In this Edition of Critical Links:

October Dates of Interest

  • When Doubting Means Death
  • October 10 — Countdown
  • October 24 — The State of Secularism
  • October 24 — Female Genital Mutilation: Religion, Culture, and Human Rights
  • November 7 — Marina Elliott: Canada’s Underground Astronaut
  • Retraction
  • Missed an event? Check online!

Science Check

Secular Check

Think Check

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

October Dates of Interest
In particular, this month includes Persons Day (18 October), marking the day in 1929 when the historic decision to include women in the legal definition of persons” was handed down by Canadas highest court of appeal. This gave women the right to be appointed to the Senate of Canada and paved the way for women's increased participation in public and political life. This month also includes International Day of the Girl (October 11).
Look up! October 4 to 10 is World Space Week. This years theme: Satellites Improve Life.”
October 19 to 25 is Waste Reduction Week. The COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with a surge in household waste thanks to COVID-related trends, including the re-emergence of disposable goods, a summer full of home renovations and the continuous growth of online shopping.
October 25 is National Cat Day.
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


On September 10, friends of Omer from around the globe gathered to hear author of The Atheist Muslim and podcaster, Ali Rizvi, interview Omer about his experience as an atheist escaping from persecution in Pakistan. The interview was informative as Ali provided compelling statistics showing that young people, growing up in Muslim countries, are increasingly doubting their religion.

The interview was poignant. Omer described the torture, ostracization, isolation, and fear he experienced while living in Pakistan, as well as his hope and appreciation for our support, as he waits patiently in Nepal for the opportunity to come to Canada. Omer hopes that secularist and humanist groups collaborate to make it easier for atheist refugees to get to the safe haven that Canada offers. He vows that when he gets to Canada he will devote himself to the cause of helping others.

If you are able to spare a few dollars, or a few dollars each month, you can help CFIC support Omer while he waits out the pandemic in Nepal. Every dollar you give goes directly to Omer, and is eligible for a charitable tax receipt.

If you missed the interview, we will have it available soon on our YouTube channel.

Global problems require global solutions — and climate change is one of the largest challenges our world has ever faced. 

On October 10, communities from around the world are coming together to establish a global action plan of climate solutions. CFIC is proud to present a vision of this action plan through a TEDx virtual discussion called Countdown, a worldwide call for scientists, activists, entrepreneurs, executives, investors, artists, authors, and government officials to present the solutions they have to address climate change.

We will host three speakers bringing crucial messages for this cause. Marc Schaus, author of Our Livable World: Creating the Clean Earth of Tomorrow, will speak about the vast new scientific and technological advancements occurring around the world furthering state-of-the-art clean energy options. David R. Boyd, author of The Rights of Nature, and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, will speak from an experience of international legal initiatives focusing on environmental action at the highest levels. And finally, CFIC’s keynote speaker will be MIT-trained physicist and Harvard professor David Keith, founder and chief scientist at Carbon Engineering here in Canada — a now world famous company specializing in the direct air capture of CO2.

Together, they present an account of the latest scientific, technological, and legal achievements necessary in our fight to stop global warming and re-balance our changing climate. There will be a live text chat, and the talks will be followed by an opportunity for audience Q&A. To participate in this virtual event, check out our Meetup page.

CFIC is looking for volunteers to help with this event. If you are interested, please email us.
October 24 The State of Secularism

Join CFIC Treasurer and Secularism Chair, Leslie Rosenblood, at 11 AM (ET) on October 24, as he gives a presentation on the current state of secularism in Canada to our friends at the Humanist Association of Toronto (HAT).

Sign up at HAT's Meetup page.
October 24 Female Genital Mutilation: Religion, Culture, and Human Rights
According to the World Health Organization, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM) has no health benefits, and harms girls and women in many ways. FGM involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, which interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.
At this event, Scott Fraser (president of Dundurn Press) will interview author Farzana Doctor about her exploration of this topic in her new book Seven. The discussion will be followed by a Q&A session with the the author.
Admission is free for CFIC and Humanist Canada members and $10 for non-members. If you would like to purchase a CFIC membership you may do so here. Members will receive a discount code by email. Contact us if you are a member but did not receive a code.

The event starts at 2:00pm, ET. Tickets are available from Eventbrite.
November 7 Marina Elliott: Canada’s Underground Astronaut

Join caver, biological anthropologist, archaeologist, and Homo naledi team member, Marina Elliott, as she takes us along her incredible journey into the Dinaledi cave in the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa.

