Archive for November 2010
Yep. You heard it first here. WPR are coming back, isn’t it exciting?
For those who don’t know, WPR was the paranormal research team I formed in 2005 and put on hiatus earlier this year. WPR stands for ‘Wiltshire Phenomena Research’.
However I soon came to realise that even though the British Anomalistic Research Society is awesome it doesn’t feel right not going out into ‘the field’ and getting to the bottom of apparent cases of anomalous phenomena.
Not only that but there really is a lack of rational teams who actually know what the hell they are going on about in the UK. Those of you who have been to one of my Skeptics in the Pub talks – the ones with Henry 8th, for example.
Those who haven’t been to one of my talks and seen the video, consider yourself lucky.
The main problem I often see with teams is that people who call themselves a researcher or an investigator haven’t actually done any actual research and investigation into facts. There are enough boring, superstitious and folklore abusing “paranormal teams” out there already and it’s quite depressing.
Keep an eye out as the WPR website is re-launched. Very exciting times…
When I began to co-host the Righteous Indignation podcast with Trystan it was the first time I had really started to get involved in a wider group of people who all identified themselves as skeptics. Prior to that I had posted on a few internet forums for skeptics and I used skepticism in my paranormal research and knew others that did. That was the extent of my involvement with skepticism up until we recorded and released episode one of the podcast.
I’m writing this because I’ve just edited down episode 74 and it’s waiting to be released as I type this and in those 74 episodes I have learnt a lot about who I am and being a skeptic. I’ve made some great friends and allies and I’ve learnt a hell of a lot of stuff and I continue to do so even today.
Not only that but I’ve started to do public talks at ‘skeptics in the pub’ events that in turn have led to me being asked to speak at even more paranormal conferences. I have loved becoming a part of numerous skeptical communities and getting involved with various projects.
However, I speak personally here, it has also had a negative side too. I guess it’s because I’m an outspoken person (for which I’ll never apologise) and I suppose the fact that my voice and what I have to say is broadcast to thousands of people each week that caused the negative things to emerge quite quickly and consistently.
When you have a collective of that many people there are always going to be those who you don’t get on with or who don’t agree with you, it’s life, it happens.
However, early on it became clear that being the female host on the podcast earned me attention that led to me writing a blog entitled ‘A meaningful rant about being a female skeptic who doesn’t like being the cute one.’
I was probably over-reacting to what had been intended as compliments, but it didn’t work out that way and recently I found out that we still get similar emails sent to us by listeners which, quite frankly, annoys me but I think I’ll live.
The most recent ‘hoo-hah’ to have kicked off was on the Righteous Indignation facebook page where a listener posted an image depicting an advert for ‘gentlemen who do skepticism’ after hearing about ‘Ladies Who Do Skepticism’ on the podcast. He said he was shocked at the lack of critical thinking we had shown to such a thing.
The thread became a huge discussion and debate and ended with me being called sexist and the poster in question sending Trystan what I gather were quite rude posts and accusations in private (which led to another admin banning said poster.)
I don’t for one minute consider myself to be a sexist person at all and I am always open to the suggestion that I am (that way I can change my behaviour and ideas, because that’s what skepticism is, right? Scrutinizing yourself as much as other people…), however this persons opinion that I was sexist was based on the fact that I supported ‘Ladies Who Do Skepticism’ and that I write for a website called ‘SheThought’.
Although I don’t think fracturing larger communities by making events completely exclusive to a certain gender is overly healthy, I don’t think that ‘Ladies Who Do Skepticism’ or ‘Shethought’ do that at all. Both are open to men and neither were set up with the sole intention of excluding male skeptics. This is what I felt the guy accusing me of being sexist was assuming and he wouldn’t back down on that accusation and went on to nickname me ‘The queen of bad thoughts’ in his personal blog, just after complaining that some other people had attacked him through ad-hom’s in the initial debate on the facebook group.
It made me angry and upset to begin with, but then as so many people pointed out, it isn’t worth getting wound up over the comments of a few because those few don’t represent a larger number of listeners to the podcast.
Before that incident though, over the last year or so, I have often felt that my gender and age have been seen as a weakness by some people who I debate with or interview. I know of one interviewee who, during our interview, got quite irate with me because I was asking questions that showed his lack of understanding of logical fallacies, yet all this time later refuses to acknowledge that it was me that wound him up, choosing instead to say it was my male co-host despite the fact that the episode can be listened to online and you can hear him getting wound up with me and snapping at me.
Also, in challenging a local homeopath I was actually referred to as ‘a silly little girl’ and quite often believers in ghosts and mediums (including a medium called Kirsty Stevens whom I had a huge debate with that you can read about here) comment that I am “only twenty-something” and that I have a lot to learn.
My age and my gender aren’t issues for but they do seem to be issues for other people. I can accept that I can be a bitch at times and that I often make mistakes with my reasoning – we all do, however, when debating with me it makes more sense for people to use my bitchy behaviour or my flawed logic as points to debate rather than my age or gender that have nothing to do with the situation at all.
If I have a lack of knowledge in a subject it might be because I’m younger than other people, but then I know more about some subjects than people who are much older than me do – so being young doesn’t instantly make you stupid and unqualified to comment, even if some people believe it does.
I have for a long time now understood that for some people the fact that I am young and female will always be the things they take note of rather than, say, what I am discussing or the debate taking place. The above examples are just a few of many, and I have voiced these points various times in the past and I’m often contacted by other female skeptical types who say they feel the same or have experienced the same and I think it’s a real shame. It’s also very frustrating when you are trying to debate a point but the person you are debating can’t see past who you are and think that your age and gender in some way defines how seriously you are to be taken – because they don’t.
