Can We Please Stop Arguing About Which Human Rights Matter Most?

human rights

Last week Ireland overwhelmingly voted in favour of a change to their constitution that will allow same-sex couples the same marriage rights as others. They were the first country to do this by vote which is both odd but also encouraging. Go, Ireland!

Victories like this one should be celebrated and cherished even though gaining the right to marry doesn’t solve all of the issues LGBT people face. I don’t believe that anyone who campaigned for the change to the constitution believed it would, but it’s a good start.

It didn’t surprise me to see people jumping on the celebration of this victory to point out how there were still other injustices in existence. Rebecca Watson, for example, sent out this tweet:

I understand fully where Watson is coming from with this but the timing is pretty bad and it doesn’t read well.  The tone suggests that those who campaigned for same-sex marriage don’t care about women having access to legal abortion and I’m sure that isn’t what Watson was suggesting, but that’s how it reads.

Personally I support campaigns for same-sex marriage, access to safe reproductive health care, access to education, evidence-based sex education in our schools, science education not interfered with by religious texts and much, much more… and just because I might talk about one aspect of a campaign I support at one given time, or just because on campaign might have been successful and I celebrate that doesn’t mean I don’t also care about those other campaigns too.

It’s easy to become frustrated, but I sincerely believe that the success of the vote in favour of same-sex marriage in Ireland should give us hope that the campaign for a referendum to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland which criminalises abortion by equating the right to life of a pregnant woman with that of an embryo or foetus will be successful too.

Seeing people discuss the tweet from Watson reminded me of a recent tweet from Graham Lineham that also disappointed me:

I’ve debated people on several occasions about how a female Doctor in the Doctor Who series would be great, and a few months ago I was also called onto the radio several times to talk about the all-female Ghostbusters movie because I’m an actual female ghostbuster, but I would happily see the Doctor remain a man if it meant that women in Ireland could gain access to safe and legal abortions. Suggesting otherwise is quite insulting… BUT I GET THE ANGER.

I GET IT. Of course we should be angry! We should be angry because Ireland just had to vote in marriage rights for gay people and there are people elsewhere in the world who don’t have those rights, or worse, get killed for simply being LGBT. This shouldn’t need campaigning. It should just be normal.

Women in Ireland have their lives put at risk by the archaic constitution that doesn’t see their worth beyond that of a vessel and women elsewhere experience worse. Here in the UK we just had to deal with MP Fiona Bruce MP’s trying to push through an amendment to Part 5 of the Serious Crime Bill is an attempt to undermine the 1967 Abortion Act and women’s access to reproductive healthcare. Now we’ve got to worry about the Human Rights Act being replaced.

We all have our battles to fight and not all of these fights are done in public. Since being trained as a campaigner by Oxfam I have written so many letters and emails to politicians and MPs about such causes that I’ve had to create a special filing system just for the replies I get. None of this is done in public which is proof, surely, that although gaining publicity for a campaign is a good way to gain support, sometimes campaigning happens away from social media too.

Let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that because people don’t seem to care about the cause you support it doesn’t mean that don’t care at all. We have to be really careful to not allow our anger to turn this into an Opression Olympics. We have to turn our anger into determination and we have to keep fighting the good fight.

I also don’t think it’s truly possible to order injustices in a rank of most worthy or needing of support. How do you compare women not being able to gain safe health care with secular bloggers being hacked to death? How do you compare gay people being attacked and killed with countries torturing and killing alleged criminals? How do you compare systematic child abuse within a religion with the church interfering with AIDS treatments? You can’t. To do so would be unfair because they’re all desperate issues that need our support.

So let’s feed off of the Irish victory from last week and allow it to help us push forwards and make this world a better world for everybody. Tweet, write blogs, donate money, write letters, go to protests, put a sticker on your car, talk to your family and your colleagues, vote when you can. It all matters. I may sound like a massive lefty but I can’t help it. Ireland just achieved something incredible and it makes the other challenges we face seem less impossible somehow.

Recommended Links

Abortion Rights Campaign, Ireland
Abortion Rights, UK
Amnesty International
British Humanist Society
Good Thinking Society
Human Rights Watch
Reproductive Rights
Terrance Higgins Trust
They Work For You (track your MP)

Weakly Ghost Bulletin #13


Strange Orb Visits Space Walk of Fame Museum

Mysterious Universe reports that ‘security camera footage twice showed a mysterious orb’ in the Museum based in Florida. Aptly named Museum president Charlie Mars says that ‘there are many items in here that were brought in by people who are no longer with us. They could be coming back to check on it.’

