In this Edition of Critical Links:

June Dates of Interest

News & Events
  • 2019: International Year of the Periodic Table
  • CFIC Ottawa Chemistry Pub Talk
  • CFIC Ottawa Garage Sale
  • CFIC Ottawa Moon Landing Celebration
  • CFIC Manitoba Inaugural Meeting
  • Volunteer Opportunity: Bookkeeper
  • CSICon

Science Check
  • What the Heck is 'Oumuamua?
  • Ticks: More than Just Ugly Pests

Secular Check
  • Asia Bibi Update: Welcome to Canada!
  • Defunding Separate School Boards: Rhetoric and Reality

Think Check
  • The Right to Choose
  • Keith's Conundrums: A Bald Man with Hair

June Dates of Interest
June is International Pride Month . Many cities have their Pride Parades in June. However, among those which do not is Ottawa, where the Parade was rescheduled some years ago, because some considered it inappropriate to have it the same weekend as Father's Day!

June is also National Aboriginal History Month , and June 21 is National Aboriginal Day .

June 14 is World Blood Donor Day .

And of course no list of June calendar dates would be complete without mentioning the summer solstice : June 21, 2019, the longest day of the year!

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
2019 International Year of the Periodic Table

2019 will mark 150 years since Dmitri Mendeleev discovered the periodic table. Please let us know how you will be marking this occasion.

Do you want to join in the celebrations? Consider purchasing the CFIC periodic table t-shirt.
CFIC Ottawa Chemistry Pub Talk

On June 2, raise a glass to Dmitri Mendeleev , as CFIC Ottawa joins international celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table of the Elements with a pub talk on the history and science of one of humanity's great intellectual achievements. Details on Meetup .
CFIC Ottawa Garage Sale

Got stuff you don't need? Need stuff you don't got? On June 9, let’s help each other out, and raise some money for CFIC. We welcome donations of used books, toys, and household items. Advance drop-off and pickup available. Details on Meetup .

CFIC Ottawa Moon Landing Celebration

As part of CFIC Ottawa's busy July, we are celebrating with a BBQ (here on earth), the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing by Apollo 11. Details to be announced later on our Meetup page.
CFIC Manitoba Inaugural Meeting

CFIC Manitoba held its first public event on Saturday, May 18. About 30 people showed up for a screening of t he award-winning documentary Losing Our Religion , which 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.

Congratulations to the volunteers who brought this event to Winnipeg. We look forward to hearing about future CFIC Manitoba events.

For more information, please contact .
Volunteer Opportunity: Bookkeeper

CFIC is seeking a reliable and experienced volunteer bookkeeper. Ideally the volunteer should have bookkeeping experience using QuickBooks online. Training and ongoing support will be provided.

If you are interested in this position, or other CFIC volunteer opportunities, please complete a volunteer application form .

If you need an excuse to visit Las Vegas, why not consider attending CSICon 2019. The Center for Inquiry U.S. annual conference will be held in Las Vegas from October 16 to 20. This year there will be presentations on climate change, pseudo-science and the law, filing suit against homeopathy, and much more. Please visit for more information or to register.

Science Check
What the Heck is ‘Oumuamua?
Edan Tasca

It seems impossible, given how long humans have been studying the skies, but last October 19, a Canadian astrophysicist at the University of Hawaii observed the first confirmed interstellar object to travel through our solar system. The object is called ‘Oumuamua (the apostrophe is not a typo).

Wait a second. Isn’t there stuff barrelling through the solar system all the time?

“Interstellar object” is defined as an object in space that is not a star or substar and that is not bound by the gravitational field of any star. Before ‘Oumuamua, the closest object to an interstellar object that humans observed in our solar system was a comet called C/1980 E1. On December 9, 1980, this comet swung past Jupiter close enough for the latter’s gravity to alter the comet’s orbit, thereby changing its trajectory to one of ejection that was no longer bound to our Sun. The object is not expected to return — nor is ‘Oumuamua, which will leave our solar system in approximately 20,000 years.

