. Hannah Wilson says

    There are some things I really like about Grothe, but he responds so horribly to any perceived criticism of his work. He takes things that would be small, or even an opportunity for good press if handled correctly, and completely overreacts to them. His motives seem to be protective – he wants to defend the things he cares about, but he always loses ground instead of gaining it.

  5. imthegenieicandoanything says

    Cheeses! What a pitiful excuse for an asshole! This guy LEADS a major organization???

    Proof, unneeded, that simply being a “skeptic” or “atheist” or anything else doesn’t mean you can’t also, easily be a complete embarrassment of a jerk some, most, or even all of the time.

    Since he’s unknown to me, save by this one incident of cringe-worthy dickishness, I’ll hope he is, like most of us, only like this some of the time (unlike the MRAs, who have moved off the spectrum entirely past !all of the time” – and may they recover both their reason and humanity before death.

    But, CHEESES! What an asshole this makes him appear as!

  6. consciousness razor says

    PZ compares TAM to a free student-run conference in Springfield Missouri. False comparison, obviously.

    Uh, that’s a comparison. What the hell is supposed to be false or fallacious about it? Maybe it’s obvious to Grothe, but I’m fucking lost.

  7. says

    Why does DJ have to turn every little thing into an embarrassment? He could have just said that they didn’t consider Skepticon to be a “similar” conference in their original claim, and left it at that. Or he could have suggested people to go to both TAM and Skepticon if able.

  8. says

    One of the prerequisites to being appointed the head of a major skeptical organization is a lofty quantity of superciliousness.

  9. says

    He takes things that would be small, or even an opportunity for good press if handled correctly, and completely overreacts to them

    Completely agree. In this case, the proper reponse would have been:
    “Oops, we goofed. What we really meant was x, y and z. BTW, this is a perfect example of the kind of skeptical, fact-checking attitude we’re promoting. Come to TAM and learn more about it!”

    It would have quickly diffused the error, made it clear that it was not an intentionally misleading statement, and drawn focus back on the core values of the skeptical movement. Instead, we’re left with an impression of duplicity, people start picking sides and it all goes downhill from there.

    Didn’t he learn anything from all the crap when he tried accusing the skepchicks of undermining TAM?
    DJ! YOU SUCK AT MAKING PUBLIC STATEMENTS! For the love of Randi’s beard, lock yourself in an office, hire a PR expert and let them do the talking.

  10. says

    One of the prerequisites to being appointed the head of a major skeptical organization is a lofty quantity of superciliousness.

    I’m a shoo-in!

  11. says

    When i said dousing was effective, I only meant you are mroe liekly to get water than if you don’t dig at all. Your comparison to geological surveys are beside the point and they cost way more, anyway.

  12. says

    Airfare to LV is often cheaper than to elsewhere. Just like the hotels are cheaper for the same accommodations. But aside from that quibble is seems like you’re getting into an argument neither of you are going to win except in your own audience.

  13. fmcp says

    Lurker here, delurking rather hesitantly because this speaks to a conversation I had just a couple of days ago about leadership in skeptical and atheist organizations.

    One of the reasons I’m kind of hesitant to comment on various blogs is that I have no intellectual cred as far as the average skeptic/atheist is concerned: my degrees are in Education and Theatre, with a minor in English. I’m not sure if this is obvious to others, but there are a lot of comments thrown around denigrating various contributors who aren’t scientists, statisticians, philosophers, magicians or what have you (and, by the way, I absolutely and sincerely believe that magicians have a deep understanding of skepticism).

    As a result, I think there’s a sense out there that the leadership needs to come from one of those backgrounds. Fair enough, but a charismatic leader who communicates well, builds bridges and genuinely likes most people is also pretty important. That end of things can be forgotten when people like me are keeping our mouths shut for fear of someone asking for our bona fides.

    On a side note, I’ve met DJ once, and I think he’s a decent guy. The bristly defensiveness is a pretty serious Achilles’ Heel, but he’s not malicious or stupid. We all have blind spots – some of us just hide them better.

  14. Stacy says

    For the love of Randi’s beard, lock yourself in an office, hire a PR expert and let them do the talking

    He did that once. She quit within the year.

  15. says

    Just a quick comment, because I believe this post is misleading: The message above was certainly not a response directed to PZ, and the “you” in the email does not refer to him. This was an internal JREF email that PZ was accidentally copied on it by mistake (can happen to the best of us! and I should say that I feel like crawling under a rock now!). I immediately emailed PZ directly informing him of this, and apologizing for the mistaken email, and also told him immediately that I discovered I was misinformed about where the Lippard quote had been originally posted. I also offered to discuss any of this with him further if he wished, even though I was reluctant to post on Pharyngula for probably obvious reasons. PZ never responded to those emails and I’m really surprised that he decided to post this email without permission — an email that he knew was inadvertently sent to him.

    I do stand by what we’ve said — We are proud of TAM, and do consider it the best event out there focused on scientific skepticism. We think it is a fantastic comparable value, as a four full day event with over 80 presenters on the program this year, and with programming running from 8am till past midnight every day. We are proud of how cheap it is and that we have been able to avoid raising regular registration rates for a number of years now. We are also proud that nearly 100 people get to go to TAM every year with their registrations completely waived due to a number of grant and scholarship programs. We have incredibly generous presenters and volunteers and supporters who help make the event the stellar conference that it is. But beguiling blog posts like this don’t seem to foster fellow-feeling and cooperation among the communities of reason that great events like TAM and the other rationalist conferences — many of which the JREF in fact directly supports — can achieve.

  16. Stacy says

    D.J., you didn’t respond to PZ’s criticisms.

    We are proud of TAM, and do consider it the best event out there focused on scientific skepticism. We think it is a fantastic comparable value….

    Happy for you. Really. Wasn’t the point.

  17. otrame says

    You know what DJ is really good at? Interviewing people. I mean he is fantastic at that, the very best. I miss him doing that.

    Unfortunately, he is also good misinterpreting anything that could be considered an insult and over reacting to it.

  18. consciousness razor says

    But aside from that quibble is seems like you’re getting into an argument neither of you are going to win except in your own audience.

    Riiight. Economic inequality is just something we that we “quibble” about from time to time. No big deal.

    And it’s not that it’s “true” or “false” that TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference when hotel, travel, and meals are factored in. It’s that I’m in PZ’s audience rather than Grothe’s. It’s must be that terrible tribalism we keep hearing about. It’s just amazing how it even has an effect on what is and is not a fact.

  19. brive1987 says

    To be fair the recent skeptic atheist conversations here could be taken as criticism of the traditional skepticism showcased at TAM so I think we can grant DJ a certain defensiveness. He doesn’t criticise student conventions, he merely says they are a different category. DJ is also clearly factoring in the per day costs over 4 days rather than the overall ticket price (though this kinda marginalises the conference for comparisons sake).

    Overall though I think we just have to acknowledge recent conversations have made us all hair triggered and on the watch – hence DJs final para in his post above. We all have the right to be critical and call out inaccuracy but we can’t fail to also realise this is happening against an existing unhappy context and is likely to further contribute to the “great rift” tm

  20. Stacy says

    On a side note, I’ve met DJ once, and I think he’s a decent guy. The bristly defensiveness is a pretty serious Achilles’ Heel, but he’s not malicious or stupid.

    I understand the tendency to judge people based on your own intuitive “take” when you meet them. I do it myself; and it works fairly well as a rule of thumb.

    But it is not foolproof.

  21. says

    DJ:
    So you’re not going to comment on the substance of the criticism? Just gloss over it and restate what you’ve already said?
    Seriously, what is so hard about saying “I’m sorry, our ad was misleading. We’ve corrected it that with thanks given to a critical eye by one of our long time supporters.”
    Or do you enjoy being defensive?

    Additionally, I understand why you’re hyping TAM, but the issue is the AD, not the event.

    Oh, and “bloggers who have a habit of taking aim…”:

    1- You say this as if you or TAM or CFI (and I really hope your comment wasn’t referring to the strong, well deserved criticism of Ron Lindsay) should not be criticized. Or perhaps you don’t think the criticism is legitimate. In which case, you would be able to directly refute the points PZ made.
    2-a habit, eh? When was the last time aim was taken at TAM by PZ ? Was it legitimate?

    You’re not living in an ivory tower immune to criticsm.

  22. rowanvt says

    D.J-

    Did you, or did you not, write something misleading by saying that P.Z. posted *against* TAM?

    Did you, or did you not, write something misleading by saying that bloggers have a habit of targeting those organisations?

    Did you, or did you not, write something misleading when you said that TAM was cheaper, because when you look purely at dollar amount, it may not be. And that is something people have to budget, not “look at all these wonderful things I get for this price” but “X dollars vs Y dollars.”

  23. says

    Stacy:

    For the love of Randi’s beard, lock yourself in an office, hire a PR expert and let them do the talking

    He did that once. She quit within the year.

    Did Carrie Poppy ever reveal exactly why she quit?

  24. says

    One of the reasons I’m kind of hesitant to comment on various blogs is that I have no intellectual cred as far as the average skeptic/atheist is concerned: my degrees are in Education and Theatre, with a minor in English.

    One of my sons has degrees in political science and economics; the other in English. I’m a professional educator at a liberal arts university, and I have a lot of respect for philosophy. You’re not going to find me sniping at non-science degrees, they are perfectly legitimate scholarly efforts.

  25. says

    But beguiling blog posts like this don’t seem to foster fellow-feeling and cooperation among the communities of reason

    You know what would? Enthusiastically adopting an anti-harassment policy at your little meetup, and making a point of ensuring that everyone who attends can feel safe and welcome in doing so.

  26. says

    I’m amazed that internal JREF posts that get accidentally sent out by mistake [sic] sound like really bad press releases.

  27. says

    Did Carrie Poppy ever reveal exactly why she quit?

  28. hypatiasdaughter says

    DJ, if you read this (I like you and thought your interviews were terrific) but this:

    We are proud of TAM, and do consider it the best event out there focused on scientific skepticism. We think it is a fantastic comparable value, as a four full day event with over 80 presenters on the program this year, and with programming running from 8am till past midnight every day. We are proud of how cheap it is and that we have been able to avoid raising regular registration rates for a number of years now. We are also proud that nearly 100 people get to go to TAM every year with their registrations completely waived due to a number of grant and scholarship programs. We have incredibly generous presenters and volunteers and supporters who help make the event the stellar conference that it is.

    is what you should be putting out as your PR. It would make me want to go to TAM. For me, registration, travel and hotel costs would make it into my annual “vacation”.
    Don’t tell me that it is cheap – you cannot know the individual situation of your attendees – tell me that it is worth the cost.

    P.S. Being a cheapskate, I hate it when meals (or other superfluous extras) are included in registration. Hotel meals are usually sooooo expensive and tie you down. W

  29. hypatiasdaughter says

    DJ, if you read this (I like you and thought your interviews were terrific) but this:

    We are proud of TAM, and do consider it the best event out there focused on scientific skepticism. We think it is a fantastic comparable value, as a four full day event with over 80 presenters on the program this year, and with programming running from 8am till past midnight every day. We are proud of how cheap it is and that we have been able to avoid raising regular registration rates for a number of years now. We are also proud that nearly 100 people get to go to TAM every year with their registrations completely waived due to a number of grant and scholarship programs. We have incredibly generous presenters and volunteers and supporters who help make the event the stellar conference that it is.

    is what you should be putting out as your PR. It would make me want to go to TAM. For me, registration, travel and hotel costs would make it into my annual “vacation”.
    Don’t tell me that it is cheap – you cannot know the individual situation of your attendees – tell me that it is worth the cost.

