Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 24
February 6, 2015
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
The Measles Come Back, CFI Takes on Anti-Vax Pseudoscience
The anti-vaccination movement is finally getting the kind of intense scrutiny and criticism it deserves, but it’s coming at the cost of an enormous and sudden uptick in measles cases, most famously now at Disneyland of all places. CFI has long been out front in our support of science-based medicine and against pseudoscientific fear mongering about false autism links, all of which is part of our ongoing Keep Health Care Safe and Secular campaign, so we were ready to help focus the spotlight being shone on this issue.
First off, we want to give you a chance to show your own support of reality-based medical treatment by offering you a free sticker that says, “Protect Yourself. Protect Others. Vaccinate.” In fact, we want to give you two: one for you, one for a friend. The “protect others” part of the tagline is the most important one to us, because what vaccine opponents are failing to realize is that vaccinations do more than protect the person being vaccinated: they contribute to “herd immunity,” where vaccination rates are high enough that even those who cannot be vaccinated—because they’re too young, too old, or too sick—are also made safe from preventable diseases.
For a deep dive into the measles outbreak and the anti-vax movement, our podcast Point of Inquiry this week features a true authority on the subject, virology and immunology expert Dr. Paul Offit, author of Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine, interviewed by Lindsay Beyerstein.
Update on Raif Badawi
We continue to closely watch the developments of the Raif Badawi case in Saudi Arabia, and look for new ways to fight for his freedom. Badawi was recently convicted of “insulting Islam” for running a liberal website, and sentenced to, among other things, ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes. After enduring the first round of fifty lashes last month, doctors have determined that Badawi is not yet physically well enough to be flogged again, so at the very least he has not been beaten any further. We’ve also learned that his case has been referred to the Saudi supreme court for review,” and while that sounds encouraging, we’re not yet sure what to make of that development.
Last week, we implored President Obama to take advantage of his visit to Saudi Arabia, where he paid respects on the death of King Abdullah, and press the Saudis to release Badawi and other political prisoners of conscience. This week CFI joined a coalition of groups, including Amnesty International, in writing to the Saudi Interior Minister, asking that Saudi Arabia consider its obligations as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and free Badawi and his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair, also in prison for his dissent. Our letter states, “It is more important than ever for Saudi Arabia to set an example for neighboring countries about human rights and impartial justice.”
One bit of positive news: The woman who co-founded the Liberal Saudi Network with Badawi, Souad al-Shammari, was released from prison this week.
Finally, CFI is a proud coalition partner of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, headed by our allies at the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Read the official announcement here.
REASON FOR CHANGE: CFI’s International Conference in June!
Our next major conference, “Reason for Change,” will take place June 11–15, 2015, in Buffalo, NY, with featured speakers that include Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, and Richard Dawkins, among a whole host of brilliant experts, activists, and thinkers. New developments about the conference are happening all the time, from events being added, new speakers joining the lineup, to additional details and information about the program.
We’ve been posting news about the conference, as well as showcasing particular speakers and events, at the conference’s official website. You can follow all of it, just like a regular blog, on Tumblr. You can stay up to date with all the action by clicking the “+ FOLLOW” button on the upper right of the website.
If you haven’t already, register right now!
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Celebrating and Educating for Darwin Day 2015
Darwin Day is where we celebrate the world-changing discoveries of Charles Darwin and all the great wonders of science, and no one does Darwin Day quite like the local branches and communities of CFI. Centers for Inquiry and CFI On Campus groups across the country will be marking the occasion with all manner of events and activities. Here are just a handful:
CFI–Michigan’s Secular Service Committee will be putting on “Charlie’s Evolution Emporium” on Saturday, a free interactive science event for families, hosted in partnership with the Biology Department at Grand Rapids Community College. They’ll also have a Darwin Day lecture with biochemist Thomas Deits who’ll speak on developments in nanotechnology.
CFI–Fort Lauderdale also has its Darwin Day event Saturday at Broward College, a “diversity of life celebration” with activities and a presentation by Brandon Haught of Florida Citizens for Science.
CFI–Tampa Bay is joined by David Lynn, Elaine Hull, and Herb Silverman along with the Tampa Coalition of Reason for a Saturday celebration.
On Sunday, CFI–Austin celebrates Darwin Day with three speakers, Lydia Pyne, Molly Cummings, and Edward Marcotte, plus they’ll have kids’ activities, the University of Texas’s Vertebrate Paleontology Lab will have hands-on displays and demonstrations, and even a Darwin birthday cake.
CFI–Northeast Ohio gets into the act with an event on February 11 with Sam Salerno who will give a talk entitled “Up the Tree: Part Two,” where he explores the slow evolution of some major human characteristics and demonstrate when each occurred on the geological time scale. Importantly, there will also be a Darwin Day cake.
Meet Lauren Foster, Our New Development Manager
This week, CFI welcomes a new member of its national staff, with our new Development Manager, Lauren Foster. Lauren has over thirty years of experience, doing research, human resources, financials, fundraising, and event planning. She has a passion for CFI’s mission, a firm belief that government, policy, and morality are best when religion is not involved. She also has a keen interest in the paranormal, and has expressed her enthusiasm for working alongside Joe Nickell for some in-depth discussions. We’re sure Joe will be game. Welcome, Lauren!
