The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #198

(Note that links in archived Bulletin issues may no longer be valid.)


BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- MARCH 2020 


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Brights, Here and There

No matter where registered Brights reside, they share in common the notion that the tag “naturalistic” is a pretty good characterization of their worldview. 

This particular common attribute that you share with other brights across the world offers good reason for visibly showing yourself to be in sync with our Brights’ online initiative to illuminate and elevate the naturalistic worldview.

Wearing or displaying or using an item exhibiting the Brights’ Net’s icon or logo can serve to signal your commonality with those far away from you geographically whom you will never meet. It is also a means for informing the people that you do meet about “the Brights”… and the existence of the website.

Some Brights draw attention to the Brights movement by wearing apparel purchased from the Café Press Brights’ Shop or from the Kiosk at Zazzle.  But there’s a far less expensive way to inform friends and associates about this online constituency.

As we are doing right now, BC intermittently reminds you of an easy way to let others know your worldview and/or inform them about this constituency. How? - by way of a bookmark.

Brights Central makes this one simple item available to all Brights below cost so that they can have some on hand as occasions arise. And rght now, while the current supply lasts, we can send you a set of 3 bookmarks – free. You can pass one along whenever circumstances that you deem appropriate arise. 

Check the website offer.

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Bookmark Backstory

Brights’ bookmarks are 7"x2" and composed of gently bendable waterproof plastic. They're sturdy items that will not wrinkle or tear; they will last!

One side (shown here) carries a tagline previously chosen by Brights themselves. The reverse side has the home page URL and QR code, so that any inquisitive recipient can find their way to the website. That side also mentions the "four pillars" of Brights' action: openness, visibility, constructive engagement, principled participation

Those four action ideas encourage anyone whose worldview is free of supernatural elements toward a broader framework for their activity: civic engagement. The civics arena can free the person with a naturalistic outlook from a more constraining focus on religion in their society. This framework can open up opportunities attuned to more harmony in a religiously pluralistic world.

There also may be some among your own acquaintances whose worldview is also supernatural-free, but who do not know about“the Brights.” In some instances, and for some individuals in many locales, even the notion that others nearby might actually share their naturalistic worldview would be surprising!

You can relay word of the Brights to someone you know quite easily and indirectly simply by offering a bookmark, usually along with some interesting material on a topic of shared interest  Of course, the suitability of doing so is something that you judge for yourself.

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Human Altruism in Babies

An action frequently observed in humans is their willingly giving away precious food resources to strangers.

This readiness to engage in altruistic conduct is not seen in closely related species like chimpanzees and bonobos. (Although these primates do share many social-cognitive commonalities with humans, neither is as inclined to give food away, and especially not chimps.)

But how young in humans does this voluntary altruistic behavior go? This question has been a subject of morality investigations in recent decades.

A brand new study published in Scientific Reports offers evidence that even babies will readily give away food to a stranger. (Surprisingly, they will give away even their favorite fare.)

The two experiments in the reported study are themselves interesting to read, but you may find that even more so is the discussion and elaboration in a related VOX article. The essay not only reports and expounds on issues in the new research study, but it also provides links to explorations of related questions of morality (e.g., Why do humans ever behave altruistically?), extreme altruism (e.g., Why do people risk their lives to save strangers?), and the issue of interest: Are humans generous by nature?

This recent research further strengthens one of the major declarations set forth previously in the Brights’ Morality Project (MP).

The project involved noted morality researchers in helping volunteer Brights and Brights Central to define key elements of human morality that could serve as a basis for broadening general public understanding about the subject. The particular emphasis was to collect and share the scientific evidence behind the contention that morality came about naturally (e.g., it is not “heaven-sent” or a product of revelation).

The project identified four scientific assertions, each backed by peer-reviewed scientific studies, offering plenty of evidence of morality having resulted from biological and cultural evolution.

Statement 4 in the MP is most pertinent to the new study.  It points out that young children and infants demonstrate some aspects of moral cognition and behavior early on – even before they have had any specific learning experiences or worldview shaping that would have produced the observed conduct.

The aforementioned research, along with several other studies recently published, will soon be incorporated into the Brights’ online Morality Portal, with its easily sharable infographic presented in 15 languages.  The portal serves as our primary means of educational dissemination to the broader public. The public can see the studies that support the four scientific assertions showing that morality is, for sure, natural.

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Let Me Help You!

This month’s tiny tale reports evidence that African grey parrots also have an altruistic bent. They help their partners to obtain food rewards.

Although prosocial helping has been seen before in mammals, the current study with parrots is a first mark for avian altruism. As study authors note: it presents to scientists’ “first proof of instrumental helping” by a non-mammal species. According to the study, the facilitating conduct by an African grey parrot was reciprocated regardless of the partner’s need. (While the parrots do exhibit voluntary assistance behaviors, the blue-headed macaws do not.)

You can read an English or Danish version of the little story that is frequently supplied to Brights bulletins by a Danish Bright. Each tiny story is drawn from peer-reviewed research and recast as little stories. This animal morality news (told more lightly a la Aesop) is not only entertaining to children. It also serves to reveal to all bulletin subscribers something rather new and surprising from the world of science. Furthermore, it illustrates the emphasis of the Brights on morality having developed as a naturally occurring phenomenon (via evolution).

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Health “News” Miseducating Society

The misinformation flooding today’s society via digital communications is particularly widespread - and quite pernicious - in the arena of “health news.” Yet, people are increasingly turning to social media and to the internet for answers to medical setbacks that arise. There, along with what is simply the poor health journalism to be found on many news outlets, they will find in abundance - and in modern-day form - unproven cures and “snake oil remedies.”  All can misinform the public.

