Extraordinary Claims Wins Best Atheist Ad 2011!

Posted by Justin

Thursday, June 16, 2011 14:33
Posted in category Uncategorized

The Extraordinary Claims Banner has won the Best Atheist Ad on About.com’s Readers’ Choice Award!

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Homeopaths Calling Themselves “Doctor”: Why & How to Stop It

Posted by Justin

Monday, June 13, 2011 18:42
Posted in category Science and Medicine

Think Again! TV presents Iain Martel, co-chair of the CFI Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism:

Are homeopaths doctors? According to the province of Ontario, no. It is illegal for homeopaths to use the title “Doctor”, or refer to themselves as a “homeopathic doctor”. Yet dozens of homeopaths in Ontario flout this law. In this video, Iain Martel, co-chair of the Centre for Inquiry’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism (CASS), explains why homeopaths should not be allowed to call themselves doctors, and what CASS is doing about it.

For more on this story, see
http://www.skepticnorth.com/2011/03/is-a-homeopath-a-physician-in-ontario/,
or follow the discussion on reddit:

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Video posted: Secret Footage of “Faith Healer” Peter Popoff in Toronto last month

Posted by Justin

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 17:48
Posted in category Skepticism Defense

The story of James Randi exposing Peter Popoff, the faith healer fraud and con artist (that’s exactly the section in which Wikipedia appropriately placed him!), is now legendary. So when we were approached by a secret source who had gotten 4 invitation only tickets to an event in Toronto, we jumped at the chance to put all our effort into following in the footsteps of The Amazing Randi!


Coached by Randi himself in an exclusive teleconference with an eager and excited half a dozen members of the Centre for Inquiry team, we discussed the use of hidden cameras, how to maximize the effect of passing out critical thinking literature, and what to expect from Popoff supporters who would attemp to acquire information from the audience in advance of the show.  Randi engaged with us for a half hour, during much of which he was somewhow simultaneously driving through the streets in rush hour.

As advised, we arrived early to ensure we sat near the front of the room for “Positioning you for harvest”, as the event was named. I wonder if that name was actually a clue that Popoff was giving, unable to help himself from an inside joke, for the audience was literally being positioned for the harvesting of their hard earned money.  In fact, Popoff had them stand in rows, almost like a field of corn, while he whisked around the room blowing the devil out of everyone’s face.

Popoff engaged in his classic laying on of hands “healings”, hosted testimonials which were a surreal blend of miracle cures, family reconciliations and spontaneous increases in bank account balances! The night’s climax involved him requesting large sums of money, namely $1000 from each audience member, to benefit from his divine intervention. We actually captured footage of him asking for attendees to put “their best seed” into envelopes he passed out, as well as close up of a sick man being turned away by security staff for appearing too ill to be credibly cured.

Popoff disappeared in a cloud of dust (not literally unfortunately) at the end of the night but we did approach his assistant Lee to find out why destitute people would need to hand a millionaire money to benefit from his benevolence, which earned the response that I was a “lunatic”.  Other members of our team then followed up by asking how much money the Popoffs had made that night, which resulted in the rather ironic response from Popoff’s organist, who had provided music during the healings, that we should “die of cancer”.  That’s quite a clever system. Popoff’s organist curses us with cancer, and then Popoff charges us to cure it!

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Ontario’s Catholic School System Unfair but “Works”. Oh really?

Posted by Justin

Monday, May 30, 2011 23:41

Toronto Sun reporter Moira MacDonald interviewed me and other leaders of member groups of the One School System Network on our conference to defund tax-payer funded catholic schools in Ontario.  She reported on it in a Sunday column: “Catholic School Debate Too Spicy for Politicians”.  She quotes from me as follows:

Considering a provincial election is four months away, “we want to mobilize our supporters,” Justin Trottier, one of the conference organizers told me. “This is not a partisan activity … Ideally, we want to find supporters in all of the parties.”

The reporter agrees the current system with its Catholic public but separate schools open essentially only to Catholic teachers and students on the one hand and the secular public school system open to everyone without exception on the other, is fundamentally unfair. But she concludes this system works well. 

Unfortunately, that conclusion ignores the immense debt in our province certainly exacerbated by a doubling bureaucracy in education, the continued closing of both secular and catholic public schools, catholic schools shutting down libraries (while chapels stay open), catholic schools (subsidized by atheist tax payers) banning atheist literature, suspending students advocating for pro-choice at a sanctioned pro-life rally, bussing in students and allowing them to take time off school to attend an annual pro-life rally in Ottawa, prohibiting gay student clubs from forming under their chosen name of Gay-Straight Alliance, stopping a gay student from bringing his same sex partner to the prom, among examples of discrimination and waste that come immediately to mind.

If that’s what we consider a system that works, we are all in big trouble.

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Pendulum Effect Podcast Ep21: The Debate on Segregated Boys’ Schooling

Posted by Justin

Saturday, April 16, 2011 17:28
Posted in category Boys, The Pendulum Effect

From Bias to Balance.  Gender and Equality from a new perspective.

We promise you edgy and controversial episodes that also raise critical points about gender.  Please pass on the links to our itunes account and to our homepage to friends and colleagues who may be interested!

On today’s show, hosts Justin Trottier and Michael Payton discuss the debate surrounding the implementation of a boys’ focused school in Toronto, which has occurred under the leadership of Chris Spence, the education director for the Toronto District School Board in Ontario, Canada.

Michael and Justin agree the acknowledgment of the problem of boys’ dropping out and under-enrolling in university is a great vindication, while debating the relative merits of segregation by gender versus other potential solutions to this problem. They also compare and contrast gender segregation in education with Afrocentric schools as well as divisions based on religion or culture.

