In this Edition of Critical Links:

Dates of Interest
  • Mental Health Awareness, Black History Month, Birds, Weatherpersons, Charles Darwin, Ferris Wheels, and Space

CFIC News and Events
  • Darwin Day in Saskatoon
  • New CFIC Branch in Manitoba!
  • Knock on Wood: Jeffrey Rosenthal in Ottawa

Science Check
  • Canada’s Food Guide: The Science of What to Eat
  • A Novel Treatment for Antibiotic-resistant Superbugs?

Secular Check
  • "Re-educating" China's Uyghers

Think Check
  • We Heard You: On Omitting Antivaxxers in our First Annual Scammie Awards

Dates of Interest
Technically it’s in January, but today is Bell Let’s Talk Day . Activity over social media raises money and awareness for mental health initiatives. So let this be the one day you don’t feel guilty about using your devices too much! Text, post, check, repeat. The more you fiddle, the more we raise.
February is Black History Month .
Got a backyard birdfeeder? February 3 is Feed the Birds Day .
Tired of winter? February 5 is Weatherperson's Day . We evidently take our weather seriously in Canada: The first person to appear on Canadian TV was meteorologist Percy Saltzman !
February 12 is the 210th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, celebrated as International Darwin Day . Several CFIC groups are holding events to celebrate the occasion. Check out your local Meetup and Facebook groups for events near you!
February 14 is Ferris Wheel Day , the 160th anniversary of the birth of inventor George Ferris. (We tried to include a worthy "Save Ferris!" reference, but we failed.)
February 18 is the anniversary of Clyde Tombaugh's 1930 discovery of everyone’s favourite once-full-planet-now-dwarf-planet Pluto !
On February 20, 1962, John Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission , becoming the first American to orbit the Earth, and the fifth person in space.

If you celebrate any of these, please drop us a line or send a picture to .

CFIC News & Events
Darwin Day in Saskatoon
Kendra Getty
February 12 is the birthday of Charles Darwin, and Darwin Day is a global celebration of science and reason. This will be the 11th celebration in Saskatoon!
The Saskatoon Skeptics and Centre for Inquiry Saskatoon are proud to host the annual Darwin Day celebration in Saskatoon on February 10 at 2pm. Come and celebrate Darwin's 210th birthday with a presentation followed by a discussion, cake, and then children's activities.
Our speaker this year is palaeontologist Michael Cuggy who will present on 450-million-year-old exceptional fossils from Manitoba. Michael Cuggy is a Senior Lab Coordinator and Sessional Instructor in the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan. He is a palaeontologist, specializing in Palaeozoic arthropods.
Donations are welcome and appreciated, but not required. Suggested donation: $10. Charitable donations of $20 or more to the Centre for Inquiry Canada are eligible for a tax receipt if contact information is provided.
New CFIC Branch in Manitoba!
Jocelyne Lemoine
A CFIC branch is opening in Manitoba. CFIC members in Manitoba interested in becoming involved with the branch should get in touch with the Branch Manager, Jocelyne Lemoine . There are open Leadership Team positions including Branch Treasurer and Communications Chair and possibly other leadership roles. CFIC members in Manitoba interested in volunteering in other ways or wanting to know more about the branch should also get in touch with the  Manitoba Branch Manager or complete the CFIC volunteer application form .
Knock on Wood : Jeffrey Rosenthal Ottawa Event, March 17
Seanna Watson

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.

Tickets and books are available at Eventbrite. For more information, contact
Ghosts and Machines: What Does it Mean to be Human?

Last Friday, CFIC co-sponsored this discussion presented by the University of Toronto's Wycliffe College, moderated by journalist Karen Stiller. 

Geordie Rose (D-Wave Systems Inc., Sanctuary AI), Michael Murray (Templeton Foundation), and Julien Musolino (Rutgers University) discussed the possibility of the existence of an immaterial, immortal, psychologically potent human soul, among other fascinating topics.

You can view a recording of the entire event here.

Science Check
Canada’s Food Guide: The Science of What to Eat
Sandra Dunham
Advice about what to eat seems to change from year to year. At one time, fat was evil and carbs were good. Then, carbs were to be avoided at all costs while fat was in favour. Does sugar cause cancer? My go-to information for what to eat has long been Canada’s Food Guide. I felt it was trustworthy and fact-based. Now, however, I come to learn that Canada’s Food Guide has been heavily influenced by food lobby groups.
What is a health-conscious consumer to do? Like with all information, I suppose the key is to examine the information critically. The soon-to-be-released 2019 version of Canada’s Food Guide seems to be taking a new approach, and has apparently not involved food lobby groups in its development.
I like the new direction of providing advice about healthy eating habits:

1.   Be mindful of your eating habits
2.   Cook more often
3.   Enjoy your food
4.   Eat meals with others
5.   Drink water
6.   Limit foods high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fat
7.   Use food labels
8.   Be aware of food marketing
In terms of what to eat, the test version of the new guide suggests eating a variety of foods with a focus on fruits and vegetables. Healthy eating is important for controlling weight and fueling activity. Regardless of where one gets their food advice, it is important to apply some personal critical thinking.

