5
As of February 2016, after 416 posts, and over six and a half years of blogging, I'm taking a break.
I've explained why here. There's plenty of past posts to read, though - hope you enjoy them !
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Human remains should not be raffle prizes (update)

Jake

When I visited the Horniman museum stores last year, the curator Paolo taught me that any human remains they keep, even if they are just partial, need to be treated with special respect. That makes sense. Humans might just be a bigger, cleverer kind of animal, but we are also the only species who knows that we are going to die, and that makes us very different to other animals. We are also the only species that has a sense of our own history, and that people have died before us and more will die afterwards.

So imagine how angry I was when I found out the taxidermy website The Weird and Wonderful are offering a human skull as a competition prize. [Added Sat 11am: link is now dead - see at bottom of story] This is wrong. Here is why I as a fellow bone collector think that this is wrong, and they should rethink what they are doing.


Every death is sad, but humans are different. Over the summer, I saw a 3,000 year old Egyptian sarcophagus at the University of Swansea and saw a presentation on how bodies were prepared. Then the week after, I went to the funeral of my great grand mother. Every human culture has rituals of death which involve the bodies of the dead being treated the right way and cared for. 

Should bone collectors ever own other human remains ? I have never wanted to own human bones, but it is still interesting to put a red deer femur against your own leg to see the different size and proportions, and it is interesting how monkey skulls look like human skulls. And I've never minded sleeping in a room full of animal skulls, but I can't imagine doing it with human remains because I would be imagining what that person's life was like. There are enough animal bones in the world to keep any bone collector interested for decades and decades.

It may be legal to give a human skull as a raffle prize, but that doesn't make it right. I respect the law on bones, but there are parts of it which are pretty stupid. You need a licence to have bones from an otter (which are common) but not for a pine marten (which are rare). You need a licence to have bones from a bat (which my cat kills) but not for a wildcat (less than 400 in Scotland) or a golden eagle. So just because the law says you should or should not have something, is different from the argument whether it is right to have something. 

Humans are not prizes, alive or dead. We should handle human remains with care, and respect, and if we give them to someone else, we should make sure the next person is going to treat them with care and respect as well. 

When you give a human skull as a prize, you have no way of knowing whether the person who entered the competition is going to do that, and you are not handing the remains properly. It doesn't matter who the person is who died, and whether they gave permission for their remains to be handled in this way:if you don't know whether someone will treat human remains with respect, you cannot trust them to do so. 

This competition is wrong, and I hope it will be stopped.


Update 1:

Just after an hour after I published this, I got an email from Norman Wright from The Weird and Wonderful. He offered to withdraw the skull from the competition - hurrah ! - but there was a catch:

If you agree to remove the posts from your blog, social media pages etc which highlight the competition, I will agree to remove the human skull as a prize and replace it with other pieces.

I hope you have a great weekend and I look forward to your reply.

Kind regards
Norman

I emailed back:

I have written over 300 blog posts over five years and I have never deleted one of them, and this one is very popular as you will have seen.

I think you should withdraw the skull from the competition because it is ethically the right thing to do, not for any other reason.

From

Jake

I never got a reply, but they seemed quite annoyed by it, in this tweet to BBC presenter Ben Garrod:


I would have linked directly to that tweet, but they deleted it , which is kind of ironic when you think about it.



Update 2:


As of 11am, the competition appears to have been withdrawn. I think that is the right thing for them to do.

Update 3:


If you're interested in what I feel about the ethics of bone collecting, my Seven Golden Rules for bone collectors are in my book: "Jake's Bones" - links to the Amazon listings for US and UK are at the top of the page, but try to buy from local bookshops when you can.




Update 4:


I've used some of my experience from this post to write this follow-up post.



Enjoy this post ? Share it !


113 comments :

sedruff said...

Thank you for that eloquent post. I'm also 12 and a fan of bones and writing. I totally agree about the skull, dead people are still people, and should be treated for what they are, not as a freakshow prize.

Chelsea Hopkins said...

I didn't know you'd visited Swansea! I would have gladly shown you my very large very elderly horse skull and a few of my other items I have! (: I hope you enjoyed your time here dude.

Carol Monger said...

Thanks for bringing this disgrace to light Jake, you're a pillar ofthe bone collecting community; hopefully your insight will make people take more notice of this horrible disregard for human remains!

Stuart Petch said...

Wow. Really well put, Jake. I agree, this is a disrespectful and morally wrong thing to do. Puts in serious question the mindset and practices of a business, if it thinks that this is an acceptable way to treat human remains. I'd avoid such a company. I wonder if perhaps they think this is the 'ultimate shock' competition - designed to garner attention and get as much publicity for their business as possible? Well, to me it smacks of desperation and very poor ethics in what they do. Not good, not good at all.

Rebecca said...

What is your opinion on buying or selling a human skull?

Jake said...

Glad you agree !

Jake said...

I did ! I'll let you know next time.

Jake said...

Thanks !

Jake said...

I think they did it without thinking of the ethics, really.

Jake said...

I've explained it in the post. Before it's sold it's the sellers responsibility that they find out that the buyer has a VERY good reason for wanting one (not just because "it's cool"), that the buyer can provide the right environment and place to store it, and that they will treat it with respect.

Mori said...

Very well said. This is why when you die, you can choose to have your body donated to medical science. That is where the skeletons in our biology labs come from. If someone hasn't made that choice, or we don't know then it is not right to own one, or offer one up as some prize. Yuck.

Guest said...

I'm intrigued as to why your personal ethics allow you to rationalise that there's such a marked difference between human skulls and animal skulls? Seems rather hypocritical of you to condemn the morals of those who legally trade human remains when you've no issue collecting animal remains - I'm sure many people would take issue with you collecting animal bones and object to it on their own moral grounds.

