Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thanks to you, I've quit blogging like Jesus

I'm going on hiatus. I'd planned on taking the summer off of blogging, but that was to be a couple weeks away. Then the whiny ass mother fucker (WAMF) went on his rampage at Tech. Here in the valley, that hit home both figuratively and literally. I got angry. I hope a lot of people got angry. The hiatus stems from other anger, though. I immediately called out the fact everyone will use the event to confirm their existing beliefs. I didn't think I'd get so angry about that, though. But I did. Lots of anger. As I was waiting for Nancy Grace to blame the Duke LaCrosse team for the VT shooting (has that happened yet?), and for Jerry Falwell to blame the ACLU and lesbians (the "god hates fags" retards did, indeed, blame gays), I started about 10 different blog posts. I never finished because I became too angry. I started posts criticizing the anti-gun people; the pro-gun people, the violent media people; the anti-Thomas Szasz people; and the anti-feminist people; the anti-anti-God people (if only the US hadn't forsaken god!); and the people who never pointed out WAMF clearly, in part, was inspired by the Bible, name-checking Jesus as frequently as he did the Columbine shooters. Finally, I realized it was me at whom I was angry. Me. I wasn't any different. Each blog post I'd started was the same as everyone else's - I was just using the event to confirm my pre-existing beliefs. Damn, I hate that. So I'm going on hiatus. I'll be back in either July or August. I'll leave with this unrelated link: this week is doing a series on brain science. I suspect it'll be excellent.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I'm right and you're wrong!

Quick post: I previously suggested looking out for the confirmation bias in response to the VT shootings, especially regarding gun control. This article, False Lessons from an Atrocity, articulates it better than I could:

It used to be that a shocking act of gun violence would invariably elicit a chorus of demands for tighter gun control laws. How things have changed. Now an episode like that invariably elicits a chorus of demands for tighter gun control laws and a chorus of demands for looser gun control laws. What the reactions demonstrate is that no matter what happens, people are very good at finding confirmation for what they already think. (emphasis mine)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Anyone want a cookie?

Interesting first-person article and book review on eating disorders (Starved to Perfection). For the most part, I think it's well done. Provides some interesting statistics. Here's my one-liner. The book reviewed (Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body), evidently includes the the following quote to help explain the commonality of eating disorders:

“We are the daughters of feminists who said, ‘You can be anything,’ and we heard, ‘You have to be everything.’ ”

Perhaps, to an extent true. Childhood, parental relationships, etc. Yup, they all have an effect. But the article's author really shows her feminism at the end:

Over the course of the past three decades, men have been pursuing unnatural bulk and women exaggerated thinness, as if the world were such a small and symbiotic place that the weight they gain is the weight that we must lose, as if we need to minimize ourselves to make room for them.

I am a true feminist. I completely believe in equal rights for women. But a common criticism of some feminists is their need to explain all female "bad" behavior as somehow a function of men. Yeah, women have no choice but to have eating disorders because men are getting bigger. What we need is some man to come along and argue the opposite: We poor men are obligated to gain all that weight you malicious women are losing. What the hell. If all we gotta do is make shit up, with no supporting evidence, we can make it up to look like women are to blame, too.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Told ya so.

Questions remain after worst U.S. shooting rampage. I'll bet they only remain on the surface. Pay attention. For many, many commentators, there will be no real questions. They'll know the answers. Watch for two themes: (1) The hindsight bias. Yup, it's really obvious now things should've been done differently. Certainly, it's okay to criticize how the situation was handled. But remember everything's 20/20 in hindsight. (2) The confirmation bias. Specifically on gun laws. Stance A: Gun laws need to change, so less people have guns. Then these things won't happen. Stance B: Gun laws need to change, so more people have guns. Then these things won't happen. Keep an eye out. The same, tired arguments won't be hard to find.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Waiting for you, my wife, my mate...My hard long shaft, deep in your fissure

Abstinence education doesn't prevent teenagers from having sex? Gee, I always thought it would work. I always figured people had sex because their teachers hadn't told them otherwise. Conclusions Are Reported on Teaching of Abstinence reads:

Students who participated in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to a study ordered by Congress...The federal government spends about $176 million a year promoting abstinence until marriage...Bush administration officials cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study...

So, money for the ineffective programs. Money to study the ineffective programs. Suggestion: Don't make any conclusions about the money we spend. Makes you feel good on tax day.

Title quote from poem on this page ("A long time coming"). From this page.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Let me count the ways

Feeling a bit swamped lately, with what seems little time for blogging. Might go with some one-liners as the semester winds down and I try to keep the old noggin' above water. Here's the article, about sex difference in dating: How Don’t I Love Thee? Nothing all that revolutionary - study indicates: men are less picky, strongly influenced by looks. Women are more picky, strongly influenced by income. My favorite line regarding the ever-present self-serving bias - of roughly 20,000 subjects:

Fewer than 1 percent rated themselves as having “less than average looks.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Sex is dirty. Save it for someone you love.

