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Marketing CFI—its name and mission
Posted: 12 November 2007 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This weekend I attended the CFI conference in NY—it was a brilliant opportunity, full of great talks and panel discussions. If anyone is interested we can discuss the issues raised there in other threads. In this thread I wanted to raise a slighly separate issue.

One of the topics of discussion between some of us who were there was about the best way to present CFI’s mission to the public. Occam’s recent post HERE got me to elaborate on that issue somewhat, because he brought up an organization (the Secular Coalition for America) with a somewhat clearer name and hence vision. Clarity of name and organization does make it easier for people to understand what the organization is up to and what support for it will entail.

Some concerns about CFI:

(1) Is the name descriptive enough? “Center for Inquiry” doesn’t tell you what the organization stands for. When someone says “I work for the Center for Inquiry” the next question will always be “What is that?”—whereas it seems pretty clear to me (to take one example) if you say, “I work for the Secular Coalition of America”, it’s pretty obvious what that means.

(2) Are there too many moving parts within CFI? This also might confuse people. It’s an acronym soup below the top level. But what to do about that?

(3) There are other marketing issues as well—is the logo really right?

Now, I raise these issues here to get some input from folks on the Forum about what they think would be some good strategies. Not that we really have the driver’s seat here, of course! But it might be fun anyway to hash out some of this, at least for fun.

And I should emphasize that I believe these criticisms were raised CONSTRUCTIVELY. We believe that CFI is the best organization of its kind, and CFI does have a specific “kind”; that is, an organization that puts open scientific investigation at the core of its mission. Specifically “secular” organizations like the SCA, more “legal” organizations like the ACLU don’t really have the same mission as CFI, although clearly there are large areas of overlap.

Paul Kurtz also does believe that it’s not enough simply to criticize; we must present a humanist alternative to religious ethical principles. And in attempting to put forward our own humanist ethics we are somewhat broader in focus than the Skeptics Society, which also has a very descriptive name, and the JREF which really revolves around the interests of one brilliant man, James Randi.

I don’t think that it’s strictly necessary for the CFI to be different from everyone else. It’s OK to be a group with a similar message to others. But marketing the mission of the group is important, both to the general public and to potential friends and donors.

Thoughts? Ideas?

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Posted: 12 November 2007 05:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I should add that you don’t need to AGREE with any of the concerns. If you think they’re overblown or unimportant, that’d be interesting too!

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Posted: 12 November 2007 07:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Hi Doug, good to see you in NY.

Some quick thoughts on this topic:

1. CFI is a coalition building organization, uniting scientists, science advocates, secularists, humanists, skeptics, rationalists, freethinkers etc. The more general name helps cast a wider net. (See point #4)

2. Center for Inquiry, Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquiry, Point of Inquiry, etc—what do they all have in common? Yup, *inquiry.* We dont begin with conclusions, but are foremost committed to the science and the scientific temper as the best way to find things out. In this way, we are different than membership organizations that serve more limited purposes for one or another segment of the population (atheist libby groups, humanist support groups, skeptic clubs, etc).

3. We are not just a secularist or atheistic organization. If CFI were named the Center for Atheists, or the Coalition for Humanism, we would have a shifted focus, and far more limited, focus. And we would have far less impact as a result.

4. CFI is an “umbrella organization”: it has component organizations that serve more limited interest groups within the broader movement. The Council for Secular Humanism, the Committee for SKeptical Inquiry, the Commission for the Scientific Examination of Religion, or the Committee for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health all have unique missions, but as such, each supports the broader mission of CFI.  Consider that there are nuns who support CSI, but not CSH. And new age anti-Christian-fundamentalists who support CSH but not CSI. And there are doctors who are aboard CSMMH but for whatever reasons are not as involved with other component organizations. Etc etc. The component organizations serve as the most effective way for us to cast the widest net possible as we advance the secular, pro-science agenda of CFI.

If someone wants to focus more on one or another aspect of CFI’s work, they can easily get more involved with that one or another component organization. I am a skeptic, a skeptical activist, so I enjoy supporting and being involved with CSI. Because the church-state issues alarm me, and I identify as a secular humanist (and not only as an atheist) CSH attracts my support.

