Make the World Better


Yesterday at TAM2012 in Las Vegas I gave the hardest talk I’ve ever given. I present it annotated below. The out pouring of love I’ve received has been truly overwhelming, and I thank all of you for the strength you have given me.

update 08/17/2012
My talk was posted by the JREF on YouTube. It’s now embedded below.

Presented at Saturday, July 14, 2012

This is the forth time I’ve been given the opportunity to speak at TAM. Each year I’ve written a new speech and work to write something that is relevant to the moment. This year I’ve struggled with my talk more than I’ve ever because I’m not entirely sure how to say what I want to say.

The past few weeks leading into TAM have been absolutely insane. Looking around the internet there have been terrible sadnesses and awe inspiring goodness. We live in a world that sometimes seems like nothing but extremes.

We saw a school bus driver bullied by out of control teens (link), and we saw the internet respond by starting out planning to raise money to send her on vacation and instead changing her life. (link)

We saw a New York 5th grader forbidden to give his winning speech on same-sex marriage, a speech that says “Who are we to judge… We must learn to accept all differences” … well he was judged by a close minded principal who tried to silence his ideals. But then, in response to a massive internet outcry, that principle felt compelled to allow that child to speak his heart in a special assembly. In his speech, he went on to say, “If we judge people like this, this is a form of prejudice. We must learn to accept all differences. … ?In conclusion, I hope that everyone understands how important ?it is to respect everyone for who they are.” (link)

We live in a society that in many ways is broken, but sometimes, remarkable humans decide they are just going to do what they can to make the world better, and they do this because they can, and ask if anyone minds only later.

Two weeks ago, Google high-lighted the Virtual Star Parties that my dear friend Fraser Cain hosts and that I and many others participate in. Here’s the video.

I work with some of the best people in the world.

In reaction Tim Farley wrote: “Fraser didn’t ask permission from anyone to do this. He didn’t conduct any focus groups or conduct a study. He just saw an opportunity and took it.”

This is powerful.

Fraser is one of those remarkable humans who has decided he is just going to do what he can to make the world better, and he does this because he can, and asks if anyone minds only later.

Doing what he does isn’t easy. It’s a lot easier to do nothing… easier to lose hope that anything can even be done. And there are people out there who would encourage despair.

If, like me, you’re a child of the 80s, you may remember a movie called “Neverending Story”. It came out when I was a dorky little kid. This movie contained a certain giant wolf who totally understands trolls and their effect of creating their own great nothing in the world. (link) When asked why he is helping the great nothing destroy their world, this wolf responds, “It’s like a despair, destroying this world. … people who have no hopes are easy to control.”

Looking around the internets, I see a lot of people sitting around trolling, and a lot people experiencing despair. There are YouTube videos of people complaining, and blog posts of people expressing their hurt, and in many cases there are legitimate reasons for people to be upset. There are people dying because we’ve lost herd immunity (link). There are lesbian teens in texas being killed for falling in love (link). There are so many cases of abuse that it hurts to read the news. There are lots of real reasons to be frustrated about the world we live in and it is easy to complain… and it is easy to lose hope.

It is dreaming that is hard.

The Neverending story, in its childhood tale of morality, addresses this too. Through the voice of the Childlike Empress, the boy outside the story is asked, “Why don’t you do what you dream, Bastian?” Bastian replies the way I think so many of us reply when when asked why we don’t follow our wildest dreams, “But I can’t, I have to keep my feet on the ground!” (link)

Dreaming is hard. It requires risks. It requires you to own the fact that you are capable of something great.

A few years ago, I came across a powerful quote that was attributed to anonymous.

“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ” (link to old blog post on this quote)

I’d challenge you to let your feet fly off the ground and I’d challenge you to dream big and let your light push away the darkness of dispair in the world.

I challenge you to change the world.

Now I recognize that is a pretty big challenge. How many different inspirational posters have you seen encouraging you to just be the change you want to see in the world.

It’s kind of demotivating, and let’s face it, in reality, it often seems that no good deed goes unpunished. But don’t let that stop you. Do good, but know you may get punished – that’s reality.

I’m an astronomer. For the past 10 years I’ve been listening to folks bitch and moan about how people have stopped dreaming, about how NASA is failing, about “Oh whoa is space exploration, where’s my jetpack.” Tied in with these complaints was a blame game of the public saying NASA was boring, NASA saying “We’re not boring, but we can only do so much with our funding – Congress needs to give us funding,” and Congress… well congress says a lot of things. You can look around the internet – Heck you can look at past talks from this conference! – and you can see people complaining.

