SkeptiCamps are small- to medium-scale, self-organizing grassroots skeptical conferences in which the audience members are also the presenters. The emphasis is on Scientific Skepticism, and everyone from casual skeptics to the experienced participate. The purpose is to share ways of spreading critical thinking to others.
SkeptiCamp uses an event model that builds on a set of practices adapted from the BarCamp conference model. Like BarCamp, everyone participates, whether by giving a presentation, interacting with the speakers, helping to organize or run the event, or taking what they've learned and sharing it with the world. One difference from BarCamp is that presenters should be prepared to cite their sources on any claim that is likely to be challenged. The intent of this rule is to allow others to evaluate the substance of each talk for themselves.
The SkeptiCamp concept was founded in 2007 by Reed Esau, and was partially inspired by Daniel Loxton's 2007 essay on the state of the Skeptical movement, "Where Do We Go From Here?", and from attending The Amaz!ng Meeting 2007 annual conference that focuses on science, skepticism, and critical thinking.
Of Loxton's presentation, Esau wrote: "Loxton hits the mark in recognizing that enthusiasm stands to play an essential role in the future of organized skepticism... Recent developments enabled by social technologies give us new tools to capitalize upon that enthusiasm."
Esau's background as a software engineer afforded him familiarity with the IT industry concept called BarCamp, a conference format aimed at distributing knowledge within the technical community. Esau chose the BarCamp model as a basis for SkeptiCamp with a similar goal: "The opportunity afforded by SkeptiCamp emphasizes sharing knowledge within local communities of skeptics. It reaches out to each one of us and provides a concrete path to grow as a skeptic and gain proficiency in those topics that drive our interests in this domain to the benefit of not only ourselves but our fellow skeptics as well."
The SkeptiCamp format also allows ad hoc group formation, and avoids the overhead associated with more formal content channels. Activities such as forming a non-profit organization, electing officers, publishing a newsletter, soliciting dues, and of trying to maintain enthusiastic leadership while avoiding organizer burnout are not issues with this model.
The first SkeptiCamp was held in August 2007 in Denver, and was organized by Reed Esau along with Rich Ludwig and Crystal Yates-White. Since its inception at least 70 known SkeptiCamps have been held. The first SkeptiCamp outside the United States occurred in Vancouver, in June 2008. The first SkeptiCamp outside of North America was arranged by Edinburgh Skeptics in Scotland, in August 2009. The first non-English SkeptiCamp occurred in Madrid in January 2012.
In the United States, SkeptiCamps have been organized in Arizona, Colorado. Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio. The SkeptiCamp concept has also been popular outside the United States with events across Canada in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Ontario, as well as Aireys Inlet, Melbourne, and Sydney, Australia; London and Edinburgh, UK; and Madrid and Alicante, Spain.
Of the cities that hosted a SkeptiCamp in 2010, 83% hosted another in 2011.
SkeptiCamps are usually free of cost, though they are not meant to be free of effort. Everyone is encouraged (though not required) to participate in some way, such as helping to organize the event (or initiating a SkeptiCamp in a new locale), or giving a talk. But everyone is encouraged to contribute their thoughts, ideas, and activities to the discussions.
There is no prescribed format for open skeptical events, but they usually involve un-curated speakers from the local skeptics community. The focus is generally not on skeptical outreach, but rather on sharing and skill development for skeptics, these things being the prerequisite for actual skeptical outreach. For some events, speakers show up and sign up for time-slots on the date of the event, but many others have speakers sign up on the event website, and the exact schedule of speakers is later determined by the event organizers. For the most part, presentations will be from 15 minutes to an hour long, although the oldest event, Skepticamp Denver, generally limits talk length to 25 minutes, and has 15 minute talks, as well. For their 2012 event, the Denver organizers introduced the concept of 5 minute "lightning talks." Skepticamps locations have allowed for single room events, and multiple rooms with simultaneous talks.
There is sometimes the expectation of a more professionally organized event, or the feeling that presentations should be more polished. This is countered with the observation that the value of the SkeptiCamp model lies rather in their accessibility, richness, interaction, and opportunities for personal growth.
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- Esau, Reed (2012-06-18). "Leveling Up as a Skeptic - SkeptiCamp at 50 Events". Swift. James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 18 June 2012.
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- "Organizing a SkeptiCamp Event". Retrieved 2012-03-02.
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- Esau, Reed. "The Future Of Skepticism". The Amazing Meeting 2012. 14:00-19:00. Retrieved 15 May 2013.
- Esau, Reed (2011-02-17). "Top 7 Reasons Why SkeptiCamp Sucks". IndieSketics. Retrieved 2012-02-27.