In this Edition of Critical Links:

July Dates of Interest

  • Update on Omer
  • Anti-Black Racism in Canada: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies
  • Announcing the CFIC Calendar of Events
  • CFIC Welcomes Volunteers of Diverse Backgrounds

Scien ce Check

Secular Check

Think Check

Click any item in the table of contents to be taken to the website version of the article.

July Dates of Interest
July 1, 1818, was the birthday of Ignaz Semmelweis, champion of handwashing and pioneer of other antiseptic procedures.

July 18, 1918, was the birthday of anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela .

July 26, 1784, marks a shameful event in Canada's history, when Black Loyalists in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, were attacked and their homes destroyed by their white neighbours.

July 27 marks the anniversary of the death of Garrett Morgan, inventor of the traffic light and gas mask. Thanks to his accomplishments we can all breathe easier and drive more safely!
If you celebrate any of these, or have suggestions for upcoming celebrations or observances, please drop us a line or send a picture to .

CFIC News & Events
Update on Omer
Sandra Dunham

[In case you missed it: Please see Secular Rescue: Help us Help Omer for background information.]

Omer remains well, in COVID lockdown in Nepal. For over a month, we were unable to send money to Omer. However, Omer s landlord graciously lent him money for groceries and allowed him to delay paying rent. Banks reopened on June 11, and we were able to send Omer funds to cover his outstanding rent, repay his debt, and purchase groceries. As always, Omer was grateful for our assistance.

Thanks to everyone who continues to contribute to help Omer. We currently have enough money to help Omer for an additional four months. If you would like to help us help Omer, please consider donating to our Secular Rescue program.
Anti-Black Racism in Canada: Causes, Impacts, and Remedies

 Racism in Canada has many different faces. To improve equity and justice for all in Canada, we first must understand racism from differing perspectives, and find safe spaces to inquire and understand. That s why CFIC has teamed up with Humanist Canada , Dundurn Press, and Black Artists Network in Dialogue to bring you a discussion on Anti-Black Racism in Canada .

The discussion will be available to Humanist Canada and CFIC members at no charge. A $10 ticket will allow non-members to attend. All funds raised through this event will be donated to Black Artists Network in Dialogue , so that they can continue their work of supporting, documenting and showcasing the artistic and cultural contributions of Black artists and cultural workers in Canada and internationally.”

Dundurn Press president, Scott Fraser, will interview Dr. Ajamu Nangwaya (Professor, University of the West Indies), about systemic racism in Canada: its origins, the statistics, and the first things we must do to address this issue. Perhaps most importantly, Scott and Ajamu will answer the question Can Canada survive as a multi-racial democracy without addressing its racism problem?”

A one-hour, investigative interview will be followed by 30 minutes of Q&A from attendees. Please hold the date: Sunday, July 19, 2:00 pm EDT. Watch for registration information in your inbox.
Announcing the CFIC Calendar of Events
As the COVID pandemic unfolded, many organizations that our members follow moved their presentations online. It has been an excellent opportunity for people across the country (and around the world) to access content that was previously only available in specific geographies. In recognition that our partners offer great secular and skeptical content that is relevant and interesting to our membership, CFIC has launched a calendar of events.

 Now we are looking for your help. Please tell other Canadian organizations that they can add their event to our calendar at no charge . To add an event, simply fill out the Calendar Submission Form . We usually get events posted within a day or two, but we recommend more notice to allow for unforeseen circumstances.

We also welcome and encourage other organizations to share this calendar with their members.

We know that a well informed, united skeptical community is important to ensure a vibrant democracy. Help us to spread the word. Go forth and learn.
CFIC Welcomes Volunteers with Diverse Backgrounds
CFIC fosters a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. We are committed to our values, including promoting diversity, to achieve more interesting conversations and more inclusive outcomes. We know that increased diversity within CFIC helps us to promote equality and social justice. Therefore we encourage humanists, including indigenous people of Canada, people of colour, and new Canadians to join us and add their voice to CFIC’s robust dialogue. 
Click here to find out more about volunteering with CFIC. Forward this to someone you think is committed to a just society based on free inquiry, science, reason, and humanist values .