    P.S. Being a cheapskate, I hate it when meals (or other superfluous extras) are included in registration. Hotel meals are usually sooooo expensive and tie you down.

  30. says

    Fmcp:
    No intellectual cred is necessary here, or in the vast majority of blogs at FtB (can’t say ALL, as I don’t read a few of them). Intellectual honesty, opinions/arguments backed with evidence…sure.

  31. says

    Chris:

    You know what would? Enthusiastically adopting an anti-harassment policy at your little meetup, and making a point of ensuring that everyone who attends can feel safe and welcome in doing so.

    Oh, but they have women who wear “I feel safe and welcome at TAM” t-shirts! Surely that’s sufficient, is it not?

  32. says

    Tony! The Virtual Queer Shoop:

    Perhaps DJ should check to see why he’s being so defensive.

    He should have done that a year ago. But no, he’ll probably dismiss this as yet more “rage blogging”, or whatever that phrase is.

  33. screechymonkey says

    Remember folks,

    When the JREF talks about you, it’s ok to call you “underhanded” and not “one of the good guys” and to make sneering dismissals of you as a “blogger.”

    When the JREF talks about your conference, it’s ok for it to dismiss it as “student-run” or more expensive than TAM.

    But when you talk about the JREF, you have an obligation “to foster fellow-feeling and cooperation among the communities of reason.”

  34. says

    we try not to get distracted by bloggers who have a habit of taking aim at JREF, RDFRS, CFI or Skeptics Society, etc

    How about people who have a habit of taking aim at FTB and Skepchick?

    We are also proud that nearly 100 people get to go to TAM every year with their registrations completely waived due to a number of grant and scholarship programs

    Yeah, you had a nice way of showing your appreciation to Rebecca Watson and Surly Amy last year…

    Blech.

  35. says

    Did Carrie Poppy ever reveal exactly why she quit?

    Not publicly, but she did publicly say she would explain to anyone who asked. (Yes, I asked, and yes, she did.)

  36. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Not publicly, but she did publicly say she would explain to anyone who asked. (Yes, I asked, and yes, she did.)

    Dang, inquiring minds want to know. But then, you were probably sworn to secrecy an a belly bomb implanted….

  37. arbor says

    DJ Grothe is a lousy human being.

    His behavior has been disgusting. He has lost all credibility and deserves no more chances.

    I will never be involved in any organization or event in which he is involved.

    Life is far too short to waste any of it on people who have no integrity.

  38. Stacy says

    Did Carrie Poppy ever reveal exactly why she quit?

    No. Wish she would, but can’t blame her if she doesn’t.

  39. says

    arbor

    [Grothe] has lost all credibility

    The sad thing is, he hasn’t.

    Furthermore, I think he’s insulated slightly by his position. I get the impression that many people (perhaps PZ included) are holding back the knives out of respect for Randi.

  40. insipidmoniker, 37th Emu of the Mild Dyspepsia says

    Wow. DJ Grothe, everybody, setting a standard in patronizing jackassery.

  41. Stacy says

    @Ophelia–I know. I meant publicly.

    I’ve heard some of it, but without betraying her confidence a few people knowing some details just amounts to grumbling on blogs and hearsay. Still, anybody who thinks about it for a minute can understand why she’d hesitate to go public. Maybe someday she will, I don’t know.

  42. Stacy says

    Ha. A friend just pointed out that JREF actually had two PR people quit within a year.

    Maybe someday they’ll figure things out. But they’re Movement Skeptics™, outside of hauntings and cryptid sightings, figuring things out isn’t really their forte. :P

  43. says

    @d.j.grothe #25
    I was going to post a long list of all the irrelevant, side-stepping, goal-post moving bullshit you spouted, but people have already covered that, so I’ll simply stick to pointing out that it might be as idea to try responding to what people are actually saying.

    That goes double if you want to salvage whatever little credibility you have left. It’s not as if you’ve been a paragon of honesty in the past.

    And another thing:

    …and also told him immediately that I discovered I was misinformed about where the Lippard quote had been originally posted.

    Did you inform anyone else about that? I ask because your original mail seems to accuse PZ of blatant censorship. Have you sent the retraction to all the people you sent the original mail to?

  44. Pteryxx says

    …why do we take it so very seriously whenever a privilege-based fuckup comes to light?

    Because almost every time, that offhand comment or instance of questionable judgement proves to be just the surface portion of a very ugly iceberg.

    Before the Deep Rifts and the last couple of years of discussion about harassment, sexism, racism and all the other variants of privilege and bias, I expected that the default behavior was that an honest mistake would be followed by an honest apology and attempt to do a better job of being a decent person. Amazing, and sickening, that so many people would rather fight for years than step over that very low bar.

  45. kagekiri says

    Why do so many anti-FTB “skeptics” speak in passive-aggressive language dripping with contempt, and then expect people not to notice the lack of substance and the ridiculous blame-shifting?

    This is just fucking embarrassing. DJ nearly matches the tone of Vacula’s obtuse self-righteousness and pathetic character sniping, and is apparently about as tribal and fact-averse.

    No one’s a perfect skeptic, but it’s obvious some people aren’t even trying.

  46. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I hate to be the cynical jerk on this post, but… did anybody really expected anything better from DJ Grothe? I mean, really

    /cynicism off

  47. carlie says

    but there are a lot of comments thrown around denigrating various contributors who aren’t scientists, statisticians, philosophers, magicians or what have you (and, by the way, I absolutely and sincerely believe that magicians have a deep understanding of skepticism).

    I’m actually quite interested in learning more about that – I thought we did a pretty good job here of specifically not doing that, so if we’re coming off like we are, I’d like to know where that’s happening.

    And to highlight what hypatiasdaughter said :

    Don’t tell me that it is cheap – you cannot know the individual situation of your attendees – tell me that it is worth the cost.

    Exactly. Trying to exclude all sorts of conferences from your calculation with “we didn’t mean cheaper than those conferences” just makes you look even more like a slimy used-car salesman. Own the cost and tell people what value they get for it.

  48. says

    Ha. A friend just pointed out that JREF actually had two PR people quit within a year.

    Maybe someday they’ll figure things out.

    Yeah, maybe. But probably not until they get over their libertarian social-sciences denialism thing. Public relations are all about human relations, after all, and people who study human interactions aren’t really real scientists who know really real science. PR is a subset of the “soft” sciences of political science and sociology and silly things like that (everyone knows that manly “hard” sciences are better!), and is thus suspect in their uber-skeptical eyes.

  49. says

    carlie:
    I missed that bit. I’m curious if that’s how we come off too. I definitely fit in that group of people who aren’t “scientists, statiscians, philosophers…” and don’t feel criticized for not being in any of those groups, but if others feel differently, I’d like to hear, because they deserve to be heard.

  50. brive1987 says

    The perception is that DJ is (albeit possibly unconsciously) closer to Thunderf00t and MRA on anti-sexism initiatives than we find acceptable.

    The perception is that TAM is old guard Bigfoot skepticism, with little or no impact on real world social justice battles.

    The perception is that old guard scepticism as reflected by TAM is reactionary to new ideas and directions and this reaction translates into condescension and exclusion.

    And I personally believe these perceptions are pretty true.

    But it’s not like this brochure was a polemic of some sort. It was a typical plea for us to mentally offset the high ticket price (covering 4 days) with the cheaper accommodation. That it used hyperbole and (implicitly) required you to consider a similar conference with similar external costs (ie travel) is pretty much meh. That it supported its specific pitch with an overblown statement pretty much defined it as marketing blurb. It was an eye catcher begging you to review your pricing preconceptions. Does anyone really think people would immediately sign up because ‘it’s the cheapest convention you could ever possibly imagine in any world’? Really?

    However we all know there is a well of pain ready to flow on command from both sides, built up from recent skirmishes. Is it desirable to fire up this debate over a promo non-issue – ie in a non tactical fashion with nothing really to win?

    And the on-going snark and goading from both sides is where I start to despair. If we want a confrontation on an issue that actually matters let’s take the intellectual lead and do it properly / constructively.

  51. Eristae says

    I don’t understand why, when things like this happen, people like DJ don’t just shut up. They clearly can’t manage to defuse the situation, so the next best thing is to ignore it. The more he freaks out, the bigger this is going to get. This could have been confined to “some people say something, TAM never responds,” but no, now we get “some people said something, DJ freaks the fuck out, sends out nasty letters about people, accidentally includes one of the people he’s saying nasty things about, and then is peeved that the person who he was talking about had the audacity to not keep his sneering hidden.” The hell?

    And I’m sorry, but TAM is fucking expensive. My jaw dropped when I saw the ticket price. I was literally stunned. There is absolutely no way I could afford to go to TAM . . . and I’ve been to other, cheaper conferences!

  52. mythbri says

    @brive

    Last year was the year DJ had the opportunity to address a real issue that matters to real people who really attend (or used to attend TAM). He fumbled it badly, and still doesn’t get it. And he doesn’t care.

    What’s left to discuss, really? I live fairly close to Las Vegas. I could conceivably save up the money to attend.

    I will not, because of the reactionary, sexist blame-hurling way DJ responded to something he was absolutely wrong about.

  53. robro says

    Jim Lippard may be surprised to learn that some of us would have to fly to either location, but frankly, I wouldn’t go to Las Vegas if all I had to do was walk out the door. The biggest downside to being in LV is being in LV. I consider the fact that TAM is held in that town to be a major criticism of the conference in the first place. Fear and Loathing pretty much says it all.

    Airfares to LV are cheaper than to places like Springfield, MO because it’s a tourist destination…or should I say trap. Hotel rates can also be cheaper for the same reason. However, I wonder if Grothe calculated some of the less obvious costs of being in LV. Shows are not cheap. Good meals and drinks are not cheap. Shopping is not cheap. And, you stand a good chance of spending and/or losing lots of other money while you’re there.

  54. says

    Yo, heads of all of these skeptic organizations. I really, really want to help out with your organizations, I used to really enjoy JREF and CFI; we have a local CFI group here and I would love to get involved but you make it oh so difficult to do that. You have feet of clay, for skeptical organizations you seem to have a very hard time turning that introspective eye toward yourself. A little criticism causes you to freak out and the extreme defensiveness is ugly.

  55. says

    You said that you were reluctant to discuss the issue with PZ on Pharyngula…for obvious reasons. What are these obvious reasons?

    He can’t discuss the obvious reasons on Pharyngula, for obvious reasons.

  56. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    Tony @ 71,

    I haven’t felt that way here (as a lib arts educator) but this is definitely true in other venues (Dawkins’ Twitter page, for instance.) But I can’t recall anyone at Pharyngula sporting that attitude, though to be fair I don’t always read the comments sections of every post.

  57. brive1987 says

    Oh dear. I didn’t notice PZ published a second person to person email sent to him by DJ. Presumably for our perusal and edification.

    Surely it would be enough to have simply posted:

    “DJ has informed me the original email was private. My personal professional values would have stopped me publishing such a communication – if I had known. Since the horse has bolted, I note the tone and content, point out it was written on company time and leave you to draw your own conclusions.”

    Sometimes less is more.

