Originally Published May 6, 2013.
Over the weekend, I perused some skeptical websites' swag stores around the same time I learned that Prof. P.Z. Myers was repudiating referring to himself as a Skeptic. Whether one agress with Prof Myers decision or the reasoning behind his decision is being hashed out in other areas of skepdom, but looking over the swag stores at the various skeptical/freethought websites does reflect the vying worldviews of various Skeptical parties.
While I was on Skeptical Robot, the online store for the SGU, Skepchick, the Geologic podcast, andPharyngula, it was interesting comparing what the various entities were making available to their fans for purchase. Geologic was only selling a simple t-shirt with the word ‘Vibrophone.’ A reference to the secret greeting Geologic host George Hrab asks people to say to him if they meet him in public. That’s it. An innocuous shirt with an odd word on it that the vast majority of people have no idea what it is supposed to mean. The SGU’s store on the other end has all sorts of swag for purchase. There are little miniature dolls of the Rogues, and refrigerator magnets for sale. Various t-shirts with the show’s logo upon it, and other shirts with a helmeted space dinosaurs upon it. (A reference to an inside joke that only fans will truly appreciate.) The only provocative item is a spoof of the Jesus fish with legs, a brain, and SGU scrawled into the body of it.
Skepchick’s swag is a bit more edgy. They sell logo shirts, and some jewelry pendants made by Surly Amy, but also sold is a shirt with the logo No Gods No Masters, and some buttons with feminist quotes that might take aback some in the general public. Pharyngula’s store has a collection of inside joke items featuring Prof. Myers known love of squids. It also has a star pin for “People’s Republic of Pharyngula,” and a dinosaur Jesus pin.
In comparison, I hopped over to the Token Skeptic and Doubtful News stores to compare. Doubtful News has a t-shirt and a mug for sale with the Doubtful News logo. The Token Skeptic has a huge variety of various shirts, mugs, and items embossed with the various Token Skeptic logos. The major theme with all the TS logos are they have some feline connection with them. Kylie Sturgess, the woman behind the Token Skeptic brand, is well known for her love of cats. (Really, cats are cool. There is a reason they blanket the internet with their stubborn adorableness.) Unless you are offended by cats, there is nothing provocative about the Token Skeptic or over on the Doubtful Newsswag.
So with the above skeptical swag comparison noted, it does appear that skeptics can make differing statements with their swag choices. Sharon Hill of Doubtful News and Sturgess are both proponents of 'classic' scientific skepticism otherwise called Bigfoot Skeptics by some.* However, the other strain believes that little to nothing is beyond skeptical investigation including politics and religious belief. I cannot see Doubtful News selling a 'Doubtful about God' shirt, or Monster Talk selling 'Let's make Republicans as scarce as Big Foot' mugs. Sturgess, who is also a atheist activist, does seem to keep her atheist activism out of her TS swag collection.
I think this reflects not just an ideological difference, but also a cultural or personality difference. This is not to state such divides cannot be crossed, but even if skeptics on the classical and newer strain agree on 90% of issues, this 10% difference viewed between folks can be magnified by these underlying differences.
I don't wish to blow what the swag represents out of proportion, or try and make some grand sweeping theory of swag. It is just a single data point. However, a person buying a Token Skeptic t-shirt is likely trying to give a few dollars to Token Skeptic, likes the logo design and perhaps hopes to advertise for the Token Skeptic. A person buying a 'No Gods No Masters' Skepchick shirt enjoys the design, wishes to support Skepchick financially, and is also trying to make a statement. To me, it is the difference between buying a Chevy bumper sticker, and buying one of those anti-Ford bumper stickers that have Calvin peeing on a Ford logo. These choices reflect two different types of purchaser and likely somewhat representative of the differing motivating factors for the listener/readership of these.
One cannot be overly surprised that a major figure in these two different world views might feel the desire to break away, or that Skepchick found it necessary to part ways with TAM a haven for classic Skeptics beyond their immediate reasons for splitting. Regular readers are aware that I am firmly in the classic skepticism camp. It is where I feel comfortable, and I am basically within all four corners of this type of skepticism. While I disagree with a fair amount of Prof. Myers views on his brand of skepticism/ scientific atheism, I do not wish him ill. I think despite my disagreements with some of his views there is much he has to offer. For many people in the community, it is not an all or nothing proposition. I will enjoy my Doubtful News mug, my various SGU shirts, and my Token Skeptic mug, and I will probably never buy a Skepchick item. It does not mean I think others who buy that Surly Amy pendent are awful or a People's Republic Pharyngula button are morons. It just means it's not my cup of tea.
* 'Classic' Skepticism is the process of evidence obtained by systematic observation and reason. Generally, skepticism remains apolitical and is not out to take down religion unless those areas make claims that can be tested. (Media Guide to Skepticism)