Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Message Map for Skeptics - Part Two

In my previous post I tried to articulate my thoughts about the need in the skeptical community for a coherent message platform.  My premise is that, as a community, skeptics are all over the map when it comes to talking about what we’re all about, while our “opponents” in pseudoscience, religion and politics are on target and disciplined in their messaging.  

So, what would I do about it?

Well, if  I were CEO of Skeptical Movement Inc., I would bring together a dozen or so of the brightest leaders in our movement, get them in a room for a day with a good media consultant, and hammer out a set of talking points designed to frame the movement moving forward. I’d have them focus on a few key messages that would provide a common starting point for talking about skepticism to the media, to politicians, to our friends and neighbors and family members.  

First, I’d focus on the core question of what is skepticism? Is there in fact something we can all agree on as the response to that question?  It needs to be a single statement, a powerful soundbite (to use another loaded term), a simple summation of what we’re about. Not a jargon-filled attempt to describe every aspect of skepticism, but a positive, forward-looking statement that says what we’re trying to accomplish and why it’s important (having positive statement is really important for us - all of the dictionary definitions of skepticism are negative by default. We have to figure out how to take that word and make it positive).

Then I’d have them focus on the most important areas where skeptics are active, come up with a similar core statement for each, and make sure they tie back to the core statement discussed above. There are certain primary concerns that seem to motivate the skeptical community, and having a common statement or two that we can all agree on about each would be incredibly helpful, as these become the support statements for the core statement. I’m not sure what the full list is, but I would suggest “science,” “woo”, “religion” and “education”. Maybe “politics” too.

Once developed, those key message points could be put onto a single message map, designed to be easily used by anyone in the movement.

And then I’d get that message map out to everyone in the community, talk them up among bloggers and podcasters and twitterers and media spokespeople and scientists...everyone who has an opportunity to communicate about what our movement is all about. I’d encourage people to make that core statement part of their home pages and mission statements, and encourage them to start every media interview with that point, even if it’s not the question they are  asked.

Over time, we could see more coherence in our messaging. We would see those points that we agree on showing up in news reports and on broadcasts. We might see an emerging consensus about what skeptics really are all about, that isn’t so negative. We might see more agreement among ourselves and less infighting.

At the very least we would provide a useful tool for the growing legion of skeptics who have come into the movement in a variety of ways but who often have a hard time articulating what it is we’re all about.

Tomorrow, in my third and final post on this subject, I will offer up some ideas of what this skeptical message map might look like. Editor's Note: And by "tomorrow," I meant sometime in the next few days, when I get time to finish my sample message map ;^)


  1. You touched on the key issue facing the skeptical community is organization. We don't have that at all. We don't have goals or objectives like the other movements do. For the most part its a bunch of bloggers. Too many times the atheist movement and skeptical movement get put together. That makes people shut down when they hear that word atheist. Even though most people in the skeptical movement are atheist, we have to separate ourselves from that stigma. The Anti-Vaccination movement has more momentum then the skeptical movement because they have a clear goal, an ideology to follow. The problem with skeptics is that our ideology tends to not be so cut and dry. Love the posts!!!

  2. Yup, that's my point too. I think there are things we would all agree on, and that's what we ought to rally around as a basic set of messages.