Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 45
December 3, 2015
Cause & Effect is the biweekly newsletter of the Center for Inquiry community, covering the wide range of work that you help make possible.
The Main Events
Bonya Ahmed + CFI on Capitol Hill to Press for Action on Bangladesh
This week, CFI was honored to host Rafida Bonya Ahmed for her visit to Washington, DC, to address the crisis of the murders of secularists in Bangladesh with government officials, NGOs, and the press. Ms. Ahmed is a humanist writer and activist who narrowly survived the attack by Islamist extremists in Dhaka that took the life of her husband, secularist writer and CFI ally Avijit Roy. Since that attack in February, four other freethought writers and activists have been slain, and many more injured, in a campaign of terror waged by Islamist groups in Bangladesh attached to Al Qaeda. Ms. Ahmed came to Washington to make the case for greater urgency on the part of the U.S. government to address this human rights emergency.
On December 1, she and CFI’s Michael De Dora took part in a Capitol Hill briefing put on by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in conjunction with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Center for Inquiry, and the PEN American Center, and were joined by Rep. Jim McGovern, chair of the Lantos Commission. In her remarks, Ms. Ahmed said of the violence in Bangladesh, “These bloody days are becoming a norm, and hacking people with voices is becoming a monthly chore for Islamic terrorists.” She spoke of the Bangladeshi government’s unwillingness to take meaningful action, noting that partisan politics are obstructing a true confrontation with the threat posed by Islamic extremism.
The briefing was covered by the Associated Press as well as Bangladeshi news outlets such as The Daily Star and BDNews24.com. Ms. Ahmed also spent the surrounding days with Michael De Dora in meetings with human rights groups and members of Congress.
We at CFI opted out of the usual appeals for donations that come with every Giving Tuesday, which this year fell on December 1, and instead asked supporters to give to the Freethought Emergency Fund, CFI’s initiative aimed at assisting secularists in places like Bangladesh who are in danger of being attacked and meeting the same fate as Avijit Roy. You can still donate to the fund here.
Introducing “Reason Talks”: A New Freethought Video Series
Some of the best, most thought-provoking presentations in all of freethought happen at CFI conferences and events. For some time, we’ve wanted to find a way to offer high-quality video of these talks and discussions in a way that is easy and fun for longtime CFI supporters and newcomers as well. That’s why last month we launched Reason Talks, a weekly series of presentations from CFI events with the brightest minds and most compelling speakers in secularism, skepticism, science, philosophy, activism, and many other fields.
Reason Talks will roll out “episodes” in what we’re calling “seasons.” Each Friday, a new talk will go up at ReasonTalks.tv. Each episode will feature a full-length speech, lecture, panel discussion, or debate from presentations at CFI conferences, symposia, and local events, all neatly organized at the Reason Talks website. (And many kudos to our web and media team for putting this together.)
The series launched with three episodes: presentations from Rebecca Goldstein, Michael Specter, and Taslima Nasrin. Last week we added Eugenie Scott on the subject of “crank anthropology.” And today, we’re releasing CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay’s very moving address on the future of CFI and its mission.
CFI and Dawkins Foundation Join Forces against Homeopathy
Earlier this year, CFI was invited to give public testimony before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as they began to reconsider their regulation of homeopathic products: alternative remedies marketed as safer than conventional medicine because they’re allegedly “natural,” but they are really just water or sugar pills with no active ingredient of any kind. Also expressing apprehension about the marketing of homeopathic products was, much to our surprise, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which was concerned about the potential false advertising being perpetrated by these manufacturers making claims about homeopathy’s efficacy that simply aren’t true.
Last week, we partnered with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science to submit formal comments to the FTC, urging them to use their regulatory authority and put a stop to homeopathy’s false advertising. We made the case that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that these pseudoscientific faux-remedies are mere placebos at best, having no effect on any condition or malady, and in fact cause harm to the consumers who use homeopathic products in lieu of real, science-based medicine. Not to mention the billions of dollars thrown away by consumers because of these false claims.
This is still a developing process, and we’ll keep you updated as the FTC continues its study.
Coping with the Paris Attacks, Looking to Humanism
Due to the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., it’s been three weeks since the last edition of Cause & Effect, and of course we’re all still coming to terms of the shock caused by the terror attacks in Paris, which began just as the last newsletter went live.
In the immediate aftermath, we released a statement expressing our solidarity with the people of France, our defiance of what is these extremists’ “archaic, backward, and tyrannical ideology,” and, citing the importance of CFI’s humanist foundations, asserting that our species can be and must be better than this. “The ideals of freedom embraced by the vast majority of us, and enshrined in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, represent a bright and shining refutation of the ideology of the terrorists.”
Politics quickly complicated all discussion of the ISIS threat, tangling it with the Syrian refugee crisis, as major figures in the presidential race, government, and the media began to speak chillingly of religious tests for who we would and would not give shelter to in times of desperate need. Refugees who happen to be Muslim were quickly scapegoated and demonized in what were some very blatantly cynical appeals to nativism and fear, and we released a statement condemning this wave of prejudice. “As secular humanists,” we said, “it is incumbent on us to say that this sort of religious bigotry toward the most desperate of our fellow human beings is plainly vile…. As secular humanists we insist: These refugees are us, and we are them, whatever their religion might be.”
