Saturday, February 27, 2010

White House Meets with American Humanists For First Time



 United States of America
For the first time in history a US administration has met with the American nontheist community for a policy briefing. The Feb. 26 meeting between White House staff and leaders of the Secular Coalition for America focused on the top public policy issues of the nontheist community, including ending proselytizing in the US military, improving the government’s 'faith-based initiative', and protecting children from neglect and abuse that can occur due to a lack of government oversight over faith-healing treatment providers.
"We cannot accept religious interference in government — whether it's loopholes in child abuse laws for 'faith healing,' or preaching to enlisted members of the military," said U.S. Rep. Pete Stark. "I commend the Secular Coalition for briefing the Obama Administration about these matters of religious freedom."
The Secular Coalition for America is an advocacy group that lobbies the federal government. It brings together ten national nontheistic groups in the US, including IHEU Member Organizations such as the American Ethical Union, the American Humanist Association, and the Council for Secular Humanism.
"We are very pleased to have had this opportunity to talk with the White House about issues that are important to the nontheist community," said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, who took part in the meeting. "Too often, nontheists have been disregarded by politicians and the public only because we don't happen to believe in a god. But by President Obama giving us a seat at the table, he has sent a powerful message that we hope others will also embrace: What unites us is that we are all Americans--not that we all share a belief in the same god or any god. There is no faith prerequisite in wanting what's best for our country."
President Obama was the first U.S. president to acknowledge nonbelievers in an inaugural address, an event which began a constructive and meaningful relationship between the administration and American nontheists.

Friday, February 26, 2010

House of Commons report on Homeopathy


No more funding for homeopathy on the NHS?

Evidence Check inquiries
1. Since the Science and Technology Committee was reformed in October 2009, we have
been running a novel programme of work that we have called “Evidence Check”. The
purpose of Evidence Check is to examine how the Government uses evidence to formulate
and review its policies. We have focussed on narrow policy areas and asked the
Government to answer two questions: (1) what is the policy? and (2) on what evidence is
the policy based? In December 2009 we published our first Evidence Check on Early
Literacy Interventions.1
2. This is the second Evidence Check report. It examines the Government’s policies on the
provision of homeopathy through the National Health Service (NHS) and the licensing of
homeopathic products by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
(MHRA). We selected this topic following the Government’s responses in September 2009
to questions we asked about the evidence base underpinning several different policies. The
Government’s response on homeopathy indicated that scientific evidence was not used to
formulate the licensing regime operated by the MHRA.2 We were surprised by this
response and decided to broaden the inquiry to include consideration of the evidence base
underpinning the Government’s policy regarding the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Stop funding homeopathy, say British MPs

source: via New Scientist

Homeopathic remedies work no better than placebos, and so should no longer be paid for by the UK National Health Service, a committee of British members of parliament has concluded.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which released its report on homeopathy on Monday, also urges governments in other European countries where homeopathy is popular – notably Germany, France and Austria – to be equally wary of funding homeopathy. "We feel there's a real message, not just in the UK," says committee chairman and Liberal Democrat MP Phil Willis.
In preparing its report, the committee, which scrutinises the evidence behind government policies, took evidence from scientists and homeopaths, and reviewed numerous reports and scientific investigations into homeopathy. It found no evidence that such treatments work beyond providing a placebo effect.

Placebo deception

"We conclude that placebos should not be routinely prescribed on the National Health Service," the report says. It also says homeopathic hospitals should not be funded by the NHS, and NHS doctors should not refer patients to homeopaths. Currently the NHS funds four homeopathic hospitals.
The committee also says that prescribing of placebos, which have an effect because a patient believes they will, involves a "degree of patient deception" and so is "not consistent with informed patient choice".
The committee is also critical of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and its practice of licensing homeopathic treatments. This gives the incorrect impression that the evidence of efficacy for homeopathic remedies is as strong as for conventional medicines, the report says.
The committee rejected the MHRA's justification for licensing homeopathic remedies – that there is an "important homeopathic tradition" to uphold. "Witchcraft is traditional, so does that mean the MHRA should endorse that too?" Willis asks.

