Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 38
August 21, 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
Fourth Bangladesh Blogger Murdered, Arrests Made
Bangladeshi secular blogger Niloy Chakrabarti, better known by his pen name of Niloy Neel, was killed by radical Islamists in Dhaka two weeks ago, the fourth such incident in 2015 alone. This killing happened just as CFI was announcing its wholehearted support for a U.S. House resolution calling upon Bangladesh to take decisive action in preventing these kinds of outrages. In our official statement, CFI President and CEO Ron Lindsay described the situation in Bangladesh as “out of control,” saying, “The world can no longer sit by and allow this global crackdown on free expression, by both terror groups and states alike, to continue. The rights to free expression and dissent must be protected and cherished, and these killings must be stopped now.” Our public policy director Michael De Dora appeared on MSNBC to discuss the situation in Bangladesh.
Some good news emerged last week as authorities in Bangladesh (who reportedly ignored Neel’s pleas for protection before his murder led by a man posing as a prospective tenant) announced the arrest of two individuals linked to the killing, members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team, an Islamist group. And this week, it was reported that three more members of the Ansarullah Bangla Team were arrested in connection with the murders of Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, including one labeled the “mastermind” of the attacks.
CFI continues its work to assist those secular activists in countries such as Bangladesh who fear for their lives with the Freethought Emergency Fund. If you’d like to help, you can donate at the link. Michael is also a signatory to a joint letter to the Bangladeshi government asking for immediate action.
Scientology’s Pseudoscience Infects the Defense Department
We at CFI were truly taken aback when we read the reporting of Brandy Zadrozny at The Daily Beast concerning publicly funded medical experiments performed on U.S. military veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome using the Church of Scientology’s pseudoscientific “Purification Rundown,” or “Purif,” treatments. The Purif regimen is a religiously based treatment that includes overexposure to heat and a battery of vitamins. It was developed by none other than Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard himself, who of course had no training in science or medicine. Purif programs are mainly used as a recruitment tool for the church, promising to “remove biochemical factors inhibiting your spiritual freedom.”
These studies, which are a clear violation of church-state separation as well as a gross misuse of scientifically baseless treatments on suffering veterans, were funded by the Department of Defense. They are riddled with conflicts of interest and bias, as one of the directors of the study is herself an outspoken member of the Church of Scientology.
This week, the Center for Inquiry formally urged the Defense Department to end this study. As CFI Public Policy Analyst Ed Beck, a former U.S. Marine, said in our statement, “These desperate veterans deserve far better from their government . . . .This publicly funded misadventure advances the sectarian interests of the Church of Scientology, not the health and wellbeing of sick veterans.”
CFI Pushes the FDA to Take on Homeopathy
In April, the Food and Drug Administration invited CFI to take part in public hearings on the marketing and regulation of homeopathic products, pseudoscientific treatments based on false beliefs about the “memory” of water and super-diluted substances. (You can watch our presentation here, which was delivered by Michael De Dora.) This came after years of our pressing the FDA to take the issue on, which they finally seem to be doing. After the hearings, the agency solicited public comments on the issue, and we have just submitted ours.
We begin by urging the FDA to hold homeopathic drugs to the same standards for safety and efficacy to which all other drugs are held. But understanding the mammoth undertaking such an initiative might be to actually implement, we also strongly recommend that the FDA require all homeopathic products to display bold, attention-grabbing labels that clearly warn consumers that these products have neither been tested nor proven safe or effective. General consumers, we submit, cannot be expected to distinguish between effective and ineffective medicines if homeopathic products appear on the same shelves as real medicine, which is why we state in our comments, “The public needs the guidance of an expert agency when it comes to buying drugs as they are not in a position to evaluate their effectiveness themselves, without incurring unacceptable risks.”
You can read the full comments here and stay tuned for more on this developing effort.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Skeptic’s Toolbox Gets Framed!
Members of the reality-based community are better prepared to confront misinformation thanks to a weekend of hands-on training and events at the Skeptic’s Toolbox earlier this month in Eugene, Oregon. The 2015 program examined how the framing of 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. The weekend was opened with a moving memorial discussion of the recently departed skeptic luminary Wally Sampson. There was also new life and new blood invigorating the proceedings with the inclusion of scholarship students from San Francisco, and the In the Trenches Award was given to longtime participant Trish Randall. On hand to sharpen attendees’ minds were experts James Alcock, Harriet Hall, Lindsay Beyerstein, Loren Pankratz, and of course, Ray Hyman.
Disconnect and then Refocus with Point of Inquiry
The latest episodes of Point of Inquiry, CFI’s flagship podcast, offer valuable perspective on the many things that distract us and one of the things that ought to have more of our attention.
If you’ve been lost in a sea of Facebook posts and tweets you may have missed Josh Zepps’s interview with Matthew Crawford, a contributing editor to The New Atlantis and author of the new book The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. The two discuss how difficult it can be to detach from the stream of information and entertainment we are constantly engulfed by in order to focus on the things that really matter.
