Al Qaeda faces its own tone scolds

There are few arguments I find more tedious than the ones about the ‘tone’ that atheist organizations should take. The James Crofts of the world will have you believe that they’re only acting out of the strategic best interests of the group (with delightful British accents and unflappable pep), but all too often the fight over ‘tone’ boils down to “you’re factually correct, but the way you said it wasn’t flattering enough to the majority group, and therefore it’s wrong”. Sometimes the majority group needs a sharp five across the eyes in order for them to realize they’re in the wrong. Further, I will not begrudge a minority group the use of whatever language it needs to articulate its position – it is the oppressors who need to adjust their language; not the oppressed.

I am not, by any means, suggesting that language use has no effect on persuasive strength. What I am saying is that in an instance where I feel that a minority group is not being as persuasive as I personally think they could be, my response is to advocate on their behalf, not chide them for failing to be “civil” enough. Ultimately, I imagine that groups articulating the dynamics of their oppression are smart enough to figure out on their own that flattery is better received than insult. I am also quite aware of the fact that “civility” breeds complacency, and that anger usually comes after diplomacy has failed.

With that in mind, I couldn’t not laugh at this story: [Read more...]

A quick reminder: I’m coming to Chicago

In case you forgot (or didn’t know), I will be at Chicago’s DePaul University this Friday night, talking about social justice and atheism. The timing of this week’s series of posts is not coincidental.

Tickets are free, and you will get to see not only your humble narrator, but Sikivu Hutchinson, Anthony Pinn, Stephanie Zvan, and Ashley Miller. It should be a fascinating talk, so long as someone periodically reminds me to STFU so that people who actually know what they’re talking about can speak.

Like this article? COME SEE ME IN CHICAGO THEN!!!

Atheism is a social justice issue – contraception edition

This is part of a series of articles intended to illustrate the usefulness of treating atheism as a social justice issue, rather than trying to wall atheist discourse off from social justice discussions. Read the introductory post here.

As I intimated in the panel discussion of masculinity we had last weekend, the fight over women’s access to contraception was a particularly illustrative example of the existence of gender oppression at the expense of women. No moment was more visually perfect than what occurred in a panel about the right of religious organizations to deny insurance coverage of contraception to their employees. This image is forever burned into the feminist discourse:

Five men sit on a Congressional panel about contraception

“The uter-what? That’s where the irrational emotions and original sin come from, right?”

But that image, hilarious though it may be, typifies a reality for women in America that is anything but funny: [Read more...]

SFU hosts dangerous anti-science crank group

Vancouver is a city in which one must be willing to put up with quite a bit of pseudoscientific woo-woo nonsense. There are reflexology and acupuncture and naturopathy clinics on every commercial block, each hawking their distinctive, heady mix of scientific ignorance and pure unadulterated bullshit. One learns to mutter epithets under one’s breath and make snide comments as one passes these storefronts, because short of passing a law or de-lobotomizing your fellow Vancouverites, there’s not much else that can be done.

But every now and again, there is an event so egregious, it warrants a more serious response:

The Vaccine Resistance Movement is hosting ‘Vaccine Summit: Vancouver 2013′, a major, interactive symposium on vaccines, to take place on Tuesday, March 12th at SFU’s downtown campus. Veteran researchers & nutritional experts will be joining us on stage, and via satellite from across North America. We will also be conducting a round-table discussion with parents of vaccine-injured children, the first of its kind ever mounted in such a conference. This is your chance to finally stand up as a community, and make your voices heard.

Guest speakers will include leading Immunologist & author Dr. Tetyana Obukhanych, Ph.D., Cellular Disease Specialist & naturopath Gary Tunsky, April Renée, a remarkable mother speaking out in memory of her daughter, Casi, who tragically succumbed to vaccine injury, and preeminent Medical research journalist & esteemed author, Neil Z. Miller.