Articles of interest

Different But Equal (University of Toronto Magazine, Winter 2011)
Boys-only grade school proposed for Toronto (Toronto Star, Oct 2009)

Schools plan calls for boys-only classes (Parent Central, Oct 2009)

Justin Trottier: A leading figure in the freethought movement, Justin is an outspoken advocate of church-state separation, freedom of expression and inquiry, equality rights for non-believers and science education.  He’s had television appearances on CBC, TVO, CTS, OMNI, Global, the Space Channel, CH and CityTV, as well as dozens of radio appearances and coverage in campus, city and national newspapers.
News/Discussion

Michael Payton: A recent graduate of York University, Michael also worked as a research intern at Harvard and MIT. In 2008 he was ranked in the top ten debaters in Canada and the top 30 in North America.  Michael is also an active public spokesperson - having appeared on numerous TV and radio stations like CBC Radio, the John Moore Show and CTS Television for various political organizations such as the Canadian Secular Alliance.

* Subscribing here for free with itunes
* Using this feedburner link in your browser.

Listen Now or Download: mp3 file

If you like the show, please leave us a review on itunes.

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Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing: A Visit to the Body, Soul & Spirit “Alternative Thought” Expo

Posted by Justin

Wednesday, March 30, 2011 12:45

It’s the Holy Trinity.  Within the last year, I’ve completed the Holy Trinity of the new age, alternative medicine and holism expos in Toronto.  First, I attended the Total Health Show and reported my findings with friend Michael Payton in commentary that appeared on the National Post (”If it talks like a quack“).

Then, I joined fellow skeptics from the Centre for Inquiry and Skeptic North to investigate the Whole Life expo last November.  As I described on various blogs, that experience ended in confrontation with organizers and security staff, accusations that a couple of members of our group took unauthorized photos and consequently many of us (including those that had done nothing wrong) being summarily escorted off the premises.  Michael, who was with me that time too, had been threatened with being thrown over a railing by one of the volunteers running the show, but Metro Toronto Convention Centre staff decided taking photos was a much bigger concern, at least in terms of protecting their lucrative rental agreements with Vitality magazine.  They ignored our accusations.

Now this past weekend I decided to check out the Body, Soul and Spirit Expo at the CNE.  I’m pleased to report that this particular Expo appeared unsuccessful in terms of the paltry number of participants.  There seemed to be only about as many attendees as vendors, the space was small and had a decor indicative of a very low budget.  Though limited in size, I still managed to make a few friends.

First stop: Kabbalistic astrology, where I learned that the Kabbalah predates all the world’s religions!  A few simple follow up questions and the wisdom of this particular initiate was tapped.  So we moved on.

In quick succession we visited the Messiah Foundation International (Do you await a Messianic personality?), Psychic Lai (winner of the Houston Press award of “Best Psychic 2005″), Lakeside Angel for Akashic Record Consultations (”A hummingbird is seen as a messenger between the worlds”) and then a Palmist. The palmist quickly deduced that I’m a very logical and analytical person.  Now that could be in my palm lines, or it could be evidenced by the notebook sitting in my palm.

We come to the climax of this story.  I met Brian, President of the Eradicator. No, my mistake, as he quickly corrected me. The product is called a Lotus Shield which protects against geopathic stress and EMF radiation.  He, the person, is The Eradicator.  The Eradicator seems to have never met any of The Skeptics before and seemed immediately frustrated by impertinent critical questions about his device and its function. The conversation turned to dowsing rods, to homeopathy and finally - of course - to problems with the medical community. When I defended the latter I was told “You can go now. I’m done with you.”

But I was not quite done.  I informed the organizer of this rude behaviour.  My $12 entrance fee was reimbursed (thanks Mr. Eradicator for buying me lunch) and Brian was warned that he’d be removed from the Expo if he didn’t shape up and accept some critical questions from paying visitors.

I’m not sure if what we’re experiencing is a response to the skeptic movement flexing its muscles, but I definitely noticed a different tone at this particular Expo. Vendors were far quicker to withdraw from difficult questions and state things like “I’m not here to argue with you” in response to the same respectful but challenging queries I’ve always asked at these sorts of shows.  The latter was a response from a lady selling negative ion bracelets to my question as to why positive ions were so much more harmful to your health than negative ones.  My previous question, “What are ions?” had been answered with “ions are molecules.”

Realizing I was wasting both our time, I asked one final question before moving on “Can you ever have too many negative ions?”  No, she said. Now think about that. Wouldn’t that eventually make your body negatively charged, and if the problem is that most people have an excess of positive charge, wouldn’t we have a bigger problem on our hands than ion imbalance, namely an inability to do anything without flying into the people beside you via electrical forces?

Finally we had a nice long chat with Heather Hannan, Vice President of the Sound Reiki Institute, “Exploring the art and science of sound healing.”  She was a pleasant woman, but a little confused. Firstly, in her exhortations on sound, she claimed sound moves fastest through the “space time continuum” than anything else.  I think the folks over at the light therapy booth might have something to say to that.

She also claimed quantum physics - and even string theory - for support of the assertion that positive effects of sound are measurable at the molecular level. At least that’s what she had been taught by practitioners of tantric quantum physics, a quantum mysticism Deepak Chopra-style pseudoscience.  And, to add insult to injury, she was proud to announce partnership with Magda Havas, famous for her declarations regarding health effects of low energy level EMF radiation and wifi.  Havas was intrigued by sound reiki’s ability to fix problems caused by EMF fields!

I thought talking to ghosts at the Spiritualist Church was crazy, but after these holism expo experiences over the last 12 months, that judgment needs to be put into a whole new perspective.

