Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 30
May 1, 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 Takes on Homeopathy with the FDA and On the Air
The junk pseudoscience of homeopathy is finally coming under government scrutiny, as the FDA held public hearings last week on the marketing and regulation of homeopathic products. On the first morning of the hearings was CFI’s public policy director, Michael De Dora, giving blunt and well-informed testimony on the problem of homeopathy—an “alternative” treatment based on entirely fictitious principles—being promoted as medicine. In his presentation, Michael said:
Perhaps the greatest harm caused by homeopathy is not necessarily caused by the products themselves, but by the fact that people often rely on homeopathic products to the exclusion of proven scientific remedies. … Homeopathy is unsupported by scientific evidence, ineffective in treating illness and, when relied upon instead of actual medicine, dangerous and even deadly.
Following his testimony, Michael was interviewed on two radio programs to discuss the topic: NPR’s To the Point with Warren Olney, and AirTalk on NPR station KPCC. His work was also covered by a wide variety of outlets including The Guardian, Science, and Buffalo-area WIVB TV news.
A Summer of Big CFI Events!
The big Reason for Change conference is coming up fast, and there’s still time to register before special conference hotel rates expire on May 21. You don’t want to miss your chance to see such freethought luminaries as Richard Dawkins, Susan Jacoby, Rebecca Goldstein, and perhaps of particular interest in recent days, New Yorker journalist Michael Specter, writer of the jaw-dropping profile and exposé on the snake oil peddling Dr. Oz.
But that’s only the beginning of a summer full of amazing CFI events!
July 30-August 3 brings the next CFI Leadership Conference, “Moving Freethought Forward,” to CFI headquarters in Buffalo. This incredibly inspiring program brings together student and community activists from across North America for four days packed with leadership training, workshops, networking, educational presentations, entertainment, and more. Registration is now open. Stay tuned for more details on speakers and schedule.
A few days after that, starting August 6 in Eugene, Oregon, we have the next Skeptic’s Toolbox, a weekend of hands-on workshops and training for the skeptically inclined. This year, the program will examine how framing information affects how it is perceived in journalism, medicine, politics, and other areas in which people have to choose to believe or reject dubious claims. Ray Hyman, James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, and Loren Pankratz will be on hand to sharpen attendees’ minds.
And of course there’s Camp Inquiry 2015, a weeklong adventure for kids emphasizing discovery, fun, and critical thinking at beautiful Camp Seven Hills in Holland, New York, taking place August 2–8. The theme for Camp Inquiry 2015 is “To Believe or Not to Believe,” and it will focus on looking at ways young people can deal with the barrage of information they consume day after day in the digital age, and how they can determine for themselves what’s true, what’s false, and what’s just noise.
Help Earthquake Victims in Nepal
The earthquake in Nepal has resulted in a human tragedy of the highest proportions, with thousands dead and thousands more injured and displaced. Our community of humanists and skeptics has an opportunity to step up and help. We’ve activated our charitable program, Skeptics and Humanists Aid and Relief Efforts, also known as SHARE. 100% of the money collected through SHARE for Nepal will be given directly to Doctors without Borders, a secular charity that delivers emergency medical aid to those affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from health care. By donating to SHARE, our community can pool its resources and send not just badly needed funds but a powerful message that atheists, skeptics, humanists, and other freethinkers are united in our commitment to aid our fellow human beings in times of tragedy and disaster, whoever and wherever they are. Give whatever you can right now.
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
Critical Examinations of Morality and the Supreme Court on Point of Inquiry
Groundbreaking philosopher Peter Singer is the guest on Point of Inquiry this week, joining host Josh Zepps to discuss the ideas behind his latest book, The Most Good You Can Do. Often controversial and always enlightening, Singer explores the use of reason and critical thinking to make moral choices and grapples with the challenge of how we use our limited resources to have the greatest possible impact in reducing suffering and increasing happiness.
Last week, Lindsay Beyerstein hosted a conversation with Ian Millhiser on some uncomfortable truths about the U.S. Supreme Court and its record on equality and justice. Milhiser argues that the Court has largely served to perpetuate inequality and hinder progress, and that its rare positive contributions were the result of historical accidents. It’s a tough look at what we thought we knew about history and our judicial system.
