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Chris Hadfield
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Secular Help for Trafficking Survivors

I've written in the past about the phenomenon of people who think that their religious beliefs excuse them from doing their job. The correct solution, of course, is to not accept a job whose duties you won't perform; but the religious privilege that pervades society often leads people to expect that their employer should accommodate them, rather than vice versa, and that they should be paid for work they refuse to do.


Usually, this happens in service positions: pharmacists who won't fill prescriptions for birth control, town clerks who refuse to certify same-sex marriage licenses (or, even more horrifyingly, Muslim doctors and nurses who refuse to bare their arms to wash their hands).

What makes this even worse is that, not only will these people not provide the service, they take up a spot that could have been filled by someone who will. Of course, that's very much the point: many religious groups would love nothing better than to have a world where technically legal services are completely unavailable. And it's not just on an individual level that religion pursues this strategy. When government money is made available to provide social services, religious organizations inevitably line up to try and displace secular groups by taking the money and then not offering the services that contract was supposed to provide.

That's why I was pleased to read this week that the U.S. government has dropped a Catholic bishops' group from a $19 million program to provide assistance to victims of human trafficking. The contract stated that the applicant was supposed to provide "the full range" of legally permissible obstetric and gynecological care - and contraception and abortion are still legal in the U.S. - but the church refused to offer either.

This is especially revolting because the contract was intended to provide aid and counseling to victims of human trafficking - modern-day slaves, women who were abducted or sold to brothels and forced to work as prostitutes. If they've become pregnant through rape, they have every justification to get an abortion if that's what they choose, but even now, the church wants to deny them the information and the means to control their own bodies. Fortunately, the grant has instead been given to three secular aid groups, which will provide all the help that trafficking survivors need and not just the kind of help that the Roman Catholic church thinks they should be allowed to have.

This story parallels the trend of Catholic adoption agencies closing down because the church would rather see children remain homeless than place them with same-sex couples, and secular groups stepping in to take up the slack. These are positive developments, not just because it means more people can be helped, but also because it helps erode religion's assumption of privilege and moral superiority. As it becomes more obvious that churches are constrained by their own prejudices from helping people in need, more people will stop turning to those churches for aid and start going to secular groups and charities that put a higher value on this life.

Image credit: Steve Rhodes, released under CC BY-ND 2.0 license

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Personal Growth

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

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