Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 61

August 12, 2016

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


The Main Events

cuppingtherapy.jpgOlympic Endorsements of Pseudoscience 

If you’ve been watching the Olympics, along with looking on in awe at the athletes’ almost superhuman feats, you might also be looking on in confusion at a lot of large, circular bruises adorning some of the athletes’ bodies. Those marks are from an alt-med practice known as “cupping,” in which the flow of ones’ vital life force is somehow corrected by means of the suction of heated glass bowls applied to the skin. Not only does this practice have no medical or scientific basis, but it can be quite dangerous, causing burns and infections.

In some of the coverage during the run-up to the games, some athletes have been extolling what they see as the benefits of other pseudoscientific treatments such as homeopathy, acupuncture, and the proud display of kinesiology tape.

These athletes have every right to pursue whatever treatments they see fit, but the Center for Inquiry expressed its concern this week that the perhaps inadvertent endorsement of these unscientific treatments by globally idolized athletes sent a harmful message by lending an air of legitimacy to baseless and potentially harmful treatments. In its statement, CEO Robyn Blumner noted, “People of all ages will understandably look to these athletes as paragons of health and fitness, and of course they will want to emulate them and mirror their behavior,” and she called upon all of those in a position to do so—commentators, journalists, Olympic officials, and athletes—to make it clear to the viewing public that these pseudoscientific treatments are not backed up by evidence and should never be used in lieu of real science-based medicine.

To read more about the problems with things like cupping, see this post from David Gorski from July, and get an overview of some of the other examples of Olympic pseudoscience from Kate Lunau at Motherboard. And special for CFI, Luis Alfonso Gámez explores the pseudoscience of cupping—in Spanish! Writes Gámez, “El ‘cupping’ es una de las pseudoterapias más estúpidas.”


1468630819_Mike Pence.jpgMike Pence and the Disastrous Implications of Science Denial 

Separating scientific fact from superstition is important for massive cultural events like the Olympics, but it is perhaps even more crucial when it comes to national policy and the education of our children. Last week, the Center for Inquiry asserted the American public’s right to know the current stance of GOP vice presidential nominee and Indiana governor Mike Pence on issues such as the teaching of creationism in schools and climate change.

The website Right Wing Watch recently spotlighted a 2002 video of then-Representative Pence delivering an impassioned speech on the House floor in favor of teaching “intelligent design” in public school science classes, and (poorly) challenging the scientific consensus on evolution by natural selection, demonstrating his misunderstanding of what is meant by the word “theory” in a scientific context. As CFI CEO Robyn Blumner put it, “Advocating that school children be religiously indoctrinated rather than be taught real science will handicap generations of students.”

Years later on MSNBC, Pence was asked to restate his views on science and evolution, which he demurred, and defaulted to the “teach the controversy” cliché. Compounding CFI’s concerns are Gov. Pence’s other antiscientific views, such as climate change denial and the false assertion that cigarettes do not cause cancer.

“The implications of Gov. Pence’s views are disastrous, impacting education, public health, and the habitability of our planet,” said Robyn. “In order to make an informed decision as an electorate, we need to know whether he would still subordinate science to religion, and whether he continues to cling to views that are in conflict with the evidence on the true nature of reality.”

CFI awaits a firmer statement from Gov. Pence as to whether, if elected, he intends to use the vice presidency to advance an antiscientific agenda.


image0aaa03.jpgCFI Represents Nonbelievers in Justice Department Multifaith Meetings

The Center for Inquiry has built a reputation for working across ideological and theological lines to accomplish shared policy goals, a reputation that was acknowledged and reenforced by its inclusion in the Know Your Neighbor coalition, launched at the White House last year. Joining with groups from a wide variety of faiths, CFI was the sole member organization of the coalition to represent nonreligious Americans.

This summer, CFI proudly took part in the series of roundtables combatting religious discrimination held by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, an initiative that grew out of the Know Your Neighbor campaign. Once again, CFI was the sole representative of the nonreligious, speaking up for concerns of particular salience to nonbelievers, such as religion’s place in education and workplace religious discrimination.