Science Check
Science Loses in New Brunswick
Edan Tasca
Earlier this month the New Brunswick legislature began debating Bill 11 , a motion to eliminate non-medical vaccine exceptions. Under the bill, students who are not vaccinated according Health Canada’s requirements would not be able to attend public schools, unless they have a medical exemption. Religious exemptions would not be acceptable.

Unfortunately, the bill was ultimately rejected. In reaction to what he saw as a disappointing vote on the bill he authored, New Brunswick’s Education Minister, Dominic Cardy, has vowed to continue confronting opposition to the bill. “I'm going to confront them in the same way I would people who are racist or sexist or homophobic, by calling them out and telling them their views are unacceptable in 2020,” Cardy said.

Cardy’s attitude has been met with criticism. Many feel his rhetoric is antagonistic and divisive. The leader of the province’s Liberal party called it inappropriate, arguing that it makes collaboration more difficult than it can already be between different political parties.

Cardy plans to hold strong. “When faith in science and institutions is coming under more threat and pressure than at probably any other point in our lifetimes, this bill is a firewall to protect our schoolchildren,” he said. “And I'm going to be there to fight against them as long as I've got the mandate to do that from the folks who elected me.”

As part of our mission to promote secular values, CFIC stands with Cardy and health experts rather than religious ones, about whether children should be vaccinated. If a child is to skip a vaccine, the reason cannot be based on ideologies that are centuries old that don’t understand epidemiology. Science and common sense must supersede superstition.
The Cost of Bad Science in the Agri-Food Industry
Sandra Dunham

Bayer is set to pay out $10.9 billion to settle a class action lawsuit from thousands of Americans who claim that their non-Hodgkin s lymphoma was caused by the well known herbicide Roundup. Case mediator, Ken Feinberg, claims that this is the “wise” thing for Bayer to do, rather than roll the dice in American court.” How have we arrived at time when, with no scientific evidence of a link between glyphosate (the weed-killing chemical in Roundup) and non-Hodgkin s lymphoma, a payout of this magnitude is required to avoid the whims of the U.S. judicial system?

Research into the potential link between glyphosate and cancer is fraught with conflicting information. U.S. Right to Know , a non-profit organization investigating food claims, disputes study after study showing no association between glyphosate and various health concerns. They claim each of these studies has been tainted by some connection to chemical giant Monsanto (purchased by Bayer in 2018), which patented glyphosate in 1974 and has sold it as Roundup ever since. However, U.S. Right to Know has ties to many fringe medicine and activist causes , with almost $500,000 in funding from Organic Consumers Association. The U.S. non-profit has also been accused of using the Freedom of information Act to harass scientists and imply that they are being paid by the agri-food industry.
Currently, the patent on glyphosate has run out and it is now being marketed by a number of different chemical companies and sold under many different names. None of these products is required to warn consumers of a potential link between glyphosate and cancer becaus e there is no evidence that it poses a health risk at the levels that humans are currently exposed to. The settlement may put this issue to rest once and for all. It includes the establishment o f an independent panel to determine whether Roundup causes cancer, and if so, at what levels.

Currently the agri-food industry is looking for alternatives to glyphosate , not because of scientific evidence of its lack of safety, but because of fear that the court of public opinion will create a situation in which it becomes impossible to use what they claim has revolutionized farming .

While there is hope that the independe nt panel may put this issue to rest once and for all, it appears far more likely that the court of public opinion, with no evidence to back it, will continue to erode trust in glyphosate. The cost? For starters, farmers will have to revert to other, more toxic herbicides —increasing their risk of developing serious diseases, including cancer. The world will also face lower crop yields, increased use tillage to control weeds (resulting in damage to valuable farmland), and increased world hunger, especially in developing countries that often pay the price for our first world mistrust in science and technology.
Public Domain,
Racial Science
Stephen Watson

Recent years have seen a resurgence of “racial science” (the attempt to establish races as robust biological categories) and with it the attempt to ascribe the psychological and intellectual characteristics of people of different races to genetics (called “hereditarianism”). If the hereditarian thesis is correct, then the disparity in performance between black and white people on IQ tests, for example, and presumably on economic and social outcomes, is due to innate ability rather than environmental factors such as discrimination or childhood poverty. Advocacy of such ideas is not only to be found on far-right websites; some of it has made its way into the mainstream scholarly literature, lending it an air of credibility.

