I was fortunate to be able to attend the BHA organised discussion event in London featuring evolutionary biologists, Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers (who writes the pharyngula blog).
The lecture was well attended (estimate: about 1000 people, roughly). There was a slightly exciting start due to an interruption by a group of students barging in and taking over the stage shouting about something-or-other. This delayed the start by about 40 mins, and culminated in a room full of polite mostly lefty atheists turning their backs on the protesters and shouting “Fuck Off” back in near-harmony.
I admit I assumed they were protesting due to religious reasons, but it seems (I only knew for sure afterwards) that they were protesting A.C. Grayling’s planned “private” university, of which Dawkins is going to be a member of lecturing staff. Anyway, their demo utterly failed, since only the 10 ish members of the audience who actually obtained their scrappy leaflet knew what it was they were protesting (I suspect most people, like me, assumed they were fundamentalist Christians). Epic fail.
Tip to protesters
Next time :
- do a website that is mobile compatible
- write its content succinctly and articulately, describing your grievance
- give it a nice short or very descriptive URL (suggestion: http://no2grayling.com)
- print said nice URL on a long large banner and roll it up.
- take banner to lecture, enter room, unroll banner on stage
- watch as audience of geeks taps your URL into their smartphones and bookmarks it.
- bugger off and let us paying customers hear our speakers.
Not only would this modus operandi result in about a thousand nerds visiting your page and reading your arguments, but also, those same nerds would be far more sympathetic to your cause. Nuff said.
The discussion was very accessible in terms of its depth and variety of subjects covered. Everything from what biology might be like if it exists on other planets to blogging and the future of atheism. It was a genuinely varied and interesting chat. It felt informal and friendly. There were quite a few laughs.
Very nice to be able to say I’ve now seen another of the ‘extended group of horsemen’, in the shape of PZ Myers. He came across as a very genial chap; far less strident than his blog would make you believe. In fact at one point Dawkins said (obviously for comedy effect) “Well I have to say what a surprise it is that you’re so nice!”.
You can listen to the entire lecture on the pod delusion website. Andrew Copson starts with a typically witty comment relating to the protests. One final note : you can also hear the nerdy audience tittering at his pronunciation “Pee – Zed” Myers.