Memo to friends, enemies, and anyone who wants to find out about us: You can just ask, really. We haven’t any secrets, and you don’t need to play spy games.
Of all the reporters we’ve spoken to during the past year and a half the IDEA Club has been in existence, none has been quite as interesting as last week’s exchange with Celeste Biever of the New Scientist. An exchange which we didn’t know had happened till it was over.
It began with an innocent-looking email through our contact form.
Hi, I am a student at Cornell and am interested in coming to an IDEA meeting.
When will the next one be? Thanks, Maria"
Here on campus we don’t usually introduce ourselves as "Cornell students"; that is generally considered to be a given. But, well, if she felt the need to clarify that, who were we to object? We emailed her the time, and she replied back in a request for more information, which we also provided.
But there was something odd about that email. It was from the same address that had been submitted with the contact form, and the email was still signed Maria, but the name that went with the address was one we didn’t recognize. Was "the student Maria" using a friend’s email address? Oh well, people do odd things sometimes.
From: Cel Biever <email@example.com> Signed-By: gmail.com
Subject: Re: IDEA Club
Second memo: if you want to play spy games, do it properly. For instance, changing the name your email provider uses before sending out emails pretending to be someone else might be rule one in the book.
Maria didn’t come to a meeting, and we almost forgot about the incident, till Biever’s name was brought up in an unrelated conversation. She was described as a New Scientist reporter interviewing a host of people for a story on ID, and then things fell together in a way strangely reminiscent of the games we used to play in third grade ("Go spy on the enemy, and steal their secret map!")
Now that we’re past third grade, though, surely we save those kind of expedients for crucial, perhaps life-and-death situations? Finding out publicly available information about a little IDEA club on a college campus…well, does it really qualify as a justification for outright lies?
Especially since it so ridiculously unneccessary; there is no secret map.
Our letter to the editor of New Scientist can be found here. And just so no-one makes the same mistake– if you ever want to come to a meeting or find out about what we do you don’t need to pretend to be someone else; we’ll let you in under your own name. There are plenty of Cornellians who can witness the fact that even people who come with the avowed intention of "shutting us down" are made welcome at our discussions and on our private listserves. We’re simply a forum for civil, informed discussion, and we like having various points of view. If you think you’ve got a strong argument supporting either side, we’d love to hear it. And if you just want to come and listen to the arguments you’re welcome too.
We do prefer, though, if you don’t lie to us.
Update 10/6: The New Scientist has responded to our letter, characterizing the event as unique in Biever’s history and unrepresentative of New Scientist reporting.
Update 10/19: The reply from the New Scientist is now posted on our website.