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CSI(COP) on the Rebound

Once upon a time, the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) was the big dog of the modern skeptical movement. But in recent years, the rebranded ‘Committee for Skeptical Inquiry’ (CSI) seems to have struggled to remain a vital force in skepticism, eclipsed by internet favourites such as The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe, and the James Randi Educational Foundation (though the organization’s magazine, Skeptical Inquirer, has remained its flagship).

Perhaps in a bid to put its name back on the skeptical marquee, this month CSI announced the election of 16 new ‘Fellows’. The line-up features a who’s who of modern Internet skepticism, including James ‘The Amazing’ Randi (welcoming him back into the fold after a long absence due to legal issues), Phil ‘Bad Astronomy’ Plait, Steven ‘Skeptic’s Guide’ Novella, Chris ‘UK Skeptic’ French, and Seth ‘SETI’ Shostak (joining fellow SETI scientist Jill Tarter, finalising SETI’s embrace of the Dark Side), as well as notable scientists including Robert T. Carroll and Kenneth Miller. It’s a list that makes a lot of sense – plenty of personable people able to reach big audiences. The question for me is: will these people end up besmirching their (mostly) decent reputations by linking themselves to an organization noted for it’s pseudo-skeptical, vitriolic approach to ‘defending’ established science? Or will they lead CSI(COP) to a kinder, gentler approach to skeptical activism that transforms the organization into something much better than it started as?

I suspect the former…it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks. And, unfortunately for the newly elected Fellows, there’s an old saying about lying down with dogs…