Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 34

June 26, 2015

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

* * * BREAKING NEWS * * * As this edition of Cause & Effect goes “to press,” the U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that same-sex marriage is now legal throughout the country. Here is our press release, in which we celebrate the victory of love over bigotry, and the strengthening of secularism.

The Main Events

10572085_10153001743025698_7558497480902510160_o.jpgReason for Change was a Reason to Celebrate

What a conference! Two weeks ago, CFI’s Reason for Change took place in Buffalo, where a dynamic roster of freethought luminaries joined a sold-out gathering of attendees for what was our most successful conference in many years. Panels of experts grappled with humanism’s role in social justice, the meanings and implications of secularism, the struggle against misinformation in science and medicine, and the plights and triumphs of freethinkers around the world. In each case, assumptions were challenged, the status quo was critically examined, and always the question was asked: “What should we do?” There were no easy answers.

Individual presentations stirred both intellect and emotions, such as Susan Jacoby’s moving revelations of her confrontations with loss and mortality as a nonbeliever, Eddie Tabash’s political call to arms for church-state separation, Michael Specter’s examination of the intractability of unreasonable beliefs, and keynote speaker Rebecca Goldstein’s homage to the nobility and humility of science. 


Also on tap were special editions of our podcast Point of Inquiry, recorded before the live conference audience. Lindsay Beyerstein spoke to two brave champions of free expression about their struggles against persecution and for freethought and secularism: human rights icon Taslima Nasrin and Bangladeshi atheist blogger Asif Mohiuddin. (Look for those interviews to be published in the coming weeks.) And at a special Saturday night event, Josh Zepps interviewed Richard Dawkins for a wide-ranging discussion covering such topics as the origins of his love of science, communicating science appreciation, and whether one can ever convince the seemingly unconvincable. This episode is available now at and on your podcast app of choice.

Add to that all of the opportunities for attendees and speakers to connect and learn from each other, the celebrations of our accomplishments as a movement, and the sights and history of Buffalo, the Freethought Trail, and Niagara Falls, and it’s clear Reason for Change truly was a transformational event. Receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award from CFI, Richard Dawkins honored us back by calling CFI “the one rock, the one reliable force” in the freethought movement. That force was on display, clearly, at Reason for Change. Thanks to all who attended, those who spoke, and especially to all those who had a hand in the organization and execution of such a successful event.

(And thanks to Brian Engler, who took some fantastic photos of the conference!)


2-pope-francis-v2.jpgCSI, the Pope, and the Challenge of Climate Change

Pope Francis sent waves through the worlds of religion, politics, and science last week as he delivered his encyclical on climate change and humanity’s responsibility to our shared habitat. This all-too-rare embrace of science by the Catholic Church was certainly welcome, though there was much that the pope either ignored or got woefully wrong regarding one major factor. As CFI president and CEO Ronald Lindsay pointed out in a Huffington Post essay, as well as in an official statement for CFI, Pope Francis failed to confront the crisis of population and the Church’s culpability in denying education about, and access to, contraception and responsible family planning. As Ron said in our statement:

No one who thinks using a condom constitutes a grave moral evil can be taken seriously as an expert on the world’s problems. Pope Francis expends much energy decrying the misuse of technology. In the final analysis, his encyclical demonstrates that the world suffers as much from dogmatic thinking as it does from abuses of technology.

But the pope wasn’t the only focus of our criticism in regard to our warming world. At the Reason for Change conference, Ron announced that CFI had thrown down the gauntlet to the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank whose anti-science climate conference was being held at the same time, keynoted by Sen. James “Snowball” Inhofe, Capitol Hill’s denier-in-chief. Formulated by physicist and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Fellow Mark Boslough, CSI presented a challenge to Heartland: If the thirty-year average global land surface temperature goes up in 2015, setting a new record, Heartland must donate $25,000 to a science education nonprofit of CSI’s choosing (and vice-versa if we are wrong). Not surprisingly, Heartland has not yet taken up our offer, but we hold out hope.


More Great CFI Events This Summer

The Reason for Change conference was only the beginning of a summer full of amazing CFI events!

cficon 170 group.jpgJuly 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.

toolbox 170 2015.pngA 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.

Camp InquiryAnd 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. 


News from HQ and the CFI Community

ethen-lance-funeral.jpgAfter Charleston, an Emphasis on Our Common Humanity

Along with the rest of the country, and indeed the world, the entire CFI community was heartbroken by the hate-fueled massacre that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In our official statement, we said in part:

Differences in beliefs, politics, and values can be debated vigorously, and these exchanges should be opportunities to learn from one another, and see things from new points of view. Sadly, outrageously, a dangerous few are unable to see the humanity in others. Instead, they use their differences from others to validate a false feeling of superiority—whether racial, religious, or ideological—and to justify acts of violence and terror. As we oppose violence and persecution against our fellow nonbelievers and secularists around the world, so we stand with the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and the people of Charleston in defiance of this attempt to strike fear into a community, and we call for those of all belief systems, naturalistic and theistic, progressive and orthodox, to make new efforts to find each other’s common humanity, and find ways to aid each other, no matter our differences, in our shared journey.

We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to all those affected by this horrible event.


150310190204_bangla_abhijit_roy_rafida_bonnya_ahmed_blogger_Freethought Emergency Fund Update

In the last issue of Cause & Effect, we told you about our just-launched Freethought Emergency Fund established to assist secularist writers and activists whose lives are in immediate danger in countries such as Bangladesh. We had already brought Taslima Nasrin to safety in the United States and asked for your support in helping her become safely settled. 

