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When will CFI’s nightmare end?

They just lost Point of Inquiry…or at least, the main people involved in it.

On Friday, Point of Inquiry’s two co-hosts—Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney—resigned from their positions at the Center for Inquiry. On Monday, Point of Inquiry producer Adam Isaak followed suit. This note is to explain our reasons for departing CFI and our future plans.

In May of 2013, when the Women in Secularism II conference took place in Washington, D.C., Point of Inquiry—the flagship podcast of the Center for Inquiry—was more successful that it has ever been. Following a format change in 2010, our audience has increased by 60 percent and our growth rate has doubled in the last year and a half. We’d recently done a highly successful live show featuring Steven Pinker before a packed room at the 2013 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, and interviewed guests like Oliver Sacks, Jared Diamond, Paul Krugman, and Mary Roach. We had started to incorporate new, successful video content. 2013 featured our most listened-to show ever and we were averaging well over 2 million total downloads per year.

Then came the events at that conference—including a widely criticized speech by Center for Inquiry President & CEO Ronald Lindsay. Lindsay then went further, writing a blog post which referred to a post by one of his critics—Rebecca Watson—as follows: “It may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea.”

In response to public criticism of Lindsay’s speech and blog post, CFI’s Board of Directors issued an ambiguous statement regretting the controversy, but going no further than that.

These actions have generated much discussion, criticism and polarization within our community. In addition, they created an environment at CFI that made it very difficult for our producer, Adam Isaak, to continue working there.

We, like others, welcome Lindsay’s recent apology. That apology, however, was not followed by any direct effort to retain Chris or Indre, nor did it make up for the very real toll this controversy has taken upon our podcast and our ability to produce it.

The actions of Lindsay and the Board have made it overwhelmingly difficult for us to continue in our goal to provide thoughtful and compelling content, including coverage of feminist issues, as in past interviews with guests like Amanda Marcotte, Katha Pollitt, MG Lord, and Carol Tavris.

The Center for Inquiry has supported us in the past and has asked Chris and Indre to speak at many of its conferences. We are thankful for that. But we’re a team and we do this together. We believe that this controversy has impaired our ability to produce the highest quality podcast under the auspices of CFI and that our talents will be put to better use elsewhere.

To that end, we are in the process of formalizing a new podcast that will allow us to continue to provide the in-depth interviews with leading intellectuals that made Point of Inquiry such a success. We’ll announce the name and more details about the new podcast shortly but as of right now, we can already announce something we’re all incredibly excited about: the new show will be produced in collaboration with the nonprofit news organization Mother Jones. You can follow @MotherJones on Twitter to get the latest updates on the show’s official launch. We all look forward to turning our attention to the work at hand, and leaving this controversy behind.

Adam Isaak, Indre Viskontas, and Chris Mooney

Comments

  1. says

    Yeah, as I said over at Greta’s, Ron’s apology was a first step. But the problem is that everyone else is on the 100th step. They’re way behind and appear to not be in any hurry to catch up.

    Whether his apology is sincere or not is beside the point. It was necessary, for sure, but it’s not sufficient. Too much damage has been done.

    And then there’s the whole CfI board’s continued complete and utter silence on the matter. Other than the deafening silence of their original statement.

    They can’t be that disconnected, can they?

  2. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Honestly, this tells me things are worse than I knew.

    Clueless people opining about the sins of feminism? Oy vey, that happens every day. Don’t think for a moment that I would consider the fact that an org head got caught doing that to be a reason to dissociate from the org entirely.

    For an org devoted to critical thinking to have its head respond to widespread criticism from long term allies with a complete inability to think critically? That’s harder to forgive because it goes to the core of the mission.

    But this? This tells me that there’s some evidence that this isn’t a one-off brain fart, a bad reaction to a bad decision’s criticism that came on a bad day. When the people whom your org has helped to create something as significant as Point of Inquiry would rather abandon what they worked to create than stay associated with your org, that says something significant.

    What, precisely it says I don’t know. But if the people who are actually doing the mission of your organization – promoting critical thinking in this case – feel unable to do their mission under your mission’s head, then the head of your organization has to go. At this point your org head is destructive to the org’s own goals.

    Either the CfI isn’t, or it has to get rid of Ron Lindsay.

  3. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    That apology, however, was not followed by any direct effort to retain Chris or Indre, nor did it make up for the very real toll this controversy has taken upon our podcast and our ability to produce it.

