It’s Skeptics (with a k) in the Pub for a good reason – a spelling which takes the whole thing back to its Greek roots, explains Chichester group chairman Jonathan Percival.
“The original Greek means questioning,” Jonathan says – and helped along by a little booze, it’s proving a popular pastime in Chichester. Jonathan set up the Chichester group of the national Skeptics in the Pub movement last March, and it has taken off quickly and impressively, getting between 60-80 people at its meetings on the first Tuesday of the month at the Chichester Inn in West Street (more details on chichester.skepticsinthepub.org or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Jonathan, a maths teacher by day at Seaford College, first came across the group in Leicester and Nottingham where he is from: “The whole idea is that it promotes the idea of critical thinking and is evidence-based. You see and hear a lot of nonsense out in the world. It’s a good thing to have some sort of discussion, some sort of forum where things can be talked through in an evidence-based way.”
It’s not that people are gullible, but it’s always good to challenge – as the rise in popular science has shown.
“But we’re not just about science. We have considered things like cults and religions, social policy and psychology.”
In a sense, the meetings aren’t so much meetings as events, Jonathan says: “It’s like a gig in a way. I put on a speaker, and people turn up as and when they want.
“For our first meeting we had 50-60 people, mostly people I know. Now it is between 60-80 people and mostly people I don’t know. I think it has taken off because various people have been looking for something a little bit like this. There are a lot of people that have maybe lost touch with education and want to get back into it. People come away saying they feel like their brain has grown! People just feel this is a wholesome activity to go along to. The topics we have are diverse and interesting. We try to cater for lots of different interest groups.”
“For 2015, we start again on the first Tuesday in February (February 3 at 7.30pm) with Peter Jukes talking about the phone-hacking trials. He is a freelance journalist and writer who was tweeting from the trials. He has written two books. One was about Rupert Murdoch, and another, post-trial, was about the phone-hacking scandals.”
The meetings usually kick off with 15 minutes or so from Jonathan as compere, followed by the speaker from 8pm to around 8.45pm. After a short break, questions follow from about 9pm.
Jonathan admits the word Skeptics might be a bit of an obstacle: “It can sound to some people a bit like a group of men whingeing in a pub!”
But Jonathan points out that fun is always a big part of the agenda: “The speakers are always on topics people might find it interesting to hear about. It’s about instigating debate really.”