But complaining doesn’t build our jet plane future. We build our jet plane future.

Last winter I had the opportunity to attend The Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference. In attendance where NASA superstars and heroes of the past. Neil Armstrong – First Man in Space. THAT Neil Armstrong – gave the opening address! In attendance were the leaders of tomorrow – the entrenpenuers behind Virgin Galactic, Blue Orbit, Xcor, and a myriad of other commercial space corporations. These were men and women who dreamed of a rocket planes and having made their money online, they decided to make their dreams reality by hiring the engineers who could build the rocket planes, build the space suits, and build their future.

While not at that sub-orbital conference, the greatest role model of this future building ideal is Elon Musk. This South African born engineer made his start in Paypal. Energy and aerospace are two of his passions, and today he is channelling his talents into SpaceX and Tesla Motors. When I stood on this stage last year, I spoke about how we were just one week past the last flight of the Space Shuttle. Today, as I stand here, because one man decided to do something, I can tell you that we are well on our way to regaining US manned space exploration, and with tomorrow’s rockets we will go farther than we have ever gone before.

SpaceX is truly an awesome thing. Commercial space flight is opening up a new barnstorming style of innovations, but todays test craft aren’t soaring grannies over cornfields, they are preparing to fly grannies and grandpas over the Earth’s atmosphere.

Society is in the process of undergoing radical change as we in many ways return to a less centralized way of doing things. Great minds of all ages are innovating a new reality.

Nicolas Negroponte saw a digital divide, so he worked on the One Laptop per Child program. He never got the systems he dreamed of, but his ideas lead to today’s netbooks, and to low cost computers that do start to narrow the chasm between the connected and the offline.

Mohammad Yunus recognized the ability of microfinacing to change the world and worked to define micro lending programs that make very small loans to individuals – often women – to seed new businesses. Today this same idea is behind Kickstarter and Indiegogo and many other websites where individuals can propose products and projects and seek community funding. Through these projects people are building their dreams, and the community is funding that construction. Through social media this is becoming a shared experience as we virally reshape our world one idea and one donation at a time.

I am one of those people who just wants to do something. And I like working with other people who just want to do something, and through this community I’ve gotten to know and respect, and often befriend other doers. The JREF is named after a man who fought to debunk charlatans and fakers. I don’t need to tell you Randi’s story, you can watch in the movie “red lights”. Following in his footsteps are successive generations of magicians. Fighting new fights are people like Eugenie Scott who is fighting to keep real science in schools and the false doctrine of young earth creationism out. Faced with a vaccination crisis Elyse Anders and others started raising money to get people vaccinated, and today we have the “Hug me, I’m vaccinated” campaign. These are doers.

And in astronomy, all through history, every day people have risen to the challenge and become the doers who innovate how we understand our universe. In 1781, composer and concert director William Herschel discovered Uranus. Through the 1870s, sanitation worker Andrew Ainslie Commons pioneered the field of astrophotography. The early twentieth century saw radio engineer Grote Reber take his commercial radio skills and turn them skyward as he built a backyard 9-m radio dish to map the radio sky. Over the past century, advances in optics and technology have allowed amateurs to add larger telescopes and ever more advanced equipment to their scientific arsenal. This has allowed amateur astronomers to see more and do more, and has also led to a flourishing of research opportunities both as observers and online research assistants.

For a while now, several of us – specifically myself, Phil Plait the Bad Astronomer and Fraser Cain, the publisher of Universe Today – have randomly talked about how to better make astronomy and science in general accessible to everyone, and how to engage anyone who wants to spend their spare time doing science… well, doing science. Our project, CosmoQuest, launched in January

CosmoQuest seeks to build an online research center for the public that engages people in interesting science problems while providing them opportunities parallel to what they’d experience at a research institution.  I’d like to introduce you to a project that we are demoing at our booth in the Lobby: MoonMappers.

The universe truly is your to be discovered.

Our goal with CosmoQuest is to create a community of people bent on together helping scientists do science; a community of people who can explain why what they do matters, and what questions they are helping to answer. We want to create a community, and here is where I invite all of you to be a part of what we’re doing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, as much as I try to be a doer, I’ve had plenty of my own “Rant on the internet” moments. But at the end of the day, I try really hard to remind myself not to feed the trolls.

But sometimes you can’t avoid the trolls, and they seem to be demanding food.

When I started this talk I highlighted places where something had gone wrong in the world, but the goodness of people like you working on the internet made it right. In my perfect world, that is the way things work. Things go well, and when they don’t, people step forward and fix.