    This makes me think I’m missing some background information. Why would CFI make a direct effort to ‘retain’ Indre & Chris, when the controversy didn’t have anything to do with them? What “very real toll” are they talking about? Did I miss something?

    /brainfart

  4. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    Does this mean that Chris Mooney is (kind of, sort of, in a certain sense) on our side?

    I wish you wouldn’t characterize it that way. Now, I was a huge and vocal critic of Mooney’s dishonesty in the Accomodation Wars and I stand by those opinions. But people are complicated and rarely all “good” or “bad.” Regardless, we are not teams for the sake of being teams and talking about our ‘sides’. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but that’s pit talk and it’s damaging.

    If Mooney or anyone else decides not to put up with an organization that’s out of touch or on the wrong track, then good on them.

  5. georgebean says

    Timing gives pause-Chris and Indre resigned Friday, and Lindsay’s apology followed on Saturday?

  6. PatrickG says

    @ Crip Dyke:

    Interestingly, the announcement of Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney departing CFI came after the Board’s baffling exercise in content-free speech, and this document specifically welcomes Lindsay’s apology while noting that absolutely no action had been taken by the leadership of the organization beyond that.

    That apology, however, was not followed by any direct effort to retain Chris or Indre

    To which I just kind of go boneless in my chair in WTF mode. Chris and Indre, co-hosts of one of CFI’s flagship enterprises, resigned Friday, and nobody at CFI tried to keep them on? No “direct effort” implies that nobody even called them, and thus Adam Isaak decided to jump ship as well. That’s just staggeringly incompetent on the part of CFI’s management.

    I may be reading too much into it (i.e. reading tea leaves!), but it does seem like if the Board of Directors and/or the leadership of CFI had done even minimal damage control after Friday’s departures, Point of Inquiry might well have chosen to retain the affiliation. I can’t help but conclude that the Board has completely abdicated its role as an oversight/managing body, and the bleeding will continue until Rebecca Watson takes over the Illuminati CFI has an even bigger crisis on its hands.

    And then we’ll just have yet another round of bleating about witch hunts. Damn feminazis!*

    * Snark.

  7. zibble says

    Wanna second Josh’s post @6.

    Mooney can show some nice qualities, and this seems like it’s one of them.

  8. jonmilne says

    Could someone please provide a link to the so-called “North Korea” post of Rebecca Watson’s that angered Lindsay so much that he felt the need to essentially Godwin?

  9. daniellavine says

    that’s pit talk and it’s damaging

    Right on. Reflexively hating on Mooney because of something that happened…what, 3 years ago? is essentially what the pitters are doing. Give credit where it’s due.

    Compare to Russell Blackford, BTW, who was (and likely is) staunchly anti-accommodation. Doesn’t seem to have much bearing on which “side” he’s on in this fight.

  10. says

    Mooney has always been on the liberal side of things.

    My beef with him was that he was on the spineless liberal side. Maybe his backbone is ossifying a little bit now.

  11. Steve Sirhan says

    Hah! For Chris Mooney’s next book on motivated reasoning, the title could be “Mansplaining, the CFI, and How I Learned to Love the Watson.”

    And, yeah, I loved thinking of that.

    So, hate on me.

  12. zibble says

    @13 PZ

    With this context, I think it’s less about spinelessness and more about a semi-willful blindness; about valuing an established culture (religion) over a marginalized one (atheists).

  13. throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says

    Hah! For Chris Mooney’s next book on motivated reasoning, the title could be “Mansplaining, the CFI, and How I Learned to Love the Watson.”

    And, yeah, I loved thinking of that.

    So, hate on me.

    I don’t know what prompted you to think of that. You must think that PZ Myerswatson, the congealed amalgam of the two beasts of the apocalypse, are necessarily mortal enemies of those which either have had ideological disagreements with. That’s a ludicrous thought which you should actually be ashamed of. Hate’s more like the pity.

  14. DLC says

    To borrow a religious turn of phrase — CFI hath soweth, and now they reap that which they sow.
    Or something like that.

  15. says

    CFI had an opportunity to apologize under moderate pressure. They did not want to. What value is an apology when it seems to be an action take to stem the tide of people and funding walking away? “I’m sorry we didn’t wordsmith our mealy-mouthed not-even-a-notpology in a way that managed to keep people and money flowing our way. We feel REALLY bad about that, even if we don’t feel really bad about the actual problem,” isn’t an apology that people are likely to accept. Particularly skeptics who can compare what they see and observe with the words that people say in a critical manner.