How did a Calgarian end up in a deep, dark South African cave to help discover one of the most important paleoanthropological finds in history? How did she fit through the 18cm crevice to get to the chamber with the bones, 30 meters underground? What bones did they find? What do the bones teach us? 
CFIC is excited to bring this amazing story from an equally amazing Canadian to our members. More details here.

Last month we published an article without sufficient research, and we heard about it. Thank you to everyone who politely and constructively responded.

We do appreciate our readersinvolvement and concern with the accuracy of our reporting. Often, we receive unsolicited articles for submission. This is a happy occurrence for us. We want those articles. However, it is also our job to do the background research on these articles prior to printing them.

One of the reasons we were so quick to publish this article is that the author is a high school student, and an excellent writer. We are delighted to be a part of mentoring our future leaders. This may have caused us to look less closely at some of the evidence that she was using to justify her position.

Our commitment to our readership is that in the future we will continue to encourage these submissions. However, we will spend more time with our writers, especially young ones, encouraging them to check the sources of their information and amend the document if required.

We published the following on our website and in social media:

CFIC recently posted an article about violent video games in our Critical Links newsletter, and on Facebook. We did not sufficiently investigate some of the claims that were made. CFIC is retracting this article.

Here is a portion of the most recent statement (issued March 2020) from the American Psychological Association (APA) on the subject:

APAs governing Council of Representatives seated a task force to review its August 2015 resolution in light of many occasions in which members of the media or policymakers have cited that resolution as evidence that violent video games are the cause of violent behavior, including mass shootings.

Violence is a complex social problem that likely stems from many factors that warrant attention from researchers, policymakers and the public,” said APA President Sandra L. Shullman, PhD. Attributing violence to video gaming is not scientifically sound and draws attention away from other factors, such as a history of violence, which we know from the research is a major predictor of future violence.”

For more information see here.

Thank you for your ongoing confidence in CFIC to bring you the scientific, secular, and critical thinking news that you are interested in.
Missed an Event? Check Online!
CFIC has been adding recordings of our events from the past several months to our YouTube channel. The most popular ones are:

There are more. Use this link to check them out, or better yet, subscribe to be informed when new videos are added.
CFIC is committed to asking difficult questions, which can include talks on controversial subjects. Hosting a speaker does not imply agreement with their views.

Science Check
Scientific American Endorses First Presidential Candidate in 175-Year History
Russell Pangborn
Scientific American, a group that has traditionally remained neutral around presidential elections, recently broke a 175-year protocol and endorsed Joe Biden. These are unprecedented times and all supporters of a rational, secular society should take note of this cannon shot in defense of scientific inquiry and the benefits it provides to society.

What is different this time in the upcoming election to the south? One clear motivator for this prestigious organizations decision is the 200,000-plus Americans dead from COVID-19, directly as a result of a leader ignoring the advise of medical experts, instead substituting his own quack theories as a solution. But there are other fundamental concerns.

In my own life there were times democracy was taking a beating, but that was always in a distant country. It was never in peril with our neighbour who always liked to characterize themselves as the bastion of democracy. As a young boy, I remember reading the story of tanks rolling in to Czechoslovakia to thwart the will of a people while delivering the Toronto Star door to door on my paper route. Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the U.S. and no one was talking about him planning to steal an election.

In 1989 as a professor at Seneca College, not only did I read about the Tiananmen Square protests; I met a few students who were there and were part of the protests. They told me how the tanks crushed the democratic yearnings of an entire nation. President George H. W. Bush publicly condemned the event. Again, no one was talking about him cheating in the upcoming election and denying the American people the ability to select their next government.

Today we are reading about how Vladimir Putin employs poison to kill or maim his political opponents as a warning to all that they should not challenge his sham democracy. The current president of the U.S. is silent on this and the Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers’ lives.

Many are speculating Trump will blatantly cheat in the imminent November election and not give up his power. Ex-generals, ex-presidents, professors, and others are gaming out scenarios in an attempt to thwart this. There is a distinct possibility this president will forcefully grab the keys to American tanks so he can compel the American people to accept his children as their future presidents. This regime is anti-science and anti-secular. It will continue to rationalize the overwhelming evidence of climate change science away by pointing to the low temperature on a cold day to enable policies that push us closer to an extinction event so some can continue to make profits.

