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What we’re about

"Scientific Skepticism" is a social movement that began in the 1970s to investigate & debunk topics like ESP, faith healing, astrology, UFOs, ghosts, and other "paranormal" phenomena. Skepticism was essentially a pro-science movement in reaction against the rise of New Age mysticism on the left and Christian fundamentalism on the right. Over time, the skeptic movement has addressed other debates about the dividing lines between science & pseudoscience, medicine & quackery, history & mythology, reason & faith, etc., and has tried to ascertain why people often hold irrational beliefs and how they might be persuaded to adopt more evidence-based beliefs.

"Skeptics In The Pub" started in London in 1999 as an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and social networking among scientific skeptics, free thinkers, rationalists, science enthusiasts, and other kindred spirits. The group is now held in various forms around the world, with well over a hundred local chapters.

The Philadelphia chapter of "Skeptics in the Pub" was founded back in 2014 and hosts bi-weekly group discussions on a range of topics related to science and rationality. There's several things that set our group apart from many other skeptic groups out there:

(1) While most Skeptics in the Pub chapters rely on guest lecturers, we're primarily an intellectual discussion group. That means that our regular bi-weekly meetups have a discussion topic and require some preparation and involve active participation.

(2) Most other chapters of Skeptics in the Pub host their events in "pubs" as the name suggests, but we found them to be too loud and shifted to cafes in 2017. However, since the COVID pandemic began in 2020, most of our events have moved online. Even with the pandemic over, we've found that online events have a big advantage in terms of being able to attract participants from all over America and even overseas, rather than just catering to people in the Philly metro area.

(3) When it comes to addressing pseudoscience & the paranormal, we tend to address controversies among serious scientists & scholars that aren't clear cut rather than just debunking fringe beliefs like homeopathy, Flat Earth, Bigfoot, ghosts & alien abductions for the hundredth time. We typically only address pseudo-scientific beliefs once they become widespread enough to cause major risks or interfere with major benefits to society (e.g. the anti-vaccine, anti-flouride, anti-GMO, anti-nuclear power, AI doomer, AIDS denial, COVID denial, and climate change denial movements). We also try to understand the social & psychological factors behind pseudoscientific beliefs.

(4) While we champion the scientific approach to empirical questions, we're careful to avoid a common pitfall of some skeptic groups -- i.e. "scientism" -- the application of science to non-empirical questions in fields like ethics, aesthetics & political philosophy. Also, while we generally defer to the scientific establishment, we also occasionally act as critics when it comes to issues like funding biases, academic fraud, and the replication crisis.

(5) When we cover conspiracy theories, we tend to focus less on bizarre beliefs about "Men in Black" and the "Illuminati" in favor of somewhat more plausible allegations of political corruption, corporate malfeasance, police cover-ups, covert military actions, domestic spying, etc. We also look at how low science literacy & internet echo chambers lead many normal people to go beyond realistic concerns about Big Government & Big Business and embrace irrational conspiracy theories.

(6) We tend to cover "pseudo-history" more than other skeptic groups. While the skeptic movement has done a fairly good job debunking far-out claims about "ancient aliens" & lost civilizations like Atlantis, we tend to focus more on dubious historical claims that have bigger implications for modern-day politics like the various cases of genocide denial (e.g. Holocaust, Holodomor), Neo-Confederate "Lost Cause" apologetics about the Civil War, the 1619 Project's slavery revisionism, the antisemitic theories of the Black Hebrew Israelites & the Nation of Islam, and historical conspiracy theories about Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the Apollo moon landing, the 9/11 attacks, etc. We also occasionally cover lighter topics related to mythology, folklore & urban legends from both a historical & socio-psychological perspective.

(7) When we address problems with the news media, instead of debunking obvious hoaxes from junk tabloids & "fake news" websites, we tend to focus on problems within the mainstream media coverage, such as the exaggeration of scientific findings in "pop science" journalism, political biases that corrupt journalistic objectivity, and the fear-mongering that drives "moral panics".

(8) Although we occasionally address ethical & political issues, we do so from a non-partisan, empirical approach. Any politician, pundit or political party that makes claims that are unsupported by logic & evidence are open for criticism. There's also no expectation that members have specific ethical or political commitments, beyond a commitment to the use of reason & empiricism to make arguments and support for free inquiry & open debate. Whether or not atheists should adopt philosophies like "secular humanism", "objectivism", "transhumanism", "longtermism" or "effective altruism", or even whether or not a scientific worldview can support certain ethical or political principles is an open question as far as this group is concerned.

(9) While most skeptic groups double as atheist groups, this meetup doesn't require members to have any particular position on abstract metaphysical questions like the existence or non-existence of a "higher power” or "ground of being", free will vs determinism, the nature of the "soul" or "self", "qualia" and the hard problem of consciousness, the fine-tuned universe vs the anthropic principle, etc. While many of the supernatural claims made by traditional organized religions are either unfalsifiable or don't withstand scientific scrutiny, the skeptic movement's major figures have had a variety of metaphysical positions, from Carl Sagan's pantheism to Richard Dawkins' anti-theism, and from Paul Kurtz's "ignosticism" to Martin Gardner's "fideism". When we cover religious issues, rather than debating the existence of God or creationism vs evolution for the thousandth time, we often focus on topics related to the psychology & sociology of religion, or we look at the ways in which the frontiers of physics can inform metaphysical speculation.

If this sounds interesting to you, we hope you'll join us!

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