I also wonder if you requested permission to use that banner on here from the website running the competition? If not, I'd say that's rather unethical.

Jake said...

If you'd read the post you'd see I've explained this, in the very first paragraph. I think the same as museums and archeologists around the world do when they handle specimens. And if you think the screengrab is a biggest moral issue here than giving a human skull as a raffle prize then you've got your priorities all wrong.

Jake said...

Agree, but I think even if the body is donated to science, the seller should make sure the buyer is buying for the right reasons.

Chelsea Hopkins said...

You're a star!

Scapegoat said...

I have to say I disagree with you on this. Every person is unique and the way we view things varies from individual to individual. What was beautiful to Picasso was obscene to another. What you consider to be respectful is not the same for everyone else and vice versa. When you state that the actions of not just one but a collective of people who have an undeniable enthusiasm for taxidermy are wrong you are behaving quite arrogantly. I have a fascination and a love of bones and other forms of taxidermy. I do not respect them though. Bones are objects and they of themselves do nothing. I respect people and the things that make them human. I respect their actions, their deeds, their thoughts, and words. I respect the artist not the brush. The body of any living things is beautiful. It should inspire us and bewilder us. However, it is not the body that we respect or mourn. The loss of the mind, the heart, and the soul are what we mourn. Those are the things that inspire our traditions and rituals not the bones. I will happily own human remains and look at them as a source of inspiration. To remind me that these frail and fleeting machines we call bodies can accomplish immortal deeds to be remembered long after our bodies have withered away and our bones rest quietly in the ground or on a shelf.

Scapegoat said...

Wether a bigger moral issue or a smaller one using another persons work (in this case a graphic designer) without their permission is still immoral. It is considered theft and it is a crime. You are using someones work, the way they provide for themselves and their family, without compensation. Your argument that you feel the same as museums and archeologists is invalid. Both of these groups make use of human remains in ways that could be called morally questionable. Archeologists remove human remains from the places where they were buried and meant to rest for all of time. The pharaohs certainly never wanted their bodies removed from their temples and put on display in museums across the world. Yet you yourself benefit from the disregarding of the wishes of these people. I would thoroughly think through my own actions before I condemn others.

Liz said...

I think it's more about giving people who can't afford something like this which would cost over £500 to own one, anyone who entered would I'm sure have the respect for the skull. Personsally I would be hour bed if someone had my bones up on display as the pride of their collection rather than rotting away in the ground

BB said...

Whether you agree or disagree with Jake's viewpoint the fact is that this outfit were acting against their own published ethical standards, which I have just read, and therefore opened themselves to this criticism. It seems that they have now removed the raffle from their website. BB

Angry said...

Couldn't agree more. Thanks for posting this chunk of truth in a sea of fools who have chosen to take offence where no offence was given out!

Jake said...

I'm not a fool, and please don't call me one. As for the competition poster, as someone has pointed out, the Copyright Act in the UK allows for use of someone else's artwork for the purposes of criticism or review. All the museums I know take great care with their specimens and the ethics of their collections. I don't know any that raffle off human remains - do you ?

Jake said...

That's an interesting view for you to take - and you can donate your body to be used however after your death. But you can't push the same opinion on the deceased person whose body parts are being raffled off here.

Jake said...

I can't really understand your point but you the *only* check in the competition was that you pay one pound, and that you can do a google search for the answer. There is no check as to whether the person wants the skull for the right reasons, whether they have a genuine interest and respect for bones, or whether they want to paint it purple and stick it on the front of their car. There is no way of knowing what the winner's intentions are, whether they are in a position to look after the remains, and no checks to find out.

Jake said...

Thanks for the update, BB. I have updated the post. It's the best result for everyone, but it's a shame they tried to make me to take down this post first.

Anthony said...

No offense dude, but it's not your place to decide whether my owning human bones is "right". Setting yourself up as some sort of arbiter of morality is pretty self serving an enclosed minded. Human remains aren't any different from animal remains regardless of whatever junior college class you've taken that made you think otherwise.

Jake said...

You know that the organisers emailed me to say they kind of agreed with the points raised here, which is why they withdrew the competition ?

Offended lol said...

I can't see anywhere in the email you got from them that they "kind of agreed with the points raised here". That is you making an assumption. They only stated that they were willing to withdraw it, they might have done it as they don't want the bad press, who knows. To assume its because they think you are right is arrogant and putting words in their mouth that they didn't say.

Jake said...

That's because I didn't post the whole email, which was very long, just the last paragraph.

Anonymous said...

The Department for Media, Culture and Sport and the Human Tissue Authority would disagree. Read the law, and the government guidelines for the care of human remains in museum collections and guidance from a number of other professional bodies such as the Insititute for Archaeologists, English Heritage etc.

Billy said...

From your own About page:

"The skull I would most like would be a giraffe or a lion skull. But there don't seem to many of those around where I live. (or maybe there are...)
Or a human skull ! That would be cool. Dad says I might get one of those, if Grandma's cough doesn't clear up soon."

Jake said...

That's something I like to call "a joke".

Lucinda said...

Don't you think that your "joke"contradicts your point in this post stating that "I have never wanted to own human bones" and "it's the sellers responsibility that they find out that the buyer has a VERY good reason for wanting one (not just because "it's cool")"?...

Jake said...

I like how you put "joke" in inverted commas like you really think that I want my grandma to die.

Dave said...

Many museums sell parts of their collections though, is that not essentially the same thing?

Guest said...