Unfortunately, the internet is filled with trolls who sometimes work overtime to break what is right with the world.

Back in June Anita Sarkeesian tried to raise just $6000 to do a web series on how women are portrayed in video games. To look at things like, why is it always some guy rescuing the princess, instead of some female warrior rescuing the captured king. The internet responded by helping her raise more than 26x what she’d asked for. It was awesome. (link)

But then the trolls responded.

Here I’m going to read an excerpt from the NewsStatesman, which in turn quotes Anita.

Even if you don’t like the idea – or don’t believe that women are poorly represented in games … then isn’t it fine for other people to give money to something they believe in?

Except some kind of Bastard Klaxon went off somewhere in the dank, moist depths of the internet. An angry misogynist Bat Signal, if you will.

In Sarkeesian’s own words:
“The intimidation and harassment effort has included a torrent of misogyny and hate speech on my YouTube video, repeated vandalizing of the Wikipedia page about me, organized efforts to flag my YouTube videos as “terrorism”, as well as many threatening messages sent through Twitter, Facebook, Kickstarter, email and my own website.  These messages and comments have included everything from the typical sandwich and kitchen “jokes” to threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape. ”

Anita tried to do good. Because of this, folks have labeled her a terrorist.

This is not okay. You can make a difference though. You can be the one to not feed the trolls by arguing with them, but instead, simply hit that report button, hit the block button – get them banned. Work to send them the message that what they are doing is wrong and will not be tolerated.

Imagine a world in which all the time, all the energy and and all the bandwidth that goes into cyber bullying and trolling instead goes into building good things.

I have built the place to do astronomy. Others have built spaces to do art, to participate in wildlife studies, to work on story telling, to test and debunk false consumer products, and and so many other awesome projects. Find what you are passionate about and build.

This talk is one I struggled to write. To finish this talk I have to step out of my comfort zone and give an honest acknowledgement that trolling isn’t something that just happens in nebulous random places on the internet and it isn’t just people being verbal in their close-mindedness. Sometimes things are more physical and more scary. As an astronomer, at professional conferences, I’ve randomly had my tits and ass grabbed and slapped by men in positions of power and by creeps who drank too much. This is part of what it means to be a woman in science. With the creeps I generally hold my own and get them to back off like I would with any asshole in a bar. With the people in power… I commiserate with the other women as we share stories of what has been grabbed by whom. I know as I say this that it sounds unbelievable – and how can we report the unbelievable and expect to be believed?

This isn’t to say women shouldn’t go into astronomy. It is just to say that in the after hours events, you sometimes need to keep your butt to the wall and your arms crossed over your chest.

Some of you have to have power to stop discrimination and harassment. It pisses me off to know that as strong as I am, I know I’m not powerful enough to name names and be confident that I’ll still have a career.

But some of you are people with power who can change things.

It’s often hard for women and minorities to rise to positions of power – to break through that glass ceiling. This is in someways a self-efficacy issue, where the constant down pouring of belittling comments and jokes plays a destructive role in self confidence. At my university, I’ve heard tenured faculty laugh that there is a policy not to hire women into tenure track physics positions. They do this in front of the junior faculty.  I’ve heard people joke that the reason I’m in a research center rather than in Physics is because I have boobs. It’s all said with a laugh. So far, its been nothing actionable or against the law. But it hurts, because I know the women who work for me, strong awesome powerful women like the Noisy Astronomer Nicole Gugiliucci and like Georgia Bracey are going to be hearing this, and it is going to effect their self esteem as they look to build their own carreers. I know it hurts my self esteem. And I know there is nothing I can do to change the reality I am in.  I could move to another university – I could change which reality I’m in – but that would leave behind a university devoid of women role models who are capable in physics and computer science, the two fields that my students come from. I stay, and I try to be the example of a woman doing things that matter. I try to say Brains, Body, Both – it is possible even in computational astrophysics.

Here in the skeptics community, we, like every other segment of society, have our share of individuals who, given the right combination of alcohol and proximity will grab tits and ass. I’ve had both body parts randomly and unexpectedly grabbed at in public places by people who attend this conference – not at this conference, but by people at this conference. Just like in astronomy, it’s a combination of the inebriated guys going too far – guys I can handle –  and of men in power being asses.

