Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 36

July 24, 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

cficon 170 group.jpgGet Set to Move Freethought Forward at the CFI Leadership Conference

The annual CFI Leadership Conference is just around the corner, bringing together nearly 100 student and community leaders at CFI–Transnational in Amherst, NY. The theme of this year’s conference is “Moving Freethought Forward,” which means that in addition to practical workshops, informational presentations, and networking opportunities, there will be a particular emphasis on what the future of the freethought movement should look like. What can and should atheists, humanists, and skeptics do to channel their shared values to positively impact society and culture? 

Helping to guide these discussions will be several activist leaders, academic experts, and experienced organizers, including political scientist Dr. Juhem Navarro-Rivera, who will be speaking on diversity and the political behavior of the “nones”; popular humanist movement leader James Croft, who will be running his signature hands-on workshops on goal-setting and persuasion; Desiree Schell, a union organizer and radio show host who returns for more training on launching winning advocacy campaigns; comedian Keith Lowell Jensen, star of the Hulu special Atheist Christmas; and much more!

It will also be an excellent chance for attendees to connect and network with fellow students, activists, and CFI staff and leaders. Visit for more information.


11717454_10153048530622199_3260618851634928792_o.jpgFun and Fellowship at CFI–Michigan’s Summer Retreat

Nearly one hundred freethinking friends and family took part in the fun of CFI–Michigan’s 9th Secular Summer Retreat, on the weekend of July 10 at the Long Lake Outdoor Center in Middleville, MI. Members of the CFI–Michigan community were on hand—staff, board members, volunteers, interns, and friends—along with students from the Grand Valley State University CFI On Campus affiliate, and, of course, kids! In fact, kids made up about a quarter of all attendees.

CFI–Michigan set up in a historic campground at the Yankee Springs Recreation Area for the weekend, complete with lodge, cabins, craft house, and the beautiful Long Lake, Gun Lake, and the Yankee Springs trails. 

This is what CFI–Michigan Executive Director Jeff Seaver had to say about this great event:

One of the unique aspects of the retreat is that everyone participates in a volunteer assignment, whether that’s leading a craft activity, filling water balloons, taking charge of the bonfire and s’mores, or doing meal cleanup. In fact, those on dishwashing assignment often express what a great experience it was; there’s nothing like getting to know freethinking friends side-by-side, sleeves rolled up at the sink, after enjoying the almost-famous taco bar, brisket cook-off, or other great eats. CFI student leaders took on bathroom duty amidst kayaking, time on the giant slip-n-slide, and whatever it was they were doing until the wee hours of the morning holed up in their cabin. For many, the retreat is the highlight of their family’s summer. It’s an important part of CFI’s work to support and grow the secular community. 

Here’s betting all 95 of the attendees can’t wait to do it again next year.


ox281263005873855981.jpgFighting Back Against the Scheme to Take Down Planned Parenthood

The religious right, in its zeal to take away women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions, has long sought to bring about the end of Planned Parenthood, a vital organization that provides a wide variety of necessary health services, including HIV and cancer screenings, to millions of women. The latest manifestation of this campaign took the form of heavily doctored “undercover” videos that falsely purported to implicate Planned Parenthood in the selling of fetal body parts for profit. These deceptively edited videos have given religious right allies in Congress the fodder they seek to strike a potentially fatal blow to Planned Parenthood, with threats of legislation that would end all federal funding to this important organization.

As skeptics who believe in the importance of facts, we want to help make it clear that these video “stings” are ideological propaganda, and their claims have no basis in reality. Fetal tissue, freely donated to medical research by fully informed patients, has long provided incredible possibilities for discovering treatments for some of the cruelest diseases that afflict human beings, such as Parkinson’s. Under current law, such tissue cannot be sold, but “reasonable payments associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage” can be made. That was all these deceptive videos showed. The New York Times editorialized this week, “Lawmakers responding by promoting their own anti-choice agenda are rewarding deception and putting women’s health and their constitutionally protected rights at risk.”

Let’s not let this underhanded scheme undo a great organization that provides such crucial health services to so many women. Tell your Members of Congress to stop the attacks on Planned Parenthood, and to stand up for women’s health and women’s rights.


toolbox 170 2015.pngCFI’s Summer of Great Events Isn’t Over!

A few days after the Leadership Conference, starting August 6 in Eugene, Oregon, we kick off the 2015 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

aaassssqqqq.pngGreek Nationalism and Shifting Medical Ethics: Tough Choices Tackled on Point of Inquiry

The latest episodes of Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast, feature two experts weighing in on two very different but very difficult set of choices—of international consequence on one hand, and decisions about the deeply personal on the other.

Dr. Daphne Halikiopoulou, an expert in radical nationalism, joined Josh Zepps to talk about the crisis in Greece as it wrestles with financial disaster and the choice whether to remain part of the Eurozone. Halikiopoulou explains that Greece has a millennia-long romance with defiance, saying “no” in face of great odds, and that this defiance has unleashed a torrent of far-right nationalism, with ties to Nazism, that is bringing this cradle of democracy into upheaval.

On the personal side, Lindsay Beyerstein has a frank conversation with Dr. Barron Lerner on the evolution of medical ethics over the generations. Ideas about patients’ autonomy and the benevolence of extreme medical interventions have changed enormously over the decades, as Lerner learned from his first-hand knowledge, and he recounts these revelatory and often painful experiences on Point of Inquiry.


ongere_and_orphans.pngCFI–Kenya Changes Lives with its Humanist Orphans Project 

We always love hearing from our international branches, because they bring us new and powerful perspectives on the work of humanism and skepticism around the world, dealing with struggles that are often very different from those we take on in the west. A particular highlight of these international reports comes from George Ongere, the Executive Director of CFI–Kenya, whose organization has been doing truly inspiring work on behalf of orphaned children. 