Why did you put "a joke" in inverted commas in the first place?
Also, what a horrible thing to say about Lucinda, you're the one who has put "a joke" (as you wrote it) about your grandmother dying on your website, that's pretty insensitive of you. And reading that paragraph from your about page, the only part that looks like a joke is what your Dad says. The sentence before it seems serious -
"Or a human skull, that would be cool."
Do you think owning a human skull is cool? If not what you said is a lie not a joke.
Are you also joking about wanting a giraffe or lion skull? Do you deem that whole paragraph to be a joke, or are you just making jokes about human remains and your grandmother dying?

Jake said...

"Dave", you and "Lucinda" and "Billy' are all the exact same person: you can see from the IP address and other details that Disqus sends with an email notification. So I'm not sure why you complain about my reply to "Lucinda" when you wrote it. And also I know what I meant when I wrote it because - like everything in my book and here apart from one guest blog post - I wrote it.

Guest said...

You're quite good at deflecting questions and comments. Ever think about becoming a politician? Also, I wrote the guest comment and I am neither Lucinda, Billy or Dave. They might be the same person, but that person is not me

Jake said...

I've blogged about 300,000 words here since I began five years ago, plus my book, so if your only argument against this post is one sentence you found on this site written five years ago which is a *joke*, then your argument isn't very strong at all.

Guest said...

No responsible museum will ever sell human remains (most museums won't even put valuations on human remains for loans etc. because they see themselves as custodians of those remains, not owners.

Guest said...

How is it a weak argument when that one sentence happens to directly conflict with this post you have wrote.
"Or a human skull, that would be cool"
That one sentence reads as if you are serious. Like you think it is cool to own a human skull, and yet in this post you have a problem with someone wanting to own one just because they think it is cool!
Why do you keep putting joke in inverted comma's, do you not mean it?

Kate Viscardi said...

Oh dear. It is debatable whether an unaltered advertisement is covered by copyright, since it has been placed in the public domain, but it's always a good idea to run a quick check on your facts before accusing people of a crime. Ownership of copyright is not covered by criminal law - you have to sue for infringement, so it isn't a crime at all. Accusing people of committing a crime when they haven't might be libel, but again, that is a matter for the civil courts. I advise a thorough read through of the sections on Copyright and Fair Dealing at www.ipo.gov.uk before I condemn others.

Jake said...

That joke has been there for five years. It used to be on the side of every page before there was the "About" page. My blog currently gets 250,000 visitors a year. You are the only one *ever* to think it was anything other than a joke. And now there's an extra bit below it, clarifying that it's a joke.

Kate Viscardi said...

Are you American?

Jake said...

Ha ! No, he's from England. It's a country to the south of Scotland, I hear.

Kate Viscardi said...

mmm ... I know some Americans aren't very good at understanding English humour. So no excuses then. Because these comments, especially addressed to a child (sorry Jake) sound like bullying to me.

Tom said...

Surely the easiest thing now would be to delete the post. You have succeeded in ending the competition on the grounds that you and others found it morally wrong. I appreciate that you are also running a small business alongside your hobby, however Norman is also running his business as his source of income. The row has gained you some excellent publicity and some newfound attention. Jake you have achieved everything you set out to achieve, now you could remove the references to another persons livelihood.

Jake said...

Thank you for your comment but you have got almost every single fact wrong.
1. I don't run a 'small business'. I don't sell any skulls or bones through my blog, and there is no advertising here (and there never has been_. I did sign a book contract two years ago, and I do get paid for some of the talks I give about my book, but that's it. I blog because I want to.
2. I don't like to brag but "newfound attention" is miles off the mark as you'd have seen if you'd looked almost anywhere on my blog, and I turn down a lot of publicity things because they don't seem right for me.
3. I hardly ever blog about anything for the publicity, and when I do it's pretty obvious (like a foreign edition of my book coming out, or I'm speaking at a book festival). I do it because I want to and I feel strongly about it.
4. It might be easier for some people to try and forget it never happened, but I have had FAR more unpleasantness directed at me here and on email from this post than I have had from any other post I have made. This post is going to be a reminder to me and everyone else of what happened here and how people can be.
5. I blog for me. It's my blog. I blogged my opinions and my opinions haven't changed. But if you can show me a single *fact* (not opinion) that is wrong, I will delete it or mark it.
6. I don't think any business's success depends solely on the opinion of one 12yo boy. But if it did, it's probably not that a great business in the first place. I hope this business does well in the future, but this blog post is not being deleted.

Guest said...

In the first paragraph I read the opinion of a gentleman named Paolo that you've parroted back as your stance on the matter. You've explained nothing, my friend, only repeated the considered opinion of a third party.

I don't see using the imagery as a moral issue, I see it as an ethical one, as I explained within my question. You've used someone else's creative work, a part that contributes toward their livelihood, as a tool in an attempt to shame them according to principles you hold in accordance with your own moral code. That, I do find the bigger moral issue here.

Jake said...

If you think the UK museum policy on human remains is just one person's opinion, the you are wrong - especially if you've been following this debate on Twitter, where expert osteologists and anthropologists have been involved. And if you think doing a screengrab of something someone regretted having published - and which you accept is entirely legal - is actually worse than touting human remains as a raffle prize in a cheap publicity stunt, then there's no point arguing with you, so I'm not going to bother.

Guest said...

Again, you're repeating other people's stances and opinions. Not your own. Which suggests you don't actually have your own. Which makes this blog post more unsavoury and even less credible.

Mori said...

True. Plus the lack of information given on the skull shows that they don't actually know who's skull it is and how it came to be in their possession. Or maybe they do and they don't want to humanise it too much, as that might distract people from how 'cool' it is to have the skull of an actual human in their collection? SO gross. I'm glad to see the final update on this that shows it has been removed. I am also confused by their weird bargain about wanting you to take this blog post down. Well done for not doing so, and for messaging them in the first place, you definitely sent them the right message about bone collecting ethics.