  58. insipidmoniker, 37th Emu of the Mild Dyspepsia says

    Wait, PZ is at fault for publishing an email that DJ sent in which DJ is a patronizing jackass? If DJ doesn’t want to look bad he shouldn’t have sent the email. You don’t depend on the judgement of someone you’re chastising to make you look halfway decent, you depend on your own.

  59. rowanvt says

    @brive1987-

    No, it would not actually. The scathing response personal email DJ wrote deserves to be shown off in its full assholish glory. He comes into the comments here pretending to be all reasonable, but in ‘private’ he reverts to being a jerkface.

  60. says

    Is it desirable to fire up this debate over a promo non-issue – ie in a non tactical fashion with nothing really to win?

    Ask DJ. I considered PZ’s first post a blip. If DJ had ignored it, I likely would have forgotten about it within a week.

    And the on-going snark and goading from both sides is where I start to despair. If we want a confrontation on an issue that actually matters let’s take the intellectual lead and do it properly / constructively.

    Actually, I think goal-post moving is very much an issue that matters. This is the kind of dishonest debating tactics that we always decry when the pseudo-science/creationist crowd does it, and now we’re supposed to ignore it when it’s done by someone supposedly on our side?

    You make the argument that it’s just typical advertising exaggerations, but DJ defending it voids that excuse. You can’t both claim that it’s ad hype and that you were right all along. It’s one or the other.
    DJ has pinned his colors to this mast. Nobody made him do that. He didn’t have to do that. Any sensible PR exec would have told him not to do that.

    @DJ
    A friendly hint: Hire a new PR consultant and actually listen to what they say. When they tell you to shut up, shut up. Stop thinking you know better, because it’s blindingly obvious that you don’t. I love SGU and I’ve been a big fan of Randy for years; despite that you’ve completely alienated me to the point where TAM barely registers on my radar.

    Stop talking. You’re not good at it.

  61. evilDoug says

    There is absolutely no way I could afford to go to TAM

    I don’t know if they don’t get this, or if they do get it and try to distract attention from it. I suspect the latter.
    Something that costs n dollars may indeed be good value for the money, but if your discretionary budget for such things tops out at n/2 dollars, it is of no value to you at all.

  62. says

    brive:
    The problem with DJ runs deeper than an easily corrected ad (did you miss his sneering comments about bloggers?). You even allude to it yourself. Remember, a lot of people recall DJs past actions-ones he has made no apologies for-and see his reaction here to be more of the same from him. That’s not a good thing.
    Yes, there’s Snark, but there are also legitimate points that you seem to be glossing over (his unwillingness to deal with criticism for one).

    And about your both sides comment, thanks for the condescension. I’m sure all the people who take issue with DJ appreciate it.

  63. Sastra says

    DJ … I think you could have handled this … better.

    I dislike saying that so often; you surprise me. You’re capable of great diplomacy. But yes, I will be there again. It’s an excellent conference, every time.

    It’s not cheap, however, if you calculate the cost the way someone on a budget would, as an overall expenditure. So if you’re going to make cost a bragging point you need to be more …. specific. Otherwise it’s kinda funny-lookin’.

  64. brive1987 says

    #74 mythbri

    I agree with you and your decision. There are really valid grounds to either ignore TAM – or pick an ideas fight. And yes DJ last year was “Ron’esque”.

    I just don’t think this is a great touch point to rile up over. From a totally personal perspective it just seems … like we are prodding the hive over nothing much at all when there are bigger issues under the surface.

    It looks like I’m thread hogging – so I’ll pipe down :-)

  65. fmcp says

    @ PZ #35, carlie #69 and Tony #71

    Sorry – I squished two thoughts together, and I just realized how completely unclear I was; the Pharyngula crowd is not responsible at all for my perception of the generally dismissive tone in the blogosphere. I’m hesitant to post here, because, well . . . you know you all have a bit of a reputation for brawling, right? *ducks*

    Seriously, though, it’s not an uncommon tactic in online debate to ask about someone’s education as a snide way of undercutting the opponent’s argument. It happens more subtly in meatspace too. In fact, at last year’s TAM Amy and a handful of other speakers were on a panel about skepticism and the Humanities, and one of the issues that came up was that very issue of artists and other non-scientists being perceived as less credible.

    I think, instead, that skeptics would do well to look to the Fine and Liberal Arts for leadership. There are some wonderful science communicators out there, but theatre people (for example) are all about communication, inspiration and finding common humanity.

    In any case, if you all are consciously avoiding that type of condescension, then maybe I should hang out here sometimes!

  66. says

    Cyranothe2nd:

    I haven’t felt that way here (as a lib arts educator) but this is definitely true in other venues (Dawkins’ Twitter page, for instance.) But I can’t recall anyone at Pharyngula sporting that attitude, though to be fair I don’t always read the comments sections of every post.

    I’ve never felt unwelcome because I’m an artist and not a scientist of any kind. I haven’t noted people being chased off because they weren’t scientists or didn’t have certain degrees in the last 5 years, either. While stupidity will get you trounced, honest ignorance will not. People here love to teach, educate and talk about their various fields of endeavor.

  67. says

    fmcp:

    you know you all have a bit of a reputation for brawling, right?

    Yes, we do. We have a lot of fun doing it, too. :D Have a wander around the lounge, it’s informal, no set subject, and you can get to know people a bit: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/06/11/lounge-422/#respond – Thunderdome is also an open thread, for um, meatier discussions: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/06/11/11502/#respond

    Welcome to the shark tank, fmcp.

  68. mythbri says

    @fmcp

    In my experience as a non-scientist commenting here at Pharyngula and FTB in general, ignorance is only looked down on when it’s pointed out to you and you do nothing to correct it, and yet still pontificate about the subject of which you’re ignorant.

    I made a big error today because I don’t know what I don’t know, and unfortunately it’s an error that has the potential to hurt people. But I paid attention to what other people said, and took steps to educate myself. I won’t make the same error again.

    Good faith will always win out over academic credentials.

  69. Ogvorbis: ArkRanger of Doom! says

    Cyranothe2nd:

    I hold a bachelors degree in modern European military history. I work in public industrial history. And the only times that I have ever been mocked for my education has been when someone, never a regular, decides to use it to dismiss me (I remember one when I was lambasted for my lack of intellectual curiosity). And my stupidities are pointed out in ways that help me learn. The difference may be that my stupidities are honest.

  70. brive1987 says

    #84 Tony!

    Apologies that my post made you feel I was being condesending. And similar apologies to any other poster here that had the same reaction.

  71. says

    Mythbri:

    I made a big error today because I don’t know what I don’t know, and unfortunately it’s an error that has the potential to hurt people. But I paid attention to what other people said, and took steps to educate myself. I won’t make the same error again.

    It was not that big of an error, and I don’t want you feeling bad about it, Mythbri. You went out of your way to educate yourself more fully immediately, and that’s appreciated beyond measure.

  72. Jacob Schmidt says

    fmcp

    I’m hesitant to post here, because, well . . . you know you all have a bit of a reputation for brawling, right? *ducks*

    It’s really a bit of an unfair reputation. Or more precisely, not all of us deserve it. There’s plenty of sweet and cuddly people around here; they just tend to get lost in the noise.

    I’ve said some stupid stuff around here before. Messing up in good faith will usually just get you a polite (if terse) rebuttal.

  73. consciousness razor says

    I missed that bit. I’m curious if that’s how we come off too. I definitely fit in that group of people who aren’t “scientists, statiscians, philosophers…” and don’t feel criticized for not being in any of those groups, but if others feel differently, I’d like to hear, because they deserve to be heard.

    There is a tendency to make pretentious statements like “science is the only way to know about reality.” A lot of skeptics won’t even blink at an extravagant claim like that. It looks about right when it’s set in the context of claims by religious or pseudoscientific cranks. They’re making claims about stuff which have physical implications that scientists could get evidence for, and the truth of those claims depends on that sort of evidence. If you carefully define “know” and “reality” to have a specific meaning and refer to a specific set of things, it makes some sense. So I guess the most charitable reading is that it’s not supposed to be such a general statement, even though it looks like one.

    The thing is, it’s not obvious that in general “reality” is merely the phenomena that scientists study, that no other fields produce “knowledge,” or that knowledge can only apply to something like empirical observations. There are parts of reality and things we know about it, where the sciences simply aren’t relevant, in the sense that political or moral or aesthetic issues are irrelevant to whether or not climate change is real. Scientists refute the claims of denialists by dealing with the aspects of reality which are relevant to the claims: what the physical evidence shows about the climate. Whether they’re right or wrong about other stuff, like what we should do about it politically, is separate from that. Yet I don’t see any problem in thinking that it’s just as much a part of reality and something we can know about.

    I don’t want to just pick on this one kind of statement, but a lot of things like it come across as saying that non-scientific fields don’t have anything intellectually useful to contribute, even if that’s not really the intention behind them. (Or some will straight-out tell you that all of field X is bullshit or opinion or whatever, even if they’re completely ignorant about the subject.) When it comes to scientific issues, when we limit it down to that, sure, they may not contribute much if at all. And I guess you could still blame them for not being a science or for not studying things you care about. I don’t know what’s supposed to be objective about that, but it is one option.

  74. carlie says

    Thank you for the further information, fmcp! And please do hang around a bit and see if it’s to your liking. And if you do see us being intellectual elites, do call us on it.

    Speaking of which, I had to type “intellectual” three times and then resort to spellcheck to fix it, so I think that’s my cue to say goodnight, George.

  75. says

    My tuppence-worth on the intellectual snobbery topic: The only time I’ve experienced it on FTB, it was directed at me by someone defending Thunderfoot during his brief tenure. Which, possibly, might say something…

  76. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    There are some wonderful science communicators out there, but theatre people (for example) are all about communication, inspiration and finding common humanity.

    Something DJ
    fails miserably at in case you can’t be bothered to look at the evidence…of his own words and attitudes.

  77. says

    Jacob @95:
    There are some regulars who, despite not egaging in the brawling, do not go unheard (unless its an abortion thread and someone is being polite and respectful to the gnat du jour…they often do get overlooked).

  78. fmcp says

    @Nerd of Redhead

    Yes, I joined the discussion because I think that part of the problem with leadership amongst skeptics and atheists is that too few of them value the kinds of skills that we develop when we work in non-science-y fields. I’m not disagreeing that he screwed up here.

  79. says

    Nerd @101:
    ??
    fmcp was commenting on the value of the liberal arts amid a discussion of online communities in general often treating non Hard Science degree holders with disdain. Your comment seems slightly brusque.

  80. Jacob Schmidt says

    Tony!

    There are some regulars who, despite not egaging in the brawling, do not go unheard (unless its an abortion thread and someone is being polite and respectful to the gnat du jour…they often do get overlooked).

    I… don’t think I said otherwise? What are you getting at?

    All I meant was that it’s easy for outsiders to mistake the commentariate for a bunch of brawlers, since the polite ones are easier to miss.

  81. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    Ogvorbis @ 92

    I hold a bachelors degree in modern European military history. I work in public industrial history. And the only times that I have ever been mocked for my education has been when someone, never a regular, decides to use it to dismiss me (I remember one when I was lambasted for my lack of intellectual curiosity). And my stupidities are pointed out in ways that help me learn. The difference may be that my stupidities are honest.