The scope of misinformation is uncertain, but there is little doubt that much of the “news” spewing forth on social media platforms and available on the Web actually constitutes a potential threat to the public health.

NBC News did a review of 2019 misinformation that itself went viral. It reported: “The most viral pieces of fake health news pushed far-reaching conspiracies between governments and medical communities and suggested ditching common medical treatment of life-threatening diseases for unproven cures.”

This generally horrifies people who have a naturalistic outlook and tend to favor the digital dissemination only of soundly based scientific information. They are duly concerned when absurdities are given priority over reasonable real-world facts.

That Brights consistently find bothersome the societal prevalence of nonsensical ideas is among the several items mentioned on the main website. They find troubling, too, how the legitimate news outlets cover flawed studies (thereby reaching false conclusions) and/or inflate the findings of lone or preliminary studies. (E.g., a single study of an intervention with rats is touted as “X may prevent Alzheimer’s” and made to appear as definitive medical progress for humans. Also concerning is that the public receives a series of conflicting news articles (chocolate, red wine, coffee, etc.) with conclusions swinging back and forth, all contributing in their ways to undermining the legitimacy of science itself.

Still, as the number of people turning to the Internet to search for a diverse range of health-related subjects continues to grow, so does the availability of alleged cures to be found there. For example, marijuana has been one of the more popular alleged cures to correlate with audience demand. (Stanford University researchers recently found that online searches for cannabis and cancer had grown at 10 times the rate of searches for other standard medical therapies.) As one Harvard research points out, misinformation can lead to such problems as vaccination levels below herd immunity, harmful impacts on minors when parents responsible for their well-being engage in alternative or homeopathic treatments rather than needed medical treatments, etc.

Evidence is growing  that the health misinformation we encounter online can motivate decisions and behaviors that actually make us more susceptible to disease, a phenomenon sometimes termed “misinfodemics.” That is, an unfortunate spread of a particular health outcome or disease can actually be facilitated by misinformation gone viral. It can be a huge threat to public health when inaccurate health messages spread (e.g., deaths during Ebola outbreaks). 

Unfortunately, for the general public, trustworthy scientific information is not always easy to discern. Professionals tend to communicate in their specialized languages (statistics, epidemiology, causation vs. correlation, etc.) and in ways that "go over the head" of the general public.  With the advent and advancing of the novel corona virus COVID-19, it is important for the public to seek and look to responsible sources for information. 

Thankfully, organizations around the world are working to reduce the impact of problematic health misinformation and there are new tools and technologies becoming available that can help to identify where and how health misinformation spreads. Analyzing top shared news on social media could contribute to identification of leading fake medical information miseducating the society regarding health treatments and prevention efforts. It might also encourage authorities to take actions such as putting warnings on biased domains or scientifically evaluating those sites generating the fake health news.

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Refuting a Fount of Misinformation

Some of the false information that abounds in social media today consists of fabricated stories, presented as if they are legitimate factual news. Other forms are of the hyper-partisan variety, “news” consisting of biased and/or misleading items interpreting actual events.

Efforts by third party fact checkers to assess communications do exist, but they cannot possibly keep up with the tsunami of messages. Consequently, many false stories, perhaps most, simply are not flagged or are flagged belatedly, long after they already have been widely shared.

What is very interesting is how the absence of a warning is taken by viewers to imply that the material has already been checked and validated.  In other words, studies show that adding the warnings may actually be increasing belief in false content!

For Brights seriously interested in the issue of online misinformation and willing to spend the time to view a lecture on YouTube concerning the topic, one expert’s assessments of the limitations of various interventions against social media misinformation and “fake news” is informative. The researcher, David Rand, puts forward two promising approaches: one directed to increasing the quality of shared news in a given field and another to identifying misinformation. The approaches are open to evaluation.

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The Churches – They Are Changing! (USA)

A new study from The Barna Group reports “Five Trends Defining Americans’ Relationship to Churches”:

  1. Nearly two in five churchgoers report regularly attending multiple churches.
  2. Churchgoers are divided on the value of church.
  3. Churchgoers largely experience—and have come to expect—positive emotions and outcomes by going to church.
  4. Church membership is still a common practice and is correlated with positive outcomes—but its importance is declining among younger churchgoers.
  5. The perception of the church’s relevance to the community is under question—especially among non-Christians.
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Whatever Happened to February, Anyway?

Some subscribers have noticed that there was no Brights’ Bulletin last month and queried Brights Central about having missed our email blast. Thank you for noticing! It’s nice to know we were missed.

Actually, what happened is that BC was hard-hit with severe declines and deaths in two of about the closest of relations to our office, and we radically reduced our involvement to handle hospitalization ins and outs and associated care tasks. We confess that February’s events markedly affected our operations, so its bulletin content was simply added to this March dispatch.

Brights should know that BC functions as a small-scale central operation, much as three participants in a small close-knit family. No one involved is related to one another by biology, but all involved have become very close friends as well as colleagues. This past month, Mynga’s close friend Meg, a fabulous Brit living alone as an “orphan elderly” in American society, went through a serious and complex health decline beginning mid-January. (Her Celebration of Life is coming up March 15, and Mynga has been involved both in writing the obituary and in event planning). Kelly’s most-loved and much-admired father died February 25 after several hospitalizations that month. So, that was that. We hope to get back on schedule, starting now.


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