Who are The Skeptic Illuminati?

We were approached by a group calling themselves The Skeptic Illuminati and asked to post the following, as several of the qualities they are looking for in members have been discussed on this blog.

An open letter to all who identify as Skeptics:

Skepticism, as a movement, appears to be failing. Too many people, even within our own ranks, are co-opting the term to gain followers for their own causes, employing methods that violate skepticism's fundamental principles. At the same time, too many of us have condoned this, or quietly stood by and let it happen.

Some of us have had enough, and think it's time to take back skepticism.  To that end, we have started a new group, The Skeptic Illuminati.  Membership is by invitation only.  Only those who demonstrate the following qualities will be considered for membership:

  1. Humility and introspection.
    1. You acknowledge that you, like all humans, have cognitive biases, and you recognize such biases not only in others, but in yourself as well.
    2. You are willing to admit when you don't know something, or you are straying outside your area of expertise.
    3. You own your mistakes and apologize for them.
  2. Empathy.
    1. You seek to understand others' points of view, rather than dismissing them because they are different from yours.
    2. You exhibit patience, ask questions, and educate, rather than disparage and belittle others.
  3. Nuanced thinking.
    1. You recognize complex questions and problems, and refrain from oversimplifying them.
    2. You understand that situations vary, and context matters. You refrain from hastily generalizing from specific cases, and from hastily using general rules in contexts where they may not apply.
  4. An open mind.
    1. You approach new topics with inquiry, and refrain from judgment until you have sufficient evidence.
    2. You alter or refine conclusions that you have reached, in light of new evidence.
  5. Thoroughness.
    1. You invest the time and effort to do your homework on a topic before rendering a position.
    2. You spend the time to apply critical thinking to your own conclusions, as well as those of others.
  6. Logic and sound argumentation.
    1. You understand logical fallacies and refrain from committing them yourself.
    2. You apply the principle of charity, taking opposing arguments at face value. Only when those arguing with you have demonstrated that they are acting in bad faith do you question their motivations or characters.
    3. You understand the use of examples to illustrate a larger point, and do not confuse the specifics with the general.
    4. You understand that anecdotes may indicate the need for further investigation, but are not, in and of themselves, sufficient as evidence.
    5. You recognize the difference between a question and an answer.
    6. You use argumentation as a tool to discover truth, and refrain from cheap rhetorical tricks -- quote mining, cherry-picking, appeal to emotion, and others -- simply to win an argument.
  7. Values.
    1. When promoting skepticism, you adhere to skeptical principles over other beliefs that are important to you.
    2. When promoting other causes or beliefs you consider important, you refrain from calling them skepticism.
    3. You conduct yourself with honor and integrity; you don't just preach skepticism, you practice it.
  8. A sense of humor, or a recognition that you don't have one, and may not realize it when others are joking.
  9. Uncertainty about whether you qualify for membership.

The Skeptic Illuminati
skepticilluminati (at) gmail.com

Did you get your invitation to join? If so, let us know! We'd like to hear about it, and maybe learn the secret handshake.


  1. I actually agree with what they're saying for the most part. One part I'm curious about...

    "Too many people, even within our own ranks, are co-opting the term to gain followers for their own causes, employing methods that violate skepticism's fundamental principles."

    I would love to see who they think is doing this, especially "within our own ranks".

  2. I agree with Sc00ter - who are they accusing of this? Because unless they say whom they are making this rather nebulous accusation of, and give examples of these violations, I'm not sure how I can judge them any better than these supposed violators.

    Oh, and the secrecy angle doesn't sit well with me, either.

  3. To Cory's point, I don't mind the secrecy so much. Depending on who the accused is, I could see getting black listed for trying to reel in offenders.

  4. I quite like the standards (which the Skeptical Illuminati call “qualities”). Trouble is, I fear the preamble and the “invitation only” aspect risk committing the very offense the standards seek to remedy.

    Why not do away with both and allow the standards to speak for themselves?

    Not that the the Skeptical Illuminati or, for that matter, anyone else asked or cares what I think.

  5. Was I the only one who saw #8?

    "A sense of humor, or a recognition that you don't have one, and may not realize it when others are joking."


  6. @dezrah: Not to mention the irony of the very name. And that it would be hard to find anyone that could meet the list of qualifications 100% of the time, so I'm not sure how many members such a group could have.

    @Steve: Sharon and I liked the list, also. I'd even go so far as to call them "ideals," since they'd be hard to live up to all the time. Good to shoot for, though.

    @Sc00ter, Cory: I've certainly run across self-proclaimed skeptics who fall into that category, and I don't think I'm the only one. In this post I mention one and provide references that mention some other possible candidates.

    Not that there's anything wrong with promoting other causes, or reaching out to skeptics to talk about those causes. But if we're trying to build a "movement" around skepticism, it should be about promoting skepticism. And I don't think we've done a very good job in consistently establishing exactly what that means, which opens the door for anyone with an axe to grind to commit the logical fallacy of "since skepticism may lead you to conclusion X, then anyone who agrees with X must be a skeptic." Shouldn't we be watching out for that?