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Complaint to Ministry of Health: 1. Homeopaths using title “Doctors”, 2. Inaccurate Vaccination Info

Posted by Justin

Monday, March 28, 2011 18:00
Posted in category Science and Medicine

Complaint to Ministry of Health: 1. Homeopathic “Doctors”, 2. Inaccurate Vaccination Info

The Centre for Inquiry’s Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism just released the following official complaint to The Honourable Deb Mathews, Minister of Health and Long Term Care.  See attachment.  These are excerpts:

Ms. Matthews,

We are writing this letter to draw your much needed attention to a matter that concerns the public safety of Ontarians seeking proper medical care in Ontario. In light of the Government of Ontario’s decision to add a college of homeopaths to the regulated health professions in Ontario, we feel it is important to ensure that those who are offering dubious treatments or who are misrepresenting their qualifications to practice medicine in Ontario be brought into line with government regulations and ensure that the new college strives to protect Ontarians as it is mandated to do.

Please accept this letter as an official complaint and request to the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to take action to enforce the Regulated Health Professions Act and to ensure Ontarians are getting the best medical care possible. Our complaint is lodged in two different domains, described below.

Homeopathic “Doctors”

The use of the term “doctor” as it pertains to a person who provides medical care in the Province of Ontario is a protected term, under the Regulated Health Professions Act. It was to our great dismay to learn that several homeopaths practicing in the province continue to use the term “doctor” or “HD” (homeopathic doctor) in direct contravention of the act.

Public Health and vaccinations

In investigating several of the homeopaths listed below, we discovered many of them making claims to treat infectious disease through alternative homeopathic prophylaxis and some even going so far as to argue that accepted vaccines given to children are dangerous or far worse than getting the actual disease. The Ontario College of Homeopathic Medicine has even been spreading misinformation on the H1N1 virus and vaccinations (3). This information is not only patently false and in contravention of the current science, but it runs counter to current public health policy at both the provincial (1) and local government levels across Ontario. We feel this represents a serious threat to the public health of Ontarians and the Ministry of Health should investigate homeopaths (and other health professionals, such as chiropractors) who are spreading misinformation about vaccines.

Often the promotion of homeopathic prophylaxis and the discouragement of parents in vaccinating their children is presented as “just the personal opinion” of the homeopath. However, it is obvious that the homeopath is giving advice as a professional and this gives added weight, in the public’s eyes, to the homeopath’s opinion, especially if the homeopath is also referring to themselves as a physician or doctor. This practice needs to be stopped in Ontario before Ontario starts to realize the same drops in immunization rates that have caused the deaths of children in places like California (4), the United Kingdom and Europe (5) and Australia (6).

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Another Crazy Night at the Spiritualist Church!

Posted by Justin

Monday, March 21, 2011 15:31
Posted in category Uncategorized

Following up on an interesting trip to the Britten Memorial Spiritualist Church that I reported about a month ago, this time we returned in force!  Five of the regular members of the Centre for Inquiry’s Living Without Religion meetup group decided to see what all the fuss was about (5 isn’t exactly a force, but in a group of only 20 congregants it is considerable).

Once again, the messages were given by 3 mediums.  What was most striking about this, as one member of our group noticed, was how each medium had a particular theme to which they dedicated the majority of their readings.  The first was focused on the importance of putting yourself first and not being overwhelmed by the problems of those around you. The second prioritized the pursuit of happiness. Finally, the third spoke mostly about balance in your life.  Odd this pattern, considering these were supposed to be random messages from the spirit world merely coming through these vessels.

Obviously the messages were all essentially variations on a common theme, a theme that was generally applicable to mostly anyone who would be motivated to attend a Spiritualist Church.  Having said that, one member of our group did receive a jumble of messages which could be interpreted as not altogether inaccurate, that is if one were to stretch them like an elastic.  He was told he was an artist into painting. Well, he does run a photography company.  Photography is kind of like painting, right?  He was described as “inspired by nature”.  He does enjoy his cottage north of the city and the views it affords.  Finally, he was encouraged to continue writing as he had a lot of “followers”. Hard not to equate this with his columns in the Ottawa Citizen, where he writes on humanism and ethics, and has indeed acquired quite a few fans.

Now before you jump to any conclusions, you might consider my own reading for the night. My medium (of the happiness variety) could see two uncles of mine, dressed in suits, leaning on each other in a friendly kind of way, who were apparently very pleased with my life.  I do in fact have 4 uncles.  However, they are all alive.  Oh, she also said I needed to worry less about what others say and think more highly of myself. Nobody who knows me could possibly think my problem was with thinking too little of myself!

Following the event, our group was approached by a man who was motivated to attend by the recent death of a loved one.  He suspected there was something unusual about our attendance since there were 5 of us that had entered together.  It turned out he too was a skeptic investigating the accuracy of the mediums in the hopes of hearing from his loved one.  Unfortunately, he was totally disappointed.  The medium failed to pick up a message from the specific individual from whom he was hoping to hear.

It was another fascinating look into the spirit world.  I’m not sure I see much need to return. Having said that, next week’s psychic tea will feature a special guest who can draw our spirit guides.  I may find that hard to pass up!

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Review of Paul Kurtz “Exuberant Skepticism”

Posted by Justin

Friday, March 11, 2011 14:52
Posted in category Uncategorized

One day I’ll get around to writing a book. But until then, I’ll have to be satisfied with clinging to the coat-tails of others.  I’ve been lucky in that regard, having appeared

* in the concluding notes of the updated version of Victor Stenger’s God: The Failed Hypothesis where Stenger points me out as the only one to have suffered physically for him (Ok, it’s not always under the luckies tof circumstances that I appear in print)

* on the back of Gary Bauslaugh’s book “Robert Latimer: A Story of Justice and Mercy”. in the form of a short supportive quote.

* Finally breaking into the actual content of a book, sociologist of religion Reginald Bibby’s newest “Beyond the Gods and Back” includes an expose on the Canadian Atheist Bus Campaign which, in his opinion, helped to polarize religious discourse in this country.

