Friday, 12 March 2010

To Meet a Superhero


PZ Myers 003
Originally uploaded by reuvenim
PZ Myers is an American professor of biology and one of the more famous atheists around, especially in that American battlefield concerning evolution. To me, however, he is the man behind what is probably the best blog I have encountered thus far - Pharyngula. Currently, Myers is in Melbourne for the Atheist Convention taking place over this weekend, and in one of his posts today he mentioned his expected whereabouts today.
So I decided that the opportunity to meet one of my heroes is worth leaving the office a bit early and went to meet him at Melbourne's Jackson & Young pub (right opposite Flinders Street Station).
With the science blog Pharyngula being read by some 100,000 readers, the place was full of fellow atheists. It was quite funny, actually: we recognized one another by our nerdy shirts (this woman took photos of the t-shirts on display, including mine, an Ubuntu shirt she considered scientific because of the cogs the logo features; I hope to locate the photos on the web one day). Shirts and nerds aside, you could see there was something atypical of this gathering: people tending to the shy side of things, the atmosphere tended to the quiet side of things despite the concentration of people, yet conversation was flowing and the atmosphere nice and unimposing. Interestingly enough, I was able to detect many openly gay people in the crowd, which made me particularly happy: atheists, it seems, don't stand for the mere denial of the god concept; they stand for the scientific approach, and their open minds also opens them to others in general.
It's interesting to note most of the crowd weren't from Melbourne. There were people from Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane; I was a minority Melbournian, and definitely the only one there after sneaking out of the office. Myers was late, and I found myself growing more and more annoyed with missing out on the convention itself. Especially after the fifth time or so I had to explain I'm not actually going to the convention because of babysitter related logistics.
When Myers arrived I was surprised to see people let him be instead of jumping all over him the way celebrities are usually expected to be treated. It's good he was treated so well because he was obviously jet lagged. Given the etiquette I couldn't force myself into a conversation with him so I just settled with sticking my iPhone in his face to take a few photos (hey, I have a reputation to maintain). Mission accomplished.
Overall, I can say my impression is that the atheist convention is a success story in it managing to rally people who usually don't stand up to be counted. It was nice to be in such good company yet it made me annoyed I couldn't go to the convention itself for more. And with Myers itself, it was nice to be in the presence of a true hero: a scientist that does his best to popularize science and the scientific attitude with the public and who manages the task excellently.
PZ Myers is a true hero.

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