Archive for April 2011
You can read O’Briens full sermon, in which he calls my choice (and the choice of millions of others) to not believe in a God aggressive here. I find it quite hypocritical that in the same sermon in which secularism is called ‘aggressive’, this man had the audacity to then say that it’s okay for Christians to discriminate against gay people because homosexual lifestyles do not fit the way they practice their religion, and the punishment of these Christians who treat homosexual couples as sub-human is wrong.
“Recently, various Christians in our Society were marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs because they were not willing to publicly endorse a particular lifestyle. You have only to ask a couple with regard to their bed and breakfast business; certain relationship councillors; and people who had valiantly fostered children for many years of their particular experiences – and I am sure they are not exaggerating them!” – Cardinal Keith O’Brein
You know what though? Even as a person who chooses to live independently and not by the word of some God, I will defend Keith O’Brien’s right to say such ridiculous things to my last breath because I believe that everybody deserves freedom of speech. I’m not so confident he would do the same. What a lovely non-aggressive man.
As a paranormal researcher who uses science and skepticism in her research, I often find myself wedged between people who believe in ghosts, or use pseudo-scientific techniques to research them, and those who identify as skeptics. This is why I’m always keen to speak to skeptical audiences, or more belief-orientated audiences – to show how both viewpoints can gain something from the other.
Something I have noticed though is that ghosts, and all the wonderfully odd things that are associated with them, tend to be things that are discussed and explored at skeptical conferences and events willingly, and although not at all on the same level, paranormal conferences have started to feature more skeptical speakers too.
Though the one thing that I realise I have never seen is some of the educational groups or paranormal research foundations trying to recruit members at skeptical conferences. the Society for Psychichal Research (SPR), The Association for Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP), The Ghost Club etc…
Maybe somebody can enlighten me as to why these groups don’t try to actively recruit people who attend skeptical events? Yet, when I attend paranormal events, there are always stands asking people to sign up.
Skeptical people are interested in paranormal research – I know, I’ve seen the applications from such people who want to join BARsoc, and I wonder how many of them would join up to organisations that allowed them to explore paranormal research from an angle they’ve never done so before, if they were just given the chance.
Or is paranormal research really all about beliefs?
*UPDATE – Sunday April 24th – Here are some additional things I’ve discovered since the original post*
An interesting article on the BBC site about techniques spies would use to communicate, as detailed in released CIA documents. Read more here.
Icelands Penis museum finally gets a Human exhibit (but wont disclose the size…) Read here.
David Mitchell explores Easter and the harm one little cross can do. Read here.
Hitchens address to American Atheists (I found this quite moving). Read here.
Bath University reveals interesting study that suggests belief in angels is on the rise. Read here.
‘How a single word can make cruelty seem okay’ – this one is very thought provoking. Read here.
Cadbury Creme Eggs go for an MRI scan, and why not. Goo! View here.
“What do they do with their legs?” Julia Sweeney writes about ‘the talk’ with her young daughter 🙂 Read here.
*Below is the pre-updated content of this post*
This will be my third weekly round-up of interesting stuff I’ve found this week, and the hits and clicks on the last two posts like this suggest people are reading what I recommend, so I hope you find it all as interesting as I do.
DR WHO! NEW SERIES! TONIGHT! WHEEEEE!
It’s bittersweet though, as the launch of the new series follows on from the sad news that Elisabeth Sladen passed away earlier this week aged 63. As an adult who used to watch The Sarah Jane Adventures whenever I happened to find it on the television this is really sad news 😦
The thing that I found the most touching and upsetting was reading through the tributes left by children on the Newsround website. What a legacy…
Read about the ASA complaint aid ‘Fishbarrel’ launched recently by Simon Perry. It speeds up the complaint process and, well, is pretty damn awesome. You can find out more here (there’s also a video guide).
The psychology of cheating Read the article here.
The Science of why we don’t believe Science An interesting read.
