Skepticamp thoughts

By Phil Plait | March 24, 2008 9:20 am

Update: Reed Esau has posted a much more detailed review of the Skepticamp doings over at Skepchick.

Yesterday I went to Skepticamp, where people gather to talk about skeptical topics. First off, a few others have already chimed in about: Hot Chicks Dig Smart men, Skepchick, and Richorman (who posted pix), notably.

The event is a loosely organized series of talks, basically. There were roughly a dozen ranging from 20 minute to the last one, which ran long at nearly two hours but which was fun nonetheless. I think my favorite was from Joel Albietz, a doctor who works at an infant ICU ward; he talked about the total and utter lack of a connection between vaccines and autism. His talk basically vaporizes all the claims of this sad movement which says that vaccines are causing this tragic childhood problem. Joel showed a large number of well-done graphs and statistics showing that autism rates continue to climb even well after thimerosol was removed from vaccines, and still went up for years even after some populations stopped taking vaccines — and of course, ravaging illnesses made a big comeback after the vaccinations stopped. There’s no way to overstate this: vaccinations are one of if not the biggest medical triumph of all time. Smallpox killed more than 300 million people in the 20th century, and it is now gone. Gone.

In general, I think Skepticamp is a good idea. I almost wish it were either more organized, with time allotments more strictly controlled and more specific things to do, or less organized, allowing more interaction and congenial dialogue (though there was some of that). While the talks were good and quite enjoyable, sitting in a chair all day can be tough. I’d like to see more hands-on work too, with people doing things rather than absorbing info.

For example, Crystal Yates-White talked about a fledgling non profit called Fund for Thought, which will be a non-profit central clearing house for skepticism. Her talk was brief, and I wonder if breakout groups discussing ways to grow such an organization wouldn’t have been fun and very useful.

But that’s neither here nor there. It was a fun and informative way tosp[end a day, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend attending one of these events. If you’re local to the Denver area, join through the Denver Skeptics meetup group. There are other skeptics groups as well you can find through that site.

Skepticism individually is great, but multiplies geometrically through contact with others.


Comments (16)

  1. Aerimus

    Someone needs to start up Skepti-Con.

  2. marko

    That “PZ” creature had quite similar thought on the American Atheists conference:
    “As usual, I have a major complaint about the organization of atheist conferences. I call it Big Ballroom Syndrome. What do they do? They rent one gigantic hall for the meeting, and then what we get is a parade of speakers who lecture at us in one hour blocks, while everyone sits and listens. This is bad for conferences. Break it up more; get 4 smaller rooms instead of one big one, and schedule concurrent events.”

  3. Peter B

    Then what do you do when two interesting speakers are on at the same time?

  4. Aerimus

    Peter B:
    “Then what do you do when two interesting speakers are on at the same time?”

    You spend hours deciding and debating which one you’ll go see, then once you’ve made up your mind, you sleep through the start and then just go to the dealer’s room instead. Wait, no, that’s me at Dragon*Con.

  5. Todd

    On the vaccine-autism thing and thimerosal, in researching a paper for class on this very topic, I came across a blog by Barbara Loe Fisher, Vaccine Awakening. Ms. Fisher also runs the National Vaccine Information Center.

    Among her blog entries, I found a quote from her that “…if it’s not thimerosal, then it must be some other vaccine-related interaction”. This is in her January 31, 2008 posting.

    As I read through her blog entries, I couldn’t help but feel that she is a conspiracy theorist. So much of the language that she uses gives that feel. It’s really sad to see some of the things that she posts, and how rabidly anti-vaccine she is, when the NVIC web site purports to be in favor of vaccinations, but providing additional safety information to consumers.

  6. Todd, she’s obviously wrong. If what you wrote is correct, then she, like so many other anti-vaxers, has latched onto the idea and won’t let go. This, despite the very clear graph that shows a linear rise in autism cases diagnosed with nary a blip due to fluctuations in vaccinations.

  7. Michael Lonergan

    Ughhhhhh…. when I read the word “Skepticamp”, why did I get this image in my mind of the many summer Bible Camps I attended? Along with it, came the memories of all the rules of the Camp, no drinking, drugs, smoking or conjugal relations – if you weren’t married. Then my mind started wandering, thinking that a Skepticamp, since it is primarily atheists and agnostics, who “have no moral basis” on which to operate , would be filled with deabuchery and drunkenness.

    So when are you coming to Vancouver, to present a Skepticamp?

  8. Todd

    BA, I should have included this in my original post, but here’s the link to where that quote can be found: It’s in the first big block quotation under the line of asterisks, around 2/3-3/4 of the way into the block.

  9. Todd

    The . at the end got included, sorry. Here’s the working link:

  10. I just saw an enormous spike in my site’s traffic, and then realized I was the recipient of The Bad Astronomer Bump‚ĄĘ.

    I enjoyed Joe’s talk, too, and wondered if a multi-track approach might be more beneficial?


  11. I’m glad you had fun at SkeptiCamp! ūüėÄ Joel’s talk was my favorite, too. (And could also be used as an example of how best to enhance a presentation with powerpoint…)

    I wish I’d had time to come up with a presentation this year… I’d kind of like to do something more science-y, probably about reading sedimentary rocks, but I think the crowd’s getting a bit too large to pass hand samples around. :/ Maybe next year school won’t be eating my head. (Haha…)

    Anyway, it was really nice meeting you! And I never got the chance to say so, but I did come to the black hole talk you did at Fiske and I loved it! ūüėÄ

  12. Reed

    Skepticamp is still very much in the experimental stage. Even though it’s adapted from the highly successful barcamp format, we are nevertheless treading new ground, especially among skeptics.

    Listening to and absorbing feedback is a big part of organizing these event. Look to see what we learned first event last August for example, chronicled in the ‘feedback’ section of

    Your suggestions are well taken and will find their way to future organizers in much the same way who can tweak and experiment with the format to squeeze from it the best results.

    And next time, let me gently suggest that you don’t hide in the back row if you’d like to see more interaction. ;^)

  13. Sergeant Zim

    @ Michael Lonegran,

    You may have images of Bible Camp, but somehow, when I read the title of this post, I heard Alyson Hannigan in my head:

    “This one time….at Skep-camp….”

  14. Joe A

    BA, Reed, Katsu, thank you very much for your kind words. You’ve made my day! Now if I can ever get to the level of the BA’s moon hoax talk…

  15. Reed

    Last night BC Skeptics announced the first skepticamp to happen outside its birthplace of Colorado. They’ll be hosting an event in Vancouver on June 28th

    Skepticamp is now an international concern.


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