I know that there has been a lot of internet buzz over the last two years about these issues. This community is filled with strong women. A Kovacs and MsInformation are two ballsy women I draw inspiration from. These are just two of the many SkepChicks, and many of the Skeptical and scientific podcasts have female hosts. When they see something wrong, they ask for ways to protect people from being hurt. And they do like Surly Amy did and raise money to get women here – women who together can support one another so that when we go home we have a network of women to turn to to support us even at a distance. These are women who react to  problems with a sharp word and a needed call to action that is designed to fix the problems

I know this is an uncomfortable topic. An I know that my talk is going to provoke some of you who don’t think I should air dirty laundry. But I see a problem and I can’t change it alone.

 Changing our society takes all of us. Doing something is being that guy, and I’ve had two different guys be that guy for me, who jumps between the girl and the boob grabber and intervenes. Doing something is donating to get more women here, and to get more minorities here, and making a point to admit, we’ve got problems – we’re humans – and saying Stopping Harressment Starts with me. (see endnote 2, below)

We can make TAM a place that is focused on inspiring skeptical and scientific activism – that is focused on how each of us can in our own way make the world better. We can put this bullshit behind us, and we can try to rise above the problems that plague so many conferences in every field. We can be the better example.

The skeptics community is filled with strong people who are advocates of education, of building a more equitable society, and of protecting the uneducated from the charlatans and the quacks. There are times and places to fight. James Randi’s work has often exemplified the best ways to use evidence to fight the leaders of woo. The Dover case was an example of the right place to fight – taking on the leaders of the Intelligent Design movement in the courts. We do need to fight to build a better world.

Say that creating a more educated future is something you’ll fight for, and find something to help educate people about.

Use your social media to advocate for those who are doing good. When you see a problem that pisses you off, find out who is already fighting the fight, and support them. Highlight the issues, and then support the solution. And when something pisses you off, and you don’t see that fighter to support, do like Elyse did and start your own grass roots movement that fights to fix the problems and ignorances that plague our society.

That exhaustingly used statement , “Be the change you want to see in the world” … well, dammit be that change by doing something.

And if you don’t know what to do, support science! Together, we can understand our universe.

—————–

Two additional end notes:

1. CosmoQuest is a project that can only succeed through your support. Please consider donating time or money to this project. All proceeds raised through this donation link will go to creating new citizen science projects and toward generating educational materials for classroom teachers to use the citizen science with their students.




2. The “Stopping Harassment Starts Here” T-shirts at TAM (image of graphic above) are shirts I had printed with my own money to sell to raise money for the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund, which pays for legal aid for women facing gender discrimination in education and the workplace. These shirts are in purple, which is the color of domestic violence awareness, animal cruelty prevention, and LGBTQ Awareness. These are all issues I care about. If you’re at TAM and you’d consider raising your own voice against harassment in all its forms through the purchase of a shirt, I’d be vary grateful. Shirt’s not sold at TAM I’ll sell to people in the US for $25 (including shipping). Just email me at pamela@starstryder.com with [Stops Here T-Shirt] in the subject line.

107 Comments

  1. William Brinkman July 15, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Considering what’s been happening the past two years, this was very brave of you to write. Thank you. I hope I can be part of the solution, or at the very least, not part of the problem.

    Take care, and I hope things get better for you!

  2. Ophelia Benson July 15, 2012 at 3:31 pm #

    Fantastic piece. Thank you thank you thank you.

  3. datalaforge July 15, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

    This is such a beautiful post. Thanks for being so candid.

  4. joel July 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    “…. and we can try to rise above the problems that plague so many conferences in every field. We can be the better example.”

    Thank you to those men who confront the tit grabbers.

    Women should not be expected to name names… but…any man who actually observes these incidents can and should name names.

    Thank You, Pamela

  5. joel July 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

    Whoops, …name names…..with the woman’s permission, of course.

  6. Martha July 15, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    This is such a lovely, gutsy speech. My experience in academic science is similar to yours, and this entire dispute reminds me uncomfortably of the arguments I’ve had at work over the clearest of issues. Thanks for having the courage to share your experiences so publicly and the words to be so effective.

  7. dysomniak July 15, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Excellent, thank you. It must have taken a lot of guts to say all that at TAM.

  8. Giliell July 15, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    Standing ovations from my livingroom

  9. Leo Buzalsky July 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I got a bit of a sour taste in my mouth early on due to a common over-generalization mistake from that 5th graders speech, starting with, “I hope that everyone understands how important it is to respect everyone for who they are.”

    Even if that someone is a sociopath mass murderer? (So, no, I don’t understand.)

