Author Archives: Reed Esau

About Reed Esau

Reed Esau is a software architect in Denver who started thinking about BarCamp and skepticism shortly after attending TAM5, his first skeptic conference. Along with Rich Ludwig and Crystal Yates-White he organized the first Skepticamp event that occurred on August 4th, 2007.

Top 10 SkeptiCamp FAILs (part 2 of 2)

Here concludes the “Top 10 SkeptiCamp FAILS”. If you missed it, be sure to check out Part 1 from earlier this week.

#5 FAIL – “we can’t have person X speaking!”

An open invitation to give talks often comes as a shock to traditionalists in this domain. Superficially at least, it’s for good reason.

Allowing anyone to give a talk risks the spread of misinformation whether intentional or inadvertent on the part of the speaker. Who knows what kind of individual will sign up to speak, couching the topic of  their talk in skeptic or sciencey lingo to avail themselves a golden opportunity to grind their axe before a captive audience?

Admittedly such an open policy flies in the face of a strategy of careful messaging that has marked the traditional events of skepticism for decades.

But there’s a method to this madness.

SkeptiCamps are not messaging events. Nor are they outreach events, though anyone with a desire to share and learn in an open environment is welcome to participate.

Nor is there anything wrong with outreach events. The upcoming Skeptrack at Dragon*Con in Atlanta provides a valuable service of attracting new skeptics from outside the community. But not every event needs to serve this goal.

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Top 10 SkeptiCamp FAILs (part 1 of 2)

Here is the first ever guest post on this blog, by Reed Esau of Skepticamp. Watch soon for a note from me about future guest posts and then Thursday for the conclusion of this two-part article.

Five years ago last weekend an experiment began in Denver, Colorado with a few dozen local skeptics assembling for an unusual day of talks.

This wasn’t a traditional conference event with celebrity speakers flown in from afar, but rather an event with talks drawn from the local participants themselves. The eleven talks covered a range of topics, from the abuses of attachment therapy to claims that the Apollo Moon landings were hoaxed. We saw a hilarious talk detailing the bizarre conspiracies surrounding the Denver International Airport and a presentation by local paranormal investigators Bryan and Baxter.

Nor was this event organized in a traditional manner. It deliberately adapts a successful conference model from the tech community called Barcamp, a model that places substantive events within the reach of amateur organizers. We called this Barcamp for skeptics a “SkeptiCamp“.

The experiment didn’t stop there. As of a recent weekend with Edinburgh’s fourth event, we now stand at 51 events in total, spanning three continents, five countries and this year with the first events in a Spain with talks given in the native language.

With such a track record, this novel experiment in introducing peer education to skeptics could be considered a modest success. With continued steady growth, SkeptiCamp’s future looks bright, especially as more of us grasp how the model works and realize the benefits these events can bring to one’s local group and its individual members.

Growing pains have been expected with many events suffering from various small failures, from overburdened organizers to participants who arrive with expectations of attending a traditional lecture event. This article (in two parts) highlights the most common of our mistakes.

So in the spirit of incremental improvement, of building on our successes and avoiding mistakes, welcome to a listing of the “Top 10 SkeptiCamp FAILs”.

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