Mori said...

'judging by the age of the bones and knowedge of the human skeleton trade under Victoria, she was probably Indian.' That suggests something quite sinister happened. :( I think it might be respectful to return her skull to the Indian community. where you live, if you can find a way of doing this, or at least ask for their guidance.

Jake said...

Prof Alice Roberts talked about the law on Twitter.. If it's under 100 years old, and its held without licence or consent, it's illegal to have (Human Tissue Act 2004). If it's over 100 years old, and it's an anatomical specimen (ie donated to science), "storing/using "donated material for a purpose which is not a qualifying purpose"" is an offence.

Mori said...

Ah, I see.

Jake said...

But as I said in my post, the law on bones is a bit strange. It protects bats but not golden eagles, for example.

Fairytalenightmare said...

can I just point some FACTS out.....

1) a lot of the human remains that ended up in the medical industry came from bodies being sold to the medical profession or donating their bodies to the industry in order to clear debts or family debts. The history of human skeletons in the medical circle is actually. Very dark one, and not the fairy tale which you presume of being "do gated" to medical sciences.

2) the human tissue act states that you can indeed own a human skull or skeleton under or over 100 years, as long as it is ex medical BUT if it is under 100 years then you are not able to have it on public display. Legally you are allowed to do whatever you want with a skeleton over a 100 years old, you could even have it set in resin and go bowling with it, if you so wished, with no legal repercussions.

Your "facts" are quite frankly all over the place, you choose to try to ruin a small business owners livelihood so that you can have your say, which is your opinion and not built up around any facts.

Jake said...

Thanks for the update, I appreciate that. I think there were some later threads from the Human Tissue Authority in the thread that I missed. My point is though, like I've said at least twice, the law on bones in a bit inconsistent.
To do with your other point, I haven't "to ruin a small business owners livelihood". There were at least two or three days before I posted when this was growing on Twitter when the competition could have been withdrawn without me posting this. And see what I said above, though: "I don't think any business's success depends solely on the opinion of one 12yo boy. But if it did, it's probably not that a great business in the first place."

Speak said...

You are assuming the worst in people. I believe that the Weird and wonderful have given a brilliant Opportunity for Poor medical student or even a artist to own a human skull for study or reference. Human remains should be treated with respect, Don't assume that's just because a museum or archaeologist says something is right then it is. For example is it ethical for an archaeologist to first of all dig up someone resting in peace without their permission and then when there is not funds to rebury the bodies, they are disrespectfully thrown into a grinder , when they can have been used for medical science and to further our knowledge and human evolution. Do you think that mummy public display wanted his body on display to anyone and everybody to see. I believe that that having that on display without their permission is more disrespectful than giving someone the opportunity to own a genuine medical skull. What gives the right for a museum to own these things and a member of the public not. I know you say that you thave documentation for certain animals. So does that make it okay to own an endangerd spesies? By you having that animal skull it creates a demand! AND THEREFORE SOMEONE WITH LESS AWARENESS WILL GO OUT AND KILL THAT ANIMAL YOU HAVE CREATED A DEMAND FOR IT! you say that animals do not know when they are going to die. They do. Even a domesticated pets such as a dog goes off to find a quiet place to die. Instinctively animals know when they are going to die. However you put the humans on a far more superior level these sort of attitudes and why the animal kingdom is in such a state!๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€

Speak said...

You are assuming the worst in people. I believe that the Weird and Wonderful have given a brilliant opportunity for a poor medical student or even an artist to own a human skull for study or reference. Human remains should be treated with respect, but don't assume that just because a museum or archaeologist says something is right then it is. For example is it ethical for an archaeologist to first of all dig up someone who is resting in peace without their permission and then when there are no funds to rebury the remains, they are disrespectfully thrown into a grinder, when they could have been used for medical science and to further our knowledge on human evolution? Do you think that the mummy on public display that you went to see wanted his/her body on display for anyone and everybody to see? I believe that having that on display without their permission is more disrespectful than giving someone the opportunity to own a genuine medical skull. Who gives the right for a museum to own these things and a not for a member of public to? Just because one has documentation for certain animals, does that make it okay to own an endangered species? By having that animal skull it creates a demand for that animal! AND THEREFORE SOMEONE WITH LESS AWARENESS WILL GO OUT AND KILL THAT ANIMAL THAT AN ANIMAL SKULL COLLECTOR HAS CREATED A DEMAND FOR! You say that animals do not know when they are going to die. They do. Even a domesticated pet such as a dog goes off to find a quiet place to die. Instinctively animals know when they are going to die. However you put the humans on a far more superior level. This sort of human attitude towards animal are why the animal kingdom is in such a state!๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€

Scapegoat said...

I would hardly call the piece you wrote a critique. Sounds like grasping at straws justification to me, On the other matter the pharaohs made it undeniably clear that they wanted their bodies to remain in their temples undisturbed. There is no arguing against that. You supported, by going to the exhibit, the removing of their bodies against their wishes and putting them on display. These aren't people who donated their bodies they are people who had their tombs broken into and bodies stolen. We justify this because we don't share their belief system and because we feel the knowledge gained out weighs the disrespect to them. There is also the fact that they have been dead for a very long time and have no close living relatives who might be offended. You know nothing about the skull being raffled or the person who it belonged to. So how can you speak on their behalf? Because it's what you would want? If it's what you want they must also feel that way? You feel it is ok to speak on behalf of a person who you could not possibly know their wishes while on the other hand you view remains of a person who made it very clear they never wanted you or anyone else to see their body. How is that ethical?

BB said...

As I pointed out earlier, Weird and Wonderful were acting against their own published ethical standards, (why not read them?) so they deserve the criticism that they got.
BB

Scapegoat said...

