In this Edition of Critical Links:

October Dates of Interest

CFIC News and Events
  • Blasphemy in Saskatchewan
  • CFIC in Montreal-West Island
  • Is Society Making Moral Progress?
  • Correction to September Critical Links
  • October Election Poll Results
  • CSICon 2019

Science Check
  • CFIC Celebrates Science Literacy Week
  • Ultra-processed Food and Weight Gain

Secular Check
  • Ex-Muslims of North America Launches #AwesomeWithoutAllah

Think Check
  • Gender Dysphoria: An introduction
  • Keith’s Conundrums: A puzzle about measurements

October Dates of Interest
Though not quite an October date, September 30 marks Orange Shirt Day , which aims to raise awareness of the devastating impact of the residential school system on the Indigenous people, their families, and the community, as well as support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s  Call to Action #80 .

October 6 to 12 is National Fire Prevention Week.

October 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Poverty is not solely an economic problem. In a world characterized by an unprecedented level of economic development, technological means, and financial resources, that millions of persons are living in extreme poverty is a moral outrage.

"Let us remember that ending poverty is not a matter of charity, but a question of justice."
— UN Secretary-General António Guterres

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 .

CFIC News & Events
Blasphemy in Saskatchewan

On September 29, CFIC Saskatoon will be holding an event entitled Blasphemy Rights: A perspective on Bangladesh . Please join CFIC for this crucial discussion about the state of free speech in Bangladesh.
CFIC in Montreal-West Island

If you enjoy engaging in a variety of educational and social activities, this group is for you. Starting this Fall, you are invited to join a brand new CFIC meetup, located in the heart of Montreal-West Island. Join in exchanges geared to boost your critical thinking skills in a friendly atmosphere.

This meetup will be offering more than just a forum for presentations and discussions. We seek to create a social circle for people interested in science and secularism, as well as to bridge the geographical gap between downtown Montreal and off-the-island locations.

Everyone is welcome. You don't need to be a member of CFIC to participate in our events. Find out more here . Come join the discussion!
Is Society Making Moral Progress?

Earlier this month, CFIC’s Toronto branch hosted a remarkable event with Dr. Christopher diCarlo and Dr. Richard Carrier who spoke about the progress of morality in our society. The conversation was educational and entertaining. Indeed, the two speakers had all 60 attendees captivated for two enlightening hours.

If you missed it, no worries! The talk will be posted to our YouTube page . Please follow CFIC Toronto on Facebook to learn about our upcoming events. 
Correction to September Critical Links

In last month’s issue of Critical Links , CFIC called the organization Association of Atheism, Turkey (Ateizm Dernegi, in Turkish ) the “only legally recognized atheist non-government organization (NGO) in the Middle East.” However, this is incorrect. Despite our fact-checking efforts, we were not aware of the Israeli Atheist Association , also an atheist NGO operating in the Middle East.

We apologize for the oversight.
October Election Poll Results
Sandra Dunham

In the months leading up to the 2019 Federal election, CFIC asked members to identify the most pressing issues facing Canada. More than one-third of our members responded. Broadly, our members told us that they want a government that understands the importance of science and reason; and want policies developed from the best available evidence. This means increased support for scientific research and policies that are supported by evidence. In particular, results overwhelmingly indicate that the number-one issue for our members was science-based decision-making on climate change and healthcare.

CFIC has produced this quick guide to suggest some questions for your local candidates about their party’s science platform. We need your help in sharing this information. We’ve set up a webpage where you can let others know what responses you received to these and other questions you asked about science. If you get answers that you want to share, either when talking to a candidate at your front door, or when attending an all-candidates’ meeting, please share them so others will benefit.

Remember: A health democracy is based on good science!
CSICon 2019

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, pseudoscience, filing suit against homeopathy, and much more. Please visit for more information or to register.

Science Check
CFIC Celebrates Science Literacy Week
September 16 to 22 was Science Literacy Week , during which CFIC members shared their knowledge about various topics in science. Below are some examples. (We hope you will share your science literacy information with us. If you ever wonder “Is it science?”, we hope you will check out our info graphic to find your answer.)