    Good for these guys. There’s no need to force ourselves to work with them when we can work with people who don’t denigrate half the population through direct action or indifference.

  16. says

    I was being somewhat facetious with my “on our side” comment. I appreciate that this is about issues rather than sides, and that arguments about social justice eclipse arguments about accommodationism.

    That said, there is a surreal quality to Mooney’s involvement. I remember when “The Interdungeon” or “The Intersucktion” was regarded as the closest thing Pharyngula had to an internecine enemy. It lied about us. It accused us of bullying. It hosted long rambling comment threads, where the same old bitter rejects would obsess over a distorted and quotemined version of what we said. (Sound familiar?)

    It’s a good thing that Mooney is standing up to the CFI board, and it would be good if we could forge an alliance. But it’s strange how times change.

  17. echidna says

    It does cast Ron Lindsay’s apology in a different light. Although many have been ready to accept the apology as it is, it remains true that neither CFI or Lindsay have made it clear that they saw anything wrong with Lindsay’s welcome speech, just that is caused an adverse reaction. The resignations are symptoms of deeper problems, as Crip Dyke pointed out.

  18. says

    hyperdeath,

    It lied about us. It accused us of bullying. It hosted long rambling comment threads, where the same old bitter rejects would obsess over a distorted and quotemined version of what we said. (Sound familiar?)

    It sounds so familiar, and not just from things that have happened here. I follow a group that deals with copyright issues on another social network and the exact same thing has occurred there. A small, bitter group of people that really hate being held accountable for their actions has taken to lying, making up accusations of bullying and outing, and generally writing long screeds about how awful we are. It is amazing how often this kind of thing happens when there is any sort of disagreement.

    I agree to some extent. I have not completely forgiven Mooney for all of that, I think much of the culture he fostered there, and the lies and accusations that were made say negative things about him. I am happy to stand up and say it is good that he has taken a stand but it does feel weird because I don’t personally care to pay much attention to his work these days due to his past behavior. But I am certainly not going to hold back on my praise here, it is definitely a good move and I hope CFI will actually take some time to think about this episode when things like this happen.

  19. Steve Sirhan says

    @17 No, but snarkiness is my kink. As is truth. And I put both in my blog on the issue.

    @18 You’ve apparently not noticed Hyperdeath at 21, or even PZ’s own comments.

    @21 As I note in my blog, among other things, how do we know PoI’s folks hadn’t planned some sort of a jump to another “host” and under new name all along, and this gave them not only extra impetus but a guilt-free excuse?

    socraticgadfly.blogspot DOT com/2013/06/pzmyers-channels-his-gnuatheist-ftb.html

  20. says

    Hmmm…

    I wonder if other fields, movements and hobbies have seen the creation of slymepit-like hate sites? For example, could there be a stamp collecting forum, where a group of embittered collectors do nothing but have an endless conversation trashing other collectors?

  21. Anthony K says

    Something like the Society of Philatelists for Truth About The Philatelists’ Society?

    I can see that on a coffee mug.

  22. dogfightwithdogma says

    @20 barbyau

    What value is an apology when it seems to be an action take to stem the tide of people and funding walking away?

    What is your evidence or reasoning for drawing the conclusion that Ron’s apology was an attempt to reverse the tide of people pulling their financial support? Ron’s apology came on Saturday, the day after a long and emotional meeting between him and leaders from many of the CFI chapters. This meeting was held late in the day on Friday. I wasn’t there. But a representative from the CFI chapter with which I am affiliated was. The report I received is that Ron did, after much discussion with these branch leaders, begin to see the mistake he made. It is just as likely that Ron’s apology on Saturday resulted from the discussion with these branch leaders the night before, and was not some effort to prevent more people from abandoning the organization financially.

  23. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Chris Mooney’s taking a stand on something? O.O

  24. throwaway, extra beefy super queasy says

    @18 You’ve apparently not noticed Hyperdeath at 21, or even PZ’s own comments.

    You apparently cannot count (18 < 21) and also apparently cannot comprehend what I’m saying: invoking Watson is about as stupid as invoking Mary Shelley.

  25. Anthony K says

    Well, I’ve either poured oil onto troubled waters, or oil onto a fire:

    What possible reason could you have for writing that, hyperdeath?

    Serious asshole move.

  26. dogfightwithdogma says

    echidna @22

    The resignations are symptoms of deeper problems, as Crip Dyke pointed out.