I for one intend to follow the healthy eating habits, especially the advice to enjoy my food!
A Novel Treatment for Antibiotic-resistant Superbugs?
Beverly Carter
On Jan 12, CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks presented a new idea from the frontiers of science. But … is it really new?
The hosts discussed the use of ‘phages’ in the treatment of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Bacteriophages, or 'phages' for short, are viruses that invade bacterial cells, disrupt bacterial metabolism, and cause the bacteria to die. These phages can be found everywhere, including in the soil, on our skin, and on other animals and plants, where they play an important role in balancing our microbiota. Although we think of viruses as being harmful to humans overall, these viruses attack only the bacteria for which they are specific.
Dr. Jonathon Dennis, a phage therapy researcher at the University of Alberta, told the hosts of the radio program that superbugs are bacteria that have been exposed to high levels of antibiotics and have developed resistance mechanisms against them. The overuse of antibiotics in the general population is the cause of the current antimicrobial resistance (AMR) crisis. Estimates are that 10 million people could die every year as a result of AMR by 2050 if nothing changes.
Dr. Dennis, the only phage researcher in Canada, is building a library of bacteriophages so that he'll have the right viruses on hand to help fight any patient's specific infection when all other treatment fails. In the U.S., Dr. Benjamin Chan of Yale University has treated seven patients with phages, very successfully. He's one of a handful of researchers in the U.S. treating patients using phages and investigating whether phage therapy can be practical in the wider population. Safety studies, so far, haven't shown any major problems. 
But is it new?
The history of bacteriophage discovery is murky and includes a controversy over who discovered the idea. After a half century of toe dipping by other scientists, bacteriophages were “officially” discovered by Felix d'Herelle, a French-Canadian microbiologist at the Institut Pasteur in Paris. This occurred during an outbreak of severe hemorrhagic dysentery among French troops stationed on the outskirts of Paris in the summer of 1915. Felix eventually collaborated with Russian scientists to bring bacteriophages to clinical use.
Why so little use?
Despite the long history, treating bacterial infections with phages is still considered an experimental therapy in the U.S. and Canada. Clinical trials are currently ongoing in the U.S. and several Western European countries. So why haven’t we been using these magnificent creatures?

While there is no doubt that the discovery and widespread availability of antibiotics in the immediate post-World War era undermined enthusiasm for phage therapy, that is not the whole story. Phage therapy was largely developed, promoted, and employed both in the Soviet Union and, at least in some instances, by the German and Japanese armies in World War II. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the relationship between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. deteriorated and all things “communist” were denigrated in the West, including scientific knowledge associated with the Soviet Union.
Currently there is little or no funding for bacteriophage research in Canada. Hopefully this will change with the success of the work of Dr. Chan and his European colleagues, to meet the requirements for the continuing upswing in deaths due to antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections in vulnerable populations.
Listen to the Quirks and Quarks segment here .

Secular Check
“Re-educating” China’s Uyghurs
Edan Tasca

Generally when we worry about secularism, it’s because our government is uncomfortably friendly with a religion, putting non-religious types in a compromised position. In China, however, we have a situation that looks flipped. In China, a non-religious government is violating the human rights of a minority ethnicity called the Uyghurs, who are largely Muslim.

The Chinese government has recently come under pressure for instituting what looks to many like a policy of rounding up and “re-educating” citizens in Western China’s Xinjiang province. The policy is nothing spectacularly new. For decades, China has attempted to restrict the practice of Islam in favor of views more supportive of (or acceptable to) the Chinese Communist Party.

In 2014, minority resistance to the Chinese government seemed to reach a tipping point when a group of assailants who were deemed “Xinjiang separatists” attacked a train station in southwestern China, which resulted in the killing of at least 35 citizens (four of whom were among the attackers). The response from Beijing was a sharp crackdown on the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

Part of this crackdown involves police surveillance, in some cases to the terrifyingly 1984-esque point of installing cameras in the homes of private citizens. Further, it has been estimated that somewhere between 120,000 and one million Uyghurs have been detained in what seem to be re-education camps. Activities in these camps involve forced praise of the Chinese Communist Party and “self-criticism” essays. Some reports also suggest emotional and physical abuse by guards, as well as unhygienic living conditions. It has even been suggested that one tactic in particular — keeping Uyghur males and females separate — is in fact a grotesque attempt at population control.

Attempts by the Chinese government to deny the situation have been met with pressure from activists, media groups, and journalists. The government has since admitted that such facilities exist, and that their goal is not brainwashing but rather quelling potential terrorist activities and providing vocational training.

Despite the role reversal of having religion the victim of what’s considered a non-religious entity (whether communism can be categorized as its own religion is another discussion), we can clearly see what happens when a government cares too much about a religion — whether its own or that of a minority whose human rights are as precious as any.

Read a comprehensive report from The New York Times here.

Think Check
We Heard You: On Omitting Antivaxxers in our First Annual Scammie Awards
Beverly Carter
Some of you commented on the fact that we didn’t include antivaxxers as one of the winners of our first annual Scammie Awards , especially in light of the World Health Organization (WHO) identifying vaccine hesitancy as one of its top 10 threats to global health in 2019. Vaccine hesitancy or the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate threatens to reverse progress made in eradicating diseases preventable by vaccines. The WHO identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence as contributors to hesitancy.
We fully support and applaud the WHO for its recognition of this emerging problem. The CFIC mandate supports science-based medicine and advocates for empirically supported medical services. We will continue to call out antivaxxers and advocate for access and use of appropriate vaccines throughout Canada and the world.
We didn’t recognize this issue in our Scammies, because we were looking for more novel nonsense. The award, as described, is given for the most outrageous pseudo-scientific claims of the previous year. The “winners” of this year’s Scammies show how important it is for people to watch out for dangerous products, fraudulent services, exploitation, and all other predatory instances of lies and baseless claims.
Thank you for your feedback! CFIC looks forward to your further comments on this topic or any others presented in Critical Links.
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: .
Centre for Inquiry Canada | 613-663-8198| |