    Your major sounds fascinating! I’m rhetoric/composition, which basically means that I teach English 101. I love it, though. There’s a lot of opportunity to challenge values and belief systems in a required course like that. Last quarter, my class was about ‘Masculinity Myths. ‘The quarter before, it was about ‘Objectification and Rape Culture.’ I’m going easy on my summer class, since I have a slightly shorter quarter, and doing the old ‘Does TV Program Us?’ thing. I figure the students who are dedicated enough to take classes in summer deserve to watch The Daily Show and Sons of Anarchy as homework.

    As for mocking of majors–I’ve insulated myself pretty thoroughly from turds and their arguments, but I do still see r/atheism pop up on r/ShitRedditSays sometimes. Ugh, the STEM circle-jerking was unbreakable when Dawkins decided to mock the social sciences (like he knows fuckall about sociology anyway!). I’ve seen it a few other places too, but not so much on FtB (although the pitters will always take any opportunity to decry that some people who blog here don’t have STEM degrees. *eyeroll*)

    /soapbox

  82. brive1987 says

    To inject dreaded nuance, we should probably acknowledge that a CEO has to keep their Board / VIP constitutes informed quickly about possible bad PR – and part of their job is to provide an organisation friendly spin and talking points.

    There is nothing professionally worse than the anger of an embarrassed Board Member.

    These internal corporate “FYI emails” have their own context, language and subtext relevant to the audience and task.

    Read this way his email says:

    1.
    You are probably aware of organisations (ours and others) under criticism by social media.

    2.
    Sorry if you are not interested in these blog wars but …

    3.
    There is a current criticism of the organisation’s recent TAM promo – see here (so you can’t claim ignorance).

    4.
    If anyone asks – you can make a strong case that we are good value in a like for like comparison – point1, point2 etc

    5.
    The counter proposal you may hear from critics is not apples for apples

    6.
    Want specifics? Here is a detailed post that should prove the argument. And yes it has been posted in the public space – but not in such a way as to enmesh us in unseemly debate.

    7.
    Yours sincerely blah blah blah

    From a corporate perspective I would expect nothing less from a CEO.

    …………………

    Now DJ did stuff up with the whole “PZ deleted it” bit, though as we know in a choice between conspiracy and incompetence ……

    The fact he sent this note TO PZ strongly argues for the latter.

    …………………

  83. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Yes, I joined the discussion because I think that part of the problem with leadership amongst skeptics and atheists is that too few of them value the kinds of skills that we develop when we work in non-science-y fields. I’m not disagreeing that he screwed up here.

    My point wasn’t the field his degree was in, but rather he stepped on any intelligent response due to ego for the N-th time.. I have no problem with those with degrees outside of science. The Redhead’s degree is in art education.

  84. redietz says

    I have nothing against bloggers (I think it was once called “writing?”), but why get your knickers in a twist about something as trivial as the copy for the TAM conference? Yeah, TAM isn’t cheap, and I would not have written the ad that way, but really, is there any purpose to going off on it? Anyone with eyes open would have seen a thousand more egregious ads in the last 48 hours, so what’s the point of taking a whack at the TAM ad? Is carefully policing a conference ad an FTB duty, an obligation? Is that a good use of time?

    So TAM went a little consumerish — they are trying to sell registrations.

  85. says

    I have been known to mock engineers a bit at times. I know engineers can be very intelligent, interesting people, but most I have known have been pretty awful. I live with two conservative, racist, sexist ones, and have known many more like this. I TAed physics courses and labs for engineers and it was just a depressing experience.

    As for the social sciences, well, I have a hard science background but there is just a lot of interesting stuff out there in other fields. I do not understand why so many people have such ignorant positions when it comes to sociology, history and all those other cool areas of study.

  86. screechymonkey says

    redietz, who do you think got his or her “knickers in a twist”?

    PZ’s original post was pretty mild, pointing out an inaccuracy while still praising TAM as a “premium event.” Then DJ decided that this was a vicious attack that was evidence of some anti-JREF agenda, accusing PZ of deleting posts by one of the “good eggs” who defended TAM, and then accusing PZ of being underhanded and not “one of the good guys.”

    Is any criticism of TAM or the JREF out of bounds?

  87. Myk says

    I really think DJ Grothe should get a competent PR person to go over every email he sends out. He’s really very bad at writing to a general audience. His emails stopped me from continuing my JREF membership. I lost all confidence that my money would be going to good causes. In person I found him quite fake-seeming.

  88. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    Brive @ 108,

    Thanks ever so for teaching us all how to read. Wherever would we be without you? I mean, if I didn’t have your pedantic “but there are more important things to talk about!” and “you guys are so unnuanced!” I don’t know how I’d ever figure out what to think about DJ’s latest.

    It looks like I’m thread hogging – so I’ll pipe down :-)

    Yeah, why don’t you do that?

  89. says

    We are proud of TAM, and do consider it the best event out there focused on scientific skepticism. We think it is a fantastic comparable value, as a four full day event with over 80 presenters on the program this year, and with programming running from 8am till past midnight every day. We are proud of how cheap it is and that we have been able to avoid raising regular registration rates for a number of years now. We are also proud that nearly 100 people get to go to TAM every year with their registrations completely waived due to a number of grant and scholarship programs. We have incredibly generous presenters and volunteers and supporters who help make the event the stellar conference that it is.

    then that’s what you should have said, instead of claiming it’s cheap, or even just comparatively cheap; because it’s neither.

  90. brive1987 says

    #110 redietz

    It’s all in the back story.

    The real issue here is the implicit back swipe at other “more expensive” Skeptic Cons plus the implausible claim (ie “they weren’t even clever in the back swipe”). Plus the fact these Cons are often closer in values to Ftb than TAM is.

    Put that into the back story milieu and there is natural umbrage taken.

    I’ve got my personal take – but I can see the incident has more to it than your post suggests.

  91. consciousness razor says

    I have nothing against bloggers (I think it was once called “writing?”), but why get your knickers in a twist about something as trivial as the copy for the TAM conference?

    My knickers are twisted over the fact that a skeptical organization made a false claim, a trivial one they could have easily corrected without any fuss, but they didn’t do that. Instead, they get defensive and try to dodge the fuck out of the issue. The latter part is the problem, not that they said something false: they dug in to protect some random piece of bullshit because it would make them look good. And that — the defensive, dishonest, uncritical reaction to their own false claim, rather than a simple correction, along with apologetics like yours to change the subject — that doesn’t look good.

  92. says

    Regardless of how overly expensive TAM demonstrably is, it’s also a conference that now prouds itself on inviting pit associates like Mayhew, Drescher and Blackford, and I find that much worse than the 400 dollar ticket price.
    Until a year ago, I wouldn’t go to TAM because of the outrageous pricing, but now, I’m not going because of Grothe and the odious people that get invited there.

  93. brive1987 says

    #114. Ladyporn

    Thanks for the response.

    I hadn’t seen anybody consider it from a corporate angle. Still haven’t.

    Double “.” means a direct quote. Your characterisation of my comments is therefore misleading. On that basis maybe you could score that mooted PR role at JREF. :-)

  94. says

    No, it doesn’t. You’re ladling out the bullshit, brive1987.

    The only backstory here is that there are quite a few good skeptical/atheist conferences around, with different foci and different locations and different costs. TAM is the big high profile celebrity con in Vegas, and is pricier than most of the others. That’s the clear reality, and as I’ve said repeatedly, there’s nothing wrong with that. When they start sending out promotional material that claims otherwise, that it’s actually cheaper than the others, that’s so jarring that it had to be noted…and several other blogs had brought it up before I said anything.

    It’s not “taking a swipe”. It’s not a matter of umbrage — that’s your loaded interpretation. It’s a matter of noticing a remarkably discordant departure from reality in their ad copy. I wouldn’t have even noticed the ad myself if it weren’t for that weird comment.

    Heck, my wife mentioned it to me when she got the same promo. Last time she was at TAM, she had to pay her way to attend, so she was conscious of the big price tag.

  95. Stacy says

    Anyone with eyes open would have seen a thousand more egregious ads in the last 48 hours, so what’s the point of taking a whack at the TAM ad?

    *waves hand excitedly*

    Oooh, I know! Pick me, pick me!

    It’s a Skeptics conference. And Skepticism is about (among other things) noticing persuasive techniques such as those used in advertising and political speech and applying critical thinking in order to evaluate the claims made and consumer protection.

  96. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    Double “.” means a direct quote. Your characterisation of my comments is therefore misleading. On that basis maybe you could score that mooted PR role at JREF. :-)

    And yet more pedantry. *yawn*

    But if you want direct quotes, you But there are more important things! here @ 72:

    If we want a confrontation on an issue that actually matters let’s take the intellectual lead and do it properly / constructively.

    And you imply that we are unnuanced here @ 108:

    To inject dreaded nuance…

    (emphasis added)

    I’m sure a genius like yourself doesn’t need me to explain what ‘implication’ means, right?

    And BTW, the reason why no one’s talking about “the corporate angle” is because its totally fucking obvious and because both miller and LykeX (among others) ALREADY TALKED ABOUT IT at the beginning of the thread (ie, how DJ could have spun this to JREF’s advantage and failed to do so.) It’s ridiculous in the extreme to think that we are all somehow unaware of 1. who DJ’s audience was in that email and 2. how he was likely to spin the story to make JREF look good.

    Again, some more, you come across as extremely condescending in just about every post you’ve made on this thread. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t mean to do it and leave it to you to figure out how to communicate more effectively.

  97. brive1987 says

    #120 PZ

    Totally agree the advert tried way too hard to oversell the value and crossed the truth line.

    I assumed when you praised TAM it’s within the context of it being the flagship event for old guard skepticisim. Ie it’s great – ‘if that’s what you like’.

    The “taking a swipe” line was in relation to JREF not PZ. Umbrage was used per “offense or annoyance” in relation to PZ calling bullshit on the value claim$ – plus the concerns expressed by other posters here.

    I find it hard at the moment to separate DJ, TAM and the skeptic/Atheist debate.

    ** I apologise if I projected this conflation onto you. **

  98. says

    Anyone with eyes open would have seen a thousand more egregious ads in the last 48 hours […] So TAM went a little consumerish

    making shit up in the name of skepticism is ok, if it’s capitalism-based making shit up? what?

  99. says

    @ fmcp

    I understand that hesitation, and I have experienced some condescending attitudes from people in the wider skeptic/atheist community because of my lack of education. (Because of my disability, I’ve had to put my formal education on hold, though I do read voraciously and try to educate myself elsewhere as best I can until I’m able to attend a university, again.) But to be honest, it was so minor that I don’t even remember where it was or who was involved.

    I’ve found the opposite to be true here, though. While people will jump on you if you say things that are a) intellectually dishonest (or just plain wrong), and/or b) sexist/racist/ableist/homophobic/etc., especially if you are being deliberately hurtful or provocative, or it comes from a place of ignorant privilege, they are usually forgiving (and often helpful!) if you’re willing to examine your behavior honestly and correct mistakes. This is actually a place that, I think, makes you a better skeptic (and human being), because people are willing to help educate. And the community tends to be very supportive, as well…when I’ve expressed depression or regret over my lack of education, I was quickly told by several people that my worth was not based on the degrees I have (or lack thereof), or my profession. So all in all, I’ve found this to be a great place to hang out.

    I just don’t see all the accusations people make against the awful, nasty pharyngula community. I think most of them would rather wallow in ignorance (and hate), have no interest in evaluating their beliefs, and can’t handle any criticism of their position. Which is really sad, coming from supposed skeptics, but there you go.