Unlikely, Mr Mars. The museum may be filled with artifacts from astronauts, space program workers and contractors but there’s no evidence to support the idea that the light anomaly caught on camera is a dead person. It’s just an good old-fashioned out-of-focus particle being illuminated by the camera light source and being carried around on a breeze.

Shadow Stalker: Creepy New Ghost Photo Shows Face Floating In Darkness

face in dark week in weird

This week over at Planet Weird’s ‘Week In Weird’ Dana reports on a new photo that has emerged that shows what she describes ‘a pretty clear, defined human face’. I can see what she means too, but I personally think this is just an illusion. The “ear” looks out of proportion to me. It’s probably just an object in that darkened area being illuminated in a way that looks like face. Check out the original photo on the Week In Weird website.

Including both Mysterious Universe (above) and Week In Weird in this weeks bulletin is great – not because I think they’re rubbish, but because they’re some of my favourite paranormal-related websites that explore contemporary reports of phenomena, even if I don’t always agree with their conclusions.

Ohio Photographer Captures Ghostly Figure Floating Outside An Abandoned Mall

figure outside Ohio mall

Tonya Nester was taking photos of the former Randall Park shopping mall in Ohio when she caught the above oddity in a photo. It is my opinion that this photo was taken from inside a car or from behind a glass partition (a bus shelter, perhaps) and that this “ghost” is actually bird poo or a similar marking on the glass. There are dusty dried water marks also visible which leads me to this conclusion.

hat tip to @anomalistnews on Twitter

Terrifying Ghost Appears Behind Angler As He Poses With Prize Catch

angler with ghost

Nice fish. This photo, it is claimed, shows a ghost behind Wayne Foulkes as he poses with his catch at Ponciau Pool, in Wrexham, North Wales. This fishing spot appears to be in the centre of a built up area of houses. Although I haven’t been able to find similarly shot photos from the fishing pool taken by others at night my suspicion is that this is simply a building illuminated by security lights with fencing or trees causing the illusion of a face.

Pabna School Closed Over Toilet Ghost Panic

Sadly a student at a school in India fell sick and eventually died after using the bathroom of the school. This has led to something of a panic with other children seemingly falling ill after visiting the same bathroom which has been blamed on a ghost. These cases of hysteria are not uncommon. For example, in 2011 a US high school saw an outbreak of a mysterious neurological condition that was most likely a case of group hysteria.

Family Holiday Snap Photobombed By Ghost

19th century photobombing ghost

Technically this didn’t make the headlines in the last week but I couldn’t resist including yet another “photobombing” ghost. To me this looks like someone was just walking up the steps as the family took the photo and they just weren’t aware of them, or didn’t remember them. The person looks as though they’re grey because they’re in the shadow.

Ghost of a Dog at Ruthin Castle Caught In Photo

Again, this story isn’t from the last week but how can I not include it? Julie Ashton of the Manchester Paranormal Team claims to have spotted the ghost of a dog in a photo she took of Ruthin Castle. I’m just going to show you the photos as I think they speak for themselves.

dog ghost ruthin castle

Here is a close up of the ghost orb that shows the ghost dog

close up of dog ghost

…really, Julie? Really?

If You Ban Your Child From Reading A Book You Are Your Child’s Enemy

yes books are dangerous image

I’ve just read this story over on Death and Taxes about US parents who successfully banned the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie because of sex and because, apparently, it was insulting to their christian values.

The book tells the story of Junior who leaves his school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white high school and it has come under fire for reasons ranging from offensive language to sexually explicit scenes. The school board in the Meridian district in Idaho last year voted to remove it from the high-school supplemental reading list, where it had been used since 2010..

The Guardian reported at the time that ‘one local said it subjects children to filthy words “we do not speak in our home”, reported the paper [banning the book], which said the book features “reference to masturbation, contains profanity and has been viewed by many as anti-Christian”.’

In response to this some students raised 350 signatures on a campaign to lift the ban and a local bookstore took heart from this and started a crowd-funding campaign to get all 350 students a free copy of the book. They succeeded, yay! But then, on the evening at which they handed out the free books some parents called the police.

Death and Taxes report that ‘Rediscovered Books worked with a student involved in the petition, Brady Kissel, to distribute the books on World Book Night, an initiative to turn reluctant young readers onto reading with free, super-readable books. They distributed all but 20 books to kids who came in to claim them, but not before parents called the cops to shut down the operation. Police told local news channel KBOI they had been called by “someone concerned about teenagers picking up a copy of the book without having a parent’s permission.”

The book distribution went ahead and then when the publisher of the book, Hachette, heard what had happened and sent Rediscovered Books a whole load more free books to hand out to teenagers which is just so cool. This is a great response to such closed minded actions.

