Archive for June 2010
I have noticed quite a lot of discussion recently about female skeptics and the “lack” of them. Although it is something that is an issue that needs to be sorted out (attendance at skeptical events, female speakers and so on…) I often think that some people tackle the problem in the wrong way. This is just my opinion though, I’m not a psychologist or anything similar so I don’t know if it’s just me that thinks of this like I do.
See, I’m a rational person, a rational thinker, a skeptic – whatever you choose to call it, but I never refer to myself as a female rational thinker/skeptic because my gender has never really been the key factor for me and I certainly hope that it hasn’t for anyone who visits this blog, listens to the podcast, goes to one of my talks etc.
It certainly annoys me slightly when someone does refer to me as “the female presenter”.
I just get on with what I do without making my gender the main part of the deal (because, like I say, to me it isn’t.) I often see people blogging about how they are a female skeptic and they wish there were more – well, I agree that it would be great to see more females becoming more vocally skeptical, and I adore organisations like Ladies who do skepticism & She thought.
It is important that we encourage more women to become comfortable with their skepticism to a point where they are happy to blog or become more involved with the community. I just don’t think continually going on about the gender divide will do huge amounts of good and, I personally think that considering somebody, or labelling somebody as “a female skeptic” probably just adds to the chasm between female and male skeptics, rather than doing something to close it.
On July 5th, if these guys have raised £1500 and get more ‘no beard’ votes then PZ Meyers of the Pharyngula blog is going to shave his beard off alongside skeptic David Wood (who is a local skeptic).
If they get more ‘beard’ votes then Simon Painter is going to grow a beard. What’s the point of this? Well they’re raising money for Barnardos – the charity who run over 400 projects across the UK that aim to bring out the best in every child; whatever the issue from drug misuse to disability; youth crime to mental health; sexual abuse to domestic violence; poverty to homelessness.
I am writing this to ask that all of my blog readers donate (as little as £2!) and vote ‘no beard’ because I think it would be pretty awesome to see PZ Meyers and David go through with shaving them there beards off!
Currently they’re sitting at £1119 so pleeeeease get donating!
On Sunday I woke up, did my normal morning things and then sat down to check my emails. I was quite surprised to find an email in my inbox called “slagging HRPI off and copyright laws.”
I opened it to find a long email from the Haunted realms paranormal investigation group telling me that I had broken their copyright on the website they have and they were taking legal action against me for ‘defamation of character’.
I sat, stunned, as I tried to work out where exactly I had done these monsterous deeds when I recalled that the previous night somebody had asked, via my formspring account, what the worst case of woo I had ever come across was.
I had linked to the Haunted realms site on which there was* a report they wrote about their investigation at a private house in Calne which is a town near me. In the report the team spoke about members being scratched, sensetive members being overwhelmed, the home owner being pulled along a bed by her leg whilst they were there, strange noises and people being pushed by the ‘entitiy’.
Now, in my haste I wrote that they had claimed to sense a demon. Something HRPI were quick to point out they had not done. See, in my confusion I had intepreted their labelling of a photo as ‘evil face’ as meaning an evil entity which is usually a name commonly given to demonic entities. In fact, when a twitter friend of mine looked for a definition of an evil spirit or entity she came across:
“an evil spirit or devil, especially one thought to possess a person or act as a tormentor in hell”
I’m sure I’m not the only person to have made that damned leap in thinking of an evil spirit as a demon. Silly me though, eh?
The claims that I was guilty of ‘defamation of character’ amused me because the comments I made were that the team were ‘woo’ and ‘less-than’rational’ which are both my opinion. An opinion that cannot be falsified (especially when you look around their website, which is here – oh damn it! I’ve infringed their copyright again, haven’t I… not.)
After several replies in which I told the HRPI founders that I was happy to hear from their legal representatives, I am still left waiting to hear anything more from them.
In total they sent me three emails they were rambling with contradictions, mistakes and showed what I take to be a complete lack of understanding. By the end of the emails from them to me they had:
– threatened to sue me for copyright infringement for linking to their site.
– threatened to sue me for defamation of character.