    This might be true, but I doubt it. I’d be more inclined to think this if the members of the full-time leadership team in the Amherst, New York headquarters began resigning. I’m talking about Debbie Goddard, Lauren Becker, Barry Karr, etc.

  27. bad Jim says

    Chris Mooney’s a young guy, and his take on things has continued to evolve. When he and PZ crossed swords, Mooney was into the whole “framing” business with Matt Nisbet. That didn’t work out too well, and not only did Mooney break with Nisbet, he’s disavowed the “framing” approach.

    He has also admitted that the new atheists are making progress, contrary to his expectations. This latest incident suggests there’s hope for him yet.

  28. ck says

    PatrickG wrote:

    until Rebecca Watson takes over the Illuminati

    While our enemies must never know this, the truth is that Rebecca Watson is the Illuminati. The publicly stated goals of the original organization was to “oppose superstition, prejudice, religious influence over public life, abuses of state power, and to support women’s education and gender equality” (sound familiar?). In the late 18th century, the Illuminati perfected cloning, and have been using it to preserve their founder “Adam” Weishaupt ever since. At the time, women had little power, so Rebecca had little choice but to adopt a male name to further her nefarious goals. Today, as the final goal of matriarchy inches ever closer, she has no need to pretend to be male to further her agenda.

  29. Eristae says

    Well, I’ve either poured oil onto troubled waters, or oil onto a fire:

    I’m sorry, I must be missing some context. What exactly are you trying to get at with that tweet? What was the point, the goal?

  30. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    As I note in my blog, among other things, how do we know PoI’s folks hadn’t planned some sort of a jump to another “host” and under new name all along, and this gave them not only extra impetus but a guilt-free excuse?

    Parsimony?

  31. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    until Rebecca Watson takes over the Illuminati

    I’m starting to think that Ron Lindsay is head of the Illuminati -and that the Illuminati’s mission is to stamp out conspiracy theories.

  32. echidna says

    As I note in my blog, among other things, how do we know PoI’s folks hadn’t planned some sort of a jump to another “host” and under new name all along, and this gave them not only extra impetus but a guilt-free excuse?

    If that were the case, it would suggest that there have been underlying issues at CFI brewing for a while. I don’t know why you feel the need to use the adjective “guilt-free”.

  33. says

    Anthony K:

    What possible reason could you have for writing that, hyperdeath?

    Serious asshole move.

    Why is it a “serious asshole move”? Ophelia Benson and Chris Mooney now see eye to eye on a very important issue. They’ve often been at odds, but this is a situation where alliances are important. My comment might have been heavy handed (Twitter doesn’t allow for much nuance), but what is wrong with the basic principle?

    (Note that “pour oil onto troubled waters” is an idiom for trying to make things better. Although in this case, I might well fail, hence my slightly flippant comment about pouring oil onto a fire.)

  34. Muz says

    hyperdeath

    Hmmm…

    I wonder if other fields, movements and hobbies have seen the creation of slymepit-like hate sites? For example, could there be a stamp collecting forum, where a group of embittered collectors do nothing but have an endless conversation trashing other collectors?”

    Pretty sure I’ve seen it in every large-ish internet forum I’ve been involved with; ones for specific video game series, specific video game companies, movies, graphic arts, sports, living in the same town.

    None of them would agree on the factors involved or the flare-ups that caused it, but if I think about it they all took a similar shape in the abstract sense. The people in question hated being called out for their behaviour and would not back down about it, acted out and got banned. A lot of people seeing themselves as rugged individualists too. A few of these people then get together and create a new forum somewhere (this was chiefly back when forum software was the thing) where they could be “free”. These usually die off relative to how much spare time they can devote to this sort of thing and how many people are involved, and hating the same site or people isn’t as much of a hook as they initially thought.

    At the time I mainly thought it was “High School residue” and people eventually grow out of it. The last part is true at least. But I have realised that in so many respects High School never ends too. Especially for some people.

  35. Maureen Brian says

    I hear tell that things were far more bloody when the Cats Protection League (in UK) split but I’m sure you don’t want to know about that.

    Besides, I can’t remember the details.

  36. Nick Gotts says

    While our enemies must never know this, the truth is that Rebecca Watson is the Illuminati. – ck

    That’s a cunning double bluff, telling the Ultimate Secret in a public forum! Maximum respect.

  37. Anthony K says

    Why is it a “serious asshole move”? Ophelia Benson and Chris Mooney now see eye to eye on a very important issue.

