Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 29
April 17, 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
CFI’s De Dora to Testify at FDA Homeopathy Hearings April 20
As we mentioned in the previous issue of Cause & Effect, the FDA has announced that it will hold hearings on the marketing and regulation of homeopathic products, April 20 and 21, after years of urging by the Center for Inquiry. We have been invited to offer testimony at these hearings, and we now know that CFI’s director of public policy, Michael De Dora, will be among those leading off the first day of hearings with CFI’s testimony on Monday, April 20. In our statement to the press, Michael said, “If the marketers and manufacturers of homeopathic treatments want people to use their products as medicine, then they should have to meet the same standards of safety and effectiveness as any other medicine. Let’s see how they fare when they have the light of scientific rigor shined on them.”
The hearings will be open to the public and livestreamed on the web. Michael is scheduled to begin at 9:50 am ET. To learn more about CFI’s advocacy of science-based medicine over pseudoscience, visit our Keep Healthcare Safe and Secular campaign website.
Reason for Change Speakers on Special Episodes of Point of Inquiry
The big Reason for Change conference in Buffalo is coming soon (June 11–15 to be exact), but for a lot of us it’s not soon enough. We knew we would need something to help tide over the community of skeptics and humanists who are eagerly anticipating the big event, an international gathering featuring such luminaries as Rebecca Goldstein, Susan Jacoby, Richard Dawkins, Michael Specter, Eugenie Scott, and many others. Luckily, we have just the thing!
Lindsay Beyerstein spoke to Phil Zuckerman, who is among the world’s leading experts in the field of secular studies and author of the acclaimed new book Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions. Zuckerman discusses his eye-opening discoveries as he sought out to learn more about the real lives of the nonreligious, of whom “organized atheists” are only a tiny fraction. Zuckerman will be at Reason for Change, but while you wait to see him in person, check out this conversation here.
Also, Point of Inquiry’s producer Nora Hurley has a funny and revealing chat with skeptic comedian Leighann Lord, who will be performing her stand-up act at the conference’s Friday night awards banquet. Lord speaks frankly about her life as a comic, how comedy can open the door to real conversation about hot-button topics, and how approaches to skepticism and comedy are actually not so different. See Leighann Lord perform her comedy at Reason for Change, but learn more about how it all comes together on Point of Inquiry.
Come Up with a Likable Sitcom Atheist, Win Even More Likable Cash
With rare exceptions, atheists on TV and in movies are portrayed as grouchy, mean, amoral, or simply emotionless. Happily, that’s not the case for freethinkers in real life. In fact, we’re betting that some of them could shake up the entertainment industry, change the popular perception of nonbelievers, and perhaps even bring the downfall of Western Civilization. Alright, we’ll put off that last one till later. But for now, we’ve partnered with the Freedom From Religion Foundation to launch the No God But Funny contest, where we ask you to write your own sitcom script or produce a short “webisode” featuring a likable atheist lead character. Entries will be judged by a panel of experts that includes comedians Paul Provenza and Steve Hill, writer and producer Barbara Romen, magician Max Maven, actor and writer Max Fulcher, and producer Jonathan Goodson.
Best of all, there’s prize money to be had. Lots, in fact: $15,000 for the winning sitcom script, and $25,000 for the winning webisode.
Get moving; your deadline is May 15!
News from HQ and the CFI Community
The Promise and Peril of Satire on Point of Inquiry
One might think that a TV personality being thought of as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart” would make for a pretty easy life, but for Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, the distinction has meant both popularity as well as peril. On Point of Inquiry this week, he speaks to host Josh Zepps about the role of satire and how the harsh crackdown on free expression in Egypt has meant that Youssef has had to end his program (and he is now working on a documentary along with one of The Daily Show’s producers).
The two are also joined by Egyptian-American comedian Ahmed Ahmed in a raucous conversation that is both funny and sobering, as they discuss the challenges they face within and without the Islamic world and how comedy can make it possible to have some of the toughest conversations. Don’t miss this episode.