You might ask: What about Haley’s Comet? Is that not interstellar? Although Haley’s orbit is gigantic and therefore seemingly interstellar, the comet is gravitationally bound to the Sun, meaning that, technically, it isn’t an interstellar object. It’s our solar system’s wayward space rock that comes home only every 75 years or so. Interstellar objects, by contrast, are just passing by. As if using our solar system as a virtual Spacebnb, they don’t come back.

When first noticed, ‘Oumuamua was classified as a comet. Upon further review, however, the object did not display a coma (the envelope of ice and dust around a comet’s nucleus). It then became the first comet ever to be reclassified as an asteroid. To one degree or another, there is still debate about category technicalities, namely whether it is actually some type of asteroid or comet after all, but bound by the gravity of another solar system’s star.

Scientists at Harvard even wanted to classify ‘Oumuamua as an alien spacecraft because of its odd long and thin shape and “wobbly” rotation. One way or another, we have an interesting guest for the next 20,000 years.

Check out a super cool TED talk about ‘Oumuamua here .
Ticks: More Than Just Ugly Pests
Sandra Dunham

The tick population is on the rise in many parts of Canada. Anyone who has pulled an engorged tick from their beloved pet, or worse, from themselves, can attest to how disgusting these little brutes appear. Worse, though, than their appearance is the fact that they transmit disease; most notably Lyme disease. As concern over the growing tick population and the diseases they carry increases, research into safe and effective tick repellents is increasing.

How is the well intentioned pet owner or nature lover to determine what works and what is a ploy to trick you into emptying your wallet for nothing more than snake oil? Please do not simply trust that an article purporting to be “based on science” actually is. For information on determining whether it is science or simply a scam, please check out the CFIC Is it Science? guide.

Recently I came across an advertisement for the Winkflo ' s Anti-flea, Tick, & Mosquito Collar, and its partner, the Waggie pet collar. There are many factors that suggest this is a dangerous scam.

The pet collar is reputed to be developed by a team of “elite veterinarians,” and contains all organic ingredients. Note that the veterinarians are not identified anywhere on the website. I suspect that the “elite team” has a vested interest in the success of the product and question their unwillingness to include their names on the website.

Winkflo claims the collar was tested on over 1000 sheltered animals with positive results. It does not have a link to a study, nor does it define what the “positive results” might be (e.g., some people would think it positive if none of the animals died during the test). Although the contact us tab promises a one-business-day reply to emails, a full seven days have elapsed since I emailed to ask: “Would you direct me to the results of the testing you did on sheltered animals? Was there a reduction in the number of ticks and fleas?” The skeptic in me speculates that there is no writeup of the test, and further that the positive results did not include the reduction in the number of ticks or fleas on the dogs. That this is not science.

Although the site has an impressive diagram outlining the flea and tick cycle, it offers no explanation of how their product interrupts this cycle. In fact, their site is totally set up to look scientific, but offers nothing to evaluate the claims.

This advertising is not only fake; it is dangerous. Lyme disease is a serious issue that increasingly threatens the health and well being of Canadians. The Government of Canada Public Health Services offers advice about avoiding tick bites, including using DEET or icaridin. It does not suggest the use of essential oils as these products do.

Perhaps we can hope for a less toxic, less greasy, or less smelly repellent for ticks and other insects. However, when it comes to protecting your home, your pet, and yourself, please be sure that the product you are purchasing is well researched and passes the Is it Science? test.

Secular Check
Asia Bibi Update: Welcome to Canada!
Edan Tasca

In December’s issue of Critical Links , we reported on the case of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, who in 2010 was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging. In October 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Bibi on the grounds of insufficient evidence. However, rather than being released from prison, the Pakistani government had to retain Bibi to protect her from angry mobs who were outraged about the acquittal.