Backwards step on looking into the future
Dr Ben Goldacre has today written about the precognition studies done by Daryll Bem that so many people on my friends lists were using to cite as proof that people could see into the future. You can read more here and can find Richard Wisemans ‘Bem replication log’ here.
Monster Talk interviews Joe Nickell Tracking the man beasts Go listen!
Skeptically Speaking: 107 & 108 – Zombies & magical thinking
In ep. 107 the host digs into “the fascinating ways these movie monsters overlap with real-world science.” and looks at parasites that use mind control and the mathematical models showing the best ways to control invasion.
In ep. 108 Jamy Ian Swiss, Brian Brushwood and Michael Goudeau discuss how the study and practice of magic can help teach critical thinking skills.
Derren Brown takes on Faith Healers in new show Read more (and view the video) here.
So there you have it. My weekly round up. As a final note, I’d like to send you over to the Bath Skeptical Societies blog that is slowly coming to life.
Many people are fine to live their whole lives treating death as a catalyst to a potential next step for their existence, some people decide early on that when you die that’s it. All done. No encore. Others believe in the existence of an afterlife in one form or another.
One thing I have learnt over time is that whatever you believe when you start to research ghosts, you will at some point question it. What the conclusion of that questioning is depends on you individually, but it happens because of the people you deal with in your research. You will deal with the thoughts, fear and consequences of death nearly every single day and it will become something that is no longer taboo for you. The negative thing about this is that the people you interact with who aren’t involved in paranormal research are less likely to be that relaxed about death and will seek comfort and answers from you.
I’m not able to offer these people the answers they are looking for as I don’t know what happens at the moment of death as I’ve never died. I can only offer my personal opinions based on the best understanding that we have on what happens to the body when the brain dies. Being put in the earth to decompose seems a fine end to life – being comitted to the very Earth that sustained you in your life. However it’s very rare that anybody takes comfort from my thoughts on death.
It seems mystery makes the inevitable easier to stomach. I also think it has a lot to with why ghost hunters are so keen to look for the ghost rather than the logical cause for activity, until one accepts how insignificant life really is then one cannot appreciate how delicate it is – how superb and wonderful life is. For as long as people continue to believe in their hearts and minds that there is more than just this they will search for the proof of that.
I know this from personal experience because I used to take great comfort from the idea that those I loved who had died were still nearby on ‘the other side’ of whatever it is that is supposed to divide the living from the dead – the astral plane, the spirtual portal, or the whole host of other names people have given to such an idea over time. I believed that I too would one day pass over into that existence and would meet them again.
However, in my early twenties (yes, I know I’m only twenty-four) I started exploring my views on religion and humanity and I realised I was Atheist and also identified as a humanist, it became apparent to me that the spiritual beliefs I used to hold were actually quite manky.
I no longer take comfort from the idea that my dead gran is on ‘the other side’ where she is ‘always near’. In fact I find that idea horrifying, my gran stuck in a place where she can see and hear all of her relatives that survived her going about their business as usual without being able to interact with them. What sort of continued existence is that?
My belief in the other side was purely selfish and I think it’s quite sad that people live every day of their lifes believing that they will survive as spirits or astral beings because it gives them a false sense of time.
In my spiritual days I would often quote Peter Pan; “To die would be an awfully big adventure”, but I came to realise years ago that it’s not death that is the adventure, it’s life – death is simply The End.
Three days ago I launched a competition on this blog that offered participants the chance to win a Glow-in-the-dark Placebo Band after having some kindly sent to me in the post by SkepticBros. I asked people to submit the best ghost-themed haiku they could think of and the best would win the band.
I didn’t entertain the idea that I would get even half a dozen entries but the readers of my blog have proven me wrong and I have received eighteen entries in total, which isn’t bad for three days! I have also been really impressed with the quality of the haiku I received too – not that I’m saying I think my readers are unimaginative and uncreative cretins or anything, but they’ve been really rather good, so I thought I’d share the entried with you. The winner is announced at the bottom of the page.
