Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 96
December 27, 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
The Anti-Claus Works on Christmas, Raises Thousands for Secular Rescue
For the vast majority of those reading this newsletter, Christmas Day was a day off of work. (If you’re a parent of young kids, you were likely still doing a great deal of work but not being paid for it.) The same is true for the Center for Inquiry (CFI), for though we are one of the world’s leading secularist and skeptic organizations, we also understand and appreciate the meaning and significance of this time of year for so many non-Christians, religious and nonreligious alike. In fact, The Columbus Dispatch just spoke to Monette Richards, executive director of CFI Northeast Ohio, about this very phenomenon, wherein Christmas is a primarily secular holiday, the religious roots of which are incidental.
But one member of our CFI family is having none of it, and that’s of course the “Anti-Claus” himself, Tom Flynn. Apart from being executive director of CFI’s Council for Secular Humanism and editor of Free Inquiry magazine, Tom is also the author of The Trouble with Christmas, and in accordance with his outright rejection of the holiday, every year on Christmas Day Tom comes into the office and works a normal day.
And so he did this year as well, but rather than toil away in solitude, Tom found a way to bring his special brand of yuletide defiance to the world and even help a very good cause.
On Christmas Day (or, as Tom thought of it, last Monday) Tom livestreamed his workday online. While “doing editor stuff” at his desk, he took questions from viewers, explained some of the weirder aspects of the Santa mythos (if you want to feel really unsettled about Santa legends, go look up his buddy Black Pete), and most importantly, helped raise money for CFI’s Secular Rescue program.
Secular Rescue is the CFI initiative that seeks to lend assistance to those secularist writers and activists whose lives are threatened by religious extremists in places such as Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Dozens of freethinkers have been brought to safety thanks to Secular Rescue, and they are once again free to speak their minds and serve as courageous examples to others around the world.
At the end of Tom’s marathon broadcast, CFI Vice President for Philanthropy Martina Fern announced that viewers pitched in over $2500 for Secular Rescue, and with the help of some very generous supporters, those donations were matched, bringing in more than $5000.
So whether or not you celebrate Christmas or any other holiday, even Tom agrees that doing this kind of good deed is a really wonderful gift.
You can still watch the recording of the livestream right here, in case you need seven hours worth of Tom Flynn to keep you company. Maybe next year, Tom will livestream through all eight days of Hanukkah. We’ll ask.
A One-Two Punch to Homeopathy
Two salvos were launched against the deceptive and dangerous marketing of homeopathic fake medicine last week, both thanks to the Center for Inquiry’s relentless pursuit of stricter regulation of these baseless treatments.
On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would begin to take a tougher stance against the manufacturers of those homeopathic products that pose the greatest risk to consumers’ health and safety. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said, “We respect that some individuals want to use alternative treatments, but the FDA has a responsibility to protect the public from products that may not deliver any benefit and have the potential to cause harm.”
We cautiously applauded this news, noting that CFI has been pushing for these changes for many years and in 2015, was invited to deliver testimony to the FDA on homeopathy. Gizmodo even gave CFI credit for this new development. But still in all this time, very little has changed, so we will be watching closely to see whether the FDA follows through.
A few days later, CFI filed a complaint against CVS Health in the DIstrict of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. We warned that CVS is both deceiving and endangering the health of its customers by marketing homeopathic products as though they are scientifically proven treatments (which they are most certainly not) and displaying those products alongside real, evidence-based medicine.
“CVS is deliberately creating the false impression that homeopathic products are as safe and effective as scientifically-proven medicine,” said Nick Little, CFI’s Vice President and General Counsel, in our statement. “By obscuring the crucial distinction between genuine and sham treatments, CVS is unscrupulously abusing the trust of its customers while putting their health and even their lives at risk.”
Stay tuned as this reinvigorated push against fake medicine proceeds.