So fierce was the backlash that a high-profile governor was shot point blank by his own bodyguard 27 times for publicly appealing to Pakistan’s president to pardon Bibi. The very next month, another Pakistani leader was murdered. Taliban-linked gunmen shot the man eight times in a drive-by attack. Further, Imams went so far as to issue a ransom of 500,000 rupees (equivalent to approximately $10,000 Canadian) for Bibi’s murder.

Bibi’s husband made an international call for asylum, in particular from Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. In November 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau began negotiations with Pakistan. Earlier this month, Bibi arrived in Canada , joining her family who had escaped earlier, to begin a new life. Thank you to the activists and diplomats who worked so hard for her safety and freedom.
On behalf of CFIC, welcome to Canada, Asia Bibi!
Defunding Separate School Boards: Rhetoric and Reality
San dra Dunham

Thanks to CFIC Regina for bringing attention to a disturbing article published in the Ottawa Citizen which offers a great deal of rhetoric and fear mongering about the potential implications of the defunding of Catholic schools. Though the three provinces which continue to fund separate Catholic school boards have a vested interest in this dialogue, the issue should interest all Canadians who are concerned about human rights.

An opinion column , written by Robert Smol, a teacher in Ontario’s Catholic school system, offers the following arguments against amalgamating school boards.

  • Some schools will close, so students will have to change schools.
  • There will be no savings, since each student still requires the same instruction.
  • There will be reassignments and layoffs among superintendents, consultants, head office staff, principals, resource teachers, educational assistants, secretaries, custodians, and teachers.

Currently, schools close in many neighbourhoods as demographics change. No matter the reason, the requirement to change routines and attend a new school can be upsetting to families. However, after the initial fear of the unknown, almost all students settle into their new environment without significant impact.

The big difference in the potential amalgamation of school systems would be that many children who currently have to travel to attend school might be able to attend a school closer to home, meet and befriend children from their community, and reduce the cost and environmental impact of busing. It is interesting that the author first posits that there will be no savings and then goes on to argue about massive lay-offs at all levels of the school system.

Civil Rights in Public Education (CRIPE) reports that the extra cost of maintaining two school boards in Ontario is over $1 billion annually. At a time when there are significant cuts to the province’s education budget and increases to class size, amalgamating the two school boards appears to be a perfect opportunity to find savings without negatively impacting children’s learning conditions or teachers’ working conditions.

Smol cryptically alludes to the loss of crosses, statues of saints, and bibles on the bookshelves. CFIC would argue that these icons of faith belong in people’s homes and places of worship, not in schools. Not only does the amalgamation of public and catholic school systems offer savings; it offers an opportunity for people of different faiths and people of no faith to know one another; it offers a future of hope and understanding.

Do you have something to contribute to the dialogue on the funding of separate school systems? Do you have experience in a province which discontinued funding schools based on religion? Please share your thoughts and experiences here .

Think Check
The Right to Choose
Russ Tychonick
In the last few weeks, at least three U.S. states have introduced legislation that would either ban abortion entirely or restrict access to the procedure so severely that it would make access to the procedure virtually impossible. That makes eight states that have passed abortion laws that could be seen to challenge its constitutional protection in 2019 alone.

In Alabama, the governor signed a bill that would make performing an abortion — even in cases of rape or incest — punishable by up to 99 years in prison. Earlier in May, Georgia became the first state to introduce such draconian legislation when Governor Brian Kemp signed a law making abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or about six weeks after conception. And most recently, Missouri lawmakers have passed a similar “heartbeat bill” that would prohibit abortion before the point where a woman would likely even know that she is pregnant.

Rather than take the risk of violating them, doctors may choose to not perform any abortions once these statutes go into effect. So the statutes will, in fact, if not in law, amount to the revocation of the right to choose abortion in those states. But why now? Why have three states — and possibly more by the time this is printed — decided to enact such restrictive laws?

