MEDIA REPORTING AND PERCEPTIONS

 

Yesterday, there were a couple of items in the local news from back where my parents live. A man had been stabbed outside Tesco’s, and a body was found in a park just 300m down the seafront from there. Sadly, this isn’t unusual for the area. One of my numerous (and tenuous) claims to fame is that my parents’ house made it on to the national news – because our next-door neighbours got busted in a drugs raid.

I had no reason to believe the two events were linked. There’s enough violence to go round for discrete butcherings. But when they said that a body had been found, it did have some ideas in my head about who it might be. I’d assumed that it was probably an adult, maybe a homeless person dying from a preventable cause, or some alky or junkie succumbing to their vice.

However, today they announced that the body was that of an infant, a girl. This to me seemed more shocking, not because I believe younger lives are worth more than older lives, or that babies are more ‘precious’, but because this is really unusual. Oh, and it challenged my assumptions.

I wonder what that person’s story is.

How did they get there?
How did they die?
Were they loved?

Maybe we’ll find out in time. Maybe we won’t. I’m sure that I’ll be wrong about a lot more.

 

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE

 

When we speak of Intimate Partner Violence, we inevitably think of battered wives and outward signs of abuse.  Yet much of the control and domination is more difficult to see from the outside, and as a result it can be difficult to put a name to that type of violence.  Indeed, there are some who don’t believe it’s that serious at all.

Ironically enough, gaslighting falls into this abuse category, and it is perpetuated by doubters by making the victim question if they’re really sure it was abuse.  I’ve had a difficult past, and there are many things that have been left unresolved that affect me to this day.  A friend who works with survivors of abuse sent me some factsheets that are used in recovery programs, to help me make sense of what I experienced.  Links are available by clicking on the subheadings below.

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion is a tool developed to explain the methods used to break the will or brainwash a prisoner of war.  Domestic violence experts believe that domestic abusers use these same techniques.

This second link contains the original language used by Biderman specifically regarding PoWs; I have included it here for context and comparison. Click Here

The Duluth Model

The Duluth Power and Control Wheel is a visual representation of the concept that Domestic Abuse involves a wide range of behaviours which are reinforced by actual or threatened physical/sexual violence with the purpose of having control over a victim [Source: Newcastle Women’s Aid].

Often, emotional abuse and control is a precursor to actual violence.  Even if it never reaches that point, it can break a person’s spirit and have profound & long-lasting consequences for their mental health & wellbeing.  It’s important that we take this form of abuse seriously, not just in its own right, but as an indicator of the likelihood of worse to come.

When I left, things had started to become violent.  I’m sure that I would have left sooner if I had the confidence to trust my instincts, and if I knew that there was a recognised pattern of abuse that I was experiencing.  When I was going through this, I just wasn’t sure how to describe what was going on, and because I’d only been hit once or twice, I thought “it wasn’t really proper violence, was it?”  Friends and relatives downplayed my worries, and put it down to arguments, or me being “difficult”.  We need to educate people on the reality of domestic abuse – that it takes many forms and it isn’t all physical.  Please share this post widely – the more knowledge available to ordinary citizens, the more we can take control of our own lives.

 

FUJIFILM: SEXISM FROM INNOVATION

 

Today was a Throwback Friday! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?  This week, we’re going back to the 1970s, so get your tank tops and platform heels ready!  Fujifilm, somewhat unbelievably, ran a press conference with a product demo that included a semi-naked female body as a prop for “testing the camera’s performance on skin tone”.  Yeah right, pull the other one.  It was a thinly-veiled excuse to cover up that they brought out a topless model to titillate the all-male audience.

Fortunately, one of them spoke out.  Everyone listened to him because, well, he’s a man.  Women have been complaining about this sort of thing for decades, but are routinely mocked and silenced.

 https://twitter.com/dannynorthphoto

The Metro’s article on this is surprisingly good (usually The Metro’s only any good if the train toilet’s run out of bog roll on the morning commute) – you can read it by clicking here.

