Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 86
July 25, 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
Berkeley’s KPFA Abruptly Cancels Dawkins Event
Last Wednesday, the Royal Society released the results of a poll that placed The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins atop a list of the most influential science books of all time, a list that includes in its top ten such foundational and revolutionary works as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
Imagine the surprise, then, when two days later Berkeley, California, radio station KPFA suddenly cancelled a speaking engagement with Dawkins scheduled for August 9. Intended as a fundraiser for the station, Dawkins was set to discuss his new book of essays, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, for an audience of several hundred. What happened?
Well, according to a message to ticket holders, KPFA claims to have been unaware of Dawkins’s “views” and considered his comments on Islam to be “offensive” and “hurtful.” (Funny, the station had hosted Prof. Dawkins in 2015 and didn’t seem bothered at the time by his well known criticism of religion, including Islam, Christianity, ` and other faiths.
CFI provided its own public response, lamenting KPFA’s decision and the baseless justification proffered for it. “We understand the difference between a people and the beliefs they may hold,” said CFI’s president and CEO, Robyn Blumner. “All of us must be free to debate and criticize ideas and harmful ideas must be exposed. It is incredibly disappointing that KPFA does not understand this.”
But the clearest and most compelling response came from Prof. Dawkins himself, in an open letter to KPFA. He wrote of his long admiration for KPFA’s journalism, and his decades of support of their work. The cancellation of the August event was “a matter of personal sorrow” for him.
At the core of the conflict, Dawkins pointed out, was the lack of reason and critical thinking that went into the station’s decision to break its commitment. He wrote in his letter:
You conspicuously did not quote a source when accusing me of “abusive speech”. Why didn’t you check your facts – or at least have the common courtesy to alert me – before summarily cancelling my event? If you had consulted me, or if you had done even rudimentary fact-checking, you would have concluded that I have never used abusive speech against Islam.
I have called IslamISM “vile” but surely you, of all people, understand that Islamism is not the same as Islam. I have criticised the ridiculous pseudoscientific claims made by Islamic apologists (“the sun sets in a marsh” etc), and the opposition of Islamic “ scholars” to evolution and other scientific truths. I have criticised the appalling misogyny and homophobia of Islam, I have criticised the murdering of apostates for no crime other than their disbelief. Far from attacking Muslims, I understand – as perhaps you do not – that Muslims themselves are the prime victims of the oppressive cruelties of Islamism, especially Muslim women.
I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam?
Since news of the cancellation broke, a number of leading figures in science and reason have made their voices heard in support of Dawkins. Jerry Coyne called the move “craven”; Steven Pinker told KPFA that “you have handed a precious gift to the political right”; Vilayanur S. Ramachandran called Dawkins “the most intellectually honest and courageous person I know”; and Daniel Dennett (in such a way that only he can successfully pull off) tweeted, “Shame on these Know-nothing Pathetic Fraidy-cat, um, folks!” You can read these responses in full at the Richard Dawkins Foundation website.
In a special message to CFI supporters, Board Chair Eddie Tabash said, “Richard is a kind man, even in the face of unfounded criticism. However, kindness cannot deter us from fighting as hard as we can against this severely troubling action by KPFA.”
Discussion of the controversy continues in the press, with coverage by The New York Times, The Guardian, Newsweek, and more, including KPFA radio itself, where CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo tries to explain the distinction between the vital criticism of bad ideas and the demonization of an entire people.
Bertha Vazquez Publishes Schools’ Evolution Evaluation
It is 2017, and yet the teaching of evolution in public schools remains a flashpoint of controversy. The enduring resistance to evolution education is a primary reason for the existence of TIES, the Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science, a program of the Richard Dawkins Foundation that trains middle school science teachers to teach evolution.
Leading the work of TIES is Florida middle school science teacher Bertha Vazquez, and as part of her important work for the program, she has been evaluating state evolution education standards throughout the U.S. Her findings have just been published in a new paper for the journal Evolution: Education and Outreach. The results are fascinating and trending in a positive direction.
Bertha’s evaluation looks at school evolution standards using a ten-point scale based on five categories of questions, which determine each state’s grade. For example, New York and Florida are among the states that received an A grade for earning the maximum number of points for meeting certain benchmarks such as providing a clear definition of evolution, presenting several kinds of evidence for evolution, and so on. South Carolina and Tennessee, however, are two states that received F’s because their curricula don’t even mention or define evolution to middle schoolers, among other issues.
If the study had a “winner,” it would be New Hampshire. “New Hampshire should not be commended just for its middle school standards on evolution,” writes Bertha. “It starts incorporating evolution into the curriculum earlier than any other state.”
The full paper can be accessed here.
News from the CFI Community
Point of Inquiry...IN SPACE!!!