So perhaps the time has come to actually consider writing a book.  The only problem is how much I hate writing (check the date of my last real blog post as evidence). So for now, enough about me.  Paul Kurtz recently wrote new reflections on the skeptical movement in a book entitled “Exuberant Skepticism” which I recently read for a review in The Quarterly Review of Biology. The book was an interesting read, even if the cover shot was remarkably unfortunate.  I’m not sure if book reviews are proprietary of the commissioning publication, but since no one is likely to read this blog entry anyway, here it is (incidentally, that is also why I felt so little shame in posting the obviously self-centered announcements above):

“Knowledge can serve us in the ongoing process of living, but it is not a substitute for life.”  Indeed, Paul Kurtz, who wrote those words in his Exuberant Skepticism, has led a life that exemplifies such a passionate thirst for defining meaning and purpose through actual experience.

Paul Kurtz’s book is a passionate defense of a middle of the road skepticism he calls skeptical inquiry that denies both absolutist views of knowledge on the one hand and radical skeptics that deny the possibility of knowing anything on the other.  The latter, as Kurtz shows, are equally guilty of a sort of dogmatic certainty in their position.

Instead, Kurtz advocates a pragmatic approach to living the good life which is both positive and constructive, while always leaving room for new and startling discoveries in divergent areas from the exploration of the universe to the elaboration of improved ethical and political ideas.

Turning his eye to the paranormal and the pseudoscientific, areas that Kurtz has dedicated much of his career to investigating, rather than simply dismissing, he carefully explains why scientific principles, no matter how well confirmed, are not sacred and may require modification, but only when the weight of evidence demands it.

Exuberant Skepticism draws on Kurtz’s broad range of professional and personal experiences, as well as interests which span from religion to ethics to the paranormal and beyond, to defend his new skepticism and his vision of its use in crafting an increasingly better, but crucially never a perfect, world.

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Justin Trottier vs. Charles McVety, Culture War, John Oakley Show, AM640, Feb8-2011

Posted by Justin

Thursday, March 3, 2011 18:36
Posted in category Uncategorized

A Skeptic Visits a Spiritualist Church (and hears from his dead great aunt)

Posted by Justin

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 12:45

If you’re interested in the kind communication with the spirit world you see on TV shows like Crossing Over with John Edward, I have a place for you in Toronto! And it’s free (small donation to the church not withstanding). This weekend I visited the Britten Memorial Spiritualist Church, “Canada’s oldest spiritualist church”.  Spiritualism - a distinct term from spirituality - is the belief that deceased spirits can and do communicate with the living.

When the service started, three healers were immediately asked to join the event’s host at the front of the room.  While we in the audience were asked to breath and meditate, people would take their turn sitting in front of a healer to be cleansed.  The healers would place their hands on the head of an individual, then move down their back, until coming over to their front and undertaking what looked like the energy healing technique of distance healing (which apparently detects and manipulates an energy field).

Following this, the four service leaders took hold of a large red urn, holding it in the air and declaring

we are asking that the forces will take the names of everyone in this urn, that they can be touched by the healing forces, we ask this in the name of our father

We had just jumped from energy healing and some sort of purification ritual I had never seen before to a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer as though it were a regular church. To confirm that, we then sang several flat and monotonous Christian hymns, all on the theme of forgetting about the pains of today and reflecting only on the joyous afterlife that god was preparing for us.  Oddly, this was followed by a sermon on how important it was not to obsess over the past and future, for these were uncertain, but only to focus on what could be accomplished today.

The guest of honour, Catherine MacDonald, was then invited to give the sermon.  MacDonald runs a meetup group called The Etobicoke/Toronto Mediumship/Psychic Development Group, which is how I learned of this event.  She also hosts a show called Psychic Street Smarts Radio.  The meetup group appears to be mainly a front to advertise her training workshops and her radio program (not a bad idea really!).  MacDonald concluded her speech by sharing her response to the death of a member of her family: “Hurray for her! Where’s the party? She gets to have a great afterlife.  My sisters think I’m cold”.  Cold is an understatement.

Just as I was recovering from nausea and frankly ready to leave, the spirit communication and mediumship began!  The church was smart enough to keep the distribution of messages from deceased loved ones to the end of the program.  Otherwise, I would imagine the congregation would have thinned out, given the banality of the proceedings to that point.

One message was conveyed to each congregant from one of their dead family members, usually a grandfather or grandmother.  Most were variations on the theme of trying not to take the world too seriously and to relax and balance your life.  For example:

- “sometimes you feel you’re holding the world”
- “you’ve been hard on yourself. she’s telling you to cut yourself some slack.”
- “a mom or someone like a mom. you’re always having to put yourself first”
- “dad talks about you needing to take care of you. you have too many hats and need to give something up”
- “I have a female maybe a grandmother.  She’s seeing a feeling of overwhelmed, at all the healing you’re trying to do.  Your folks are still alive right?” Actually no, was the response.

When they gave vague wise-sounding advice people seemed satisfied.  There were few attempts at actual specifics, like the above, and those were usually wrong.

- “Did your dad have a stomach problem when he passed?” No, he had a stroke.  Oops, another miss.

In my case, I had a message come through from a great aunt (an “aunt vibration”), who has been following my path, is happy I was there, and then gave some advice about how I shouldn’t divide myself so much between my interests in the maths and sciences, and those in the arts.  This was interesting.  Of about 30 readings, mine was the only one to reference science or math. On the other hand, I was the only one there writing everything (including my own reading) furiously into a notebook. Perhaps that was a strong indication of an analytical personality.

All and all it was a fun experience.  I particularly enjoyed when towards the end the third medium started to experience a form of writer’s block.  Running low on ideas, she glanced around the room, noticed a pot of fake sunflowers on the front table, quickly fabricated a story centred on the image of flowers generated by the spirit world, mumbled something incoherent about flowers as a symbol for life, and finished by glancing once more at the pot of flowers as some sort of confirmation of the validity of what she had just invented out of whole cloth.  Unfortunately there were still several people that hadn’t been given a message.  She was only able to squeeze out one more package of wisdom before having to yield the floor to one of the previous mediums to return to finish off the group.