In his report, which we’ve posted to the CFI Free Thinking blog, George explains that in many parts of Africa, witchcraft belief is rampant, and is an easy scapegoat for those who do not wish to take responsibility for children. Accused of witchcraft because of an illness, a particular behavior, premature birth, or even simply a birth that is out of wedlock or outright unwanted, George says, “A great number of children find themselves in circumstances that they do not understand or comprehend; and sadly, they can be hacked to death or chased away from the only families and homes they have known in their entire lives without any explanations given to them.”

This is why CFI–Kenya launched its Humanist Orphans Project, which seeks to provide education, clothes, and food for those abandoned children who are plagued by superstitious attitudes that have rendered them non-persons at best, or supernatural threats to be exploited or eliminated at worst. CFI–Kenya recently won registration with the Kenyan government, which was no easy feat, as Kenya had for a long time refused to recognize any charity that did not affiliate with a religious group and acknowledge the existence of God. George happily reports, “With the continued support that CFI–Kenya gets from CFI–Transnational, we believe that there is going to be a great impact on the communities that benefit from this project.” Congratulations and sincere thanks to CFI–Kenya.


y450-293.pngDawkins Brings a Candle in the Dark to CFI Branches in October

Folks at the recent Reason for Change conference were treated to a fascinating interview with Richard Dawkins for Point of InquiryBut if you live in Florida or the DC area, you now have another chance to see Dawkins in person, with your local CFI branch!

In September, Dawkins will release the next part of his memoirs, entitled Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science (a life in science for which he was just honored with CFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award), and will be discussing his book with two CFI branches this October. 

On October 10, Dawkins will appear at an event with CFI–Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Coalition of Reason, where he will have a public conversation with Herb Silverman. Before the main event, Dawkins will appear at a VIP reception where each attendee will get an autographed copy of the book. See the full details here. On October 12, Dawkins comes to CFI’s Washington, DC branch for a main event and VIP reception beforehand, complete with signed books. If you’re going to be close by to either of these events, don’t miss your chance to see Dawkins in person.


Whybrow at podium.JPGNeuroscientist Talks About Kicking Consumer Habits in L.A. and O.C.

On Sunday, speaking to a packed house at CFI–Los Angeles and at CFI–Orange County, neuroscientist and UCLA professor Peter C. Whybrow discussed the inner-workings of human nature. He discussed his new book, The Well-Tuned Brain: Neuroscience and the Life Well Lived, through an analysis of Adam Smith’s theories of economics that place greed under the watchful eye of social acceptance and manners. Whybrow explained how social consequences to restrict greedy behavior have waned in modern American capitalism, and with them, our social contract and commitments. He also looked at the deeper impulses of the reptilian brain, controlling so much of our actions in the form of habits, and why instant gratification determines a great deal of our consumer decisions. (We can conceptualize refusing a purchase of cheesecake to lose weight, an example he takes from his own experience, but not eating that savory treat becomes much harder when it is placed on the table in front of you!) Whybrow’s lecture was a hit with attendees, and lively discussion followed.


Highlights from CFI on the Web


●   In an op-ed for Free Inquiry, Ron Lindsay pushes the famous “good without God” meme further to assert that we are “better without God,” stating, “When humanists apply their critical reasoning skills, they derive better solutions to moral issues and public policy problems than those who rely on what they claim is God’s word.”

●   In Skeptical Inquirer, Steven Novella explains why mere “evidence-based” medicine is insufficient and vulnerable to misuse, and why the real need is for science-based medicine.

●   Joe Nickell announces the publication of his new book, co-authored with Robert E. Bartholomew: American Hauntings: The True Stories behind Hollywood’s Scariest Movies—from The Exorcist to The Conjuring.

●   David Koepsell ponders the utility of studying ethics, when those who do don’t seem to behave any more, well, ethically, than those who don’t. 

●   Skeptical Inquirer publishes Lindsay Beyerstein’s Point of Inquiry interview with Dr. Paul Offit on the anti-vaccine movement.

●   Leah Mickens looks at the odd disparity between the Catholic Church’s attitude toward the transgender versus its utilization of castrati, in Free Inquiry.

●   On the Center Stage podcast, Sally Roesch Wagner delivers a presentation on forgotten freethinker Matilda Joslyn Gage, from last year’s Ingersoll conference.

●   Faisal Saeed Al Mutar argues that the case of Raif Badawi needs to be “the spark of change that moves liberals in the West to get involved in helping their fellow liberals in the East.”

●   Ben Radford looks at the recent spate of black churches being torched, and why it might not be so easy to jump to conclusions about what’s behind them. 

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


Upcoming CFI Events


August 2:

●   Camp Inquiry gets underway in Holland, NY.

August 6: 

●   The Skeptic’s Toolbox kicks off in Eugene, Oregon.

August 9:

●   Celebrate the birthday of Robert Green Ingersoll with an Inger-Hike with CFI–Western New York, along with picnicking and kayaking.

August 12:

●   Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State comes to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss his new book critiquing the religious right, God and Government: 25 Years of Fighting for Equality, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience. 

August 16:

●   “Science humorist” David Zobel comes to CFI–L.A. and Ocean County to talk about just what’s so funny about science, and what audiences are learning from The Big Bang Theory.

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