In this Edition of Critical Links:
May Dates of Interest
News and Events
- March for Science 2019
- CFIC Manitoba: Losing Our Religion Screening and Q&A
- CFIC Ottawa: Skepticamp and Kids for Inquiry
- Volunteer Opportunity: The Cost of Religion
- On May 4, Help CFIC Promote #RealScience
- Horror in Sri Lanka
- Quebec: Secularism vs. Laicity
- Evidence for Democracy Webinar
- Rebuilding Notre Dame: How the commentary could influence charitable giving
- Nutritionists vs. Dietitians: Is there a difference?
- Keith’s Conundrums: Barry’s PowerBook
Books (and Podcasts) and Authors
- Science Vs. the Bee-pocalypse
March for Science 2019
- The March for Science day of action is set for May 4.
- May 3 is the next national youth climate strike in Canada. This international, youth-led movement is a science-based call for bold and urgent action from world leaders on climate change. So, this year, in celebration of March for Science, we are encouraging Canadian researchers to show up and show support for the youth and their message by attending the strike in their community. We're aiming for Canadian scientists to come out in droves to show support. If you'd like to host a sign-making party for researchers in your community in advance of the day, reach out and we will support you! We have also released an open letter of support for the youth from the Canadian science community. If you are an active or retired researcher in Canada, please add your name to help reach 1000 signatories by May 3.
- Finally, if you are in St. John's, there will be a letter writing and sign making party on the 3rd and they'll be marching for science on May 4th! Find the details here.
Losing Our Religion
Screening and Q&A
Losing Our Religion
provides a first look inside
The Clergy Project
, an anonymous online space that acts as a safe haven for preachers who no longer believe in god. For the first time, a documentary crew was allowed access to the project’s members, many of whom find themselves trapped, facing the dilemma of either living a lie or losing their job, their friends, and their community, and even their homes and families.
Filmmaker Leslea Mair interviewed clergy across North America, including the American Deep South. Leslea also talked to former clergy members who are now “out.” They give open and personal explanations of why they became preachers, what happened, the cost of being honest, and why they are still working to help others trapped in the pulpit.
Their stories also connect with secular communities that are growing in surprising places. New groups are experimenting with having a church without god. Featuring such well-known figures as Gretta Vosper, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Dan Barker,
Losing Our Religion
is a documentary about community, acceptance, and a view inside the complicated lives of clergy who are stranded in the rising tide of non-believers.
The film — written, directed, and produced by Winnipeg-based filmmakers Leslea Mair and Leif Kaldor of Zoot Pictures, Inc. — was shot across Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. over two years. Leslea and Leif will hold a Q&A session after the screening.
CFIC Ottawa: Skepticamp and Kids for Inquiry
Skepticamp gatherings may be on the wane but they are certainly still popular in the nation’s capital. The concept of letting free-thinkers and skeptics have free rein on a platform to give talks about their favourite subjects is an excellent fit for several of CFIC’s mandates. Attendance continues to grow. This year’s event boasted a more central location and better advertising.
In conjunction with this year’s Skepticamp, we ran a successful Kids for Inquiry (KFI). KFI is a program of family- and child-friendly science and critical thinking activities and workshops. Popularity of this year’s activities contributed to the attendance at Skepticamp overall. Two of our very own helped with KFI’s “squishy circuits,” demonstrating how to build simple, safe electronic circuits that anyone could understand. Parents included.
Skepticamp was very intense with talk after talk on diverse topics such as stoicism, street epistemology, evolution and morality, “The Autistic Atheist,” humanism, and many more. We in Ottawa seem to have tapped into an event that people want and we already have interest from both the audience and participants in doing it again next year.
All in all a very busy day and CFIC Ottawa is already planning for the next one!
Volunteer Opportunity: The Cost of Religion
Are you interested in gaining some new research skills and helping with the joint CFIC/BC Humanist Association project, “The Cost of Religion”? This project is looking at the ways that Canadian taxpayers fund religions in Canada. We are looking for a volunteer from each province to assist us in calculating the value of property tax exemptions.
Volunteers will receive basic training in what information to look for and where to find it. Volunteers’ participation will be cited in the final article. For more information, please email Sandra Dunham:
On May 4, Help CFIC Promote #RealScience
CFIC is launching a new way for the public to share the benefits of real science and flag harmful pseudoscience. We are launching web and social media, along with a quick guide that helps consumers tell real science from pseudoscience. This launch will coincide with the March for Science Day on May 4, 2019.
This will help people share the benefits of real science and expose those who use scientific language to promote very unscientific ideas or products.
“The greedy and deluded are harming people’s health and scamming them out of millions of dollars,” said Gus Lyn-Piluso, CFIC President, “and very little is being done by regulators, scientists, the medical community, and the media to protect Canadians.”
Scientific misinformation is spread through social media, the general media, celebrity endorsements, and weak government oversight and regulation. When believed, this misinformation can result in great financial expense for no benefit (e.g., intravenous vitamin therapy, drinking collagen), can result in dangerous side effects (e.g., eating your placenta, ingesting charcoal for “detoxification”), and can be fatal (e.g., anti-vaxxers).
The average Canadian receives little or no education in critical thinking. Meanwhile, confusing messages from ideologues, the self-indulgent, and corporate interests bombard every Canadian, every day. Most of us feel ill-equipped to separate the real science from the self-serving junk.
To help us tailor the platform and quick guide, we’re asking for the public’s help. Send us the real science that means the most to you, or your favorite pseudoscientific claim. Post it to our Facebook or Twitter pages with the hashtags
. Let’s get the message out.
Horror in Sri Lanka
Sandra Dunham & Edan Tasca
On Sunday, during Easter services, coordinated terrorist bombings across Sri Lanka were responsible for the deaths of 253 people and approximately 500 injuries. Among the dead were 39 foreign nationals and three police officers. The attacks included three churches, four hotels, and one suburb. A total of eight bombings took place in three Sri Lankan cities (Negombo, Colombo, and Batticaloa) over five and a half hours.
The death toll extends far beyond Christians and Sri Lankans. The bombings killed and injured people from around the globe, including tourists, as well as foreign workers from India, Australia, Turkey, the U.K., the U.S., Spain, and Portugal. On April 23,
ISIS claimed responsibility
. The attackers were Sri Lankan citizens, but the particulars of which local organizations might have been involved and how they were involved remains a matter for further investigation.
Early in the investigation authorities suspected that these bombings were designed in retaliation for the March attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, that targeted Muslims. However, this motive has since become suspect because evidence has emerged that planning for these attacks predates Christchurch. Further, there isn’t yet agreement about whether the suicide bombers were specifically attacking Christians or simply targeting where and when the most carnage would occur.
Violence of this type was common during the country’s 26-year civil war; however, Sri Lanka has seen much less violence since that war ended in 2009. There is understandably significant fear that this violence could spur additional religious- and/or ethnic-based attacks. Indeed, a petrol bomb attack on a mosque and arson attacks on two Muslim-owned shops in Sri Lanka, all on Sunday afternoon, may give credence to this fear.
expressed our sympathy for the victims of the attack at the Christchurch mosque, where a gunman killed 50 people, it is no less than a heartbreak that we find ourselves in the same situation this month. Once again, #TheyAreUs.
CFIC passionately believes that religion should have no place in the decision making of government. As humanists, we are equally passionate that murderous hate should have no place in our society. Further, we must remember that it is not the mainstream folks from any large population who perpetrate these acts, but rather the minority that seeks to create division. Whether people of faith or not, we are all in this together.
Whether violence is based on religious tenets or a non-religious desire to divide and conquer, CFIC renounces the violence. Similarly, whether these attacks were or were not meant as retaliation should have no bearing on the horror and disgust the world feels about the carnage. To those who have been harmed, directly or indirectly, we offer our deepest condolences.
Quebec: Secularism vs. "Laicity"
Secularism is one of CFIC’s
core areas of focus
. Our position is that a secular society, one which is not defined or directed by religion, is a key to creating a more peaceful and integrated society.
A secular society is one in which the government and all its institutions — from its military to its courts to its schools — are religiously neutral.
A secular society
- respects and protects both freedom of religion, and freedom from religion;
- supports the right to an education that is free from all religiously motivated requirements; and
- upholds the rights of all citizens to hold and practice religious beliefs that differ from those of other citizens, and from those of the government (including the right to no religion).
We do not seek to ban religious practices in public spaces. However, we do seek to eliminate any special considerations afforded to such practices, and as such we oppose anti-blasphemy laws, government funding of religious organizations, public funding of religious schools, religious tax exemptions, and other legal exceptions that provide special treatment for faith-based organizations or practices.
Recent events in Quebec have
raised questions about how best to attain the goal of a secular society
The government of Quebec has a unique view of secularism, for which they use the English term "laicity" (a translation of the French
, a term which has its roots in the French Revolution). Further, the conservative CAQ government states that Quebec, as a nation, "has its own characteristics, one of which is its civil law tradition, distinct social values and a specific history that led it to develop a particular attachment to state laicity." But
some have challenged
Quebec’s approach as racist (or at least xenophobic), and raised questions as to whether this "laicity" is really just an implementation of "cultural Christianity."
In a secular society, there must be neither special accommodations nor special sanctions applied to any persons, writings, or actions for purely religious reasons. In today’s pluralistic society, it is important for all people, whether or not they are religious, to understand the principles of secularism, and work towards a society which balances embracing diversity against the freedom of each human being to make their own choices with respect to their faith or lack of faith.
Evidence for Democracy Webinar: Misinformation and what to do about it
This past February, Evidence for Democracy ran an online webinar on misinformation and what to do about it. The webinar was clearly geared to the average person who perhaps had little or no training in critical thinking. It laid out the basics of propaganda (without referring to it by name) and had practical advice on how to counter the effects.
Evidence for Democracy’s idea of reframing the popular term “fake news” into categories "misinformation," "disinformation," and "malinformation" is insightful. For example, one important takeaway from the webinar is that not all false information comes from bad actors, but sometimes from ignorance.
Taking the time to verify that something is true and not letting our own biases subvert this process is paramount. It is important for all of us to recognize misinformation when we see it, to not repeat it, to delete it if we accidentally repeat it, and to critique it if we can.
Check out the webinar
Rebuilding Notre Dame: How the commentary could influence charitable giving
The fire at the iconic Notre Dame Cathedral made headlines earlier this week. Immediately following the live and very intense broadcast of this tragedy the money for rebuilding started to roll in. Within a few days, over $900 million had been pledged to rebuild the 800-year-old Catholic church. Almost as fast as the money rolled in, so too did the controversy. If these uberwealthy individuals could afford tens of millions of dollars to replace bricks and mortar, why not use the same money to support causes that are more worthy? And, are these donations going to the Catholic Church, arguably one of the richest institutions on the planet and one that has used this wealth to hide from and defend against accusations of widespread sexual abuse of children?
As someone who has spent a career in the charitable sector, I must admit that at the first mention of the staggering donations to the rebuilding of Notre Dame, my mind instantly imagined the good that this money could do to make the world a better place. I thought about what this amount of money could do for the causes I value the most: education and literacy; support for people living in war torn areas of the world; poverty reduction and job skills training; sports and recreation; and, of course, CFIC’s own important cause of secularism and critical thinking.
However, I also paused to wonder about who gets to decide what causes are important. Is it always wrong to choose to fund things that make the world beautiful? Should art galleries, gardens, or historical associations be ineligible for charitable status? What makes us decide who to give our money to? And, perhaps most importantly, how will this public judgement impact future giving?
Like many social media users, I had an immediate, very strong, negative reaction to these large donations going to the Catholic Church, which is reputed to be
one of the wealthiest institutions in the world
. However, a bit of
informs me that Notre Dame (and all churches in France that were built before 1905) is owned by the state. (This leads to a question for another day about the ethics of state-owned property being used exclusively by one religious group.) So, funds raised will not go to the church but to the Government of France for the purpose of rebuilding a historic site.
While the outrage we heard about these donations is understandable, it is perhaps misplaced and overblown. Public sentiment appears to favour rebuilding the iconic tourist destination. I suspect that any effort on the part of the French government to raze the remains of Notre Dame and sell the land would be met with as much or more outrage.
One of my initial concerns was that the negative commentary targeting these major donors might make people less likely to donate to other causes. However, a recent
NBC news article
highlights that the commentary could instead raise the profile of similar causes. For example, since the Notre Dame fire, the GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for three historically black churches in Louisiana has risen from a mere $50,000 to over $1.8 million. Perhaps other causes, highlighted in the media as more worthy than Notre Dame, will also derive some benefit from the dialogue.
Nutritionists vs. Dietitians: Is there a difference?
With the inevitable integration of social media into our lives, there seems to be no shortage of people pushing their lifestyles on us by promoting their diet tricks, sharing their fitness tips, and giving out unsolicited nutrition advice. Workshops and courses are offered by health and wellness coaches and gurus, with fancy titles like Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN) and Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP) that follow their names. Are these designations credible, and are they qualified to provide nutrition advice? Are they the same as a Registered Dietitian?
To become an RHN or CNP*, according to the program offered by The Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, students must complete a 1-year program (full-time) which includes 19 courses that consist of "
natural nutrition relevant to each stage of life, as well as sciences, research and fundamentals of business
." The program is offered by a few institutes in Canada, and is regulated by the provincial education ministries that oversee private career colleges.
There is a deep emphasis on the importance of so-called connections between "body, mind and spirit," which is the foundational mantra of their practice. And frankly, it resembles the qualities of a cult.
Alongside the meager 12 hours dedicated to cellular biology, 27 hours on the pathology of disease, and 30 combined hours on anatomy and physiology, there’s 27 hours spent studying this sacred connection between the mind, body, and spirit, which — according to
, a former holistic nutritionist — includes chakras, human energy fields, and intuition. In addition to the regular classroom courses, there are 50 hours of mandatory practicals, focusing on case-study work that
such as understanding alternative medicine modalities (e.g., chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture); detoxification (e.g., cleansing, parasites); and environmental factors (farmer’s markets, GMOs, organics). Graduates of this program can expect to practice privately or work with other private healthcare professionals to "
educate individuals or groups about the benefits and health impacts of optimal nutrition
." They are unable to work in hospitals because they are not clinically trained in disease management.
How does the education of nutritionists measure up to dietitians? In general, very badly.
For an individual to become a
(RD), an accredited undergraduate degree in human nutrition, food, and dietetics with appropriate courses in sciences is required. This involves at least 1250 hours of supervised practical training in an accredited dietetic internship, as well as the successful completion of the
Canadian Dietetic Registration Examination
. Dietitians are also required by law to keep their skills and knowledge up to date.
What sets them even further apart from nutritionists is that they are government-regulated health professionals, like physicians, pharmacists, and nurses. The RD title is protected by law across Canada, which means only individuals registered with a provincial regulatory body can call themselves dietitians, and that dietitians are held accountable by these bodies to provide safe, science-based, competent, and ethical nutrition services. They are legally qualified to a) provide both general nutrition education and medical nutrition therapy in clinical settings like hospitals, b) advise government on creating better health policies, c) conduct food science and nutrition research, and d) educate future dietitians and healthcare professionals.
Ultimately, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist in most provinces (except for Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, where the title is equivalent to Dietitian). Although RHN is a
it is not a professional designation. This means people can practice under the title of nutritionist (or any other similar unregulated title) with having little to no education in human nutrition or dietetics, which can lead to the spread of biased, false, and pseudoscientific information to clients who believe they are seeing a qualified and credible health practitioner. Without the oversight of a regulatory body, bad practices and unethical behaviours can go unchecked, and if there are any concerns about the care and information given to clients, there isn’t any formal complaints process for recourse. There is no quality control or assurance of the information disseminated by these individuals.
Can educational programs that integrate complementary and alternative medicine into the curriculum ever be valid? It is evident that a 1-year certificate course to become a nutritionist does not meet the basic requirements to be qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy. Certified Holistic Cancer Practitioner, Registered Orthomolecular Health Practitioner, Registered Nutritional Consulting Practitioner, and other nutrition "expert" titles all sound impressive, but are fundamentally deficient in proper science-based education. Remain critical of the nutritional information you hear, question the credentials of individuals making claims related to food and nutrition, and remember that Registered Dietitians are the only nutritional health professional qualified to provide nutrition advice.
Keith’s Conundrums: Barry’s Powerbook
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 column, I will discuss the feedback and more details about the previous problem and introduce a new one.
I got some answers to
the last Conundrum
. One neat idea suggested that the sentencing (i.e.,
to resolve, rather than
to resolve) should be considered distinct from the finding (i.e., a broken contract). It does seem to resolve the problem; however, I was thinking in another way to be contrarian (as a mental exercise). Let’s look at how that would go.
Note that both Protagoras and Eualthus argue as if there are only two possibilities — one either wins or loses the case. But we know that sometimes dichotomies are false. This means that an argument is assuming that there are only two choices, when there could be more. So in this case, what if there are other alternatives? For example, what if we allow a compromise whereby the money cancels out, and both parties can carry on as they were before.
This may seem weird, but it is interesting to reflect on what sort of things really do only come with two alternatives. In some criminal law jurisdictions, even "guilty" and "innocent" are not the only alternatives. For example, from what I understand, Scots law allows "not proven" as another choice. (I am not sure what practical consequences there are to this, however. I am not a lawyer.)
For fun, let’s remember that sometimes in philosophy even the old standbys of "true" and "false" are sometimes held to not be exhaustive. An intuitionistic logic, for example, also has propositions which lack truth value as another alternative, while a dialetheia might suggest that propositions such as ours are both true and false. This is a very technical area of philosophy, but those who have good formal skills might find it interesting to explore.
Moving to this month’s puzzle, then.
May: Barry’s PowerBook
Years ago, I knew a computer programmer by the name of Barry. At the time, he was very fond of a particular PowerBook Duo. He took it on business trips around the world. From time to time a key would break, or a hinge would snap, and he would replace or repair the part. Eventually, he figured he’d replaced every part at least once.
He affectionately referred to it as still the same computer, saying that at any one time there were parts from the previous version of the machine, stretching back to when he first bought it however many years previous
Was Barry right?
If you are disinclined to think that he actually had the same computer the whole time, I encourage you to think about why you think so. But keep in mind that much seems to be the same of us. You have likely next to no atoms from your original stock, however defined (e.g., you at birth, you at conception, etc.). On the other hand, if you agree that Barry kept the same computer all those years, try to think through what might underlie that continuity, and again apply the same reasoning to us.
Finally, as an interesting twist on a more personal note, my father, now in his mid-70s, has a tiny amount of scar tissue on his neck. This is a result from an injury he suffered as a teenager. So there is a very bizarre form of continuity over time here for sure!
Fields to consider: metaphysics of persistence and identity; mereology; legal responsibility and powers-of-attorney; biochemistry.
Books (and Podcasts) and Authors
Science Vs. the Bee-pocalypse
Recently I was introduced to the podcast
, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Each episode features the science behind a recent news trend. What got me started, though, was the episode
Science vs. the Bee-pocalypse
. Why, you might ask, would this episode hook me? Because I’ve long been curious about the media noise around the demise of the honeybee.
I hate inconsistencies in information. In spite of the rhetoric surrounding society’s imminent doom due to the death of honeybees, Agriculture and Agrifood Canada shows
a very different picture
. In fact, it shows that the number of honeybees in Canada has increased almost every year since 2012. I’ve argued this point with many people who simply rely on the trending commentary about the imminent demise of the bee population. So far, I have been unable to convince anyone that our honeybees are not truly at risk of extinction, despite citing reliable data. I wondered if Science Vs. the Bee-pocalypse would tell a more complete truth.
To begin, the podcast relates that honeybee farmers note that their bee losses are large. Then it considers many of the things that are contributing to these losses. It turns out that the following combination of factors is harming colonies of bees.
- Neonicotinoids have been largely blamed for the dearth of bees. Science Vs. finds that though Neonicotinoids are not used in sufficient quantities to kill bees, even the small exposure bees have to this commonly used pesticide slows the bees down.
- Bee diseases are on the rise, partly because honeybees are shipped internationally to assist with pollination. The local bees are susceptible to the diseases the imports bring with them.
- Monoculture is also affecting the bees. Farms are large fields of a single crop, often eliminating bee habitats, including the wildflowers they feed on.
So, did Science Vs. tell the truth about bee numbers? Yes. It correctly reported that the number of honeybees is on the rise in Canada and around the world. This is because the honeybee is really a type of livestock. The beekeeper is essentially a farmer who can breed more bees. Because
the number of beekeepers is on the rise
, the honeybee population is increasing.
The rest of the story, however, is quite grim. There are approximately 20,000 species of bees worldwide and only about 20 of them are domesticated. It turns out that this same combination of issues is also killing the wild bees. Without planned breeding programs, the wild bee population is on the decline. And since wild bees are better at pollinating certain crops than domestic bees, our food supply truly is at risk.
Have you read a good book or heard a great podcast 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 reviewers to share their thoughts on books and podcasts that other members will enjoy.