The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #187

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- JANUARY 2019 


Image credit: Bruce Geisert

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Credulity Lives On

The Brights’ Net website has long bemoaned the “hokum in society,” the “prevalence of nonsensical ideas,” and also how society unjustly privileges “people who embrace or tout groundless beliefs.”  There is some hope that Brights will be acting in their spheres of influence to counter these factors.

Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise readers here that folks at Brights Central took some interest in a recent strongly worded opinion article that BC ran across at the website of the American Council on Science and Health, a nonprofit that publicly supports evidence-based science and medicine.

What was the gist of the January 10 piece? — It was to directly condemn the influential Dr, Oz, whom the author characterized as the modern-day equivalent of a 19th century traveling medicine show. (Also noted was how “widespread scientific illiteracy” makes viewers so very receptive to his activities.)

In concluding the brief article, author Alex Berezow states:

If we want to have a smarter society, there is no quick and easy fix. We can't just throw money at science education and expect to produce a savvier generation. We need a fundamental cultural change, one that rewards patience and persistence, reveres (but does not blindly trust) expertise, and encourages some skepticism to balance our optimism.

A complex endeavor, for sure, and far easier said than done. Especially so, since so much modern-day “information” (the false as well as true) is being accessed via internet. And that process can, as a Yale study revealed, measurably inflate an individual’s estimate of what he/she “knows.”

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Declining to Vaccinate

Vaccine coverage for various diseases continues to wane in many parts of the developed world.

Measles, a serious virus-caused respiratory infection, is particularly contagious.  Its complications can be dreadful. U.S. measles cases once numbered in the millions. Vaccination for that disease can be highly effective, and thanks to effective vaccination programs, measles had almost disappeared by the latest turn of the century. Since then, though, with vaccinations declining, case numbers have risen (and not just for measles).

Experts say that the number of people failing to vaccinate their children or deferring measles vaccinations can reach levels where herd immunity is no longer protective. (Both liberal and conservative parents do this.)

Would it be parental “immunity to facts” that has led to measles making a comeback in recent years?  According to Gary Marshall, a pediatrics professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, they believe they are trying to do the right thing but "[u]nfortunately, they're mistaken. The right thing to do to protect their children is to vaccinate them to prevent them from getting measles and getting a horrible complication."

It appears that many parents who deliberately refuse to vaccinate their children are simply afraid.

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“Brighten” the Year…Personally!

Brights are scattered all across the globe (the online constituency includes registrants from 184 different nations). We can act individually within our local spheres of influence, and we can act collectively as we maintain our website and communicate about projects.

As you kick off your New Year and look toward this planets journey around our star in 2019, please take some time to consider how you personally might fortify our mutual efforts.

The tagline theme chosen by early registrants to the Brights movement is this: illuminate and elevate the naturalistic worldview. So, on the website’s home page we feature two projects helpful to portraying that theme. If you are not yet familiar with these projects, please have a look.  By adding your influence this year to the undertakings featured there on the home page, whether by informing others about them, or by buttressing the budgeting for associated costs, you personally will be raising “brightness” across the planet.

>> Let’s continue with fortifying the “Brights’ Morality Portal” – You can help. 

When it comes to the question of how human morality came about, our Brights’ refrain is simply: “Naturally, of course!” (No revelation. No supernatural agency required.) In a world so infused with deity-involved explanations, reaching that understanding, and gaining assurance that it is evidence-based as far as science is concerned, can be downright refreshing to many.

So, let’s maintain and keep updating our morality portal, which provides access to peer-reviewed scientific reports on the cultural and physical evolution of human morality. (The portal has become both a doorway to current information for scholars and a simple introduction for the simply curious.) The Brights’ online infographic, which offers to viewers across the world firm assertions supported by science, is already available in 18 different languages, 19 if you count Esperanto (added by request of Brights who are such fans they volunteered the necessary translation).

We have also provided online in a number of languages some brief explanations (evaluated for easy readability in English) for each of the four scientifically-supported statements. Those explanations still need to be provided for all of the languages, and volunteers can do that.

>> Let’s continue distributing our popular evolution poster” – You can help. 

Regarding the Earth and Life: changes over time poster that high school science teachers so love, the time for another printing is on the horizon. (Many educators clamor for more than one poster per school, but at this point, there is insufficient support for such a large printing.) The poster is popular because it uniquely and visually ties together the physical and biological depictions of evolutionary change. It’s so attractive to teachers that some even resort to nefarious addresses to obtain one for a colleague! The point is: we continue to receive applications beyond our capacity to supply the 5 ½ foot wide poster.

The Brights’ Net, through distributions to date, has already influenced classrooms exceeding a quarter-million students (and soon will be approaching a third). So, as Earth continues its journey across the next twelve months, you can, by supporting the project with just $5 per month, become someone who is making a firm difference! A prior survey of teachers indicates that, you will at minimum affect over 600 students across the next three years. (Many teachers laminate the poster for even more lasting use.)

