Put Down That Placenta!

October 19, 2017

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

Because I was gone for a while, the Cause & Effect newsletter is kind of long this week. Or rather, packed with awesomeness.

You gotta see this: David Cowan, a well known Silicon Valley venture capitalist and member of CFI's board, plays a version of himself in this fake documentary series taking a skeptical look at the tech startup culture, Bubbleproof. I did not know he could act, especially the whole "I'm uncomfortable and afraid to show it" shtick. Well done.

In Skeptical Inquirer, Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch discusses the pseudoscience of "electrodermal screening," making the case that the practice should be banned. "Last year, I tested myself with a leading EDS device forty-three times in ten days and found that the results were preposterous."

Beth Mole at Ars Technica reports on naturopathic herbal remedies that have been shown to cause cancer:

According to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, traditional components of herbal remedies used throughout Asia are widely implicated in liver cancers there. In Taiwan, for instance, 78 percent of 98 liver tumors sampled displayed a pattern of mutations consistent with exposure to herbs containing aristolochic acids (AAs). These are carcinogenic components found in a variety of centuries-old herbal remedies said to treat everything from snakebites to gout, asthma, and pain. 

Well, that's definitely an alternative to medicine.

The Quebec National Assembly passed a bill banning government employees and people receiving government benefits (which, in Canada, is, like, everyone, right?) from wearing face-covering veils, obviously targeting Muslim women. The Globe and Mail is having none of it:

All of this is allegedly being done in the name of Quebec secularism. ... But that secularism has become a cudgel in the past few years, used by divisive politicians to prey on Quebeckers' fears and prejudices regarding immigrants that have a strong attachment to their religion. ... Women wearing face-coverings in Canada will sometimes be asked to make a reasonable accommodation to society, by briefly exposing their face to government officials to confirm their identities.

But at all other times, they should be free to live and move about and practise their beliefs, without fear or discrimination. That is no longer the case in Quebec. The province's secularism was once a point of pride. Now, the government has made it an accomplice to bigotry.

CFI has opposed similar bans in other countries.

Longtime Nazi Kevin Wilshaw comes out as gay and part-Jewish and renounces his association with the National Front group. 

The Italian government is going to experiment with a high school curriculum aimed at teaching students to recognize and avoid fake news online. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii asks Jeff Sessions about the DOJ's recent declaration about "religious freedom," and raises questions about exemptions for things like faith healing or anti-vaccine conspiracists. Sessions assures her that "we wrestled with this policy." I'm sure you did.

Michael Dourson, a toxicologist much beloved and much funded by the chemical industry, has been working under Scott Pruitt at the EPA without a confirmation. Sen. Tammi Duckworth says he's a perpetrator of pseudoscience, and is trying to put a hold on his appointment.

The treatment of Christians in 2017 America is the same as the Nazi's treatment of Jews in the 30s and 40s, and transgender kids are part of Satan's plan. These amazing facts were revealed by Texas Assistant Attorney General Jeff Mateer, to whom Trump would like to give a lifetime appointment on a federal bench.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rules that a super-huge cross World War I monument on public grounds in Bladensburg, MD is unconstitutional and must be immediately removed. (Congrats, American Humanist Association.)

Roy Moore, the bananapants theocratic zealot who will almost certainly be Alabama's next U.S. Senator, says that NFL players kneeling for the National Anthem are breaking the law. "It’s against the law, you know that? It was a act of Congress that every man stand and put their hand over their heart. That’s the law." No, it's not. That's absolutely not true. But, you know, that doesn't matter anymore.

Indian poet Vishnu Surya Wagh is being investigated and having an award revoked by the government because some people are upset that his poetry is "against the Brahmins."

In Pakistan, a small religious/ethnic community who practice a kind of animist Hinduism, the Kalash, are being persecuted by the Muslim majority, with thousands threatened with death if they don't convert.

Meanwhile, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom is calling out Pakistan for sentencing three Ahmadis to death for, you guessed it, blasphemy. Its chairman says, "[Blasphemy laws] violate human rights standards and make the government the ultimate arbiter of religious doctrines or truths.  This is quite simply wrong.”

To Kill a Mockingbird makes some people in Mississippi uncomfortable, so the book is being removed from schools. Because an education in literature should always be as comfy and cozy as possible. Learning stuff hurts!

Julia Belluz at Vox unpacks the marketing masterstroke that was the chocolate industry's work to have dark chocolate considered "healthy":

Despite the industry effort to date, cocoa still has never been proven to carry any long-term health benefits. And when it’s delivered with a big dose of fat and sugar, any potential health perks are very quickly outweighed by chocolate’s potential harm to the waistline.

Hey you! Put down that placenta! You might wanna rethink that quasi-cannibalistic snack:

[A] new review finds no scientific evidence of any clinical benefit of placentophagy but risks of harm, including the possible transmission of serious bacterial infections to newborns. ... the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year linked infected placenta pills with possible transmission of group B streptococcus in a baby.

Thomson Reuters will be paying Maajid Nawaz a lot of money after erroneously placing him in a "terrorism" category, and Nawaz is using this opportunity to push back against the Southern Poverty Law Center for classifying him as an anti-Muslim extremist. COME ON, FOLKS, WHICH IS IT? 

A lawsuit against a church, whose pastor traumatically baptized a developmentally disabled 11-year-old boy without his consent, winds up going nowhere.

The federal government is trying to stop minors from getting abortions, but in the case of one undocumented 17-year-old, Judge Tanya Chutkan of the DC Court of Appeals said the girl had to be allowed to get the procedure, and failure on the government's part to comply with her order would result in a contempt charge.

The Blink-182 guy who's into UFOs is crowdfunding a spaceship, an "ElectroMagnetic Vehicle." Cool. Cool. Best of luck. 

Quote of the Day:

Mark Twain in 1865, via a piece on his religious views by Kimberly Winston:

I have a religion — but you will call it blasphemy. It is that there is a God for the rich man but none for the poor … Perhaps your religion will sustain you, will feed you — I place no dependence in mine. Our religions are alike, though, in one respect — neither can make a man happy when he is out of luck. 

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