Sugar pills

Homeopathic medicines are diluted so much that it is extremely unlikely that any active component can possibly be left in the solution. The committee failed to identify any plausible explanation for how such remedies might work.
The MPs' report also criticises the labelling on homeopathic products, which it says fails to inform the public that homeopathic products are "sugar pills containing no active ingredients".
The report draws attention to homeopathic remedies derived from body parts such as hip joints and colons, animals such as iguanas and dragonflies, and even products exposed to different kinds of sunlight. In the case of remedies derived from fragments of archaeological monuments such as the Great Wall of China and Stonehenge, they point out that it is hard to understand how even homeopathy's own principle of "like cures like" could apply.

Unknown costs

The MPs say there seems to be no reliable record of how much the NHS spends on homeopathic treatments. While Mike O'Brien, the minister responsible for the NHS, told the committee that the NHS spends £150,000 a year on homeopathic remedies, the UK-based Society of Homeopaths said that the NHS spends £4 million annually. This does not include the running costs of the homeopathic hospitals and the £20 million spent on refurbishing the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital between 2002 and 2005.
Edzard Ernst of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, Devon, UK, a long-standing critic of homeopathic medicine, says the MPs' report should be noted in other countries where homeopathy is widely practised but not subjected to serious critical scrutiny. "The evidence is negative, and it's internationally negative, because there's no difference between countries in terms of evidence," he says.
In a dig at the Prince of Wales, who is an ardent supporter of homeopathic medicine in the UK, Ernst says: "Either we are governed by evidence and science, or by Prince Charles."
The Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health, which backs complementary therapies, including homeopathy, acknowledges that homeopathy is "scientifically implausible", but defends the use of such remedies nonetheless.
"For patients suffering from long term disease, where no scientific, evidence based medicine can offer effective treatment, it does not matter how it works," says the foundation, in a response to the committee's report. "What matters to them is whether they get better, whether pain and other symptoms are alleviated."
Michael Dixon, medical director of the foundation adds: "Science is a vital tool in healthcare, but so are compassion and caring and treating patients with dignity. It is not clear that the Committee took that into account."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dumping waste slops in Ivory Coast - Trafigura - report by Richard Wilson

Read the background to the Newsnight report on waste in Ivory Coast - see Richard Wilson's blog and view the BBC Newsnight report (YouTube).
NOTE TO EDITORS In September 2009, personal injury proceedings brought against Trafigura in the English High Court by around 30,000 Ivorians were settled. As part of that settlement, a joint statement was agreed and issued by all the parties and their legal advisers.

The question of the effect of the slops had been considered by 20 independent (and in many cases, world-renowned) experts appointed by the parties in what was by far the most detailed analysis anywhere in the world since the Probo Koala incident. Those experts were agreed that no link could be established between the slops and deaths, miscarriages, still births or other serious and chronic injuries, 

and this was recorded in the joint statement. That statement was read in open Court to Mr Justice MacDuff, the Judge who had been due to hear the trial, at a hearing on 23 September 2009. His Lordship endorsed the statement, based on his knowledge of the case, as being “100% truthful”. In turn, Trafigura’s Reply in these libel proceedings reflected extensive input from the same leading, independent experts instructed by Trafigura. They included experts in pathology, obstetrics, toxicology, oil chemistry, modelling and epidemiology, all of whom expressly approved the analysis set out in the Reply, the conclusions of which have today been accepted by the BBC. The Reply is now a public document and a copy can be provided on request.
  • Trafigura Statement
    • "Trafigura was not responsible for dumping the Probo Koala's slops in Abidjan. The slops were dumped by an independent contractor, Compagnie Tommy, which was appointed lawfully and in good faith on the basis that it would dispose of the slops in a safe and legal manner. Trafigura cannot have foreseen the reprehensible and illegal way in which Compagnie Tommy then proceeded to dump the slops.
  • Greenpeace report 2006
    • The wastes disposed of around the city of Abidjan are liquid sludge containing large quantities of hydrocarbons, contaminated with at least three substances: hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans and caustic soda 
    Meet Richard Wilson in Winchester on 25 February 2010 at 7.30pm at Skeptics in the Pub to discuss this case and Free Speech and Scepticism.