Thanks to you, whole classrooms of students, under the guidance of qualified and enthusiastic teachers, will be able to truly comprehend the evolutionary changes that have brought the planet’s “Life” to its present. Such understanding is vital to achieving a citizenry that makes sound decisions henceforth as humanity faces the challenging future ahead (e.g., climate change).

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Worldviews Evolving

>> Further Decline in Religion Reported

Last month, Religion News Services reported on a new study showing that “fewer than half of Americans consider religion to be an ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ important part of their identity.”  

According to data from the American Family Survey, an annual national survey conducted by the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, just 43% of Americans viewed religion as a core component of their identity in 2018.

Also in the RNS report, these additional conclusions, accompanied by pertinent graphs of data:

1.  Nones are now 35% of the population.

2. But among younger Americans, Nones are inching close to half.

3. Religion is less important than family when people explain what creates their identity.

4. Religious Americans are likely to say marriage should come before sex—but they don’t always wait until marriage.

5. Most people think it’s fine to marry someone outside their own religion.

For details: https://religionnews.com/2018/12/10/religion-declining-in-importance-for-many-americans-especially-for-millennials/   

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Moral Psychology – An Evolving Field

One of the more active areas of scholarly deliberation today involves the scrutiny of moral values.

Human morality was at one time the select province of theology and philosophy but has more recently entered into, and taken up growing space in, several assorted spheres of science. The terrain now is quite multidisciplinary. It’s a mix of biology, psychology and anthropology, underscoring genetics, evolutionary theory, and animal behavior and, to a large extent, targeting human cooperation as its be-all and end-all.

Along with this broader province and science penchant comes a need to generate testable predictions. It goes with the newer territory, and to quote one of the leading explorers there, O.S. Curry: “There is nothing mysterious or magical about morality — it is merely a collection of biological and cultural mechanisms for promoting cooperation.” Engaging other scholars who are also focused on the subject domain, Curry reports, in a rather long Twitter thread about the approaching drive to advance a genuine science of morality.

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Annual Updating of Brights’ Portal

Our organization continues to aid interested persons to stay “on top of” recent contributions to the active area of morality research.

So far, we have succeeded in updating our website information at the morality portal on an annual basis, and we hope to continue to do so.

We have accomplished that once again!

In December, webmaster Kevin modified the portal to show all of the new peer-reviewed studies we have obtained. Each open-access study can be reached directly through the links at the portal.  Newest morality studies continue to be uploaded there mostly thanks to Ruban, who earlier had led the team of the “Reality about Morality Project” to its culmination in the portal’s launch. 2018 was an active year for research publications.

If this is a topic that interests you, there’s probably no better place to go for introductory information (the infographic and its explanations) as well as in-depth information on human morality (the studies, including recent research) than The Brights’ Net’s own website’s portal! Check it out!

We have also added some recent items to the bibliography of recommended readings.

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An Embryonic Moral Philosophy

One of the more surprising items to appear in Brights Central’s inbox this month came from Jamie, a UK Bright who is now devoting some of his post-corporate time to explaining and promoting a nascent ethical philosophy called sentientism. He himself is a self-proclaimed sentientist as well as a Bright, and he has extended an invitation to Brights to investigate what he considers “a unifying morality.”

Jamie wrote an article focused on the need for “upgrading humanism” to broader considerations. This notion is likely to pique the interest of - and perhaps some thoughtful pushback from - dedicated humanists.

At his personal ”thinking website” exploring the topic, Jamie touts the use of evidence and reason and favors the extension of moral consideration to all sentient beings, be they humans, non-human animals, or even any artificial or alien entity. 

Having invented a new term (the “brights”) some time ago, BC is mentioning this one now since it may well be of interest to some readers of this monthly bulletin. Most likely to be interested are any Brights who self-identify as humanists or vegans and may want to lend their support to the aspiring sentientism movement or issue the types of criticisms that may actually refine it.

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What a Place to Go!

Camp Quest is all about fun, friends, and freethought for kids! Children from atheist, humanist, Bright, agnostic, and other freethinking families can look forward to an enjoyable summer experience. Campers can explore their developing worldviews through interactive educational activities focused on science, critical thinking, and philosophy.

Camp Quest is also about traditional summer camp fun including swimming, crafts, campfires, and games. Throughout, the activities exemplify CQ’s approach to science-based education, collaborative problem-solving, and cultivating communities of diversity, inclusion, and respect.

There are over a dozen Camp Quest locations across North America, and affiliated programs in Europe (Germany, UK). There are day camps for younger children. More information, along with dates and locations, is available at the CQ website.

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