Firstly, World Book Night sounds like an incredible initiative! Secondly,

Fuck. That. Shit. 

Calling the cops on a people for giving out a book you don’t like? Seriously? I genuinely believe that if you ban your child from reading a book you are your child’s enemy. I love reading and I always have. As a child I was considered an advanced reader and not once did my parents ever deny me a book. Perhaps that’s why I turned out to be the liberal, atheist, skeptic, humanist, feminist that I am today (in which case I can understand why conservative Christians would quake in their boots.) Seriously though, when we develop as children and then later during adolescence it’s really important that we are allowed to question the world through our own eyes and minds so that we can make sense of it and ourselves. Books can help us do this and denying a teenager a book because you believe you know what is right for them is patronising and wrong.

“There’s been a lot of talk in American school districts about choice and it centers almost exclusively on parents, without taking into account that young people themselves are individuals with rights to a quality education and to access to information.” – Acacia O’Connor, National Coalition Against Censorship

This whole episode shows just how powerful books are. Inside books live ideas and these ideas are so strong that they scare the closed minded who ban then and burn them. If the scariest thing you can imagine is a teenager thinking for themselves then you’ve got a problem. Why be content with being afraid of ideas?

I’m now off to buy a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie which I hope serves as a lesson to those who got it banned from the schools. You can try to ban books but you will fail because people will read them anyway because books are powerful.

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R. R. Martin

Note: Following the publishing of this post I had a debate on Twitter about banning certain books, the transcript of which is here.

Please Help Me Make My Video Series

photo for indiegogo

I have today launched an Indiegogo campaign in an attempt to fund a video series that I plan to produce to reach a wider audience in a way that isn’t restricted by written word.

Can you really find water with dowsing rods? How easy is it to make a ghost hoax go viral? What happens if you lock a skeptic in a haunted house? Why do Ouija boards seem to work? Can you really trick the human brain into seeing ghosts?

I have a long list of fun, informative videos that I want to produce but I need your help. If you can make a donation that will help me fund this project I would be extremely thankful and you’ll get some really cool rewards!

Check out my Indiegogo campaign now and please consider making a donation and spreading the word.


JREF In Forgetting-Women Shocker?


Some people have reacted in horror, anger and confusion as the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF) revealed the confirmed speakers for their 2015 conference, The Amazing Meeting. Why? Because there are 20 men and 2 women and, out of these 22 speakers 21 are white.

So much diversity!

There are more speakers to be announced for TAM 2015 and I can only hope that they are all the minority speakers otherwise this is just a startling under representation.

I was curious though. Is this really a one off? Or is the JREF just guilty of what so many others are also guilty of? I had just returned from speaking at the 2015 convention for the AHS Students Society where the topic of attracting more diverse members into non-believer communities came up during the panel session I sat on. With this in mind I had a look at some of the other skeptical/atheist/humanist/freethought conferences that I am aware of/attending/speaking at personally this year and this is what I found:

AHS Student Society Convention 2015
9 announced speakers  / 5 women. 4 men.

QEDcon 2015
19 announced speakers / 11 men. 8 women. panels tba.

SkepKon 2015
21 announced speakers / 12 men. 9 women. panels tba.

Centre For Inquiry conference 2015 
38 announced speakers28 men. 10 women. more tba.

BHA Conference 2015
10 announced speakers / 7 men. 3 women. more tba.

American Atheist Conference 2015 
40+ announced speakers / 20+ men. 20+ women.

34 announced speakers / 18 men. 16 women.

SkeptiCal 2015
9 announced speakers / 4 men. 5 women.

European Skeptics Congress 2015 
19 announced speakers / 16 men. 3 women. More tba/calling for participants

Australian Skeptics Convention
11 announced speakers / 5 men. 6 women. More tba

Well that’s… damning, really. Other than the European Skeptics Congress that only has three women so far (mainly due to women approached being unavailable) the TAM speakers list stands out like a sore thumb. There has been so much discussion about diversity within the skeptic scene and skeptic movement in recent years and it is great to see so many event organisers putting in the hard work and finding interesting and diverse speakers to make their events reflect the audiences they want to attract.

Research has even shown that diversity (gender and racial) in speakers at non-religious conferences has increased from 2003 to 2014, as detailed in this paper written by Ian Bushfield and Chris Hassall.

…but this effort has to be consistent. The previous TAM was pretty diverse (despite women reporting they didn’t feel welcome), so what gives?

Hopefully TAM will be announcing more minority speakers over the coming months, but isn’t it a shame to launch an event with such an under-representative speaker list? It certainly raises a lot of questions.