In this Edition of Critical Links:
March Dates of Interest
- Dr. Seuss, Women, Super Mario, and More!
CFIC News and Events
- A Farewell to Deborah McTaggart
- A Farewell to Andrew Mulcahy
- Knock on Wood: CFIC Ottawa Event with Jeffrey Rosenthal
- CFIC Virtual Branch Needs Volunteers
- Some Notes on Measles
- The Lectin-free Diet: Fruits and Vegetables are Bad for You!
- International Aid and Homeopathy
- On the Lighter Side of Human Credulity: Never Underestimate. Ever.
- When Beauty Turns Ugly
- Keith's Conundrums: The Verb "To Be"
February 25 to March 3
is Invasive Species Awareness Week. Though much of the country is still blanketed with snow, you can visit the
Canadian Invasive Species Centre website
to find out more about the dangers lurking below.
Dr. Seuss Day
, which would have been Theodor Seuss Geisel's 115th birthday.
Nintendo fans celebrate
10th of March
Gather round, math geeks:
: Beware the
Ides of March
(And perhaps take some time to consider the number of people who would laugh at that ancient Roman superstition, but still take time check out their horoscope!)
Q: When is the best day to back up your data?
If you celebrate any of these, or have any suggestions for upcoming celebrations or observances, please drop us a line or send a picture to
A Farewell to One of Our Favourites: Deborah McTaggart
CFI Canada would like to give a shoutout to someone who passed away last month who was a huge voice in the Canadian secular community, Deborah McTaggart, aka “Heretic Woman”. I was told she died peacefully in her sleep at the young age of 46.
A sweetheart to all who knew her, Deborah attended many of the secular humanist and atheist events and functions in the GTA. She travelled around and attended events in the States as well. She and I hung out at Mythinformation Con in Milwaukee in 2017. I remember Deborah as very kind and very fun and very well liked. She was a welcome face who always made me and the people around her feel welcome and smile.
Her podcast, Youtube’s
Beyond The Trailer Park
, had many well-known folks on it. She was never afraid to speak her mind about injustice in the world. Deborah left much too early for someone with such a voice and desire and ability to encourage change in the world and unite the secular community. She was a great person and we can only say great things and think great thoughts about her.
She will be missed.
A Farewell to Another Favourite: Andrew Guy Mulcahy
Andrew Guy Mulcahy, an outstanding and devoted secular humanist and organizer, died in January, in Victoria, B.C., aged 96. He was born in Victoria on August 3, 1922. At 17, Andy enlisted in the Canadian Scottish Regiment and with them crossed France, Holland, and Belgium. He fought in Normandy on June 6th, 1944, also known as D-Day. He was wounded in Germany the following February and returned to Victoria.
Andy used to tell about how, in the thick of the battle, he “would pray to live one half-hour more. Maybe I felt that was the best deal any god could give me under the circumstances.” He also used to tell about awakening after a battle, among dead Germans, torn limbs, destruction, and desolation, only to realize with clarity and finality: “There is NO God...”.
Andy was instrumental in running the Victoria Secular Humanist Association (VSHA). A former VSHA secretary commented that “Andy at the HELM was the captain of the ship during our 'drowning' times when it was questionable as to whether we could survive, numbers dwindling drastically. Andy kept us going... Thanks, Andy, for saving our souls and never giving up.” For several years Andy aided the resuscitation of the group and produced and financially supported a secular monthly newsletter. He wrote poetry and maintained a blog,
. One of his favourite annual projects was the Darwin Day celebration.
Andy's philosophy can be expressed through his favorite aphorisms such as “Compassion is our game and responsibility is our aim” (from his
Personal Humanist Manifesto
) or his message for recent refugees: “Welcome to secular Canada, where women hold equal authority to men” (September 19, 2015). He was a staunch feminist and anti-racist.
In February 2017, Andy co-organized another secular humanist group in Victoria: none other than the Victoria branch of the Center for Inquiry Canada. In two years, the CFIV has grown to 140 members strong. Andy's life and uncompromisingly high moral standing will always teach us and remain our inspiration.
Thank you, Andy.
Knock on Wood
: Jeffrey Rosenthal Ottawa Event, March 17
Are life's uncertainties random? Or are they governed by concepts of fate, destiny, superstition, astrology, or divine intervention?
Once again, CFIC will offer an opportunity for people to hear a talk by Jeffery Rosenthal, including a book signing and Q&A.
CFIC Virtual Branch Looking for Volunteers
Branches are CFIC’s presence in the community. Branches bring together like-minded people to organize events, offer programs, and provide friendship and support to one another. Branches are a great way to bring people in large, urban centres together. However, CFIC recognizes that many of our members live in less populated areas and are unable to attend events in person but would like to be more involved. For this reason, CFIC is proposing a virtual branch.