In a series of blog posts, philosopher of biology Jonathan Kaplan takes on some recent hereditarian papers, arguing that they are not merely wrong, but are intellectually dishonest. In his first post, he addresses a paper entitled “Dodging Darwin: Race, evolution, and the hereditarian hypothesis,” which argues that evolutionary biology is failing to apply the same methods of explaining the psychological attributes of different races as it does to the physical. Kaplan charges the authors with misrepresenting the intent of many of the works they cite (including one of his own), and of obfuscating use of the term “Darwinian Research Tradition,” as if modern evolutionary biologists were still cribbing from Darwin.

It is worth noting that another movement that often abuses the name of Darwin in this way is creationism and intelligent design: Darwin was important, but he was also wrong on several points (including being, like most 19th century intellectuals, a bit of a racist), and science has moved on since his day.

The crux of Kaplan's attack is that the authors underestimate the threshold required to declare that we have found an adaptive explanation for some trait. Two obvious examples — skin pigmentation and adult lactose tolerance — are considered to be genetic adaptations to conditions, but establishing them as such took a lot of work in fields in such as archaeology, anthropology, and developmental biology, in addition to genetics. No comparable body of work exists that would allow us to declare that, for example, Asians are disposed to be “collectivistic.”

We look forward to future installments of the series.

Secular Check
The Rohingya in Myanmar
Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Human rights violations and breaches of secularism and international law on small scales remain problems. Violations on large scales inflicted wholesale upon victimized and, often, defenseless peoples is tragic, violent, and immediate, even spanning decades into long-term effects of the entire lives of most of the survivors. They may never return to some semblance of normalcy in the dark and bloody tragedy brought forth from war. I see no reason to prevaricate here: people-groups at immediate risk of death, individually and collectively.

One such case in the current moment is the  Rohingya , a Muslim minority with a millennia-long history in Myanmar. As Radio Free Asia  has reported about the plight of this minority, “Thousands of members of the group were killed during the violence, and more than 740,000 others escaped across the border, where they now live in sprawling displacement camps in southeastern Bangladesh.” Six thousand refugees exist in a “no-man’s land” between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The Rohingya amount to an in-between ethnic and religious minority with nowhere to call home now. These are real victims forced to flee life-threatening circumstances. Human Rights Watch has called for the end of arbitrary travel and other restrictions on the Rohingya. The  Rohingya refugees have been facing difficulties after returning to Myanmar.

As  Al-Jazeera has reported , “For the first time, they were meeting representatives from the UN and international NGOs tasked with providing education to about half a million Rohingya refugee children living in camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Minutes of the meeting obtained by Al Jazeera, show how the community leaders questioned the officials about the slow effort to give refugees formal education, the absence of a Myanmar curriculum in the camps, and the lack of consultation with the community.”
Some are asking serious questions about the lack of access to education. Typically, the idea is to provide an education bound to the nationality of the group, of the refugees. This means an education that the Rohingya could have expected in Rakhine state or in Myanmar as a whole. With some of this botched by the UN and other organizations, this is where there are serious questions asked of the UN and other organizations about failures in the implementation of the aforementioned principles of the organizations, as human institutions and then answering for the failures.

The problem with these refugees is threefold: the fleeing from military enforcement, the size of them in the hundreds of thousands, and the denial of the fundamental human rights as citizens, as Muslims, and as human beings. The pain and suffering from ethnic and religious persecution need to be heard.

