Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 75
February 24, 2017
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
The Story of an Incredible Year
Once again, it’s time to tell the story of yet another remarkable year with the latest Center for Inquiry Progress Report. Of course, 2016 was a year like no other—our merger with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science being just the beginning!—so we have a new and better way to deliver our Progress Report to you, so you can get a clearer, more immersive view of all you helped us accomplish in 2016. We proudly invite you to explore our 2016 Progress Report website.
More than a page-by-page account of our year’s activities, it’s an engaging visual representation of the full spectrum of CFI’s work throughout an unforgettable year. You’ll find at-a-glance data points, timelines, and personal testimonials all bound together by a unifying story of our shared mission for reason, science, and secularism.
From saving lives in Bangladesh to bringing accountability to the marketing of homeopathic junk medicine, from major national events to thriving local CFI communities, and from grassroots activism to the United Nations, your support allowed CFI to make a meaningful impact throughout 2016. Come and see what we mean.
There’s no doubt 2017 will bring even greater challenges, such that we can’t predict. Just as CFI’s mission is more crucial than ever, we’ll need your support more than ever to carry out that mission. Be a part of it, and join us today.
CFI Advocacy: Taking On Each Challenge to Equality, Secularism, and Freedom
With a new presidential administration heavily staffed with appointees hostile to secularism working alongside a Congress—as well as several statehouses—with similarly regressive inclinations, there’s rarely been a more important time for our reason-based community to get involved in advocacy and activism. In the past couple of weeks, we’ve been firmly speaking out, and our Office of Public Policy has been putting out action alerts on legislation that we need your help to stop.
This week, we learned that the Trump administration would reverse the protections for transgender students put in place by the Obama administration last year. Despite previous campaign statements that he did not oppose transgender people using the public restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, President Trump has acted on the wishes (again) of the Religious Right by rescinding these protections for this vulnerable group, leaving their fates up to states and localities. CFI Legal Director Nicholas Little warned in our statement that this reversal “will subject transgender students in much of the country to discrimination by school administrations, and unprotected from bullying by fellow students and school employees.”
CFI is also pushing back against the cynically named Free Speech Fairness Act, introduced simultaneously in the U.S. House and Senate (H.R. 781 and S.J. 264). This is aimed at the Johnson Amendment, a law that keeps tax-exempt nonprofits—including religious organizations and secularist groups such as the Center for Inquiry—from endorsing or opposing political candidates. If the Free Speech Fairness Act becomes law, all bets are off, and churches will suddenly have the ability to use their tax-exempt donations to electioneer. Plus, they’d be able to do so without any public scrutiny of how they spend their money, which is a privilege enjoyed only by religious institutions. Call and write to your House Representative and your Senators to tell them to reject this bill and let them know that the Johnson Amendment needs to actually be enforced.
Next, we turn to the state of Florida, where State House and Senate a bill dubbed “The Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” seeks to turn classrooms into pulpits. The teaching of science and history would be polluted with the addition of creationist myths, schools could sanction student and teacher-led prayer meetings, and LGBTQ students and those of non-Christian faiths—or no faith—would be overtly marginalized. If you live in Florida, get in touch with your state representatives and tell them to reject this effort. If you live outside Florida, chances are you know folks who do, so pass this alert on to them and urge them to take action.
Finally, there is some good news, at least for now: As you might know, the District of Columbia is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress, even though no citizen of DC has any voting representation in Congress. Last year, DC made true humanistic progress when the DC Council passed and Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill, mentally competent adults to choose the time and manner of their own death by requesting life-ending medication from their physician. But certain Members of Congress believe that their own personal views on the “sanctity of life” as prescribed by their religion must trump the wishes of the people of Washington, DC. Resolutions in the House and Senate were introduced to repeal DC’s Death with Dignity Act, and we asked you to take action. You did, and eventually the deadline passed for Congress to pull the trigger on repeal. That’s good! However, they still have the option of passing measures to defund or otherwise hamper the new law, so this might not be the whole story.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Dawkins Marks Forty Years of The Selfish Gene in Skeptical Inquirer
One of the most influential works of science communication, written by one of the most brilliant science communicators of our time, reached a major milestone in 2016, as Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene marked its fortieth anniversary. To celebrate, the latest issue of Skeptical Inquirer presents a cover feature by Dawkins himself, as he reflects on the impact of his landmark work and marvels at the progress that has been made in our understanding of evolution and genomics since the book’s publication in 1976.
“The gene’s eye view of life,” writes Dawkins, “illuminates the deep past, in ways of which I had no inkling when I first wrote The Selfish Gene.” Adding, “The Cooperative Gene would have been an equally appropriate title for this book, and the book itself would not have changed at all.”
This edition of Skeptical Inquirer also features highlights, presentations, and firsthand accounts of last October’s CSICon Las Vegas, as well as the long-awaited return of the amazing James Randi to the magazine he helped create, back as a regular columnist—this issue focusing on the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement and misinformation about autism.
The March/April 2017 issue is available on newsstands and in mobile app stores now.