  7. I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. (Groucho Marx)
    My attempt at #8...

  8. @ Mildred

    :-) Great!!!


    Also, I am a skeptic and hold conclusion X, therefore, conclusion X is skepticism. Or worse, I'm a skeptic so conclusion X must be true and all skeptics must agree with my conclusion and promote conclusion X as skeptics.

  9. I'm not sure if I can always adhere to 2.b., how about a little bit of both?

  10. Other than arguing that whether or not anecdotes are evidence depends entirely on the claim (and noting that the oft-flung quote about its plural is actually a misquote), I am pretty happy with these standards. So, the only thing I find humorous in this is the cloak and dagger aspect. It's not my style, even in gest, but I find it clever.

    Perhaps the joke is that nobody will ever see an invitation because we have no reason to think that any of us are not human (excluding us from #6 at least once in a while), but I'm not sure if I find that funny or just sad.

  11. @badrescher

    The only thing that was meant to be funny is the cloak and dagger aspect. Although, it was also our way of saying, "We, the authors, don't qualify for membership."

  12. I laughed! And I love the name! It makes other people that don't get the humor nervous. Because SOME skeptics take themselves TOO seriously. I know someone working for Doctors without Borders. And when I sometimes complain about some skeptic issue, she shows me photographs from her last trip to the Sudan. Dead babies, and the fact that she saves some kids from dying and indeed helps move them on to good education and helps set up safe places for them to stay (war is hell, getting hit on in an elevator is not hell,it's bad but it's not dead baby hell...that is it's not hell until everyone starts freaking out about it. Then it's hell :))...well, a skeptic should be humble also. Penn Jillete once talked at TAM and told the atheists to stop whining. He pointed out that atheists are very successful and make way more money and are happier than religious people (studies back him up). We can complain and work for better critical thinking... but let's keep what we do in perspective. It's important work, but...there are other important works out there also.

  13. also I agree with Grocho Marx, I'm not sure I want to belong to a group that would take me for a member!

  14. I admit to having been utterly duped. Is there still time to claim that I was onto you all along and wrote my comment only to see how others would react? Didn't think so. Dang.

  15. Our apologies to Steve and anyone else who thought that the "Illuminati" was real. That was a #8 fail on our part!

  16. Matt, you are too kind. When it comes to a Number 8 fail, I am quite clearly the guilty party.

  17. Rebecca Watson violates all of your qualities/rules, yet she is strangely employed full-time as a skeptical role-model.
    Something needs to be done about her violent poisoning of the 'skeptical' brand.

  18. Sent a mail to the adress, for funsies (but please, accept me!)...

  19. Sc00ter said...
    'I would love to see who they think is doing this, especially "within our own ranks".'
    Here is a starter "sample-bag" list:

    - Michael Shermer
    - Paul Zachary Myers
    - Ophelia Benson
    - Greta Christina
    - Rebecca Watson
    - Greg Laden
    - Steven Novella (yes)
    - Jen McCreight
    - "Rorschach"
    - Every commenter on the Pharyngula hate-blog

    ...and so on...
    Many more where that came from.

    In fact, the list is endless. Pudgy pink privileged folk keep volunteering for this slacktivist do-nothing but complain bullshit every day over at the gated-community that is Free-from-thought blogs.

  20. Oh crap! The answer mail from the Illuminati is hilarious!!!

    (I won't post it here, though, because...)

  21. Tons-o-fun.

    I'm a fan of Ardent Skeptic and Armchair Skeptic, so kudos to youse!

    Also, for what it's worth, I think MKG's list is spot-on -- though perhaps he should have included that horror Marcotte. Most of those people are doing more damage to the so-called skeptic community than any woo merchant I can think of.

    I am a little softer on Shermer simply because some of his books are really first rate. If he could grow up and ditch his immovable religious faith on Libertarianism I could forgive him much.

  22. Brilliant post and brilliant list of non-skeptics.

    I'd add:

    Jason Thibault (Lousy Canuck)
    Fleur de mal
    Sally Strange
    Salty Current
    Josh the Spokesgay
    Stephanie Zvan (also a pseudonym)

    Although all of these people are regular commenters on the Pharyngula hate blog, they also show up wherever there's a controversy just to back up their leaders and spit more bile. They never actually add anything other than insults and ad homs to the discussion.

  23. Oh, I forgot Diane Kennedy, who is actually guilty of "parroting misogynistic thought" herself.

  24. I don't know a single person who lives up to these ideals 100% of the time. Every human being's name could be on a list of those who have failed.

    Therefore, if you send e-mail to the Skeptic Illuminati you will receive the following response:

    Dear (your name here):

    Thank you for your interest in the Skeptic Illuminati. Unfortunately, no one has, as yet, qualified for membership in this organization, so there is no one currently available to respond to your message.

    Your message will be stored until our automated Illuminati Location Service has identified a qualified skeptic for membership, or until all life on Earth is destroyed by the expansion of the sun into a red giant, whichever comes first.

    Thank you again, (your name here), for contacting the Skeptic Illuminati.


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