    Sunday, February 07, 2010

    Would assisted suicide threaten the vulnerable? - Big Questions

    source: iPlayer including Debbie Purdy (first 24 minutes)

    Virtual Revolution - 2

    source: Episode 2 - -watch on iPlayer until 27 February 2010
    and episode 1:

    Skeptics with a K podcast - founders of 10:23 campaign

    Skeptics with a K is the podcast of the Merseyside Skeptics Society, recorded and edited at the region’s internationally-renownedSummit Studios. Each episode features Mike, Marsh and Colin chatting about stuff that interests them, often with a skeptical angle.

    Friday, February 05, 2010

    Being religious doesn’t automatically mean you are good

    source: highlights comments: Read Andrew Browns Blog in The Guardian & 540+ comments

    The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed its surprise at the reported remarks of Cherie Booth QC today which suggested that being religious was an indication of good character.

    BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘Cherie Booth’s remarks show a default assumption still made by too many in society that you are a good person if you are religious – that there is something intrinsically and self-evidently good about being religious and, conversely, that if you are non-religious you are somehow less moral. This is an assumption that persists despite there being no evidence whatsoever to support it.

    ‘Being religious does not endow people with some special morality or goodness unattainable by the rest of us. Evidence shows that being religious is not an especially important indicator of doing good works for others, nor does it make people less likely to commit crime, with the numbers of religious and non-religious people in prison being roughly proportionate to the wider population.

    ‘As our society has become increasingly non-religious, with laws built on secular principles of equality, human rights and freedom, we have actually seen increasing tolerance, respect and morality, becoming a less violent, less racist and more accommodating society than we ever were a couple of centuries ago, when religiosity was more widespread.’

    Thursday, February 04, 2010

    Will the Pope pay after all?


    Will the Pope pay after all?

    HumanistLifeFeb 04, 2010 10:44:25 GMT
    Gordon Brown invited the Pontiff, but is understood to have made clear that the Government will not cover all the costs.
    “We are now in a situation where we don’t know who’s paying for it,” says an official of the Roman Catholic church. “It’s not in the Government Budget and is probably going to cost the Church about £3million to £6million.”

    Gordon Brown's invite to Pope Benedict XVI leaves Church anxious about costs
    Delighted though the faithful are that Pope Benedict XVI is coming to Britain later this year, concern is growing about who is going to pay for the visit.

    By Tim Walker
    Published: 10:00PM GMT 02 Feb 2010

    Gordon Brown?s invite to the Pope has left the Church anxious about costs
    Gordon Brown invited the Pontiff, but is understood to have made clear that the Government will not cover all the costs.
    “We are now in a situation where we don’t know who’s paying for it,” says an official of the Roman Catholic church. “It’s not in the Government Budget and is probably going to cost the Church about £3million to £6million.”

    Concern has been heightened by memories of the first papal visit to this country, in 1982, which left the Church heavily in debt.
    The Government is expected to cover security, but officials are involved in delicate negotiations about other costs.
    The Church may be able to fund part of the trip with merchandising and broadcasting rights, big private donors or collections.
    The National Secular Society has launched a campaign against public funds being used. “The taxpayer in this country is going to be faced with a bill of some £20million for the visit," said its president, Terry Sanderson. “If the Catholic Church wishes its leader to come here, it should pay for the visit itself.”

    Stephen Fry: "it is essential to nail one’s colours to the mast as a humanist."

    FEB 04 2010
    Stephen FryThe British Humanist Association has welcomed the author, comedian, presenter, and director Stephen Fry to its membership and as a Distinguished Supporter of Humanism.

    The news comes during a busy Membership Month in which the BHA has announced that it has doubled in size in the last five years and wants to double again in just half the time.

    Stephen told the BHA, ‘At a time when the achievements of the enlightenment are questioned, ridiculed, misunderstood and traduced by those who would reverse the progress of mankind, it is essential to nail one's colours to the mast as a humanist.

    ‘For me, that is not a turning away from mystery or a cold rational dispute with the numinous and spiritual in life, it is an acceptance of the awesome and splendid responsibility we each have for our own destinies, ethics and morals.

