Under the rock

More on Hemant’s post about the “Secular Policy Council.”

He starts with pointing out that a lot of their content is identical to content from the Secular Coalition for America – where she used to be Executive Director until she…erm…left it a year ago. Mary Ellen Sikes points out in a comment that the content has a Creative Commons agreement. That sounds benign until you remember that Rogers used to work for them. Quoting Mary Ellen:

If you check the bottom of page 3 of the SCA’s Model Secular Policy Guide, you’ll see the following: “Permission is granted for the reproduction of this document in whole or in part without consent of the authors and the Secular Coalition for America.” [The website terms of use state, “This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.” — but the specific statement on the Guide itself seems to override that.]

In other words, Edwina Rogers oversaw the development of a Model Secular Policy Guide that lacked a copyright, thus allowing her to republish it at another organization. As well, the Creative Commons license for the site as a whole represents a change which I believe (but am not positive) came about under her direction.. Perhaps the SCA Board can explain its thinking about these alterations to its intellectual property status.


Back to Hemant:

It all looked very familiar… and the CEO of this new group was Edwina Rogers.

It appeared that, after parting ways with the SCA, she was setting up her own organization with a lot of overlapping parts.

This new organization didn’t lack credibility. In addition to that large coalition of supporting groups, she had a number of big-name “Fellows” — “distinguished scientists and scholars dedicated to the idea that policymaking should be informed by scientific evidence.”

That list of fellows included: Lawrence Krauss, Peter Boghossian, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Rebecca GoldsteinCarolyn Porco, Michael Shermer, and Andy Thomson.

All of those people have now left, and Hemant did an update to say Phil Zuckerman has now joined the leavers.

Hemant wonders why they left, and if it was their doing or the SPI’s.

Last week, I reached out to all the former Fellows I just named to find out if they could shed some light on those questions.

While some of them did not respond, the ones who did, including Steven Pinker and Rebecca Goldstein, told me they asked to be removed. They have no formal connection with SPI anymore.

It’s my understanding that Sam Harris left a while ago, but the rest of the names have all asked to be taken off the list over the past week or two.

And that’s the point at which he dropped the Dennett bomb.

Richard Dawkins — who is the subject of one of the damning accusations in Rogers’ lawsuit — said that he requested to be taken off the list after hearing from Dennett.

He also told me, “I have no recollection of how I [came] to be on the list in the first place.”

That’s pretty interesting considering how his image was used to promote the organization from the get-go:

Yes, yes it is.

That’s actually what I’ve thought about it all along – thought and said – that it’s basically just a list of Top Names, of “Thought Leaders” (never forget it was the Global Secular Council / Secular Policy Institute that started calling them that), for no particular purpose other than having a list of Top Names. It was just some ridiculous Look At Me project engaged in an infinite loop of adding people so as to draw in more people who would draw in more people repeat forever. Look at us being important. Bow.

And at least for now, the cover photo for SPI’s Facebook page still features both Dawkins and Krauss, neither of whom are Fellows anymore:

I asked Rogers about this situation a few days ago (and again over the weekend), but have not yet received an on-the-record statement. If she provides one, I’ll post an update.

Well, she was at the CFI conference over the weekend, being important.

So there you are. A large number of their Top Names have bailed, at least one of them having been added to their list of Top Names without his knowledge or permission. More are likely to follow suit as they find out what’s going on.

The whole thing is an embarrassment.


  1. PatrickG says

    The whole thing is an embarrassment.

    Given that the entire purpose of this enterprise was to solicit donations, I’d call it something slightly more than that. Fraud comes to mind.

    I wonder if people actually donated, and if so, what their reaction to being defrauded is. It’s petty of me, I know, but my immediate reaction is to go make some popcorn (with extra schadenfreude flavoring!) and await further developments.

  2. says

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! Did any of those people EVER knowingly, formally join the SPI in the first place?

    And how bad did they have to get to be too embarrassing even for Sam Harris?

    …Phil Zuckerman has now joined the leavers.

    …or did he leave the joiners?

  3. Sili says

    Interesting. So we were wrong to mock Dawkypoo for calling himself a thought leader, if he never actually signed up for this himself. How annoying. It suited him so well. Pity when a stubborn fact interferes with my prejudices.

  4. says

    I guess it’s a sign that atheism is a “thing” now that we’re big enough to attract grifters, rapists, and serial harassers. It means there’s a big enough population to support a significant parasitic load. Go us!

  5. says

    JT Eberhardt also has some interesting* Edwina Rogers correspondence.

