Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 58
June 24, 2016
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
A Stellar New Way to Join the Center for Inquiry
The Center for Inquiry is an ambitious and wide-ranging organization that tackles what can seem like a staggering array of issues, producing several distinctive media products and serving an intellectually and philosophically diverse community, with branches and affiliates, big and small, all over the world. But grounding all these dynamic efforts is a set of core principles, the mission to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values.
Existing in so many places at once has also meant that there have been myriad avenues to becoming a member of CFI—through a local branch, a subscription, a supporting organization, or what have you. With the ongoing merger with the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, things had the potential to get even more complicated.
But no more! This week, CFI proudly announced a revamping of its membership program, unifying and simplifying membership so that it’s easier to take part in, with benefits that are clearer and universal (in more ways than one).
So if you’re a die-hard Skeptical Inquirer fan or if you devour Free Inquiry issues; if you champion science and secularism at the national and international levels, or if you cultivate community at local branches; if you’re a longtime CFI supporter or if you’re newly coming from the Dawkins Foundation, there’s one simple way to become a member, and that membership applies across the board and across the country.
To become a member of the Center for Inquiry (and get to flourish the new, smart-looking membership card), just go to centerforinquiry.net/membership and choose among the various levels, from “Planetary” to “Universal.” Each level up brings great gifts and benefits, and no matter where you’re coming from, the benefits apply everywhere. Learn more about the new program here, and then choose your cosmic phenomenon to symbolize your commitment to our shared mission.
CFI Confronts the Bangladesh Crisis at the UN Human Rights Council
Michael De Dora, CFI’s main representative to the United Nations, is back in Geneva for the 32nd Session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, advancing CFI’s mission through international advocacy.
In a statement on the freedom of expression, assembly, and association, Michael urged countries to take affirmative steps to preserve these rights—rights they are obligated by international law to uphold. These freedoms create a better world for all, said Michael, noting their role in protecting “the rights of freethinkers and dissidents to question and challenge norms and customs—while also protecting the rights of minorities, including sexual and gender minorities, to live out their inner truths free from harm.” But, he told the Council, “Many member states seek to punish or censor persons for exercising their rights, or else not protect persons exercising their rights from harassment, discrimination, and attacks.” See the video here.
Michael also spoke about the ongoing crisis in Bangladesh, where secular and progressive activists, along with other minorities, continue to be slaughtered in the streets by Islamic extremists. Michael firmly criticized the Bangladesh government for its “appalling” response to the murders, reprimanding them for failing to protect dissenters and instead “suggesting that the deceased are culpable for their own murders” for criticizing religion. “We implore the Bangladesh government to more forcefully promote democratic values and human rights, both in word and in deed,” he said. That video is here.
In recent weeks, there have been important developments in the Bangladesh crisis. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in his own address, “I am very concerned about the dramatically increased number of brutal murders in Bangladesh that target freethinkers, liberals, religious minorities and LGBT activists,” adding, “I urge that investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of these vicious crimes be made a priority, with full respect for human rights.”
CFI of course urges the same, and last week it was reported that Bangaldesh had indeed responded to the crisis by unexpectedly rounding up over 11,000 people, arresting not just suspected militants but, according to some reports, political opponents of the ruling government. Finally, one of the suspected killers of CFI friend and ally Avijit Roy, was killed in a gunfight this week with Bangladesh police.
You can also hear Michael discuss the Bangladesh crisis on this special episode of Point of Inquiry with host Josh Zepps.
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Is Astrology False? Signs Point to Skeptical Inquirer
Thirty years ago, scholar Geoffrey Dean presented a comprehensive overview of the claims of astrology in Skeptical Inquirer. In the latest issue, Dean is back, building upon his original foundation to deliver an even more exhaustive look at the validity of zodiacal pronouncements.
To no one’s surprise, with the help of modern research tools and vastly greater data sets over the preceding three decades, astrology is shown to be entirely without merit. But Dean also explores the human connection to astrology and why its sincere adherents continue to believe despite a complete lack of evidence and a practice grounded entirely upon “opinions based on opinions based on opinions.” Dean writes, “To many people, astrology is a wonderful thing: a complex and beautiful construct that draws their attention to the heavens, making them feel they are an important part of the universe.”
Read this fascinating piece in the July/August 2016 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, along with pieces by Benjamin Radford, Joe Nickell, Matthew Nisbet, Massimo Pigliucci, and more. Learn more at https://www.csicop.org/si.
Grab Lunch with Massimo and Dr. Joe at CSICon 2016
The biggest and baddest skeptics’ event, CSICon 2016, is coming to Las Vegas, October 27–30, and it just got better.
Two skeptic icons have been added to the already-impressive roster, specially tapped to headline the two lunch events on Friday and Saturday of the conference. Friday’s lunch will feature Skeptical Inquirer columnist and Randi protégé Massimo Polidoro, and Saturday will have veteran science communicator Joe Schwarcz. Register now and make sure you tick the boxes for the lunch events to see these guys.