Think Check
What s Going on at the Museum of Human Rights?
Sandra Dunham

For someone committed to social justice, a job offer from the Museum of Human Rights must seem like a dream come true. However, recently we are discovering that the dream job might not have turned out as planned.

First, we were stunned to learn that the museum hid the LGBTQ display from children, when this request was made by religious schools. Later we were even more astonished to find that complaints of sexual harassment were discounted and ignored. While the resignation of CEO John Young is a good first step toward righting these wrongs, one must ask whether it is enough. Where is the accountability of the trustees in these matters?

The mandate of the museum is to explore the subject of human rights, with special but not exclusive reference to Canada, in order to enhance the public's understanding of human rights, to promote respect for others, and to encourage reflection and dialogue. ” It appears, however, that the museum is willing to enhance the public s understanding” of only the human rights that the public supports and is prepared to skip the rights that do not correspond with the beliefs of specific visitors or staff members. It is inconceivable that a museum dedicated to protecting human rights so easily ignored the rights of the LGBTQ population and the rights of female staff exposed to sexual harassment.

The appointment of board chair Pauline Raffety appears to be another step in the wrong direction. Raffety excuses the board from responsibility for oversight, stating that the allegations were not properly brought to the attention of the board of trustees.” Trustees have a responsibility for oversight. The correct response from a truly contrite board would be an acknowledgement of their failure to ensure that the mission and values of the organization were reflected in the work of staff.

One of the museum s values is to be A credible and balanced learning resource .” Can it ever hope to regain the credibility it has lost in these events? How does the action of this one Canadian Institution reflect on Canada, in the eyes of the world?

CFIC will continue to monitor this situation with the hopes that the museum can correct past wrongs, rebuild lost trust, and help all Canadians to value the diversity that makes this country strong. We hope that all employees and volunteers of the museum can work safely and be a part of this important Canadian institution.
Keith’s Conundrums: The Cone and the Frustum
Keith Douglas

Last time, I asked if there s anywhere else in the universe with a river of Coca-Cola. Alex B wrote to say that because of the likelihood of all combinations of basic stuffs elsewhere in the universe, there is somewhere else that has Coke.

I disagree, and there are some interesting metaphysical lessons here, independent of worries about infinity when it comes to combinatorics and probability that some might have. This is what is called essentiality of origin.” If I make an exact duplicate, molecule for molecule, of a twenty dollar bill, it is merely a perfect forgery. Why? Because it is illegal in Canada for anything other than the official government source to produce currency. Similarly, if the place elsewhere in the cosmos is not under license from the company based out of Atlanta, it’s not Coke, but merely a perfect bootleg copy”.

What does this teach us? One thing it seems to, something perhaps otherwise unexpected: it seems we have an example of a property that is both relational and essential. (There is some pre-1970s philosophy that asserts without argument that essential properties have to be intrinsic.) The second lesson is that we should be on the lookout for other things that also have essentiality of origin. S. Kripke in his famous Naming and Necessity  thinks he has some, for example. And the discussion continuous over there; I ll not bother with anything further on that line but encourage people to read this (in my view) flawed classic. A third lesson is that sometimes one doesn t need to worry about infinity if the topic can be analyzed without it.

With that, I will move to this month s conundrum.

The Cone and the Frustum

This one is old, attributed to Democritus, my favourite Presocratic philosopher.

Take a right cone, and slice it parallel to the circle that forms the base. Now one has a smaller cone (from the top”) and a so-called frustum.

Now consider the two surfaces – the top of the frustum and the bottom of the small cone. Are these circles the same size or not?

If they are the same size, it seems that since we could have done the cut anywhere, the cone was in fact a cylinder. That s not right, so let s look at the other alternative: they have different sizes. But then one is larger than the other, presumably that of the frustum, and then there s a circle, and another tiny bit of indent and the other circle in the original cone. But that s not what we started with either – a sequence of circles with indents like that sounds like some sort of weird ziggurat. So that s not it either. That seems to exhaust the possibilities, so what on earth is going on?

(Fields to consider: ?)
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