Here are the entires:
Shapes seen mistaken
Wind gusts and old house does groan
The camera lies
Paul Barton, Glasgow
At night ghosts haunt me.
Paralyze me with their eyes.
Laundry by daylight.
Don’t know the answer?
Why bother with evidence?
It MUST be a ghost!
Jake Boone, Oregon, USA
So hurt and alone,
Now my presence is left here,
You may not see me
Greg, California, USA
Shh, it’s dark now, wait
Quick, look, that thing just ran by
Oh, the cat again!
Tracie Louise, Syracuse, USA
Do you hear a noise?
Something goes bump in the night.
Sure it’s my dead Nan.
If you’ve had a fright,
Hayley will set you all right:
No tricks, just insight.
Sean Ellis, Surrey
Hear voice in my head,
Hear voice in my recorder,
Must be ghost with me.
Tom Hail, California
Chains are heard rattling
Flesh creeps and goosebumps appear
Shrieks pierce the night air
‘T-shirt man’, Liverpool
Was that winter’s chill
Clambering over my spine?
Or malignant spirit?
EMF is real
Lights flash bright on your meter
so ghost must be near!
here’s Carl and Yvette
Something goes bang in the night
It’s easy money
Ian Teeling, Chestnuts
Strange voices on tape,
And the camera shows clearly,
Orbs infest this room.
Yvette Fielding asks,
“Is there a spirit in here?”
Of course there isn’t…
John Tanner, Peak District
Shadow people stirring,
must be off my meds.
Chris Reynolds, New Mexico
Is there a ghost here?
Before you decide,
always Check the obvious.
Ofquack [Authors note: HAIKU ALERT!]
I glimpsed, so fleeting;
Messenger from the spirits?
Alas! Bed sheeting!
Mykie Leong, Altrincham
Claim your pub has ghosts?
Hayley will show you have none,
Marketing stunt fail.
You can see why it was so hard to choose one to announce as the winner.
I managed to whittle it down to two that I had to choose from, but I couldn’t because I really liked both of them so I’ve decided to send them both a Placebo Band.
I apologise to those who didn’t win because all of the entries were so good, thank you for entering them and well done for being so creative – you all beat mine hands down!
The winning entries are:
Was that winter’s chill
Clambering over my spine?
Or malignant spirit?
I glimpsed, so fleeting;
Messenger from the spirits?
Alas! Bed sheeting!
Your haiku was great, glow in the dark band is yours, wear it with great joy.
Yes… that was a haiku. (^^)
I will be in touch to arrange where to send the bands, in the mean time you may dance for joy (I’m just testing the bands out now, they really DO glow in the dark! It’s awesome!)
I wrote a blog post similar to this a few weeks ago and it was really popular with visitors so I thought I’d write another. I was inspired to write the first by the Birmingham Skeptics who write a similar post every week. You should check the rest of their site out too – all rather interesting.
Firstly, the Skepchicks have announced a call to action regarding Anti-vax ads that are going to be aired on the screens in Times Square, this dangerous misinformation is going to be seen by thousands of people. Please check the article out and sign the petition to make this not happen. It’s one of the most important things you’ll do today.
I recommend you also check out ‘Science, Reason and Critical thinking’, the blog of Crispian Jago who was recently long listed by for the Orwell Prize! He recently wrote a blog post called ‘Blogger Farm: A Fairytale’ that was written in a similar fashion to Animal Farm by Orwell. That alone made it superb to read, but it also explores bloggers & mainstream media and certainly made some good points.
Kylie Sturgess (Happy birthday, Kylie!) recently conducted an interview with Tim Minchin for CSIcop about using music and comedy to spread “the skeptical word”. With the ‘STORM’ movie recently being launched, it is certainly worth a read.
