The JREF is changing

James Randi is retiring, and he’s irreplaceable. Apparently the JREF board agrees, and isn’t even going to try — they’ve announced a change in focus for the organization. I presume that means there will be no more Amazing Meetings; they’re going to shift to becoming a grant distributing organization, and are no longer accepting membership applications or donations.

I have mixed feelings about that. TAM was always the best and worst of organized skepticism — early on they had the most inclusive and diverse meetings of any group. Rather than old academics droning on, they had showmanship and enthusiasm, and brought in a younger, livelier audience. I think they inspired a lot of other organizations and influenced the new wave of skeptic and atheist meetings.

But TAM was also a refuge for reactionary skeptics: the ones who despised atheists, who had a bizarrely narrow view of what was acceptable “skepticism” (which didn’t align well with science at all), who actively resented new ideas even as they were courting a younger audience. This was the TAM that hated the idea of openly displaying policies of attendee conduct, preferring secret proceedings, and claimed that there was no harassment of any kind going on, because they clamped down on any news and dishonestly denied any problems.

I’m not going to miss the latter TAM at all. But the former TAM is a real loss. I guess we’ll all have to go to Skepticon instead.


  1. latsot says

    I really enjoyed the TAMs London. The first one in particular was… energetic. A lot of people put in a lot of work to make those meetings entertaining. I’ll remember them fondly as long as I remember anything at all.

    But the JREF lost its way years ago. I went from frantically anticipating Randi’s Swift newsletter every Friday to dreading what awful thing the organisation would do or say next.

    Randi’s contribution can not possibly be overstated but the JREF has been a mess for years.

  2. Athywren - Frustration Familiarity Panda says

    Bah… I was hoping to attend a TAM at some point. Of course, this is an old hope, from when I was younger and the world of skepticism was pure, bright, and perfect (not to be mistaken for the time when I just didn’t understand how hard it is for humans to not be human) so maybe I’ll survive the disappointment. I’ve been putting most of my skepticonvention hopes in the QED basket recently anyway. I should probably try to actually go to one before skepticism wins entirely and such conventions become unnecessary! (So definitely before October, amirite?)

  3. Sastra says

    Well, I’m certainly glad then that I managed to make the last TAM, since this now gives me a perfect attendance record for all 13 (though I’ve technically been beaten by those who went to the ones overseas of course.) My frustrations over their recent shenanigans was always outweighed in my mind by the interesting diversity and quality of the speakers and other attendees. I’m going to miss it on multiple fronts.

    Skepticon might make a good substitute. We’ll see.

    Starting in 2016, we will be making grants to non-profit groups that we believe are promoting activities that encourage critical thinking and a fact-based world view. We expect to make a small number of grants each year totaling approximately $100,000 per year. We will NOT accept suggestions, applications or proposals for these grants. We hope they will come as a pleasant surprise to the recipients, just as Randi’s MacArthur foundation grant was a pleasant surprise to him.

    Well, okay — but it would be so awesome if they gave a grant to Freethought Blogs. Stranger things have happened. I mean, the JREF was never a monolithic block and it wouldn’t actually be paranormal.

  4. says

    I can just imagine writing a proposal for FtB to the JREF. The response would be epically dismissive.

    What would be cooler, though, is if they gave a grant to Skepticon to help with their conference.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    How did the Board of the JREF get to be the Board?
    If there are no longer memberships in JREF, is the current Board permanent?

  6. says

    Thank you for the kind words, PZ! Goodness knows that fundraising for Skepticon would be made a lot easier through a grant from the JREF. We’ll see what the future holds! In the meantime, I’m going to cross my fingers because that totally helps, right?

  7. Sili says

    If you do not die a hero, you live long enough to see yourself become the enemy – or something like that, I think.

  8. says

    I think it is worth reminding people that Skepticon is an awesome, free conference run entirely on funds donated. So, until a grant suddently happens, Skepticon could certainly use any donations that people can spare.