– threatened that they were going to sue me AND my entire research team for the comments I had made.
– threatened that a team who had visited the Calne residence previous to them were also going to sue me because of the comments that I mad.
– threatened to sue me because the owner of the house in Calne had allegedly told me lies about them.
I did call them woo, and I did call them ‘less than rational’ and I wholeheartedly stand by those comments because when the owner of the house in Calne got in touch with a WPR team member, she was confused about what was in her house and she told us she believed there may be a demon there because of what she had witnessed during the HRPI investigation.
After reading the report in which these investigators acted the way I previously mentioned (being scratched, pushed, overwhelmed etc.) in the presence of the house owner who was already scared because she had been witnessing odd things in her home when alone, I honestly felt that what they had done was not only less-than-rationa but also bordering on unethical too.
I’m not holding my breath whilst I wait to hear from their ‘legal representative’ but I shall, indeed, keep followers of my blog informed of what happens.
* they DID have the report, photos and videos of the investigation they conducted at the private home in Calne on their website, until some time after they threatened to take legal action against me. When I refused to take the links to their site out of my formspring answer they removed all traces of the report, photos and videos from the internet.
Of course, they didn’t think about the fact I might check the cache of their site and be able to get hold of copies anyway, just in case I need them as evidence.
“Brilliant people talk about ideas. Average people talk about things. Small people talk about other people.”
A long, long time ago (about five years to be perfectly exact) I commented on my (then woo) paranormal research teams page that I was not involved in paranormal research for fame and fortune and never would be, like some people were.
It’s a comment that some use to lambaste me with because these days I am involved in some rather public projects. The podcast for one, speaking at ‘skeptics in the pub’ another. I often get accused of going back on that one statement I made five years ago and it’s used by my critics to show how I have ‘changed as a person’, or ‘have no morals when it comes to personal gain.’
Both are comments that have been said about me in the past either to me personally, or to family members or friends of mine.
The second of these is wrong because I do have morals and would keep to those morals no matter what somebody offered me. For example, I wouldn’t suddenly start touring as a medium just because of the money I could make as I would feel bad doing so after I have learnt so much about the effect it can have on people.
The first accusation is spot on though because I have changed in the past few years, a lot (and that isn’t a crime, actually).
When I first made the comments about fame and fortune I was a clueless ghost hunter who has since become a rational, skeptical researcher who rarely visits locations to “hunt fer ghosts” because I know better.
My aims and goals have changed; back then I wanted to find out if ghosts existed, why they existed, how they did etc. and now I have a much better understanding of how ghost phenomena and odd experiences work.
My aims have changed to wanting to help other people understand the same and to show how some people make fallacious arguments regarding their beliefs and use the wrong research methods. To do this I have to be vocal – either via the podcast or by writing about it. Lots.
I’ve also been presented with great opportunities to become involved in projects such as the podcast or talking to audiences and I haven’t turned them down because I am happy to be vocally skeptical of that which I used to believe was true.
Does that mean that I have gone against my statement of “I’m not in this for the fame and fortune?”
Well, maybe it does in a way, but I’ve never made a single penny from the talks, the podcast, or the articles and stuff I write so the whole “fortune” bit out of the window.
With regards to the fame side of the accusation, well, yes I’ve become more well-known amoungst skeptical bloggers and people who listen to the podcast – but that’s going to happen. Myself and Trystan who started the podcast both said that we never thought the show would make it past ten episodes and the fact that is has is wonderful and it really makes all the work we put into it seem worth it.
I’m not famous, nothing even near to famous, but I, just like numerous other folk, try to do my bit to get a valid point of view across to people who are misinformed (take the ‘A brighter Bradford-on-Avon’ site as an example.)
I can remember a local self-proclaimed paranormal celebrity asking, during a live interview I did with White noise paranormal radio, whether I would ever do a television show if I was given the opportunity. It was clear that this person was forcing me to take a position on a decision I have never been asked to make, probably so that in the future it could be thrown back in my face; just as the “i’m not in this for fame and fortune” comment has over and over again – “You said you’d never do that in the interview” and that is such a pathetic thing to do (if you want to learn more about paranormal politics you should come along to one of my future talks.)