Something else by Kylie for CSIcop is this interview with Paul Willis, who overdosed on homeopathy in Antarctica as part of the Ten23 overdose in February. I remember being sat in Manchester while Marsh was on stage running through the overdoses that had already happened and the turnouts and the successes (makes me feel proud to have been part of it all over again just writing about it!) Paul was represented on the presentation by the picture of a penguin, but he has spoken to Kylie upon his return to Australia.
Speaking of homeopathy & the Merseyside Skeptics Society, you should also check out this article about the success they encountered recently regarding the funding of homeopathy on the NHS in the Wirral region.
I know, through speaking to Marsh regularly, just how much work the MSS have put into their campaign, the sacrifices that members made and the way their personal lives were occasionally put on hold as the beast they unleashed by the name of Ten23, grew and grew and grew.
Ten23 has been criticised by a wide range of people – not just homeopaths – as a fruitless campaign that wouldn’t achieve anything. So it’s great to see the critics proven wrong (as I knew they would be…)
Speaking about Marsh… (I didn’t realise how heavily the MSS featured in my chosen links for this week, typical!) Marsh recently did a presentation at ‘ThinkCon!’ that was organised and run by Dr Andrew Holding of the Cambridge Skeptics.
Other speakers included Rhys Morgan (whom I discovered would totally make an awesome ghost hunter when I spoke at Cardiff SitP recently…), Professor David Colquhoun & others…
The talks from the speakers mentioned above have been made available online and can be found here. You should check them out if you get the chance.
Next up on my list of recommended articles is this interview by Vue with Daniel Loxton about his upcoming talk titled ‘The Reasonableness of Weird Things’ for LogiCon 2011. Basically, I am extremely jealous of all the people who are attending LogiCon.
The best quote from the Vue article is this:
“Nobody owns critical thinking. Scholarship, critical thinking, investigation, everybody has a right to those things, but we aren’t born knowing them. We have to be taught.”
It’s the point I often raise in the talks I deliver to SitP groups, and it’s the reason I talk at paranormal conferences that are likely to have people in the audience that disagree with me. It’s easy to mock people for having “stupid beliefs”, but that isn’t going to help them see the error of their ways.
As an ex-believer, I say that with certainty. If you’re going to LogiCon, make sure you listen to this talk!
This article over on The 21st Floor talks about a study done by the Yerkes National Primate Research Center by Campbell and de Waal (2011) that has found a link between social groups and empathy in chimpanzees as demonstrated by involuntary yawning responses. I could link to the study directly, but I’ve linked to The 21st floor article because a) it’s where I first read about it and b) I want to bring The 21st Floor website to the attention of my blog readers as it’s a great site and worth checking out regularly.
Oh, also, yawning Chimpanzees! Squee!
Last, but not least, and leading on from the yawning chimps (squee…) is a story from my local newspaper, ‘The Wiltshire Times’ about Annie the elephant who was recently saved from cruel treatment with a circus company (she was the last circus elephant in the UK, she’s 57 years old and didn’t deserve the treatment she suffered at the hands of her grooms).
She was rescued and now lives at Longleat Safari park which is 30 minutes from my front door.It’s a great story and reinforces my love for Longleat Safari Park which I have been visiting since the age of three. If you get the chance you should visit Longleat. I certainly will be as soon as I possible can to see their newest resident.
I think I’ve covered all the articles and features that I found interesting this week. I’m sure there are more, I hope to write a similar blog post next week so feel free to send me articles that have interested you and be sure to enter my Haiku contest to be in with the chance of winning a glow-in-the-dark Placebo band.
I’d like to round up this blog post by personally thanking the person I blogged about last week who couldn’t take the criticism levelled their way and decided instead to write to my boss to “tell” on me. I didn’t get in trouble because my blog clearly states the side bar that what I write does not represent the people I work for or work with. However, it did prove to me that actions do speak louder than words. Your actions, that is.