Think GMOs are new? Think you can avoid them? Think again. Food scientist Andrea Palmeiri shares the truth about GMOs .

Can science prevent Earth from colliding with an asteroid? Maybe. CFIC Councillor and board member Diane Bruce shares information about how science is addressing this possibility .

Are global warming and climate change the same thing? CFIC member Sandra Dunham provides the short answer .

Darwin didn’t get everything right, but his answers launched the science behind what we know about evolution. CFIC member Steve Watson ties Darwin’s research to what we know today .

Measles was declared “eliminated” in Canada in 1998. What happened? CFIC Education Chair, Seanna Watson, shares the sad truth about recent measles outbreaks .

We can blame the reemergence of the belief in a flat Earth on disinformation spread online. CFIC points out how long ago humanity figured out that Earth is a sphere .

We’ve all seen it before, a lofty claim that some new and/or improved soap “kills 99.9% of bacteria.” Zack Dumont, pharmacist and CFIC Science Chair, shares what goes through his mind when he see claims like this .
Ultra-processed Food and Weight Gain
Sandra Dunham

Is there a topic more discussed than diet? Do you ever wonder what is true and what is not true?

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health, published in the July issue of Cell Metabolism , examined the effects of highly processed foods on weight. The study randomly divided subjects into two groups. One would spend two weeks eating ultra-processed foods followed immediately by two weeks eating unprocessed foods. The other group had the order of food groups flipped, eating unprocessed foods for two weeks before ultra-processed foods for two weeks.

Quick facts about the study:

  • Processed and non-processed diets were matched for calories, sugar, fat, fiber, sodium, and macronutrients;
  • Meals were substantially different, however, in the ratios of added to total sugar; insoluble to total fiber; saturated to total fat, and omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids;
  • Subjects were presented with three meals per day and invited to eat as much as they wanted in the 60-minute meal period;
  • Subjects were asked to rate the diets on pleasantness, familiarity, hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.

The results? The authors concluded that “eliminating ultra-processed foods from the diet decreases energy intake and results in weight loss, whereas a diet with a large proportion of ultra-processed food increases energy intake and leads to weight gain.” Further, while this study does not fully understand the relationship between processed food and weight, it did uncover some interesting findings, including an association between a) eating unprocessed foods and b) both an increase in the appetite-suppressing hormone PYY as well as a decrease in the hunger-creating hormone ghrelin.

Like any good research, this paper outlines the limitations of its study. For instance, the authors point out that consumer choice plays a large factor in selecting processed and unprocessed food, including the increase in cost and time associated with unprocessed foods. Indeed, the study points out that at the large local supermarket where they purchased their food, the processed food cost $106 per week compared with $151 for the unprocessed food.

The study did not investigate the cause of the differences, and therefore can only be seen as illustrating correlation rather than causation. The researchers admit they still have much to learn about the relationship between processed foods and weight, including the burning question: Why do people eat more when the food is processed?

Secular Check
Ex-Muslims of North America Launches #AwesomeWithoutAllah
Edan Tasca

Every religion can be difficult to leave. I know this not because I used to be religious and had a difficult go of it after leaving my faith. I’m grateful to have been raised secularly. The reason I know how hard leaving religion can be is that I host a monthly support group for CFIC’s Toronto branch, called Living Without Religion , which aims to provide a safe and supportive discussion environment for folks who are going through what can be a stressful transition away from their former faith.

In our meetings, we routinely hear stories about how, for example, family and friends can turn their back on you if you share that you no longer believe, regardless of your former religion. We see such difficulties among former devout Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and every Christian variant you can imagine, from Catholics and Protestants to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Born-Agains (and then not again).

Based on my experience, one thing is clear. Not all apostasies are created equal. I can't remember any former Christian using a pseudonym in our meetings. I haven’t seen a former Hindu ask to make sure the door of the meeting room is closed so that bystanders can’t overhear our discussion. Such concerns tend to be associated with leaving Islam. It is worth remembering that apostasy and blasphemy in Islam are often deemed punishable by death .