The virtual branch will require a Branch Manager and a team of volunteers to create this online branch and offer online events, programs, and discussion groups. If you are well organized and comfortable with technology, please consider volunteering. You will have the opportunity to create meaningful programs and to meet some amazing people from across the country. For more information about this opportunity, please
email our volunteer coordinator, Michelle
Some Notes on Measles
A measles epidemic is afoot in Washington State. A horrifying realization is that up to a quarter of the state's kids are not vaccinated against measles, thanks to obscurantist conspiracy theories of ignorant followers of various religious sects.
The measles virus inactivates the human immune system system (sort of like AIDS but not irreversibly) and the child for weeks is very susceptible to any other viruses or bacteria — defenseless, prone to get sick soon again.
That's why some people may suffer from severe complications of measles, such as pneumonia (infection of the lungs) and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). They may need to be hospitalized and could die. As many as one out of every 20 children with measles gets pneumonia. In the 1940s, my niece, then 6, had measles encephalitis and was left physically and mentally disabled for the rest of her life.
this article from Quora
, the author explains what changed his mind about being anti-vaccination. I might add only one facet the author failed to mention: He stated that as the tests showed, he was healthy because had never been exposed to the measles and other viruses. He skipped to stress that this happens because the others around him HAD been vaccinated. Hence they were immune to those viruses, and therefore could not carry them and share them with him.
In other words, he had a free ride at expense of others. How ethical is this?
Measles in Vancouver
Measles in the Philippines
According to the Washington Post
, "Doctors in the Philippine capital are battling an acute measles crisis, with more than 4,000 children sick and 70 deaths so far." The outbreak has been blamed on an unwillingness to immunize babies. The spread of the disease is a huge setback to a country that had been on its way to eliminating measles, and it underscores the dangers of movements against vaccinations. In 2005, for example, the Philippines had almost no deaths from measles. The outbreak follows a global wave of measles outbreaks — 6.7 million cases worldwide in 2017 — including in parts of the United States and Europe, similarly fed by
conspiracies and misinformation
The Lectin-free Diet: Fruits and Vegetables are Bad for You!
My mother called the other day to ask me if I knew about a “thing” found in vegetables called lectins. Admittedly, I had vaguely remembered learning about these proteins in my food science class but not enough to make a comment. She went on to say that a
had written a book touting that they were TOXIC; they were the source of weight gain, autoimmune disorders, gastrointestinal issues, cancer, depression, and a host of other ailments.
She listed all the foods that must be avoided: all grains and grain products (except for wild rice and amaranth), all grain-fed animal foods (milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, meat, etc.), all legumes (especially soy), a variety of popular nuts and seeds, many popular cooking oils, and any fruits and vegetables that contain seeds (the nightshade family being the biggest culprit). Immediately, my skeptic senses tingled — burned, actually.
Without having a clear idea of what lectins were, I felt this was suspiciously similar to the gluten narrative: A medical doctor (also a cardiologist) writes a book prescribing folks to cut out well known, healthful foods because a protein is
discovered to be
the root cause of all modern illnesses
. Being a skeptic, I recognized the logical fallacies presented but I couldn’t just dismiss the claims without evidence; so naturally I did some digging.
So, what are these things? Lectins are a broad group of carbohydrate-binding proteins found in almost all foods and serve a variety of important functions in plants and animals (including humans). A familiar lectin you may have heard about is the deadly poison ricin, produced in the seeds of the castor oil plant. Raw legumes like kidney beans also contain high amounts of lectin that indeed can be toxic for humans if consumed.
However, in his 2017 book
The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain
, Dr. Steven Gundry takes this kernel of truth about lectins and inflates it with nonsense. Just like the author of
, Gundry uses data from his own patients as evidence to promote a lectin-free diet in the absence of conclusive research. He claims that lectins are the number-one danger in the American diet and that everything we know about nutrition is wrong.
Removing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts from one’s diet flies in the face of every dietary recommendation given by global health authorities such as the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization, and Health Canada, who recently released their newly revised
, which recommends
The tangible health benefits of eating plant-based foods certainly outweigh perceived risks of lectins, an area of research that is limited and inconclusive. Contrary to what Dr. Gundry claims in his book, research on lectin-rich foods have shown that they
may reduce the risk of cancer
reduce markers of inflammation
, and are
not associated with weight gain
. Furthermore, these foods provide a wide array of essential nutrients. Removing them from one’s diet can potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies. Further, cooking destroys most of the lectin in foods, which, regardless, doesn’t present an issue for the body to eliminate. This crucial information does not help sell a new panacea.