The message that I hope to get over in this blog post is that none of those people can hold me responsible for anything I have ever chosen to do because all of the people who have criticised me that I know of have no moral high-ground as far as I’m concerned. Especially that so called paranormal celebrity 😉
It’s not enough to just accuse someone of going back on something they said a long time ago, you have to ask why and what has changed. I hope this blog post explains that for you.
If not then I’m sure you’ll get over it.
Just because you can’t explain something doesn’t automatically make that proof that a ghost did it.
This is one of many tips I have added to the ‘Ghosthuntin’ 101′ page on this blog. It’s a small collection of tips for people who call themselves paranormal researchers and don’t know how to actually conduct proper research.
It’s tongue-in-cheek so if you get offended it’s tough, and it probably means that you’re one of the researchers who doesn’t really know what they’re doing.
A couple of days ago an old school friend of mine on Facebook.com posted on their status something about someone having a sugar rush. I commented that you can’t actually have a rush from sugar to which they replied that they seemed to whenever they had sugar therefor you must be able to.
I hadn’t wanted to come across as a know-it-all but this classic example of subjective validation irked me slightly so I posted a link to an article covering how the British medical journal debunked that myth a while ago.
My friend seemed to accept this until her mother posted on the status “well it happens to me when I eat chocolate!” to which my school friend replied “SEE!”
I was a little bit stunned that despite the fact that I had presented them with a study conducted into this theory that had shown it to be nothing but myth they still held onto the notion that sugar made them feel hyper because they’d experienced such a reaction from sugar and thus it must be true.
I don’t like it when this sort of dismissal of fact occurs within the group of people I thought would know better, especially as the school friend was one of those people I used to hold in high regard as being intelligent enough to see past such myths.
Was I naive in thinking that by presenting the British medical journal study to her she would see sense? Well, some people might say yes, but I don’t think I was because it’s not that big an idea to let go off compared to say spirituality or the idea you can be healed by a mystic.
Then again, I guess my friend felt that being able to justify in her mind that the sugar she was intaking was the cause of her suddenly feeling hyper and it was certainly not just her imagining it becuse she was expecting it, is more important to her than the truth of the matter.
I think this sort of attitude is evident in a lot of pseudo-theories out there (for want of a better phrase.) From religion, to the latest health fad “it’s true because it happened to me” is an attitude that we, as skeptics, come across all of the time and to me it’s quite sad that people who probably think that they’re open-minded are actually being quite close-minded about the information they’re provided with. I do wonder how often people are close-minded without realising it? My friend, for example.
Also, another great example of people being accidentally close-minded that I experience all the time would be ghost researchers who attribute every oddity they experience as ghostly by nature when, in fact, that’s the biggest leap of logic they could actually make considering there is nothing to suggest that ghosts are the cause at all.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that people who identify themselves as skeptics or skeptical are not prone to being close minded when it comes to certain things – we’re all guilty of it to some extent, I guess the moral is to always be ready to change your mind about something because isn’t that the fundamental thing about skepticism?
Yesterday somebody commented on a status of mine that there were no such thing as fairies at the bottom of the garden. They identify themselves as a “top skeptic” and they couldn’t understand why I thought they’d used a bad choice of words.
Sure, as it stands there is no evidence to support the idea that fairies exist or live at the bottoms of gardens, but we shouldn’t necessarily be completely dismissive of the idea. We just don’t accept the idea unti some form of evidence that stands up to scrutiny comes along.
For example, if you go here and read their thoughts on ghosts, I don’t agree with them and I don’t believe they are right, but I will if they provide evidence that backs up their claim.
When I made the same sort of point in reply to the skeptic in question I was told they didn’t label themselves as a skeptic afterall, but rather, someone who just has common sense.
Which implies that anyone who identifies themselves as a skeptic isn’t using common sense? Which, actually, they are…
It was a strange thing to say to defend the position this person had taken on the fairy thing, and this is where many people come unstuck as skeptics because they identify themselves as a skeptic but forget in the long run exactly what skepticism is and become a bit too comfortable with the notion that they’re correct in their beliefs.