    Do you think that they needed you to point that out to them? On Twitter? Ophelia wrote a post with the full text of the letter reproduced. Pretty sure she knows where Mooney stands on this issue.

    They’ve often been at odds, but this is a situation where alliances are important.

    More important than the other issues? You think that’s your call to make? You decided that their past issues were of no importance so you took it upon yourself to (figuratively) put their hands together and say “Friends now?” Who the fuck are you: Lee Moore? Mick Nugent?

    Has that ever worked, ever? Has anyone ever forced you and someone with whom you had real disagreements and force you, in a public space, to issue some sort of proclamation about your likelihood of letting past bygones be bygones?

    My comment might have been heavy handed (Twitter doesn’t allow for much nuance), but what is wrong with the basic principle?

    Frankly, your comment was thoughtless and trivialising. (And if Twitter doesn’t allow for much nuance, then what the fuck does that suggest to you about the use of twitter for such things? Sledgehammers don’t allow for much nuance either, which is exactly why thoughtful people don’t use them for situations that require nuance.)

    Not only did you act without nuance, you removed the ability for them to be nuanced. What kind of response could be forthcoming? They either have to both say no, or both say yes, or one of them will be portrayed as a spiteful, petty asshole. You’ve forced them into an awkward position for no useful reason other than you wanted to play Nosy OkCupid.

  38. witlesschum says

    “I wonder if other fields, movements and hobbies have seen the creation of slymepit-like hate sites? For example, could there be a stamp collecting forum, where a group of embittered collectors do nothing but have an endless conversation trashing other collectors?”

    A Song of Ice and Fire fandom currently features a number of running battles over some fans being insufficiently complementary of the HBO adaptation.

  39. Ichthyic says

    I wonder if other fields, movements and hobbies have seen the creation of slymepit-like hate sites? For example, could there be a stamp collecting forum, where a group of embittered collectors do nothing but have an endless conversation trashing other collectors?”

    It’s a behavioral dynamic that is related to having an authoritarian personality, imo. fits Altemeyer’s descriptions perfectly, and it’s pretty clear from 30 years of sociological study this is a real behavioral phenomenon, likely with heritable components to it.

  40. PatrickG says

    Icthyic:

    Can you expand on that? I’m not familiar with the material and a quick search on Altemeyer brings up a voluminous body of work.

    Specifically, I’m curious about your assertion of heritable components. I’m not sure what context this is meant in, though I would posit you mean some sort of community heritage/ideals situation. On the other hand, you might well have meant biological heredity, in which case I must express some uninformed skepticism.

    I do wish to emphasize that I’m simply confronted with a great deal of material from a wiki-level search, and since you seem to be more familiar with Altemeyer’s work, any pointers to more useful material (i.e. something more review-oriented) would be greatly appreciated.

  41. bad Jim says

    PatrickG, Altemeyer has a free book available at The Authoritarians. You can get the gist of it from the first chapter. Just taking the short test could blow your mind. It’s hard to believe that people could actually think that way, but they manifestly do.

    Authoritarianism is quite likely heritable as a result of upbringing. It might even be contagious, especially in the case of an external threat. Although it’s fun to speculate about the possible genetic basis of behavior, it’s probably better avoided.

  42. PatrickG says

    bad Jim: Thanks for the link. It’s one of several larger publications I found, and I hope to read it in my free time, but I still question the use of the word “heritable”.

    If it’s as a result of upbringing, that’s one thing. But given the venue provided by our host, claiming that a behavioral dynamic is hereditary raises a few eyebrows on my part (some eyebrows raised twice!).

    Socialized via upbringing? Sure. Heritable? Ummmm….. I’ll have to read the book*, but I don’t believe generational transfer via socialization = heritability. Perhaps I’m simply unaware of expanded use of the term, but my first response is “Yeah, no”.

    * As if I didn’t have enough to read already. Even the first chapter…. but it’s free, so woo.

  43. Ichthyic says

    Although it’s fun to speculate about the possible genetic basis of behavior, it’s probably better avoided.

    uh, no. this is why we do twin studies on humans, for one thing. If you are familiar with the psychology and sociology lit, you will see many studies supporting the idea that authoritarian behavior is indeed heritable, along with extreme religious behavior.

    this is not anything new.

  44. Ichthyic says

    but I don’t believe generational transfer via socialization = heritability

    you’re right, it doesn’t.

    perhaps they meant to say you get socialization, AND there is a heritable component that can be influenced directly by that socialization as well, because that would be entirely accurate.

    just guessing on what they meant though.