Given the particular difficulties that leaving Islam entails, and therefore the extra support that these apostates need, it is an encouraging sign that Ex-Muslims of North America (EXMNA) has launched a brave campaign for this very purpose. The campaign, communicated over social media as #AwesomeWithoutAllah, features, among other things, an impressively bold billboard presence .

Earlier this month, EXMNA co-founder and Executive Director, Sarah Haider, was featured in a segment of Real Time with Bill Maher , in which she discusses the campaign’s goals. CFIC stands with EXMNA’s efforts to advocate for free speech, fight for women’s rights, and destigmatize LGBTQ concerns, within Islamic (or formerly Islamic) environments.

After all, we are all #AwesomeWithoutAllah!

Think Check
Gender Dysphoria: An introduction
Diane Bruce

Gender dysphoria, also known by the terms gender incongruence and transgenderism , is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its International Classification of Disease as “a marked and persistent incongruence between an individual’s experienced gender and the assigned sex.” In North America, the term gender dysphoria is more common, and is used in the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic Standard Manual .

Gender dysphoria should not be confused with gender identity disorder (GID). The terms are not interchangeable. The older GID often incorrectly diagnosed children with a disorder they did not have. Further, the “disorder” was also misused as a rational for a form of conversion therapy. As documented in Daphne Scholinski’s book The Last Time I Wore a Dress , when parents observed their daughter displaying qualities that were deemed “too masculine,” for example, they might seek a doctor who was willing to treat GID to “cure the gay.”

The fact that transgender women and men have existed in mankind for thousands of years and in various cultures demonstrates that this condition is a natural phenomenon. There is growing scientific evidence that certain brain structures of transgender individuals do lie closer to the identity they claim . It is therefore important to note that gender dysphoria is not a mental illness. In fact, the WHO has moved the diagnosis into the sexual health category. Just as homosexuality was once considered but is no longer considered a mental illness, it is now obvious that transgenderism is similarly not a mental illness.
Keith’s Conundrums: A puzzle about measurements
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.  

I am somewhat saddened to report that I got no feedback on last month’s Conundrum . This is not surprising, since it was a hard one. But also, in a way, an easy one.

In 1936, Alan Turing proved a theorem about all computational procedures as we understand them. This was an interesting proof, because it was done as an analysis of humans performing rote calculations, with a goal to understanding our logical abilities. (This way of putting the matter is contentious; I would suggest that the interested read Turing’s paper “On Computable Numbers, With an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” This is repeated in the useful introduction of The Annotated Turing , which has excellent notes on understanding this classic paper.)

What does that famous paper have to do with our topic? Well, it has an almost trivial (mathematically speaking, anyway) corollary: Rice’s theorem . Turing’s paper and Rice’s theorem together tell us that almost any large structural feature of computer programs (e.g., when they “know to” halt calculations to present an answer) is in fact a problem we cannot solve in every case without false positives or false negatives — at least with a computer doing the work.

So our machine as discussed is almost certainly misdescribed. A fascinating question (which is still debated) is whether this extends to humans. Famed mathematician Roger Penrose, for example, does not think so, at least in principle. I disagree with this (justifiably) esteemed scholar, but that’s a story for another time. Curiously enough, when one looks at the literal description of many software and IT security products, for example, they also run afoul of this sort of problem. So one should ask, “How do they cheat?” But again, that’s another story. Moving on, then:

A Puzzle About Measurements

A traditional ammeter shows the intensity of an electric current with the angular position of a pointer on a dial; in other words as a ratio of two lengths. A mercury or ethanol thermometer shows ambient temperature by the length of the column of liquid. A balance shows two bodies have different weights via the displacement of one pan below the other, producing a distance (or yet another length). It seems therefore that large numbers of physical properties are actually lengths. Or are they?

Areas of thought to help ponder: realism and instrumentalism; theory of properties; indicator hypotheses; social measurements; induction.
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