The depth of CFI’s commitment to free speech can only be measured with an atomic force microscope


I have to share this public post by Kavin Senapathy because, by the time I got to the fourth paragraph, I’d facepalmed myself into an angry stupor and was feeling really pissed off at CFI. How can Robyn Blumner and CFI kick themselves in their own asses so hard? It ought to be anatomically impossible, but there they go.

I have an update about how the Center for Inquiry and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry have reacted to my recent Undark essay (https://undark.org/2020/02/20/center-for-inquiry-race-pseudoscience/) in which I criticize their indifference to matters of race, racist pseudoscience, and the white supremacy among their ranks.

Wait for it …

Within days, they removed all of my Skeptical Inquirer articles and my Point of Inquiry episodes from their website.

That’s right, my writing on things like quack autism “cures,” spurious birth practices including lotus birth, the “breast is best” mantra, pesticides, alternative medicine, mom guilt, and more have been unpublished. My podcast interviews with people like Carl Zimmer, Angela Saini, Massimo Pigliucci, Paul Offit, Adam Conover, Alison Bernstein, Iida Ruishalme, Claire Klingenberg, Sarah Taber, Susan Gerbic, Jen Gunter, and more on everything from MSG to OCD to the alarming resurgence of race science have also been removed from their website in apparent retaliation.

I’m not angry about this. I am bewildered, especially because CFI CEO Robyn Blumner is a self-styled “free-speech purist.”

Still, I’m not surprised— erasure and hypocrisy are among the most tried and true tools of white supremacy. As I wrote in my essay, “The most insidious white supremacy doesn’t carry tiki torches of festering hatred. It comes from well-meaning people who nevertheless uphold power structures with whiteness at the top.”

Skeptics: To those without the power to stand up to this as loudly as you’d like to— I see you and I respect you. To those with the power to stand up to this, I encourage you to do so. I also trust that, when you look at yourself in the mirror, you know which camp you belong in.

A particularly telling part of this is that Blumner has been sending emails in which she attempts to disparage me using, of all examples, an excerpt from this post (https://www.facebook.com/kavin.senapathy/posts/10156420934416875):

“My atheist role models growing up were my parents and my uncle. Today, my non-religious role model is, above all others, me. I also have a gaggle of deeply good non-religious friends who, amazingly, found their way to a non-religious belief system without ever reading a sentence by one ridiculous man whose name rhymes with Shmichard Schmawkins or his esteemed colleagues.

Honestly, none of these celebrated mediocre old white atheists are actually necessary. They’re not enlightened. They’re washed the fuck up. Yes, many people *have* found their way out of religion due to their work. But if you think that other brilliant non-religious thinkers who meet and surpass the abilities of these dudes don’t exist, then you live under a racist rock.”

I stand behind this statement.

I’m not sure what part is so particularly offensive, Robyn. My use of the word “white” isn’t the problem— it’s the racist, colonialism-tinged drivel that spews forth from Dawkins’ bigoted mouth and social media accounts.

It’s hard to see the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer reduced to a mere shell of the former pillars of skepticism that once inspired the formation of skeptical organizations stateside and around the world. It appears that certain individuals have infected CSI with their denialism and reductionist Newtonian worldview— a worldview in which “science and reason” can be neatly compartmentalized and isolated from sociopolitical forces. It’s cringeworthy and painful to witness. As one friend and ally put it, it seems that they’re afflicted with a terminal sclerosis.

All of that said, most of the responses to the Undark essay have been overwhelmingly positive. For instance, one award-winning science writer and woman of color who was invited to speak at CSIcon 2020 has informed CFI that she can’t make it this time, but “I would be happy to consider coming to speak at another time in the future if you would consider reinstating Kavin Senapathy, and also appointing more people of color to your board at the Center for Inquiry. Indeed, I’d be happy to join the board myself!”

This person is easily among those I most respect in the entire world and would make a fantastic addition to CFI’s Board. To see her email was a balm for my heart—I don’t want to be reinstated, but I do care, and ultimately still have hope that CFI’s skeptical soul isn’t beyond reviving.

