As we begin 2014 the skeptic conference schedule is already starting to shape up. Last weekend the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) announced its guest lineup and opened registration. Already four Skepticamps have been scheduled in the first months of the year. And it was revealed that the Australia and New Zealand national conferences this year will be held one week apart in part so that George Hrab, Steven Novella and the rest of the cast of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe can attend both events. There are also two biennial events planned this year in Europe in September - Denkfest in Zurich and Kritisk Masse in Oslo.
It shouldn't surprise observant skeptics that the schedule is so full. In 2013 there were over 55 multi-speaker conferences, symposia and workshops targeted (in whole or in part) at scientific skeptics worldwide - so many that there were many weekends with more than one simultaneous event. Included in this number are the 19 Skepticamps that were held last year. These are attendee-curated "unconferences" first held in 2007, and are smaller and regional in nature.
One of my current research projects for JREF has been cataloguing the proliferation of events like these. I presented some preliminary results from this research at TAM 2013 last July, and I've found huge growth. If the number of such events can be considered a proxy measurement for skepticism as a whole, our movement seems to be healthy and has been growing by leaps and bounds for several years.
When the first Amaz!ng Meeting was held in 2003, there weren't very many similar events targeted specifically at skeptics. Of the 17 events worldwide I've found from that year, 10 were recurring national conferences around the world and the other 7 were smaller regional workshops or symposia, mostly in the United States. Since then both types of events - but especially the smaller regional events - have multiplied by at least a factor of three.
The growth in number events has also been accompanied by a diversification of their styles. Some, like Edmonton's Logicon and Montreal's Trottier Symposium lead with science, and add a dose of skepticism and critical thinking. The skeptic tracks at Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Convergence in Minneapolis and Balticon in Baltimore inject a single track or room of skeptical programming into an existing science fiction convention - a tremendous opportunity for outreach. Other events specialize on topics, such as Skep Tech in Minneapolis or the series of greatone-dayevents run by CFI UK at Conway Hall in London.
At the same time there has been a similar huge growth in events targeted at freethinkers, atheists, humanists and secularists. Many of these also appeal to skeptics as well. In fact, if you include those events, last October 26th marked a milestone of sorts. For the first time I can document, five skeptic, freethought, atheist or humanist events were occurring on the same day around the world (time zones notwithstanding). This year I've been able to catalog almost 50 events total (which have set their dates already) spanning all those categories.
As part of my research, and as a public service to the skeptic community, I've been posting information about most of the upcoming and past events I've found at the conference directory site Lanyrd. Because of the large number of events, there is a need for catalogs and calendars so skeptics can discover and keep track of events they may wish to attend. Lanyrd has other advantages too (mobile apps, a speaker directory and so on) and we have used it to provide mobile access to the event schedule at the last two Amazing Meetings.
I encourage all skeptics to use this online catalog as a valuable resource. And you can contribute, too, as the information on Lanyrd is crowdsourced, just like Wikipedia. So if you see something that is wrong or missing, feel free to fix it!
Tim Farley is a Research Fellow for JREF and blogs at Skeptools.com. Follow him on Twitter (@krelnik) or on Facebook.