CFI Branches Celebrate Darwin and Democracy
February was packed with big events for several of CFI’s local branches, with celebrations of science and discovery with Darwin Day and some crucial training and inspiration for taking part in our democracy.
CFI–Austin went all-out, attracting over 540 guests and volunteers to take part in fifteen interactive activities, including fossil excavation, investigating microorganisms, live arthropods, a Paleolithic role playing game, and arts and crafts. Five speakers gave talks throughout the day for both kids and adults, and attendees were served four birthday cakes and what we are told were “several gallons of lemonade.”
That’s not all! At CFI–Los Angeles, ninety-five attendees enjoyed a Darwin Day presentation from biological anthropologist Dr. Amy Parish, who discussed the fun topic of sex and dominance in bonobos(!). CFI–Tampa Bay welcomed almost ninety of its own attendees to hear Dr. Jeff Lipkes discuss the future prospects for human evolution and the impact of culture on the evolutionary process.
On February 7, CFI–Michigan partnered with the Grand Rapids Community College’s Biodiversity Club & Biological Sciences Department for the 6th Annual Charlie’s Evolution Emporium, where 125 kids and grownups hunted for fossils, handled reptiles, and learned about evolution. In a separate event, they hosted a special Darwin Day lecture: “Charles Darwin; a Retrospective and Perspective View” by Dr. Greg Forbes, National Course Director for the National Science Foundation’s Chautauqua course on evolution and evolution education for college and university professors.
CFI–Indiana did something different, getting people prepared and inspired to become better advocates for the issues we care about. On February 11, they held their annual Civic Day with about 130 attendees. Guest speakers included Americans United for Church and State’s Erin Taylor, former Indiana Assemblymember Christina Hale, Jesse Kharbanda of the Hoosier Environmental Council, Julia Vaughn of Common Cause, The Midwest Eagle Editor Rick Sutton, NOW’s Emily O’Brien, and Tim Skinner of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. CFI’s own legal director, Nicholas Little, was also on hand, delivering a presentation that was very well suited to the times: “Advocacy in a Hostile Environment.”
CFI Highlights on the Web and in the Media
- ABC News’ Nightline profiles a self-proclaimed “psychic detective,” one Troy Griffin, and for the skeptical, reality-based perspective, they wisely speak to CFI’s own Joe Nickell. “What people should realize is psychics cannot do what they claim to do.”
- Joe’s reputation being what it is, the New York Times also seeks out his wisdom, this time for a story about the various paranormal topics discussed on the Coast to Coast AM radio show.
- CFI–Northeast Ohio’s Monette Richards is quoted in a Columbus Dispatch report on our effort toward legislation making it legal for Secular Celebrants to solemnize marriages in Ohio.
- The Openly Secular campaign adds a new celebrity voice to its growing roster: Actress, comedian, and author Annabelle Gurwitch, who more specifically identifies as a “caffeine addicted secular humanist Jewish mother.” We’re happy to have her.
- CFI Senior Research Fellow Ron Lindsay takes a look at the grim state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinian people, lamenting, “The Middle East conflict is a microcosm of humanity’s flaws.”
- On a lighter note, Ron takes to Huffington Post to offer a modest proposal for maintaining the mental well-being of our Commander-in-Chief: “A bipartisan congressional team, in collaboration with White House staff and major media outlets, should create fake newspapers, television programs, and websites.”
- Susan Gerbic interviews attorney Bob Knaier about his experience at CSICon 2016 and his work on the failures of “expert testimony” when it comes to pseudoscience such as homeopathy.
- Despite the fact that the president has newly emboldened the anti-vaccine movement, Matt Nisbet writes that the recent measures for mandated vaccinations and removing exemptions are having a real, positive impact.
- CFI Director of Libraries Tim Binga introduces us to a 1920s Scientific American investigation, in partnership with Harry Houdini, of Mina “Margery” Crandon, who claimed to be a spiritual medium.
- In Skeptical Inquirer, we get to know Michael Marshall, project director of The Good Thinking Society in the UK, and his perspective on grassroots skeptic activism.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- CFI Outreach Director Debbie Goddard gives a presentation on evidence-based methods for effective activism at CFI Transnational headquarters in Amherst, NY.
- Astrobiologist David Grinspoon comes to CFI–DC to discuss his new book Earth in Human Hands.
- Greta Christina brings her presentation “Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life” to CFI–Michigan in Farmington Hills.
- Author Judith Freeman comes to CFI–Los Angeles to discuss the subject of her memoir The Latter Days and the influence of Mormonism on America.
- USC English and literature professor Leo Braudy visits CFI–Los Angeles gives a talk on the rise of “horror” as a genre in the late eighteenth century.
- Dr. Karen Garst delivers her presentation “Serpent: From Goddess to Devil to Doctor” for CFI–Austin.
- The March for Science: “A celebration of our passion for science and a call to support and safeguard the scientific community.”
- Secular Celebrant training in Bloomington, IL.
- Secular Celebrant training in Michigan.
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.