Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 68
November 18, 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
A Shocking Election and the Need for “Unmatched Resolve”
The word surprised is probably not sufficient to describe the reaction to the election of Donald Trump to the presidency last week. Though CFI is strictly a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse candidates, there has never been any doubt that a great many of the positions espoused by Trump represent a direct contradiction and challenge to the mission and values of the Center for Inquiry. Of course there are certainly many in the freethought movement that are delighted by the election’s unexpected outcome, but it would be disingenuous to deny that in terms of the issues and principles that CFI stands for, the election of Donald Trump represents a serious challenge to church-state separation and science-based public policy.
The day after the election, CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo spoke to Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston about what a Trump victory means for the movement. He told her, “It is time for the secular community to gear up big-time because we should expect, once again, the basic tenets of secularism are going to be challenged very, very hard,” Fidalgo said. “That is the reality.” The Center for Inquiry, in fact, may be better positioned than most to face these challenges, because CFI’s mission is about ideas: reason, science, skepticism, secularism, and a respect for facts and evidence. If a Trump administration comports itself similarly to the campaign—brazenly dismissing and manufacturing facts, denying science, and trafficking in conspiracy paranoia—there is no organization better suited to push back than CFI.
In a message to the CFI community, Board Chair Eddie Tabash, a deeply respected and passionate church-state separation activist, told freethinkers to steel their spines and prepare for “the greatest threats to our freedoms and our values that many of us have ever seen,” warning of “the broadest, most existential attacks on our rights and liberties that most of us have imagined.” But this is not the time to shrink, wrote Eddie, saying that the Center for Inquiry in particular “must display unmatched resolve” in resisting the coming assault on science and secular values. Chief among the concerns Eddie cited were the rightward tilt of the Supreme Court, an end to the U.S.’s participation in global climate agreements, and hostility toward science education in favor of creationism.
“This is not hyperbole, it is simple fact,” he wrote. “It has never mattered more than it does right now that people like you support the Center for Inquiry.”
Shocked as most of us were, there were some positive developments on Election Day 2016. Several nontheist candidates won seats in state legislatures, and others were re-elected. Colorado’s voters approved an end-of-life measure allowing for physician-assisted dying. And the good people of Oklahoma rejected a change to their state constitution that would have cleared the way for public funding of religious institutions and activities.
Several of CFI’s thinkers have written thoughtful pieces in the election’s immediate aftermath. CFI–UK’s Stephen Law discusses the urge to indulge in recriminations. Skeptical Inquirer’s Benjamin Radford recommends we recognize our own blind spots and refrain from hyperbole. And Legal Director Nick Little looks to non-evangelical, progressive Christians who may or may not have backed Trump and asks them to decide exactly what kind of America they want to live in.
The political landscape shifted enormously last Tuesday, and those who support reason, science, free inquiry, and secularism must now lift themselves up and refuse to be ignored. CFI is ready. Join us, because there is much work to do.
The FTC Dilutes Homeopathy: No More False Health Claims
It didn’t take an election to score a very important win for science and public health, when on November 15 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced new regulations on the marketing of homeopathic health products. CFI had for years been pushing another agency, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to crack down on the sale and marketing of homeopathy, and to subject these “alternative” remedies to the same standards for safety and efficacy as any other drug or health product. At the invitation of the FDA In 2015, CFI’s Michael De Dora testified about the risks and harm caused by homeopathic products and the consumer confusion from which the manufacturers benefit. Soon after, the Federal Trade Commission sought CFI’s input on its own research into the marketing practices of homeopathic products. We happily provided it.
Last week, the FTC made a decision: Makers of homeopathic products are not permitted to make claims about effectiveness in treating any illness or condition unless those claims are backed up by “competent and reliable scientific evidence.” Such evidence is, of course, nonexistent, because homeopathy, as the FTC itself points out, is based on long-discredited ideas from the 1700s about how water retains a “memory” of substances diluted to the point of total disappearance. When purveyors of a homeopathic treatment are unable to present sufficient evidence for its claims, manufacturers will be required to clearly label the product as one with no backing in science and no evidence for efficacy. The FTC promised to “carefully scrutinize” these messages, and failures to meet its standards would be considered a violation of the law. Business Insider covered the news and our statement, along with Broadcasting & Cable.
CFI considers this a real victory, and an example of the change our community is capable of. “Consumers can’t help but be confused when snake oil is placed on the same pharmacy shelves as real science-based medicine, and they throw away billions of dollars every year on homeopathy based on its false promises,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s public policy director. “The dangers of homeopathy are very real, for when people choose these deceptive, useless products over proven, effective medicine, they risk their health and the health of their families.”
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Thousands Proclaim their Secular Identity for Openly Secular Day
The Center for Inquiry was proud to spearhead the Openly Secular Day efforts this year as part of the Openly Secular Campaign. On Tuesday, November 15, thousands of nonbelievers, atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers proudly exclaimed that they were #OpenlySecular.