The stories weren’t exactly meaningful or specific, but, as MacDonald admitted during her talk and in conversation with me afterword, it’s really not about prediction, but about bringing happiness, comfort and clarity.  Clearly, most people visit a spiritualist church because they’ve suffered a loss and desire that kind of closure.  I was also fascinated by the mix of the traditional Christian aspects of the service, including the use of the Lord’s Prayer and the singing of hymns (although they also had a statue of Buddha) with the ghosts’ stories.  The connection was clarified by MacDonald in an intriguing way: “we use old hymns because your deceased family is most likely to have known them.”

I’ve also been invited to her spiritualist workshop as apparently I have some kind of gift to read people. I guess you could say that.

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Jamie Williams on the Rob Breakenridge Show

Posted by Justin

Thursday, February 17, 2011 17:53
Posted in category Science and Medicine

CFI Vancouver’s Jamie Williams on the Rob Breakenridge Show on Calgary Radio discussing the CBC Marketplace debunking of the business of homeopathy which he took part in:

robbreakenridge_cbchomeopathy_jan2011

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Elton John Too Gay for Grocery Store, Left & Right Agree Tory Justice Plan Non-Evidence Based

Posted by Justin

Friday, February 4, 2011 12:35
Posted in category Comments

As I discussed earlier, this week I debated Scott Mason, Associate Pastor of Westminster Chapel, on the John Oakley Show, “Culture Wars” on AM640. john-oakley-show-culture-wars-feb1-2011

While we ended up spending the entire period debating the involvement of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) in advising the Ministry of Education on their new Equity policy, in fact the two issues I had been asked to prepare to discuss were:

Coalition of churches condemns Ottawa’s justice plan

Outrage as picture of Elton John’s baby is covered with shield by U.S. supermarket to ‘protect children’

I wish we had spent some time on these two, especially the second, although I was able to manoeuvre the discussion on the OHRC towards gay rights and specifically the ongoing controversy regarding the ban and then pseudo-rescinding of that ban, on Gay Straight Alliance student groups by the Halton Catholic Public School Board: GSA ban lifted by Halton Catholic school board - Fears that policy replaced with quiet ban on ‘gay’ While the Board claims the ban was lifted, the Halton Board has insisted that only general purpose social justice groups will be allowed. They are still not relenting on censoring any group containing the word “gay” and at present there is not a single GSA that has actually been successfully allowed in a Catholic Public (that is, tax-payer funded) school in Ontario.

CFI’s Think Again! Youtube Channel will have a series of videos exploring this topic shortly.

But the issue of the coverage (literally) of the Elton John baby photo was certainly worthy of some discussion.  A grocery store in Mountain Home, Arkansas, called Harps, covered the magazine with a shield saying ‘Family shield. To protect young Harps shoppers.’  It’s the kind of thing they generally reserve for pornographic publications.

Harp’s insisted they do not have an opinion on the issue, but were responding to a few complaints.  But the message on the “Family shield” is, whether they like it or not, an official message from the management of the store.  And while they might have a legal right to do this, they can’t plead innocence.  Why not write the truth on the shield? “Some of your fellow shoppers are homophobes and we the management are so spineless that we’re going to go along with it”

Much homophobia is fueled by the stereotype of homosexuals as overly lustful and sexually loose. But here’s an image of a very happy family, against all such stereotypes. This is precisely the sort of family-focused image one would imagine everyone would wish to show off, not hide.

Luckily, Harps reversed their decision.  If they simply respond in zombie-like fashion to whichever complaints are the loudest, did they really believe that in caving in to the homophobes, they weren’t going to attract far more cries from the other side?

In preparing for the AM640 gig, i also had to become a temporary expert on the Tory Justice Plan and all aspects of our prison system, even though we didn’t end up discussing that other topic.  It was interesting to see the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, which includes a number of conservative denominations, siding with left-leaning think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on the empty rhetoric and wrong-headedness of Stephen Harper’s proposal to invest billions in building more prisons to fill with more prisoners.

What was heartening was their agreement that policy should be based on evidence, rather than ideology, with both sides pointing to a drop in incidences of violent crime over the last couple of decades, in contrast to generalities being made by the PM.

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I debate Pastor Scott Mason on Human Rights Commission & Public Education

Posted by Justin

Thursday, February 3, 2011 21:27

Click below to here me debate Scott Mason, Associate Pastor of Westminster Chapel, on the John Oakley Show, “Culture Wars” on AM640.  The exchange took place the morning of February 1, 2011

john-oakley-show-culture-wars-feb1-2011

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Global Mass Homeopathic Ovedose This Saturday

Posted by Justin

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 22:25
Posted in category Uncategorized

10:23 Canada 2011 Events Announced

This coming weekend groups from all over Canada will be participating in the international 10:23 Campaign as they attempt a death-defying “overdose” from homeopathic medications.Participants will swallow “overdoses” of scam medications sold by major retailers which contain no active ingredients. The action is the culmination of a worldwide demonstration taking place in more than 25 countries to inform consumers about homeopathy. Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal will staging their own events.The protests will show that ‘There’s Nothing In Homeopathy’, as homeopathic remedies available on the shelves of pharmacies and from private practitioners contain none of the natural ingredients they are supposedly based on, and have been shown by clinical trials to be no more effective than water.

Below are the links to each event:

Vancouver: Feb. 5th at 11:00 am Vancouver Art Gallery (Robson side)

Edmonton: Feb. 5th, from 6:30pm-9pm – Block 1912 Café

Winnipeg: Feb. 5th at 10:23 am at Memorial Park in front of the Manitoba Legislature

Toronto: Feb. 5th at 12:00 noon Yonge and Dundas SW corner in front of Eaton Centre

Kitchener-Waterloo: Feb. 6th 1300 at Kitchener City Hall

Ottawa: Feb. 5th 10:00 – 11:00 am Parliament Hill

Montreal: Feb. 5th at 10:23am. 1400 Boul. Rene Levesque in front of Radio Canada

Facebook event

News, notes  and video about the events will be available on the 10:23 Canada blog site here.

