Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 90
September 20, 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!
Note: This newsletter will be taking a one-issue break, so look for Cause & Effect No. 91 on October 18. The Richard Dawkins Foundation Newsletter will continue on schedule as usual.
The Top Stories
Blasphemy in the Eye of the Beholder: Free Inquiry on the Blasphemous Arts
Get ready to experience moving, provocative, and often hilarious expressions of religious doubt in the latest issue of Free Inquiry, the leading journal of secular humanist thought, published by CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism.
September 30 is International Blasphemy Rights Day, an occasion established in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry to highlight the global struggle to defend dissent and celebrate the fundamental human right to question, criticize, and even ridicule any idea, belief, or ideology. To mark the occasion, Free Inquiry highlights the blasphemous arts with contributions from two artists, painter Bruce Adams and performance artist Pat Oleszko, as well as some very thought-provoking cover art, with a special (non)appearance from a certain prophet.
For more insight on blasphemy, there is also some heretical fiction from award-winning author John Roberts and a reflection on the utility and ethics of blasphemous speech from ex-Muslim journalist Sara Ali.
All this, plus the second part of the magazine’s “symposium in print” on secular humanism and philosophy, in the October/November 2017 issue of Free Inquiry. Get it on shelves now or by print and digital subscription at secularhumanism.org/fi.
Jeff Sessions and the Junk Science of the Polygraph
According to recent reporting, Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who is unsure whether secular Americans can have an “understanding of the truth”) intends to subject National Security Council staff to a lie detector. But despite what you might see in movies, on television, or even in a local police department, lies cannot be reliably detected by a polygraph test. Federal courts no longer accept their results as evidence, and today they serve an almost theatrical purpose, often used more to frighten than to detect deception.
So last week the Center for Inquiry put out a statement urging the Attorney General to change course. Citing the work of Skeptical Inquirer contributors on the myth of the lie detector, we explained that the polygraph is based on junk science with an error rate of more than 52 percent, no better than a coin toss.
Morton E. Tavel, MD, wrote that the use of the polygraph is “a perversion of science” with the potential to do incredible harm to those falsely determined to be engaged in deceit. Physicist Alan P. Zelicoff called the polygraph “a ruse,” primarily “a tool of intimidation.”
Whether or not Sessions goes through with his threat, it is important that Americans know that the polygraph has no place at the highest levels of government power, and certainly should not be determining who is fit to keep our country safe.
News from the CFI Community
New Richard Dawkins Live Events in L.A., Hartford, and Pittsburgh
We have three brand new opportunities for you to see and hear Richard Dawkins in person this fall, as he engages in unscripted conversation with special guests live on stage for “An Evening with Richard Dawkins.”
October 29: Richard will be hosted by CFI Los Angeles at the Alex Theatre, and he’ll be joined on stage by renowned author Michael Lewis, whose highly acclaimed books include Moneyball, Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, Flash Boys, Boomerang, Losers, and many others, spanning the worlds of Wall Street, professional baseball, and presidential campaigns. You surely will not want to miss this chance to see the sparks and ideas fly between these two sharp, quick-witted, brilliant fellows. Get your tickets right now, before they’re all gone!
November 4: Richard takes a quick trip to the other side of the country for an engagement in Hartford, Connecticut, at the Bushnell. His guest for the evening will be announced soon, but you can still buy your tickets now.
November 7: Tickets will go on sale soon for Richard’s appearance in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University. Stay tuned!
An International Response to the Murder of Gauri Lankesh
Few in the United States had heard of Gauri Lankesh, a respected journalist in India, editor of the Patrike, and fierce activist for free expression and freedom of the press. She strongly opposed the “Hindutva” policies of the Hindu nationalist government led by Narendra Modi, and she organized various conflicting factions to protest caste discrimination.
Lankesh was murdered on September 5, just outside of her home in Bengaluru. The identity of her killers is not yet known, but it is widely believed she was killed for her political advocacy and outspoken criticism of the government. Her murder is frighteningly similar to that of renowned Indian skeptic Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, as well as that of other dissenters in India.
This tragedy brought the Center for Inquiry together with the European Council of Skeptical Organizations (ECSO) for a joint statement to condemn the murder (of course) and to urge more affirmative action by the United States, Canada, and the European Union to defend free expression around the world.
“We’ve lost far too many friends and allies to the violence of religious and ideological extremists around the world,” said Barry Karr, executive director of CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry in the statement. “But we can’t let the perpetrators get the last word. They want to silence dissent, but we will never be quiet about the fundamental human rights to free expression and inquiry.”