One could make a case for theft of services. The artist created this ad with the intention that it only be used by a certain company and that company alone. The company that paid them. Odds are they signed some kind of agreement in which they gave that particular company complete ownership of the work. Since the author is using it to attract attention to his site where he is selling product and profiting the artist could go after him. They could do this even if the artist no longer owns the rights to the work because his services are being used outside of the agreed contract.

Scapegoat said...

You are pushing your views on this deceased person. You are saying what is and is not a respectful way to treat their remains. That is not their opinion it is yours. I would love to have my remains be visible after I die. I would not be offended in the least if my skull was being raffled off as a way to thank supporters of and garner attention for a taxidermy website. I would be honored that my remains could help create more interest in taxidermy or enter the collection of someone who might not otherwise be able to own a human skull. If it was my skull your views would be disrespectful to my wishes. Since no one yourself included can know the actual views of the person whom this skull came from it is the current owner who decides what they wish to do with the remains. If it really bothers you as much as you make it seem then buy the skull and you can treat exactly the way you want. Otherwise, I would say that you should stop pushing your views on other people both living and dead.

Scapegoat said...

I can see nothing in their published ethics that goes against their actions. Nothing even close.

Scapegoat said...

I can see nothing in their published ethics that goes against their actions. Nothing even close.

wander said...

I think they mean Indian as in the south Asian continent of India, rather than Native American. Many human skeletal remains on the "market" are from India and China, though export of human skeletons has since been ceased in both countries.

Scapegoat said...

busi·ness noun, often attributive \หˆbiz-nษ™s, -nษ™z, Southern also หˆbid-\

: the activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money



i.e. selling a book in exchange for money

You are a small business. If there is no advertising here why do I have a banner at the top of the page telling me I can order your book with links to Amazon? Do you have strong feelings about the promotion of Amazon? You do like to brag. Honestly, I'm tired of hearing how long you have had this blog and how many posts you've made especially when it is used to validate a weak argument. Everything you do is for publicity. That's the point of a blog for other people to read it. If that wasn't your intention it would be called a journal. This post should be a reminder of how people like yourself feel the need to impose their morals and ethics on other people and how that hinders society rather than advance it. It's because of people like you that many great individuals throughout history had to break the law in order to make advancements in science and art. Your ethics contradict themselves as I and others have pointed out numerous times. When my morals contradict themselves I evolve or edit them maybe you should do the same. The success of their business does not depend solely on you or your opinion. However, you are using the resources at your disposal to harm their business which does a great deal more good in the world and in the taxidermy community than your blog does. I've looked into them and they are striving to make the world a better place. You are hindering that. You do not give back to the world by promoting and donating profits to wildlife efforts nor do you support local taxidermist by promoting their work like Weird & Wonderful does. Everything on this site that I can see promotes you and only you. If you really care about this community the way you say you do I would expect you to use your publicity and your resources to help sites like Weird & Wonderful not hinder their work.

Jake said...

Er, there is no law for "theft of services". It would be "breach of copyright". And UK copyright has an exception for criticism or review.

Jake said...

That's how I read it too.

Guest said...

You've quoted Paolo as your source on this opinion you have and you say you agree with his opinion. I'm simply quoting what you've written.

If that's the case, I've asked for your opinion twice now only to receive deflections to third parties' thoughts on this. Which implies you don't have your own considered opinion on the matter. Which then makes this whole blog post far more unsavoury and even less credible.

Jake said...

I agree with you that the Weird and Wonderful have given - or rather gave, because they have withdrawn the competition now - a brilliant opportunity for a poor medical student or even an artist to own a human skull for study or reference. They also gave a brilliant opportunity for someone to acquire the skull who has no appreciation of it, who maybe wants to crush it, damage it, turn it into artwork, put on the front of their car, paint it, use it in rituals, use it as a football, sell it at a profit on eBay, use the braincase as a wine glass, carry around a pub on a Saturday night as a conversation piece, or worse. And the only checks were that someone could pay £1 and do a basic Google search. No checks were done that the skull would be going to someone who would respect it, look after it, and be able to store it appropriately. That is the problem.

Kate Viscardi said...

I would be interested to know how it would be possible to pursue someone for theft of services - please provide the URL for the webpage that describes this. However, in this case the use of the image is covered by Fair Dealing - it is criticism.

Kate Viscardi said...

Speak - where is your evidence that bones have been thrown into a grinder because there were no funds to rebury them? You are ranting about disrespect for the dead, it would be nice to see some respect for the living - the archaeologists whom you have just traduced by making such a serious accusation. And serious it is - you need evidence to back up such a claim

I agree with you that animals know when they are about to die, but that is rather different from being able to contemplate their own mortality.

Stuart Petch said...

Yes, for me that is the crux of the whole thing. That skull could have gone to any random person who answered a question online and paid a £1. There would be no guarantee that it would go to a 'loving home'. That just doesn't feel respectful to me.


I'm happy to see that the Weird & Wonderful team reconsidered the situation, and that they've now decided against the giveaway, as it would have gone against their own ethical standards.

Speak said...

My friend is an osteo archaeologist and he was upset as he was on a dig and when there were no funds to re bury, Many skeletons were thrown in a tree grinder. The guy I know was verry upset!

Mori said...

I meant Indian as in South Asia too, not sure where you got that I didn't. It still implies something sinister happened (I had never heard of remains of Indian people being traded in Victorian times, though I'm not really surprised because of the grossness of the British Empire, the scope of which I still don't know because they don't teach us it properly in schools). It still would be the right thing to do to return the skull to the descendants of the people who were wronged. I don't know what country the skull was found in (I assumed Britain but may be wrong), but there are South Asian Indian communities in most countries.

bigbootsandscaryeyes said...