One of the things that really matters is how we treat our fellow creatures. The omnivores among us will face some difficult truths as Lindsay Beyerstein interviews the Humane Society’s Paul Shapiro. Despite the promises of idyllic farm lives for the animals we raise for eggs, milk, and meat, the truth is that factory farming is made up of a system literally stuffed with animals who, as Shapiro puts it, are “bred to suffer.” This sobering episode will have many of us rethinking all we thought we knew about the ethics of using animals for food.
Camp Inquiry Wraps Up, If You Can Believe It
Another fantastic Camp Inquiry has come and gone, and it was an incredible experience for all involved. Camp Inquiry 2015, held earlier this month in Holland, New York, explored the theme “To Believe or Not To Believe” and immersed thirty-six campers in a week exploring what they believe, why, and how they communicate those values. Special guests included education innovator Michael Cardus, psychologist Michelle Morand, CFI Outreach Organizer Stef McGraw, and physicist David Willey. Throughout the week, campers engaged in sessions ranging from ethics to media literacy; mind’s tricks on memory to mind-versus-matter; and rocket science to the science of art. To celebrate a week beyond belief, campers developed and designed booths for the final night’s Camp Inquiry Questival: a festival spectacular featuring a maze, magic, fortune telling, a haunted funhouse, science “believe it or not,” “test your mental strength,” and a relaxation station.
Barry Lynn and the Big Bang in L.A.
Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State spoke to CFI–Los Angeles last week, giving an informative and funny talk about his many years fighting to get religion out of government, as discussed his new book critiquing the religious right: God and Government: 25 Years of Fighting for Equality, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience. Lynn lectured and answered questions from the audience of fifty before signing his books. At the bi-monthly “Feed Your Brain” lecture, author and “science humorist” Dave Zobel had attendees laughing as he discussed the science and comedy of the sitcom The Big Bang Theory for audiences in Los Angeles and Costa Mesa.
Dawkins 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 Inquiry. But 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. His interviewer for the DC event will be Point of Inquiry’s own Josh Zepps. If you’re going to be close by to either of these events, don’t miss your chance to see Dawkins in person.
CFI in the Media
● Several outlets covered CFI’s response to the killing of Niloy Neel. MSNBC spoke at length to CFI’s Michael De Dora about the murder and the overall emergency situation in Bangladesh. Other outlets included Mashable, Bloomberg, and Voice of America.
● Ron Lindsay took to Huffington Post to weigh in on the FDA’s currently permissive attitude toward homeopathy and how it could act to pull medicine out of the eighteenth century.
● Deseret News cites Michael De Dora and CFI’s position on new guidelines that were just released on the how the federal government will handle its office of faith-based initiatives (and in a separate editorial gives what we feel is an incomplete accounting of our position).
● Nancy Szokan at the Washington Post covers Stephanie Savage’s non-afterlife coma experience, which she wrote about in a Skeptical Inquirer feature.
● Communications Director Paul Fidalgo once again does international-correspondent duty on the AtheistAus Podcast with Kylie Sturgess.
● CFI–Indiana’s Reba Boyd Wooden, who is also president of the state’s Health Access and Privacy Alliance, posts a response to her senators’ support of efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
Highlights from CFI on the Web
● The Patheos blog network hosts a Public Square discussion on humanism and features a piece by Ron Lindsay looking at the rise of “nones” as not a purely atheistic phenomenon but a decline for dogma and a boon for inquiry.
● At the Free Thinking blog, Ron looks at what he says are opposing dogmas on the subject of sex work, writing, “If we are to address sex work as critical thinkers, we should put aside preconceptions, carefully define the problems we are trying to address through our policies, and then review the empirical evidence related to the policies under consideration.”
● In Skeptical Briefs, Felipe Nogueira debunks some myths about nutrition, such as “detoxes” and gluten-free benefits.
● Joe Nickell even goes out of his way to investigate claims of “haunted rocking chairs,” so devoted he is to the truth.
● CFI’s David Koepsell says that if you want to avoid the theological “problem of evil,” look to Lovecraft, writing, “Stars explode, asteroids impact, species come and go, and [the universe’s] indifference is embodied by Cthulhu.”
● At the Skeptical Inquirer website, Carrie Poppy learns all she can about how essential oils (“concentrated versions of various smelly things”) are apparently the cures for, well, everything!
● The Center Stage podcast features a lecture by Will Kinney on “A Universe Just for Us.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Constitutional law professor Dan Ray and Freethought Blogs founder (who recently moved to Patheos) Ed Brayton discuss the 2015 Supreme Court term at CFI–Michigan.
● CFI–Michigan takes part in the Michigan Pride Festival in Lansing.
● Filmmaker Monica Richardson presents her documentary The 13th Step followed by a Q&A, at CFI–Los Angeles.
● CFI–Tampa Bay takes part in the Tampa Bay Skeptics triennial meeting.
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.