Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 46
December 18, 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
At White House Multi-Faith Event, CFI Represents the Secular View
On Thursday, December 17, the Center for Inquiry joined a diverse coalition of fourteen other faith-based groups at the White House for the launch of the Know Your Neighbor campaign, an initiative aimed at improving understanding and dialogue between those of differing beliefs. Michael De Dora, CFI’s public policy director and main representative to the UN, was selected to speak at the event, along with Melissa Rogers, director of the White House Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and other officials and representatives of coalition members.
CFI is the only freethought organization in the coalition, giving us the honor of representing the perspective of atheists, skeptics, and the religiously unaffiliated (which is now the second-largest “faith” group in the country). The coalition’s members span the ideological and theological spectrum, including the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty from the right, the ACLU from the left, along with groups representing a specific religion, and others that are explicitly multifaith. Each of us is committed to making our country stronger through cooperation and understanding among people of differing beliefs.
Joe Nickell Goes to Roswell in VICE Documentary
The enormously popular news site VICE has made a name for itself in large part with its cutting-edge web videos, reports, and documentaries covering some of the most difficult subjects in politics and culture, from the Islamic State to the U.S. prison system. When it came time to tell the story of America’s UFO-obsessed subculture, they came to the world’s most renowned investigator of the paranormal, CFI’s own Joe Nickell. In their eighteen-minute documentary The Real X-Files?, Joe joins VICE journalist Casey Feldman on a journey to Roswell, New Mexico, to experience firsthand a community of true believers in alien encounters.
The piece also features appearances from Skeptical Inquirer Editor Kendrick Frazier and Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Fellow Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute. Check out the full video at our website.
Lies, Damned Lies, and Skeptical Inquirer
Separating the fact from fiction about how we separate fact from fiction is the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer, which takes a special look at the problems with things such as lie detectors and human memory and their implications for criminal justice.
Morton E. Tavel of the Indiana University School of Medicine shows how misled we have been by the promise of the polygraph, which in some studies has falsely judged the honest to be dishonest. Tavel calls its use a “perversion of science” and makes a strong case for its total abandonment by law enforcement. Similarly, cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus discusses the fallibility and malleability of human memory, into which false memories of fictional experiences can be implanted. Loftus dismisses the pseudoscience of “recovered memory therapy” that has torn people and families apart, leading to false accusations of things such as abuse and experiences in Satanic cults.
The January/February 2016 issue also features science-promoting musicians and comedians; a look at how popular culture shapes the public’s views of scientists; a sobering look at how an increase in overall education levels hasn’t changed the fact that way too many people think the Sun goes around the Earth; and a whole lot more.
Look for this issue of Skeptical Inquirer on newsstands, in the Apple App Store, or on Pocketmags for Android, Kindle, and other platforms.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Brian Engler Joins CFI Board of Directors
If you’ve been to CFI’s national conferences, or if you’re part of the CFI–DC community, or even if you just read Skeptical Inquirer, there’s a good chance you already know Brian Engler. For years, Brian has been an active volunteer, activist, and invaluable friend to the Center for Inquiry, and last week we were delighted to announce that Brian had been elected to CFI’s Board of Directors.
In our official announcement, CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay said, “Few have been so generous with their time, talents, and wisdom as Brian Engler. We have been extremely fortunate to be on the receiving end of that generosity for so long. He has long been a truly indispensable part of CFI, and we’re delighted to have him take on this new leadership role with the organization.”
Brian’s background is a rich one, having served in the U.S. Navy, in industry as an operations research analyst, and in the nonprofit sector as executive vice president of an international professional educational association. He’s been CFI–DC’s advisory board chair, a contributor to Skeptical Inquirer, the recipient of our DC branch’s 2009 Freethinker of the Year award, and of course, CFI’s unofficial conference photographer. We don’t know what we’d do without him.
Actors Perform Winning “No God But Funny” Entries at CFI–L.A.
In a special presentation, seven actors read the winning TV script, Thank God I’m an Atheist, from the “No God But Funny” contest on December 6 before a full house in CFI–L.A.’s Steve Allen Theater. Attending and participating in a Q&A afterwards with Executive Director Jim Underdown were the winning scriptwriters, ex-Mormons Rachel Lewis and Daniel Beecher, along with filmmaker John Dardis of Los Angeles, who won for the best “webisode” pilot, Earth Angel, which was screened prior to the “table read.” The two scripters were awarded $15,000, and the filmmaker received $25,000. Their works also will be shopped around Hollywood for production deals.
Thank God I’m an Atheist is a comedy that concerns two nonbelievers, Matt and Holly, who are to be married but have to contend with Holly’s Mormon parents. Earth Angel is a documentary-style comedy about a witty young woman, Angel, who on her eighteenth birthday (on Christmas) decides to come out as an atheist to twelve neighbors, one for each day, forming the outline for the next eleven proposed webisodes.
Earlier this year, the Center for Inquiry partnered with the Freedom from Religion Foundation to sponsor this first “No God But Funny” contest, headed by Pamela Kosyln.
Point of Inquiry Brings Some Reason to the Season
It’s that time of year again, when seculars find themselves unwittingly and unwillingly enmeshed in a manufactured “War on Christmas,” and, even more grueling, skeptical parents must decide how to handle the whole Santa thing with their kids. What better time to unpack the real origins of Christmas and explode some myths about not just Santa but all the other alleged “reasons for the season.” On Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein talks to David Kyle Johnson, author of The Myths That Stole Christmas, about the whole retconning of Christmas, Jesus, Santa, and even the rather unpleasant Krampus.
It’s also that time of year for shows to go on short breaks, so Point of Inquiry is on hiatus now until the new year.
CFI in the Media and on the Web
● Michael De Dora pens an essay on the crisis for secularists in Bangladesh for PEN Sweden’s magazine Dissident. He also discusses our work on this human rights emergency on the Friendly Atheist Podcast.
● In the aftermath of the recent mass shootings, Stuart Vyse cautions us to use our reason, look at the evidence, and reject “the false belief that owning a gun makes you safer.”
● CFI–UK’s Stephen Law takes to Aeon magazine to explore why human beings are so susceptible to believing in total nonsense.
● At the Free Thinking blog, Stephen also offers five suggestions for constructive discussion between atheists and religious believers (including not assuming that believers are stupid). He also takes on the claim that the existence of God is a claim that science cannot respond to and goes about deftly dismissing the possibility of the classic “Good God” and “Evil God.”
● Kylie Sturgess interviews Julie Leask of the University of Sydney about new laws in Australia that will take childcare benefits away from parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids.
● At the Free Thinking blog, CFI Education Director David Koepsell says to the eager biology-altering Transhumanist: Not so fast with the gene-editing, everybody.
● Joe Nickell coins a new term for a certain kinds of ghost tale. There is folklore, there is fakelore (invented folklore), and now, hacklore: “tales offered by popular writers containing unsourced elements that may be traditional or invented, or a mixture of these, utilized for the purpose of mystery mongering.”
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● CFI–Western New York Winter Solstice Celebration.
● Winter Solstice Supper and Volunteer Recognition at CFI–Indiana.
● Solstice Party 2015 with CFI–Los Angeles.
● CFI–Austin presents celebrations of the Winter Solstice from around the world.
● New Year’s Eve game night at CFI–Indiana.
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.