Countdown to CSICon 2017: The Alternative to Alternative Facts
CSICon Las Vegas 2017, the biggest and most exciting skeptics’ event of the year, is almost here! Taking place October 26–29 in the city of illusions itself, with a slate of speakers and events so impressive, you might think we’re just feeding you #fakenews. We understand. It’s hard to tell these days.
Which is exactly why we need CSICon: your alternative to alternative facts.
To keep the anticipation and excitement going, the indefatigable Susan Gerbic brings us two fresh new interviews with CSICon speakers, which are also not #fakenews.
- First, science communicator and Forbes contributor Kavin Senapathy talks to Susan about her problem with the pseudoscience-hawking “The Food Babe,” her efforts to demystify GMOs, and how Buffy the Vampire Slayer led the creation of the documentary she’ll be debuting at CSICon with Natalie Newell, Science Moms.
- Then, we hear from Evan Bernstein, one of the co-hosts of the popular Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe (SGU) podcast, who discusses the power of radio and podcasts to help foster a community, and previews the special SGU recording happening live on stage at CSICon.
And what else is so great about this CSICon? It will feature brilliant and compelling speakers such as James Randi, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Cara Santa Maria, Michael Mann, Maria Konnikova (pictured at left), Richard Saunders, Eugenie Scott, and so many more. And since it’s all happening at the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, there will be spectacular entertainment events, magic shows, and even a Halloween disco party. (That last one really does sound like #fakenews, but it’s not.)
CFI Highlights on the Web
* Even though CFI’s Committee for Skeptical Inquiry successfully convinced news outlets such as the Associated Press to stop calling science deniers “skeptics,” misuse of the term persists. So CFI Los Angeles director Jim Underdown helped the LA Times understand the difference in his letter to the editor.
* Speaking of science deniers, right-wing news outlet The Federalist criticized CFI’s Joe Nickell for his positive review of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel. Joe, sharply and with considerable class, responds by exposing the myriad holes in their “argument.”
* Benjamin Radford, CFI’s expert on scary clowns, comments on the Juggalo March on Washington, an event for fans of the Insane Clown Posse. Is there any evidence that Juggalos are a “criminal organization”? Do they know how magnets work?
* Jack Jenkins at ThinkProgress reports on the GOP’s passage of an amendment intended to kneecap the Johnson Amendment, allowing churches to more or less become super-PACS for candidates. As before, he cites CFI’s Legal Director Nick Little.
* Susan Gerbic once again takes on “grief vampire” Tyler Henry, this time for the claim that he predicted the death of Alan Thicke by talking to Thicke’s dead relatives. The claim is not convincing.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- October 26–29: CSICon 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
- November 4: An Evening with Richard Dawkins in Hartford, Connecticut.
- November 7: An Evening with Richard Dawkins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Details coming soon.
- October 8: Noelle George discusses the Foundation Beyond Belief.
- October 9: Astrophysicist Kristen McQuinn of the UT Austin McDonald Observatory presents on the evolution of galaxies.
- December 10: UT Austin psychology professor Chris Robison gives a presentation on the brain’s structures and functions.
- September 24: Hal Johnson delivers the last of his three presentations on the Secret Origins of the Book of Mormon.
- November 12: A celebration of the birthday of Carl Sagan.
CFI Los Angeles
- October 1: Paleontologist and geologist Donald Prothero presents on what science and evidence say about UFOs and alien visitations.
- October 15: Special screenings of Losing Our Religion, a new documentary about The Clergy Project, for CFI Los Angeles and CFI Orange County.
- October 29: An Evening with Richard Dawkins, with special guest Michael Lewis, at the Alex Theatre.
- September 23: Service Day: Habitat for Humanity in Flint.
- September 27: Zana Zangana discusses his journey away from Islam and the importance of questioning religion in a presentation on his book, Where Was God Hijacked? Violence and Human Rights in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
CFI Northeast Ohio
- September 29: 2017 Humanism Award Banquet, honoring secular activist and author Frank Zindler, with special guest Ali Rizvi.
CFI Tampa Bay
- October 20–22: 2017 FREEFLO conference, featuring speakers from and associated with CFI.
CFI Western New York
- October 20: Dave Hahn, a PhD candidate in philosophy at the University of Buffalo, delivers a presentation on conspiracy theories, how to define them, and the harms they can cause.
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.