Blog Archives for March 2015

The Nieuw Universiteit: reclaiming the academy

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
March 27, 2015

I have written here before about the ethical and scientific perils of commercialization within the university. Now, students around the world are beginnning to take matters in their own hands. Can they succeed?

Uneventful Horizon

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 27, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

The FDA is going to take a serious and public look at homeopathy. We're going to be all over this. 

You know that CFI's Michael De Dora represents us at the UN, and was just at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. But what goes on there besides all the statements and speeches? Michael gives us a behind-the-scenes look at all the bureaucratic intrigue.

Rep. Sam Johnson wants to make sure military servicemembers have to swear an oath to God, whether they believe in it or not. We think you should tell your congressperson otherwise

RIDDLEculous VII

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 26, 2015

More funny riddles with a science/critical-thinking angle.

Inside Look: UN Human Rights Council Resolutions on Freedom of Religion, Belief, and Expression

Democratic Discourse with Michael De Dora
March 26, 2015

Over the next two days, the United Nations Human Rights Council will close its 28th regular session with a flurry of votes, including on two resolutions related to freedom of religion, belief, and expression. For as much as these resolutions spur debate within the halls of the UN, they are far less contentious — indeed, far less known — to the general public. Fortunately, I just spent two weeks at the HRC representing the Center for Inquiry, and was involved in the conversations surrounding these resolutions. This gives me a great opportunity to provide you with an update on these resolutions.

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The Most Arch Act of Piteous Massacre (Alleged)

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 26, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

It's Richard Dawkins' birthday today (I learn from Twitter), and you can drink a belated birthday toast to him when he appears at the Reason for Change conference in June!

Unrelated to skepto-humanism (for now anyway), turns out that the crashed Germanwings plane was downed intentionally by one of the pilots. I am dizzy just thinking about it.

Liberate Planets from the Greys and Reptilians

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 25, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.     

CFI-Michigan's activism in opposition to a religious sign in a public park is covered in two pieces at MLive and at the Holland Sentinel. CFI-Michigan's Jennifer Beahan hammered home the central point at a meeting of the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners: "Frankly, it doesn't matter how many people want the sign replaced, it is still unconstitutional." Alas, the board voted in favor of the sign anyway, which quotes Psalm 19:1 - “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.”

The FDA may finally be taking the problem of homeopathic "medicines" seriously, as they announce public hearings on their use and regulation. CFI has been petitioning the FDA to move in this direction for some time.

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Thanks For Nothing, Jupiter

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 24, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

We've got an awesome Point of Inquiry this week, where Josh Zepps talks to Johann Hari about the century-old war on drugs, and how (according to Hari) so much of what we assume to be true about addiction and prevention are simply wrong.

Ted Cruz officially enters the GOP primaries, and makes no bones about who he is trying to appeal to. At Liberty University the Senator for Texas said:

Imagine millions of courageous conservatives all across america rising up together to say in unison, 'We demand our liberty.' Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across america coming out to the polls and voting our values.

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The Editing History Will Back Us Up

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 23, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Our boss Ron Lindsay announced this morning that he'll be resigning from CFI at the end of 2015. Though this grieves me mightily, he will certainly be going out with CFI in excellent shape, and he's leaving us a good long time to have a smooth transition to the next overlord. Richard Dawkins tweets:

There goes a good man. Thanks, Ron, and no doubt you’ll give the secular world a great last year in office.  

And because Ron likes to avoid controversy at all costs, here's his post on Israel...

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Resignation Announcement

No Faith Value with Ronald A. Lindsay
March 23, 2015

I have informed the board of directors for the Center for Inquiry that I will be resigning my position as president and CEO on December 31, 2015.

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My Darkest Dystopian Paranoia

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 20, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

More reactions to the New York Times' awful smartwatches-and-phones-cause-cancer piece, with Daniel Engber at Slate calling it, "So weird, and so bad, and so weirdly bad." Dave Pell concedes the point, but tries to strike a middle ground about the general cloud of unknown that surrounds the larger impact of these devices:

Should I be at least a little concerned? I would think so. But I’m even more concerned by the fact that I probably wouldn’t move either device out of reach even if science confirms my darkest dystopian paranoia. And even if our physical health is in no danger, there is absolutely no doubt that our psychological and social worlds are in a state of chaos that is of our doing, but not fully in our control. And that scares us. 

The Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan says yeah, maybe it should have been vetted a bit more, and reveals that no one involved in science at the paper ever saw the article before it was published. Says it all, doesn't it?

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As Ye Have Dumped Water Unto the Least of These My Brethren…

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 19, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

NYT tech journalist Nick Bilton (who is usually among the very best) publishes a techno-panic piece about how smartwatches might-maybe-possibly cause cancer, and bases it on blatantly weak and tenuous inferences. To make matters worse, consults pseudoscientific Dr. Oz pal Joseph Mercola for comment. Russell Brandom at The Verge, in a piece that is subtitled "Cram it, Bilton," writes:

Bilton tackles an interesting and important question: could smartwatches be raising your risk of cancer? There are decades of research that could speak to the question, since all the relevant radiation is also emitted by cell phones. Unfortunately, Bilton ignores almost all of it, kicking the piece off by comparing the new Apple Watch to smoking cigarettes. 

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Our Curiosity Will Run Out

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 18, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Yesterday our own Michael De Dora took Saudi Arabia to task at the UN Human Rights Council for its hypocrisy in hosting a religious freedom conference in the same city in which Raif Badawi and other dissidents are imprisoned and abused (video of his statement will be coming soon):

We welcome, indeed encourage member state involvement in the Istanbul Process [religious freedom conference]. However, given its human rights record, Saudi Arabia strikes us as an inappropriate setting for the next meeting. If Saudi Arabia is sincere about acting as host of the next meeting, it could begin to validate its role rather easily: release all prisoners of conscience immediately and unconditionally, drop all charges against them, and move to protect freedom of religion, belief, and expression. We urge them to do so, and urge member states to keep them accountable. 

First it's Ted Cruz going after NASA, and now the House Budget Committee insists that the Pentagon stop researching climate change

Who’s the None-est One of All?

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 17, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Truly disturbing, almost sounds like a parody of a blasphemy-law situation: Myanmar sentences a bar manager from New Zealand and two others to two years in prison for posting an "insulting" image of Buddha wearing headphones as a promotion for the bar. 

Michael De Dora will presenting to the UN Human Rights Council again later today, in the mean time we have our colleague Elizabeth O'Casey arguing in favor of free expression as a way to counteract religious violence.

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A Skeptic’s Brief Conversation With a TV Producer

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
March 16, 2015

From the archives: A few years ago I posted this column about my experience with a TV producer and it turned out to be one of my more popular pieces, resonating with many skeptics and the public. It's just as relevant today...

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Hashtag-LizardTruth

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 16, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

CFI's Michael De Dora delivered what I think was a pretty powerful statement on free expression on and offline at the UN Human Rights Council, specifically stating that "states in this room" were guilty of violating this right. 

Adam Lee at The Guardian highlights CFI as one of the atheist/humanist groups working for social change

The Knights of Columbus refuse to march in the Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade because of the gayness that will be in proximity. I bet whatever monarch bestowed their knighthoods on them is very disappointed.

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St. Pat’s “Miracle,” 1697

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 16, 2015

On St. Patrick’s Day, 1697, a painting known as the “Irish Madonna of Hungary” began to weep tears and blood—a “miracle” that has remained unexplained, if not unexplainable, to this day more than three centuries later.

Service is Denied

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 13, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Very good insight comes this morning from two of our fearless leaders in Free Inquiry on the CFI merger with its programs Council for Secular Humanism and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. First, we have CFI boss Ron Lindsay what unites skepticism and humanism:

What is it that skeptics do? Well, as the mission statement of CSI indicates, one of the important things that skeptics do is use science, reason, and critical inquiry to examine controversial and extraordinary claims.

You Are Just Begging To Be Lied To

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 12, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

We have a great guest post at the Free Thinking blog from Jahed Ahmed, a good friend of Avijit Roy and co-founder of their website Mukto-Mona. Jahed reflects on the powerful legacy of his friend:

So, what’s Avijit’s most important legacy? I cannot help pondering. In my opinion, it is that he transformed many minds, both young and adult, toward freedom, toward the courage to question convention, authority, tradition the “sacred” — toward a world free from all kinds of shackles and superstitions.

