#24 Heros: Experiences at TAM9

The end of the first official conference day at this year’s The Amaz!ng Meeting 9 is here.  My fiance and I went down to the pool after dinner and are now relaxing and reflecting on the day in our hotel room before going to Penn Jillette’s Rock & Roll Doughnut and Bacon Party.  I know.  I have no idea what to expect.  But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Heros.  I’ve never really been one to idolize anyone.  When I see a celebrity or sports figure in the airport or out on the town I never rush over for an autograph or get all gushy about it.  They are people.  I might say something to someone because of the novelty of the event but that’s about where it ends.  Bragging about a celebrity siting doesn’t really do anything for me.  

The only time I get excited about seeing certain people is at conferences.  When I go to academic conferences I’m always trying to spot faces and names from papers and books I’ve read.  They are our celebrities.  Here at TAM I’m constantly seeing podcasters, bloggers, and authors that I follow and read.  I’ve heard some people say that they are in the midst of their heros but is that the right way to phrase it?  The more I think about it, the more I’m just not sure.

What is a hero?  Are people that are doing jobs that they signed up for (firefighters, police, military) heros?  Possibly.  It does take a different sort of person to choose that lifestyle.  What about the guy walking down the street that dies or injures himself saving someone from a burning car?  He didn’t ask to be a hero but to a lot of people, he is.  Don’t even get me started on sports figures.  If I had a physical talent and could get paid $1,000,000 a game for using it I’m sure I would.  Actually, I wouldn’t, but a lot of people would.

So, what about podcasters?  Bloggers? Authors?  Some people see them as heros too.  Personally, I see them as examples, as leaders, as positive influences, and as trailblazers in the skeptical and critical thinking movement (at least the ones I listen to and read).  I guess that is my definition of “hero”.  However, I still don’t like using that term.

“Hero” implies some sort of worship in this country.  People seem to idolize “heros” and follow their every move.  I want to watch and listen to my “heros” but I want to forge my own path, blaze my own trail, and make my mark in my own way.  I’m learning from their examples and taking notes.  I listen to the Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe every week but I don’t want a poster of them in my house and I don’t want their autographs.  Well, I would get them to sign a book but that is different.  I collect non-fiction science related books and having author signatures makes them more personal.

Click pic for a larger version.Today we all watched a panel on the future of space exploration.  It was moderated by Dr. Phil Plait (Author of Death from the Skies).  On the panel were Bill Nye (The Science Guy), Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson (director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Nova’s Science Now), Dr. Pamela Gay (astronomer and co-host of Astronomy Cast), and Lawrence Krauss (theoretical astrophysicist and author).  It’s not even important what they were talking about.  To me, the take away lesson from watching and listening to the discussion was the passion they showed for the topic.  The panelists eloquently argued their points, were sometimes very animated, and kept the audience in a state of excitement the entire time.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people enthralled by a talk on space exploration.  The Twitter feed was going crazy.  There were 25 to 50 tweets per minute throughout the discussion.  Why?  Why was everyone so enthralled and engaged?  Passion.

You can present the best, most thought out, arguments to someone but if you don’t show that you believe what you are saying with conviction then you’re going to be a hard sell.  People respond to passionate displays.  People don’t respond to apathy and monotone speeches.  I might be getting off topic.  My point is that “heros” within the science community are those that get their point across to a wide audience and sometimes actually influence people and change minds.  That is what this is all about.  Present your case, let people evaluate it, make their own decisions, and come up with their own conclusions.  That is all you can do.  If you did it right then people will remember you and what you said when they are confronted with a decision that pertains to your discussion.  

The people I’ve seen today lead very different lives from each other but have the same passion for what they do.  Some of them are superstars here at TAM but are going back to a computer and a cubicle on Monday.  Many of the speakers and presenters have written books and have been on TV.  But, as I’ve said, they all have passion and they are all, likely, somebody’s hero, or whatever you want to call them, if only for the short time we are at TAM.


Written at South Point Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada