In this Edition of Critical Links:

April Dates of Interest
  • Atheism, Road Maps, Earth, and More!

News and Events
  • Humanist Canada Essay Contest

Science Check
  • Vaccinations and Chiropractors
  • Lip Cancer Concern from a Common Medication
  • Updates on Measles and Homeopathic International Aid

Secular Check
  • #TheyAreUs
  • Theodore Catholic School Court Case Ends in Reserved Decision

Think Check
  • Keith's Conundrums: Protagoras’ Lawsuit

April Dates of Interest
What are the odds?  April is Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month.

April 1 is Atheist Day. According to the writings of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism), "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'” (Psalm 14:1)., everyone's favourite fact-checking website, debunks the story that this was actually stated by a Christian judge in response to an ACLU case.

April 5 is Read a Road Map Day: a good skill to have in your back pocket, just in case you lose your smartphone or GPS (or run the batteries down).

April 7 is World Health Day: the anniversary of the creation of the World Health Organization.

April 22 is Earth Day: This year's focus is on protecting endangered species.

April 25 is World Malaria Day. Significant progress has been made in the prevention and treatment of this debilitating illness, but there's much work left to do.

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 .

News & Events
Image by Karen Arnold from Pixabay
Humanist Canada To Reward Students Who Write About Humanist Values
One of Canada’s prominent resources for secular groups and causes is providing an opportunity for students to think critically and write about humanism and humanist values across the English- and French-speaking spheres of the country. Humanist Canada, the national voice for education and awareness about humanism in Canadian society, is holding an exciting essay contest.
A total of $8,000 has been allotted for various rewards. The first place prize in each language will be $1,000. Content should be relevant to the humanist community across Canada. Contact information is below. Good luck!
Lloyd Robertson
Vice-President, Humanist Canada
Phone: 306 425 9872
Scott Jacobsen
Member, Board of Directors, Humanist Canada
Phone: 778 988 8070

Science Check
Measles Update
Beverly Carter
Every day we awake to reports of more cases of measles in Canada. And every day emergency rooms and doctors’ offices are being asked to tell anxious patients whether or not they have the illness. The worry is real. Cases are on the rise and are largely due to unvaccinated individuals spreading the disease . Maintaining high levels of population protection against measles is important for individual protection and also for protecting those who cannot be immunized because of age (e.g., infants) or medical contraindications such as a weakened immune system (e.g., from cancer treatment, autoimmune disorders, frailty, etc.).
These individuals are all at great risk of contracting measles and suffering serious complications. The only protection they have comes from those who are vaccinated. So PLEASE, get vaccinated.
Here are some basic facts about measles:
The measles virus lives in the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat) of infected persons and is spread by coughing or sneezing. It is highly infectious and can cause serious illness, lifelong complications, and death. As many as one in four people who contract measles will be hospitalized , and one out of every 1,000 will develop encephalitis, a dangerous swelling of the brain that can leave a child deaf or intellectually disabled, and one or two will die.
Other complications include pneumonia, blindness, miscarriage, premature labour, and ear infections. Further, seven to 10 years after the acute phase of the disease, a condition known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, a fatal degenerative disease of the central nervous system, can occur. People who are at high risk are infants, children less than five years of age, adults over 20 years of age, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems, such as from leukemia, other cancers, tuberculosis, and HIV.
It takes between 10 and 14 days for clinical features to develop after one is exposed to the virus. These features tend to last for seven to 10 days. Typically, there is a prodromal phase of a four- to seven-day fever, a cough, conjunctivitis (i.e., pink eye), coryza (inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the nose, leading to sneezing, running or stuffy nose, head cold, and fever), and Koplik’s spots.
Koplik’s spots are small white spots that appear on the inside of the cheeks. This is followed by the measles rash, a maculopapular eruption (flat areas of the skin covered by small bumps) that changes colour from red to dark brown before disappearing. The rash usually spreads from the head to the trunk, to the palms of the hands, and to the soles of the feet, before gradually receding in the same pattern.
The virus can be transmitted to others from four days before the rash starts until four days after the rash appears.
Measles infection is prevented with a three-in-one vaccine called the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine (MMRV). Ideally, the first dose of the MMRV should be administered to children at 12 to 15 months of age and the second at four to six years of age. The MMRV is contraindicated for patients who have severe, life-threatening allergies; are pregnant or might be pregnant; have a weakened immune system; have gotten any other vaccines in the past four weeks; or have recently had a blood transfusion or received other blood products.
Vaccinations and Chiropractors
Beverly Carter
Each month, it seems, we have new items to report about chiropractors or anti-vaccination rhetoric. This month, it’s both!
According to the National Post , three senior members of the professional organization that regulates Ontario’s chiropractors have espoused or endorsed anti-vaccine views. They have either written online posts, endorsed anti-vaccine books and documentaries, or made statements that encourage the notion that vaccination is dangerous. One of the chiropractors concerned is the current vice-president of the College of Chiropractors of Ontario (CCO) and the other two are past presidents.
The CCO’s official statement on vaccination is that immunizations and vaccinations are outside the scope of chiropractic practice and any discussions about them with patients must be accurate, professional, and balanced. This news is coming at a particularly important time as outbreaks of measles are in progress across Canada. Fortunately, the CCO has, in light of increased scrutiny, affirmed that vaccinations, as mandated in the Province of Ontario, provide a safe and effective means to protect individuals from infectious diseases.
Lip Cancer Concern from a Common Medication
Zack Dumont
A Health Canada warning was issued last week that suggested an extremely common medication — used for hypertension (i.e., high blood pressure) — is associated with an increased risk of lip cancer . Likely more than one million Canadians are taking hydroCHLOROthiazide. It is a first-line treatment to reduce blood pressure and is used alone or in combination with several other medications. Undoubtedly, some readers of this newsletter are on a daily regimen of hydroCHLOROthiazide.

This news hit the mainstream media , so it’s worth taking a closer look. The Health Canada warning is based off a growing body of evidence from observational studies that uniformly show the association. A critical consideration when weighing this evidence is that observational studies are not randomized. Thus, the risk of bias is relatively high. Readers are left wondering whether the genesis of the lip cancer is the hydroCHLOROthiazide, or the hypertension, or the comorbidities that often walk hand-in-hand with hypertension, or something else entirely. In an observational study, compared with randomized controlled trials (RCTs), we just don’t know; further, potential confounders are difficult to mathematically account for.
So why perform observational studies if they’re so flawed? There are several reasons, but namely: It can be unethical to perform an RCT, and it might be unfeasible/impractical to perform an RCT. Regarding ethics, consider whether it would be feasible to perform an RCT in pregnant patients when the effects of a medication are largely unknown. There are differing opinions on this, despite health care providers, researchers, and ethicists wrestling with it for eons.

Regarding practicality, sometimes the harm of a medication is very small, and as such a very large study with many patients and/or for a long time would need to be conducted in order to detect a difference between those who got exposed and those who did not; RCTs are very expensive. Also, at that cost it’s difficult to find anyone to fund a study that is attempting to uncover harm. All things considered, observational studies, while flawed, are an important piece of the medical literature, even though we must be less confident in their findings.
To feel more comfortable with the results, we consider a combination of factors, such as:

  • signal strength (i.e., was the difference between those exposed and those unexposed significantly large?)
  • dose-related effect (i.e., with more exposure, did the risk increase?)
  • temporal relationship (i.e., did the harm occur shortly after exposure?)
  • biological plausibility (i.e., does it make sense on a scientific level?); e.g., cigarette smoke, which contains thousands of chemicals, is inhaled into the lungs and smokers have increased rates of lung cancer.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Using any of these criteria on their own is a risky move; only a combination of positive criteria should even be contemplated, and even then, we must prepare to be wrong. So what’s to be made of this Health Canada warning? To help put things in perspective:

  • There are over 13,000 medications licensed in Canada.
  • Thiazide diuretics, of which hydroCHLOROthiazide is the vastly prevailing version (by a landslide), are in the top 10 most commonly prescribed medications in Canada. Monotherapy thiazides (i.e., when prescribed alone) are around the 22nd most commonly prescribed medications; but when taking into consideration that it is more often paired with another medication to lower blood pressure, the number of patients more than doubles. (Over 1.5 million Canadians are taking thiazides.)
  • The signal wasn’t overwhelming (i.e., the risk appears small), but there was a dose-response (i.e., those with larger exposures had more risk).
  • There is some biological plausibility in that hydroCHLOROthiazide is known to cause photosensitivity, but important potential confounders weren’t accounted for in the study (e.g., smoking history and UV exposure); those taking hydroCHLOROthiazide may be at an increased risk of the damaging effects of the sun and skin cancer.

Bottom line: It looks like there probably is a risk. If there is, it’s very small, and any one user is highly unlikely to experience the harm. Far more people will experience the benefits: lower risks of heart attacks and strokes . However, those taking it should be made aware of the potential risk so that they can do whatever they can to lower their risk further (e.g., smoking cessation, UV protection, etc.).
Update: International Aid and Homeopathy
Seanna Watson

In last month's Critical Links, we reported on funding provided by Global Affairs Canada to a Quebec-based group offering homeopathic "treatments" for Chagas disease. Some of you sent letters of protest (see…l-affairs-canada/ for a few letters and responses).

We are pleased to report that this funding has been cancelled. Louis Belanger, spokesman for International Development Minister Maryam Monsef, said: "I am unclear why the Conservatives would (sign) off on this five-year program back in 2015 ... We will not be funding these types of initiatives any longer." (Read more here.)

Secular Check
# TheyAreUs
Sandra Dunham

Could New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have offered a better description of humanistic values than the trending “they are us”? The most recent in a series of hate crimes rocked the world when a gunman killed 50 people in a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardern appropriately referred to the attack as terrorism.
Although humanists are by definition not religious, what truly differentiates us is our unwillingness to make religion matter. We respect the rights of all to be free from religion or religious persecution. Like Ardern’s sentiment, we must constantly be on guard against practices that pit one religion against another or pit the religious against the non-religious. We must ensure that we do not become what we oppose.
In offering our condolences to those who were direct or indirect victims of this attack, CFIC condemns faith-based bigotry in all its forms and supports the rights of every human being to peacefully engage in or refrain from whatever religious practices they choose.
Theodore Catholic School Court Case Ends in Reserved Decision
David Richards
O n March 12 and 13, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal heard the case of the Theodore Catholic school that we first reported to our readers last April . In fact, we will have to wait for the final outcome, because the court reserved its judgement.
There are many reasons to be passionate about unifying school systems within the three provinces that offer religiously discriminatory, publicly funded education:

  • the moral issue of government-supported preferential treatment for one religious group
  • the public funding of an institution with discriminatory hiring practices
  • the billion-dollar cost savings that could be achieved by merging the two boards (according to a 2012 report commissioned by the Ontario Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods Association)
However, the Theodore case really doesn’t address any of these issues. Contrary to popular understanding of the case, it doesn’t even consider whether non-Catholic students can attend publicly funded Catholic schools. The issue in this case is money. Should funds be moved from public school boards to Catholic school boards when non-Catholic students attend them?
In Alberta , Ontario , and Saskatchewan , the total funding received by each school board is based on student enrollment, creating a competition for students. These provinces all create the illusion that property tax payers choose where their education funding goes by checking the appropriate box on a property tax form. This costly practice appears to be a public relations strategy to create the illusion that Catholic schools are self-sustaining and don’t draw resources away from other schools and students. However, in Theodore, and every other school district in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan, enrolling non-Catholic students in publicly funded Catholic schools directly reduces the funding available to the public schools.
The Theodore case highlights the fact that Catholic school boards use public funds to entice non-Catholic parents to lure their children to more convenient locations in exchange for exposing them to state-sanctioned proselytization. At best, the Theodore case looks to end this practice. However, while interesting to watch, this case is unlikely to lead to a significant change in the allocation of resources between school boards or to reduce the government’s commitment to fund parallel, expensive, and discriminatory school boards.
The Canadian Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms acknowledge that the public funding of schools of one religion over all other religions would violate basic principles of religious equality. An exception was built into these documents in order to protect Catholic education. However, Catholics are no longer an oppressed minority in Canada who require this protection.
It is ironic that this case began with the closure of a small school due to budget constraints. Parents did not want their kids to have an inconvenient bus ride to the further school. Hence, the Catholic board gained provincial funding for students who switched to the Catholic system. Less money, then, went into the non-discriminatory public system. Even the Catholic schools do not appear to be better off. One wonders whether a single, unified school system would allow public schools to serve everyone in smaller communities such as Theodore.
CFIC will continue to monitor the Theodore case and bring you updates as they are available.

