Cause & Effect: The Center for Inquiry Newsletter

Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 92

November 1, 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 Top Stories

CSICon 2017 DSC06558.jpgSkepticism, Enlightened and Enlivened, at CSICon 2017

This past weekend hundreds of members of the reality-based community from across the country (and some from around the world) gathered in Las Vegas for the biggest and best skeptics’ event, anywhere, CSICon. While this year’s conference took place in the same city and the same venue as CSICon 2016, the context of the two events could not have been more different.

One year ago, CSICon took place on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, when most people thought the outcome would be very different. CSICon 2017, however, opened with a shared acknowledgement of the new irrational, anti-scientific, and dangerous political environment. There was no getting around the fact that the biggest skeptics’ conference around was taking place while the White House was occupied by a president who represents and advances almost everything CFI and its Committee for Skeptical Inquiry stand against. How would we address this at what is in large part a celebratory event?

IMAG1601-1.jpgWell, you can have your boss dress up like Trump and deliver an opening monologue taunting the attendees by touting “his” intention to subvert all of us with his aggressive irrationality and science denial and admit, “I hope you fail.” Center for Inquiry President and CEO Robyn Blumner had broken the ice and identified the elephant in the room, and the conference took off from there.

And it really took off. The looming haze of Trump quickly dispersed, and attendees were treated to an incredible array of presentations, discussions, receptions, and even a film premier. There were special VIP talks, a crazy Halloween disco party, and, of course, an evening watching knights swing heavy, sharp weapons at each other. Richard Wiseman cracked wise with Richard Dawkins, Science Moms debuted their new documentary, Massimo Polidoro recounted amazing stories from the life of the Amazing Randi (who was unable to come due to health concerns), Lawrence Krauss unwove the fabric of the universe, Britt Hermes shined a spotlight on the fake medicine of naturopathy, Maria Konnikova was awarded for her great work, and George Hrab serenaded us with “thoughts and prayers.” And that’s just a sampling.

CSICon 2017 DSC06707.jpgAlmost everyone walked away from CSICon 2017 with a renewed sense of determination and optimism, because so many of the talks were anchored in one particular theme: that skeptics can make a difference one person at a time, one conversation at a time, even when national political power is stacked against us.

If you couldn’t be there yourself, or you want to refresh some inspiring memories, check out the almost-real-time blogging by Paul Fidalgo, CFI’s Communications Director, at CFI Live (, with almost-real-time summaries and reactions to the event. You can also browse through Twitter with the hashtag #csicon.

And then save these dates: October 18–21, 2018. That’s when CSICon comes back to Vegas, this time at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. We’ll see you there.


Reba'saa Women of Achievement Award.jpgCFI Indiana Director Honored with ‘Women of Achievement’ Award 

Reba Boyd Wooden is one of the most devoted and hardest-working activists you’ll ever meet, and it just so happens that among her many advocacy efforts, she is of course the executive director of CFI Indiana and director of CFI’s Secular Celebrant program. She is passionate and disciplined in her work for issues such as human rights, church-state separation, women’s health, and education, just to name a few. She is also the president of Indiana’s HAPA Coalition (Health And Privacy Alliance), a member of the boards of the Indiana ACLU and Indiana NOW, and has thirty-seven years of experience as a public school teacher. Whew!

Recognizing her incredible efforts, Ball State University’s College of Sciences and Humanities this month honored Reba with the Indiana Woman of Achievement Award. Applauding the choice of Reba for the award, CFI Board Chair Eddie Tabash said in a statement:

Ms. Wooden’s devoted and successful efforts to preserve equal rights for everyone regardless of viewpoint on matters of religion and regardless of sexual orientation, has been outstanding. She was instrumental in securing in Indiana the equal rights of non religious to perform marriage ceremonies. She has a clear and most enlightened vision of what an ideal society should look like when deeply rooted prejudices would be eliminated and overwhelming majorities of people would truly adopt a live-and-let-live attitude toward others.

aaWA--with Alice and Martina.jpgIn her acceptance speech, Reba said:

We Secular Humanists practice the Common Moral Decencies such as honesty, integrity, don’t hurt people, don’t harm other people’s property, be responsible, be benevolent—trustworthiness, dependability, justice and equality in society, and respect for the beliefs, values, and lifestyles of others. …

When I discovered Center for Inquiry, I found that this organization represented my values, and when I became Executive Director of their Indiana branch, it gave me a platform from which to be an activist on those values.

We support the first amendment on both freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Everyone has the right to believe and practice their chosen religion including the right to choose to practice no religion.

News of the award was covered in the Washington Times Herald and The Southsider Voice.

Congratulations, Reba! CFI is proud to have a leader like you on our side.


orange dawkinsRichard Dawkins in Hartford, Conn., with Carl Zimmer Nov. 4 

On October 29, CFI Los Angeles hosted a great conversation between Richard Dawkins and critically acclaimed author Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Big Short). This Saturday, November 4, Dawkins comes to the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut, for a conversation with the New York Times’s science journalist Carl Zimmer, whose upcoming book is a fresh new perspective on the history and science of heredity, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: What Heredity Is, Is Not, and May Become. This is quite a fortuitous pairing for what is sure to be a very enlightening conversation, so get your tickets now.

