In this Edition of Critical Links:

CFIC and Canadian News and Events
  • CFIC unveils new 3-year plan
  • July Dates of Interest
  • Update: Trinity Western University Supreme Court Case
  • What’s Happening in our Branches
  • Congratulations Heritage Canada

International News:
  • 2018 CSI Con
  • GWUP Homeopathy Challenge
  • Be part of the research into Secularism

Secular Check
  • Atheists in Foxholes

Science Check
  • Small victories in Cape Breton
  • Fighting pseudoscience on Facebook

Think Check
  • Thinking about GMOs

Books and Authors
  •  Free Inquiry Magazine
July Dates of Interest

July 1    Happy Canada Day!

July 5    LGBTSTEM Day
(First International Day of LGBTQ+ people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)

July 17 Yellow Pig Day
(a celebration of the number 17)

CFIC and Canadian News and Events
CFIC unveils new 3-year plan
Over the past 6 months CFIC has been working on a new strategic plan to guide us for the next several years. In June, the plan was completed and shared with our members.If you missed it, you can find it here .

If you are not yet a member, join us to make a real difference! If you are a member, please share this newsletter with a friend or colleague who you think might be interested. Membership is just $30 per year.
Update on Previous Critical Links News
In January we covered the Trinity Western University (TWU) v. the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and the Law Society of British Columbia (LSBC) Supreme Court Case. Briefly, TWU required students to sign a covenant agreeing to restrict sexual intimacy to a heterosexual married partner. The LSUC and LSBC refused to accredit TWU, effectively preventing its graduates from practicing law in BC or Ontario.
The court case was heard on November 30 and December 1, 2017. On June 15, the Supreme Court of Canada released its judgement ruling against TWU. Read more here.
Congratulations to Heritage Canada
Congratulations to Heritage Canada for releasing a heritage minute about Canadian gay-rights pioneer Jim Egan. View the film here .
CFIC Branch Updates
  • CFI has walked in the Capital Pride parade since 2009, only missing 2017 due to scheduling conflicts. This year we plan to return, demonstrating our opposition to Faith Based Bigotry. Please join us if you will be in the Ottawa area on 26 Aug, 2018.

  • Dr. Larry Moran took time out of his busy schedule on June 26 to give a short talk on What's In your Genome? The talk was very well attended (overflowing the small room we had booked).
International News
Coming October 18-21 CSICon 2018 in Las Vegas

CSICon is one of the planet’s premier skeptics conferences, where hundreds of critical thinkers come to Las Vegas, the city of illusions, to hear from the leading lights of science and skepticism.
GWUP Homeopathy Challenge
GWUP is the German Branch of the International Skeptics movement. At their May 8 annual meeting they announced a € 50,000 award to the first group or individual who is able to identify the mother tincture of a homeopathic remedy. Find out more here.
Be part of research into secularism
Dr Valerie van Mulukom of Coventry University (UK) is leading a team investigating the worldviews of secular individual around the world. Dr van Mulukom describes this topic as "under-researched", and is reaching out to find international participants in this survey. More information available here .