UCLA Plant Geneticist Defends GMOs
In a “Feed Your Brain” lecture at CFI-Los Angeles, UCLA Prof. Bob Goldberg told a full house about the validity of the science of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the mythologies being spread about their alleged dangers. Goldberg is a top plant molecular geneticist elected to the National Academy of Sciences, serves on a board that advises the president and Congress on agricultural issues, and was named one of the top fifteen professors in UCLA history. He explained how many of these engineered crops have led to a reduction in the amount of chemicals being put into the environment, as well as increased yields and reduced soil erosion, and offered hope to malnourished children around the world.
The Amazing Randi Takes a Bow
The skeptical community marked the end of an era as James “The Amazing” Randi announced his retirement from the James Randi Educational Foundation on January 28. Before heading up JREF, Randi was among the cofounders of what was at the time CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (and now CSI), along with such luminaries as Paul Kurtz, Carl Sagan, and Isaac Asimov. At 86 years of age, Randi promises, “This doesn’t mean that I’m retiring from my battle against the so-called psychics, faith healers, paranormalists, and the assorted frauds I’ve encountered in my worldwide wanderings. I’ll in no way relax the critical attention I’ve given to them over the last busy 73 years, I promise you.” That’s good to hear, and we wish him the best.
CFI in the Media
● Matt Marshall of CFI-Northeast Ohio pens a very well received op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on the recent moves to wedge creationism into public school science classes. “With fewer people understanding what constitutes science, with fewer understanding or appreciating the constitutional prohibition against governmental endorsement of religion,” writes Matt, “it’s easier to convince them that the creationists’ religious freedom—and not scientific integrity—is what is really at stake in the creationist fight.”
● The National Post notes the great work of our allies at CFI–Canada for their fight against blasphemy laws, both in Canada and around the world, and quotes our own non-Canadian Michael De Dora for insight.
● Ian Boyne at the Jamaica Gleaner says of Ron Lindsay’s book The Necessity of Secularism, “His is an excellent, irenic book that should appeal to well-thinking theists, showing why their best bet is a secular state, not a religious one.”
● CFI legal director Nick Little is interviewed by Philadelphia Gay News about a Chester County school district hosting the Boy Scouts of America’s recruitment assemblies, which is problematic for the BSA’s discriminatory stances against nonbelievers and LGBT adults.
● Nick also served as the guest co-anchor for The Road to Reason on Fairfax Public Access television.
● CFI–Los Angeles Executive Director Jim Underdown was a guest on The Thinking Atheist podcast, along with physician and former Air Force flight surgeon Harriet Hall and “Science Babe” Yvette Guinevere, and it’s scheduled to air on February 17.
● Ben Radford was the guest on The Humanist Hour podcast.
● David Koepsell’s criticism of copyright laws was highlighted by John Stossel in Reason magazine.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● The lectures and events at CFI–Los Angeles are some of the best in freethought, and now videos from a wide variety of presentations from the various experts and activists they’ve hosted are now in one place online. Click on over and see some of the great stuff they’ve got.
● In a world where “The Food Babe” gets to give pseudoscientific advice without regard to reality, Kylie Sturgess introduces us to “The Science Babe,” Yvette Guinevere, who brings actual science to YouTube and aims to be the “scientist as drinking buddy.”
● New York Times columnist David Brooks recently prescribed some weighty tasks that secularists “had to do” in order to live moral, fulfilling lives. CFI’s David Koepsell deftly shows where Brooks was wrong: “I’ll take my unenchanted secularism, and be content with being moved deeply by the world as it is.”
● In Skeptical Inquirer, Matthew J. Sharps, Schuyler W. Liao, and Megan R. Herrera take an in-depth look at the psychology of those who believe in end-of-the-world predictions, and then the end doesn’t come.
● CFI On Campus has a great overview of the fantastic work done by student activists throughout 2014.
● John Eades works to “de-authoritize” some false “factoids” that plague the debate over global warming.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● CFI–Indiana holds its Fourth Annual Civic Day.
● CFI–Fort Lauderdale holds its Darwin Day celebration at Broward College North Campus Library.
● CFI–Michigan celebrates Darwin Day at Grand Rapids Community College’s Calkins Science Center.
● CFI–Tampa Bay‘s Darwin Day celebration is with the Tampa Coalition of Reason.
● CFI-Indiana hosts Ron Lindsay, discussing his new book The Necessity of Secularism.
● CFI–DC hosts a presentation by David J. Linden on the power of touch and how it shapes our experience of the world around us.
● Meredith Osborne speaks to CFI-Michigan about The Innocence Project, which looks to exonerate those convicted of crimes using DNA evidence.
Everything we do at CFI is made possible by you and your support. Let’s keep working together for science, reason, and secular values. Donate today!
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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 www.centerforinquiry.net.