  100. brive1987 says

    #122 Ladyporn

    Actually no, LukeX doesn’t talk about the implications of this being an internal email with non public, non PR objectives. So my observation stands – give it as little thought as you want.

    You addresses this email as a public facing statement that we need to dissect – as if it was a blog post, or welcome address… that had escaped the PR net.

    This email was a boring bit of internal company governance / board crib sheet until it was posted here.

  101. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    EEB @ 116,

    I think most of them would rather wallow in ignorance (and hate), have no interest in evaluating their beliefs, and can’t handle any criticism of their position.

    Oh, I feel this so hard! I long for the days when I thought that being a skeptic/atheist was a principled position to take and assumed that people came to it through introspection and an honest inventory of their beliefs about the world. How naive I was!

    I don’t know what it is, honestly. Maybe some people enjoy the bit of assholery that comes with being skeptical of any and all positions? Maybe they just really like being a naysayer? Like, they genuinely enjoy pointing all out the stupid of others, and have no inclination to look at the stupid in themselves?

    Whatever it is, the skeptical/atheist community seems to be infested with it. :/

  102. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    Rats, that was EEB @ 126, not 116.

    Also, brive1987, my username is “Cyranothe2nd.”

  103. says

    I know, I know, we’re not supposed to talk about “privilege” anymore, but I just gotta say…even if the whole sexual harassment/skepchick disaster didn’t already show what a privilege-blind asshole D.J Grothe can be, this would be enough.

    TAM is an inexpensive, affordable conference for people in a certain tax bracket, I’m sure. And I don’t begrudge them their conference, truly. It seems like an awesome event. If I was suddenly given the opportunity to attend by a kindly stranger, I probably would. But it’s so outside anything I could ever afford, no matter how much I scrimped and saved, that I’ve never, ever considered it. I get the brochures, just like with CSIcon, and I think, “Oh, that sounds like fun. Hope the put the videos on youtube so I can see!” and recycle them, immediately. Because there is no way.

    Understand, even if someone handed me a ticket to TAM, I still wouldn’t be able to go. I couldn’t afford the airfare, cost of the hotel, incidentals, etc. Looking at my budget, I figured I could get one conference this year. I chose Skepticon, both because I think (hope) I can afford it and because of the speakers they get. And it still involves saving a huge percentage of my income every month (which I am very lucky to be able to do because my parents are letting me live with them–most people in my situation would never be able to do that). Also, to the driving thing? I love the assumption that everyone has both the physical ability and money to have a driver’s license (ha!), not to mention the cost of insurance, car payments, parking, gas, etc. (Actually, this is a common problem with groups, I’ve found–PLEASE remember that many people do not have cars when scheduling your meetings! If you planned meetups accessible by public transportation, you would open it up to a lot more people!)

    And it’s a privilege thing, pure and simple. (Again, I have to use that word, I just don’t know another that works as well, sorry.) A lot of these people simply don’t understand the realities of living below (especially way, way below) the poverty line, because they never encounter the many people who exist there. Or because when they do encounter them, they don’t realize it, because most of us are disinclined to discuss financial woes with people who can’t understand; it’s humiliating. Just like they don’t think about the people who can’t afford (or are just physically unable) to drive–it never enters their minds. Everyone has a car, right?

    That shouldn’t be something to get defensive and angry about. It’s understandable. This should be a learning experience. Unfortunately, DJ Grothe is so busy rationalizing that he isn’t listening. This is one of those times where you need to shut up and listen to the experts (that would be the people who live this life, the one you don’t see or understand). Oh, wait, sorry, I forgot: we’re not supposed to say that, either. OMG I’M TRYING TO SILENCE DJ GROTHE!

  104. Stacy says

    Oh, I feel this so hard! I long for the days when I thought that being a skeptic/atheist was a principled position to take and assumed that people came to it through introspection and an honest inventory of their beliefs about the world. How naive I was!

    I don’t know what it is, honestly.

    I’m convinced that for a lot of people it’s just a club to belong to. Not much more than that.

  105. says

    brive1987:

    #114. Ladyporn

    The nym of the person in question is Cyranothe2nd, you dipshit. Don’t think your constant habit of either getting people’s nyms wrong or cherry picking them goes unnoticed. Whatever your excuse might be, stuff it. No one cares. The fact that you picked out ‘ladyporn’ out of Cyranothe2nd’s nym speaks volumes about you, every single one them shouting out your sleaziness and laziness. Going with those is being charitable, too, because I think you’re also quite dishonest.

  106. says

    Rorschach:

    Regardless of how overly expensive TAM demonstrably is, it’s also a conference that now prouds itself on inviting pit associates like Mayhew, Drescher and Blackford, and I find that much worse than the 400 dollar ticket price.
    Until a year ago, I wouldn’t go to TAM because of the outrageous pricing, but now, I’m not going because of Grothe and the odious people that get invited there.

    QFMFT. Even if I could afford TAM (which I cannot), I’d much rather make my way to something like Skepticon one of these days. The line up of people is always good, there’s a lot of enthusiasm and I’d actually feel welcome there. Bottom line, that’s the most important thing.

  107. Blobulon says

    Could someone please point me in the direction of why we are not talking about privilege anymore?

  108. says

    TAM is an inexpensive, affordable conference for people in a certain tax bracket, I’m sure.

    Exactly. And if a majority of people can only afford to go there with a grant or scholarship or by saving for a year, then JREF should have a think about that. Been saying it for years. Fortunately, now that it’s become such an asshole con, it’s easier to not miss going (although they still have many speakers that I’d like to hear, and meet, mind you).

  109. says

    Jacob:
    Apologies for the lack of clarity on my part.I was just trying to point out that those who don’t engage in the brawling, do get heard (you said they tend to get lost in the noise, which overall, I disagree with).

  110. says

    Brive @108:
    For whatever reason, you’re ignoring some of the comments DJ made in the email, as well as his response here, as well as his history. I’m not sure why you have such a vested interest in people seeing this “nuance” (how does one view “…bloggers who take aim…”? or the fact that he doesn’t address the points PZ made with a nuanced view?).., but your focus on the letter (again, this is not the problem) seems as if you’re ignoring the stuff people have problems with.

  111. says

    Brive:
    This DJ apologetics schtick is getting old.
    Do you see that the discussion has moved past the damn ad?
    ****
    EEB:
    Why the aversion to ‘privilege’?
    ****
    Ugh, taking what rorschach said at @118 (the pitters), DJs past actions, and that TAM is priced above what many can afford there’s something elitist that I dont like, especially with the pitters associated with the convention (they already think they’re so damned special, it doesn’t take six degrees of separation to see them embracing TAM as being for the elite atheist/skeptic)

  112. Konradius says

    I’m wondering why people haven’t pointed out the actual big harm this ad does.
    TAM is one of the most well known conferences out there. If people look at this ad and it says it’s the cheapest, people will stop looking further for other conferences.
    The ad positively throws other conferences under the bus, and the blatant arrogance that DJ radiates seems to show that don’t care one bit about that.

  113. says

    So TAM went a little consumerish

    WENT?
    It’s in freaking Las Vegas.
    I’ve never been to TAM, never WILL go to TAM, could never afford it… even if I could I wouldn’t spend that kind of money, and even if I were inclined to, wouldn’t go to Las Vegas.

    Not having been maybe my impression is wrong, but it seems to me that TAM is held in vegas not despite the problems of Las Vegas culture, but because of them. That’s the kind of place they like to hang out (and live) in.

    Unless they spend their time there debunking the BS of the place, explaining that you’re a fool to spend any money in a casino, etc… maybe they do? Every time?
    I dunno.

  114. says

    Sorry, I was being factitious. There have always been people whining about “check your privilege” type comments, but after the Women In Secularism conference, it seemed like a constant refrain from the MRAs and other assholes. Which lead, of course, to several blog post by people refuting the people trying to refute the concept of privilege. (I especially liked Amanda Marcotte’s take, and when I am Supreme Leader of the Internet, my first decree will be to force everyone to read Jason Thibeault’s response.)

    Anyway, I was just (ineptly, obviously) trying to mock the notion that we should stop talking about privilege, and also those people who complain that we’re using the notion of privilege to silence men (or whomever–but mostly men), and asking people to be quiet and listen for a moment is a terrible offense.

  115. says

    I also offered to discuss any of this with him further if he wished, even though I was reluctant to post on Pharyngula for probably obvious reasons. PZ never responded to those emails and I’m really surprised that he decided to post this email without permission — an email that he knew was inadvertently sent to him.

    Emphasis mine
    That’s a really uncharitable interpretation and a very bold claim.
    DJ Grothe should feel ashamed of accusing PZ to have published the email in spite of knowing this. Not seeing an email is a very trivial thing. It happens to me and I only get 10 on a busy day. That it would happen to somebody who probably gets thousands is more than believable.

    And did you know that a BMW is actually a cheap car? What do you say? Your Ford was way cheaper? But your Ford isn’t a German premium car, so that doesn’t count. And you have to pay extra for leather seating which the BMW already has. And it has more PS. And it’s not as expensive as a Mercedes so I’m totally correct and you’re a fucking idiot and now shut the fuck up.

    It’s always amazing how upset all those poor silenced men get when somebody else is speaking…

  116. says

    I’d second Gilliels point -> “an email that he knew was inadvertently sent to him”. Not really when you get a lot of email it is easy to miss something, this is not an extraordinary claim. DJ *knowing* that he knew of the subsequent email(s) is an extraordinary claim, unless he has read receipt set on or something and got notification it was read. Seems a deflection from his mistake in sending it in the first place… Move the blame somewhere else, where’s Rebecca Watson when you need her!

  117. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    fmcp et al.: I certainly don’t differentiate between people with arts, humanities, soft science, engineering, hard science or no degrees at all. You’re all part of the same class of equally useful people – “nonmathematicians”. To quote Heinlein:

    Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.

  118. teejaykay says

    @ fmcp

    It’s just as Caine says. FYI, she’s wonderful both in terms of being straightforwardly aggressive and very straightforwardly nice, depending on the scale of just how one conducts oneself in a rational manner. I only comment here and now, but rest assured, I was stalking this blog (and before PZ moved it to FTB) for years before I got the courage to finally comment.

    Just to add something to the equation, I’m an English major with minors in Intercultural Studies, philosophy and pedagogy. One needn’t be a “hard” scientist to have something profound to say; heck, my parents aren’t as well-educated as I am, but they never stopped learning new things and are willing to learn — and they ran a farm!

    @ Caine, oh, btw, we got us some new rats.

    @ Everything else…

    I have to agree with the general statement that failing to stick to the truth in advertising is something different. I don’t know what DJ’s financial situation is, but I think one in his position might want to consider the recession (look, beat me up about this — I live across the pond and we’ve got recession too, so I humbly suggest you give me a smackdown if this comes across as arrogant), seeing as TAM is available mostly for the middle class. As EEB said, “a certain tax bracket”…

    There’s another thing that’s gone downhill with JREF, too, which really, really rankles me. It used to be more fun! Sure, it’s still educational, but I miss Randi’s weekly rants and ravings and that… sense of humour. Though it may sound oxymoronic, his sense of humour was viciously and gently funny. Of course, that’s not Randi’s fault. But I still miss it.

  119. =8)-DX says

    Dr Hill, how much maths do I have to know to not be a “nonmathematician”? Is there a gradient, some threshold measure? Or is it just simply if you have the right degree, you get placed in the “mathematician” circle on the Venn diagram?

