#TAMLondon – The “Champagne Skeptic” fallacy

Last weekend, Gimpy triggered a bit of a fracas when he tweeted and then blogged as follows about TAM London:

‘Champagne Skepticism’ – a backslapping exercise where by the well off pay an organisation to tell them how important their activism is.  Grassroots activists unable to afford the fee aren’t important enough to be considered.

First of all, the ‘Champagne Skepticism’ quip is simply not justified. Sure we drank a few beers, but Champagne, nope. Ah but its really a quip about the actual cost. So, what happens when you compare the cost of a similar technical weekend conferences or festivasl? You find that TAM was very good value, so the attempt to label TAM with this tag is not reality.

If he had simply ranted a bit about the cost, I’d shrug, think “so what”, and move on. What has got me going is what follows after that:

Tickets for TAM London did not sell out, suggesting that in the Champagne Skeptic market demand has peaked.  This means that to expand JREF and TAM must seek new markets.  They are clearly intending to do this, it has been announced that profits from TAM London will got to JREF UK and fund skeptical activisim within Britain.

Now that simply leaves me scratching my head and wondering what planet Gimpy is on, because it sure ain’t this one. Yes, its factual to state that the tickets did not sell out, but its dishonest to present it like this, they almost sold out and were just a couple short of doing exactly that. But then this also appears to present the JREF as some sort of corporate entity attempting to flog something and the JREF apparently wants to expand and dominate a UK market. And the evidence for this is? … zero. Exactly what market are we talking about here? Is skepticism a commodity that you can manufacture and then trade? I’m quite astonished that Gimpy has no idea what the JREF is all about, or who they really are.

Apparently …

Their fund raising machinery could easily steal speakers and audiences from the Skeptics in the Pub movement, where the free flow of ideas costs no more than a few pounds at the door.

Sigh … the further into this rant we get, the greater the distance is from reality. TAM steals speakers and audiences from SITP!! the reverse is the reality. So if I spend cash to go to TAM it will demotivate me from going to SITP, I’m just not parsing the logic here. Talk to folks who speak and you find that because of TAM they have now filled up their diaries with lots of new talks simply because of the informal coffee break networking that took place. There are alos lots of folks who discovered SITP via TAM and will be checking them out in the weeks to come.

Can we possible get even further away from reality? Apparently we can …

It may even be that Skeptics in the Pub (SitP), currently a fairly loose collective, some of whose organisers are involved with TAM London, finds it easier to become an offshoot of JREF/TAM than compete for market share.

So now the JREF/TAM is some central power that has come to embrace and integrate all the informal and independent SITP meet-ups. Needless to say, this probably comes as quite a surprise to both the JREF folks and also the SITP folks. So how exactly do you become an offshoot of a conference that takes place over one weekend? And what market are they all competing to share? This simply is not reality

If curious to see the original rant, then you can click here to read Gimpy’s blog … however, the item of real interest is further down in the comments. There you can find a reply from Martin Robbins (The Guardian’s Science blogger) that takes it all apart. Gimpy’s replies to that, but then Martins responds to that reply as well.

The final thought regarding all this is that most of the skeptics reading this rant by Gimpy are…. gasp! …. skeptical … gosh, what a surprise. Perhaps a lack of evidence for any of these silly claims might have something to do with it.

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