This is unfortunately another medical doctor abusing his title to promote a new version of dietary nonsense to the public for profit. I don’t think the lectin-free diet will get as popular as the gluten-free diet because of how ridiculously restrictive it is (I implore you to look at the list of allowable foods). Following his advice would certainly impact the quality of your diet, but Dr. Gundry will happily sell you pricey supplements to replace the missing nutrients in the foods he’s advising you to avoid, speaking volumes about this silly diet.
International Aid and Homeopathy
Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis)
is an insect-borne tropical disease that begins with flu-like symptoms and can end with heart failure for 20-30% of those infected. There are pharmaceutical treatments available which can reduce symptoms (and have up to a 90% cure rate for infants and young children). But recently, Global Affairs Canada
allocated $350,000 to send volunteer homeopathic practitioners
to Honduras to provide homeopathic “treatments”. Perhaps the Global Affairs staff mean well. Perhaps they believe there is some link between the group they are funding and the (well-known effective humanitarian organisation) Doctors without Borders. But homeopathy is pure quackery
there is not even a feasible mechanism for homeopathic “medicines” to work,
because they contain no active ingredients
This is clearly a misuse of our tax-supported international aid money, and we encourage readers to contact the Minister of International Development by email to
), or by postal mail to:
Mme. Marie Claude Bibeau
Confederation Building, Suite 407
House of Commons
Please let us know if you have sent an electronic or paper letter, and if you received a response. We’ll post a selection on our website.
On the Lighter Side of Human Credulity: Never Underestimate. Ever.
“A Mysterious Company Claims to Sell Sneeze-Filled Tissues for $80. Is it Real?” This is the
real title of a recently published article
magazine, composed by health writer Mandy Oaklander. But is
real? As readers of
, you will likely flail into an eye-roll for the ages, because you know exactly where this story is going. The investigative piece dives into the who, what, when, where, why, and how, just as you’d expect. Unfortunately (for civilization), the answer to the question “Is it real?” is yes. The company Vaev does indeed exist, and Oaklander even landed an interview with the founder.
article, should you choose to dig deeper, goes over a number of reasons why this simply can’t or shouldn’t work. The product is meant to allow people to choose when they get sick. For example, if you have a vacation coming up and you want to make sure you don’t get sick, you might think to get it out of the way. Does the product fulfill this purpose? Quality control measures at almost all points in the process — from infected nose, to tissue, to regular U.S. postal, to uninfected but eager nose — leave the efficacy in question.
As a pharmacist and healthcare provider, some immediate doubts creep into my mind regarding the proposed mechanism. First, the common cold is caused by the rhinovirus. Though rhinovirus can survive some time outside of a host, beyond experimental conditions
it isn’t known to survive beyond 24 hours
. All viruses are different, but in general they do not survive without hosts.
Second, unlike the influenza virus, which usually spreads in three or four prevailing strains, there are literally
dozens to hundreds of strains of rhinovirus circulating
. Therefore, if somehow the virus stored on the Vaev tissue survived to reach the customer, and it did infect them, there is an extremely low likelihood it offers protection against future colds.
Third, viruses affect everyone differently; while it’s possible the sneeze-donors had rhinovirus, it’s also possible they had something else, rhinovirus or other. What appears as a run-of-the-mill nose cold in one person can be deadly in another (e.g., influenza in an elderly patient, respiratory syncytial virus in a newborn, etc.). In short, without any further research, my conclusion is that the idea is scientifically preposterous at best, and dangerous at worst. And this is
an exhaustive list of holes in the Vaev theory!
Further, assuming it does work, is sending viruses by mail even legal? Uncertain, but either way, it appears nearly impossible to detect or stop. And the most painful question of all: Are people buying it for a cool $79.99 USD?
Before selling out, Vaev sold over 1000 tissues.
But how, you ask? How could anyone be duped by this? One quick Google search and you’ll immediately see that many of the contemporary woo boxes are ticked.
• Website (vaevtissue.com) complete with modern design — check
• Stereotypical product description, complete with reference to “organic” ingredients — check
• Boutiquey packaging, complete with petri dish (
") inside — check
• Instagram presence, complete with models — check
• YouTube commercial, complete with pseudo-homeopathic logic — check
We’ve seen this before, but that doesn’t make this case any less disturbing. There’s not much one can learn from this other than … never underestimate what will sell. Ever. Use your awareness of this flaw in humans for good rather than evil, and encourage others to do the same.
Who is Freedom Talk?
