Monday, May 2, 2011

Brief Report on Skepticamp Sydney, April 2011.

On April 30th, 2011, Australia saw its first Skepticamp, held at the University of Technology, Sydney. Organised by a group of highly un-organised sceptics based around Sydney and sponsored by various groups such as the Australian Skeptics, the Western Sydney Freethinkers, and, the event became a successful grass-roots based conference which shall be talked about in the sceptical community for years to come. I’ve previously blogged about the concept of Skepticamp here
The day started (for the Unorganisers) at 0900, with the unloading of cars and the setting up of tables, equipment, IT related gear and luncheon requirements. A quick briefing by Jason Brown and the Unorganisers were sent to perform their duties for the day. Duties included –
·         Manning the registration table
·         Organising speakers
·         Directing attendees to rooms
·         Setting up lunch and CupCakeCamp
·         Timing speakers and running IT for the day
The doors opened to attendees at 10am for registration, with talks to begin at 11am. After a quick cuppa and some early morning networking, Jason Brown and Dave The Happy Singer gave the keynote speech in their usual flamboyant manner, with lots of jokes and innuendos. They went through the rules of the day such as how much time each speaker was allocated, how you should be spreading the word about Skepticamp, what the official Skepticamp hash tag was on twitter (#skepticamp) and the most important rule – be awesome (funnily enough, also Harry Kenwell’s most important rule…just saying).
There were some brilliant talks throughout the day. Some speakers were old hands at public performance (such as Peter “Ratbag” Bowditch) and some were, like me, noobs to giving talks. The topics covered were extensive. A random selection from the day are:-
·         Peter Bowditch– Keeping your scepticism out of court
·         Joel Pittman – Experiences of a (former) youth pastor
·         Jo Benhamu – A brief history of nursing
·         Alan Conradi – Neuro-cranial restructuring
·         Rachael Dunlop – Diagnosing by Dr. Google
·         Dan Summers – The Gospels according to George Lucas
·         Maureen Chuck – Clinical trials
All of which were to special in their own right to try and explain, I recommend looking for them on YouTube, as most of the talks were videotaped (I will post links on a blog post in the near future).
My own talk was about nursing and woo, a variation of a blog post I put up earlier this year. During the question and answer time of my own talk, Jo Benhamu assisted with fielding some questions about nursing that required a bit more post grad knowledge than I have (though I’ll get there one day….hopefully). During the flash talks (5 minute, minimal preparation) section Alan Conradi and myself gave a talk about Harry Kenwell and his awesomeness.
Lunch was provided to all attendees, paid for by donations from the Australian Skeptics (thanks!!!), and catered for omnivores, vegetarians, vegans and the gluten intolerant. Lunch was swiftly followed by Cup Cake Camp, a competition in which attendees bake cupcakes that are consumed and voted on. Ruth Ellison won with her Chocolate Baileys cupcakes, but the rest were still awesome. I personally liked the Jaffa cupcakes made by Bronwyn Pinchbeck.
After the conference some money went over the bar at the Clare Hotel, which opened its doors specifically for us. As the night went on, the beer flowed and the tab got swallowed up by the crowd (anyone can hang out with the sceptics, but it would be hard for a teetotaller – we spend so much time in pubs!). Throughout the night people got together with friends, old and new, to discuss how the day went, how the night was going and how to plan for the next skepticamp – so far I believe it’s going to be in Melbourne, sometime around August/September.  Most of that night is random flashes of memory for me – Fred Kotze talking about motorcycles, a Tom Waits sing-a-long with Jason Brown and Alan Conradi, discussing Medicines Sans Frontiers with Maureen Chuck and Rachael Dunlop. I did end up at another bar down the street drinking whiskey (information received from FourSquare). All I know is I woke up the next morning in the Riverside Manor with two ladies in my bed….and me on the floor L.
Thanks to everyone who organised Skepticamp and thanks to all who participated. It was an epic day full of great talks and great company. I cannot wait for the next one, but if it is in Melbourne I just may be a participant, not an unorganiser.

Some photos from the day can be found by searching for “skepticamp” on Flickr and more blogs about the event can be found by searching the hash tag #skepticamp on twitter.
That's all I can really remember anout Skepticamp. Im sure more memories will float to the surface of my brain jar soon.
The Reverend Doktor Bob

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