Science Check
One small step for a pharmacist, one giant leap still ahead for pharmacy-kind
Zack Dumont BSP ACPR MS
A Cape Breton, NS pharmacy was recently in the news again, this time for taking measures to remove unsubstantiated homeopathic remedies from shelves. Stone’s Pharmacy had previously made headlines for ceasing to sell sugary drinks in their pharmacy. In the latest move, Graham MacKenzie, pharmacist and the owner says the lack of evidence for benefit of homeopathic products has led to this decision.
While a pharmacist taking action to snuff out irrationality is perhaps a good front-page, the lack of evidence for homeopathy is not news. This topic has been covered in a number of fashions, from scathing blog posts to official government denouncements, such as those in Australia. In 2015, reports from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council concluded that “there is no reliable evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy for treating any health condition”. As if lack of evidence wasn’t reason enough to be concerned, these sources also cite a number of safety issues. A simple internet search will quickly lead to abundance of legal cases whereby treatment with homeopathic products leading to death is considered manslaughter or criminal neglect. More devious and unlikely to grab media attention is the opportunity costs, whereby patients forego proven treatments because they believe they are covered by a homeopathic remedy.
So why do pharmacies sell homeopathic products shown to be ineffective and dangerous? Perhaps it’s business-people and large corporations who value profits over patient care. Or, maybe in a world of hustle, it’s due to the insidious and deceptive creep of natural and complementary medicine that’s slipping by the busy pharmacies’ leaders. Or maybe it’s a combination, or something else entirely. Nevertheless, if pharmacists want to retain their position as one of the most widely trusted professionals they will need to rise up to the challenge.
The National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities states that products approved by Health Canada and containing a DIN-HM are beyond the scope of their national drug scheduling – guidance documents for pharmacists regarding the sale of products within pharmacists. As such, there’s no obligation to oversee the sale of these products in pharmacies.
The Canadian Pharmacists’ Journal, a subsidiary of the Canadian Pharmacists’ Association, has run a number of letters and editorials speaking out against the sale of homeopathic products in pharmacies. It isn’t as though there’s a universal will within pharmacy and amongst pharmacists to continue to sell homeopathic products. Rather, a nudge, reminder, or prompt may be all one needs to correct their course. Next time you’re in a pharmacy and spot homeopathic products for sale request an explanation from the pharmacist. It’s a simple piece of skeptical activism and your pharmacist may just thank you.
Fighting anti-vaccination pseudoscience on Facebook
Seanna Watson, CFIC Education Chair
Antivaxxer Larry Cook recently raised $10,000 in a GoFundMe campaign for the purpose of “Spreading the word about the dangers of vaccines” ( ). This campaign will use the story of the tragic death of a young baby to promote the spread of misinformation, including such statements as:
  • "Infants, babies and children are being killed at an unprecedented rate by vaccination"
  • "All vaccines are dangerous at any time at any age and in any combination"
Numerous complaints to GoFundMe have had little or no response.  Now there is a petition calling on Facebook to take action: “implementing a system of disclaimers on their and other anti-vaccine ads with links to the real data and established scientific consensus on vaccine safety,” or “to work with medical experts, science communicators and scientists in relevant fields to encourage and support education in this very important topic.” (Or even better: How about doing both?)
As stated in the petition: This is not just about fighting ignorance, it’s a concern of public health. Lives are at stake.

CFIC has been a strong advocate for vaccinations and has continuously spoken out against the fake science that anti-vaccination movement has been built on. As a reminder to our members, the anti-vaccination movement got its start from an article published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, linking vaccinations to Autism. The paper was disproved, the journal it was published in retracted the article and Wakefield lost his medical licence. Despite numerous studies since 1998 concluding that there is absolutely no link between vaccination and autism, the anti-vaccination movement is still thriving. 

We urge our members to speak out for vaccination and speak out against fake news on social media; especially news that refutes science and places innocent lives in danger.

Secular Check
Atheists in foxholes
Tony Keene
Imagine you are walking down the street and hear the unmistakable sound of prayer. Shortly you come upon a government building, and in the parking lot stand a group of people, heads bowed, as a minister intones a blessing. This is followed by a reading from the Bible, the signing of a hymn, and a final benediction.
Afterwards the men and women leave the parking lot and enter the building, to resume their day of work. You ask a bystander what is going on.
“Oh, it’s the annual church service for Revenue Canada. They do this every year.”

Sound ridiculous?

Well, if it were Revenue Canada it would be. But suppose the people were all wearing uniforms, and were formed up in ranks, and you were told it was your local reserve army regiment’s annual church service? Would you react the same way?

Most people would not. There seems to be an automatic deference to the use of religion by the military, and by veterans groups. Yet there should be no more connection in these instances than to any other government or non-government organization that claims to adhere to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Forces are the only government agency in which your boss can order you to pray with him, and your co-workers. And if you decline, he can charge you, try you, convict you and punish you. It has been done, and may well be done again.

The use of religion in the Forces is most prevalent in the Combat Arms. Infantry and Armoured Regiments, Artillery and Combat Engineers tend to use it more than others, but it is used by many other units.

The Chaplain Branch of the Forces has undergone a sea change in recent years. Abandoning “Onward Christian Soldiers” as its march, it now includes Muslim and Jewish leaders, and Indigenous elders, and so on. This of course means that military events now include much more religion than they did before, when they were wholly Christian. Instead of listening to one prayer, members now have to endure four or five or six.

Lack of religion in the Forces is almost always greeted with contempt, scorn and insult. In 2006 I watched as three soldiers were marched off parade in Ottawa, forced to walk away from their unit, their Colours and their fellow soldiers, right out the door of the building, because they chose not to pray with their commanding officer. In more than 40 years of military service, this was the one and only time I ever encountered what was essentially a case of “March off the Goddamn atheists!” It was appalling.
When I complained, I was threatened with discipline. Can you imagine that happening in any other government department?

