CSICOP as a Professional Organization

In an earlier post, I stated my position that the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal or CSICOP is a professional organization. In a comment to this post, Kerim Friedman took exeption to this and expressed his belief that CSICOP is an advocacy group. Michael Turton later expressed the same belief in a post on his site. I now feel that all of us were wrong and that CSICOP is better described as a learned society.

Before I jump in the discussion of learned societies, I would like to clarify my position on CSICOP. CSICOP is great. The work they do is important and meaningful, as well as some of the best scientific research available. The members of the group that I know are fantastic people. They are deeply committed to their beliefs and work tirelessly toward them. I know of no one in the organization who has been arrested or involved in a serious scandal of any sort. I problem with the group is that the scope of their work is extremely limited and I don’t think they are aware of this.

Anyway, to return to the issue of what kind of group CSICOP is…CSICOP is clearly not an advocacy group in the fashion of the NRA or the Sierra Club. On their website, CSICOP states that the purpose of the group is to

…encourage the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public. It also promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues. To carry out these objectives the Committee:

    1. Maintains a network of people interested in critically examining paranormal, fringe science, and other claims, and in contributing to consumer education
    2. Prepares bibliographies of published materials that carefully examine such claims
    3. Encourages research by objective and impartial inquiry in areas where it is needed
    4. Convenes conferences and meetings

5.  Publishes articles that examine claims of the paranormal.

6.    Does not reject claims on a priori grounds, antecedent to inquiry, but   examines them objectively and carefully

The Sierra Club home page, on the other hand, has no statement of purpose that I could find. The Sierra Club du Canada home page as an ‘About Us’ statement describes the club and makes no mention of its purpose. The NRA home page is the same. My impression of an advocacy group is that members of such groups don’t appear to feel a statement of purpose is necessary and that the group is defined by what its members are willing to do.

The webpages of professional societies are very different from this. The ‘About the AMA’ webpage of the American Medical Association states that

The AMA’s envisioned future is to be an essential part of the professional life of every physician and an essential force for progress in improving the nation’s health.

The site goes on to state the following about the Mission of the AMA

The American Medical Association helps doctors help patients by uniting physicians nationwide to work on the most important professional and public health issues.

It is worth noting that the motto of the AMA is “Together We are Stronger”.

The webpage of the American Bar Association contains similar information about the ABA

Welcome to the American Bar Association, the largest voluntary professional association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public. The Mission of the American Bar Association is to be the national representative of the legal profession, serving the public and the profession by promoting justice, professional excellence and respect for the law.

Professional societies describe state goals that seem to assume there is a continued need for the services of the occupational group they represent and that this occupation must be represented by a group. They even seem to assume that other groups might perform this service. The distinguishing mark of the professional society is the statement that they are the best qualified to do this.

Wikipedia defines a learned society as

a society that exists to promote an academic discipline or group of disciplines. Membership may be open to all, may require possession of some qualification.

The American Council of Learned Societies defines their purpose as

advancement of the humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and the social sciences and to maintain and strengthen relations among the national societies devoted to such studies.

The Council distinguishes between 3 types of members. Constituent Learned Societies are academic associations such as the APA and the MLA. Associate members are universities and colleges that support the Council. Affiliate members are, “…organizations and institutions whose goals and purposes are so closely linked to those of ACLS that a formal connection is desirable for both parties.” CSICOP clearly qualifies as an affiliate and quite possibly as a Constituent Society.

In fact, if you look at the ‘About’ statements of organizations such as the APA, the African Studies Association, the American Academy of Religion, or any of the other groups that compose the Constituent Learned Societies of the ACLS, you find similar contract-like statements of purpose. It would almost appear as though CSICOP modeled their statement such groups with the expressed purpose of serving the same kind if function that they serve.

The main difference between CSICOP and mainstream professional societies appears to be that while CSICOP does not represent an occupational category and therefore does not have the position to lobby for the welfare and status of that profession. As such, I was incorrect to call the organization a professional society. However, CSICOP clearly seems to be some sort of learned society and in no sense could it be called an advocacy group similar to the NRA or the Sierra Club.


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And you think they would be more effective if they functioned as an advocacy group?

Speaking of this, you may wish to read this forthcoming book:


I have no opinion about what CSICOP should be doing. It’s members have reached a concensus concerning what they want to do. I think that an advocacy-type group is necessary for this social problem.

Many years ago, I had an argument that the left is completely unprepared to handle the Christian Right. The left is upwardly mobile, urban, cosmopolitan, and not interested in working-class life. The lack of interest and inability of this position to speak to a large part of America will certainly not be addressed by elite university researchers and hip, young writers from Yale.

The left is largely urban, but I disagree about the rest of your characterizations. In fact, many members of the left are poor and working-class. Don’t buy the “late-drinking” crap the Republican’s use in their advertisements, it isn’t true demographically. Not that I disagree that the leadership of the left needs to do a better job of defending the interests of the working class, but that is a different issue.

The Christian right is also a small minority. Only about 15% of the US are evangelical Christians. In order to understand this battle it is important to look at why evangelicals have become so important and useful, and why there is nothing similar on the left. (Hint: the decline of organized labor.) The author I linked to, Chris Mooney, has made a career out of explaining the history and nature of some of these links as they relate to science. (His blog is well worth reading. He was one of the big political bloggers early on – before he began focusing more on science.) When one begins to realize how much corporate money has gone into deligitimizing science it becomes clear what CSICOP is up against.

Moreover, these are not even left-right issues. There are many conservatives who believe in science and are very upset about what is happening.

I remember looking at a map on Keywords shortly after the election showing county-by-county voting patterns in the US. There were virtually no couties that voted Democrate outside the major cities of the East and West Coast.

Regardless, I am talking about a particular brand of Americans; the kind who want supstition taught in public schools. The left and traditional conservatives are completely illprepared to handle this group.

You miss the subtleties of the electoral voting system. Most of those counties you are looking at have almost no people living in them, but if you modify the map to show population density as well, very different pattern. (More here. See especially the purple map – and on the county map look where all the cities are in the so-called “red” states.)


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