This regime also brings with it an ominous threat to secular society. It is fueled by an anti-abortion religious coalition whose champion is Attorney General William Barr. He has transformed the position of chief lawyer for the federal government to one of chief enabler of a rogue president. Barr was recently asked how history will view him for his decisions and he replied that history is written by the winners.

This is the man who was recently called out by Catholic theologian C. Colt Anderson, after warning in a Notre Dame speech that militant secularists were waging a campaign to destroy the traditional moral order. As many are outraged over racism and the cheap value placed on black lives, this BLM denier made a contemptible comparison of a nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of the COVID-19 as being similar to slaverys intrusion on civil liberties.

There is more than one type of virus that attempts to cross borders. We need to keep this ideological one that ignores critical thinking and wants to dismantle secularism out of our country. Meanwhile let us hope enough of the American people listen to Scientific Americans endorsement. Only overwhelming numbers for the Trump alternative will protect the U.S. from the machinations of a potential dictator.
Navigating Through the COVID Literature
Zack Dumont

In past editions of Critical Links we have covered marketing and hype made in the image of the scientific process, and the ultimate impact — positive or negative — on the conclusions we draw and how we react. There are examples of influence all around us, all the time. While tuned into the pandemic, were following news like we never have before.

In one example, there seems to be a mounting body of evidence to suggest that the respiratory route of transmission is the main culprit when it comes to COVID-19. If you look at a paper recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, youll see one of their key messages supports this idea: Direct contact and fomite transmission are presumed but are likely only an unusual mode of transmission.” Based on this paper, whether it is your proclivity or not, you can probably empathize with someone who jumps to the conclusion that hand hygiene and other touch-based precautionary measures are futile. But, lets take a closer look at the paper from a literature-navigation and information mastery perspective.

An initial word of caution is the category the article falls into: Review. (Note: This does not apply to Systematic Reviews.) Reviews, also known as narrative reviews, while often appearing to be of high scientific rigour (because of all the jargon) are actually a fairly low-level quality of evidence. This could purposefully or inadvertently come to the correct conclusion. But, because they do not need to include a systematic collection and assessment of all of the evidence, they may be missing some important contributing studies, and the risk of misleading is quite high. As such, if we want to draw conclusions, as readers we need to keep looking at higher-quality evidence and syntheses of studies, such as well-conducted systematic reviews, guidelines, etc., from authorities on the subject matter. These exist.

In the end, it may very well turn out that when it comes to COVID-19 transmission, respiratory is the main concern. If thats the case, great — we know what to do next. But to hang your hat on one paper — one review article — is fraught with problems. If youre going to ignore good hand hygiene and infection prevention measures just because you think you dont have to worry about it so much for COVID-19, youre going to be ignoring many other transmissible diseases (e.g., norovirus, adenovirus, etc.).

What needs to be mentioned is that a sick day is no longer just a sick day; its more like sick days. Thats because “It’s just a cold!” can no longer be presumed to be merely a cold. If you have a headache these days, technically, you should be getting tested for coronavirus. If youre getting tested for coronavirus, youre likely to be off work for a few days. This has big impacts on us as individuals and our society.

Bottom line: Maintain some hope that maybe we wont have to worry as much as we have about non-respiratory transmission — the evidence is mounting. But dont forget there are many other good reasons to practice good hand hygiene, to clean surfaces regularly, and to do what we can within reason to protect ourselves and others.

Oh, and avoid conflating reviews with systematic reviews!
Is There Life on Venus?
Scott Douglas Jacobsen

There have been some reports about the possibility of life on Venus. Is this an empirically verified or confirmed assertion from some recent news reportage? First things first: definitions. The question is not necessarily, “What is life?”, but rather, who studies that which has been defined as life” on planets other than Earth? Those folks are called astrobiologists.

Astrobiologists have looked for Earth-like planets as obvious life-harbouring candidates because the form of life” as we know it comes from Earth. However, astrobiologists have also been working for some time on hypothetical scenarios outside of the N-of-1 of carbon-based life on Earth. Recent reports seem to suggest that there is a potential signature of life on Venus, our very non-Earth-like neighbour.

The key points of the reports, including those in Scientific American, centre on the detection of phosphine, “at an altitude where temperatures and pressures are similar to those here on Earth at sea level.” A detection of phosphine means a potential biosignature,” literally a signature of life.
The alternative is an exotic chemical reaction mimicking the signifiers of life without, in fact, originating from the processes of some form of microbes. After some preliminary research, Jane Greaves, an astronomer at the University of Cardiff in the U.K., and colleagues, found more phosphine than expected, supporting the case for life on Venus.