My thoughts on this aren’t as stereotypically righteous as you might imagine.  While I do find it offensive that this was deemed an appropriate marketing technique in 2017, I’m actually really embarrassed for Fujifilm.  Like, seriously, did no-one tell them it’s 2017?

When I first started working in engineering; design offices and site cabins had nude calendars everywhere, hardcore pornography was sent round the office by email, and corporate jollies involving strip clubs were commonplace (this was in the early 2000s).  There was very much an atmosphere of it being a “men’s space”.  I did not dare question this set-up, as those in charge were the same ones who were responsible for my progression and pay-packet.  Worse than that, I was frequently underestimated and was the brunt of every “dumb woman” or “feminazi” joke going.  If Bernard Manning had walked in one day, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

As more and more women enter professions that are traditionally male-dominated, there is a transition period where nasty behaviours get exposed and weeded out.  The first women through the doors have to bear the brunt of the sexism and complaints that they’re ruining everything, and it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad or Feminism Going Too Far.  There’s an element of this still in motoring and gaming (please, please, please, no-one mention GamerGate).

While I find it really childish that groups of grown men left to their own devices are only comfortable working in a playground environment, I also find it fascinating.  Why does this happen almost universally in male-dominated circles?  Given that I know a ton of men who aren’t rampant sexists, but who also wouldn’t complain about it either, here’s what I think is going on:

A few macho types at the top of the food chain proudly display their masculinity by creating an atmosphere in which overt manliness is the norm.  No-one is going to question it, as to be seen doing so would make one “less manly” (oh nooooooooooooooooo!).  And in not questioning it, all of the men get to enjoy the benefits: loads of pictures of boobs, and none of those pesky women hanging around telling them they can’t make poo jokes all day.  Outside of this environment, these men (including the ringleaders, most of the time) behave like civilised human beings – they wouldn’t want anyone behaving around their mothers or wives like that, right?  Trouble is, it perpetuates the problem, and makes it hard for women to succeed in these fields.  As well as being made to feel uncomfortable, it’s a lot easier to dismiss and ignore those that you openly hold in contempt.

Apparently photography is a male-dominated field (quelle surprise!).  I wonder how many other instances of this there are that we don’t hear about.  I doubt any of those Good Men Who Say Nothing will be opening their mouths about it any time soon.  Maybe it’s because they are embarrassed too.

 

MODIFIED AND EMPLOYED

 

I recently joined a Facebook group that is an anechoic chamber, so that I could have more fiery and meaningful discussions than the samey agreement and self-congratulatory nature of my regular feed.

And it just so happened that one of the first posts I saw was on my expert subject of body modification.  And it had the type of responses you might see in the feed of someone more straight-laced than I… it reminded me of a conversation I had with my bestie the other week.  We were out for a stroll to the tattoo studio (by some amazing coincidence), and after discussing the more mainstream mods, we moved in to the realm of The Jobstopper.  We’re both heavily into body modification, and we both have respectable office jobs.  Some employers are really twitchy about anything out-of-the-ordinary appearance wise, but we have been lucky in finding workplaces that are a little more accepting.  Their appreciation of diversity allows us to be ourselves, and to be devoted to our careers (I feel more loyal to my employer because they accept me as I am).  And, our conversation went something like this:

BESTIE: I’m thinking about sub-dermal implants; the piercer had some amazing ones!

ME: Yeah, it’s something I’ve thought about too, but I’m not sure what I’d get, so maybe one for the future.

BESTIE: How about some horns? [Aside: if you’re wondering what this is about, false horns can be created by sliding a silicone “horn” into a pocket made under the skin.  It’s then stitched up and bandaged, and in a few weeks you have some nicely healed horns.]