  120. thetalkingstove says

    @ Stacey

    I’m convinced that for a lot of people it’s just a club to belong to. Not much more than that.

    I think that’s exactly it. Skepticism not as a tool, but as an identity. So when a fellow member of Team Skeptic is criticised, you don’t use skepticism to assess the situation and respond accordingly, you just shout and complain and obfuscate and…well…lie and throw abuse, in the case of the Slymers.

  121. groschen says

    Hey finally got out of the “bushes” and comment on something. Because I have the same feeling as fmcp, this hesitation to post anything, but for me it there is a range of reasons for being hesitant to post.

    Firstly I also have a feeling that having no education, or the wrong education, somehow will be frowned upon. This is actually a problem in the entire atheist/Skeptic community. For me it is a problem because (from my experience anyway) I apparently have chosen the most bogus and sneered and field of study, since I, in a few months, become a Msc. in economics and business, with my masters specializing in international marketing and business innovation.

    And skeptics for some reason dislikes economics and business studies, and apparently especially dislikes marketing. This is of course only a feeling, and one that I am not able to back up with any hard evidence, because it is just an feeling I have ended up with after mostly silently following the skeptic/atheist community for some years now. Only specific example that comes to mind right now is:

    Neil DeGrass Tyson that in a talk says something about a nobel prize in economics, only counting as ½ a prize, if you compare it with the “real sciences”.

    But I do remember, from some of the few times I have tried to take part in discussions (not here), being called out on economics and business not being a real science, and it being a sort of “lie to the poor, mentally under-resourced economic and business students” to call the master degree a master of science.

    I do not think that Pharyngula is particularly bad in this respect, but I do see PZ’s blog and the rest of freethoughtblogs as a place where this view is to some degree shared. But again, feelings, no evidence unfortunately.

    Secondly, English (if you have not guessed it yet) is my second language. So I am very self-conscience about trying to write understandable English, and also relies on my ability to be understood when both writing and speaking English, since my study is international, and all classes and examinations are in english. So when I see people nit-picking at other peoples writing, in order to find spelling and grammar mistakes, I feel less inclined to post something myself, because I do not want to feel like my points are less valued, because I don’t know where to put a specific punctuation mark. I have seen people doing it in a fun and playful manner, but I have also seen it used as an argument for the person that made the mistakes beeing more or less retarded, and because of this there is no need to actually look at the points the person may or may not have. And this is a “problem” that is as much here, as any place else.

    Thirdly, and finally, I have a problem that is specific to ftb, but not limited to it. I live in Denmark, so when I read a post most likely quite a lot of people will already have posted, since it will most likely have been posted in the evening or during the night, over here. So when I get to read it, and think – maybe I have something to add – I will be required to read through sometimes a 100+ messages. This is a problem for me, because I rarely have time for that, but not a problem that I think any of the community can do anything about, because I support a 100% the notion that to comment on a thread you should have read the thread first.

    Argh – that became quite the long rant, and I never got to actually comment on the topic of the thread – well shortly:

    I agree on the TAM commercial being stupid, in the context where they try to sell a “very debatable claim” to a group of skeptics that should know better, and probably does normally. The problem is of an ethical nature in my view. This problem is also widely recognized in marketing literature. Basically it means that there are a lot smaller bounderies for what is acceptable claims in marketing, dependent on whether you are an authority figure in the field or not. Just like the very problematic nature of a doctor that recommends a product, in ways he knows are at the very least debatable. In the same way it is ethical out of line, when a supposed authority on clear facts as opposed to making unsupported claims, themselves makes what would look like unsupported claims. I do think though that it would not have gone “out of proportion” in this way, if DJ Groethe didn’t already have a history of being a bit of a “bastard”, or if he had just learned not to send e-mails about the ones he is flaming, to those same persons. But hey – no one is perfect…

    ***I can’t seem to figure out how to make breaks between lines – so sorry if this post, like it does in the preview ends up as one long block of text – have been trying for an hour now to somehow correct it without getting anywhere…***

  122. John Morales says

    [meta]

    groschen,

    Firstly I also have a feeling that having no education, or the wrong education, somehow will be frowned upon.

    Your trepidation is understandable, but unwarranted.

    Secondly, English (if you have not guessed it yet) is my second language.

    Your English is more than good enough, and you write better than many native speakers.

    Thirdly, and finally, I have a problem that is specific to ftb, but not limited to it. I live in Denmark, so when I read a post most likely quite a lot of people will already have posted, since it will most likely have been posted in the evening or during the night, over here.

    It’s unfortunate, but that’s just a function of timezones.

    No reason not to comment just because others already have; you have not just the OP but the comment-thread about which to comment!

    Your actual comment was fine! :)

  123. chrislawson says

    fmcp,

    I’m about as hardcore pro-science as you’ll ever meet but I would never dismiss anyone’s opinion just because they weren’t from a science background. There are very good reasons for this: 1. Insisting on a science background is a form of Fallacy From Authority. 2. There are plenty of examples of people with solid science backgrounds who believed absolutely stupid-crazy ideas (later Fred Hoyle comes to mind). 3. There are plenty of non-scientists who are very skilled and knowledgeable communicators (Barbara Tuchman’s histories have had a major impact on the way I view the world), sometimes even about science (the very best, most accurate popular description of quantum physics I’ve ever met is in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man).

    (This is not to say that you can’t criticise people for not knowing what they’re talking about. Robert Kennedy Jr is a fucking idiot about vaccines — but the problem isn’t that he lacks a medical degree; it’s that he has no interest in understanding anything that contradicts his self-aggrandising delusions.)

    What matters is not one’s credentials but one’s eagerness to think critically and learn. I think you’d fit in very well here.

  124. chrislawson says

    Also, fcmb, there are Pharyngula commenters from all over the world. I’m from Australia. Sure you may not be in the first ten comments very often, but that doesn’t mean your contributions won’t be appreciated.

  125. flex says

    @Grochen at 147,

    My first degree was in electrical engineering, my second was in business with a focus on international studies. One of my hobbies is studying economics, which I find to be far more interesting and more intricate and difficult that electrical engineering.

    There is an attitude among a lot of skeptics that economics is a soft, and easy, subject. I don’t find that attitude much here, and there is at least one practicing economist who comments regularly. However, when I haunted the JREF forums close to a decade ago I found a lot of smart people with STEM degrees who had one course of macro and one course of micro economics and thought they new everything about the subject.

    This crowd also tended to be libertarian, white, male, middle-classed, moderately well-educated, and completely unaware of how privileged they were. They are also quite smart, but since the maths used in economics courses is typically statistical and algebraic, and they are learning calculus in their engineering courses, I suspect it appears to them that economics is easier. Economics is not easier, as you are undoubtedly aware. Economics as taught in these macro/micro introductory courses posits an unreal creature called Homo Economicus which has perfect information about markets, always acts rational, and always acts selfishly (which is how many libertarians view themselves).

    As we know, economics is messy. It requires studying how real people behave, individually and as a population. People are not always rational, and people exhibit unselfish behavior like altruism and compassion. The libertarian economic model requires changing people to fit the model, but the libertarian economic model has a great deal of appeal for smart people who believe they always act rationally (they are incorrect in that self-assessment).

    Of course, if economics as easy as, say, antenna theory the world would look a lot different.

    I don’t comment on Pharyngula much any more, as you say it is a large and vibrant community, international in scope, but by the time I read the posts there usually have been half a dozen people already having written precisely what I would have. So I don’t feel the need to say anything.

    That being said, welcome to the community. Your English is fine. Comment as much, or as little, as you like.

  126. says

    The guy who is an economist, ‘Tis, no longer comments here on account of being found out as a plagiarizer. Well, who knows if he actually was or is an economist, but I kinda miss having someone around to spout economics stuff at us. The people he plagiarized from had interesting things to say.

    Economics is regarded with suspicion by some simply because of the profusion of motivated reasoning and bad science in the field. I would like more economists to be more rigorous, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a real field of scientific inquiry with important contributions to make to human knowledge. I’d welcome an economist’s contributions around here.

  127. Ing:Intellectual Terrorist "Starting Tonight, People will Whine" says

    FYI: may not be majority view but I do know there are people who feel less valued on Pharyngula if they lack a degree or education. SO have to disagree that it’s not a thing

  128. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    =8)-DX @146: To be a proper mathematician, you need a PhD and an Erdős number of at most 3. Anyone else is sub-par.

  129. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I’m about as hardcore pro-science as you’ll ever meet but I would never dismiss anyone’s opinion just because they weren’t from a science background.

    I’m hardcore pro-science and I have no science background whatsoever (unless you count muddling through some classes in high school).

    I know there are people who feel uncomfortable here because they lack a degree, and I feel awful about that. But you don’t need a degree to be a smart person with a lot to add. My father never graduated high school, but he also never stopped being interested in learning. He knows a heck of a lot more than I do (even accounting for the age difference), and I have a master’s (yes, it’s in Library Science, which is, hands down, the least academically rigorous master’s you can get, but still… ;) ).

  130. teejaykay says

    @ Ing

    Yeah, I agree. There are some absurd titles over in some countries whose owners think “Doctor General So-and-So [add choice of honours to your liking]” that is prestige, and that everyone ought to lick the dirt off their leather shoes. I know plenty of people who even skipped sixth form who have ideas and perceptions of the world more profound than those who’ve been given the chance for higher education.

  131. carlie says

    Many of us here are educators or communicators in some form or another, so we want people to learn stuff, and learn everything and then some, and teach us stuff we don’t know about. Knowledge is an addictive substance to us. :) So from that perspective, not knowing all about something isn’t a bad thing at all, it’s an awesome opportunity to learn about something new. It’s like this xkcd. The “I’ve learned more than you have” generally only comes out when the other person is attacking with absolute wrongness and lauding whatever education they have along with it to try to prove their wrong point.* At least, that’s more how it is now; I admit that it used to not be like that. The grammar correction stuff has definitely decreased a lot in the last few years.

    *and there are certain combinations that are particularly volatile, such as “I’m a physicist so I will tell you how you’re wrong about evolution”

  132. Sili says

    The guy who is an economist, ‘Tis, no longer comments here on account of being found out as a plagiarizer.

    Hvabehar?!

    Or in English, hwait, hwut?

  133. teejaykay says

    @ 161 (carlie)

    One ought to know one can never learn everything.

    One never can.

    But it’s fun to learn something new! (Disclaimer: you cannot know about deities more than the myths. But nice stories, anyway!)

  134. carlie says

    One ought to know one can never learn everything.

    One never can.

    That’s the worst part, when you figure that out. :D

  135. teejaykay says

    @ 164

    Innit just that? :D Sorta relieving at the same time, though. And if all else fails, if you get drunk with people who know more than you do about some other thing, you’re in for a treat full of yummy-nom-nom information!

  136. badboybotanist says

    As an amusing aside, if you do a Google Image search for DJ Grothe, one of the first pictures that comes up is of PZ.

  137. redietz says

    So help me out here, as this is my second post, and I don’t know the back story. Not sure knowing the back story has any relevance. Many of you see the TAM ad as an attempt to hijack people from attending other, less expensive conferences? Okay, that’s interesting.