    The problem is that these ideas of not judging, accepting, and respecting seems to be a way to address conservative Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong by telling them that they have to let people do things that they consider to be wrong. But the reality is that the liberals demanding respect be given are inconsistent and hypocritical. The liberals tell the conservatives not to judge. Yet those liberals themselves judge other people. Which I find to be OK, and I bet most people do, too. We wouldn’t just accept/respect a mass murderer; we’d lock them up away from the rest of society. Does that make us prejudice against mass murderers? The whole problem when it comes to this issue of homosexuality is not that it’s wrong to judge or to not accept/respect, but rather that the conservatives come to the wrong judgement* and thus don’t accept/respect homosexuality when they should.

    Now, I’ll say it was good for people to stand up for the kid and his right to deliver such a speech. But let’s please stop promoting the ill-formed arguments from his speech.

    * Of course, making the argument that there is nothing wrong with homosexuality seems to be a bit harder than these short, one-liner arguments, but I’m the type of person who would rather have the correct argument than to be throwing out a flawed argument, even if that flawed argument is reasonable at winning people over. But perhaps that’s why I’m an engineer and not in something like advertising or public relations. :)

  10. Christopher Hunter July 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Well spoken.

  11. Darryl Pickett July 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Brave, moving and inspiring! I hope this is a “shot heard ’round the world.”

  12. EllenBeth Wachs July 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm #

    Thank you. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for being such an inspiration. Thank you for having the courage to give this talk at that place and time.

  13. tigtog July 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    This is a wonderful speech, and thank you so much for taking such a giant step out of your comfort zone to share your experiences and your vision for change.

  14. Eristae July 15, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

    This is a glorious speech. Thank you so much for writing it and having the courage to give it. After what’s been going on in the skeptic’s community over the last few years, I know it had to take a lot of integrity and bravery.

  15. Maria July 15, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Pamela, thank you. As always, you are an inspiration. I am so lucky to know you and so proud to call you a friend. <3

  16. Robert July 15, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    You are a brave and wonderful person/woman. I need to get one of those shirts.

  17. Martin V July 15, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Neil Armstrong – First Man in Space.

    The First Man in Space – Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin

    Otherwise – excellent inspirational talk :)

  18. wurmfood July 15, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

    Beautiful. Very well said.

  19. mythbri July 15, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    Very moving, Pamela. It needed to be said, and the courage it took to do so shows what kind of person you are.

    “It is dreaming that is hard.”

  20. StellaLuna July 15, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    Pamela, I just adore you! You have the most melodious voice of all podcasters to whom I subscribe, and your talks and blogs are so cogent and persuasive – not least due to your passion and your love of science and humanity.

    I was unable to attend TAM this year due to my work schedule, but I very much wanted to go because I enjoy it so much – and also to be another woman in the crowd. While I personally have not experienced a grab or offensive comment at TAM, I will absolutely make it clear that as a very experienced mid-level manager at the Fortune 500 company I work for, I am the target of off-color remarks, double entendres, “praise” for my skills that might add praise for my wearing a skirt that day, or even unwelcome hugs in lieue of handshakes from the program director. (I’ve yet to see the Chief Engineer receive a hug from the director…)

    When it isn’t about me, it’s about some other woman. It’s public, and it’s always just right below the level of out and out harassment by being a joke, a chuckle, a good-natured little ribbing. You know, because we trust each other and all… But it is NEVER a joke made by us women, and never a joke made about a man or about a person’s religion or skin color or country of origin. It is the last haven for obnoxiousness.

    My company spender millions of dollars a year on high-profile internal marketing campaigns about Respect, about Diversity, and about Inclusion – the payoff is meant to be higher retention rates of skilled employees and lower hiring and training expense overall. But I think we need to get much more specific about the “woman problem” because it isn’t sinking in that those little humorous punch lines are a significant source of anger, discomfort and reduced morale to those of us who, as a percentage of our baseline, are the most likely to leave this company.

    And by the way, I have pointed out very directly to trusted male colleagues who DON’T behave this way that they are still part of the problem by looking away and being silent when it occurs. It is up to them, just as it is up to me, to at least have a side conversation later with the perpetrator and point out how their behavior conflicts with the company policies as well as basic decency. Peer pressure works; let’s harness it for the common welfare.

  21. Martin S Pribble July 15, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    Great post, thank you Pamela. It seems to me that the community of skeptics/scientists/atheists/whatever suffers from a couple of very insidious social practices which need to be addressed.