Ah, the science of sex. Love it. Lust it. Whatever. Birds Do It. Bees Do It. People Seek the Keys to It. I swear I just said this in class yesterday:

An understanding (of sexual desire) could hardly come too soon. In an era when the rates of sexually transmitted diseases continue to climb; when schools and parent groups spar bitterly over curriculums for sex education classes; when the Food and Drug Administration angers both religious conservatives and women’s groups by approving the sale of the morning-after pill over the counter but then limiting those sales to women 18 years or older; and when deviations from the putative norm of monogamous heterosexuality are presented as threats to the social fabric — at such a time, scientists argue that the clear-eyed study of sexual desire and its consequences is vital to public health, public sanity, public comity.

'Course, we scientists start with defining our terms. More difficult than it appears:

“We throw around the term ‘sexual desire’ as though we’re all sure we’re talking about the same thing...But it’s clear from the research that people have very different operational definitions about what desire is.”

Overall, a great article reviewing the current status of sexology. What a word. Sexology.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Preparing for the judge by practicing on Mom & Dad: "Sorry. My brain made me do it!"

Here's another newspaper psychology article making sure we all understand that's it is never, EVER, our fault. It's always our brain. Expert: Risky teen behavior is all in the brain. I'm all right, I suppose, with the argument that it's all in the brain, if that's the route you want to go. But if you go there, I'm not sure how you somehow separate the argument into teenagers and adults. Teens' behavior is a result of brain activity, but adults' behavior is not? Psychologist specializing in teens says:

"Kids will sign drug pledges. They really mean that, but when they get in a park on a Friday night with their friends, that pledge is nowhere to be found in their brain structure. They're missing the neurologic brakes that adults have."

Let's apply such an argument to different "risky" behavior undertaken by many an adult. Dennis follows the logic:

Adults will sign marriage contracts. They really mean that, but when they get in a bar on a Friday night without their spouses, that contract is nowhere to be found in the brain structure. Must be they're missing the neurologic brakes that other adults have.

What exactly is the position the article is taking? Teens' behavior is all in the brain. Then...what? Some time around 21 we all develop some metaphysical soul providing free will to overcome our brains?

Listen, I understand what the psychologists/researchers/neuroscientists are saying: The frontal cortex "connects" neurologically to the limbic system as we age, perhaps tempering the emotional "instincts" of the limbic system with some logic & reasoning regulatory functions. But is that what the title of the article is conveying? From this particular perspective, *ALL* risky behavior is in the brain.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Thowing it out with the bathwater

You know how I'm always harping about having principles and applying them consistently, otherwise you're simply making random noises with your head? This articles provides an excellent analysis of a particular moral issue (stem cell research), and a critique of arguments not based on no moral principle (which are the crappiest of all moral arguments), but on an inconsistently applied moral principle. First, it identifies the common moral principle on which those opposing funding of stem cell research base their arguments:

(T)he unimplanted human embryo is already a human being, morally equivalent to a person

'Course, this isn't a scientific question - can't be tested to be right or wrong. So, for it to be used well in arguments, it needs to be applied consistently. The article notes several inconsistencies, but the most striking can be summarized as follows: If embryonic stem cell research is indeed tantamount to "the taking of innocent human life" (as President Bush has said), then it's the same as infanticide. And IF that, THEN...

If harvesting stem cells from a blastocyst were truly on a par with (infanticide), then the morally responsible policy would be to ban it, not merely deny it federal funding. If some doctors made a practice of killing children to get organs for transplantation, no one would take the position that the infanticide should be ineligible for federal funding but allowed to continue in the private sector. In fact, if we were persuaded that embryonic stem cell research were tantamount to infanticide, we would not only ban it but treat it as a grisly form of murder and subject scientists who performed it to criminal punishment

Whatever your position, the article serves as an excellent example of critiquing others' arguments in an intellectual fasion.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Oral sex & the lower drinking age - revistied

A colleague of mine sent a "no way was that on The Chronicle" e-mail in response to a previous post. Here's the larger screenshot.

I'm shocked, I tell you. Just shocked!

Depression overdiagnosed? No! I just can't believe it. Next thing they'll say is that ADHD is overdiagnosed. It just can't be true.

About one in four people who appear to be depressed are in fact struggling with the normal mental fallout from a recent emotional blow, like a ruptured marriage, the loss of a job or the collapse of an investment, a new study suggests. To avoid unnecessary diagnoses and stigma, the standard definition of depression should be redrawn to specifically exclude such cases, the authors argue.