    I can do the math. Tam costs $500 (roughly) with no bells and whistles. That’s a lot (to me). The hotel, South Point, is quite nice and quite cheap compared to other urban hotels. It’s cheap because it’s an outlier on the south end of the strip. Food is slightly cheaper in LV than other urban areas if you stick to coffee shops/buffets. Car rental, which I do not believe was mentioned, is usually MUCH cheaper in LV than other urban areas. Often it’s about half as much. Airfare to LV, because it’s a tourist place, is usually cheaper than to other locations. In summary, if you are renting a car, I think DJ Grothe may have been correct. If you’re not renting a car, maybe not.

    Having DJ Grothe put his name to the ad copy is a problem — as someone mentioned, the harder sell is usually attached to underlings. But it does provide a certain gravitas (to those of us, like 99.9% of the general population, who don’t know the back story).

    I’ve always viewed TAM as something for rich(er) folks, given that blowing a grand on a four-day event is not for the under 50K a year crowd. But many academic conferences cost about the same.

  138. A Hermit says

    Many of you see the TAM ad as an attempt to hijack people from attending other, less expensive conferences?

    No, I think the objection to the ad is that it’s a good example of the kind of thing TAM is supposed to be fighting against…misleading consumers.

  139. badboybotanist says

    But many academic conferences cost about the same.

    Wow, redietz, you didn’t just move the goalpost with that one, you changed to an entirely different playing field. How does a comparison to academic conferences have the tiniest bit of relevance to this discussion?

  140. redietz says

    I did the math. Now if someone has a problem with the math, okay, let’s hear it. If what DJ said is within the realm of likelihood (and I’ll say if people rent cars, it is), what is the issue here?

  141. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    The issue is that “could under certain circumstances be” =/= “is”.

  142. says

    @ redietz 173

    Try reading. People have already explained this multiple times. But I’ll try again.

    The problem is not that people believe TAM is the most expensive skeptic conference (different then an academic conference, btw!). The problem is that, in the initial ad, there was a claim made:

    TAM 2013 is actually cheaper than any other skeptic conference

    This is objectively untrue. PZ, and others in the comments, have pointed out many skeptical conferences that are less expensive than TAM, and that TAM is often far more expensive than other conferences. Additionally, rather than admit that an error was made and move on, DJ Grothe then doubled down by dismissing other skeptical conferences, something a lot of us felt was a douche move, especially those who are actively involved in some of those conferences.

    Again, the problem is not that we believe TAM is outrageously expensive, or that we think they are “stealing” skeptics away from “our” conferences. No, the problem is that an organization which works (among other things) for consumer protection and truth in advertising, made a claim in an ad which was objectively untrue. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, it could have just been an error rather than a lie, and easily corrected and forgotten. (This really should never have been a “thing”, as many of us have pointed out. It’s ridiculously simple to see how easily this could have been fixed, and even turned into positive publicity for JREF.) But instead, Grothe compounded his error by dismissing exceptional conferences, such a Skepticon, as just “student-run” events, and therefore not real skeptical conventions, like TAM.

  143. anteprepro says

    I’ve always viewed TAM as something for rich(er) folks, given that blowing a grand on a four-day event is not for the under 50K a year crowd. But many academic conferences cost about the same.

    And the issue is that the disingenuous advertising is pretending otherwise. Pretending that it is not for richer folks. Pretending that it is not only cheaper than academic conferences, but also cheaper than any other skeptic conferences. Which is patently untrue. Which Grothe only avoided by dismissing the key example refuting his claim as a “student run” conference. And the issue is that Grothe is sneering and doubling down instead of admitting that his original claim was misleading like a decent skeptic with the smallest concern with truth and honesty would.

    Also, your argument is bullshit, by the way. The (actual) math has already been laid out here . By comparison, it should be obvious that simply saying “well, four factors of unspecified quantity are cheaper in Las Vegas, ergo this offsets the $500 price tag” isn’t really that math-y. But I’m no mathemagician.

  144. redietz says

    Four Day/Three Night Conference

    TAM

    $475

    Other Conference (No Fee) Held in Other Urban Area:

    Hotel Expenses: $150 more than TAM
    Car Rental: $100 more than TAM
    Parking: $80 (four days)
    TAM Free Lunch Equivalent: $40
    Likely Airfare Disparity: $50 (very conservative estimate)
    Meal Cost Disparity: $40 (very conservative estimate)

    Disparity Costs: $460

    So my point is — if you’re renting a car, the only likely way another four-day/three-night conference is cheaper than TAM is if there is absolutely no registration fee.

    So then we get to the argument that many other conferences are only two days so this simply doesn’t hold. Perhaps not. But then the argument can be made that attending two TAMS is a better value than attending three other conferences. Life is, after, a “per day” experience.

    Perhaps what DJ Grothe should have said is something like, “On a per diem basis, for those of you renting a car, TAM is actually cheaper than most other conferences.”

    I will email him with that suggestion.

  145. redietz says

    And just for the record: I’ve stayed in hotels 3000 nights in my life. I’ve rented cars at least 300 times. I know what costs what where. Do you?

  146. Bernard Bumner says

    “On a per diem basis, for those of you renting a car, TAM is actually cheaper than most other conferences.”

    Snappy marketing. And absolutely not what the advert in the OP was claiming.

  147. anteprepro says

    Ah, so now we get those numbers! In the form of claimed differences! With no work shown, and with the only citation being that our wise visitor has rented many a car and visited many a hotel. Grand.

    (Sorry, not buying that you couldn’t get a cheap hotel outside of Vegas. Not buying that Vegas food is inarguably cheaper than food anywhere else. And definitely not buying that a rented car is a necessity in such a sufficiently developed urban area that actually did have only expensive hotels and expensive food!)

    Snappy marketing. And absolutely not what the advert in the OP was claiming.

    Though it is basically what Grothe is trying to change his argument into now.

  148. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I’ve stayed in hotels 3000 nights in my life. I’ve rented cars at least 300 times. I know what costs what where. Do you?

    Were you there?!?!

    Funny how A* arguments are so very close to Fundamentalist arguments, eh?

  149. says

    So my point is — if you’re renting a car, the only likely way another four-day/three-night conference is cheaper than TAM is if there is absolutely no registration fee.

    My point is, if they hold it in San Francisco I don’t need a hotel and all it costs is BART fare to get to, so conferences set in San Francisco are clearly less expensive and should claim so in their advertising.

  150. noxiousnan says

    I’ve just now come to d.j.grothe’s comment at 25, so this will surely have been repeatedly addressed, but damn, what a disappointing response.

    We are proud of TAM, and do consider it the best event out there focused on scientific skepticism. We think it is a fantastic comparable value, as a four full day event with over 80 presenters on the program this year, and with programming running from 8am till past midnight every day. We are proud of how cheap it is and that we have been able to avoid raising regular registration rates for a number of years now. We are also proud that nearly 100 people get to go to TAM every year with their registrations completely waived due to a number of grant and scholarship programs. We have incredibly generous presenters and volunteers and supporters who help make the event the stellar conference that it is.

    These are all impressive reasons to check out TAM, and your pride shines through in a compelling way, dj grothe. But it doesn’t negate PZ Myer’s criticism of your ad claiming

    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!

    As someone with some experience in event planning, the $45 room rate is very impressive. Someone was using mad negotiating skills to get that, and you are rightfully proud of the effort. And I feel sure that claiming TAM is cheaper than any other skeptic con was hastily penned with all focus on that room rate….Except that your response is,

    I do stand by what we’ve said

    It has already been demonstrated that TAM is not cheaper than any other skeptic con, and it should also be apparent that while it might be cheaper than a certain specific con, even then, due to geography, it could be more expensive than that specific con to certain people. It is these continued refusals to rationally address one’s own mistakes that is so confounding. For the love of skepticism, admit you’re wrong about that claim. Your continued refusal to do so just drags this all out and reflects poorly on TAM. You, dj grothe, are demonstratably wrong here.

  151. says

    Car Rental: $100 more than TAM

    Your rental company gives you a TAM-related discount?

    Parking: $80 (four days)

    Municipal/hotel car parks do the same?

    Likely Airfare Disparity: $50

    Now, I live in a country where internal air-travel is almost non-existent so my knowledge is limited, but wouldn’t this “disparity” depend on where one is travelling from and to; and specifically to the distances involved? Really, I’d love to see how you calculated this.

  152. vaiyt says

    @groschen
    I have nothing beyond basic education in hard sciences, currently getting a Communications degree, and English is my second language. You’re welcome.

  153. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    Really, I’d love to see how you calculated this.

    He doesn’t have to, because penis.

  154. anteprepro says

    Your rental company gives you a TAM-related discount?

    No, Las Vegas gives him a discount. Because apparently everything in Vegas is cheaper and nothing is more expensive and therefore TAM really is the cheapest conference ever.

  155. dogeared, spotted and foxed says

    Just to muddy the waters a bit more, the “inexpensiveness” of TAM relies on getting a hotel room at the South Point hotel* for the group rate price. At the last (and only) TAM which I attended, hotel rooms were sold out. I ended up getting a terrific deal at a hotel on the south end. It was as close to the South Point as one can get on the strip.

    That was a mistake. At the time, there was no public transportation to the South Point. A taxi cost $25 each way. I could usually share a cab going back to the strip but paid the full price to get there. My conference-only transportation costs were about $150 for the time I was there. (This doesn’t count side trips.) Not staying at the hotel also negates a few of the meals.

    All in all, I spent more going to TAM for 4 days than I did going to Prague for a week. The food was better in Prague.

    *Where the conference is held.

  156. carlie says

    So then we get to the argument that many other conferences are only two days so this simply doesn’t hold.

    Bzzzt. Nope. He didn’t say on a per-day basis, he said per conference. The length doesn’t matter.

    It was false advertising.

  157. carlie says

    Really, I’d love to see how you calculated this.

    He doesn’t have to, because penis.

    Well sure, if you’re using a base 1 system to count with.

  158. says

    This has already been dealt with, all the way back in PZ’s opening post:

    It is a bigger event…but that does not make it a cheaper event. That’s reason to say TAM is worth the money, not that it is cheaper.

    How many times do we have to go over that again? It’s not as if anything new is being said.

  159. Cyranothe2nd, ladyporn afficianado says

    groschen @ 148,

    Honestly, the only problem I have with econ is with the Chicago school motherfuckers.

    General, about Vegas–

    I was just in Vegas 10 months ago for Defcon. the food is WAY more expensive there than other places. I live in a major metro area (Seattle) and can dine at a nice place for around $30 a plate (less if its a burger place, pizza, etc.) I couldn’t find one place in Vegas–not even what I would consider a step above fast food–that was less that $30 a plate, and the nice places were considerably more. My partner and I didn’t know this going in, and consequently spent twice our expected budget just on food. I ended up ordering the cheapest thing on the menu and splitting it with my daughter most days. The buffets were a rip off–$50 a plate!–for people that aren’t huge eaters. We never even went to them. True, there were some specials, like $3 tacos in the +21 bar, but these were few and far between.

    Then there was the cost of water ($3 bottle), soda ($5 bottle) and other incidentals in our hotel. Because we were on the strip, there were absolutely no grocery stores or anyplace to go (we could have taken a taxi off the strip, but were busy with the conference and didn’t find the time.)

    Bottom line–for a traveler who’s new to the city, doesn’t have time to shop around or do a lot of research–Las Vegas is a money trap. The whole place is designed to make you SPEND SPEND SPEND. It’s exhausting and really not fun. The next conference I attend (Minecon) will be in Orlando, which I hope is a little better (if I stay away from Disneyworld!)