ME: Honestly, I think that’s going a bit far.  I mean my employer has put up with a lot from me, appearance-wise.  I can just imagine the conversation now: “Look, Science Lady, when we took you on, we were aware of the visible tattoos, and the facial piercings, which seem to have grown in number.  And the blue hair, well, we were a bit taken aback by that; but we thought, hey, it’s just one of those quirky things.  But this – horns for f@ck’s sake!  Horns!  Did you even think about how this is going to look to clients?  Seriously, it’s your body and all, but if you don’t come in tomorrow with a tail implant to match then we’re going to have to make this a disciplinary matter.”

This guy is a lawyer. Seriously.
This is what I use for my signature blue hair, after application of copious amounts of bleach.

 

DANGER! DANGER!

 

I’ve got some new stuff in my Science Lady store on Cafepress. In a similar theme to the Periodic Table merch, I’ve created a line of products based on hazard symbols. So far I’ve focused on the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s standard Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), but I will be adding more over time.

Don’t be a mug; buy one of mine!

Please let me know in the comments if you have any ideas for future products that you’d like to see!

 

NOTES FROM A SMALLER ISLAND

 

A while back, I posted about UK immigration policy (this was pre-Brexit, before Brexit was a twinkle in Boris Johnson’s eye, even) and I mooted the idea that our government might be steering the UK towards a lower, and hopefully sustainable, population with a correspondingly smaller economy.  Well, recent events suggest that this could be a possibility.

I attended an event held by GMSS, on “Misrepresenting Reality” – a critique of the information provided by the Leave campaign (most of which turned out to be lies and/or appeals to nostalgia).  Well, I say attended, what I mean is that I missed the whole talk but snuck in during the extended Q&A (hey, I have a demanding job).

One of the questions asked of the speaker (who is a Professor in European Law, so they know their stuff) was whether they had heard any good arguments in support of Brexit.  They said no, but there was one possibility that no-one has mentioned – that Brexit would result in the UK’s population and economy reducing in size and resulting in a smaller, sustainable nation with comfortable living standards but no aspirations to be anything greater.

Personally, I don’t think that would be a good thing, but it would be an argument that actually held some water, in comparison to jingoistic ranting and slogans painted on buses.  It seems that there are decisions happening as to where our country is headed.  I see it as being in one of two broad directions:

  1. Economic growth, high population, high output – We aim to keep producing, innovating, and competing as a first-world player.  We take an active role on the world stage, with diplomatic and military influence and an international outlook.  In order for this to happen, our infrastructure and population need to consistently grow, and we have to be able to maintain this growth against competitor nations who may have an advantage in terms of efficiency in terms of production and labour costs (I’m looking at you, China and India).  High immigration is necessary to bolster the population, due to the below-replacement birth rate of indigenous Brits.
  2. Declining economy, low population, low output – we accept that other countries will overtake us, and we make the decision to go quietly.  We reduce our population by curbing immigration, and continuing with policies designed to discourage people from having large families.  We maintain a decent quality of life by relying more on our own industries, with some overseas trade in specialised products and services.  We maintain a foothold in international politics, but our role is far less significant.  The capacity of our armed services is whittled down even further and take a more ceremonial and/or peacekeeping role.

You may decide that you prefer one or other of those options, or neither, or you might not have any strong feelings on it.  But one thing we do know is that this was not the Brexit Britain we were promised.  We’re not going to bring The Empire back – and I’m sure there will be many disappointed Leavers who feel they got sold a pup.

 

THE REGRESSIVE LEFT FALLACY

 

Here we are with another example of skeptics making thinking errors that they’d pick up on if someone else did it. However this is a bit more than just a failure of logic – it’s also a distortion of the original term. While words can and do change meaning, it doesn’t mean that we can appropriate a phrase and twist it to mean whatever we feel like. We get all pissy when “deniers” are referred to as “skeptics”, so let’s not be hypocrites as well, eh?