Skeptical Inquirer Exposes Medical Misinformation
Readers of Cause & Effect know that misinformation about medicine has reached a fever pitch in the media, in public policy, and even within respected medical institutions. So it’s a good thing that a new special edition of Skeptical Inquirer tackles a problem that includes—and goes far beyond—the anti-vaccination movement, with quack health gurus, scientific journals, and even entire governments promoting dangerous pseudoscience as medicine. Thomas P.C. Dorlo, Cees N.M. Renckens, and Willem Betz take to task the World Health Organization’s bending over backward for Chinese “traditional medicine”; David Gorski calls out the journal Science for publishing a series of alt-med boosting “advertorials”; Mark Aaron Alsip exposes the hypocrisy of “natural” food advocate “The Food Babe”; and lots more. Check out Skeptical Inquirer on newsstands now, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms.
Action Alert Update: California Vaccinations—We Are Having an Impact!
In the last issue we told you about a new bill in California that will help stop the outbreak of measles and other preventable diseases by removing the “personal belief” exemption from required vaccinations. As you know, California has been the epicenter of anti-vax misinformation, and now we have a chance to do some serious good for public health. Thanks to the efforts of people like you, the bill in question, SB277, passed the State Senate Health Committee in a 6-2 vote. This is just the beginning, as three more Senate committees need to approve the bill, and then it must still pass the State Assembly, before being signed into law by the governor. But given the ferocity with which anti-vaccination activists have shown their opposition to sound science, it’s encouraging that the Health Committee saw past the noise and cast their vote in favor of reality. Unfortunately, there now seems to be a delay in the Education Committee.
So we still very much need your help! If you live in California, contact your state senator now, and tell them to back SB277! We are having a real impact, so let’s not stop now!
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● At Huffington Post, CFI President Ron Lindsay addresses the practice of evaluating teacher performance based on students’ test scores, calling it “a policy not based on science, but rather politics and deceptive intuitions.”
● CFI Legal Director Nick Little looks at the battles over RFRA (aka right-to-discriminate) laws in a broader context, thinking about what could happen in the upcoming Supreme Court case over same-sex marriage rights.
● Stuart Vyse at Skeptical Inquirer looks at another problem in Indiana that has nothing to do with RFRA: an HIV emergency that could have been prevented with a needle exchange program.
● CFI–UK director Stephen Law does a deep dive into concepts of happiness and how (or whether) it motivates our behavior.
● At Skeptical Inquirer, Robert Sheaffer takes a fresh look at the Trent UFO photos captured in 1950.
● Ben Radford interviews filmmaker Mike Celestino, who explains the idea for his new film Scully, which stems from the fascinating idea of rethinking the Ghostbusters “villain” from the EPA.
● Paul McCaffrey offers a case study in “ghost hunting” at Harper’s Mansion in New South Wales and concludes, “Some simple science can go a long way in solving the quite real fears people often have in these cases.”
● Joe Nickell casts a skeptical eye at the reemergence of tales of a “human torch” baby in India and also writes about Jesus being seen in a mudslide, skillfully tossing in as many mud-puns as he can.
● Our education director, David Koepsell, writes about an offshoot of “scientism,” which he dubs engineerism: “a similar error which says that human problems can be fixed, regardless of their nature, through the proper application of reason—that they can always be engineered and managed.”
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 an Arts & Science Day for Kids.
● “Science Babe” Yvette d’Entremont talks about popular and misguided fears about medical science with CFI–Los Angeles.
● CFI–Austin hosts a lecture by Cavan O’ Raghallaigh entitled “Trans*: Becoming & Being Myself in Austin.”
● Military veteran Paul Loebe discusses with CFI–Michigan the “Christianized radicalization” of the U.S. Armed Forces.
● Secular Organizations for Sobriety holds its 30th anniversary conference at CFI–Los Angeles.
● Journalist Wendy Thomas Russell talks to CFI–Los Angeles about how to talk to kids about religion and critical thinking.
● CFI–Michigan holds its first-ever Civics Day with advocacy training and meetings with lawmakers, featuring CFI’s Michael De Dora and Freethought Blogs’ Ed Brayton.
● CFI–Michigan holds a service day at the Long Lake Outdoor Center.
● The Super Happy Funtime Burlesque Show troupe comes to CFI–Michigan.
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.