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Avijit Roy and His Legacy: Guest Post by Jahed Ahmed

Democratic Discourse with Michael De Dora
March 12, 2015

Thanks to the Internet, Avijit Roy is now more famous than ever. Several Islamic zealots, who also brutally assaulted his wife, killed him outside a book fair on the streets of Dhaka. Yet these fanatics have achieved the opposite of what they ultimately wished for: obliterating Avijit forever. Now, Avijit will leave a lasting legacy.

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Confronting State-Sanctioned Religious Violence: A Statement to the UN Human Rights Council

Democratic Discourse with Michael De Dora
March 11, 2015

On Monday, March 9, I arrived in Geneva, Switzerland to represent the Center for Inquiry at the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which is ongoing through March 27. Spread out over the past two days, March 10 and 11, the Council has hosted an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, on his latest annual report, "preventing violence committed in the name of religion."

Homeopathetic

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 11, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Yesterday, freethought writer Rafida Bonya Ahmed, wife of murdered writer Avijit Roy, chose the Center for Inquiry to deliver her first public statement after she survived the attack that her husband did not. We are honored to share her story. She calls the attack "a crime not only against a person, but against freedom of speech and humanity." Bangladesh news outlets are focused on the part of her statement in which she says, "While Avijit and I were being ruthlessly attacked, the local police stood close by and did not act."

Has Science Buried God? My opening statement from today’s debate

The Outer Limits with Stephen Law
March 10, 2015

Here's my opening statement from today's debate with Christian evangelist and debater Peter Payne in Trondheim, Norway today.

In one of his online resources Peter Payne says, and I quote:

"The net of scientific method, namely the net of hypothesis and experimental/observational test, is unable to demonstrate either the truth or falsity of the Christian faith, for it is simply the wrong kind of net to capture what is relevant."

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Existential(ish) Threats

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
March 10, 2015

The bilateral Cold War is over, and the dominant model for containment of nuclear weapons can no longer work. A multilateral world demands a new strategy, one in which we must yield the monopoly over nuclear weapons in order to achieve their ultimate elimination. A game theoretic model helps show that the current monopoly is unstable, and if we don't alter our approach we risk continuing an unstable and dangerous balance of terror. Eliminating nuclear weapons must be our ultimate goal to prevent our destruction as a species, and we should embrace new policies to achieve this before it's too late.

We’re Moving Backwards

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 10, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

On a brand new Point of Inquiry podcast, Josh Zepps talks to foreign policy journalist Eli Lake about the difficult topic of Islam and violent extremism. 

Check in on all the activity of CFI-On Campus with the latest Campus Inquirer

Sam Harris interviews Dr. Nina L. Shapiro, a pediatric otolaryngologist (which I had to look up to know that that means "ear and throat doctor"), about the anti-vaccine movement and why so many people are afraid of them.

I Mean, Jesus. God. Oh, God.

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 09, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Oliver Laughland and Saad Hammadi at The Guardian have a wonderful piece on Avijit Roy and what he meant to people around the world, which includes a look at his conversations with our own Michael De Dora.  

Tristram Korten at the Miami Herald reports that officials at the Florida (of course) Department of Environmental Protection were instructed by their higher-ups at the Office of General Counsel not to use the terms "climate change," "global warming," or even "sustainability" in any of their materials. 

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Tradition Can’t be a Reason to Discriminate: Our Brief to the Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage

Guest Blog from Nicholas Little
March 06, 2015

Yesterday the Center for Inquiry filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that the Court should reverse the decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that there was no right under the United States Constitution for gay and lesbian individuals to marry in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. In order to prevent the Court being swamped with briefs, lawyers for the couples seeking the right to marry requested that groups file joint briefs. To facilitate this, the Center for Inquiry joined with the American Humanist Association to submit their arguments.

CNN’s “Finding Jesus”: Disingenuous Look at Turin “Shroud”

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 06, 2015

The ongoing, six-part series Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery— which began on Sunday, March 1—represents CNN’s run-up to Easter. By a coincidence of a financial nature, the series co-appears with a book of the same title by religion writers/filmmakers, David Gibson and Michael McKinley. The first episode of the TV series (but curiously the last chapter of the book) was about the “Shroud” of Turin. Easter after Easter, this alleged burial cloth of Jesus is trotted out like a ghost story at Halloween, typically with the same shoddy standards.

