New Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C.


Contact: Nathan Bupp
Phone: (716) 636-4869 x 218

Washington, D.C. (November 14, 2006)—The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a think tank devoted to promoting reason and science in all areas of human interest, announced today that it is opening a new Office of Public Policy in Washington, D.C. This initiative will mark an unprecedented drive to bring a rigorous defense of science and secular values to policy makers located at the focal point of America’s political and cultural battleground.

Paul Kurtz, chairman and founder of the Center for Inquiry/Transnational and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, says that the foundations of our democratic society are now under attack. “The social and scientific progress we take for granted has been advanced by a basic scientific philosophical point of view: scientific naturalism,” said Kurtz. “The methods of the sciences, and the assumptions upon which they are based, are being challenged culturally in the United States today as never before. Despite its success in providing us with unparalleled benefits, religious fundamentalists seek to inhibit free inquiry and to misrepresent the tested conclusions of scientific naturalism. This is a highly charged political issue—both science and secularism are under political attack.”

With these concerns in mind, the new office released a declaration, “In Defense of Science and Secularism,” at a news conference held today at the National Press Club. Signed by Nobel Prize winners Steven Weinberg and Paul Boyer, as well as many leading scientists and public intellectuals, including E.O. Wilson, Ann Druyan, Lawrence Krauss, Peter Singer, Leon Jaroff, Arthur Caplan, and Elizabeth Loftus, the document calls on political leaders of both parties to “base public policy insofar as possible on empirical evidence instead of religious faith,” to “maintain a strict separation between church and state,” and “protect and promote scientific inquiry.”

Spokespersons for the Center say that several public-policy controversies have illustrated the public need for a broad expertise in scientific naturalism. From President Bush’s political veto of Congress’s bipartisan bill to expand federal funding of stem cell research to the Intelligent Design debate, to an appointed spokesperson from NASA insisting that references to the Big Bang be diluted with language stating that NASA takes no position on whether the Big Bang actually happened—all indicate what experts at the Center for Inquiry call “part of a broader cultural war on scientific naturalism and the Enlightenment in general.” Science advocates said this illustrates how both the will of the majority and scientific progress are under attack at the very highest levels.

Kurtz said that the new Office of Public Policy will draw on the Center’s relationship with leading scientists, academics, and public intellectuals, who all share the Center’s stated purpose and concerns. “We intend to develop relationships with sympathetic legislators in Washington, D.C., and will provide experts to testify in legislative hearings,” said Toni Van Pelt, Policy Director for the office. “We will submit position papers, solicited from our network of fellows and scholars, and work with legislators who care about science and reason to effect legislative responses to attacks on Enlightenment values,” continued Van Pelt.

Ron Lindsay, an attorney, philosopher, and the Center’s legal director said, “We stand ready to provide the media and the American public with background, from a wide variety of experts in the physical and social sciences, on all major political issues.”

In sum, the Center for Inquiry hopes to become a full-fledged player in the public-policy arena, aspiring to the ranks of organizations such as Brookings, Heritage, and Cato, all of which serve as both think tanks and public-policy advocates. They plan to set themselves apart, however, from many of the traditional think tanks located within the corridors of the Beltway, in that it will be the only think tank committed solely to science, reason, and secularism as the critical building blocks of American democracy. The new office maintains a Web site here.

Declared Kurtz, “We have a vital role to play. We are part of the mainstream of American life—part of the Founding Fathers’ Enlightenment tradition—and essential for the vitality of future scientific research; we need to make that point abundantly clear.”

The Center for Inquiry is a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York. The Center is home to the Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), publishers respectively of FREE INQUIRY and SKEPTICAL INQUIRER magazines. The Center’s Web site is here.

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