Call me whatever you want, as long as you give me my pills! Full study here.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Sex lower the drinking age

If you had to guess, what would you say that photo is for? It's an article at the Chronicle of Higher Education, probably the most well-respected news source for information on higher education in the US. The article the photo links to? A debate on whether it would be wise to lower the drinking age to 18. Would that increase, decrease, or have no effect on oral sex?

I think (poorly), therefore I am (easily manipulated)

A great article on green tea and the representative heuristic: Can Green Tea Save Your Soul?

"(S)tudies" indicating a pattern of weight loss...allow green tea to be sold as a psychic cancellation stamp on essences we love and know to be bad for us in excess...(Thus)...the success of Starbucks' Tazo Green Tea Frappuccino, which also uses matcha, green tea in pulverized form. A "venti" has 560 calories if you hold the whipped cream. (The unappreciated business genius of Starbucks is not charging $4 for a latte but rather giving adults permission to drink milkshakes, on the pretext that they are merely tea or coffee.)

Standard psychology analysis: Heuristics are simple rules or strategies for solving problems and making judgments. Heuristics require very little thought – just the selection of the rule or strategy and an application of it. Advertisers and news media can manipulate thinking by using our heuristics against us. The representativeness heuristic is a tendency to assume commonality between objects of similar appearance.  How might advertisers use this to their advantage? Consider some common catch-phrases used by advertisers for food: 100% Natural; Low-Carb; Low-Fat. These terms mean something to us. So, when we come across a new product with one of these terms associated with it, we tend to evaluate the new product based on our understanding of other products that have used these terms.

Thus, tie the idea of "green tea" into a 560 calorie afternoon snack, and you got your people thinking the equivalent of a "Slimfast" meal replacement, rather than a McDonald's milkshake.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Lucifer Effect

Philip Zimbardo, famous psychologist behind the Stanford Prison Study, has a new book coming out. So he's making the rounds of talk shows (he was on the Daily Show last week) and newspapers. He's one of the most famous "nurture" psychologists of all time. He speaks recently in this interview:

QUESTION: You keep using this phrase “the situation” to describe the underlying cause of wrongdoing. What do you mean?
ZIMBARDO: That human behavior is more influenced by things outside of us than inside. The “situation” is the external environment. The inner environment is genes, moral history, religious training. There are times when external circumstances can overwhelm us, and we do things we never thought. If you’re not aware that this can happen, you can be seduced by evil. We need inoculations against our own potential for evil. We have to acknowledge it. Then we can change it.

I should note that there are critics (one of my favorite authors, included), who think the famous Stanford Prison Study does NOT explain Abu Ghraib (there's a follow-up here).
And as an aside, most academics have come to call the famous Prison research a "study" rather than an "experiment" - no group comparisons, really. No random assignment. No placebo. Just a note to keep in mind.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

"Doctors are trained to spot bullsh@t"

This "Bad Science" article, The Pill Problem, comes from the UK, making it an interesting contrast to the current state of the US. It notes, specifically, that in the US, pharmaceutical companies do an excellent job with "direct to consumer" advertising ("Ask your doctor about..." type ads), but that such ads have historically been blocked in the UK. The author worries that they may begin coming out there, and highlights the standard problem with such ads:

Doctors are trained to spot bullshit...Pharmaceutical companies produce next-level, postgraduate bullshit. Drug reps brandish literature that is the comedic parallel of the promotional stories you get in the media for supplement pills, but the tricks are far more complicated: they cherry pick the literature - looking only at the positive studies - they use surrogate endpoints - a blood test rather than a stroke - they use inadequate controls - a lower dose of the competitor’s drug.

It also notes specifically how psychological problems are, perhaps, the easiest to target with "Ask your doctor about..." ads. And it notes it sure would be nice if there was somebody "advocating against (the)...pill mentality."

Pills are seductive and easy, especially for problems with a strong psychological or social component; but the tragedy is...there is nobody advocating against this disempowering pill mentality: only different groups, some of whom claim to be “alternative”, squabbling over who can sell the most pills.

I guess, to an extent, Oprah does. But she does so by advocating silly, nonsensical, meta-spiritual hogwash as an alternative. By the way, good morning to you:

Monday, April 2, 2007

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

This article does a great job discussing the "culture of fear" and the availability heuristic:

Although statistics show that rates of child abduction and sexual abuse have marched steadily downward since the early 1990s, fear of these crimes is at an all-time high. Even the panic-inducing Megan's Law website says stranger abduction is rare and that 90% of child sexual-abuse cases are committed by someone known to the child. Yet we still suffer a crucial disconnect between perception of crime and its statistical reality. A child is almost as likely to be struck by lightning as kidnapped by a stranger, but it's not fear of lightning strikes that parents cite as the reason for keeping children indoors watching television instead of out on the sidewalk skipping rope.

It's reasonable to be afraid of things. But don't let others tell you what to fear. Or do. Whatever.