Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 13

August 22, 2014

Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible.

The Main Events

20140817_155218 copy.jpgCFI Wraps Up a Summer of Incredible Events

Since the last edition of Cause & Effect, CFI has put on three very different freethought events, each one uniquely enlightening and showcasing so much of what is great about our community. Here’s a wrap-up of a very exciting couple of weeks.

What happens when ninety people get together to honor some of the most remarkable reformers of the nineteenth century? You get perhaps the most uplifting and hopeful event of the year! This past weekend CFI hosted a unique conference celebrating Robert Green Ingersoll and three other radical freethinkers who called Central New York home: Matilda Joslyn Gage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Frederick Douglass. Among many highlights, Saturday’s events included presentations by Susan Jacoby, Sally Roesch Wagner, and Christopher Cameron. Elizabeth Cady Stanton herself even spoke, thanks to the fantastic in-costume work of historian Melinda Grube

20140817_154826 copy.jpgOn Sunday the entire crew hit the road via tour bus to visit the newly renovated Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum in Dresden, New York, followed by an afternoon at the Women’s Rights National Historic Park in Seneca Falls. Attendees enjoyed two ranger talks and visited three sites there: the restored home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Wesleyan Chapel (site of the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848), and the park museum/visitors center. The whole weekend was exhausting, but everyone left renewed and inspired to carry on the work of these incredible reformers. Click here for pictures from the conference and stay tuned for videos of the lectures!

DSC_00955.jpgFor the younger set we had Camp Inquiry 2014 in Holland, New York. This year’s Do-It-Yourself theme took the term “hands-on” to the next level with opportunities for the campers to cooperatively write this year’s code of conduct, lead self-designed workshops for their peers, and take genuine ownership of their own camp experiences. In addition to cracking cases with experts like Joe Nickell, new special guests this year included “mathemagician” Ethan Brown and youth activist Jessica Ahlquist

10313420_751028671602420_2497392122093014797_n.jpgAs the campers were being introduced to new ways of thinking critically, grownups were honing their skills in Eugene, Oregon, with the 22nd Skeptic’s Toolbox, a weekend-long workshop providing skeptics the tools and experience they need to evaluate claims we run into in our everyday lives. This year the Toolbox focused on case-based skepticism, which used real-life journal articles to study such subjects as homeopathy, “Clever Hans” the allegedly brilliant horse, and the ideomotor effect. Toolbox faculty Ray Hyman, Lindsay Beyerstein, James Alcock, Loren Pankratz, and Harriet Hall directed attendees through a series of workshops, with a Sunday recap from attendees on what they had learned. This year’s “In the Trenches” award winner was longtime attendee and Independent Investigation Group member Jerry Schwarz. Check out photos from the event here.


paul_offit_II.pngPaul Offit to Receive Critical Thinking Award at CFI HQ

Each year, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry honors an author whose work best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. The Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking recognizes work that has the greatest potential to create positive reader awareness of important scientific issues. This year we are pleased to present the Balles Prize to Dr. Paul Offit for his exemplary advocacy exposing the dangers of alternative medicine and the anti-vaccine movement with his book Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine. He’ll receive the award at CFI headquarters in Amherst, New York, on Saturday, September 6. Following the award presentation, Dr. Offit will deliver a presentation on “The Philadelphia Measles Epidemic of 1991: Lessons from the Past” and be available for an audience Q&A. Late last year, Dr. Offit was a guest on our flagship podcast Point of Inquiry, and this past week we re-broadcast the episode


News from HQ and the CFI Community


Students Gain Skills and Confidence at the CFI Leadership Conference

Student and community freethought leaders who attended the 2014 CFI Leadership Conference last month are still feeling the glow from the skills honed and the connections made over those four exciting days at CFI headquarters in Amherst, New York. Over the past couple of weeks, five of those student leaders have written about their own personal feelings and observations about the conference at the CFI On Campus blog, The Course of Reason. Their positive experiences are deeply encouraging and motivating for all of us at CFI, and we’d like to share some with you.

  • Kristen Murdaugh of Furman University shared how the conference gave her a sense of personal resolve, writing, “Not only did I walk away with the confidence and motivation to improve my college’s secular organization exponentially, but I walked away with the confidence to once and for all not be afraid to truly be myself—atheist and all.” 
  • Also from Furman, Ashton Nicewonger found a similar boost, declaring, “Today I am more confident in who I am and eager to share this confidence and support with those who have none.” 
  • Lance Menard of Kettering University’s Kettering Secular Skeptics wrote, “Thanks to the incredible energy and love and passion of the people I found in Amherst, I now have a direction and meaning to apply, not only to our club, but to my life as a whole.” 
  • Broadway Jackson III of Elon University said the conference was “an amazing experience” that “re-energized” his brain for secular activism. 
  • Jonathan Solis of the Secular Students at the University of Iowa said, “I left the conference feeling more invigorated, more connected, and more empowered to help do that.” 

Our sincere thanks to the students who shared these observations and to everyone who took part in such a meaningful and invigorating conference…and we’ll see you again in 2015!


