Thursday, August 30, 2007

Go Cardinals!

A friend points out the following article from Pew Research: How the Public Resolves Conflicts Between Faith and Science The article attempts to address some conflicting survey results: First: Americans approve of science:

(M)ost people (87%) think that scientific developments make society better. Among those who describe themselves as being very religious, the same number – 87% – share that opinion.

Second: Most Americans do not accept evolution:

42% of Americans reject the notion that life on earth evolved and believe instead that humans and other living things have always existed in their present form...Moreover, in the same poll, 21% of those surveyed say that although life has evolved, these changes were guided by a supreme being. Only a minority, about a quarter (26%) of respondents, say that they accept evolution through natural processes or natural selection alone. (emphasis mine)

And third, most Americans acknowledge that scientists accept evolution:

(N)early two-thirds of adults (62%) say that they believe that scientists agree on the validity of evolution.

How does the author try to reconcile these apparently conflicting beliefs?

The answer is that much of the general public simply chooses not to believe the scientific theories and discoveries that seem to contradict long-held religious or other important beliefs.

He appears to be right. He notes that only 14% of those who don't accept evolution do so because of evidence. Most do so because of religious convictions.

(O)nly 14% of those who say they do not believe in evolution cite lack of evidence as the main reason underpinning their views; more people cite their belief in Jesus (19%), God (16%) or religion generally (16%) as their reason for rejecting Darwin's theory.

All of this is well and good. People have a right to believe whatever they want, evidence be damned! As Stephen Colbert has noted, "The problem with evidence is that it doesn't always support your opinion." Still, are there any drawbacks to the fact that most Americans will ignore scientific evidence for faith? The author seems to think not:

These data once again show that, in the minds of most people in the United States, there is no real clash between science and religion. And when the two realms offer seemingly contradictory explanations (as in the case of evolution), religious people, who make up a majority of Americans, may rely primarily upon their faith for answers.

But he ignores a very important point he himself brought up. He starts the article by noting:

(R)eligious convictions limit many Americans' willingness to accept...certain types of scientific research, such as the potential use of embryonic stem cells for medical treatments.

Here's where I get pissy. Believe whatever you want for whatever reason, but don't use those beliefs to impact my life. If your beliefs are going to impact my life, you oughta have some evidence. My family has a history of Alzheimer's. Some scientists believe stem cell research can offer insight to a potential cure. But many can't do the research they'd like due to the faith of most Americans. (I understand that it's possible to be opposed to stem cell research based on evidence or political principles, but the argument is probably better that most who oppose it are opposed due to religion.)

Let me give an example describing why I'm pissy about this: If I start failing students because my faith in voodoo dolls tells me it is "true" that they cheated on their exams, those students deserve to be pissy and have every right to demand evidence. If I were to say I have "faith" that they cheated despite any evidence, they oughta tell me the same thing I want to tell people whose beliefs impact the ability of scientists to do stem cell research: Kiss Hank's Ass! Ultimately, I think the author lays out some interesting data. I'm just not as convinced as he seems to be that there's little conflict between science and religion in the US. Especially as it relates to evolution. Obscure title reference: Sister Martha Carpenter of St. Peter Indian Mission School told fans of the Arizona Cardinals on Wednesday, "God told me this year that the prayers are going to work."

The fireman's blind, the conductor's lame

Article: Ex-Astronaut Will Plead Insanity

Captain Lisa M. Nowak, the former astronaut and naval officer who confronted a romantic rival at the Orlando airport in February, will plead insanity at her trial on assault and kidnapping charges, according to a notice filed on Tuesday in state circuit court in Orlando.

Her attorney says:

Even the most naive observer should recognize that Lisa Nowak’s behavior on Feb. 5 was uncharacteristic and unpredicted for such an accomplished person with no criminal record or history of violence

Well, sure. But does doing something out of character make you insane? Really? Oh, and they're bringing in the celebrity "She's insane!" guy.

A Houston psychiatrist, Richard Pesikoff, who provided a defense diagnosis in the case of Andrea Yates, a Houston mother who killed her children, is expected to testify on Captain Nowak’s behalf, the filing states.