CFI was represented at these discussions by Nick Little, Vice President for Legal Affairs, who found the roundtables to be positive and productive experiences. “What I hope will come about from these discussions is a rejuvenated effort to find ways to respect people’s beliefs without having anyone’s beliefs inflicted on anyone else,” said Nick. “Whether at school, at work, or anywhere else, religious and nonreligious Americans alike simply want to live their lives freely, without fear of discrimination or harassment. There’s no reason why we can’t make that a reality if we sincerely work together.”

You can read the Justice Department’s report on the meetings here.


News from HQ and the CFI Community

csiconsquareish.pngGetting to Know the Speakers of CSICon Las Vegas

CSICon 2016 in Las Vegas will play host to so many of skepticism’s brightest lights, covering such a vast array of topics it’s almost overwhelming. The complete schedule for the full event was recently put online, and it is nothing short of packed.

Right now is a great opportunity to take a closer look at a few of these leaders and luminaries, and get to know the speakers of CSICon a little better before coming to see them in October. That’s why CFI has a series of great interviews with speakers at the CSICon website. In the last issue of Cause & Effect, you saw great conversations by Susan Gerbic with veteran skeptic activist Harriet Hall and the master of skeptical ceremonies, George Hrab.


This time around, Susan Gerbic is back with one of the most important voices for science-based medicine today, pediatrician and virologist Paul Offit, author of books like Do You Believe in Magic? and Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine. They talk about the state of the anti-vaccine movement, as well as tease a bit of what new insights Offit will bring to his CSICon presentation. (Also check out Offit in the latest episode of CFI’s Reasonable Talk video series.)

Also, CFI Communications Director Paul Fidago chats with a newer face on the skeptical scene, activist and writer Kavin Senapathy. Director of the March Against Myths and a contributor to Forbes, Senapathy has quickly built a following for her passionate advocacy of science in matters of food and health, especially in regard to the anti-GMO movement and self-styled health gurus like the Food Babe and Dr. Oz. (And she’ll also be at Women in Secularism 4!)

Of course, CSICon will also feature James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, Elizabeth Loftus, Lawrence Krauss, Michael Mann, Maria Konnikova, and so many more. Register now for great presentations, illuminating workshops, a Halloween costume party, and even a joust dinner at the Tournament of Kings.

This is no illusion; it’s really happening. Investigate it for yourself.


wis4simple.jpgWomen in Secularism 4 is Coming Soon!

Few events in the freethought world have sparked as much conversation, debate, and inspiration as CFI’s Women in Secularism conferences. It’s been almost two years since the third conference, and the time has come to reconvene on this pivotal topic.

Women in Secularism 4 is taking place September 23–25 in Arlington, VA, and there is a lot to talk about: The intrusion of religion into women’s lives in the United States, including how it prevents access to abortion and contraception; violence against women around the world who are religious dissidents or who refuse to let dogma relegate them to second-class status; the role of “safe spaces” within a movement that champions free expression; and so much more.

Appearing at the fourth Women in Secularism conference are such brilliant speakers as Rebecca Goldstein, Katha Pollitt, Johnetta Elzie, Lindsay Beyerstein, Bonya Rafida Ahmed, Melanie Brewster, Wendy Kaminer, Kavin Senapathy, and many more.

Plus, attendees can also register seperately for in-person training to become a CFI Secular Celebrant. See the website for more information.

Don’t wait. Register for this highly anticipated conference now.


dcj.pngThe Truth about Trump and the Rap against Facebook on Point of Inquiry

Donald Trump lived many lives, it seems, before becoming the standard-bearer of the Party of Lincoln was even a glimmer in his eye. Though Trump often appears to contain multitudes, encompassing a swarm of contradictions, one man has dared venture farther into depths than almost anyone else: Trump biographer David Cay Johnston. As the guest on Point of Inquiry, he talks to host Lindsay Beyerstein about what he’s learned about Trump, having covered him for almost thirty years. What makes Trump tick? How is he able to deflect criticism and defy facts? Tune in and find out.