All in all I think it’s important to remember that being judged for our age and gender is something that happens to everyone at some point. I often see the “skeptical movement” being refered to as a “middle-aged white mans movement” and I think that’s terribly unfair on middle-aged white men, I certainly would be made to feel guilty if I fit that stereotype and I don’t think it’s right for anyone to be made to feel guilty or wrong because of how old they are, or their creed or gender.
What is so wrong with people just being people, people who are doing what they want without being judged for doing it because of the social stereotype they fit into?
There’s this museum in Belgium, near the town of Ypres, Flanders that still has trenches from WW1 in its grounds. You can go for a walk in them and I have done so twice in my life. They are grim; Wet, sloppy, deep, claustrophobic, dark, dirty and smelly and that’s all these decades after the war.
I hate to imagine what they would have been like during the war.
I’ve been to Flanders a lot. My dad is a tour organiser and used to do multiple trips there a year as his customers loved the place. Mostly because of the beauty and the way in which the little town remembers the war dead of years gone by. Also for the chocolate.
There is something about the Flanders area that makes it seem as though it is in another time. A time that has stopped and is waiting.
The Menin gate stands tall with its walls covered in the names of those who were lost and never found. I cannot put into words how many names there are there. The first time I stood under the Menin gate I looked up at the walls and I felt a huge sense of loss. All of those people never made it home.
Only, there isn’t enough room on the Menin gate and more names of those ‘lost in action’ can be found at the various war cemeteries in the area such as Tyne Cote. Also Langemarck – the cemetery where German soldiers are buried. It stands out in my mind even today how eerie Langemarck is. See, the gravestones are all black and led down on the floor in stark contract to the upright, white headstones in the allied cemeteries.
Also, at Langemarck there are thousands of names of those who were ‘missing in action’ from the German side.
Flanders will stay with me for life and I am in no doubt that I will return time and time again to stand in silence as the last post is played at the Menin Gate every single day. There are reminders everywhere about what happened during WW1 and the losses.
Walking through the trenches the troops would have spent so much time in, counting the number of ‘Stevens’ listed on the Menin gate and the way that the residents find bombs in their gardens so often that they have specially designed lamp posts are things that will always stand out in my mind. There is nothing like driving down a road in Flanders and counting the dozens of unexploded devices that have been slotted into the holes in the lamp posts ready for the weekly collection by the bomb disposal squad. It’s mad.
Today, I have family in Afghanistan and I have family who fought in Ireland and The Falklands. I have stood at the graveside of the youngest person killed in Belgium during WW1 and at the time I was his very age, just turned fifteen. His grave is very close to the spot that Lieutenant John McCrae wrote the very poignant poem ‘Flanders Fields’ and poppies really do blow in Flanders Fields.
Tomorrow I shall fall silent for two minutes as a sign of respect because you can never forget the silence that hangs over the graves in Flanders. It stays with you.
This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.
The English libel law is particularly dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.
You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.
The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at http://www.libelreform.org/sign
Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.
If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up! Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.
We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at http://www.libelreform.org/sign
Earlier today twitterer Trinoc_ brought to my attention a comment that had been made on the SGU listeners forum in which I was referred to as the token female host of the Righteous Indignation Podcast.
I also listen to the Righteous Indignation podcast which also the one token woman in a bunch of guys.
They went on to say:
“She’s the only one of one type of thing (woman) amongst a larger amount of other, although similar, types of things (men). That makes her a token woman in my book. I mean that in the nicest possible way. She’s great. I dig Hayley, were I to ever have forewarning about an impending meeting with her i would gladly bake her a cake or crumble pie*”
I am not blogging to have a dig at the person who said the above and called me a token woman because I don’t believe they said this as an insult, they simply didn’t think through what they were implying by saying I was a token woman; a title that is both incorrect and unfair. To label a person – male or female, as a token undermines their work and effort put into a project (in this case, the podcast).
It also presents the idea that the person in question has been asked to be involved with a project because of their gender, and not their ability to do well in that project/role or to contribute their skills and insight.
This is why I was initially quite angry and annoyed to see myself being referred to as a token female host. I don’t think that lowly of my co-hosts to think they would do such a thing and I certainly wouldn’t allow myself to be in a position where my gender was the thing that got me there.
I don’t intend to go into how I came to involved with Righteous Indignation in the first place as I have covered that before, however, I should probably point out that when Righteous Indignation first started there was myself – a female host, and Trystan – a male host. Was he the token male skeptic? No, and he wasn’t seen that way either.
Marsh came along a bit later and just fitted with the show – we didn’t decide to ask Marsh to be a permanent host because he is male, we asked him because of his sense of humor, his ability to tackle big stories and interviews in a purely brilliant manner and the fact that he just gelled into the show with us.
There have been other things I have been involved with in the past for which I was the only female, or the only skeptic but I have never been asked simply because of what I am, but because of who I am and what I do and am able to do.
The picture to the right is me as a bratty child. Despite the long blonde hair and blue eyes I grew up a “tomboy”, I didn’t have a problem getting stuck in with fights, climbing trees in the neighbourhood or taking part in dangerous bike races. Being girls was never a problem for me and my friends when we were growing up and I think it’s quite remarkable being the only girl in a group of friends or in a game was never as significant as it is now that I’ve grown older.