I have an unfortunate history with CFI and The Skeptical Inquirer. I ought to be aligned with the principles of skepticism, but too often organized skepticism has been this stodgy, hidebound dinosaur that is more interested in conserving the privileges of a narrow group of people than in actually implementing productive change. So I abandoned it, writing this in 2011.
[Diversity] has long been an issue with the skeptical movement. I used to subscribe to the Skeptical Inquirer, a very good magazine with well-written and substantive articles on skeptical issues, but I let my subscription lapse. It was a strange thing that prompted it; several years ago, there was an issue lauding the leaders of the skeptical movement, and it had a nice line drawing of four or five of these Big Names on the cover: and every one was white, male, and over 70 years old. I looked at it, and I wasn’t mad or outraged — every one of them was a smart guy who deserved recognition — but I saw it, sighed, and felt that not only was this incredibly boring, but that organized skepticism was dead if it was going to turn into a gerontocracy. I didn’t let my subscription lapse in protest, but out of lack of motivation.
Then, a few years ago, they fired Kavin Senapathy, a huge self-own. I commented on that:
That refusal to deal with the biggest social struggles of our time is what has always left me infuriated with the skeptic movement — oh, sure, let’s debunk ghosts and chupacabras and UFOs, but racist and misogynist beliefs are just too hard. They love the magic tricks and tests of dowsing, but eugenics? No one in organized skepticism seems to be smart enough to cope with that.
Merging with the Richard Dawkins Foundation didn’t help, and actually made it worse.
Kavin revealed some rather obvious inside information:
Two years ago, in an inept attempt to address the issue, CFI published a special issue of Skeptical Inquirer: “A Skeptic’s Guide to Racism.” The issue, penned exclusively by white men, demonstrated CFI leadership’s woefully shallow grasp of how racism works. In an article on “critical thinking approaches to confronting racism,” the magazine’s deputy editor, Benjamin Radford, referenced the view of evolutionary psychologist and author Steven Pinker that “the overall historical trends for humanity are encouraging”— a view that has been criticized as glossing over the plights of the most marginalized people. Radford’s contribution to the special issue also seemed to ignore the elephant in CFI’s room: He made not even a passing mention of the staggering racial disparities within his own organization — and within the very pages of the publication he was writing for.
You get the idea. It’s the whitest, most oblivious skeptical organization, although Shermer’s group is competing well with that status. Worse, they aren’t at all interested in broadening their perspectives and getting better. I publicly announced my departure from the organized skepticism movement over these sorts of differences years ago.
Well, now we have achieved the merger of skepticism with the aggrieved privileged conservative crowd. The Skeptical Inquirer has published an article by Jerry Coyne and Luana Maroja titled The Ideological Subversion of Biology, which is full of bogus nonsense about how the Progressive Left is strangling science. It’s the same silly crap as that loony In Defense of Merit in Science paper that Coyne coauthored a while ago, and it’s a perfect fit for the Inquirer.
The title is an interesting choice — it’s a blatant call-back to anti-communist hysteria, and will strike a chord with Republicans and MAGAts all across the country. Once upon a time, it was the kind of thing the John Birch Society or Lyndon LaRouche would publish.
It’s really bad. Jerry Coyne has successfully transitioned from respected senior scientist to angry, bitter crank finding common cause with the worst right-wing academic grifters. It’s sad to see.
I’m working on a response to it. Coyne has written a long gish gallop of a paper, so it’s going to take a while, and another thing that’s not helping is that I’m flying off to a 4-day conference this weekend. I’ve also written to the Skeptical Inquirer asking if they’d be interested in publishing a response — I kind of doubt that they will, given their ideological predilections and the fact that they published a load of nonsense in the first place.
Stay tuned. With a few long days at the computer, I might finish a response before my flight on Sunday.