Participants were asked to share their secular identity either online or in person with friends, family, and coworkers. The Openly Secular Campaign provided tips for being Openly Secular and encouraged participants take the pledge to Tell One Person. Hundreds of thousands of people on social media and in private are now aware they know at least one secular individual.
“It’s really encouraging to see so many people excited to be open about their secular identities,” noted the campaign’s organizer, Cody Hashman, “ but we understand that many people still find it difficult or dangerous to be open about being nonreligious, which underscored the importance of people that can be open to do so. These efforts are pivotal in increasing acceptance of people with secular identities.”
As part of Openly Secular Day, the Atheists, Humanists, & Agnostics at UW–Madison, a CFI On Campus affiliate, hosted the Openly Secular Day Flagship event, featuring Saturday Night Live alumna Julia Sweeney, “Friendly Atheist” Hemant Mehta, and Rebecca Markert from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The Daily Cardinal covered the event.
The Incomprehensible Comprehended on Point of Inquiry
The secular movement has been encouraged in recent years by the rising numbers of the religiously unaffiliated demographic, better known as the “Nones.” In fact, Nones now make up a quarter of the U.S. population, making them the nation’s largest “faith” group, and the most dominant group within the Democratic Party’s coalition. But despite this heartening statistic, Nones only made up 15 percent of the electorate on Election Day.
For some understanding of what happened and what’s to come for the secular community, Point of Inquiry welcomes Larry Decker, executive director of the Secular Coalition for America (CFI is an SCA member organization). He and host Josh Zepps discuss what went down on Election Day and what the results might mean for American secular principles.
Though last week’s election results might strain our ability to comprehend them, that’s nothing compared to the bewildering complexity of the day-to-day technology that permeates our lives. Also on Point of Inquiry, Josh welcomes “complexity scientist” Samuel Arbesman, author of the new book Overcomplicated: Technology at the Limits of Comprehension. Arbesman is concerned that the technology we take for granted is so complex as to have surpassed most humans’ ability to fathom how it works. What happens when we no longer understand what our own products are doing and why?
The Anti-Claus Comes to L.A.
Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry magazine and executive director of CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism, brought a sharp and humorous presentation to CFI–Los Angeles on his criticism of the big kahuna of holidays, “The Trouble with Christmas.” He discussed how Christianity co-opted what had once been a pagan holiday and now compels many adults to deceive their children about the myth of Santa Claus.
Flynn explained how a number of Victorian-era individuals set the stage for the celebration of Christmas as we know it today. He concluded saying that he does not celebrate Christmas in any way, even choosing to go to work on that day, and urged all secularists to likewise ignore the holiday.
Also, as it has done before, the Center in L.A. hosted an election precinct in its Steve Allen Theater lobby on Election Day. Lines formed outside and down the sidewalk before the polls opened at 7 am.
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
- CFI President Ronald Lindsay debated journalist Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig at the Yale Political Union on the question of whether religion has any place in government. You can read Ron’s remarks here and Bruenig’s here.
- At Nautilus, Richard Dawkins reads and discusses the work of Robert Frost.
- Skeptic comedian Ian Harris considers the logic of the chemtrail conspiracy theory for Skeptical Briefs: “Apparently judging by all the chemtrail ‘experts’ I’ve met, the only way to ward off this extremely potent, mind control chemical is to live in your mom’s basement and work part time at Whole Foods!”
- Geoffrey Dean marshalls thirty years’ worth of new data to update a past Skeptical Inquirer deep-dive into astrology and why people buy into it.
- Benjamin Radford reviews the new Marvel film Doctor Strange through a skeptical lens: “It’s annoying to see such a supposedly brilliant man fall for such pablum.”
- In Skeptical Inquirer, John Cook explores how skeptics might “inoculate” people from having the wrong ideas about things such as climate change.
- Harriet Hall wonders at the pseudoscientific idea that autoimmune disease can be brought on by self-hatred.
- Massimo Pigliucci and Russ Dobler give their respective impressions of a recent art exhibit, “Some Provocations from Skeptical Inquirers,” inspired by the magazine.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- Joe Nickell discusses investigating vs. debunking at CFI headquarters in Amherst, NY.
- “Cult-clinician” Rachel Bernstein visits CFI–L.A. to discuss how cults take over people’s lives and how they can break free.
- CFI–Austin hosts a presentation by Mary Kay Hemenway on SOFIA: the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.
- CFI Board member Barry Kosmin presents on the history and philosophy of John Locke for the Hartford Area Humanists in Connecticut.
- CFI–Michigan’s 7th Annual Kids’ Food Basket Event.
- Marty Klein talks about “porn panic” and porn literacy with CFI–Los Angeles.
- CFI–Austin celebrates the Winter Solstice with a Saturnalia buffet and kids’ gift exchange.
- CFI–Michigan Solstice Dinner in Grand Rapids.
- CFI–Michigan Solstice Dinner in Madison Heights.
- Solstice Party with CFI–Los Angeles.
- Xaq Frohlich presents “GM Foods: History, Sociology, and Politics” for CFI–Austin.
- CFI–Western New York Winter Solstice Celebration.
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, 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 www.centerforinquiry.net.