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
CFI Marks International Blasphemy Rights Day 2015
This Wednesday was International Blasphemy Rights Day, established by CFI to defend the right to free expression, which is now brutally under threat around the world. In countries such as Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others, criticism of religion and dissent from tradition or majority beliefs can lead to marginalization, persecution, and even incarceration, violence, or death. Leading the struggle for free expression—especially when the right to criticize or satirize religion is challenged—has become a core part of CFI’s worldwide mission.
We’re marking this year’s International Blasphemy Rights Day (IRBD) on several fronts. First is the relaunch of the newly redesigned website of the Campaign for Free Expression. There, you can keep up to date on the many cases of persecution we’re tracking and working to solve, learn more about the brave individuals fighting for their freedom, and find ways that you can be a part of the solution.
One way you can help right now is to heed the call of our latest action alert, urging the U.S. Congress to adopt H.Res. 290, which calls for the repeal of blasphemy laws worldwide and calls upon the White House and the State Department to emphasize free expression rights in its relations with other countries. Take action now.
At CFI–Transnational headquarters in Amherst, New York, the day was commemorated with a special presentation by Muhammad Syed, founder and president of Ex-Muslims of America, on the pervasiveness of blasphemy laws and their grim social effects. CFI–Los Angeles celebrated the day with performer Baba Brinkman and his “Rap Guide to Religion,” described as “part rap concert, part comedy, part TED Talk.”
Just before IRBD, CFI representatives delivered statements to the UN Human Rights Council on the spree of violence against secularist writers and activists in Bangladesh, as well as violence and judicial discrimination against women. Videos of both of these statements are available here, as is the complete video of a special presentation by Michael De Dora, CFI’s chief UN representative, on the topic of IRBD and blasphemy rights, presented at the latest CFI Leadership Conference. (Also see Michael quoted in a piece at Religion News Service on IRBD.)
And as we highlighted in the last edition of Cause & Effect, blasphemy rights are the focus of a special new issue of our magazine Free Inquiry, which features a collection of provocative articles and essays, including the first U.S. print publication of the winning “draw Muhammad” cartoon from the controversial conference in Garland, Texas, earlier this year. CFI’s Tom Flynn, editor of Free Inquiry, was the guest for a substantive interview about the special issue on WBFO radio and was featured on WIVB Channel 4 news.
Thanks to CFI, AP Stops Calling Science Deniers “Skeptics”
Last year, we generated a national debate over the the coverage of climate change when over fifty prominent scientists, activists, and communicators issued a joint statement to the news media, urging the end of the use of the term skeptic to describe those who deny the reality of climate change. With signatories that included such luminaries as Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, Ann Druyan, Eugenie Scott, and David Morrison, the statement spurred argument and discussion in countless media outlets, including the New York Times and the Washington Post. At its core, the journalistic community seemed to agree that referring to science deniers such as Sen. James Inhofe, who has made his career by referring to global warming as a “hoax,” as “skeptics” was, at best, problematic.
This week, we scored an important (if incomplete) victory for accuracy in the reporting of climate science, as the Associated Press announced that it was updating its style guide to declare that climate change deniers should no longer be referred to as “skeptics,” rescuing the word from the purveyors of pseudoscience and misinformation and preserving it for those who genuinely practice scientific skepticism. In an interview on NPR, AP science reporter Seth Borenstein credited the Center for Inquiry with instigating this debate and precipitating this change.
However, the AP also now instructs its reporters to refer to climate science deniers as “doubters,” which we feel is still insufficient and gives too much credit to those who refuse to accept reality and scientific consensus. As CFI President and CEO Ron Lindsay said in our statement, “The AP’s journalism is read throughout the world, and heavily influences the public’s understanding of crucial issues such as climate change. Referring to deniers as ‘doubters’ still imbues those who reject scientific fact with an intellectual legitimacy they have not earned. The general public, we fear, will still not get a clear picture of which public figures are basing their positions on reality, and which are not.”
In a piece at Huffington Post on the change, Mark Boslough, who originally spearheaded the effort, says, “Two steps forward and one step back is still a step forward.”
Our role in this mostly positive change was noted in outlets as topically diverse as The National Journal, Newsweek, The Guardian, Quartz, Science, Gizmodo, and Mediaite, among many others. And be sure to listen to the aforementioned interview with the AP’s Borenstein on NPR’s On the Media, where host Bob Garfield comes down heavily on the side of skepticism and accuracy, and CFI is duly credited for “triggering this whole thing.”
News from HQ and the CFI Community
Guards at the Wall of Separation on Point of Inquiry
CFI’s podcast Point of Inquiry has a double-header of church-state separation, with two veterans in the long struggle to keep religion out of government (who both happen to not be atheists).
Lindsay Beyerstein welcomed back to the program Rev. Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a frequent ally and partner of CFI. They discuss Lynn’s long career battling the religious right, recount some of the stories from his new book God and Government, and end with some genuine optimism for the future of secular government.