    I repudiate the authority of churches, revealed texts and vain unsubstantiated assertions and embrace the shared glories of humanity's intellectual and spiritual struggle to understand the universe into which we are born with honesty, openness and faith in our own natures.’

    Stephen Fry has long stated his support for Humanism and his personal non-religious beliefs.  He was interviewed in New Humanist magazine in 2003 and also discusses his views on God and religion in his autobiography Moab is my Washpot.  More recently, he won the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association’s award for services to Humanism and LGBT rights in 2009.


    Find out more about the Membership Drive Month.
    The BHA has over 120 Distinguished Supporters. These include cultural figures – authors, artists, actors, comedians – as well as campaigners, scientists, historians, broadcasters and MPs and Peers .  Distinguished Supporters’ work with the BHA varies, including attendance at events, speaking engagements, letters to the press on our behalf and activity in Parliament.

    The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.

    Protests Planned for Pope Visit to UK


     United KingdomThe National Secular Society (an IHEU member organization in the UK) has announced a large-scale campaign of protest against the state visit of the Pope to Britain in September.
    Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “The taxpayer in this country is going to be faced with a bill of some £20 million for the visit of the Pope. A visit in which he has already indicated he will attack equal rights and promote discrimination.”
    Sanderson said that a coalition of groups that have suffered because of the Pope’s teachings will ensure that wherever he goes he will be aware that he has caused damage and hurt in the lives of real people. He said that he was seeking to bring together gay groups, feminist groups, family planning organisations, pro-choice groups, victim support groups and anyone who feels under siege from the Vatican’s current militancy. “We hope that the many people who are outraged at the Vatican’s apparent indifference to the abuse of children by its priests will turn out to make their feelings clear.”
    Sanderson added: “We have an online petition where people can make clear their opposition to the state funding of this visit. If the Catholic Church wishes its leader to come here, it should pay for the visit itself. I am sure many others feel the same resentment as we do at the NSS at funding the presence of someone who wishes to impose a reactionary agenda of social change on us.”
    The 'Make the Pope Pay' Coalition will officially launch later this week.
    The NSS plans include a festival of films that show the wrong-doings of the Vatican, among them The Magdalene Sisters and The Boys of St Vincent’s – a film about the cover-up of sexual abuse at a Catholic orphanage in Canada.

    Trackback URL for this post:

    BHA condemns Pope’s attack on equality

    source: BHA

    FEB022010BHA condemns Pope’s attack on equality

    The British Humanist Association (BHA) has condemned the Pope's criticisms of the UK’s equality laws.
    Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs said, ‘It comes as no surprise to hear yet more uninformed and homophobic remarks from the Pope and, yet again, he is wrong. Equality laws do not impose unjust restrictions on religious freedom. What the Pope, together with other religious leaders such as the Bishops sitting in our own Parliament are actually seeking, is for religious people to be allowed to discriminate against others in employment, services, education and many other areas, unfettered by the laws that everyone else in society must abide by and respect.’
    ‘As well as a religious leader, the Pope is a head of state which has been responsible for opposing the distribution of condoms, promoting segregated education, denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women and opposing LGBT rights, including universal decriminalisation of homosexuality. This latest attack on modern, liberal values is yet another reason why we will be opposing the Pope’s State visit to the UK later this year.’
    The BHA has set up a Facebook group protesting against the Pope’s State visit.


    For further comment or information, contact Naomi Phillips on 07540 257101, 020 7079 3585.
    The British Humanist Association represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

    Why the public should be told if their MPs “do God”

    source: HumanistLife

    Why the public should be told if their MPs “do God”

