Good News: Skeptical Inquirer Is Putting A Few More Women in Its Pages

9 Dec

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), founded in 1976 as CSICOP by Paul Kurtz, was one of the very first and is the longest-running formal skeptics organization. Like most of those in charge in the ’70s, its leaders and heroes were older white men. Many charge that the organization and its official journal, Skeptical Inquirer (SI), hasn’t changed much since then when it comes to giving voice to women in the skeptics movement. PZ Myers described it well a couple months ago:

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.

These charges are certainly not unfounded. SI has seven regular columnists who appear in every issue of the bimonthly publication—not a single one of whom is a woman. This is despite the fact that SI’s two newest columnists were fairly recently brought on–one in 2009 and the other in 2010. The Center for Inquiry (CFI), CSI’s parent organization, has just a single female member on its board of directors—and she was added relatively recently in May of 2010. These two facts alone were a major motivator in my founding We Are SkeptiXX in the first place.

However, I am pleased to announce that although SI has a long way yet to go, its gender-equality gauge is slowly but surely making its way toward the middle from its initial zero position. The most recent issue, January/February 2012, is a stellar example of SI’s progress toward evening up the gender ratio of its contributors.

The cover feature, “Measuring Mythology: Startling Concepts in NCCAM Grants” is authored by Eugenie Mielczarek and Brian Engler♣. I think it is going to make a big splash. I have already received one phone call from a man in Sen. Bernie Sanders’s district in Vermont who wants to meet with Sanders, who is a huge proponent of alt med, and his staff to discuss the article. I immediately popped five more copies of the issue in the mail to him and am eager to hear how it works out.

And the Mielczarek/Engler article is just the oh-so-tasty chocolate cupcake part. The frosting part is the inclusion in the January/February issue of the final installment of the thrilling three-part series refuting the “documentary” Lost Civilizations of North America. The concluding part’s lead author, Deborah A. Bolnick, along with coauthors Kenneth L. Feder, Bradley T. Lepper, and Terry A. Barnhart, uses DNA evidence to tell those “documentary” makers what’s really what. “You think these people were from Israel? NOT SO FAST! Just LOOK at these haplogroup X forms!”♠  (The first installment of the series was the cover feature of SI’s September/October 2011 issue, meaning that two of the past three cover features of SI have been cooauthored by women.)

Can you even believe that that is still not all?! The sprinkles on top of the frosting on top of the oh-so-tasty chocolate cupcake is yet another feature article authored by a woman. “Information Literacy and Conspiracy Theories” by Kristin E. Harley♦ is well written and fun to read. Lost files! It’s a conspiracy! Yeah, not so much, Hurley assures us. Her article was pretty perfect for a word nerd like me.

And don’t change that channel just yet because there’s another very special cherry on top in the January/February 2012 Skeptical Inquirer: a commentary promoting use of the HPV vaccine by Shobha S. Krishnan. This is a cause very dear to SI Editor Ken Frazier’s heart. His daughter, Michele Baldwin, just returned over Thanksgiving from spending a month stand up paddleboarding down the Ganga River in India. Michele has inoperable cervical cancer, and after years of chemo and surgery the doctors have told her there is nothing else they can do for her and she has about six months left. Now if I were in Michele’s shoes I’d probably hide under a rock and sob myself to death. But she decided to take a month to paddleboard down the Ganga for cervical cancer  and HPV vaccine awareness. Take a look at her website and be sure to read the blog entries written by her and Ruth Frazier (Michele’s mom, Ken’s wife). I dare you not to be amazed and inspired.

Oh, and don’t forget to read Wendy M. Grossman‘s review of Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion even though I have run out of cupcake metaphors. It’s fascinating stuff, and Reitman’s book is now firmly affixed to my (ever too long) “to read” list.

So yes, I will be the first to admit that Skeptical Inquirer needs to get some female columnists STAT. But I give kudos to the magazine for having come a long way since every single contributor had a penis. Keep up the good work, Ken. We’re on the right track!

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♣  I met Brian for the first time at CSIcon 2011. He is one of the warmest, genuinely nice people you could ask to have in the secular humanist/skeptics movement.

♠ Bolnick does not actually say this because she is much too profesh for that. But I like to imagine she said it aloud while writing her outline for the article.

♦ Looking for a site of hers to link, I noticed that she is often listed as “Kristine Harley.” This threw me into a panic, because I know we definitely published her byline as “Kristin E. Harley.” I had let a HUGE typo go into indelible print! Still feeling that jolt of adrenaline from this horrible realization, I checked the original author-submitted word doc on the editorial server. PHEW! Kristin (sans “E”Anne Shirley would be so disappointed) was there in black and white. PHEW! AGAIN!

7 Responses to “Good News: Skeptical Inquirer Is Putting A Few More Women in Its Pages”

  1. julian December 9, 2011 at 5:23 am #

    It is nice to see skeptical magazines publishing more articles by women. Still unlikely to subscribe (though that article by Eugenie Mielczarek and Brian Engle comes close to making me want to) it’s comforting to see at least a little more balanced representation in skeptical media.

  2. Chelsea December 9, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    I just bought my very first copy of SI the other day (not the most current issue you mention, but the Nov/Dec one with the Shakespeare cover story). While I am immensely enjoying the magazine and will be buying more, I was extremely disappointed to find exactly one article by a woman (which was an interview of another woman, so props for that at least) and exactly one article coauthored by a woman (part 2 of the Lost Civilizations series). I found myself getting excited every time a woman’s name was mentioned in a piece, which is really sad when you think about it.

    Conversely, the copy of “The Humanist” that I picked up much more accurately represents the female contribution to the skeptical/humanist/secular community: Not only does the cover story feature Rebecca Goldstein (AHA Humanist of the Year), Judy Norsigian (Humanist Heroine of the Year) is also featured in her own article, discussing many important women’s issues. The “Humanist Profile” at the front features another humanist heroine, Michelle Bachelet, and two other articles written by women are also present. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the editor of The Humanist is a woman herself (her Editor’s Note adding yet another female contribution to the magazine), but I felt that this magazine portrayed a much more diverse and accurate picture of the movement as a whole, acknowledging women’s contributions. I would highly recommend that magazine.

    However, I am very glad to hear that SI is getting its act together, slowly but surely. I will definitely pick up the latest issue and check out the articles you mention.

    • Chelsea December 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

      P.s., Loving this blog. Came here via Skepchick and am always happy to support female skeptic bloggers. :)

  3. Brian Engler December 9, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    Thanks for the shout out, Julia! Looking forward to hearing more about Sen Sanders’s constituent.

  4. idoubtit December 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    I have had one article published and another to come. I have NEVER felt slighted by Skept Inq, ever, and have been involved since 2001 when a woman ran their education section. A simpler explanation seems to be that not many women ever submitted articles. The field was overrun with older, white, male intellectuals.

    • Kylie Sturgess December 12, 2011 at 12:19 am #

      I share the same positive experience as ‘idoubtit’ in regards to the Skeptical Inquirer.

      In addition, I write for the CSICOP’s online website and have found it nothing but encouraging and fulfilling. I think, like ‘Idoubtit’, that there has just been an imbalance over time and with the growth of a population (particularly one fuelled by online communities) diversity and new voices are being heard.

      • Julia Lavarnway December 12, 2011 at 12:33 am #

        Yes, we have some absolutely wonderful female columnists on csicop.org, including Kylie, Karen Stollznow, and Rebecca Watson. But my question is a simple one: why are their columns relegated to the web when there is not a single female columnist in the print magazine?

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