Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 42

October 16, 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

fellooow.pngMeet the New Fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

The fellows of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry represent the best of skepticism, critical thinking, and the promotion of science. They include such world-renowned luminaries of science and scholarship as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eugenie Scott, Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Ann Druyan, James Randi, and many others, each chosen as fellows for their distinguished contributions to science and skepticism.

This year, the Executive Council of CSI has   elected ten new fellows, as well as four new scientific and technical consultants, each a true standout in their respective field for their dedication to the advocacy of skepticism, science, and reason.

The newly elected Fellows are:

  • John Cook, Climate Communication fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland.

  • Krista Federspiel, medical journalist and author based in Vienna.

  • Julia Galef, president and cofounder of the Center for Applied Rationality.

  • Stephan Lewandowsky, cognitive psychologist in the School of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol.

  • Daniel Loxton, editor of the Junior Skeptic section in Skeptic magazine.

  • Paul Offit, MD, co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, author of Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine and Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine.

  • Naomi Oreskes, geologist and science historian, coauthor of Merchants of Doubt.

  • James L. Powell, executive director of the National Physical Science Consortium.

  • Donald R. Prothero, paleontologist, geologist, and author.

  • Stuart Vyse, psychologist, author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, Skeptical Inquirer contributor.

The Committee’s newly elected Scientific and Technical Consultants are:

  • Susan Gerbic, founder and leader of Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia.

  • Gabor Hrasko, chairman of the European Council of Skeptical Organizations.

  • John R. Mashey, climate change analyst, contributor to DeSmogBlog and Skeptical Science.

  • Julia Offe, neurobiologist, science journalist, and creator of German Science Slam.

Congratulations to all our new fellows and consultants!


gov-jerry-brown-1.jpg Landmark Assisted Dying Bill Signed in California

Last week, California governor Jerry Brown signed into law the End of Life Option Act, a milestone piece of legislation that gives terminally ill patients the power to decide whether to end their lives with the assistance of a physician. CFI has long supported such measures and worked to rally support for the bill. Resistance to the bill came most forcefully from religious interests, such as the Catholic Church, that have theological objections to physician-assisted dying.

In 2008, CFI published the position paper “A Call to Legalize Physician Assistance in Dying for the Terminally Ill” The author of that paper, CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay, praised Gov. Brown for refusing to bow to pressure from religious groups and for granting Californians who are terminally ill the respect and autonomy they deserve. In his signing statement, Gov. Brown noted his own personal struggle with the implications of the bill, but in the end, noted that he would not want the right to decide what to do with his own life denied should he find himself in that position.

“The signing of this bill is a victory for secular government and humanist values,” said Ron in our official response, “because religious beliefs about God’s will and sin have no place dictating public policy, in end-of-life decisions or in anything else.”

More information on CFI’s positions regarding end-of-life policy can be found at the   Keep Health Care Safe and Secular website.


Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 1.30.11 PM.png Solving the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle in Skeptical Inquirer

Larry Kusche set out four decades ago to uncover what was really causing the mysterious disappearances alleged to occur inside the Bermuda Triangle, and the resulting books (The Bermuda Triangle Mystery—Solved and The Disappearance of Flight 19) broke new ground and set new standards for skepticism. In the latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, Kusche himself looks back on how he went about demystifying “one of the most widespread frauds that has ever been perpetrated.” His tale is a fascinating one, and it carries with it valuable lessons for the current challenges faced by activist skeptics. 

The November/December 2015 issue of Skeptical Inquirer is available on newsstands now, as well as in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Amazon, and other platforms. 


News from HQ and the CFI Community

CRKHgc1UkAET24W-1.jpgRichard Dawkins Visits CFI Communities in Florida and DC

Last month, Richard Dawkins released the a new installment of his memoirs, titled Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science, and has recently been traveling throughout the United States to promote the book, including   an appearance on the new Daily Show.

But most importantly, Dawkins made two very special appearances this week at Center for Inquiry branches in Washington, DC, and Florida.

CFI–Tampa Bay, along with the Tampa Bay Coalition of Reason, hosted Dawkins’s Florida event, a public conversation with veteran freethought activist Herb Silverman. CFI’s Tampa Bay director, Rick O’Keefe, told Cause & Effect that Dawkins was “gracious and humorous,” and was particularly charmed by the children in attendance who wanted to meet and greet him. “Sadly,” Rick tells us, “several people passing through the book signing line were disappointed when they weren’t allowed to hug Dawkins.” The man can only give so much.

On Monday, Dawkins came to George Washington University for an event hosted by CFI–DC, a live interview conducted by Point of Inquiry cohost Josh Zepps. Ron Lindsay, who was in the audience for the DC talk, says it was “Dawkins at his best—not only perceptive and witty, as he always is, but relaxed and warmly engaging.” Ron adds, “It was one of the rare book talks that actually made you want to buy the book.”