5. Branding. Yes, there are a lot of acronyms. But any brand identity works only insofar as it succeeds at getting people aware of its brand—and CFI succeeds at that, even as a relatively new brand. Consider the CATO institute—pretty nondescript, but everyone who is up on the issues CATO is all about knows who CATO is. Same’s true for the Heritage Foundation, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, etc.

In my opinion, CFI’s challenges have little to do with brand names and much more to do with the forces of anti-science and anti-reason opposed to it, and I would suggest, the characteristics among freethinkers and skeptics, secularists and atheists and scientists that make it harder to organize such a broad movement for science and reason.

These are just some thoughts about the topics that were raised at that dinner Saturday night.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I think DJ brings up many good points and ones that were flowing through my head as I read the initial post. Unless CFI decides to terminate its broad base and focus on matters pertaining to one area of inquiry then it will remain an umbrella group. There is a distinction between scientific inquiry with that of philosophic understanding.

I think having a Humanist part of the organization with its range of belief systems attached can not be an aspect of strictly scientific inquiry. There are many aspects to the Council for Secular Humanism that are outside the purview of science - there are attached a set of principles that science does not deal with, such as codes of moral and ethical conduct and belief. These of course are open for debate, but they are insular in so far as it is not truly and open forum of determining these principles. The Skeptics Society does not hold a position on belief systems (only the believability of claims), it is an organization of offering papers on the testing of claims and the presentation of a wide collection of scientific thought.

Humanism is then a belief system based on tentative but mainly accepted sets of ideals. It can be informed by science but is simply not part of science. Skepticism is a method for scientifically testing claims that allows for a provisional set of determinations as to the acceptance of their credibility.

If the organization holds both positions then they can not be viewed as being completely objective in many ways. For the role of lobbying and getting the message out, I think that relies on the power of argument and efforts put forward.

[ Edited: 12 November 2007 07:32 AM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 12 November 2007 07:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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In other words, The Center for Inquiry is not just lobbying for scientific skepticism and scientific ethic, but also for the position of Secular Humanism which entails an unbelief (or no belief) and a set of principles beholden to that philosophy.

[ Edited: 12 November 2007 07:51 AM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 12 November 2007 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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DJ -
We dont begin with conclusions, but are foremost committed to the science and the scientific temper as the best way to find things out. In this way, we are different than membership organizations that serve more limited purposes for one or another segment of the population (atheist libby groups, humanist support groups, skeptic clubs, etc).

I do not think this is quite correct. For instance the second Affirmation of Humanism printed in each copy of Free Inquiry - “We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.”

This starts with a conclusion in its mission. Secular Humanism is not limited to science and the scientific temper or inquiry, it begins with the ideal that there is no god.

From the Council for Secular Humanism, About, page:

~“The Council for Secular Humanism cultivates rational inquiry, ethical values, and human development through the advancement of secular humanism. To carry out its mission the Council for Secular Humanism sponsors publications, programs, and organizes meetings and other group activities. The Council’s specific objectives are:

To promote secular humanist principles to the public, media, and policy-makers”~

The principles do not limit themselves to science, nor are strictly informed by science.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Interesting topic Doug and thanks for getting the forum involved.

With regard to the name Center for Inquiry, I agree with DJ.  Most of the issues CFI is concerned with are issues because of a lack of inquiry.  Some organizations will brand other organizations as evil and that is enough for the followers to boycott without any personal inquiry.  I am sure that the secular coalition of America is affected by this dynamic.  I would prefer to keep CFI as open as possible.  If there is some level of decoding involved in understanding CFI’s message, I think that coincides with the critical thinking method we advocate.

As for the logo, I have one concern.  The iconography that goes with a flame doesn’t exactly represent what I think CFI stands for.  The flame has a lot of connotations with blind conviction, zealot like fervor, fear of hell, etc.  I am sure there are plenty of other creative ways to display CFI.  I know that Defcon had a campaign for a new logo on their website a little while back.  We have a few graphic designers on this forum; I bet we could get some good ideas from the members.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 09:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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zarcus - 12 November 2007 08:16 AM

“We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.”

This starts with a conclusion in its mission. Secular Humanism is not limited to science and the scientific temper or inquiry, it begins with the ideal that there is no god.

