‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The blog comment that became a blog of its own
Apologies to those who this will be dull to – if you don’t identify as a skeptic/don’t know about Skeptics in the Pub (SitP) but want to, go here
There’s been quite a lot of conversation recently in the ‘community’ (oh and arguments about if we’re even a community!) about skepticism and sexism, but now we have a new thing to argue about – whether we identify as skeptics or not and, if we do, what should we call ourselves? Nelson Jones, in the UK Skeptic Magazine this issue recently mused about it, saying:
Another prominent skeptic and founder/convenor of Westminster Skeptics, David Allen Green, recently decided to remove ‘skeptic’ from his self-identified label set. As have a few friends of mine. I’ll keep my personal opinions of these decisions out of this post.
Yesterday I read an excellent post by my friend Simon Clare, who runs Horsham Skeptics in the Pub. This was sparked by a discussion on Facebook with other SitP organisers about whether skepticism – the very word itself, puts people off. I, of course, am skeptical as to whether it is the actual word that puts people off – I am waiting for more evidence.
You can read the post here – it’s worth reading, at this juncture, as it’s likely the rest won’t make much sense without having read it, plus it’s very thought-provoking:
I’ve got a few thoughts and comments about Simon’s thoughts on a re-brand, but no real answers!
“We share one common goal” says Simon. As Tim McGregor (Brighton Skeptics in the Pub) says in Simon’s blog comments, I don’t think we do. I think it would be useful to collate organisers’ reasons for running a Skeptics in the Pub. Tim’s much more about the Skeptic community and I see why – it makes perfect sense – and there are other opportunities for outreach. However, I am probably more aligned with Simon when it comes to what I feel I run Guildford SitP for.
Maybe a survey would be interesting – why does anyone run a SitP? Also, a survey of the general public would give us a good idea of whether we are right or wrong as to what people we’ve never met think – we have a self-selecting and experimenter-selecting bias in our Facebook & Twitter friends.
So why do I run Guildford Skeptics in the Pub?
(b) So I can put on an event for like-minded people- I get a lot from people telling me they enjoy it and I like being part of the ‘SitP organisers’ – it’s nice for me, on a basic human level, to feel aligned with a community and ties into Tim’s comments.
(c) For outreach to people who don’t normally think about skepticism – to introduce them to the idea of critical thinking and give them a good night out where they learn something and have had their minds stretched. I personally feel cheated if I learn nothing new at a SitP event. I don’t see the point of hearing the same old stuff every month.
(d) To let other people also do (a)
Re-brand/not options, as I see them
So, as I see it, this is about marketing/advertising to new people – introducing them to skepticism by another name. This won’t be for every organiser, but I still think it’s a good question and one worth exploring. I may ask my Guildford audience if they identify as a skeptic/what they think it means. This could be compared to the general audience, too.
(1) try to reclaim the word and educate people as to its meaning, as we see it. That way we are still aligning with the core values of SitP (more on why this is important, below).
(2) Rename it, on a local level and educate people as to the meaning of the new name. This could be very hard or very easy depending on the name. I’m not keen on the idea of a completely new word – portmanteau, bacronym, verbing a noun, whatever you choose.
(3) Rename it, on a local level and still affiliate whatever the new name is (say, Interesting Talks, for the sake of argument) to Skeptics in the Pub: ‘Horsham’s Interesting Talks, in association with Skeptics in the Pub’.
As my mum, an ex-magazine journo, pointed out, by changing the name you may lose some attendees. Any new title that gets taken over will always retain the old name, in smaller font, just for enough time so that your old, loyal audience, get used to it. Also it’s good to retain it long enough so that there’s no indication that you’ve changed values or direction.
Using Skeptic instead of Sceptic is only effective to those ‘in the know’
To the average dude in the street, I think there are 3 possibilities – they
“But those groups whom we are working against have gigantic budgets and armies of brainwashed volunteers slaving away on their behalf. I am referring of course to the cults, the religions, the anti-vaxxers and the rest. They can use the internet too, and right now, they are winning at it”“We are up against far better equipped forces and if we are to make greater progress then we must pull out all the stops. We can’t afford to cling to things that hold us back, just on a point of flimsy principle. The word “Skeptic” holds us back. It gets in the way of promoting skepticism and scepticism. It gives people an excuse to ignore us.” (- Simon Clare)
Finally, I think it could work in Horsham. Give it a go Simon. Experiment. We’ll do a controlled study – skepticism in beautiful action! We can present the results and see where they take us.