Also containing multitudes, and yet seemingly impassable, is the black box that is Facebook, the platform that has become so central not just to individuals and their friends, but entire movements. Why is it, then, that lately so many Arab secularists, progressive Muslims, and other critics of extremist Islam are finding their posts, pages, and accounts shut down by the massive social network? Iraqi-born secular activist Faisal Saeed Al Mutar joins host Josh Zepps to discuss what’s behind this troubling phenomenon and what impact it’s having on movements for change.


Sean Carroll at podium.jpgTheoretical Physics and a Little Love for Trees in Los Angeles 

Widely known as one of most respected young humanist thinkers today, Sean Carroll, a Research Professor of theoretical physics at Caltech, returned to CFI–Los Angeles to talk about how our human-sized world fits into the bigger picture defined by the underlying laws of nature, ultimately traced to special conditions near the Big Bang. He drew more than 130 attendees, another 800 followed along on a live streaming broadcast of his talk.

Carroll has been awarded many prizes and fellowships, the most recent being a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2015. He is the author of two other books on cosmology and lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jennifer Ouellette, also a science writer.

Also at CFI–L.A., a half dozen of their Rational Volunteer Association participants joined others on Sunday, July 31, to conduct measurements of certain trees in a West Hollywood park for a citizen science project, Earthwatch’s Operation Resilient Tree Data Collection, for use by scientists at the University of California, Riverside. The citizen scientists measured the diameter and circumference of local trees designated by Earthwatch coordinator Ellie Perry; recorded tree health; and determined the GPS locations of the trees. Earthwatch is an environmental nonprofit organization known for its worldwide expeditions in which participants assist in collecting data for scientific projects.

Participants in the half-day event collected the data to help scientists better understand how urban trees grow and provide cooling benefits across the Los Angeles basin. Because trees filter pollutants, mitigate climate change, and improve human health, the scientific research aims through the multiyear study to help shape the future of urban forests in Los Angeles.


Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media


● On CFI’s Reasonable Talk video series, Columbia University psychologist Melanie Brewster delivers a presentation on the stresses of marginalization, what the atheist community can learn from other groups, and what it can do better.

● The Richard Dawkins Foundation is the sponsor for a new smartphone app to help nonbelievers engage in constructive dialogue with the religious, and it’s called Atheos. Godless Mom recently reviewed it, calling it “almost, well, miraculous.” Get it for Android or iOS.

● Carrie Poppy experiments with “dream therapy,” and finds a sinister cultish undercurrent beneath the feel-good pseudoscience.

● Benjamin Radford assembles another “Unco Junto” blog-symposium with skeptic thinkers to discuss the obligations that art has (or does not have) to representing the truth.

● William M. London looks askance at the claims made by City of Hope cancer centers, whose promotional materials don’t just promise expert treatment, but “miracles.”

● David Koepsell looks for a definition of “stupidity,” which he argues has much more to do with actions than IQ. “Stupid exists. The cure is curiosity, guided by critical inquiry.”

● Perhaps it was inevitable, but CFI too had to weigh in on the recent floss-or-not-to-floss controversy. Of course, the way to do that is to recruit a real dentist. Grant Ritchey lends valuable skeptical perspective, and concludes that flossing “doesn’t not work.”

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


Upcoming CFI Events


August 14:

●    CFI–Indiana celebrates the birthday of Robert Green Ingersoll with a presentation by public historian Justin Clark.

August 15:

●   Baba Brinkman brings his Rap Guide to Evolution to CFI–Michigan in Grand Rapids.

●   CFI–Austin hosts a discussion on what has been learned about evolution since Darwin.

August 21:

●   Professor of public health William London visits CFI–L.A. and CFI–Orange County to cast a skeptical eye on the “health freedom movement,” which frees the makers of alt-med remedies from meeting standards or being accountable.

September 17:

●   CFI–Northeast Ohio holds its Biannual Conference.

September 18:

●   CFI’s public policy chief Michael De Dora and legal director Nick Little deliver presentations to CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County on CFI’s work throughout the world.

September 19:

●   Comic-musician Roy Zimmerman performs “This Machine” for CFI–Indiana.


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, the Council for Secular Humanism, and will soon be home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at