Cows and ducks do not possess any idea whatsoever that there is not a god.  They simply don’t have the idea of one.  That there is no god is not a idea.  It is a lack of one.  It is not a “conclusion.”  It is an opening of the door to inquiry.  Assertions against the “conclusion” that there is a god only come about after that “conclusion” has come about.  Rational “inquiry” itself requires that we reject unsubstantiated claims in favor of simpler more obvious ones.

It is true that the Humanist Affirmations are conclusions of sorts, in the sense that they make assertions.  But they are, more so, elaborations of rational inquiry applied to ethics.  They are not based on such grand conclusions as the existence and authority of a single vast creator being.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 10:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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It is a conclusion to not seek explanations outside of naturalism, science says nothing of supernaturalism, it is not a matter of scientific inquiry. The evidences of God’s existence can be tested against science, but that is limited to naturalistic explanation. What I pointed out is that under the umbrella of The Center for Inquiry is a set of principles used as a mission statement that does place itself outside of what science can inquiry about. The ideal that there is no God is placed within the language of deploring the efforts of looking outside of nature for salvation.

...

Add: - In a way the question of God’s existence is not about holding no belief - It is more a matter that given the available evidence I have come to the tentative conclusion that God does not exist.

Of course one can define God in naturalistic terms, but this is not my inquiry on the matter.

[ Edited: 12 November 2007 10:38 AM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 12 November 2007 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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There are no explanations outside of the natural.  Not because I say so, but because that is what it means for something to be natural.  The “nature” of things is the way things naturally are, hence the redundancy of this sentence.  If a supernatural claim were valid, then it would not be supernatural.  It would be natural.  Thus, supernaturalism contradicts itself.  Supernaturalism is a deliberate convolution on the part of the dogmatist.  It is nothing more than a shell game, a trick, a bamboozler- an appeal to accept something that is clearly unreasonable.

When we talk about promoting “inquiry” we are talking about promoting reason and rationalism.  To deplore attempts to denigrate reason and rationality is to struggle in support of “inquiry.”  To conlcude that there is a realm outside of what is natural is to “denigrate” inquiry.  Indeed, to appeal to the supernatural is to “denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.”

It is true that there is an epistemological assumption underlying the contents of the Humanist Affirmations, but it is a correct one.  Namely, that we can only be reasonable by using reason.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 11:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I too appreciate the breadth of focus of CFI and agree that those of us commited to the general principle of inquiry not limited by tradition, authority, dogma, etc have the option of focusing on those areas that especially interest us with the subsidiary groups/committees, etc. Personally, I’d like to see less focus on religion and more true advocacy of science itself. Putting forward the scientific point of view on its own merits, rather than in obvious direct contrast to the religious point of view, and emphasizing how science is inextricably intertwined with most of what we consider good and normal life these days, as well as continuing to challenge pseudoscience as CSI (aka The Committe Formerly Known as CSICOP) does is the area I have the greatest interest in. I do think POI has broadened its focus considerably in the last 6 months or so, and I heartily welcome this.

As for branding, I have no advertising knowledge or skill, but I think we might benefit by being less queasy about the framing concept Nisbet and Mooney put forward. Telling the truth effectively doesn’t have to be a compromise with principle as so many here seem to fear it is.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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A couple of quick points on DJ’s post:

DJ Grothe - 12 November 2007 07:04 AM

CFI is a coalition building organization, uniting scientists, science advocates, secularists, humanists, skeptics, rationalists, freethinkers etc.

Agreed, and that is a strength. However, I do have some questions about this strategy, raised by Occam in his post HERE. That is, it often seems as though CFI builds coalitions internally, but is less effective in doing so externally. Perhaps I am being misled by my web-centric focus, but if you look at the really effective blogs (for example, Pharyngula, Bad Astronomy, Skepchick, NeuroLogica), you do not see CFI cited anywhere on the blogrolls or recommended sites. Is this simply because CFI doesn’t have any bloggers yet? Or are there deeper issues?

I do not want this thread to go too far afield, so I will simply point out that having the organization cross-listed with like-minded organizations is a way to get our message out to a broader audience of like-minded individuals. Building coalitions should be an external as well as an internal focus. This is all part of the broader issue of marketing.