The “regressive left” was coined by Maajid Nawaz in his 2012 memoir “Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening“, describing ‘”well-meaning liberals and ideologically driven leftists” in the United Kingdom who naïvely and ‘ignorantly pandered to” Islamists and helped Islamist ideology to gain acceptance.’  It is related to another of his phrases “the racism of low expectations“, which refers to the application of lower moral standards to people within minorities, based on the notion that they are unable to take criticism or adopt universal standards of morality, due to their being backward or uncivilised.

However, this phrase is really doing the rounds on the internet at the moment, applied to anyone who is prepared to step outside of their comfort zone and find common ground with those who are different.  A significant part of the problem is hostility to religious folk, something written about here, by Hayley Is A Ghost.  And the atheist community’s favourite example of such “loony left” behaviour is the Goldsmith’s LGBT Society’s support of the University’s Islamic Society.

Here’s a summary of what happened:

The SU’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society invited Maryam Namazie to give a presentation.  Some members of the Islamic Society were unhappy about this and attended the talk with the intention of interrupting her and preventing her from speaking.  With SUs being what they are, and student bodies being willing to support the oppressed, reports of what happened were misrepresented as the event being discriminatory to Muslims, and many people were outraged about it (which would have been a fair response if that was what actually happened).  Other student societies who campaign for social justice stood in solidarity with the Islamic Society, because they saw an alignment of principles.  And this is where it started to go really, really wrong.

Now, the LGBT & Feminist Societies aren’t populated by idiots.  These are educated, if idealistic, young adults standing up for human rights in spite of the knowledge that Islam isn’t totally OK with women and The Gays.  It was the problem of perceived oppression that was the issue.  It’s something that many of us would do if we believed that people were being unjustly treated, even if we don’t personally share all the values of the group we seek to assist.

In keeping with their behaviour at Namazie’s talk, the Islamic Society then behaved in a not-entirely-honourable fashion:

Tweet by Goldsmiths Islamic Society's then-president
Oh dear.

Tweets by Goldsmiths Islamic Society's then-president
#cringe

It was rather amusing to see this clash of cultures played out in the Twittersphere, but I never thought of it as anything more than an awkward misjudgement of the character of others.  The LGBT and Feminist Societies acted in good faith, and perhaps naively, expected others to do so as well.  Anyone with half a brain knows that #notallmuslims are like this, and it should have just ended as an unfortunate incident that hopefully teaches us to be more aware of others’ motivations.  But no!  Never ones to miss an anti-theist bandwagon, it really captured the imagination of the skeptical movement, and not to be discriminatory in their nature, they then aimed their mockery at SUs as well as Islam – in particular any of the left-leaning societies (this is a weird thing, most skeptics I know are left-of-centre, yet right-wing ideas are very popular if they push the right buttons.  Maybe we’re not sceptical enough).

One thing I heard was that they were like “turkeys voting for Christmas”, and that Skeptical Trump Card, The Regressive Left (booooooooooooooooooooo!).  Well, at the time, I felt quite off about it, but it wasn’t clear enough in my mind to articulate my opposition to it.  But the popularity of this idea grew, and it got more tiresome with every minute.  And so, here’s some commentary from the recent #womensmarch:

I wonder how much this person cares about women’s rights on days they can’t point out a contradiction?

 

It featured heavily on my timeline, and, well, I’m not one to let these things slide:

The Regressive Left strikes again!
Of course I had to weigh in. Friends don’t let friends make dumbass mistakes like this.
This person, commenting elsewhere, summed up how I feel about the whole debacle:

I decided to educate myself on the identity of woman in the picture, with the US flag headscarf. Her name is Munira Ahmed, and she intended the image to demonstrate that she, as a Muslim, is as American as anyone else.  And it’s an important point: Muslims are as diverse as just about any population you can think of.  The caricature of Muslims perpetuated by the New Atheist Movement is horribly simplistic and creates division.  We can’t say with any integrity that we will not support those women who look different from us, or those who are oppressed by our country’s actions.  And what about Muslim women who do feel oppressed by the headscarf?  Do we support them, but only as long as they take it off when in our presence?  Of course it is possible to hold both beliefs: that Muslims are human beings who we should care about, and that the headscarf can be a tool of female oppression.  That doesn’t seem so regressive to me.