Self-determination of the body is an inalienable right, and yet we, as families, are facing increasingly intense pressure from the Vaccine lobby & big Government to comply with vaccine mandates, pressured, from all sides, into submitting to herd immunity-type policies. Are we any healthier today than our ancestors because of it? Does does the science really add up? And if pushed to the brink against our will, how can we protect those we cherish most? We intend to find out.

Join us for what promises to be a ground-breaking, historic event, a meeting of extraordinary minds, to uncover the truth behind the deception. We are anticipating a lively discussion. The paradigm shift toward self-sufficiency & self-awareness begins with you.

The “Vaccine Resistance Movement” is Canada’s own version of Australia’s “Vaccine Information Network” or the various anti-vax groups in the United States. Its primary raison d’être is to undermine public confidence in vaccines by spreading blatant misinformation about vaccines, their efficacy, and their safety record. They seek to exploit the healthy (and abundantly justified) distrust people have for pharmaceutical companies, in tandem with the average person’s lack of scientific expertise, in order to push an anti-vaccination agenda under the guise of “promoting vaccine choice”.

They have chosen to host an all-day “summit” in Vancouver. If that were the beginning and end of it, there wouldn’t be much to do. After all, even anti-science cranks have the right to free speech. In this case, however, they are hosting their event at Simon Fraser University, an institution that is supposed to model intellectual rigour and responsible communication of facts to the public they are obligated to serve. By allowing the VRM to spew their dangerous nonsense from SFU’s pulpit, the university is violating its own mandate.

The most baffling component of SFU’s clear irresponsibility and evident lack of oversight is the fact that Vancouver has very recently been in the throes of an epidemic of vaccine-preventable disease. This is not a situation in which we have allowed ourselves to become complacent due to the faded memory of outbreaks of these diseases. Nor is it a case where there was some ambiguity as to the role that non-vaccinating parents played in the spread of illness. Unless SFU has the memory of a goldfish, hosting an event like this should have immediately sent up a red flag that someone needed to step in with some oversight.

Over the weekend, SFU’s faculty of health sciences responded on their website:

The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) was surprised to learn that SFU has rented space to the “Vaccine Resistance Movement” for their Summit 2013 at the Harbour Centre Campus. Renting space to outside organizations for events such as these is done without any academic oversight. FHS disavows any support or affiliation with this event which we believe to be  anti-science and contrary to good public health practice. We are deeply concerned that the public will perceive the SFU venue as legitimation of the dangerous misinformation that the Vaccine Resistance Movement is known for. Please accept our sincere apologies for the inappropriate use of SFU facilities to promote this event.

Vancouver’s branch of the Center for Inquiry is co-ordinating a response to SFU’s breach of public trust (and basic competency) by allowing the Vaccine Resistance Movement to spread their virulent gospel on its campus. I will update this page as this response becomes better articulated. For the time being, if you are interested in participating and/or lending your voice, please contact CFI Vancouver’s regional director, Ethan Clow.

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Atheism is a social justice issue – a primer on intersection

One of the current fights happening within the atheism movement is a dispute (often heated, usually stupid) over whether or not the atheist community should concern itself with so-called “social justice” issues. I say this fight is “stupid” because the idea of someone insisting that people not talk about some topic in order to live up to some ridiculous and fictitious ‘purity’ standard is a level of dog-in-the-manger hubris that defies rational explanation. Atheist bloggers, like all bloggers, are going to discuss whatever they think is interesting; atheist communities, like all communities, are going to discuss those issues that are relevant to their needs and interests. Suggesting that because you are not interested in something necessarily means that nobody may be interested in it is both howlingly silly and self-unaware.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become progressively more aware of another, more central flaw in the contention that discussions of atheism must be walled off from social justice issues. Previously, I was content to take the “let people discuss what they want to discuss” position – if you’re only interested in talking about religion, then go nuts. Nothing wrong with that, right? Religion is an interesting topic, but there’s nothing inherent to religion that requires you to care about LGBT issues, or race issues, or gender issues – you’re talking about belief in a supernatural being.

(Some of you are already screaming into your monitors about why this position is wrong, but let me walk all the way through this) [Read more...]