Donald Trump, for all the thousands of lies he’s told before and since becoming president of the United States, did keep one important commitment. He pledged to appoint to the Supreme Court justices that were staunchly “pro-life” and would overturn Roe v. Wade if given the opportunity. And he’s kept that promise. With a conservative majority now on the Court, an eventual review of Roe v. Wade seems almost unavoidable.

The elected officials in these states are not stupid. They fully realize that these laws won’t just be challenged in court, but that they will likely be found unconstitutional and overturned. With a now solid majority on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion advocates in the U.S. are eager to pass these types of legislation in the hopes that one of them will be the challenge that the Court uses to eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. And even if this doesn’t happen in the next few years — or at all — there is a very good possibility that we will continue to see a continued piecemeal weakening of legislation that supports the right to abortion. This would, in the end, effectively be pretty much the same as overturning Roe v. Wade.

The true human costs of these new laws cannot be overstated. No law has ever served to stop women from getting abortions. The abortion rate in countries that ban it is pretty much the same as it is in countries where it is legal. But by driving the provision of abortion underground, these laws will only serve to endanger women’s health.

Canadians that reassure themselves that laws like these could never be passed here haven’t been paying close enough attention. Although Canada’s abortion law was repealed in 1988, it is still subject to regulations. And there is an important lesson from the U.S. for this country as well. The public does not always inspire or dictate legislation. There is no U.S. state where support for an abortion ban reaches even 25 percent.

In the last year, Ontario and Alberta have elected majority Progressive Conservative governments led by premiers that were actively supported by a vocal and well-organized anti-choice lobby. Recently, Sam Oosterhoff, a conservative MPP in Ontario, openly vowed to make abortion “unthinkable in our time.” In Manitoba, Kelvin Goertzen, the previous conservative Minister of Health, even gave a speech at an anti-abortion rally.

There is also evidence that indicates that Canadian anti-abortion groups coordinate with similar groups in the U.S. with regard to training and funding. Some have even received support from the Leadership Institute, a U.S. anti-choice training organization funded by groups affiliated with the Koch Brothers’ donor network.

Similar legislation could indeed be introduced in Canada. If we don’t take the concerning developments in the U.S. seriously, we will only be making it easier for those wishing to restrict or ban abortion in this country as well. Members of CFIC need to work together to ensure that women continue to have the right to choose in a secular Canada.
Keith’s Conundrums: A bald man with hair
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.

One reader of last month’s Conundrum responded that they had encountered the idea that identity of some things is due to the relations between parts rather than the parts themselves. Let’s take a look at that. It seems plausible (though it has been denied) that there are no relations without relata (i.e., the things that “stand in” the relation). So if the relata change while the relation itself is unchanged, what determines this? What are the identity conditions, as it is said, for relations?

In mathematics we often work extensionally, which means that the same relation exists only when the relata are the same. But we already want to deny that here, so that view doesn’t help. (In mathematics we can get away with this view for reasons I will not address here.) But the identity conditions are obscure otherwise.

As a first look at the work that has to be done, one should first be very careful to avoid confusing the class of a given relation with its instances, or type vs. token. Is my being between Joan and Kevin (say in a line to get chili) at one party the same betweenness as it is if we line up again at another party? It seems to me that there is difference in token: There is another betweenness.

Thus, in order to solve Barry’s Powerbook by the way the reader suggests, we need a theory of relations. I will not complete this here but just sort of gesture towards where one has to go, as I have now done.

Now on to this month’s Conundrum.

I Am a Bald Man with Hair

I am a man who is clearly not bald: I have lots of hair on my head. A man with no hair is clearly bald. This seems to be true by definition of “bald."

However, it seems also to be true that if our cue-ball like man had one hair he’d also be bald (think Patrick Stewart). It also seems plausible that if we remove one hair from me I would not be bald. Yet we can repeat this process, and so it seems that a bald man can have a head of hair, and I can be regarded as bald!

So what went wrong?

Fields to help think this through: vagueness theory, paradox of analysis, fuzzy set theory.
Books (and Podcasts) and Authors
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