CFI Urges State Department to Protect Freedom in Bangladesh
Following the horrific and violent murders of secularist writers Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman, as well as the near-killing of Rafida Bonya Ahmed, by Islamic militants in Bangladesh, CFI is leading a diverse coalition of groups and individuals to urge the U.S. State Department to bring its influence to bear in order to protect the rights to freedom of expression and religious dissent in Bangladesh. Last week, CFI and the Hindu American Foundation sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and International Religious Freedom Ambassador David Saperstein that tells of the grave state of affairs endured by Bangladesh’s critics of fundamentalist Islam. In the letter, we warn:
Systemic failures within the [Bangladeshi] government over the past several decades to curb intimidation and violence towards religious minorities, regardless of the party affiliation of the political officials involved, has enabled an atmosphere of impunity for extremist activity…
Instead of jailing peaceful supporters of secular government, or seeking to appease religious extremists, Bangladeshi officials should focus on cracking down on individuals and groups that advocate and cheer for the deaths of activists such as Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman.
Signatories to the letter, which were organized through the International Religious Freedom Roundtable, include a wide range of people and organizations concerned about human rights, both religious and nonreligious. The full letter is available here.
A Critical Look at Addiction Recovery at SOS Conference
At the Secular Organizations for Sobriety’s (SOS) 30th Anniversary International Conference on April 25, activist and filmmaker Monica Richardson criticized Alcoholics Anonymous with her feature-length documentary, The 13th Step, which was screened at the conference and followed by a Q&A session with Richardson afterwards. Citing documentary evidence of widespread predatory behavior, and critical of court-ordered attendance at AA meetings by sex and violent offenders, Richardson argued that the “highly religious” organization violates the First Amendment, and pointed out several fundamental problems with the program.
The SOS conference featured other talks by international recovery speakers, author’s signings, and an award-winning documentary short, No God at the Bottom of a Glass, by Sarah and Bruce Barker.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● Skeptical Inquirer has a really interesting piece by Ryan Shaffer on the late psychic Sylvia Browne, her claims to have done “detective work,” and the very real criminal investigation of her activities by the FBI.
● Wouldn’t it throw your whole worldview into chaos if you found out that conference-going skeptics had provable psychic powers? Well, rest easy. CFI–Los Angeles’s Jim Underdown runs a test and shows no sign of anything extra about our sensory perception.
● CFI Director of Libraries Tim Binga presents another Robert Ingersoll artifact, a letter in which the Great Agnostic expresses his antipathy for the practice of animal vivisection.
● John Cook at Skeptical Inquirer advises “inoculation” from science denial by exposing people to bad examples of denial
● Ben Radford picks apart the defenses offered by Dr. Oz about the nature of his show and the motivations of his critics.
● CFI Education Director David Koepsell counsels that we should worry less about achieving constant “happiness” and accept that a life well lived is likely “comprised of every range of emotion.”
● At Skeptical Inquirer, Joe Nickell looks into the extraordinary claim of a giant catfish for the show Monster Fish on one of National Geographic’s TV channels, and takes National Geographic the magazine to task for its deceptive and “unworthy” cover feature on the Shroud of Turin.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
CFI in the Media
● CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo joined a panel on HuffPost Live that included CSI Fellow Steven Novella, hosted by Point of Inquiry’s Josh Zepps, focusing on the impact Dr. Oz’s pseudoscience peddling has had on the public’s understanding of science and medicine.
● CBS Sunday Morning relies on our own Joe Nickell to lend skeptical perspective to a woman’s claim that her husband’s ghost is hanging around.
● The editorial board of the Charleston Gazette cites the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer in its criticism of Dr. Oz and other celebrity gurus.
● Detroit News reports on the ongoing conflict about a Biblical park sign in Michigan, with input from CFI–Michigan’s Jennifer Beahan.
● Theologian Milt Hankins opines at the Herald-Dispatch on shifting moral standards and favorably cites Ron Lindsay’s book The Necessity of Secularism.
Upcoming CFI Events
● 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.
● Lawyer and technologist Joseph R. Carvalko delivers a presentation at CFI headquarters in Buffalo on the merging of biology and technology in humans.
● CFI–Michigan holds a service day at the Long Lake Outdoor Center.
● The Super Happy Funtime Burlesque Show troupe comes to CFI–Michigan.
● Phil Zuckerman discusses his book Living the Secular Life with CFI–DC.
● Raw Story’s Tony Ortega talks about his new book on the Church of Scientology’s campaign to destroy one of its earliest critics, Paulette Cooper. He’ll be with CFI–Los Angeles at 11 am, and CFI–Orange County at 4:30 pm.
● Journalist Neena Satija of the Texas Tribune talks to CFI–Austin about the water crisis in Texas.
● Luke Galen presents to CFI–Michigan on how one’s psychology impacts beliefs about politics and morality.
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.