I want to profusely thank all of the individuals and organizations that have shown support to me in the wake of all of this— for one, the Board of the European Council of Skeptical Organizations has stepped up to host all of the articles that have been removed. I appreciate it so very much and plan to take them up on it shortly.

To those still doing the hard work to try and change CFI, both from the inside and outside, you have all of my support. And to those still doing the hard work outside of CFI, you also have all of my support. Don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s something I could do to help; I’m extremely accessible.

We have work to do.

As I wrote, “Tackling these issues of race, diversity, and inclusion is hard, but worthwhile. And if legacy organizations like CFI refuse to confront these issues — both outwardly and within their own ranks — it’s reassuring to know that there’s a growing global community of skeptics who have shown willingness to heed the call. For the sake of the longevity of the skeptic’s movement, it is crucial that they — that we — succeed.”

I’ll sign off with a nod to *all* of the people who take a skeptical approach to their work on the front lines during this pandemic. I’m fairly certain that most who do skepticism well— that is, those who seek the bald-faced truth and strive to abide by it— call themselves things like “teacher,” “nurse,” “journalist,” “scientist,” “student,” “parent,” “Target cashier,” “delivery driver,” “friend,” and much more, and only some of them identify as skeptics. I truly believe that those who claim the badge of “skeptic” must tip our hats to all of the badasses out there who view science not just as a method, but as an integral part of the way they carry themselves in the world.

Oh, well. At least I bailed out of CFI and the skeptic movement 7 years ago. I haven’t regretted it since, it’s become a major shit-show.

Comments

  1. John Morales says

    Makes me think of Jerry Pournelle.

    His best-known “law” is “Pournelle’s iron law of bureaucracy”:
    In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely”

    (Wikipedia)

  2. unclefrogy says

    @2
    that’s a terrible realization its truth is all to easily verified
    must be related to the peter principle which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their “level of incompetence”
    both are under the heading of the supreme law of existence Murphy’s law :Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”
    uncle frogy

  3. kome says

    As always, it seems that free speech defenders only want to defend the freedom to say things like the n-word or calling women the b-word without consequence.

  4. nomdeplume says

    @3 And the old adage (is it a law) – if you are not sure whether something bad has happened because of conspiracy or stupidity, stupidity is the most likely 99 times out of 100.

  5. lotharloo says

    Is it really a surprise that people who shout loudest about “free speech” adhere the least to it? Jerry Coyne has the worst banning policy I have ever seen in 20+ years of reading blogs yet he thinks of himself as the champion of free speech.

    That being said, I was actually curious about her but to be honest, I thought her ‘breast feeding’ articles had quite a bit of bullshit in them.

  6. chrislawson says

    “I do not support bigotry in our ranks, but free speech is too important to censor it.”
    “Any criticism of bigotry in our own ranks must be erased from history.”

    Hard to believe there are people who hold both principles, let alone call themselves skeptics.

  7. kayden says

    Is it really so difficult to be more racially inclusive and diverse? Good on Senapathy for calling CFI out on its homogeneous makeup. They need to do better. Funny how they’ve tried to erase her while championing freedom of speech for non-minorities.

  8. tacitus says

    We’re coming to the end of the era where bigotry was thought to be rooted mostly in the religious fundamentalist beliefs of the regressive right. More and more of them are discovering they can find plenty of other justifications for their bigotry without resorting to religion as the source. Science will undoubtedly be co-opted for their regressive causes where they believe they can find the justification.

    Trump’s popularity with the right has never been about religion. It’s always been about the right wing politics of fear, hate, and grievance.

  9. tacitus says

    Is it really so difficult to be more racially inclusive and diverse?

    Yes it is, when you are dead set against anything that might remotely look like a diversity hire. As Senapathy says: “It comes from well-meaning people who nevertheless uphold power structures with whiteness at the top.”
    They might even be well-meaning in the sense that they don’t want to hire a minority only for them to have to face accusations of being a minority hire, and fall back on the meritocracy argument for hiring the “best” person for the job, regardless of race or gender.

    This is what you get when you demonize diversity, affirmative action, and social justice year in, year out, to the point where they mere mention of the terms is enough to send the right wing twitterverse into a tizzy.

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