Is there life on Venus? Maybe. Pete Worden, executive director of the nonprofit Breakthrough Initiatives, said, We have what could be a biosignature, and a plausible story about how it got there… The next step is to do the basic science needed to thoroughly investigate the evidence and consider how best to confirm and expand on the possibility of life.”

Secular Check
La Grande Noirceur: When Church and State Unite
Sandra Dunham & Seanna Watson

It has been said about the people of France that they are not religious, and the religion they are not is Catholic.” In Canada, the same description can be applied to the Quebecois of French heritage. As we have seen in recent history, secularism” in English Canada often has a different connotation versus its Francophone equivalent: “laicité.” The history of French Canada includes severe and abusive domination by the Catholic church, which has only recently been recognized, and to this day only partially addressed.

CFIC is committed to the principle of separation of church and state, or more formally, religion and government. In Canada today, there are still many examples of the small yet significant breaches in what we would like to see as a wall separating the two. Yet in Canadas not too distant history, the ties between unethical governments and immoral religious institutions have led to grievous violations of human rights.
Though most Canadians are aware of the role that churches played in colonizing Indigenous people, perhaps only a handful of our readers will still recall a dark period in Quebec, when a powerful alliance between Maurice Duplessis and the Catholic Church led to horrific abuses of the children of sin. Remembering is important in our efforts to ensure that these abuses never happen again.
The so-called children of sin were born to single mothers during Duplessistenure as premier. At the time, limited social services were available to residents of Quebec, and most of the available social institutions were run by the Roman Catholic Church. Although the proportion of children born to unwed mothers in Quebec was lower than in the rest of the country, the rate of institutionalization was higher than anywhere else in Canada. Mothers were forced to sign over their newborn children within three days of giving birth, in spite of this practice being against the laws of the time. Women reported that church officials shouted at them in the delivery room while they were still drugged that social services would sue them if they didnt give the child up.”

In Quebec, these children were sent to orphanages run by the Catholic Church, which received a stipend to care” for the children. Children at orphanages were not required to attend school, and supervision was limited. Each nun in the orphanage was required to supervise at least 10 children under the age of two. The lack of education and stimulation meant that these children were delayed in their development.

The situation was made even worse when Duplessis and the church increased revenues by converting orphanages to mental institutions.” This allowed Quebec to increase the amount of money transferred from the federal government to fund public institutions. The orphanages were subsidized at a rate of $1.25 per day, but as mental hospitals, they received $2.75 per day more than double the revenue. In all, more than 5,000 Quebec orphans were improperly classified as mentally retarded” and committed to the 16 psychiatric hospitals in Quebec, all run by the Catholic Church. Despite the added funding, as new mentally ill and developmentally delayed individuals were placed with the orphans in the new hospitals,” the children were forced to provide care for these patients and all pretexts of education came to a halt.

The litany of abuses suffered by the children of Duplessis” included being confined to a straight jacket for days at a time, sexual and physical abuse, neglect, emotional cruelty, being drugged, and even being lobotomized.

Along with the Government of Quebec and the Catholic Church, a third group is implicated in this horror: the Quebec College of Physicians. Doctors signed documents certifying that the orphans were mentally deficient.” Dr. Piche, the physician who was responsible at Mont Providence, and who in 1993 was still practicing medicine at the age of 75, described the forms as bureaucracy and paperwork” and did not even remember signing documents that destroyed the lives of so many. When asked by a survivor,Why did you sign this?”, Dr. Piche responded, because the nuns asked me to.”

In 2006, the government of Quebec issued an apology and compensation for the affected individuals, with the condition that the orphans agreed to drop legal action against the church. The orphans accepted the offer but acknowledged its insufficiency indicating that they accepted it because they were reaching the end of their lives. To this day the church has not apologized. Archbishop Lepine, in 2013, declared that the church itself is not responsible for terrible acts the Duplessis orphans suffered.”

The book The Home for Unwanted Girls, by Joanna Goodman, is a work of fiction set in the reality of Quebec in the 1950s. It explores this dark story from the perspective of a young, unwed mother and a child, growing up in a Catholic orphanage turned mental hospital.