Also, we’ve added an official “CFI Response to Homeopathy Supporters” to respond to critics who watched our involvement in a recent episode of CBC Marketplace called “Cure or Con” on the business of homeopathy

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Anti-Gay Activist Charles McVety: Extraordinary Claims Campaign “hateful”

Posted by Justin

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 13:40

This morning at an hour that I much prefer to be sleeping through Gretta Vosper of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity and I faced off against Evangelical Christian Reverend Charles McVety on the topic of the Extraordinary Claims Campaign (”Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence: Allah * Bigfoot* UFOs* Homeopathy * Zeus * Psychics * Christ”) on the John Oakley Show on AM640.  Though a high profile show and certainly great for the Campaign,  It would probably have been more productive to have been asleep (nightmares and all).  But since radio shows are no time for ranting, I apologize if the following comes across as rant-like, but I think you’ll enjoy some of these thoughts.

McVety - the leader of the anti-gay marriage campaign in Canada who recently referred in a media release to transgendered people as “perverts” - believes that our Campaign and its call for evidence for claims like Allah and Christ, constitutes hate speech as defined by the criminal code.  Never mind that section in the Code is specifically for speech which actually “incites hatred against an identifiable group” and “in such a way that there will likely be a breach of the peace” or which “wilfully promotes hatred“.  Our Campaign totally fails this test.  By calling for evidence for beliefs, we neither have created hatred nor are we wilfully trying to promote hatred.  The original Atheist Bus Campaign (”There probably is no God…”) was also similarly criticized, but it too succeeded in sparking a great debate and failed to breach the peace.

On the other hand, McVety calling transexuals (not ideas people choose, but actual people who have no choice in their sexuality) “perverts”, would, if anything, so quality.  It’s also interesting that legitimate defenses to the hate speech clause are if the matter “were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds it was believed to be true” or “were expressed in good faith, it was attempted to establish by argument and opinion on a religious subject“. I would say we qualify for both of these defenses.  Most of the contentious subject matter is on matters of religious opinion, and we are certainly engaging on matters of public interest, while our skepticism is believed true by the Centre for Inquiry and its spokespeople.

Now perhaps I shouldn’t lose too much sleep over McVety’s opinions.  He also stated that Richard Dawkins sparked the Extraordinary Claims Campaign (totally wrong), that the “Origin of Species” explicitly advocates atheism (Darwin couldn’t have been more careful to maintain strict agnosticism in his magnum opus) and that CFI wants to ban bibles in schools, despite the fact that only last week I debated him on the news and stated explicitly - and repeatedly - that while we didn’t want bibles distributed by Gideon in classrooms we believe bibles did belong in school libraries (unlike the Catholic and equally tax-payer funded schools that have banned atheistic literature outright).  Actually, McVety acknowledged that point, only to return fire by retorting that relegating bibles just to the library was equivalent to banning them!

Today’s radio show featured 4 or 5 callers, all but one of whom were totally critical of the Campaign.  But host John Oakley informed me that the callers his producers were fielding were actually 50-50 on both sides.  Apparently, quite a few they couldn’t put on the air.  All Oakley’s notes told him was that their main thrust was “McVety is out of his mind”.  I don’t know what exactly they plan to say, explained Oakley.  I have some ideas.

To give McVety a break, there was one caller I need to comment on.  With the original “There’s probably no god…” Campaign we got continually taken to task for targeting specifically Christianity, which of course wasn’t the case.  But in order to make it very clear of our aims, with this new Campaign we have Allah and Christ both on the main ad, and several other deities dealt with on our website.  So it was very surprising to get a caller who reflexively shot us the same line about how we wouldn’t be so tough if we were targeting muslims.  It wasn’t clear if he realized we actually did have Allah on the ad, but when it was pointed out to him, his response was odd. He still had a problem. We weren’t discussing Allah enough in the Campaign.

But that’s of course the fault of the journalists and members of the public (like himself!) who overwhelmingly come at us from a Christian perspective and choose to make Christ the issue. It’s ironic that we keep hearing from Christians that they’re not offended, but rather are worried that we’re offending muslims.  Yet the muslim community has been quiet, at least thus far, on this new Campaign. I think such remarks betray their own insecurity which they choose to externalize upon some other faith group rather than come out and admit it.

Just a few thoughts, as I need to vent.  It’s amazing how much attention this Campaign is getting, all of which serves to prove our aim, which is to spark this kind of debate.  Today McVety claimed that our Campaign would lead to no productive debates but only to hatred. He then launched a debate with Gretta on the existence and miracles of Jesus.

Please visit www.extraordinary-claims.com to support the Campaign by donating and/or adding comments to posts.

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Kamloops Radio Host: “The Grinch Comes in Many Forms”

Posted by Justin

Monday, December 6, 2010 14:28
Posted in category Uncategorized

Bill Litgertwood of the Kamloops Centre for Rational Thoughts, which is partnering with us on the renewed British Columbia Atheist Bus Campaign, sent me a transcript from an angry radio host in Kamloops:

THE GRINCH COMES IN MANY FORMS….AND THIS YEAR, HE APPEARS TO BE MASQUERADING AS THE KAMLOOPS CENTRE FOR RATIONAL THOUGHT.
THE CENTRE IS A GROUP OF SELF PROCLAIMED ATHEISTS LOOKING TO TAP INTO EVER DIMINISHING PUBLIC DONATIONS SO THEY CAN RUN BUS ADVERTISEMENTS PROCLAIMING…”THERE PROBABLY IS NO GOD. NOW STOP WORRYING, AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE.”
THEY DON’T EXPECT TO LAUNCH THIS CAMPAIGN UNTIL NEXT MONTH,  BUT THE DISCUSSION AT THIS TIME OF YEAR IS INAPPROPRIATE AND UNDERMINES WHAT FOR MANY IS A SEASON OF JOY, AND FAITH.
BILL LIGERTWOOD IS THE DIRECTOR OF THE KAMLOOPS GROUP, AND INSISTS THIS IS NOT AN ATTACK ON RELIGION, BUT RATHER A WAY TO PROVOKE THOUGHT, AND INCREASE THE PROFILE FOR THIS PERSPECTIVE.  HE ALSO SUGGESTS IT MAY GIVE THOSE STILL IN THE CLOSET ABOUT THEIR NON BELIEF A BIT OF A NUDGE TO COME OUT INTO THE OPEN, AND JOIN OTHER LIKE MINDED INDIVIDUALS.
WHILE ATHEISTS MAY NOT BE APPLAUDED WHEREVER THEY GO, THEY ARE NO LONGER LABELLED HERETICS, NOR DO THEY HAVE TO HIDE.
SO IT’S HARD TO UNDERSTAND THE POINT OF THEIR EXERCISE.
DEBATE ABOUT ALL ISSUES IS ALWAYS POSITIVE, BUT WE’RE NOT SURE THIS IS THE BEST WAY TO ENGENDER THAT DISCUSSION, IF ITS NECESSARY AT ALL.
LIKE THOISE  WHO PESTER PEOPLE AT THE DOORSTEP, OR TRY TO SHAME OTHERS INTO ACCEPTING THEIR BELIEFS, STICKING UP A ROLLING BILLBOARD  ON TRANSIT BUSES WILL DO NOTHING TO ADD ANYTHING POSITIVE TO THE SUM OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE.
SO FOR THE ATHEISTS THE MESSAGE IS ” DO WHAT YOU WANT, BELIEVE WHAT YOU WANT”  AS LONG AS ITS WITHIN THE LAW…..  BUT PLEASE…DON’T SHOVE IT IN MY FACE.

I think we definitely need to beef up the section of the new Extraordinary Claims website that deals with FAQs and the motivation behind the new campaign.  There seems to be a fair bit of ignorance in terms of why we’re doing this project, and it’s our responsibility to offer the necessary clarifications.

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There’s Probably No God Campaign Hits BC, now that we have permission

Posted by Justin

Thursday, December 2, 2010 19:33
Posted in category Uncategorized


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Skeptics Intimidated, Harrassed and Threatened with Violence at “natural health” Whole Life Expo by Organizers & Workers

Posted by Justin

Monday, November 29, 2010 13:07
Posted in category Uncategorized
A worker with the Vitality Magazine hosted Whole Life Expo threatens CFI member Michael Payton: "Do you think it would be fucking funny if I punched you int he face?"

A worker with the Vitality Magazine hosted Whole Life Expo threatens CFI member Michael Payton:

On Sunday November 28 between 10:00 am and 1:00pm members of the Centre for Inquiry, the Skeptics North blog and the Association for Science and Reason attended the Whole Life Expo 2010, an Alternative Medicine fair, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  The following are the events that transpired. The photo of a Whole Life Expo worker who threatened violence against one of us is here.

Nearly as soon as Mitchell Gerskup, a Skeptics North blogger, entered the Expo, he was identified based on his photo having been seen on his blog by organizers of the Expo. An organizer of the event came over to warn him not to take photos because of a newly introduced policy that prohibited the use of recording equipment.  Mitchell complied.  In fact, Centre for Inquiry Multimedia Director Derek Pert, who had come with his video camera to record interviews, promptly left to return his equipment to his car.

Shortly after, an announcement was played warning the exhibitors that there were bloggers at the show from from the blog website “Skeptics North” all dressed in black.

Within 10 minutes I, Justin Trottier, had joined Mitchell.  We were then approached by Julia Woodford, the Expo Manager and a columnist with Vitality Magazine, to reiterate that we were not to take photos or slander anyone.  I asked her why it was necessary to threaten us again, when someone else had already done so. I explained that we were honouring their policy and this constituted intimidation. This led to a 45 minute exchange during which other Event organizers became embroiled.  It also led Woodford to pull on Mitchell’s jacket as she pointed out his camera (which was already visible without her touching him), to which I replied “Don’t touch him.”

At one point, one man, who would later end up making a violent threat against CFI member Michael Payton, came over to stand right in my face and ask me “who the hell I was.”  I handed him my business card but he didn’t take it, saying, oddly “I don’t care who you are” and walking off.  Much of our exchange with Woodford consisted of her accusations against our bloggers for slander and our responding that we were skeptics engaging in critical inquiry.

The rest of the morning proceeded relatively uneventfully, although for no apparent reason, a second announcement was later given over the PA system reminding exhibitors of the presence of skeptics and to “be diligent.”

Just before 1pm we decided to leave, so some of us exited the Expo and walked up to the second floor, which was outside the Expo grounds.  At this point, we believed that being outside the Expo grounds, the prohibition on taking photos was no longer enforceable, so we took a few shots.  Woodford saw this from below and told us to leave, calling the Metro Toronto Convention Centre security.

Before the security arrived and while we were packing up, the man who had asked me “who the hell I was” earlier, who had been handing out Expo literature at the door all morning and was carrying a walkie talkie, clearly identifying him as a worker with the event, approached CFI member Michael Payon.  During their conversation, the man asked Michael “Do you think it would be fucking funny if I punched you in the face?”  Upon hearing this remark, I asked him “Did you just threaten to punch him in the face?”  The man responded “I never said that.” and started walking off as the security approached.  The photo of this man is included on this page.