As preview for the big event, Dawkins was interviewed by two of Connecticut’s major news outlets, talking to Christopher Arnott of the Hartford Courant and Colin McEnroe on his WNPR radio program.

Plus: On November 7, Richard hosts a special V.I.P. reception at the 2017 Carl Sagan Fest at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. These tickets are going particularly fast, so don’t wait.


News from the CFI Community

16-ben-vazquez-richard-dawkins-bertha-vazquez-1.jpgA Flurry of Activity for TIES

The Teacher Institute for Evolutionary Science (TIES), the Richard Dawkins Foundation program that helps middle school science teachers get the skills and knowledge they need to teach evolution, is having a very busy autumn. TIES’ indefatigable director, Bertha Vazquez, just completed a workshop at the Florida Association of Science Teachers Annual Conference in Orlando and a full day of workshops and discussions at Valdosta State University in Georgia (covered by the Valdosta Daily Times). The following week, Robert Shaw presented TIES workshops at the New Jersey Science Convention in Princeton, and Blake Touchet was in Biloxi to give a workshop at the Mississippi Science Teachers Association Annual Conference.

Many more workshops are on the horizon!

  • November 9, 2017: Bay School District Professional Development Day, Panama City, FL, presented by Nancy Dow
  • November 10, 2017: Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching, at the George R. Brown Convention Center Houston, TX, two sessions presented by Gemma Mora-Azuar
  • November 30 and December 1, 2017: Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association Annual Conference, State College, PA, two sessions presented by Robert Cooper
  • March 5, 2018: National Science Teachers Association National Conference, Science on My Mind, Atlanta, GA, presented by Kathryn Green Atlanta

TIES is a real jewel in the crown of CFI, and it’s having a real impact on the lives (and minds) of teachers and students across the country.

Plus: Check out Matt Nisbet’s Skeptical Inquirer article on the importance of introducing evolution education to students well before they get to college, especially when students are subject to a primarily religious education, as well as Scott O. Lilienfeld’s piece on the question of what is the best time to teach children about critical thinking.


CFI MI Julia Sweeney Event 10-21-2017_MG_1995.jpgCFI Michigan Celebrates 20 Years

CFI Michigan held their 20th Anniversary event with Julia Sweeney this past Saturday with eighty people in attendance for the main event and twenty-five attending the VIP Reception.

Executive Director Jeff Seaver told the story of CFI Michigan’s twenty-year history, as it grew from the Freethought Association of West Michigan to becoming one of the most active CFI branches. Julia Sweeney then sat down with Program Director Jennifer Beahan for a wide-ranging conversation on a variety of topics, including Sweeney’s deconversion from religious belief and stories of her adventures in secular parenthood.

CFI Michigan does tremendous good, both for the cause of science and reason and also for its local community, regularly engaging in service work to help those people and causes that need it most. Congratulations, CFI Michigan, and here’s to all that you’ll accomplish over the next twenty years.


CFI Highlights on the Web

JNintervieaaaw1.jpgWhen you need a skeptical angle on ghosts and hauntings in the run-up to Halloween, who you gonna call? The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, of course (even though that doesn’t quite fit with the song).

  • Daniel Kolitz at Gizmodo elicits explanations from experts in ectoplasm, including CFI’s own Ben Radford.
  • Terry Stawar at the News & Tribune looks to Joe Nickell and Skeptical Inquirer for answers about ghost sightings.
  • The Cape Cod Times cites CSI as the institution to look to for the skeptical take on hauntings.

Speaking of CSI, there’s a new trove of skeptical articles up at

  • James Randi recounts his experiences with pseudoscience-based polygraph tests. “If you agree to take one,” writes Randi, “you may be placing your reputation in the hands of an unwitting charlatan who can proclaim you to be guilty or innocent.”
  • In a Skeptical Inquirer cover feature, Jeanne Goldberg explores the history and harm of the politicization of science, calling it “a threat to our democracy.”
  • Joe Nickell looks at the legend of Bigfoot through the broader lens of mythology, examining how ideas about the creature evolved over time and what it says about the human need to believe we are “not alone.”
  • In skeptical reading, Harriet Hall takes a deep dive into human consciousness with Daniel Dennett’s From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds, and Robert Ladendorf lauds the collaboration between climate scientist Michael Mann and cartoonist Tom Toles in The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.

bflnm.jpgMore skeptical highlights:

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

Upcoming CFI Events

features-alumzimmer.jpgCFI Transnational

CFI Austin

CFI Indiana

CSICon 2017 DSC06616.jpgCFI Los Angeles

  • November 3: European Parliament member Teresa Giménez Barbat will discuss her efforts to combat pseudoscience and promote policy based on critical thinking.

CFI Michigan

  • November 8: Leadership coach M. Nora Bouchard introduces techniques for “Inclusive Listening” for bridging differences and hostilities.
  • November 12: Program Director Jennifer Beahan speaks about her personal journey to secular activism for the Mid-Michigan Atheists and Humanists in Lansing.
  • December 9: Secular Service time, helping out the nonprofit Kids’ Food Basket as they address childhood hunger through their Sack Supper program.


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 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