    Firstly, they (we) are not immune to the misogyny that affects many aspects of discourse worldwide; in many cases I’d say we are just as bad or worse than some other groups. Women continue to be thought of as secondary in most situations, and because of the deeply ingrained societal and cultural lower position women are perceived to inhabit it becomes much easier to put them down. There is much less at stake for a detractor if the people they are going to put down are already in a position of disadvantage. I hope we are working toward fixing this, and I ma making many efforts to not just write about this aspect of our societies, but am helping groups such as Secular Woman (http://www.secularwoman.com), which aims to bring the voices of non-religious women to be heard in politics and the wider community. (Admittedly this project is aimed mostly at the USA, but I see the positive influence this can have for the wider world.)

    The second thing I see here is something that we are very familiar with in Australia. It’s a thing we call “tall-poppy syndrome”. It seems to me that, because it is easier for people to sit at home and troll than actually doing anything, that they do so for anyone who stands up for change and the betterment of our communities and the wider world. It’s easy to point at someone who is trying to make a difference and with jealousy on our tongues, cut them down, pointing out the failings in their ideas. We are notorious for suffering that here in Australia, and we only seem to like people who are “on the rise”. Once someone has made it past obscurity we disown them and criticise them. Stemming from a combination of jealousy and frustration, those who criticise make the most noise, are the most offensive and are also the most noticed. It’s a sad state of affairs, and one I hope we can all work toward fixing, at least psychologically, in the future.

    Sorry for the rant, and I hope we can all work toward a better, smarter and brighter future for all of humankind.

  22. la bibliotequetress July 15, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Beautifully said. Thank you for inviting everyone to make the skeptical/science community as responsible for its treatment of minorities and women as other communities of intelligent people already are. Unfortunate that even in 2012, this is necessary. However, given that it is, you did a good, sensitive job. Again, thanks.

  23. Greg Laden July 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm #

    Stellar. Which is what we expect from Star Strider, I suppose. I would even say that this is an astronomically fantastic post.

    I feel good that someone I respect and like (you, Pamela) feels this way and is ready and willing and very able to express that. Thank you.

  24. Shahveer Press July 15, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    This was the most powerful speech at TAM 2012.

    People were paying attention from the beginning, but when you began talking – very directly – about harassment from your personal experience, it felt as though an extra stillness fell over the room; it hit people from a direction that was unexpected, and you had the full attention of every brain in the room.

    It seemed obvious from my seat that this was a very difficult talk to present and you looked as though you were braced for a deluge of psychological hurt. Instead, the moment you finished your talk I witnessed the most IMMEDIATE and THUNDEROUS standing ovation given to any presenter at TAM 2012.

    Although I was lucky enough to get to say this in person: Thank you, Star Stryder. On behalf of my wife, the Skepchicks (for whom I definitely cannot personally speak), and any other person who is bullied or harassed at work or amongst peers, thank you. That was incredibly brave and you have once again earned my admiration.

  25. Heina July 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm #

    I definitely cried. Thank you.

  26. Robert July 15, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    I saw your talk and loved it. But Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but definitely far from being the first man in space. Small correction to a great speech.

  27. TooManyJens July 15, 2012 at 11:51 pm #

    Wonderful, Pamela. Thank you. I hope you don’t get punished for your good deed.

  28. Stacy July 16, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    Thank you, Dr. Gay. Terrific speech.

    Sorry, trolls.* We’re not going to sit down and shut up and take it any more.

    * Not actually sorry in the least.

  29. Arthur July 16, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    Thank you very much for this inspirational speech. These are important issues and you are really helping the Skeptical Community.

  30. Michael July 16, 2012 at 3:47 am #

    What an awesome speech. Brave, shocking, inspiring.

  31. Fraser Wilson July 16, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Brava! I feel ill just reading it, so I can only imagine what it cost to write and to speak it.

    Do these people not have sisters, mothers, daughters? I don’t get it.

  32. Bruce Gorton July 16, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    Well said.

  33. Deen July 16, 2012 at 5:15 am #

    I can definitely see why this got a standing ovation. Well done.

  34. Ant July 16, 2012 at 5:47 am #

    Just very, very good.

    It made me think! I belong to an IT research firm that hosts many huge conferences each year, one of which I chair, and I don’t even know what our policy is here. I don’t see any cause for concern … but then I’m a PWM, so I may be blinkered. However, I’ve raised the question with women colleagues and with the event managers I work with. I’m not sure there’s any reason why the IT industry should be better than the skeptical/atheist community… but we’ll see.

    /@

  35. Sheila Crosby July 16, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    Awesome. Thank you.

  36. lrah July 16, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    You’re utterly, utterly fantastic.
    Wish I’d heard that talk in person.

  37. Matty July 16, 2012 at 8:20 am #

    Pamela,

    Your podcast got me through many nights working on my thesis. Now, this speech has helped me get out of the funk I have been in. You are an inspiration. Thanks for the help.