 

ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE

 

Valentine’s Day is coming up, and because I don’t subscribe to the “I don’t need a special day to show my love for my partner” / “it’s numerology” / “I’m a heartless cynic” fad, I’m going to recommend some of my science-themed products for you to buy!  I may also add that I enjoy earning money, so if you wanted to show your love for me by purchasing my stuff, that would be wonderful.

First up, is my Periodic Table merch.  If you get creative, there’s a lot you can do with chemical symbols.  How about trying some of these?

Or, how about these?  As well as the object of your affection, you might also love science and maths.  And what do we need for love?  Oxytocin!  Although it’s not strictly true to say that that’s all you need.

I Love Science gifts I Love Maths gifts All You Need Is Oxytocin

There are more Valentines gifts available at my Hallowe’en In January shop, if a more metaphysical vibe is what you’re after.

 True Love tattoo gifts  To The Virgins, To Make Much Of Time  Love Birds tattoo gifts

Happy Valentine’s Everyone!

F*CK YOU, 2016.

 

One thing that pretty much everyone can agree on is that 2016 has been universally shite.  All the best celebs have died, we voted for Brexit, and Donald Trump was elected President.  I’m almost convinced that there could be a God after all, due to 2016 looking like an elaborate practical joke contrived by a mischievous overlord.  And that’s just a brief summary of all the terrible things that happened last year up until the beginning of November (I’ve probably missed a few, so much bad shit went down last year).  Also, these are things that were of note in the white, middle-class, Western world.  That’s just the frame of reference that I have.  Things might have looked a lot rosier in other cultures (every cloud, etc).

On 12th November, Twitter user @christhebarker created a Sgt. Pepper-themed montage of all those that 2016 had stolen from us (although 2016 really wasn’t done by this point).  Hover over the picture for more info about those in the image.

Denise Robertson Ed Stewart Carla Lane Garry Shandling Johan Cruyff Prince Buster Sir George Martin Anton Yelchin Howard Marks Leonard Cohen Arnold Palmer Harper Lee Pierre Boulez Gareth Thomas Erik Bauersfeld Glenn Frey Keith Emerson Burt Kwouk Sir Jimmy Young Paul Daniels Sir Terry Wogan Cliff Michelmore Jean Alexander Muhammad Ali Frank Kelly Caroline Aherne George Kennedy Maurice White David Gest Gene Wilder Lemmy Kilmister Prince David Bowie Pete Burns Alan Rickman Zaha Hadid Ronnie Corbett Victoria Wood Robert Vaughn Jo Cox MP Sylvia Anderson Kenny Baker Tony Dyson The Toblerone Travesty Donald Trump PEOTUS Leicester City Premier League Champions 2016

 

But after that, we needed to add another whole damn row, because 2016 is a right bastard, apparently:

blub

Is 2016 all that unusual?  Yes and No.  The number of celebrity deaths, international incidents, wars, and other human-induced clusterfucks is no more than in any other year, proportionally.  But as I said at the start, the events that have caught our attention have been skewed to the Western middle-class span of interests, and so it looks like we’ve been particularly hard done by this year.  And there are other confounding factors.  Think about when we started to define people as “celebrities” by modern standards – it was around the time that television really took off, from the 1950s.  People who made their name in early TV are well into old age now, and those household figures who have become so familiar are just like any of us, mere mortals.  So this might be the start of a wave of well-known figures dying off.  Which would make 2016 seem less exceptional in a few years from now.

Some of those celebrity deaths have been of relatively young people – Carrie Fisher, Prince, George Michael, David Bowie – but even though most of us will make it into old age, there is a sizeable minority of any population that is just unlucky and dies young.  I know people who’ve died in their 20s, 30s and 40s.  All of these deaths are tragedies, but they’re not as unusual as we think.