DJ Grothe - 12 November 2007 07:04 AM

In my opinion, CFI’s challenges have little to do with brand names and much more to do with the forces of anti-science and anti-reason opposed to it, and I would suggest, the characteristics among freethinkers and skeptics, secularists and atheists and scientists that make it harder to organize such a broad movement for science and reason.

Agreed. Our biggest problem is with our organized opposition, and our second biggest problem is that skeptics by their very nature are less apt to be ‘joiners’. We are also very critical people, which can be a weakness or a strength, depending on how criticism is channeled and used.

But that said, I am very interested to hear how more people on the forum see the issue.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 12:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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erasmusinfinity - 12 November 2007 11:04 AM

There are no explanations outside of the natural.  Not because I say so, but because that is what it means for something to be natural.  The “nature” of things is the way things naturally are, hence the redundancy of this sentence.  If a supernatural claim were valid, then it would not be supernatural.  It would be natural.  Thus, supernaturalism contradicts itself.  Supernaturalism is a deliberate convolution on the part of the dogmatist.  It is nothing more than a shell game, a trick, a bamboozler- an appeal to accept something that is clearly unreasonable.

When we talk about promoting “inquiry” we are talking about promoting reason and rationalism.  To deplore attempts to denigrate reason and rationality is to struggle in support of “inquiry.”  To conlcude that there is a realm outside of what is natural is to “denigrate” inquiry.  Indeed, to appeal to the supernatural is to “denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.”

It is true that there is an epistemological assumption underlying the contents of the Humanist Affirmations, but it is a correct one.  Namely, that we can only be reasonable by using reason.

To say that there is no explanation out of the natural is you saying so. A personal belief in God is not a dogma. How you feel about a personal belief in God is your decision. Science says nothing about the explanation that there is a God outside of what is known. It does not concern itself with the “supernatural”, in fact “supernaturalism” causation does not exist in science.

It is not inquiry to set principles of moral conduct and to say that is scientific inquiry. It is inquiry to search for discovery then to extrapolate out from what is known or learned to form codes of morality and ethics. The deploring goes to looking outside of nature for salvation. Yes there is an epistemological assumption that is part of Secular Humanism that is apart from science. This is all I was saying, that under the umbrella of the Center for Inquiry there is a set of principles that set it apart from scientific skepticism, science.

I have a feeling you are reading past what I am saying. Would it be fare to say that deploring the effort to look outside nature for salvation is to say one does not approve of the attempt to hold a belief in a personal God?

[ Edited: 12 November 2007 12:25 PM by zarcus ]
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Posted: 12 November 2007 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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dougsmith - 12 November 2007 05:52 AM

When someone says “I work for the Center for Inquiry” the next question will always be “What is that?”

I am often asked by a client to produce a design concept that is somehow mysterious in nature, and hence provokes the reader to find out more about its true meaning and the company itself. I believe the name “Center for Inquiry” does exactly that. (And I also like the sound of the word “Inquiry”.)

But I agree with you on the logo. The flame above the lower case i looks like a sperm to me. What is it, anyway? A candle? How does a candle represent “inquiry”?

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Posted: 12 November 2007 01:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I agree with DJ and the thing is, it is descriptive of what is does.  CFI is for free inquiry of almost everything and anything that can be looked at scientifically.  So, people may say what’s that, but once they drop onto the site or hear what it is about they understand.  BTW, I wonder if I could get CFI’s Paranormal people down here.  They say the castle down here is haunted and quack paranormalists what say their little toys went sky high with some sort of Ghost Busters ecto-plasma deal.  rolleyes  Needless to say, I was laughing my butt off about the article and it was front page news.  rolleyes  I want to show this area some REAL paranormal investigators that don’t play with silly toys.

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Posted: 12 November 2007 01:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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for example, Pharyngula, Bad Astronomy, Skepchick, NeuroLogica

They are concerned with science and scientific skepticism, they do not promote a belief system such a Humanism. That is why I think they shy away from advertising CFI. CFI promotes a set of values that are beyond what science is. They may promote books by authors who hold such beliefs but as an organization CFI is clearly staked out in the Humanist camp. They also do not promote links to the Humanist, but you will find links on Humanist sites that promote links to skepticism. I notice also the blog for Atheism also does not link to CFI or any other Humanist site.

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