TAM London: The Affluent meeting?
It’s early in the morning, you hear the postman violate the sanctity of your lie in with his daily (except on Sundays as he’s a bit like a certain workshy deity in that respect) struggle with the letterbox. Wearily you pick yourself out of bed and struggle towards the pile of envelopes on the doormat, bend down pick them up and blearily eyed sort through them. “Bill… Bill… another Bill…” You sigh (Shatner, Maher and Clinton sigh with you), as is appropriate in this cliched depictation of the morning post and begin to sort through them. One gives you cause to pause and stare in disbelief at the amount due: surely you didn’t use that much! There must be some mistake! Why what an utterly ridiculous amount to charge!
Which is not a million miles away from how some folks have reacted to the ticket price for TAM London – a not-exactly budget friendly £220.
Prof David Colquhoun, and others in the skeptical community, have reacted with a mixture of shock and outrage on twitter to the announcement of the ticket prices.
I must admit that I was one of those shocked by the price; despite having no real plans to attend, or having even considered a trip down before the ticket prices were announced, regardless of price (a touch irrational? Yes I suppose it is). Now why should I care or be offended that an event I had discounted attending anyway (on reflection perhaps because I thought the previous TAM London ticket prices were too high also) will cost so much for those who wish to attend and can afford it?
Well I suppose it’s, in part, because I think skepticism shouldn’t be priced out of the hands of skeptics not on a professional wage: that having an event that’s too costly for many skeptics is somehow “unfair”. Then again rationally I would have to conceed that this isn’t really the case: SiTP events still take place up and down the country and people have access to all sorts of speakers for often nominal fees. Blogging continues apace unhindered and grassroots skepticism isn’t really affected by whether or not TAM London happens: although perhaps those who can afford the price of the conference will have opportunities to mingle and network with other skeptics and strengthen links within the disparate communities up and down the county: which to my mind is a good thing.
But also something that should be happening anyway.
The view that it’s somehow unfair is not a particularly rational one – and I accept that fully – but then again the superstar skeptics on stage aspect of the conference isn’t exactly entirely rational either is it? The list of speakers is undeniably impressive but Shouldn’t skepticism be about substance over style? To clarify I’m not accussing the speakers at TAM of lacking substance – that would be foolish and innaccurate – but rather suggesting the message should be what’s important not who delivers it? TAM is essentially neither an academic conference or a public outreach event (no papers or academic works will be discussed and the cost puts it outside the realm of public engagement) but rather it seems to be a bit more of a skeptically orientated weekend of entertainment. Not that there is anything wrong with that – but it’s worth considering that music festivals (that also last two days) and attract internationally renowned musical acts can cost a lot less and have a lot, lot more things going on.
However to return to the bill analogy: you eventually start the process of realisation when you go through it item by item and grudgingly come to accept that “yes… I suppose I did use all that” or in the case of TAM London that “well yes ok an event of this size probably does cost that much to run: at least in London”. So the question arises – why London? Yes SiTP started there and it probably has access to the biggest skeptical community in the UK (purely based on the size of the place) and arguably it’s easier for international speakers to get there.
But surely TAM is a big enough event to survive a move out of the capital? To somewhere more central like say Manchester – which would be cheaper for the vast majority of people to travel to from all over the UK and would likely mean the ticket price could come down considerably. I don’t doubt people are organising this at great financial and personal cost to themselves and that speakers and organisers aren’t making much more than cost (if that) out of this: don’t want this post to be mistaken as accussing the JREF or anyone else of artificially inflating the price for profit.
However there are ways TAM in Britain could have been made more inclusive and more avaliable to everyone: by not having in London for one. This would fit better with how I think the Skeptical community should be: not about flashy and costly big events in one location but spread wider and more inclusive to more people. Then again there is nothing what-so-ever inherently wrong with big events like TAM (whether in London or not) and I doubt the skeptical community is adversely affected by them (or overtly positively affected either mind) but then again the fuss kicked up by the ticket prices perhaps shows there is room for something in the middle of TAM and SiTP…
Skeptics on the Fringe perhaps?
Well if anyone can’t make TAM thay are more than welcome to visit Reekie for that!