  160. says

    Cyranothe2nd @128 wrote:

    [do] “they genuinely enjoy pointing all out the stupid of others, and have no inclination to look at the stupid in themselves?”

    You’ve got it! It’s all about feeling (not being) superior.

  161. says

    TAM Free Lunch Equivalent: $40

    Do people never eat sandwiches?
    Really, I survived entire cons on sandwiches and cookies
    And why would I need to rent a car if I’m staying in on place anyway and would need to pay a horrible amount of parking fees then?

  162. silomowbray, sans frottage pour la douche says

    Really, I survived entire cons on sandwiches and cookies

    I can’t survive on starch. If I don’t stay protein and veggie heavy I become very lethargic and sleep 14 hours a day, which is ridiculous and not a pleasant way to enjoy a con.

    I bring lots of hard boiled eggs and my own fruit and veggie bags, but after several meals I end up resorting to restaurants.

  163. Eristae says

    All in all, I spent more going to TAM for 4 days than I did going to Prague for a week. The food was better in Prague.

    Eep!

    Four Day/Three Night Conference

    TAM

    $475

    Other Conference (No Fee) Held in Other Urban Area:

    Hotel Expenses: $150 more than TAM
    Car Rental: $100 more than TAM
    Parking: $80 (four days)
    TAM Free Lunch Equivalent: $40
    Likely Airfare Disparity: $50 (very conservative estimate)
    Meal Cost Disparity: $40 (very conservative estimate)

    Disparity Costs: $460

    So my point is — if you’re renting a car, the only likely way another four-day/three-night conference is cheaper than TAM is if there is absolutely no registration fee.

    So then we get to the argument that many other conferences are only two days so this simply doesn’t hold. Perhaps not. But then the argument can be made that attending two TAMS is a better value than attending three other conferences. Life is, after, a “per day” experience.

    Perhaps what DJ Grothe should have said is something like, “On a per diem basis, for those of you renting a car, TAM is actually cheaper than most other conferences.”

    I will email him with that suggestion.

    Where are you getting these numbers?

    PS: Having car rental and parking be cheaper in one city compared to another does not make your conference itself cheaper. For example, maybe a person named Jim and I go to TAM for 4 days. He rents a car, pays for gas, and pays for parking. I do not rent a car. I will be paying less money, but would anyone accept it if I said that I got a discounted rate at TAM? Of course not, and they should not. That would be stupid.

    Also, before I freak out too much: Are you trying to tell me that we’re supposed to assume that TAM is giving us $40 lunches and that’s supposed to be cheap? If I spend $20 on a meal, I’m spending a lot. If we’re trying to factor in external costs like food, I am not spending $40 for each meal. No way, no how.

  164. says

    Ah, yes, a rental car! How could I forget? Because everyone has a drivers license, right? And it’s not like there are people who are physically unable to drive, or who don’t have the credit to even rent a car.

    See, this, right here, this is what a lot of us are ticked off about! The pervasive blindness towards people who are differently abled or in a different socioeconomic class is obnoxious. Not to mention exhausting, when it has to be continually pointed out to those who (I believe) have shown themselves to now be willfully ignorant. I don’t like saying the same thing over and over again. Seriously, I am annoying myself.

    I think I’m bowing out of this discussion. I’m getting irritated, and while there are a lot of things I should invest my emotional capital in, this really isn’t one of them.

  165. Stacy says

    Oh lookee, Grothe’s claims a week or so ago were more reasonable:

    We pride ourselves on the fact that our discount hotel rate for TAM is roughly one-third the cost of other similar conferences. As a result, even shorter scientific skepticism conferences with somewhat lower registration fees often have a higher total cost of attendance when the hotel, travel, and meals are factored in

    (Emphasis added.)

    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/jref-news/2136-just-a-heads-up.html

  166. Stacy says

    I attended TAM9, and I never left the South Point. I ate at the lower-priced restaurants in the casino. The prices were reasonable (~ $15 a plate including tax and tip IIRC, much less for fast food.) Unless things have changed beyond recognition, it’s always possible to eat cheaply in Vegas*. If you can’t, you need to look around some more.

    * Especially inside the casinos, where they want you to save and spend that sweet sweet money on the gaming.

  167. says

    Stacy #202
    Indeed, that’s a much more reasonable claim. Certainly more reasonable than “cheaper than any other skeptic conference”.

  168. says

    Another comparison, CONvergence.

    Registration at the door: $100. We registered well ahead of time, so we’re getting in for half that.

    Room rate: Con hotel: $101/night, or you can stay in nearby hotels for $70-$80. It’s a friendly bunch, so just about everyone doubles up on rooms, cutting costs even more. We’ll have four in our hotel room.

    Food: Free. Did you know SF cons set up rooms stacked with staples — rice, beans, bread, peanut butter, that sort of thing — and you can actually eat for free the whole weekend?

    Travel: I drive there in an economy car, round trip costs me about $20-$25.

    Skepchickcon wins!

  169. says

    But PZ, it doesn’t have a “T” in the name, so obviously it doesn’t count. It’s a completely unfair comparison.

  170. Donnie says

    Did anyone else check out the link to JREF?

    $45 weekday/$85 weeknight

    Seriously? A least they could have had the audacity to average out the total rate like hotels do for the entire stay! At this point, DJ is nothing more than a douche nozzle, and I dear hope that one of his sycophant, MRA enabling, white privilege denying fan-bois and fan-grlz goes running to him saying, “wah! wah! wah! we are being held to the same standard that we hold others to”

    And you can quote me on that!

  171. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    You know, I saw this on the Interwebs and it made me think of DJ Grothe… and Michael Shermer… and Ron Lindsay… and hell, pretty much the whole other side of the sexism debate.

  172. Donnie says

    Okay, I take the bolded part back. I was focused on the $45 and assumed it was “highlighted”. I believe that was my fault and not DJ’s or whomever wrote the initial marketing email.

    However, I stand by my other comments regarding DJ and his ineptitude in handling legitimate criticisms. He does have a remarkable ability to dig holes, though. I am glad that Phil Phailt and Skepchick and Randi got me into skepticism and then atheism before DJ took the reins (or reigns if you care for the pun) at JREF. The collective douchiness that TAM, and by extension JREF has become does leave a bad taste in my mouth. At least I know where my money is going to support.

    Hello, Skepchickcon! Would you like another donation for your part of the skepticism track of the CONvergence conference? Hmmm…maybe I should donate the total amount of TAM registration. Runs off to check this privilege old, white dude’s bank account in order to expose other attendees to the wonders of skepticism.

  173. carlie says

    $45 weekday/$85 weeknight

    So $130 for every 24 hours?

    Looks like they need a copy editor too.

  174. rowanvt says

    Apparently in redietz-land, no one shares rooms when going to conventions.

    I used to attend Anime Expo, a *very* large anime convention. We would sometimes have up to 6 folks sharing a single room! And while the rooms were $150 a night at the hotels adjacent to the convention center, if you were willing to walk a bit of a ways you could find motels for close to half that. Split between 6 people, the hotel was the cheapest thing involved.

  175. fmcp says

    Holy crap – it’s hard to keep up with the conversation here! I just wanted to say thanks for the welcoming words.

    Also, Dr. Hill, that Heinlein quotation is awesome. I find I have a deeply masochistic need to pass it along to my math-y boyfriend, who will probably then quote it back at me any time I have to ask him about statistics or what-not.

  176. PatrickG says

    Oi! What a thread. I’ll restrain myself and just respond to rowanvt:

    Split between 6 people, the hotel was the cheapest thing involved.

    If you were really a skeptic, you wouldn’t have to share a hotel room. /snark

    But I’m mainly commenting to say Hi! and Welcome! to fmcp. :)

  177. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    Who the hell would want to rent a car to go to a convention? If the cost of hiring a car for the duration and paying for parking is less than the cost of airport transfers and (if you stay somewhere other than the conference hotel) the difference between the con hotel rates and the rates of your hotel + daily transport, you’re doing it wrong!

  178. groschen says

    I must admit, that the part where I would rent a car to go to a conference, also baffles me.

    If I wanted to drive to the conference from my home, wouldn’t that normally be because I already owned a car? And then I would not need to rent it.
    If I wanted to rent a car to use when I was at the conference, why did I then go to the conference? We have already learned that TAMs program runs from 8 in the morning until midnight – and as far as I have been able to deduce most skeptic conferences have all-day programs, so what would I need the car for, if I am the conference pretty much all my waking hours?
    If I needed to rent a car to get from the airport to the conference and back, then that car would be a lot cheaper than airport transfer, and then from what little I know of prices of airport tranfer, then the cost put in by redietz is too high, and makes his “argument from numbers I just know to be right” faulty.

    Also I am confused, why would I need to rent a car at ALL other conferences, but TAM? This might be because I’m just ignorant to american infrastructure, not being native and all, but still, could someone please explain the big difference?

  179. groschen says

    (Btw. thanks for all the welcoming comments – it was nice to hear that people could relate (at least a bit) to what I was writing about…)

  180. carlie says

    Katherine – I was just pointing out that it should have said weekday/weekend or weeknight/weekend, not weekday/weeknight. :)

  181. Forbidden Snowflake says

    I have to say that I don’t really buy the business of basing calculations on total expenses, rather than registration fees. You don’t actually know how much a person will spend on a vacation. Maybe they’ll fly in, get the fancy hotel room and rent a car, maybe they’ll hitchhike and couchsurf. Maybe they’ll go to restaurants, maybe they’ll get by with food from grocery stores. People have wildly varying standards of living for vacations. It makes more sense to compare the one price tag attendees can’t avoid ever.

  182. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    Ad copy is difficult. If you claim to be great “value for money”, that’s obviously a statement of opinion (“value” is not objectively measurable in most cases), so the claim might be controversial, but it can’t really be challenged as a lie. If you claim to be “cheapest”, that’s objectively measurable, and can be shown to be false relatively easily.

    It’s like the difference between claiming “I am the world’s biggest dick” and “I have the world’s biggest dick”.

  183. says

    Car Rental: $100 more than TAM
    Parking: $80 (four days)

    wut? why would you rent a car for a conference?

    TAM Free Lunch Equivalent: $40

    i don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t spend $40 on lunch; at WiS, i was eating $15 lunches (and $3 dinners, on account of eating ramen from the vending machine)

    Likely Airfare Disparity: $50 (very conservative estimate)

    i just checked. flights to Las Vegas are only $24 cheaper at this moment than flights to DC, and #20 cheaper than to Springfield, MO. And getting to any conference in Minneapolis would be $550 cheaper than getting to Las Vegas

    basically your argument seems to only work if you pointlessly inflate and invent the numbers.

  184. says

    And just for the record: I’ve stayed in hotels 3000 nights in my life. I’ve rented cars at least 300 times. I know what costs what where. Do you?

    I know how to stay in almost any city for under $60/day, and if i ever had to rent a car to get around, i’d consider that a failure.

    your point?

  185. says

    Another comparison, CONvergence.

    oh yeah:
    registration: $60/person
    lodging: free, assuming we don’t get fined/arrested for sleeping in the car.
    food: free, as per PZ’s comment
    transport: about $40/person, depending on the weather and gas prices.

    total cost: $100/person, or $25/person/day

  186. drbunsen, le savant fous says

    DJ Grothe, making an objective claim that doesn’t stand up to even the most cursory of skeptical analysis and fact-checking? And then doubling down, weasel-wording and goalpost-shifting when called on it?

    Wait, I know this tune.