Units of the Forces, especially army regiments, regularly hold church parades. These are command-directed events where the unit is marched through the streets to a Christian church, under command. Can you imagine any other government agency being able to do this?

If a municipal council can no longer start its deliberations with prayer, how is it that members of the Forces can still be required, under command, to take part in religious observances?

I’ve asked the question many times. I’m still awaiting an answer.

Think Check
Informed choice or marketing ploy? A brief overview on GMOs
Andrea Palmieri - B.Sc Food Science and Nutrition, OCGC Food Safety and Quality Assurance

You’ve been seeing the labels everywhere – the logo with the orange butterfly, with the words “Non-GMO project verified” – on everything from bread to shampoo to dog food.

You may be thinking to yourself: 1) “What is a GMO and why should I care?” Or 2) “Why is this label on almonds? There are no genetically modified almond counterparts on the market!” (OK, I admit this latter thought is my own.)

Voluntary labeling, like the Non-GMO project label, arises from consumer interest and influences food companies to cater to their needs in order to sustain and grow their business. Unfortunately, these marketing tactics add to the confusion and negative perception surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and does not help consumers get any closer to understanding what they are.

To put it in perspective, farmers have always been altering the genetic makeup of the crops they grow using traditional breeding methods to make them bigger and sweeter, alter their colour, contain less seeds, create new varieties, and improve yields. No commercial crop today would be found in nature if it wasn’t for constant human intervention and innovation (look up ‘wild versus domesticated corn’ for a visual example that will blow your mind!)

What most people know as GMOs are products of an advanced breeding technology. Like traditional breeding techniques, using genetic engineering technology is just another way to create new crops with better traits by modifying their genetic composition; however, it is much more precise, predictable, and controlled.
GMOs weren’t and aren’t being developed for malicious purposes – they are being developed out of necessity. GMOs help farmers prevent crop losses from diseases, control insects and manage weeds; thrive in harsh climate like heat or cold; and better the nutritional profile of food. All these beneficial traits translate into using less resources and pesticides; grow more food on less land; help contribute to consumer health and reduce malnutrition in developing countries. They are the most regulated agricultural products in history and the science supporting their safety is exhaustive and sound.

Some examples of GMOs that have been developed or currently being developed include: Golden rice, an enhanced variety of rice containing high amounts of vitamin A with the purpose of enriching the diets of children and adults in developing countries that are suffering from deficiencies; the non-browning Arctic Apple, mandated to reduce waste; Oranges that are resistant to the detrimental “citrus greening” disease that is currently wiping out the trees in Florida; and hypoallergenic peanuts which will reduce life-threatening reactions among those allergic.

GMOs should be understood, not feared. Food labels are meant to inform the consumer about health and safety information, and prohibit the making of false or misleading representations – not give consumers the false impression that a product is superior if it does not contain ingredients derived from GMOs. In the future, I hope to see labels with a positive association to GMOs and less of the deceptive orange butterfly that claims to give “everyone an informed choice.”

Books and Authors
Free Inquiry Magazine
Richard Thain

Free Inquiry is an invaluable resource for keeping up-to-date on the latest thoughts and leading-edge insights from distinguished authors, academics, humanist activists and public intellectuals. If you would like an example of what I am referring to, the most recent issue, (April/May 2018) "looked back 25 years" (Spring 1993 issue) at their interview with Harvard entomologist, Edward O. Wilson, author of On Biodiversity .
On his comment that "humanity is ecologically abnormal," Wilson explained, "No other animal species five kilograms or larger with partly carnivorous habits has ever come remotely close to present-day humanity in sheer biomass (dry weight of protoplasm). The effects of this profligacy on the environment are staggering…”

In his landmark book, The Diversity of Life , he noted that "the human species has become a geophysical force" seven years before the term "Anthropocene" was popularized. He also warned that "we are altering the very composition of the atmosphere" in ways that are "probably...warming the Earth's climate with potentially catastrophic effects" two decades before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cemented the current understanding of that phenomenon.

Need I say more? If you are not familiar with Free Inquiry , I suggest you check it out.
“Free Inquiry  is a bi-monthly  journal  of  secular humanist  opinion and commentary published by the  Council for Secular Humanism , which is a program of the  Center for Inquiry ".
Feature articles cover a wide range of topics from a  freethinking  perspective. Common themes are:   separation of religion and state science and religion , dissemination of freethought, and  applied philosophy . Regular contributors include well-known scholars in the fields of science and philosophy.”

Free Inquiry and its sister magazine Skeptical Inquirer are available through CFIC at a discount. Please visit our website for pricing.
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| |