  38. Jason Thibeault July 16, 2012 at 9:51 am #

    You have been one of my favorite people for a very long time, Pamela. Thank you for staying every bit as awesome as when last our paths crossed. :)

  39. Jenny Wadley July 16, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Thank you, Pamela, for being you, for having the courage to tell people about what you face, and for not letting those experiences change you into something smaller, meeker and less completely awesome. Please know you are an inspiration to women and men everywhere.

  40. Lucas Randall July 16, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Superb Pamela – just superb! Your drive, determination and ‘doer’ attitude make me want to be a better version of myself. Thank you so much for this and all that you do.

  41. Gus Snarp July 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Hear, hear!

  42. Susie Murph July 16, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Pamela, you have always been a wonderful role model for my daughter and me, and by doing this, you have once again shown those qualities that I hope to instill in her. Thank you for giving this much-needed talk, and for standing up and presenting the issues and the solutions. I am both proud of you and inspired by you, and will stand by you and all the folks fighting to make a difference. And my daughter AND son will be learning the key points from this – and everyone else who hears my little podcast soon. Thanks again, and you get a big hug at DragonCon (if you want it!) for having the courage to stand up and say all of this!

  43. Jacob V July 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Honest, excellent, necessary and greatly admired. Thank you.

  44. amckrypton July 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

    Know that You are never alone.

  45. Sunil D'Monte July 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    Greetings from India! Great speech and an important message, I hope there’s a video of it soon.

  46. Sunil D'Monte July 16, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Sorry I forgot to add – what you said about “constant down pouring of belittling comments and jokes” is a well-documented phenomenon called “subtle discrimination” and “micro-inequities” by Mary Rowe at MIT. Today there are laws in place to punish blatant discrimination, so the discrimination happens behind the scenes and even unconsciously, and it also happens via the combined and accumulated effect of the “micro” events that she describes. Add to this the “cultural capital” that dominant groups have access to but marginalised/minority groups don’t, and add to _that_ a dose of genuine full-on bigotry, and it makes for one toxic environment. It is up to these dominant groups to wake up and make things better.
    Link: http://web.mit.edu/ombud/publications/index.html

  47. Tom Hail July 16, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    It was an awesome presentation and timely. I am glad I was there to hear it live from your voice and stood with my daughter during the standing ovation.

  48. Scott Udell July 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    Thank you for this, Dr. Gay–it took a lot of courage posting it, but you’ve got courage in abundance as you’ve shown in the past.

  49. Jaycee July 17, 2012 at 9:12 am #

    What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Definitive astronomer, definitive human being. Insightful, inspiring, awesome. A role model, to be sure, and a personal hero. Thank you for being you.

  50. Ani Sharmin July 17, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Thank you so much for this!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. What Pamela Gay said | Butterflies and Wheels - July 15, 2012

    [...] Gay has posted the text of her instantly-famous TAM talk – and oh man is it a [...]

  2. Dr. Pamela Gay’s brave talk at TAM 2012 | Know The Cosmos - July 15, 2012

    [...] Pamela has made a post on her website giving the transcript of her talk, along with annotations which can be found here. [...]

  3. We Can All Make A Difference » Uppity Bitches - July 15, 2012

    [...] speaks her mind even when it is not an easy topic. This year at TAM, she discussed “Making the World Better“. This topic started with showing a few of the injustices that have happened in the last few [...]

  4. Make The World Better – Starting With Us | Martin S Pribble - July 16, 2012

    [...] Gay has written a great and heartfelt piece over at her blog entitled “Make the World Better“, a blog adaptation of the talk she gave last weekend at TAM2012. While I was unable to [...]

  5. The Bravest Talk at TAM 2012. | Know The Cosmos - July 16, 2012

    [...] Pamela has made a post on her website giving the transcript of her talk, along with annotations which can be found here. [...]

  6. Lesson 12.017: Reflection 07/16/2012 : To Cope with Spitballs - July 16, 2012

    [...] Pamela Gay, one of the hosts of Astronomy Cast. I highly recommend that you take the time to read her speech. if you are going to read one article today, read [...]

  7. Veni, vidi, linkspam (20th, July 2012) | Geek Feminism Blog - July 17, 2012

    [...] Make the World Better | Star Stryder: “And if you don’t know what to do, support science! Together, we can understand our universe.” [...]

  8. Another woman in the crowd | Butterflies and Wheels - July 17, 2012

    [...] a very informative comment on Pamela Gay’s talk, by “Stella Luna.” I was unable to attend TAM this year due [...]