You responded enthusiastically. As of this writing, you have helped the Freethought Emergency Fund raise just shy of $40,000. Thank you! But we still need your help. We are aiming to raise $50,000 if possible, as we think it’s likely we will eventually expend this much needed assistance. We are in constant contact with fellow freethinkers on the ground in countries such as Bangladesh—people specifically targeted, by name, by those same militants who took allies such as Avijit Roy and threatened Dr. Nasrin. They still need our help, and we are diligently working to do all we can for them. You can help by contributing now to the Freethought Emergency Fund. We and those we are assisting are extremely grateful for the support we’ve seen so far, but there is still more to be done. Act now.


0,,18193503_303,00.jpgProtest for Raif Badawi + Look at Life from Mars, with CFI-L.A.

Today (Friday), CFI–Los Angeles, in conjunction with Amnesty International and PEN Center USA, will be protesting the imprisonment and flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Los Angeles. Badawi, long a subject of CFI’s international activism, was arrested in 2012 for founding the website “Free Saudi Liberals” and sentenced to ten years in jail and 1,000 lashes, fifty of which have been inflicted. The lashings were suspended for a time, but the Saudi Supreme Court upheld Raif’s sentence on June 7, and the lashings could resume soon. The protest rally at the consulate is scheduled from Noon to 3:00 pm.

At the twice-monthly “Feed Your Brain” lecture series at CFI–L.A. on Sunday, June 21, the Caltech scientist known for the “Snowball Earth” hypothesis, Prof. Joe Kirschvink, discussed his new book at the Los Angeles and Orange County Centers for Inquiry. In a lively presentation that included Kirschvink twirling and twisting to show how Mars adjusted to the effects of meteorites and volcanoes, he discussed how meteorites could have come from Mars with intact microbial life that may have started life on Earth. Kirschvink’s book, cowritten with Peter Ward, is A New History of Life: The Radical New Discoveries about the Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth.


tim_caulfield.jpgPoint of Inquiry on Those Nutty Celebrities

The work of CFI very often involves working to counteract the misinformation popularized by celebrities, be they movie stars with a pseudoscientific axe to grind or gurus of the Dr. Oz/Deepak Chopra variety that have used their embrace of the anti-scientific to become stars themselves. But what’s behind the public’s willingness to believe what these people are selling? 

On Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast, Lindsay Beyerstein unpacks this phenomenon with author Tim Caulfield, whose new book Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? critically examines the power of celebrity over reason and how a media that eschews nuance in favor of personality enables the empowerment of the vastly unqualified.

(And of course, don’t forget the big Richard Dawkins interview from Reason for Change!)


Highlights from CFI on the Web


●   CFI Education Director David Koepsell writes a letter to his daughter, telling her that despite what she might glean from popular culture, she can be—and is—a superhero. (Here’s the source for the image to the left.)

●   Sometimes frogs fall from the sky, but the reason has nothing to do with the supernatural. Ben Radford explores the phenomenon (and the wild claims about it) at Skeptical Briefs. 

●   On CFI’s Center Stage podcast, historian Christopher Cameron tells of the feminism and freethought of Frederick Douglass, from last year’s Robert Ingersoll Conference.

●   Joe Nickell looks back on the snake-oily history of “The Prince of Quacks” of Buffalo, Ray Vaughn Pierce.  

●   Stuart Vyse looks at the “bewildering number of blows taken by science and its reputation in recent years.

●   Someone thinks they have a picture of a ghost, but it’s obviously a mannequin. Ben Radford delves into the claims about the photo at the Commandery in Worcester, England.

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 pens a guest op-ed for CNN, marking the growing acceptance of atheist political candidates among the American electorate (and not-so-good news for socialists).

●   Ron Lindsay’s criticism of the pope’s climate encyclical is covered by Politico, Science, Religion News Service, and the Colorado Springs Independent.

●   Greta Christina, writing at AlterNet, says our own Debbie Goddard is one of the eight awesome atheist leaders folks should be paying attention to.

●   As the FDA wrangles over what to do about the marketing and sale of homeopathic products, Science-Based Medicine and Boing Boing highlight Michael De Dora’s April testimony on the subject.

●   Wonkette covers our challenge to the Heartland Institute and doesn’t make fun of us too badly, other than to call us “science nerds,” which is true.

●   Journalism watchdog group Media Matters for America twice cites CSI’s statement on “skeptics” vs. “deniers” (here and here) in its coverage of the New York Times’ own use of the terms. 


Upcoming CFI Events


June 28:

●   The Independent Investigations Group holds its 9th Annual Awards at CFI–Los Angeles, featuring Robert Forster and not featuring Dr. Oz.

●   Tony Ortega discusses Scientology and HBO’s documentary Going Clear with CFI–Tampa Bay.

July 10:

●   Maha Kamal gives a presentation on Shariah law and human rights at CFI headquarters in Amherst, New York.

●   CFI–Michigan kicks off its Secular Summer Retreat.

July 12:

●   Tony Ortega discusses his new book, cowritten with Paulette Cooper, as well as new developments at the Church of Scientology, with CFI–DC.

July 18: 

●   Susan Sackett, former assistant to Gene Roddenberry, discusses humanism in Star Trek with CFI–Indiana.

July 19:

●   Neuroscientist Peter C. Whybrow discusses the conflict between our biological brains and the demands of modern capitalism at CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County.

Thank you!

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