A lot of the skulls that norman sells are ex medical. I would rather my skull went to a collector who would appreciate it rather than being respectfully left in a box for all eternity because selling me to a collector is unethical. This is purely a moral argument, and when you mentioned it i did think it was in poor taste, but i don't think this level of public shaming was required, especially when he honored your requests and you could not even come to a compromise with him. This post will now always leave a sour taste in peoples mouth when considering doing business with the weird and wonderful when it is based on your feelings on a subject, and not an actual problem with the shop. With a fan base as large as yours i hope you understand that this may affect his business and how people see him as a person, based purely off your emotions on a subject. As though people outside the community of bone collectors didn't look down on us enough as it is, encouraging people inside the community to also look down theirs at others based on your opinion is unhealthy.

sedruff said...

Thank you for your opinion. Although I don't necessarily agree with all of it, I am glad that you are capable of expressing your opinion in a non-attacking way. It's kind of cool to see people disagreeing without personally insulting sometimes.

sedruff said...

Thank you, Kate. People are overreacting and kind of personally attacking each other because of this.

Mori said...

I disagree- I think people will see this post, note that Weird and Wonderful took the raffle down and conceded that they hadn't considered the ethics enough (its in the comments) and consider that they are a company who listens to feedback without throwing a strop. Seems cool to me. Why do you think standing up on ethical issues will make people look down on bone collectors? I would assume the opposite would happen.

Stuart Petch said...

I'm happy to see that the Weird & Wonderful team reconsidered the situation, and that they've now decided against the giveaway, as it would have gone against their own ethical standards.



There was no guarantee that that skull would have gone to a careful, loving home when selection of a winner was entirely random, from an international pool of people, who'd simply paid a small entry fee and answered a quiz question.

bigbootsandscaryeyes said...

Through calling norman out so publically on something that is purely based on his opinion, I would assume that normans gotten a lot of backlash. Lots of people agreeing to this post may not even know the weird and wonderful as a shop, so in the future instead of buying from him knowing that the bones are ethically sourced, they would avoid him because they think he's heartless and disrespectful based soley on this post. This whole post was not balanced in its argument, it's purely negative, when in fact, what norman did was not unreasonable. Personally i think it was in poor taste, but i don't consider this to be a serious ethical problem, it's not like he robbed the skull out of a grave. People are now kinda demonising him for raffling a skull and i don't think that's fair. Also, through not removing this post when asked to, it isn't even closing the matter, people are going to be able to see this for years and it'll still be harmful. I don't believe that leaving this blog post up is fair to norman, and in fact shows jakes age in his unwillingness to close the matter now it's been resolved and move on

Jake said...

"Scapegoat"'s first couple of contributions didn't involve personal insults or attacks....but the next ten got progressively worse, like when he kept coming back every hour in the night to leave a new one. The nasty ones have been held for moderation.

Guest said...

Skulls and skeletons were imported in their thousands from a factory in India right up to the 1980s, when it was found that many of them were being obtained under dubious circumstances and their export was banned. Up until this point almost every medical student in the UK had their own skeleton. It would be impossible to determine which ones were obtained legitimately and which weren't, and there are thousands of them around. Better to ensure that these are treated respectfully and used to teach future generations of medics and anatomists?

Jake said...

I wondered when someone would use my age ! Although one of the abusive emails I got yesterday said "I don't know if you have any kids, but if you do....". (I'm pretty sure I don't).
I'm sad you feel that way, especially after all the help I've given you after you asked, Anna - I looked back and it looks like about 30 or 40 questions I answered for you. And this wasn't a personal attack; I know a lot of people who have bought from the shop, and some like it and some don't, but that was irrelevant, because it was about one issue.The shop's mentioned by name in the second paragraph, and the rest is about the issues involved with human remains.
It is unbelievable the amount of abuse I have received since - especially by email, where some stuff has been very nasty - over this, but I'm getting to the point where I think it actually needs a second blog post on advice to other child bloggers who experience the same thing.
As far as I'm concerned, the matter is closed. I have no problem with Norman, and in my last Twitter message to him I wished him all the best for the future and said he had done the right thing. He hasn't replied to that, nor my last email, but that's up to him.

Guest said...

That is disgraceful and something I find difficult to believe. If true, whoever was running the dig was on breach of the licence required from the Ministry of Justice to exhume those remains, and your friend should have reported them.

Jake said...

Well, technically each medical student had *two* skeletons !

Jake said...

I agree and if you can give me dates and places of when this allegedly occurred I will pass this on to someone I know whose job is to make sure the law on this is complied with and let them investigate.

Guest said...

Need a 'like' button! - in fact, most students bought a 'half' skeleton, with a skull, spine, and one side, so they had 1.5! No idea what they did with all the spare bits.

bigbootsandscaryeyes said...

I'm sorry that you have recieved abuse, nobody deserves that, and i know that you have answered questions for me in that past, that number seems very high considering that i asked you mainly about licenses, preserving a bat, and what species some deer skulls could be. I appreciate the help that you gave me but i think that personally the way you handled this was wrong. It was a very reasonable request to remove this blog post which was actually quite a passive agressive way of asking someone to remove something that offended you. By naming names you have pointed out someone who you think has poor morals personally, and with the fan base you have that could harm the whole of his business. You didn't have fully point your finger at this shop, but you did, and with didn't give a valid reason to not take down a harmful post not onto to him, but you as well.
Again, I'm sorry that you're getting this abuse, i certainly do not want to add to it, but the request was a simple one and at the end of the day you got your way.

Jake said...