When will humans set foot on Mars? What are the prospects for NASA in the Trump era? And what exactly did Mike Pence touch that he clearly wasn’t supposed to? All these burning questions and more are answered in the latest episode of CFI’s long-running flagship podcast Point of Inquiry.
Host Paul Fidalgo is joined by Loren Grush, space reporter for The Verge, for a fun and enlightening conversation about the drama, politics, and technological challenges of space exploration. Grush brings both passionate enthusiasm and healthy skepticism to her coverage of space, providing sharp analysis of the private space industry, public attitudes toward space exploration, and the hostility that women in the space community continue to face.
And of course, we’ll find out if the vice president ruined something expensive.
There’s more space-talk in the next episode of Point of Inquiry coming later this week, when the subject turns to extraterrestrial life, so be sure to subscribe free on iTunes, Google Play, or through your podcast service of choice.
Countdown to CSICon 2017: New Videos with Paul Offit and Joe Nickell
For several weeks now, CFI’s video series Reasonable Talk has been bringing you some of the excellent presentations that made CSICon 2016 such a fantastic event. We have two more for you, hot off the servers, all in a blatant effort to inspire you to get registered for CSICon 2017 this October 26–29 in Las Vegas!
- Paul Offit is a leading light in science and skepticism for his work as a life-saving virologist and as a bestselling critic of the anti-vaccine movement and other kinds of fake medicine. In his CSICon 2016 presentation, Offit takes a critical look at the medical profession itself, going back centuries to see how opioids have been used and misused by physicians and patients and showing how the over-prescription of painkillers has enabled today’s opioid crisis.
- CFI’s own Joe Nickell is the world’s best known investigator of the paranormal, with decades of experience uncovering the truth about claims of ghost sightings, UFO encounters, psychic powers, and more. But what also sets Joe apart is his compassion and empathy for those who believe they have had these supernatural experiences and his steadfast devotion to the pursuit of the truth over merely proving someone wrong. In his presentation, Joe discusses the crucial distinction between “investigation” and “debunking.”
Plus: Susan Gerbic has a special interview with CSICon 2017 speaker and mentalist Mark Edward.
Now it’s your turn to investigate all the goings-on at the next big event, CSICon 2017. Incredible speakers and exciting entertainment await at Las Vegas’s Excalibur Hotel and Casino. But don’t take these claims at face value. Investigate them yourself and get registered now.
CFI Highlights on the Web
- Craig A. Foster, a professor of psychology at the U.S. Air Force Academy who has contributed to Skeptical Inquirer, writes an op-ed in The Denver Post welcoming the sudden attention given to Flat Earthers. Touting his membership with CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, he asserts that Flat-Earthers present a prime opportunity to discuss the importance of applying critical thinking to outlandish beliefs.
- Marking the 70th anniversary of the Roswell UFO sightings, Kendrick Frazier, editor of Skeptical Inquirer, writes in a piece for the Albuquerque Journal about how the story has managed to endure all these decades, concluding, “Established facts of the Roswell incident will of course never catch up with the charming myth.”
- For a short while in recent weeks, it seemed to many that the mystery of Amelia Earhart had been solved. But as Benjamin Radford points out in a special report, the claims were laughably easy to disprove and show us how the History Channel, which promoted the finding, went “spectacularly off the rails.”
- For his latest Unco Junto “blog symposium,” Ben assembles Michael Hartwell, Ian Harris, and Celestia Ward (taking part in web-comic form) to weigh in on the topic of hypocrisy.
- Recent skeptics’ conferences are reviewed for CSI, with Susan Gerbic at SkeptiCal 2017 and Russ Dobler at the ninth Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- CFI Michigan hosts a presentation on environmental health after the Flint water crisis by Paul Hann, executive director of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan.
- CFI Austin holds a Secular Summer Splash: “a poolside evening of BBQ, lounging, and of course, great conversation!”
- CFI Pittsburgh and Sunday Assembly Pittsburgh hold a picnic in Schenley Park.
- Philosophy professor Mark Pestana speaks to CFI Michigan on the evolution of consciousness.
- CFI Michigan takes part in a Secular Service project, canvassing with the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, meant to help those affected by the lead poisoning in the water supply.
- CFI Indiana hosts a Robert Green Ingersoll Birthday Celebration.
- CFI Austin welcomes David Oliverio for a presentation on his journey out of Pentecostalism and into atheist activism.
- CFI Pittsburgh holds its 9th annual CFI Canoe Trip and Shrimp Boil Picnic.
- CFI Portland takes part in a solar eclipse viewing party with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).
- CFI Austin hears from Mark T. Bedford of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on the topic of epigenetics.
- Constitutional law professor Dan Ray and Freethought Blogs founder Ed Brayton discuss the 2017 Supreme Court term with CFI Michigan.
- CFI Northeast Ohio holds its members-only summer picnic.
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 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.