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I Am So Tired of Hearing About Your Doubts

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 06, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Joining forces with our pals at the American Humanist Association, CFI has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court for the big Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage case. A snippet from our release:

“The Supreme Court is poised to make a historic decision, potentially extending the protections and benefits of marriage to all Americans,” said Nicholas Little, Legal Director of CFI. “If they affirm the right of same-sex couples to marry, they will have made truly momentous advancements for equal treatment under the law, secular government, and even the fundamental human need for love and companionship.”  

It's not just us. In fact, a titanic alliance of almost 400 super-corporations including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Comcast, Levi's, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, Wells Fargo, United Airlines, and more file their own joint brief in support of marriage equality. I bet ours is better, but good on you guys.

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Will People Die? Probably.

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 05, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

67 Members of Congress sign on to a letter to the Saudi king, urging him to release Raif Badawi and Waleed Abu al-Khair. CFI is one of 17 organizations endorsing the letter.

The New York Times editorial board weighs in on the murder of Avijit Roy:

Bangladesh’s government needs to do far more to protect writers and to send a clear message that it will not allow free speech to be silenced by murder. 

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New “Ghost” at Hampton’s Court

Investigative Briefs with Joe Nickell
March 04, 2015

At England's Hampton Court Palace, in Middlesex, “ghosts” are always welcome, whatever their true nature. Recently 12-year-old Holly Hampsheir captured a strange figure on her iPhone—as she and her cousin of the same age noticed the following day, while perusing their images. Was it the fabled ghost of the Grey Lady? asked the tabloid Daily Mail. Or was it something else? as I was asked by Alan Boyle of NBC News.

Critical and Thinking: The Ian Harris Interview

A Skeptic Reads the Newspaper with Ben Radford
March 04, 2015

Ian Harris is a LA-based comic who has performed at the Center For Inquiry and at CSI conferences, blending comedy and skepticism. He can also choke you unconscious. 

That’s a Really Minimal Minimum

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 04, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

A court in Turkey blocks access to the website of the country's first atheists' group, The Atheism Association, less than a year after the group formed. The charge? "Provoking the people for hate and enmity or degrading them." Right.

I am not what you'd call a fan of Jimmy Kimmel, let's just say that. But I gotta give him this: his takedown of the anti-vax crowd is one for the ages. 

Conflicts of Interest: the appearance of impropriety

Guest Blog from David R. Koepsell
March 03, 2015

Modern science demands cooperation among various sectors, including universities, research institutes, and corporations. Without transparency about the sources of our funding and clarity about our motivations, scientific objectivity may suffer. Scientists must owe their primary duty to science itself, and not to those funding their studies.

Interstellar Spam

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 03, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

Authorities in Bangladesh arrest Farabi Shafiur Rahman as a suspect in the murder of Avijit Roy, a man who Dr. Roy said in his final article for Free Inquiry had been issuing death threats against him over social media. (Note: Rahman's name is ordered differently depending on the outlet. Dr. Roy referred to him as I have here, the New York Times calls him Shafiur Rahman Farabi.)

The Baltimore Sun notes their local connection to Dr. Roy's murder, noting that his daughter and Free Inquiry co-authorTrisha Ahmed, attends Johns Hopkins. 

Ceres, and Unfortunate Events

The Morning Heresy with Paul the Morning Heretic
March 02, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

The punishment just keeps on coming. Raif Badawi may be re-tried under the charge of apostasy, and thereby face the death penalty.

Following the brutal murder of Avijit Roy by Islamic extremists in Bangladesh, our own Michael De Dora (a friend and admirer of Roy's) made the media rounds over the weekend to discuss Roy, his work, and the larger meaning of this tragedy. He spoke twice on CNN (here and here), with deeper coverage from CNN's Ray Sanchez. Roy lived in the Atlanta area of Georgia, and Michael spoke to Georgia pubic radio about him, as well as Buffalo-area WGRZ television, and a lengthy panel discussion on BBC Radio's World Have Your Say. I'm sure there's some I'm missing.