It’s not what you think. These local skeptics are not anti-vaxxers or conspiracy theorists. Their story is older than our current culture wars and originates from a 2007 message on Yahoo Groups by Susan Gerbic. While scientific skepticism is what brought them together, Monterey County Skeptics is, above all, a space to socialize. A “talk” featured at each meeting is just part of the fun; making friends is another.
The group has grown over the years – there are currently 15-20 people at its core. They discuss everything, from Santa Claus to psychics. Speakers are often non-professionals, but they’ve hosted speakers from local universities as well. There is no one subject they cover, the group’s curiosity and appetite seem boundless – but discussions tend to somehow end with the subject of North Korea.
They also have an active YouTube channel with many presentations archived. One of the classics is “My Journey to Skepticism,” in which writer Kathryn McKenzie talks about how her critical thinking had a lot to do with having doubts about Santa Claus as a child. She was mystified by the fact her house didn’t have a chimney and demanded answers.
This first SkeptiCamp of 2022 will include presentations such as: “Why the age of the Earth has oscillated wildly over time” by Mano Singham (a theoretical physicist and fellow of the American Physical Society) or “Facepalm – the absurdities of the Truth Movement” by Claus Larsen and Steen Svanholm. Larsen and Svanholm have been investigating conspiracy theories for decades, including years devoted to debunking 9/11 myths.
The pandemic didn’t stop the Skeptics, but it changed things. Aided by Zoom, Monterey County Skeptics went worldwide and is now in touch with 50-75 people, locals and not, who help or participate in the camp. “Sad as it is, it’s been really great,” Gerbic says. These days speeches come from all over the world, from Australia to Copenhagen.
In times like these, when it can seem like people prefer social media echo chambers to rigorous intellectual pursuit, Monterey County Skeptics has been “a good outlet,” Gerbic says. Critical thinking is harder and less flashy than an Illuminati video your neighbor posted on Facebook, but it’s an option – and this is a group that pursues it locally.