This had been discussed on Twitter for at least two or three days before I posted - because that's how the Human Tissue Authority got in touch. I was amazed he didn't withdraw it then, because there were some REALLY important osteology people discussing it, and I put off writing the blog post until the last minute because I was so convinced the competition would be withdrawn then I would need to find something new to blog about that week. So there was plenty of time to rethink it before I blogged, and if it had been withdrawn by then I wouldn't have blogged about it at all.

bigbootsandscaryeyes said...

If you'd have thought there would have been some kind of legal issue, ehich is what i think you're getting at, surely that would have been worth a mention along with the rest of the reasons you disagreed with this comletion.
At the end of the day this post has touched a lot of nerves, and very few epople have handled it well. I hope people leave you alone soon. Happing savenging.

Jake said...

No I didn't think there would be a legal issue. It's just there's no point writing a blog post against something which doesn't exist any more. Hope you have luck with your bone finding as well, and let me know if I can help again in the future.

Kate Viscardi said...

Yes, I too would like to know so I can pass this information on.

Kate Viscardi said...

The "compromise" the business proposed was the removal of a blog post. Whatever happened to free speech? Censorship leaves a very bad taste in the mouth, as does the unpleasantness heaped on the head of a child. Jake was not the first to bring this to public attention and not the most eminent.

I didn't see public shaming, at least not by Jake. He blogged about a news story that was already being thoroughly discussed on Twitter and stated his opinion. In response people accused him of having ulterior motives, kept on pushing their own opinions despite others pointing out what the law is, and harped on about a jokey comment he wrote five years ago, when he was - seven.

If anything, Weird and Wonderful appear to have come out of it reasonably well, having withdrawn the offer fairly quickly. It is unfortunate they asked Jake to take down his blog post, but a good PR person would be able to spin this as them as having made a mistake which they now regret and as a result they have reviewed their ethical policy and in future ... blah blah

CuriousKanna said...

Hello Jake, do you think that putting pics of human skulls on social media streams amounts to "public display"? I think this is an important question that we all could do well to consider.

Christine Sutcliffe said...

Quite right too! If it were a cast of a human skull then fair enough but you'd be giving away someone's head at the end of the day and that's just not right. :/
Well done for sticking to your guns on it and not taking down your blog posts!

Guest said...

Photographs are not covered by the definition of public display within the Human Tissue Act.

scapegoat said...

I
ask you don't delete this post there is nothing nasty about
it I am simply defending my character. I criticized you as it related
to the post and points brought up by other commenters. Not at any point
did I attack you on a personal level. Criticism of a persons actions,
intentions, or behavior is not a personal attack. Some deleted comments I
made were not even directed at you or made any mention of you and were
simply me pointing out incorrect information posted by other commenters.
Nothing I ever said was crude, vulgar, or of a threatening nature.
Harsh criticism at worst, however, I do not believe in sugar coating or
censoring my opinion. Honestly, in real life, I swear like a sailor but
felt that such language would be inappropriate on this site so I
abstained from my natural tongue. I did this to be respectful to you and
your page. Hardly the action of a nasty person with ill intentions. I
am a night owl and always have been, it works well with my profession. I
hardly see why you think my nocturnal habits
were important enough to mention. Besides studies show that those who
stay up later tend to have increased intelligence. Food for thought.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

-Edgar Allan Poe (Another
harsh critic and patron of the night)

scapegoat said...

I
am utterly confused as to why you blocked me and deleted only selected
comments of mine. I never said anything that can be viewed as obscene
nor did I ever make any
personal attacks or threats against you. I simply disagreed with your
views, expressed my own, and encouraged you to question your position,
behavior, and actions. I understand you are rather young but this is how
the world and especially the scientific community works. We discuss,
challenge, debate, and question the views of others and ourselves. I
constantly question myself and
my views that's how I grow. I listen to others I correct them when I
feel they are wrong and thank them when they show me the errors in my
own thoughts and beliefs. I do not censor someone because their opinion
challenges my views. Censorship is the destruction of an idea. It is the
enemy of science and the bane of human advancement. Considering my post
have gotten very high votes (including the highest voted comment in
this post I believe) I would say those who view your blog are interested
in my opinion on this matter and it is a disservice to them to remove
my voice from the discussion. Especially since you deleted post that
were not even directed at you and were responses to comments left by
other people. I also am somewhat offended that you left a comment for me
which you knew I couldn't respond to. I am not from Utah, I am
currently in Utah, but I am not from here. The UK does have theft of
services it is an entirely different crime than breach of
contract. Typically it's part of a law against theft or fraud. So, for
example someone would be found guilty of fraud by means of theft of
services or something like that. The crime is the same but the actually
wording of the charge varies from place to place. There is also a big
difference between the legal definition of a word and the common
definition. In this instance the law is talking about a critique of the
image or the work. Since your criticism has nothing to do with the work
itself it's not necessarily protected. For example if I posted your book
cover on a page and then wrote about not liking you as a person I am
not entitled to use the image because I'm not criticizing your work. Or
perhaps a better example would be if I used your book cover on a page
where I wrote a bunch of negative things about the book's publisher and
nothing about the book itself. Hope that all makes sense laws can be
quite confusing. I'm also not saying you would
absolutely be found guilty of a crime only that there is a good case
against using that work. This usually means you are at least in
an ethical grey area which is something to think about. I expect you'll
block me again and delete this post all I ask is that you at least
contemplate what I have said.



(I
am aware I've repeated things from my other post below it's early for
me. I saved this after I originally tried to post it and didn't feel
like editing.)

scapegoat said...

See above post if it's still there.

scapegoat said...

