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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I attend an #IdleNoMore rally

The Friday before Christmas I took part in a rally/demonstration that started at the Vancouver Art Gallery as part of the #IdleNoMore movement. I arrived to a small group of people with drums, tobacco, and more than a little resolve. That group would grow in size as the demonstration continued.

A view of the early crowd in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery

It was interesting for me to note that while it has become more or less de rigeur to start ceremonies of great import in the city of Vancouver by acknowledging that the city is built on land that was not ceded through treaty by the Coast Salish people who still live here, this was the first time I had ever been at an event where those words had been uttered by a person who identified hirself as Coast Salish. This particular gathering was dominated by aboriginal people, an experience that was novel for me. Growing up where I did, a native person was like a puffin: I knew of their existence, I knew they were somewhere relatively nearby, I generally wished them well, but I never expected to see one up close. [Read more…]

Sikivu Hutchinson in Vancouver this Saturday

If you’re not reading the Black Skeptics blog, I have just one question.

If you are reading, you’re already well acquainted with the perfect blend of passion, fact, and relentless courage that is the writing of Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson. You may have even seen her in this discussion with Richard Dawkins:

If you’re in the Vancouver area, this Saturday (September 29th) is an opportunity to see Sikivu live, and to meet her. You can imagine how I felt when I first found out:

A man shocked at winning at the Price is Right

So if you’re free on Saturday at 4 pm, head down to UBC Campus to see Dr. Hutchinson speak about humanism, gender politics, and racism:

According to an African proverb, “until the lion learns how to speak the hunter will always be a hero.” In the U.S., the right wing conservative backlash against social justice, abortion, family planning, undocumented immigrant rights, and ethnic studies tells the same old hunter’s tale of American “exceptionalism” under siege.  Much of this propaganda relies on racist stereotypes that criminalize communities of color, demonizes women of color and undermines their right to self-determination.  On the other hand, culturally relevant humanism challenges traditional Western notions of what it means to be human.  By building on the lived experiences, cultural knowledge, and social history of people of color it explicitly rejects colorblindness and myths of meritocracy.  This talk will explore how culturally relevant approaches to humanism can inform feminist pedagogy and youth leadership.

There is a reception happening afterwards, where you will get a chance to meet not only Sikivu, but myself as well (if that’s a draw for you at all).

This event is sponsored by the BC Humanist Association, and more information about the event is available on their website.

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Movie Friday: Edwin Hodge defines white supremacy

If you haven’t yet picked up on it, blog contributor Edwin Hodge is a smart fucking guy. I felt privileged, therefore, to be able to see him speak to the British Columbia Humanists Association last Friday night. Unfortunately I had to duck out early to play a gig, but I managed to grab the first few minutes of his talk. In this snippet, Edwin provides an operational definition for white supremacy:

You can see his whole presentation below the fold, as videotaped by the BCHA. If you’re a humanist in BC, consider lending your voice and support to this active and growing group, under the skilled leadership of Ian Bushfield.

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Cool stuff is happening!

There are two very nifty things happening this week that may be relevant to your interests.

Edwin appears in Meatspace

Co-blogger Edwin is giving a talk entitled “Digital Hatred: White Supremacy in the Information Age” this Friday night at the Oakridge Library in Vancouver (41st and Cambie):

The Internet has been something of a double edged sword for most of its existence. While offering people all over the world access to information they might never have seen otherwise, modern communications technology also proved to be a boon to racist organizations desperate to get their message out. To a great extent, their attempts have been successful; there are now more than 1000 known hate groups present in the United States, and their numbers continue to grow. These groups are religious, secular, white supremacist, black supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-government, and many other flavours besides, with the vast majority hewing to one form of explicit (and violent) white supremacy or another. How has their message been adapted to fit into the digital age? How do they recruit? Who are their leaders, and who joins their causes? How does one counter an idea that can spread around the world in the blink of an eye? How can a person recognize racist speech – especially when it has been specifically tailored to appear non-racist?

If you’ve never heard Edwin speak before, you should know he’s an almost ludicrously eloquent and engaging speaker, and is abundantly knowledgable about this topic (as well as many others). The event is free and can be easily accessed by public transit, so if you’re looking for an opportunity to interact with some other Vancouver skeptics with an interest in social justice topics, this is your chance. I will be in attendance at the beginning of the event (my band has a gig that night so I will have to sneak out early), so keep an eye out for me.

Register either at the meetup.com page, or on Facebook.

Bad Science Watch launches WiFi project

You might remember that some colleagues/friends of mine have launched a new Canadian scientific skepticism activism organization called Bad Science Watch. In addition to their inaugural project looking at the federal government’s policies towards homeopathic “medicine”, they’ve released this today:

Bad Science Watch has announced the launch of a critical investigation of the state of anti-WiFi activism in Canada. The independent non-profit plans to document the motivations, funding sources, agendas, and any conflicts of interest for those groups and individuals promoting misinformation about wireless networking technology (WiFi). These activists claim WiFi and related technologies can cause a variety of adverse health effects, and are attempting to convince city councils, libraries, and school districts across the country to remove or restrict the deployment of WiFi networks.

“While many of these activists are well-meaning yet misinformed, others are profiting from the uncertainty and doubt that has been manufactured.” said Jamie Williams, Executive Director of Bad Science Watch. “Some of the most prominent anti-WiFi scaremongers are tied to the sale and promotion of bogus products to ‘block’ WiFi, or promote sham medical diagnoses and treatments for false illnesses.”

