An Amaz!ng Weekend

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Magician and escape artist James Randi (a.k.a., The Amazing Randi) has had a long illustrious career in entertainment, including a stint traveling with Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies tour in the 1970s. He has had an equally illustrious career promoting science and skepticism — and “debunking” charlatans,a la Harry Houdini. (He broke Houdini’s record for survival in a sealed coffin by 11 minutes in 1955.)

And his James Randi Educational Foundation — now headed by Bad Astronomer Phil Plait — sponsors The Amaz!ing Meeting, held last weekend at South Point Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Despite just having had surgery, an energetic Randi was on hand for many of the panels, greeting attendees; reminiscing about his finest moments in magic with fellow magician Jamy Ian Swiss (author of The Art of Magic); and offering some impromptu observations on ethics and magic towards the end of a panel that included those infamous “bad boys of magic,” Penn and Teller.

Penn and Teller were also on hand for Saturday afternoon’s panel discussion on Skepticism in the Media, along with Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters, Bill Prady, executive producer and co-creator of the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, and Jennifer Ouellette, director of the Science & Entertainment Exchange. The group fielded questions from the audience about, well, science (and skepticism) in the realm of entertainment, ranging from what role film and TV can (or should) play in science communication, to what science teachers most inspired them, and why nobody on The Big Bang Theory practices origami. (Prady responded that Sheldon does origami — “obviously” — just not during the show.)

The entire conference was a celebration of a motto perhaps best encapsulated by TV’s Gregory House (sadly not at TAM-7): “Trust me — it’s way cooler to know.”

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.