Do you have any memories of the La Grande Noirceur, our great darkness? You are welcome to share your story. We forget history at the risk of repeating it.
Is Religion’s Economic Contribution Beneficial?
Sandra Dunham

Recently, the Sarnia Observer printed an article from Cardus, a faith-based think tank, describing the overall totally beneficial effect of religion on the lives of everyday Canadians,” not just the religious. For those reading only the headlines, and not noting the self-serving nature of the think tank, it appears that religion is good for the economy. For people who dig a little deeper and read the full article, this drivel is as offensive as is the willingness of media to promote it.

The story claims that religion contributes $67.5 billion to the economy. Approximately half of this involves the actual spending of churches. The other half involves so-calledhalo effects,” which include the value of services supported by churches and purchases made by individuals to follow their faith, such as kosher or halal food sales.

Lets delve into this economic benefit, as outlined in the article:

  1. $7 billion is donated by congregants to support the activities of churches. Remember that these donations receive a charitable tax receipt, which means that these revenues are subsidized by all Canadians, whether religious or not. (For more information, see our analysis on the cost of religion.)
  2. $14.5 billion is the “value” of publicly funded Catholic schools. We would argue that the $14.5 billion would more adequately fund a single school board in the three provinces which continue to direct taxpayer’s resources to schools which discriminate against non-Catholics when employing staff.
  3. $13.4 billion is spent on “social safety net” programs led by churches, such as food banks, housing, counselling, and other programs. These programs are supported by a combination of tax receipted charitable donations and direct government transfers. These safety net programs are also offered by secular groups. When offered by religious charities, we risk these charities proselytizing to participants and potentially doing harm with their faith-based programing.
  4. The remaining $60+ billion is likewise referring to expenses related to religion that would otherwise occur outside of religious institutions.

While there is no debating the truth that people spend money on churches and faith-based activities, the value of this (as opposed to the cost of it) leaves much to debate. Imagine if we read a similar article extolling the value” of the drug trade or human trafficking or tax fraud? Just because something contributes to the economy, that does not mean it makes a positive contribution to society.

Would you like to see more on the cost of religion? CFIC would like to continue revealing the cost of religion to Canadian taxpayers. Please consider making a tax-deductible charitable donation to CFIC to help with this project.

Think Check
The “Scambra”
Sandra Dunham

Online bra sales must be big business judging by the number of social media ads I receive. Recently, I spotted what I thought might be the bra of my dreams. It looked so comfortable that I decided to invest a few minutes to watch their video. Apparently two women doctors” developed this bra to be comfortable and flattering and healthy. Thats right, healthy. The video claimed this bra would reduce a womans risk of breast cancer which is caused by underwired bras” — a claim that has been thoroughly debunked.

Dr. Jen Gunter provides a great explanation of where the rumour linking underwired bras and breast cancer came from, and completely convinces me of the untruth of this rumour. Wondering whether Scambras” were truly designed by women doctors, I googled their unfortunately common names. I could find no evidence that physicians with these names exist, but neither can I reliably demonstrate that this is a lie.

Why am I concerned about these claims? I imagine the women with breast cancer who are chastising themselves for wearing underwired bras and thinking that this was the cause. I am also concerned about women who are now worrying about getting breast cancer because of their bra choices. And frankly, I am concerned about how easy it is to use social media to rewrite science.

Let's boycott products that prey on our fears. If you see false advertising, recognize it, and refuse to purchase those products. I have chosen not to identify the company, nor share the video as I do not want to provide them with an audience. Scambra” lost me as a customer.
Keith’s Conundrums: Wordplay
Keith Douglas

No answer on the question of non-classical logics (i.e., not the Frege-Russell logic often taught by philosophers, mathematicians, computer scientists, etc). This one is tricky — there are literally hundreds of non-classical logics.

People sometimes wonder what principles one uses to literally change how one reasons. This is sometimes how the question is put, but that’s a bit misleading. Formal logic involves hypotheses about how we do and how we ought to reason. Frege and Russell had both noticed (as had others) that the tradition of the syllogism, from Aristotle's time, did not represent many key inferences recognized by mathematicians.

Both thought that mathematics was as good a field (if any) to have come up with good deductive principles, so they set about to systematize these. This was notoriously hard to do. But it at least allows precedent — we changed our “official” logic once before, we can do it again.

The interesting question then is: Since mathematics is used (as Bunge puts it) for “deductive glue” in many contexts, does that doom us to use classical logic forever? To rewrite all of mathematics seems, well, utopian. Should we even try? (This has not stopped people from trying!)

On to this month’s conundrum. What do the following words have in common? Why?

(1) energy
(2) force
(3) delusion
(4) sex
(5) belief
(6) class
(7) language
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