Jake has free speech. The business resolved the issue and asked him to remove a post that shows them in a negative light. This happens all the time in the world. Lets say someone shortchanged you without realizing it and you go around telling everyone what happened and not to trust them. Then they offer to give you what is owed and ask you to stop telling people they wronged you and tell the people you already told that it was a mistake with no harm done. A reasonable request. If you take what was owed to you and don't clear their name you have allowed your wrong to be righted but not righted the wrong you have committed. Weird & Wonderful did this with the best possible intentions and intended no disrespect or offense. They removed the skull after seeing that the raffle caused numerous people to become very upset. It is reasonable for them to request that bad press against them be removed. Keep in mind this is a business that supports local taxidermist and donates part of their profits to the WWF. They are set up in a way that is not only ethical but helps preserve eco systems as well as supporting impoverished communities with economic stability and growth. It's a good business working to improve the world and the taxidermy community. We as that community should be supporting them even if you disagree with one thing they almost did one time.

Jake said...

" I hardly see why you think my nocturnal habits were important enough to mention. Besides studies show that those who stay up later tend to have increased intelligence. Food for thought."


That's brilliant !

Jake said...

It's a different law, but I have one rare skull which I can possess, show people, but not charge people to see - but I can take and show photographs of it, so that makes sense.

Kate Viscardi said...

I did not ask for your opinion, I asked for evidence. Please provide evidence for your assertion there is such a thing as theft of services.

Jake said...

I think he's thinking of the law where you, say, pay for petrol then drive off without paying. Which is not the same as breach of copyright.

Kate Viscardi said...

From Oxford dictionaries.
Free speech: The right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint

Weird and Wonderful's intent is irrelevant. They did something that was unethical. They were called out by lots of very eminent people as well as Jake. In an attempt to retrieve the situation they did something else that is unethical - required the removal of a blog post and thus directly attacked Jake's right to express his opinions.

The questions you should ask yourself:
1. did Jake's post violate the platform's terms of service? If you believe so, you should contact the blog platform
2. was Jake's post defamatory? If so, Weird and Wonderful should consult their lawyers to try to get a court order requiring the removal of the post.

Kate Viscardi said...

Yes, probably.

Paolo Viscardi said...

I'm rather late to the discussion here I'm afraid, as I've been away on holiday.

I am the gentleman named Paolo that Jake refers to. I am responsible for human remains at the Horniman Museum, where I work and I am a member of the UK Human Remains Subject Specialist Network. It is part of my professional role to consider the implications of use of human remains, both legal and ethical.

Jake is entirely correct in his assertion that the giving of a human skull as a raffle prize is unethical, for all of the reasons stated, particularly the issue of respect.

My personal and rule of thumb when it comes to ethics involving human remains is what I call the 'grandmother rule', which runs as follows:

If my grandmother's remains were treated like this, would I consider it disrespectful? If my remains were treated like this, would my grandmother consider it disrespectful?

If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then there are concerns. Obviously this is subjective, but that's the nature of ethical debate.

As to Jake's use of the image, that falls squarely into the realm of fair usage, since Jake does not claim to have made the image, the reuse is for a socially valuable purpose (see here for recent changes in UK copyright law that has been made for precisely these reseaons: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/hargreaves-copyright-techreview) and Jake acknowledges the source in his article - which is entirely appropriate and ethically sound.

Sybil The Thsquirel said...

I would like to add also, that from a legal point of view, that before buying / acquiring / storing human tissue (inc. bones), one should first establish the age of the material. If it is less than 100 years old then it would almost certainly be subject to Human Tissue Act laws. This means that at the very least, a license would be required to store such material. (Oh, and I'm totally in agreement with you Jake, about the whole debate).

Ric said...

Wow, having been on holiday and not having time or sufficiently reliable internet access to follow all of this debate, can I just say how interesting & informative it has been to catch up and read people's views on this issue. I can appreciate many of the emotions and arguments expressed. I myself am of the opinion that we are all animals, and that human bones aren't unusually special, but I do subscribe to the belief that all animal remains including human should be treated with respect, and this is a point that you make strongly in your book, Jake. This is why I'm slightly uncomfortable with the 'novelty' Victorian taxidermy industry, the buying and selling of bones on eBay (although I admit that I've bought items in the past and may do again in the future) and the whole 'bones as jewellery' issue. Jake, I'm really impressed by the way you've answered the comment posters' points. Each challenging comment raised has been counter-argued well. Your ethical arguments seem to me to be very reasonable and and your interpretation of legislation appears very sound; although I know little of the Human Tissue Act, I do know about copyright legislation. This whole issue of whether or not one should take down a blog post is, in my opinion a matter of free speech and if what you have written is balanced, reasonable, and factually correct, and you have confidence in it, then it seems entirely appropriate for it to remain on record. As they used to say, today's newspapers wrap tomorrow's fish and chips. Thanks to the internet, stories do hang around quite a bit longer these days, but by the time the stories get to the second or third pages of Google search hits, people either won't go that far or they won't give a monkey's anyway. So it won't hurt anyone's business for long, providing they can come up with some good news stories / positive publicity to push the negative stuff into the past. But yeah, W&W, you did the right thing to withdraw the prize, so get some new, up-to-date positive stories into the public domain, and push that nasty old stuff into the past so we can all be friends again.

Ol'Uncle Krody Jaymes Vomitron said...

I really enjoy your blog :)

robbie said...

there's nothing wrong with it. the person probably donated there body to science. im 13 and collect taxidermy,bones and would love a human skull. people might think you are wrong for collecting animal remains that should just be left alone.it is probably a medical specimen that was used to show people about humans and how they work and now the person has no need for it so gave it to the shop and the shop can do what they want with it. its like me saying to you that you cant make a blog about dead animal because its cruel but its what you want to do. i hoep for a relpy

yours sincerely RobbIe




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