    Tony Blair
    When it comes to politics, the right to personal belief isn’t necessarily a right to private belief, argues Penelope Blatchford.
    So Alistair Campbell, when he gave evidence to the Chilcot Enquiry, maintained that Tony Blair sincerely believed the intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
    During his own appearance today, Blair agrees: he was sincere… though exactly what the “45 minute” claim meant is now wrapped in cautions and qualifiers.  Perhaps we’ll never know what he really believed?
    But we have to bear in mind that  Tony Blair also apparently believes in virgin births,  that wine can literally turn into the blood of a two-thousand-years-dead Palestinian man/god when imbibed (conditions apply), and that the torture and death of one individual is a perfectly acceptable way of atoning for the misdeeds of others.  For this reason,  how impressed should anyone be by Mr. Blair’s ability to assess evidence, apply reason to it and to make sensible decisions based on his “beliefs”?
    We should not forget that it was Alistair Campbell who famously interrupted the then PM’s interview with Vanity Fair reporter David Margolick who asked Tony Blair about his Christian faith. “We don’t do God”, said the Master of Spin.  Unless Alistair Campbell was referring to the Royal “we”, this statement was dishonest.  As we now know,  Tony Blair does “do God”.  He “does God” a lot!
    What people believe is personal,  so is why they believe it.  However,  the moment they act on those beliefs in a way that involves other people, it ceases to be private.  The affect of an individual’s beliefs on his or her actions can have far-reaching ramifications.  In the case of a politician, those ramifications can be matters of life and death for hundreds of thousands of individuals.  They can,  quite literally, change the world.
    Isn’t it time the public were told before each election what the candidates religious beliefs are?
    A candidate who believes that the universe is 6,000 years old and denies all the evidence for evolution has,  by definition, a distorted view of science and his or her attitude towards research funding may be highly damaging. Equally, one who joyfully anticipates the End of Days may well be influenced by this belief with regard to topics such as global warming or WMD, to the detriment of all living things.
    More generally,  how seriously should we view the candidacy of someone believes that in order to get verification that a thought is reasoned,  accurate and justified, all they have to do is pray?  If they claim to have their choices affirmed by mind-talking to a being whose existence they cannot give empirical evidence for, shouldn’t this disqualify them from standing for office?  In other words, would we take seriously an individual who claimed to get advice from the fairies at the bottom of their garden and shouldn’t we at least know that this is what they “believe” before we vote for them?
    Penelope Blatchford is a psychology graduate and science “hobbyist” with a particular interest in religious belief and its evolutionary and psychological origins.

    Monday, February 01, 2010

    The History and Philosophy of Humanism - CFI online course March-May

    The CFI Institute is offering a new course in its Institute Online program:

    The History and Philosophy of Humanism (SEC 200)
    March 1st - May 30th, 2010
    Instructor John Shook, PhD, CFI VP

    This three month course contains six lectures by Shook, from his next book on Humanism.  The six main topics are: Humanism Defined, Humanism and Naturalism, Humanism and Ethics, Humanist Ethics and God, Principles of Humanist Ethics, and Humanism's Destiny.  Visiting Lecturers Nica Lalli (during March) and Dale McGowan (during April) will participate in the discussion areas of the course.  

    Course Fees: $60.00 for registration, $50.00 for Friends of the Center, and $20.00 for students.
    Online registration begins February 1st.
    Click here to register.

    John Shook is Vice President and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Inquiry Transnational in Amherst, N.Y., and Research Associate in Philosophy at the University at Buffalo.  He has authored and edited more than a dozen books about philosophy and naturalism.  He has debated the existence of God with notable theologians including William Lane Craig, and his book The God Debates will soon be published by Blackwell.

    Nica Lalli is a writer, educator, and former PTA president.  She is the author of Nothing: Something to Believe In (Prometheus Books, 2007), a memoir which tells the story of her life outside of organized religion and traces her many mishaps and misadventures she has had with religion.

    Dale McGowan edited and co-authored Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, the first comprehensive resources for nonreligious parents.  He writes the secular parenting blog The Meming of Life, teaches nonreligious parenting seminars across the United States, and serves as executive director of Foundation Beyond Belief, a humanist charitable and educational foundation.

    The CFI Institute Online offers CFI courses entirely online - everything about the course is provided on a CFI website.  You will read the course lectures, follow links to other webpages, ask questions, and participate in class discussions with the instructor and other students on our website.  There are no specific times that you must be online.  There is no "live" aspect to these courses, and you cannot miss anything even if you can only get online at 6am or 11pm - you can log in and participate anytime day or night, 24/7.

    Click here for the CFI Institute Online on our website.

    For more information about online courses,
    contact John Shook,
    For questions about registration and technical support,
    contact Institute Staff