There was a time, back when I was a paying subscriber to the Skeptical Inquirer, that I received this issue in the mail: the January/February 2000 issue, which proudly announced the Ten Outstanding Skeptics of the Twentieth Century. It stopped me cold, and I decided to not bother to renew my subscription.
Why? It starts this way:
We put that question to an elite group of scholars who should know—the Fellows and Scientific Consultants of CSICOP.
Sound familiar? A small group of really smart people appoint themselves to pick who the really smart people are. Unsurprisingly, a whole lot of the winners of this self-selected poll turned out to be…the Fellows and Scientific Consultants of CSICOP, leavened with a few big name additions, like Albert Einstein and Harry Houdini. It was so painfully incestuous, and it was terribly undefined: what does “outstanding” mean? Just the most famous? So it was some kind of popularity contest within CSICOP? And it was made the cover story?
And then, the list…the so oblivious and self-congratulatory list. It consists of ten white men. They also include a list of 14 runners-up who received multiple votes or at least one first-place vote: every one of them a white man. Where was Rachel Carson, Ellen Swallow Richards, Theo Colborn, or any of the women activists in the environmental movement? Not only were women invisible on this list, but you could tell that there was a bias against some significant areas of human endeavor. Where were the black civil rights leaders, like A. Philip Randolph, who questioned the social and political assumptions of the country, and was a humanist/atheist? Where was Emma Goldman? Where was the labor movement? There wasn’t even the slightest effort to reach out beyond the narrow bounds of their rarefied academic skepticism, no interest in expanding the scope of skepticism to stuff that mattered.
That still seems to be the problem. I really want to say to any organization that tries to represent atheists: get out more. Broaden your circle of friends. Circle jerks tend to be self-perpetuating and pointless.