Look for that presentation to air on C-SPAN in the coming weeks, and in the meantime, check out Dawkins and Zepps in their   Point of Inquiry interview from this summer’s Reason for Change conference.


Sxxxcreen Shot 2015-10-16 at 12.07.27 PM.png“X-Phi” Conference Will Go to the Cutting Edge of Philosophy

Next month, the CFI Institute will host a truly unique conference, a weekend symposium on the topic of experimental philosophy, or “x-phi,” which is way more fun to say. In x-phi, data is gathered from surveys and questionnaires to inform philosophical inquiry into things such as free will, relativism, consciousness, morality, and other issues.

On November 13 and 14, CFI–Transnational in Amherst, New York, will host “X-Phi: How Can We Use Science To Study Philosophical Questions?”—featuring lectures and workshops from some of today’s leaders in x-phi, exploring both the promise and shortcomings of this growing field. Speakers include Joshua Knobe of Yale University, James Beebe of the University at Buffalo, and Wesley Buckwalter of the University of Waterloo. More details and registration information are available here.


cancer-vaccine-research-destroy.jpgPoint of Inquiry Discusses Major Medical Challenges

Two very different challenges in the world of medicine are in the spotlight for the latest episodes of CFI’s excellent podcast Point of Inquiry.

Award-winning medical journalist Jon Palfreman joins Lindsay Beyerstein for a discussion on Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions. The grand effort to understand and treat these conditions is all the more poignant as Palfreman, author of Brain Storms: The Race to Unlock the Mysteries of Parkinson’s Disease, was himself diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a disease he had built his career on understanding and explaining.

Then, CFI’s own public policy analyst, Ed Beck, teams up with the Secular Coalition for America’s Sarah Levin for   a conversation with Josh Zepps on a new campaign for pro-vaccine legislation. “Put Kids First” aims to curtail the political efforts of the anti-vaccination movement, a movement built on misinformation and pseudoscience, and remind both lawmakers and the public that the health of our children must trump concerns about religious and “philosophical” objections to vaccines.


Hiltzik autographing.jpgSkeptical Journalism and Military Freethinkers at CFI–L.A.

At the “Feed Your Brain” lecture at CFI–Los Angeles, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author Michael Hiltzik discussed his guidelines for debunking misinformation from his experiences as a journalist and author. Hiltzik is author of Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention That Launched the Military-Industrial Complex, and he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for his reporting on corruption in the music industry.

The next week, West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran Jason Torpy, president of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers, spoke at a special lecture on “Equality for Non-Believers in the Military.” Torpy discussed the military chaplaincy, legal cases, and how the group’s uphill struggle for the rights of freethinkers and atheists have met with some success.


CFI in the Media and on the Web


●   Joe Nickell reflects on Pope Francis’s choice to canonize Junipero Serra y Ferrer, a Spanish Franciscan friar who is only reported to have performed one “miracle” (as opposed to the usually requisite three), and the anger this has engendered among many Native Americans, who view Serra as a brutal oppressor.

●   Paul Rosenberg at Salon cites the efforts of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry to change the media’s language on science denial but laments that those who reject reality are still “getting away with lies.”

●   Kylie Sturgess interviews Tony Ortega, the Raw Story editor and author of the new Scientology-exposing book The Unbreakable Miss Lovely

●   Stephen Law challenges complacency on the issue of publicly funded religious schools, noting how they are inherently political and factionalizing and likely to be looked back upon by future generations with bafflement.

●   Ed Brayton represents CFI–Michigan in a Lansing City Pulse report on the removal of a religious statue from a public school.

●   Newly minted CSI Fellow Stuart Vyse ushers readers into the 2016 political season and looks at why this is a time that is bubbling over with conspiracy theories

●   In the wake of yet more mass shootings in the U.S., Ben Radford challenges the claim made by President Obama that Americans have become “numb” to the violence.

●   At Skeptical Inquirer, Ben also reviews the book Why Science Is Wrong…About Almost Everything by Alex Tsakiris, and let’s just say it’s not science that’s wrong here.

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


Upcoming CFI Events


October 17:

●   CFI–Michigan takes part in a service project, doing some planting at Townsend Park.

October 18:

●   Historian of Harry Houdini, John Cox, comes to CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County to talk about the skeptical side of Houdini.

October 19:

●   Michelle Montague of UT Austin will speak to CFI–Austin about the “The Life of the Mind”—conservative and liberal views of cognitive phenomenology.

November 1:

●   CFI–Michigan takes part in an interfaith service project with the Fountain Street Church, Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute, Baha’i Faith Community, Islamic Center and Masjid of Grand Rapids, and the West Michigan Hindu Temple.

●   Screening of the documentary Tales of the Grim Sleeper, followed by Q&A with activists featured in the film at CFI–Los Angeles

November 13 & 14:

●   X-Phi conference at CFI-Western New York (see news item above).


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