Policy Update: Johnson Amendment and CDC’s Seven Words
The religious Right has been relentless in its efforts to dismantle the Johnson Amendment, the law that bars tax-exempt nonprofits (such as churches and the Center for Inquiry) from endorsing or advocating against candidates for political office. The amendment has taken blows from executive orders and sneaky legislative schemes since Trump came to office, and the end of the amendment truly seemed nigh when its repeal was included in the GOP’s major tax-cut bill.
Well now there’s good news, whatever one might think of the tax overhaul itself. Thanks in large part to the pressure exerted by you and all those who spoke out against this repeal, religious and nonreligious alike, by the time of final passage the scrapping of the Johnson Amendment was no longer part of the bill. This is certainly not going to be the last time the religious Right tries to kill the Johnson Amendment, but we can be proud that as of now the law still stands.
Also, you may have noticed the outcry over news that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had reportedly “banned” the use of the following words in its reports: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.” If true, this would have indicated a whole new level of Orwellian Newspeak.
But now it looks like the truth was that experts readying the budget proposal for the science and diversity-hostile GOP Congress suggested that these words might raise red flags and complicate their efforts. Either way, we released a statement telling the CDC to stand firm, advising them “to reject this aggressive strain of ignorance and hostility which seeks to make ‘science’ a dirty word. The CDC cannot stay above the fray of politics by choosing to serve some Americans at the expense of others.”
A Few Days Left to Make an Enormous Impact
Louis Appignani is helping us to start 2018 stronger than ever, challenging the supporters of reason and science to give our shared mission the resources we need to make even greater progress. But he’s not just asking; he’s participating. Louis has generously agreed to match every single donation to the Center for Inquiry all the way up to a quarter million dollars.
Louis will double the power of every contribution that comes in from now until the end of 2017, but that’s just a few short days away!
He’s giving all of us the opportunity to make a powerful impact in support of freethought, free expression, and free inquiry. With reality being twisted every day by the forces of superstition, conspiracy theories, and religious dogma, there’s never been a greater need for CFI to have the resources to confront these challenges.
Make no mistake; Louis Appignani is serious about this mission. For decades, he’s been a champion of secularism and the rights of the nonreligious.
Please don’t miss this opportunity. We can meet the Appignani Quarter Million Dollar Challenge and do more for our cause than ever before. Make your tax-deductible, matched donation right now.
CFI Highlights on the Web
UFOs have been top-of-mind lately after the New York Times reported on secretive military projects intended to investigate sightings of unknown craft. Looking to get a rational look at belief in aliens and UFOs, Alexandra Ossola at Futurism spoke to CFI’s Joe Nickell. They discussed the importance of scientific rigor in the evaluation of UFO claims and why believing in UFOs doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.
Joe’s vast knowledge of the paranormal was also sought by the UK’s The Sun, where he brought the skeptical perspective to reports of spontaneous human combustion.
Religious Right commentator Dennis Prager runs an online fake-university (it’s really just a YouTube channel) called “PragerU,” and in one such “course,” an article by Peter Schenkel in Skeptical Inquirer is invoked to help prove the existence of God. Not so fast, says YouTuber potholer54, who lays out exactly how our magazine was misquoted and misconstrued.
At CFI’s Free Thinking blog, Benjamin Radford backs up the principle of due diligence in reporting, responding to some of the backlash he saw from his piece on the exaggerated reports of displeasure over a black Santa.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
- January 21: Joshua Richards discusses why Jesus would have made a good atheist.
- February 10: Darwin Day 2018, with keynote presentations, kids’ science activities, and more.
- December 31: New Year’s Eve Game Night.
- January 30: At “Books, Booze, and Brains,” computer scientists Matt Powers and George Takahashi discuss Ready Player One.
CFI Western New York
- January 19: CFI’s new Director of Government Affairs, Jason Lemieux, presents a talk on his experience as a congressional staffer and what it’s taught him about getting through to public officials.
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.