Think Check
Keith's Conundrums: Protagoras’ Lawsuit
Keith Douglas

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.

March: The Meaning of "Is"

A few people answered last month’s Conundrum . One reader seems to have more or less analyzed the different meanings in a plausible way, agreeing with the consensus that there are lots of meanings. I would read instead “=” as symbolizing the “is” of identity or equality (slightly different meanings but only generally in mathematics). For example, “Bruce Wayne is Batman” (as customarily understood). Conditions for identity (i.e., this use of “is”) of most “entities” (as American 20 th century philosopher Quine put it) can be obscure, however. Thus, some will try to use other meanings when identity looks to be the correct one.
Another difference overlooked, perhaps, is between “subset” and “membership”. Let’s agree to write {} to indicate a “set” of items: No structure is implied except for its elements. So, for example, {a, b} is the set containing "a" and "b". And {a, b} is a subset of {a, b, c} because all in the first are in the second. But it is not a member of {a, b, c}, because that would be written {{a, b}, c}. These two sets might be used to formalize, say: a) cuttlefish, squid, and octopuses are cephalopods for the first, and b) pygmy chimpanzees and bonobos are chimpanzees and chimpanzees and humans are hominins. (Or whatever: The truth doesn’t matter here, only the structure, which, once formalized or represented in ordinary language, can be evaluated.) This example shows the merit of using exact tools. The ordinary language paraphrases are hard to understand.
My seventh example (“Water is H 2 O”), might have provoked some consternation. Or at least it did to me. Most philosophers (e.g., Kripke) have taken this to be an identity (like 2 is 1+1), but an “a posteriori” one. That is, one that is discoverable only by looking at the world rather than reflecting on ideas (or however one understands mathematics) or meanings (for example: “Bachelors are unmarried men”).
I have to confess I do not buy Kripke’s claim. For one thing, it seems to be a false identity claim (if one at all), sort of: Some water, a measurable amount in fact, is not even combined in the proportions indicated by this formula. (Approximately 1 part in 10 million of water under standard conditions are H 3 O + ions and there are others.) Another problem with Kripke’s view is that identity of any one molecule of water is not fixed at human scales either: Water molecules are constantly forming and breaking apart. But, worse, it does not seem to be an identity claim at all: Chemists claim instead that H 2 O is a compositional formula, which suggests to me that our seventh example is an “is of composition,” like the screwdriver example.
There is more to think about here. I leave you with the usual: “I think you’ll find it is a bit more complicated than that.” Now we move from chemistry and metaphysics to law.
April: The Curious Case of Protagoras and Euathlus
Long ago in ancient Greece, lawyers (to speak slightly anachronistically) learned their trade by paying an established lawyer to accept them as an apprentice. Protagoras was one such lawyer who got very wealthy plying his trade. As such, he was also very much in demand as a teacher. Euathlus contracted with Protagoras to become his pupil. They agreed, however, that Protagoras, would only be paid once Euathlus won his first case — as then clearly the training had proved of use.
Some time later, Protagoras noticed that Euathlus had not yet taken a case. He was determined to collect his teaching fee, and sued Euathlus to collect. He presented his case as follows. If Euathlus loses, he will hence have to pay Protagoras, because Protagoras will have won the case to collect. If, on the other hand, Euathlus wins, he will have won his first case and hence will have to pay Protagoras by the terms of the original contract.
Euathlus, for his part, argued as follows. If he wins, he will not have to pay, because Protagoras will have lost his suit to be paid. If, however, Euathlus loses, he will not have to pay, because the original contract was that he would only pay his fee once he won a case, and he will still have yet to win one.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to resolve Protagoras’ lawsuit. Fields that might be interesting to explore concerning this conundrum: multivalued logics, contract law.

Check out next month’s Critical Links 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.

If you would like more information on the type of book reviews we are interested in, please email .
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