When security arrived, they asked us to leave. We responded that we would do so, but we would also ask that they follow up on the matter of the threat of violence.  The security was totally dismissive; we were told by security guards and the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Event Manager Sasha Saldanha “That’s your problem.” and “You deal with that.” and “We didn’t see anything”. During the conversation, security guards were mumbling under their breath, laughing at us and acting in a wholly unprofessional and demeaning manner.  They clearly didn’t take the threat of violence nearly as seriously as the concern with our taking photos, perhaps because the latter threatened the building’s future business relationship with the Whole Life Expo.  Since the Whole Life Expo worker in question had intimidated me earlier and had followed us to the second floor and outside the Expo grounds where he made his threat of violence against Michael Payton, we were legitimately worried he would follow us after we left the building, and feared for our safety.

The Event Manager of the Metro Convention Centre Sasha Saldanha finally indicated she would speak with the man who threatened violence and, although that seemed unlikely, we left.  One security guard followed us out of the Centre and along the overpass, leaving us only when we were about to enter the walkway directly connected to Union Station.

It should be noted that members of Skeptics North attended the Whole Life Expo in 2009 and there were no such incidents, nor was there a policy against recording devices. In 2010 myself and Michael Payton attended a similar convention, the Total Health Show in March 2010, in the same venue. We engaged in interviews and conversations and published an editorial in the National Post. At no time were we at these past events, or at the Expo this weekend, attempting to to create trouble.  As the National Executive Director of the Centre for Inquiry, an influential and respected educational charity, I seek to engage in reasoned and productive dialogue, as do the friends and colleagues who accompanied me to this event.  Yet we were immediately targets of intimidation, harassment and ultimately a threat of violence by Organizers and workers with the Whole Life Expo, simply for being skeptics.

If you should feel inclined to respond to this mater, Julia Woodford is a columnist with Vitality Magazine, which can be reached at (416) 964-0528.  Here is Vitality’s full contact info

Vitality Magazine
 356 Dupont Street
, Toronto, Ontario
 Canada M5R 1V9
To inquire further by phone, call (416) 964-0528.
For Classifieds, Service Directory, and Calendar of Events listings inquiries
Contact: listings@vitalitymagazine.com
For Display Advertising and Administrative inquiries
Contact: seeta@vitalitymagazine.com
For Editorial inquiries 
Contact: editorial@vitalitymagazine.com
For Circulation inquiries
Contact: circulation@vitalitymagazine.com

We’ll be lodging a formal complaint with the building owners and if Security was negligent in their duties, consulting with our legal advisors to see what our options are.  Feel free to contact Metro Toronto Convention Centre Event Manager Sasha Saldanha to express your concern with how they handled the threat of violence in their building

Metro Toronto Convention Centre
255 Front St. W. Toronto, ON M5V 2W6
Event Manager:  Ms. Sasha Saldanha
Tel: 416-585-8313
Fax: 416-585-8224
Email: ssaldanha@mtccc.com


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Religion Is a Force for a Good Education? Hitchens/Blair Debate in Toronto Motivates Some Reflection

Posted by Justin

Friday, November 26, 2010 21:23
Posted in category Secularism and Society

As thousands of people watch Christopher Hitchens and Tony Blair debate “Religion is a force for good in the world” here in Toronto tonight (and many more follow online or at public screenings like the ones we’re hosting in Toronto, Calgary and elsewhere), I’m reflecting on one of my personal issues: “Is religion a force for good education?”  We often here that students in religious schools, especially the Catholic publicly funded school system in Ontario, outperform their secular counterparts. But is this really true?  Certainly former British Prime Minister Tony Blair thinks so, as he authorized the public funding of state muslim, jewish and other faith schools in the UK.

But an article in the Economist, “State Schools and Selection: The Religious and the Rational“, came out not too long ago calling for some critical thinking with respect to the British educational system.  It turns out that the claims that such religious schools offer a better quality of education are based on a fundamental data bias.

The proportion of children entitled to free school meals at Catholic and Church of England schools is lower than at non-religious state schools. The Church of England has promised to set aside places at its new schools for children whose parents profess other religions or none at all, but the pledge has no legal force.

As the Economist reported back in April 2009 in “Education Reforms: Out the Window“, pupils attending religious schools aren’t improving their performance, as we would expect if religious education was of a higher quality.

The study looked at GCSE results in both sorts of schools. “We could have found that faith schools benefited all parents, including those who didn’t, or couldn’t, choose them, if other schools improved in an attempt to hang on to pupils,” says Anna Vignoles, one of the researchers. But they came across no such benign competitive effects—indeed, they found no effects at all. Children at religious schools made no more progress than those at secular ones, and areas where there were many religious schools did no better than those where there were few. “What is described as a quasi-market clearly is not working,” concludes Ms Vignoles.

Rather, religious schools benefit religious parents and their children on the one hand, and teachers and the schools themselves on the other, for one simple reason.

…by giving religious people more choice than other parents, the government has weakened competitive pressures in another way. The researchers checked which schools had the most students with the best prospects for academic success in their neighbourhoods. Most religious schools turned out to have more than their fair share of bright, well-off kids, and correspondingly fewer stragglers and poor ones. If secular schools with religious neighbours know that whatever they do they will get lumbered with the hardest pupils to teach, they may resign themselves to being at the bottom of discerning parents’ wish lists and give up trying

Faith schools have the ability to choose which pupils they admit.  Secular schools must accept everyone.  Religious schools may open their doors to students that are for reasons quite apart from faith of higher aptitude, or children of wealthier parents (which statistically tends to correlate with higher parental education).  Secular schools by contrast end up being left with the rejected students.  On top of which, secular schools are biased towards having a higher per capita of children of religious parents that don’t care enough about their children’s education to shop around.  Such children are statistically at higher risk for doing poorly in school, again for reasons quite apart from faith or the lack thereof.

I’d try to telepathically share this data with Hitchens tonight, although I suspect he’ll do just fine on his own!

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