CFI Addresses the Crisis in Ferguson, Missouri 

On August 14, we at CFI weighed in on the days-long conflict in Ferguson, Missouri between police and protesters. What was a secular humanist and skeptic organization doing talking about an event like this? One of our core missions is to defend free expression wherever it is threatened or stifled. “Given that the demonstrations in Ferguson have thus far been largely peaceful,” we wrote in our statement, “available evidence indicates that the severity of the police department’s actions – which includes a massive display of military-grade weaponry, the detention of journalists without charge, and damage to people’s homes – outweighs any threat posed by protesters.”

Our president and CEO, Ronald Lindsay, expanded on our official statement to put forward some of his personal observations, including concerns about the way the U.S. arms its local police forces and the way our own community should exercise critical thinking when dealing with this issue. “As persons who pride themselves on basing claims on evidence,” writes Ron, “I believe statements by skeptics and humanists about this tragic killing should be measured and should not indulge in characterizations that, at this stage, lack sufficient evidentiary support.”


2a5e48449dca4a488e4d25e3212ab594-097dc4cc944e402fb0b53f73b7dTown of Greece, NY Puts Forward Prayer Guidelines

When atheist Dan Courtney delivered a historic secular invocation before the town council of Greece, New York, we at CFI were there to support the inclusion of the nonreligious after the troubling Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court decision. This week, the town council released a new policy for these invocations, and as we noted in a statement, the guidelines they’ve put forward are troubling, as they appear to exclude the nonreligious from participating. “If this policy does, in effect, bar the nonreligious from delivering invocations, it would represent a disappointing step backward for the Town of Greece,” said Ron Lindsay. We’ll be keeping our eye on this policy to see how it is actually carried out.


Daniel Pearl Fellows.JPGComing Out Atheist and Press Freedom at CFI–Los Angeles

At “Feed Your Brain” lectures for CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Costa Mesa this past Sunday, author and blogger Greta Christina gave practical tips about coming out as an atheist based on her new book. 

The week before, in CFI–LA’s Steve Allen Theater, the L.A. Press Club, which makes its home at the Center, held a reception and panel discussion for three Daniel Pearl Fellows from Tunisia, Pakistan, and Egypt that was moderated by Rob Eshman, the Jewish Journal publisher and editor. Attending for the eighth year of the event at the Center were Judea and Ruth Pearl, parents of the journalist kidnapped and brutally murdered by Pakistani militants in 2002.


CFI on the Web and in the Media


●   One hundred years after the start of World War I, Josh Zepps talks to historian Christopher Capozzola on Point of Inquiry about how supposedly rational world leaders could allow such a catastrophe to happen, examining the role of reason—or lack thereof—in the Great War’s inception. (Lindsay Beyerstein was off this week.)

●   HuffPost Live hosted a panel discussion on the unique challenges faced by atheists and humanists in the military, hosted by Josh Zepps and featuring CFI’s senior policy analyst Ed Beck, himself a former U.S. Marine.

●   Our Center Stage podcast has a couple great talks from last year’s CFI Summit: Cara Santa Maria’s discussion of her own journey away from religion and toward science communication, and physicist Leonard Mlodinow on the unconscious mind

●   CFI–DC’s Simon Davis talks with Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, about the myths that abound in the death industry, at VICE.  

●   Robert Ingersoll did not have a deathbed conversion, though some tried to make that rumor stick. One result was this book from our rare book collection, highlighted by CFI’s Tim Binga: The Death-Bed Conversion of Robert G. Ingersoll.

●   Ben Radford cautions against generalized criticisms of “the media” as a monolith that doesn’t actually exist. Ben also appeared this week on KASA TV in New Mexico to talk about his new book Mysterious New Mexico.

●   Sharon Hill points out the perils of faking scientific credentials at conventions: “Paranormalists get pretty peeved at me for calling them out when playing pretend scientist.”

●   Gurmukh Mongia interviews skeptic YouTuber Kenny Biddle about his video rants against paranormalists. “If I see bulls***, that’s how I call it—then I explain why,” says Biddle. “Yeah, I curse a lot.”

And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.


Upcoming CFI Events

August 23:

     •  CFI–Michigan holds a service day, doing maintenance work at the Equest Center for Therapeutic Riding in Rockford.

August 27:

     •  Henry Pollack, professor of geophysics, delivers a presentation to CFI–Michigan on “Ice, Water, and Climate.”

September 10:

     •  Sam Harris gives a talk on his upcoming book Waking Up and is interviewed by the Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein with CFI–DC. 

September 13:

     •  Greta Christina talks to CFI–Western New York about her book Coming Out Atheist.

September 14:

     •  Glenn Branch comes to CFI–Los Angeles to talk about the aftermath of the Dover “Intelligent Design” trial.

Don’t forget to SAVE THE DATE for CFI’s 2015 National Conference! Mark June 11–14, 2015, on your calendars—it’s time to come home. Join us in Amherst, New York, next summer for our biggest conference of the year, a reunion of skeptics, seculars, humanists, and atheists, all coming together where it all began—the headquarters of the CFI family of organizations, where Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer were launched thirty-five and (almost) forty years ago. Stay tuned for more details.

Thank you!

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Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter is edited by Paul Fidalgo, Center for Inquiry communications director.

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is