And even if 2016 is a statistical blip (which it probably isn’t), such is the nature of chance.  If all deaths occurred at a uniform rate, then THAT would be unusual. So whatever it is; more celebrities getting to an older age, more people being recognised as celebrities, better media reporting, whatever – we are just going to have to accept that Shit Happens.  And 2016 was really shit, wasn’t it.

 

THE GOD OF THE GAPS FALLACY FALLACY

 

“The God Of The Gaps” is something I hear mentioned a lot in skeptical circles. The concept is that because it has taken humans many thousands of years to develop the scientific knowledge we now collectively hold, that religion was used as a placeholder while we caught up with the facts. But I can see numerous problems with this idea – which, as I discovered while researching this article, never originally meant what skeptics take it to mean nowadays. It was actually a term used by Christian theologians to caution against the type of argument in which believers would say “well, science can’t explain this, therefore God”.  And that’s actually a pretty smart argument – if you’re a person of power within the Christian religion (or any religion), things are going to get awkward when your evidence for God’s existence is progressively overturned by advances in science.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/God_of_the_gaps

However, in popular modern usage, it means something rather different; a version of the argument-from-ignorance fallacy, that:

  • There is a gap in understanding of some aspect of the natural world.
  • Therefore the cause must be supernatural.

But this is a huge simplification, nay, thinking error, in terms of what’s actually happening in the minds of believers.

Categorising the argument this way is useful for understanding the history and philosophy of religion and science, as we can see the pattern of questioning and rejecting religion during the enlightenment years of scientific inquiry & discovery.  This is an important part of history that we must understand & record, but we mustn’t make the error of thinking it was a well-executed plan. We can look back and observe the changes, and learn from how the knowledge spread. But to conflate the evolution of human learning 200 years ago with the reasons that people choose faith over reason today, doesn’t make any sense.  It is effectively a post hoc, ergo propter hoc argument on our part.

1. While there are some unknowns about many areas of science, we know enough about the scientific origins of just about everything now to only have gaps that would accommodate a vanishingly tiny god. There are many religious sects that keep their adherents ignorant, precisely because of the risk of them abandoning their faith if they were to hear of alternative explanations. There are no more significant gaps.

2. A common mistake skeptics make is to assume that other, ordinary, people make choices based on logic and reason. Trying to “debunk” faith with science is like arguing with the archetypal chess-playing pigeon. It is completely pointless. Both sides leave the discussion thinking that they’ve “won”, having achieved nothing. Faith in anything is just that: faith. And faith occurs independent of any knowledge to the contrary. It is powerful, illogical, and rooted in emotional needs. The devout are able to hold their strong beliefs in a world of information because of cognitive dissonance.  The gaps may get smaller, but the faith does not contract in turn.

3. Not only is it a mistake to think that one can argue on a rational basis with a fundamentalist, but it is to fall into a trap from which one cannot escape. To think that the deeply religious are less intelligent than the rest of us is naive and dangerous. Our religious debating opponent is not stupid – they are well-practised in arguing against attacks on their beliefs, and one useful tactic is to play it coy, to let us believe we have the upper hand, and then pull the rug from under our feet. Arguing against belief with science will never be successful. If someone is to leave their faith, they must arrive at that conclusion by themselves.

To summarise, The God Of The Gaps Fallacy Fallacy is one argument we really need to drop. We’ve been arguing this point for decades and have gained no ground. If anything, it’s made the faithful even more firm in their convictions. And it reinforces the stereotype of the hard-hearted, uncaring, dogmatic atheist. We need to stop picking fights that we’ll never win. It’s not a betrayal of principles; we spend much of our time firming them up and confirming our convictions anyway! If the faithful can hold such stock in their stories in the event of conflicting evidence, why can’t we trust in what we know to be fact?