    It’s really depressing. She clearly thinks she’s a lot smarter than she is, with her fake lawyer-sounding bullshit. JT’s running circles around her, and neither of them comes off as particularly impressive to me. (And, yeah, if you’re trying to sound all legalish, it’s good to know how to write; most lawyers learn that much or get out of the threat-writing business) One can hope she gets a good lawyer, maybe Charles Carreon – just for the comedic value.

  6. says

    This is kind of hilarious from the standpoint of the amount of gall and ego involved. The more serious issue is financial. If the SPC raised money due to misrepresentation of the backing the SPC had, if there are any funds that have not already been spent on secular causes they should probably go back to the donors, or to the SCA, or perhaps to the involuntary “fellows” to redistribute back to the causes and organizations they actually do support. I do hope the SPC did the good things that Rogers is claiming were done in its name (Freethought Film Festival support, UnitedCOR support, etc.).

    As for the implied threats of a lawsuit, the fact that Rogers wrote the legalistic threats herself likely only gives us insight into her temper and the types of communication she takes pleasure in, not her ability to secure legal representation. I suspect that Edwina Rogers can hire all the lawyers she wants, and can sue people to her heart’s content.

    Aside from all of that, we might reflect on our broader goal of having secularist viewpoints heard by our elected representatives and what strategies we want to use in achieving that goal. I remember and was involved in some discussions over whether it was appropriate for a Republican to represent the SCA, and while I argued that it would be nicer to have atheists of a more humanistic perspective representing secular organizations, I now see that it made perfect sense to have not just a Republican but one of Edwina Rogers’ disposition at the head of efforts to get in on the Washington insider lobbying game. Not because she is a good reflection on us, nor because of the idea that we should be buddying up to Republican legislators, but because of the type of game that is.

    Lobbyists are paid to influence legislators on behalf of special interests, and the more wealthy the special interest the more political favor they can purchase. This is part of the method used by corporations and the Christian right to push their agendas on politicians to an extent not possible by special interest groups with more meager funding, and segments of the population without any funding or organized structure are not able to peddle influence at all. It’s part of the subversion of democracy, and if we want to get a slice of that pie, then what kind of people do we think we’re going to be dealing with the most? The sweetest and most ethical people, or the most aggressive people who get the job done no matter what they have to do?

    Don’t get me wrong; I’m saying that *if* we’re going to hire lobbyists then Edwina Rogers is just the type of person who is effective at the job–but I don’t think we should be hiring people like Edwina Rogers to lobby for us. I think that lobbying should be reined in, along with money’s influence in politics across the board. This example is rotten and corrupt, but we’re only shocked by it because we’re the powerless outsiders to the political process in this country.

  7. octopod says

    Well, I guess you-all called this one. What’s that old saying — “go to bed with alley cats and you’ll wake up with fleas”? Go to bed with Republican lobbyists and, apparently, you’ll wake up with scams.

  8. says

    As I’ve had a few critical words for people under that umbrella as ‘thought leaders’ (and the whole misbegotten concept), I am happy to retract them, and to apologize to anyone who was simply signed on without their knowledge. Sure, it’s just one less thing to be annoyed about, in a few cases, but, then again, really the only thing I was annoyed about, in a few others…

    Oh, and beyond that, I guess, given the generally shady nature of the thing, I’m probably going to have to extend the benefit of the doubt to anyone who says okay, they may have agreed, but didn’t quite realize what their name and picture was going to wind up under…

    That said, I really have to say I find the whole thing incredible. Really? So where did the picture come from, for instance? ‘Shop job? ‘Repurposed’? Umm, wow, if so. Oh, and about that ‘thought leaders’ thing, who wrote that, and when? Before or after this SCA split, for instance? Makes a bit of a difference (to me, at least) if so, if people had signed up for it before or after it was split off, didn’t realize their names and headshots had been ‘borrowed’ by this apparently legally separate organization…

    I’m happy to put the whole thing down, I guess I’m saying, to a few shady operators if that’s really all this was, and reassign a lot of other names to innocent bystanders/victims of some sort of reputation borrowing thing (it’s like identity theft, I figure, but a lot more public). But, again: really?

    Oh, and while we’re on the subject, just how did it take this long for people to find out and protest that their names and reputations had been so press-ganged? Or did I just miss the previous bewildered ‘Secular Policy What?’ announcements? (And no, I don’t so much mean that sarcastically; I’ve been out a lot; I guess it’s absolutely possible).

  9. says

    AJ: I think the picture comes from when the group was the Global Secular Council. I think Edwina assumed that the “thought leaders” would follow her to the GPI, and they didn’t.

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