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Looking for Real Aliens, Debunking the Fake Ones, at CFI–L.A.
SETI space scientist sees possible extraterrestrial contacts in the future At CFI-L.A.’s twice-monthly “Feed Your Brain” series lecture on Nov. 15, SETI space scientist Jill Tarter, a fictional version of whom was portrayed by Jodi Foster in the film version of Carl Sagan’s Contact, told full-house crowds at CFI–L.A. and CFI–Orange County that among a number of future efforts to scan the skies of evidence of extraterrestrial life, we can expect scientists to conduct infrared scans as they look for waste heat signatures that might signify the presence of a technological civilization. She also traced the history of the SETI efforts and discussed a number of new astronomical projects being developed, some with the recent infusion of $100 million by billionaire Yuri Milner. It’s a remarkable time to be looking for evidence of aliens!
Also, earlier last month, CFI-L.A. Executive Director Jim Underdown gave a presentation critical of paranormal beliefs at the Santa Monica Public Library. Around seventy-five attended, and he demonstrated the fakery involved in phenomena such as UFOs and crop circles. We think he made quite a few new fans of Skeptical Inquirer.
New Point of Inquiry Episodes on Paris, Autism, and Paranoia
Three weeks away from Cause & Effect means three new episodes of Point of Inquiry to talk about!
This week, Josh Zepps takes on the thorny subject of Islam, ISIS, and the Paris attacks in a lively and sometimes heated discussion with Michael Brooks of The Majority Report. With the high emotions and sharp rhetoric around the attacks and the refugee crisis, what can we say is Islam’s role? As we see in this episode, there are no easy answers.
Lindsay Beyerstein explored the varieties of autistic experience in a conversation with Steve Silberman, a Wired journalist and author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. They discuss how the very definitions of autism have been fluid, and how many of the traits associated with autism are those that helped some of our biggest technological and creative advances.
Finally, Lindsay also speaks with clinical psychologist David Laporte, who is an expert on the subject of paranoia. Laporte says that paranoia is in a sense going mainstream, legitimized by the media and politicians with greater regularity.
CFI in the Media and on the Web
● Religious right advocates of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty recently posted about CFI’s lawsuit in Florida to stop the state funding of explicitly Christian prisoner rehabilitation centers, and made some claims about our intentions that were flat out false. Our legal director Nick Little calls them on it: “Stop lying about CFI.”
● CFI outreach staffers Stef McGraw and Cody Hashman are prominently featured in this TV package from Fox 5 KBRK on the Skepticon conference, complete with generous camera time for CFI table swag.
● At Skeptical Briefs, Benjamin Radford interviews skeptic caricaturist Celestia Ward, who says, “The best part for me is that I get to indulge in a bad habit I’ve had for decades and I’m getting paid for it.”
● Ben also appeared as a guest on CKNW News Radio to talk about Friday the 13th superstitions.
● Stephen Law explores the arguments Christians make for why atheists fail to believe in God or accept Christianity—and does so rather thoroughly—at the Free Thinking blog.
● Stuart Vyse looks at some of the pseudoscience that often permeates the profession of psychology, such as “biofeedback,” Reiki, and, yes, prayer.
● Biomagnetic therapy, where magnets are used to cure maladies by “equalizing one’s pH level,” is not a thing, and Harriet Hall explains exactly why your immediate skepticism is entirely warranted.
● Also not a thing, it turns out, is the psychological bona fides of one Dr. Phil McGraw. Carrie Poppy looks at all the ways that Dr. Phil is not what he claims to be, including, it turns out, a licensed psychologist.
● Joe Nickell, world renowned paranormal investigator extraordinaire, is also something of a skeptic’s Roger Ebert. Joe has movie reviews at the Free Thinking blog for Suffragette (3.5 wooden nickels out of 4), the documentary He Named Me Malala (4 nickels), and Spotlight (also 4).
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● CFI–DC’s Ninth Anniversary Celebration & Fundraiser with new executive director Ed Beck, former director Melody Hensley, and CFI’s Ron Lindsay and Nick Little.
● CFI–Los Angeles hosts a screening of Earth Angel and a staged reading of the sitcom script Thank God I’m an Atheist, the two winners of the No God But Funny contest.
● Nate Radcliffe, professor of world religions at Kent State University, discusses Descartes and the problem with his “Cogito ergo sum” with CFI–Northeast Ohio.
● CFI–Michigan Solstice Dinner in Grand Rapids.
● CFI–Northeast Ohio Winter Solstice celebration.
● CFI–Michigan Solstice Dinner in Madison Heights.
● CFI–Western New York Winter Solstice Celebration.
● Winter Solstice Supper and Volunteer Recognition at CFI–Indiana.
● Solstice Party 2015 with CFI–Los Angeles.
● CFI–Austin presents celebrations of the Winter Solstice from around the world.
● New Year’s Eve game night at CFI–Indiana.
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 and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI’s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.