Josh Zepps, meanwhile, welcomed Jeffrey Selman, an unexpected activist for the wall of separation, who was spurred to act when he discovered his son’s public school was hawking creationism in science class. Josh and Selman wrestle with some of the thornier issues surrounding faith’s role in public life and, discussing just what a slog citizen activism can be, also show that persistence and dedication can be extremely rewarding when fighting for a good cause.
Learning about the Doubt-Manufacturing Business at CFI–L.A.
More than 100 attendees in East Hollywood and Costa Mesa came out for showings of the documentary Merchants of Doubt with CFI–Los Angeles. The film is a critical and often satirical look at the ways spokespersons for various industries cynically promote doubt about solid scientific evidence in areas such as smoking and climate change. The showing was followed in Hollywood by a Q&A with science historian Erik Conway, who cowrote the original book upon which the documentary is based with Naomi Oreskes. Before the Hollywood showing, Executive Director Jim Underdown prepped the audience by telling them their “blood pressure would go up” in watching Merchants of Doubt, as indeed, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott commented that the documentary was “informative and infuriating.”
Dawkins Brings a Candle in the Dark to CFI Branches in October
Folks at the recent Reason for Change conference were treated to a fascinating interview with Richard Dawkins for Point of Inquiry. But if you live in Florida or the DC area, you now have another chance to see Dawkins in person, with your local CFI branch!
In September, Dawkins will release the next part of his memoirs, entitled Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science (a life in science for which he was just honored with CFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award), and will be discussing his book with two CFI branches this October.
On October 10, Dawkins will appear at an event with CFI–Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Coalition of Reason, where he will have a public conversation with Herb Silverman. Before the main event, Dawkins will appear at a VIP reception where each attendee will get an autographed copy of the book. See the full details here. On October 12, Dawkins comes to CFI’s Washington, DC branch for a main event and VIP reception beforehand, complete with signed books. His interviewer for the DC event will be Point of Inquiry’s own Josh Zepps. If you’re going to be close by to either of these events, don’t miss your chance to see Dawkins in person.
CFI in the Media and on the Web
● At the Huffington Post, Ron Lindsay expresses his disappointment that Pope Francis was invited to speak before the U.S. Congress and that the pope accepted, writing, “When leaders of foreign states address Congress, they provide the perspective of their country on matters of interest to the Congress of the United States. Pope Francis is going to present the perspective of—who? God?”
● CFI Communications Director Paul Fidalgo pens a guest op-ed for CNN, pointing out the pope’s missed opportunity to speak up for the victims of true persecution who have had their rights denied, while wasting his time and political capital on Kim Davis, famous for denying rights to others.
● Stephen Law demolishes the frequent claim to certainty indicated by the phrase “but I just know,” using perhaps for the first time the phrase “false breakfast memories.”
● Ronald H. Pine and Eliécer E. Gutiérrez in Skeptical Inquirer pick apart the problems with the Bryan Sykes Bigfoot-Yeti-DNA hubbub.
● “Learning is our final freedom,” writes David Koepsell, who encourages readers to educate themselves outside of “an increasingly corporate, metric-driven system that frankly dehumanizes and makes learning a chore.”
● In Skeptical Inquirer, Steve Cuno takes a deep dive into what is and is not true about deceptive and subliminal advertising.
● Ben Radford points out a kind of conspiratorial hypocrisy, when conspiracy theorists attach themselves to the outlandish and fictional and ignore the real conspiracies that actually harm people.
● Ben is also joined by other skeptical experts for a panel at Hopes & Fears on the proliferation of mis- and disinformation in the media.
● Declan Fahy explores the history of science popularizers such as Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein in Skeptical Inquirer’s cover story from this summer on celebrity scientists.
And of course, you can keep up with news relevant to skeptics and seculars every weekday with The Morning Heresy.
Upcoming CFI Events
● Michael Hiltzik, author of Big Science: Ernest Lawrence and the Invention that Launched the Military-Industrial Complex, speaks to CFI–Los Angeles about the art of debunking.
● Richard Dawkins comes to CFI–Tampa Bay (see news item).
● Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network speaks to CFI–Austin about the religious right’s agenda for legislation and education.
● Richard Dawkins comes to CFI–DC (see news item).
● Jason Torpy of the Military Association of Atheists & Freethinkers speaks to CFI–Los Angeles about nonbelievers’ struggle for equality in the U.S. military.
● Professor of biomedical sciences Cara Ocobock comes to CFI–Michigan to talk about how not to die in inhospitable climates.
● CFI–Michigan takes part in a service project, doing some planting at Townsend Park.
● Historian of Harry Houdini, John Cox, comes to CFI–Los Angeles and CFI–Orange County to talk about the skeptical side of Houdini.
● Michelle Montague of UT Austin will speak to CFI–Austin about the “The Life of the Mind”—conservative and liberal views of cognitive phenomenology.
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.
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