(Alberta Parents for Unbiased Public Inclusive Learning) shared frightening information about a serious attack on public education. On February 8 and 9,
held their annual conference. The morning of February 9 held a session titled “Education not Indoctrination” and focused on arguments for Christianity in schools.
The conference was titled
Things that Matter: An Agenda for Alberta
. The full agenda for the conference seemed to focus on arguing against science and secularism to promote the self-serving interests of extreme Christians and those wishing to dispute the legitimacy of climate change.
Of particular concern is the session “Parental Rights in the GSA Era” (GSA stands for Gay-Straight Alliance). The speaker for
is none other than John Carpay, the lawyer who
compared the LGBTQ pride flags to swastikas
. Carpay’s organization has challenged Alberta’s Bill 24, protecting GSAs, and restricting school staff from disclosing information to parents regarding student participation in such clubs and events.
For those of us who understand the importance of secularism, it is often difficult to believe that there are many people in Canada who are still fighting for “Christian values” and arguing against the science of climate change, yet they obviously are among us.
Freedom Talk is chaired by Danny Hozak, whose claim to fame appears to be a failed attempt to run for the Alberta United Conservative Party. The UCP denied Mr. Hozak’s candidacy due to several comments on his social media platform — most notably inflammatory comments related to Muslims, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community — which were deemed potentially harmful to the reputation of the party. The full text of the letter to Mr. Hozak and his response can be found
An attempt to understand who backs Freedom Talk was an exercise in frustration. There is no information available on their website about how they are funded, where they are located, or how they are governed. However, the individuals who write for them are affiliated with academic institutions in the UK, California, Saskatchewan, and Ontario.
Thank you to A PUPIL for raising concerns about this conference. It is important that those of us promoting science, secularism, and critical thinking work together. Otherwise, the self-interests of the extremists will undermine our efforts.
When Beauty Turns Ugly
Can you judge the past using the values of the present? Should we excuse the poor behavior of people of prior times, based on our desire to romanticize the characters and events of history? It seems that many of the controversies of today are the tension between people wishing to defend the past and those wishing to expose the tyrannies of history.
Many readers will have seen the giant statue of a serviceman kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day, and, like me, thought it was a serviceman being reunited with his girlfriend or wife. As with many public sculptures, we have admired and romanticized both the content and the times, without understanding the truth behind them.
statue in Sarasota Florida was defaced
by graffiti reading “#MeToo.” My initial thoughts were admittedly those of annoyance, defending the installations. They are beautiful and celebratory. As I read the article, however, a new truth emerged. The soldier did not know the woman and the woman was a non-consenting participant in the event. Also, the event was repeated many times that day as men treated women as objects available to reward them for their service.
Previously, over the holidays, there was criticism of the holiday song “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” This is a personal favorite of mine, which I had always thought was the internal conflict between a woman’s desire to stay and obligation to leave. Reviewing the
made me uncomfortable. It seems to depict a woman’s attempt to escape the clutches of a man intent on forcing her to stay.
I am at a loss about how to integrate the romantic beauty I have enjoyed as a result of the internal narrative I have created about these (and many other) works of art and the truth about the times and the suffering that truly took place. Do you have your own story of how your past beliefs have changed as a result of current knowledge? Please share them by emailing
Keith's Conundrums: The Verb "To Be"
In this column I will pose “funny problems”. Some will be paradoxes; some will be weird things to think through. Generally they will have a popular science and philosophy feel, though some are taken from undergraduate-level discussions as well. Feel free to write back with comments, questions, and any feedback you wish. You can email me at
, or post a comment
on the CFIC website
. In each subsequent column, I will discuss the feedback and more details about the previous problem and introduce a new one.
Let’s begin and reason together!
The Meaning of ‘Is’
During his impeachment scandal, Bill Clinton infamously said, “It depends upon what the meaning of ‘is’ is.” Saying so was likely not very politically astute and it seems to have been irrelevant at the time. However, he was onto something interesting. So, what
the meaning of the English verb “to be”?
Here are some data to help you out. All of these use “to be” in various ways
1. Joan is nice.
2. A screwdriver is vodka and orange juice.
3. Justin Trudeau is a Liberal.
4. Cats are mammals.
5. Batman is Bruce Wayne.
6. I think, therefore I am.
7. Water is H
Fields you may wish to think about to help through this question and define the concept of “to be”: set theory, formal logic proper, comparative linguistics, and languages other than English. A little hint to avoid bending your brain too much: consider #7 last.
Check out next month’s
for the answer!
Books and Authors
Have you read a good book lately? One that made you think more critically? One that changed your outlook? Something that used science to call into question misinformation?
Critical Links is looking for book reviewers to share their thoughts on books that other members will enjoy.