  9. More Than Men – You call it a controversy, I call it denialism. - July 18, 2012

    [...] who haven’t encountered sexism in the hopes that it will somehow trump the stories of many women who have encountered sexism within our movement and at the hands of our “heroes”. Then there are the rape threats, [...]

  10. Dr. Pamela Gay’s TAM Talk « Foster Disbelief - July 18, 2012

    [...] First off, she posted an annotated transcript of her talk over at her website, StarStryder.com   [...]

  11. TAM paragraphs | Hayley Dunning - July 20, 2012

    [...] (or maybe I was semi-consciously avoiding it), until Pamela Gay’s talk. She actually has a whole transcript of her talk on her blog, but the gist of it is, DO something! She also talked about the issue of [...]

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    [...] Make the World Better: Pamela Gay’s pro-policy talk at skeptic con The Amazing Meeting. [...]

  13. TAM, TAM, TAM! | Twin Cities Theater Connection - July 21, 2012

    [...] to penetrate the noise and take the conversation further. I did receive it–Jamy Ian Swiss and Pamela Gay delivered speeches that spoke to me, that inspired me to to carry skepticism forward. But at a [...]

  14. #TAM2012 Plenary: You Are the Future of Skepticism on the Internet « Skeptical Software Tools - July 22, 2012

    [...] is the same thing Pamela Gay was talking about yesterday in her talk – Moon Mappers. That’s a crowdsourced science project. But there are [...]

  15. As I Continue to Lose Respect for Atheists I Once Looked Up To « Foster Disbelief - July 23, 2012

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  16. Hasta que la muerte nos separe - Esceptica - July 24, 2012

    [...] marcar una diferencia, si alzamos la voz y nos hacemos oir. Como dijo la Dra. Pamela L. Gay en su ponencia de la [...]

  17. Singing in the Wind « CraftLass - July 24, 2012

    [...] us all a blast of how we can be responsible for making the world the way it is, good and bad. Now, run off and read the full text, this will be here when you get [...]

  18. The End Is Nigh? | Skepticality - July 31, 2012

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  19. From Ye Olde Mailbag… | Backup Ribbon Project - August 15, 2012

    [...] of our fabulous supporters sent us a link to this amazing woman giving this amazing talk. And in conjunction with that amazing talk, she’s selling these amazing [...]

  20. Pamela Gay: Make the World Better | Bad Astronomy | BizNax - August 19, 2012

    [...] She also paraphrased it for a post on her blog that’s well worth your time to read: Make the World Better. [...]

  21. Pamela Gay: Make the World Better | Space Travels - Space Turism - August 20, 2012

    [...] She also paraphrased it for a post on her blog that’s well worth your time to read: Make the World Better. [...]

  22. Smart people saying smart things - August 20, 2012

    [...] of divine power and authority and masculinist practices of domination and violence.Pamela Gay: “Make the World Better”We live in a society that in many ways is broken, but sometimes, remarkable humans decide they are [...]

  23. More Than Men – You never get a second chance… - August 27, 2012

    [...] of her or her talk that I’m about to give are biased, feel free to read the transcript here and form your own [...]

  24. “Dreaming is hard. It requires risks. It requires you to own the fact that you are capable of something great.” | bluejay's way - August 29, 2012

    [...] the transcript: It’s a lot easier to do nothing… easier to lose hope that anything can even be done. And there [...]

  25. Let’s Make the World a Better Place « Alphabeteur - September 10, 2012

    [...] “Make the World Better”  – blog post by Pamela Gay Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  26. SoT 78: The Dark Side of Science - October 27, 2012

    [...] Make the World Better – the text of Pamela Gay’s fantastic talk. [...]

  27. Cut open with a rusty blade » Butterflies and Wheels - November 6, 2013

    […] myself to be totally vulnerable in my words, but during my July 2012 talk at The Amazing Meeting (script I vaguely followed and video here) I came close. My goal was to focus on inspiring people to do good, but I briefly […]

  28. Guest Post: Truth Against Humanity | Consent Culture - November 12, 2013

    […] myself to be totally vulnerable in my words, but during my July 2012 talk at The Amazing Meeting (script I vaguely followed and video here) I came close. My goal was to focus on inspiring people to do good, but I briefly […]

  29. Truth against Humanity | Star Stryder - November 20, 2013

    […] myself to be totally vulnerable in my words, but during my July 2012 talk at The Amazing Meeting (script I vaguely followed and video here) I came close. My goal was to focus on inspiring people to do good, but I briefly […]

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