Have a good weekend 🙂
I’ve never really written much about the four months during which I was unemployed because there’s never been much to say. Until today that is when this article by The Guardian reports that:
The government has admitted that jobcentre staff around the country have been involved in a drive to kick people off benefits amid pressure to meet welfare targets set by their managers.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) initially dismissed revelations in the Guardian last weekend that Jobcentre Plus employees were tricking vulnerable claimants into losing their welfare entitlements. A whistleblower said staff at his jobcentre were given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months.
This doesn’t surprise me. My experience with the Job Centre was always a stressful one, mainly because my application for Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) was processed incorrectly and took weeks and weeks to be corrected. In that time I had no income, which meant no money to pay rent with, which means I’m still in arrears nearly a year later.
I can remember those weeks in which my application was being corrected well, because I spent most of the day every day on the phone trying to get it sorted out and being passed from pillar to post. This was while looking for jobs too, as well as going in to sign on for benefits I wasn’t even getting.
I knew more about my claim and the system through which is had been processed that the people who were meant to be processing it, and every phone call would see me, the claimant, having to explain the same information to different people over and over again.
In this time I applied for around fifty jobs.
Then I finally started to receive the money I was entitled to which meant my family and I could actually afford food (what a luxury).
I then spent week after week applying for dozens and dozens of jobs, which in itself was a tricky task because so many businesses offer jobs that have ‘zero hour contracts’ or are simply less than part-time (four-hour cleaning jobs that I was forced to apply for, despite never having had a cleaning job before. Or 8 hour retail assistant jobs that I was considered “over qualified” for because my training and knowledge lies in retail management and marketing).
Not only that but a lot of vacancies were advertised through agencies that made it impossible to apply properly. One job I applied for in the town I live in would have required me to travel over 30 minutes by train to Bristol to be interviewed. Hardly realistic for someone surviving on JSA…
Then I happened to see a different person one week when I visited my local job centre and she decided that I would qualify for something called ‘Future Jobs Fund’ vacancies. These were exclusive six-month vacancies designed for people who didn’t have work experience and a lot of work history and skills on their CV, who were aged between 16 – 24.
I was 22/23 at the time, but I DID have work experience on my CV (spanning back until the age of 15) and I had lots of skills listed due to vocational courses I have done. However, I was desperate to get a job and knew that if I could get one of these 6-month vacancies I would have a better chance of applying for a permanent job somewhere because when you’re unemployed it seems people wont hire you if they can help it.
So I was given a sheet of local businesses who had these exclusive vacancies and one was at a local theatre whom I got in contact with, applied for the vacancy with, and got the job with. I was employed as a ‘Sales and Publicity Assistant’. I had a job. I was ecstatic. I no longer had to sign on. I no longer had to feel humiliated when I got rejection letters. Woohoo!
It seems though that I was one of the lucky ones because my six-month contract led to a permanent position with the company as their ‘Arts Marketing Officer’. Many of the other people who had temporary jobs from this scheme that I’ve spoken to have had much different experiences and are now back on benefits with no prospects of another job.Of course, they would have had to wait weeks without money while their application for ”Job Seekers Allowance’ was being processed. Back to Square one.
What about the very reason FJF was created though? To give skills to people who didn’t have any to list on their CV? Well, many of their temporary jobs saw people being given titles similar to my ‘Sales & Publicity assistant’ title, but actually just treated like office assistants who would do the crap tasks nobody else in the office wanted to do.
The whole point of the ‘Future Jobs Fund’ vacancies was sold to us as jobs designed to help those without much listed on their CV to get experience and skills they could list – ‘washing up’, ‘filing paperwork’ & ‘photocopying’ aren’t exactly skills that are going to make you stand out against the 50+ other people applying for vacancies.
The general feeling from people who were given temporary jobs by Future Jobs Fund was that companies took part in the scheme to get free labour, and the Job Centres enrolled us on the scheme to get us off their books. The latest news in The Guardian suggests to me that we might have been right all along.