And of course this is on top of the lineup that includes the amazing James Randi, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, science education champion Eugenie Scott, memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, physicist Lawrence Krauss, climate scientist Michael Mann, The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova, and so many more.
(And don’t forget to check out the new audio promos made by Olivia Newton-John fan Barry Karr and aspiring princess Nora Hurley.)
The conference will take place in the stellar Excalibur Hotel and Casino and will feature amazing presentations, illuminating workshops, a Halloween costume party, and, being that this is the Excalibur, a joust dinner at the Tournament of Kings.
This is no illusion; it’s really happening. Investigate it for yourself, and register right now.
Women in Secularism 4 is Coming Soon!
Few events in the freethought world have sparked as much conversation, debate, and inspiration as CFI’s Women in Secularism conferences. It’s been almost two years since the third such conference, and the time has come to reconvene on this pivotal topic.
Women in Secularism 4 will be taking place September 23–25 in Arlington, VA, and there are many things to talk about: The intrusion of religion into women’s lives; violence against women around the world who refuse to let dogma relegate them to second-class status; the role of “safe spaces” within a movement that champions free expression; and so much more.
Come to hear from an incredible lineup of speakers that includes Rebecca Goldstein, Bonya Rafida Ahmed, Melanie Brewster, Wendy Kaminer, Kavin Senapathy, Katha Pollitt, Soraya Chemaly, and many more.
At the Reason Rally, CFI Board Chair Eddie Tabash talked up the Women in Secularism conference saying that “the heavy hand of fundamentalist religious dogma” has too long been allowed to “hamper the millennia-long struggle for universal equal rights for women.” He said a change is “thousands of years overdue because of religion.”
So don’t wait. Register for this highly anticipated conference now.
Jim Stein Entertains with Math at CFI–L.A.
A packed theater of about 75 attendees watched Cal State-Long Beach Emeritus Prof. Jim Stein perform several math-based card tricks – one performed blindfolded with his tie – to illustrate the science and practical value of mathematics for CFI–Los Angeles.
Stein’s enthusiasm and expertise wowed the crowd, both during his presentation and in the audience Q&A. Stein’s new book, L.A. Math: Romance, Crime, and the Mathematics in the City of Angels, illustrate through short stories how two detectives use math to solve perplexing crimes. He showed this tongue-in-cheek book trailer during the talk.
Highlights from CFI on the Web and in the Media
● Erica Hellerstein and Josh Israel at ThinkProgress do a deep dive into the problem of Catholic-owned hospitals and how they let dogma determine the kind of care they give; CFI’s Michael De Dora provides insight.
● On Point of Inquiry, Lindsay Beyerstein talks to Michelle Vines, whose new memoir, Asperger’s on the Inside, tells the tale of growing up different but not being diagnosed until much later in life.
● At Huffington Post, CFI President Ron Lindsay considers the controversy of the Brock Turner rape case and explores what the appropriate punishment for sexual assault should actually be.
● In a special article for CSI, Carrie Poppy goes into the belly of the Scientology beast and submits herself to an in-person Sea Org personality test.
● The Conjuring 2 is a movie based on claims made by real people about a haunted house, claims that have been proven to be a hoax. Ben Radford reviews the movie through a skeptical lens.
● Reacting to the Orlando massacre, CFI’s Nick Little points out how religious demonization of LGBT people, declaring them fit for hell, has set them up as targets. “Preaching a deserved eternity of torture against a group of people dehumanizes that group.”
● Similarly, CFI intern London Sneden bemoans the lack of empathy and religious criticism in the wake of such a horror. “In the United States, existing while queer has always been an act of bravery.”
● CFI Outreach Director Debbie Goddard, along with CFI–Northeast Ohio President Monette Richards, is interviewed on the 200th episode of The Humanist Hour, discussing the Women in Secularism conference and more.
● Tamar Wilner explores how math anxiety (particularly among journalists) can cause bad information to easily spread as though it were fact.
● David Koepsell explores the extra-legal role of ostracism and shunning in the pursuit of law, order, or social justice.
● Stephen Law posts an excerpt from his book The Philosophy Gym on absolute truth versus relativism.
● Joe Nickell tells of, yes, a haunted spaghetti factory cursed with the spirit of a train conductor.
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 kicks off its always-popular Secular Summer Retreat, now in its tenth year.
● CFI–Portland hears from Lauren Uhde, aka “Biology Babe,” on the scientific consensus about GMOs.
● Actor and writer Ian Ruskin comes to CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County to show the film of his one-man stage play To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine and take part in an audience Q&A.
● Check out a genuine, honest-to-goodness Mark VI E-meter from the Church of Scientology at CFI–Los Angeles, and you too can conjure Xenu, raise L. Ron Hubbard from the future, find engrams, and exorcize your thetans!
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 will soon be home to 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.