Many activists blame WiFi’s low level radio signals for a broad variety of medical problems, from mild headaches and fatigue to chest pain and heart palpitations. When someone using or living near WiFi networks experiences these or other symptoms, they are told they have ‘Electromagnetic-Hypersensitivity’, or EHS. The existence of EHS is not supported by rigorous science, and has not been accepted by the medical and scientific community as a real condition. This distraction can lead to greater anxiety for parents who are worried about the well-being of their children, and may instead serve to delay the diagnosis of more serious and treatable medical problems like anxiety disorders or heart defects.

Bad Science Watch will use the findings of this investigation as a starting point to counter misinformation in the public sphere, and represent sound science to public officials who are confronted every day with requests to act on it.

Individuals who would like to support this and similar projects are invited to visit www.badsciencewatch.ca, subscribe to the mailing list, and make a donation to Bad Science Watch.

It’s a good week to be a skeptic in Vancouver! Please consider making contact with us and letting us know you’re out there!

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‘Couv team… ASSEMBLE! (Jan 3rd, 2012)

Tomorrow night, we are once again having our monthly gathering of skeptic folks in Kitsilano. I’m looking forward to the evening, which is always a lot of fun. I should point out that Vancouver Skeptics in the Pub hosts other events – one downtown Vancouver and another in Richmond. Check out the schedule for more info, and if you can make it to Kitilsano tomorrow, come by and say hi!

I am also excited to help promote the new Vancouver Skeptics page. Vancouver has a very active skeptical community, including associations with the UBC and SFU skeptic/atheist groups, and a number of other affiliated groups like CFI Vancouver. If you live in the Vancouver area and want to know what your fellow freethinkers are up to, check out the page!

See you tomorrow night.

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‘Couv team… ASSEMBLE! (Dec 7th, 2011)

For all my Cromrades in the Vancouver area, tonight we are having our monthly meetup at Vancouver’s Skeptics in the Pub in Kitsilano’s Billy Bishop Legion. More details are available here. It’s always a fun time hanging with the Vancouver group, and while I can’t make it every month I am pumped to be able to make it today. Not just because it’s fun, but because I’ve heard a rumour that SkepChick’s very own Natalie Reed may be in attendance for the first time. She has threatened to hug me when we meet. I should probably warn her that I may LOOK cuddly, but in real life I am extremely… fuck it I can’t keep up the pretense – I’m a champion-level hugger.

I should warn anyone planning to attend that this is a Canadian Legion, which means no hats. You’ll have to find another way to hide your atheist devil horns.

See you tonight!

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My thoughts on the state of Occupy Vancouver

On Friday, Occupy Vancouver was handed a pretty significant setback in the form of an injunction granting the city of Vancouver the authority to begin dismantling the encampment at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Immediately following the decision, I headed down to the VAG to see how people were reacting to the news. I expected anger or defiance, but what I found was melancholy.

It is not surprising to me, though it is obviously upsetting, that Vancouver’s Occupy branch has lost some of its steam. With a local press determined to undermine and ridicule the movement and its goals instead of even pretending at impartiality, and a mayor smart enough to know that sending in the police will only bolster the movement, there has been little popular support for Vancouver’s occupiers from the start.

I have had people tell me again and again that people in Canada, particularly Vancouver, have little cause to complain. My answer to them, time and again, has been “that’s true, unless you’re homeless, or Aboriginal, or want to buy a home.” These three issues are constant problems within the city, and OcVan became a method through which they could be addressed with an audience actually watching. [Read more…]

Occupy Vancouver – a correction

Last week I said that Occupy Vancouver was happening tomorrow (the 14th). Whether it was changed or if I just can’t work a calendar, it’s happening on SATURDAY (the 15th) at the art gallery. I will definitely be there, and now I don’t have to use up a vacation day. Win/win!

If you’re not sold that there’s a legitimate reason to participate in the protest, give this article a read:

Occupy Vancouver, our homegrown Occupy Wall Street spinoff, is set to launch Oct. 15 at the Vancouver Art Gallery and continue indefinitely. And while British Columbians don’t have a Goldman Sachs to demonize, in B.C. we have a provincial government that has been doing an incredibly effective job funnelling money to the rich. The wealthiest one per cent of B.C. households raked in an average income of $820,000 in 2010, up from $602,000 in 2000, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) report. That 36-percent increase is double the rate of inflation during that period.

The CCPA studied personal provincial taxes — income, sales, carbon, property and Medical Services Plan (MSP) premiums — as a share of household income. In 2000, the tax rate was fairly consistent across income groups, with the top 10 per cent of households paying slightly more. But after tax cuts by the provincial government, by 2010 the richest 20 per cent of households were actually paying a lower tax rate than the other 80 per cent.

This isn’t about a single bank or a single political party or a single bad mistake – this is about a culture of privilege in a society that claims to be democratic, where a small number of people control the vast majority of political power to ensure they stay right where they are. This is about participating in the system that is supposed to represent us, but has been doing so less and less as the years have passed.

See you on Saturday!

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‘Couv team… ASSEMBLE! (Oct 7th, 2011)

I just wanted to drop a couple of news items in front of your eyes for those of you who live in the Vancouver area. I’m going to try to do these at least once a week, because I think there are some people out there who are under the impression that Vancouver is not a hotbed of skepticism. IT IS, YOU FOOLS!


I’m sure most of you are aware of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement that has been spreading quickly throughout the United States. There is a sympathy protest happening here in Vancouver, starting next Friday (October 14th). I am planning on taking the day off work to attend. I am part of the 99%, but as someone who is employed full-time with benefits and no student debt, I’m more like part of the 30%. This is something that affects us all, and the media is beginning to take it seriously. Now is not the time to slow down – it’s the time to get organized.

Interestingly, while some have been contrasting the Occupy movement with the Tea Party – calling it the “left” response to that other famous populist movement, Lee Fang provides an interesting perspective on why the Occupy movement is far more aligned with the original Boston Tea Party than this corporate rebranding of the Religious Right: [Read more…]