Title reference here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Once again...I choose Hopsicles!

I just found out that Benjamin Libet, one of the most famous neuroscience researchers to investigate the question of free will, died last month. Sad. He was a free will stud. His most famous research study basically found a gap in time between our conscious awareness to perform an act and the brain activity associated with it. The brain activity comes first. For many, that research meant that free will is an illusion. But the guy who did the research disagreed. According to him:

(H)is experiments showed that if his subjects were told not to move a finger, or to stop moving it, their conscious will would maintain complete control - "could veto it and block performance of the act," as he described it.

Besides, recent research might suggest that fruit flies have free will. If they got it, you gotta think we got it. The study, from May 2007, involved placing fruit flies in containers with no stimuli to which to respond. The fruit flies, though, made left and right turns that, statistically, were not random. The flies’ behavior, then, was neither the result of their biological nature, nor responding to their environment. One of the researchers claimed:

We show free will ‘can’ exist, but we do not ‘prove’ it does…Our results eliminate two alternative explanations of this spontaneous turning behavior that would run counter to free will, namely randomness and pure determinism.

I guess it should be noted that this is the nature of all science. You don't 'prove' anything. You simply eliminate alternative (testable) explanations.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I still choose hopsicles

These two articles address the same recent study by researchers investigating the relationship between happiness and freedom of choice..

"People's ability to be an agent, to act on behalf of what matters to them, is fundamental (to happiness)"

Let's play a game. You have to follow the links:
This is from the APA site: How happy are we? Danes are an 8.2, but Americans only a 7.4
This (same article, best I can tell) is from the USA today: Researchers: Choices spawn happiness
Let's forget the research for a second. Note the stock photo the USA today chose for the article. Is it me, or does it suggest that if a young guy has his choice among hot, mud-wrestling chicks in bikinis, he'd be happier? I don't think that really was the point of the research.
Anyway, here's a good article on how researchers study happiness.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Beer and a shot

I'm all right with guns. Nothing against 'em. I really like venison. Used to have unlimited access in Colorado; Now I wish I knew someone I could pay to shoot me a deer. See, I'm all right with guns. I even know some students want guns on campus. We allow it at BRCC, with solid argumentation (state laws are such that we can't do anything to prevent non-students from having guns; seems unfair to prevent students but not visitors). That said, in the name of consistency, is it unreasonable to ask that the state regulate beer no more that it regulates guns? I want my hopsicles! Story goes like this - Some restaurant out near DC started serving frozen beer popsicles. But that goes against government regulations.

Special agent Philip Disharoon says the law requires beer to be served in its original container, or served immediately to a customer once it is poured from its original container.

So it's easier to get a gun at a gun show ("children under 12 are FREE") than it is frozen beer in a restaurant. Yea for Virginia!

I feel blue

Follow-up on the "pink and blue" gender preference blog post from last week right here. They can cover it far better than I can, but I can at least say "I called it!"

It’s worth being critical and thoughtful about these stories, not because it’s fun to be mean: but because that’s what the authors would want, and also because stories about genes and culture are an important part of the stories we tell ourselves about who and what we are, our sense of personal responsibility, and the inevitability in our gender roles.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

I left my chemically imbalanced brain in my locker

Article: ADHD Ads Target Back-to-School Crowd

Parents shopping for pencils, book bags and new clothes for their kids may be tempted by recent advertisements to add yet another item to their back-to-school cart -- a prescription for an ADHD drug.

Although I can understand concerns about children and prescription drugs for psychological characteristics, the critics here seem somewhat off-base. Says one:

"This kind of ad is obviously not pushing for better teaching, better schools or more counseling, but it is pushing for the easy fix, the drug solution."

With all due respect...duh. Ads for McDonalds are not pushing for purchases from Burger King. The ad is pushing a product. That's what ads do.

On a related note, this is an interesting article about buying back to school clothes. Why do you need Ritalin if you're leaving your brain in your locker, anyway?

Friday, August 24, 2007

It is true because I say it is true. I say it is true because it is true.

Article: Shedding Light on Shyness

In the study, eight male high school shooters, including the two students responsible for the attack at Columbine, were analyzed based on personal and social factors noted in newspapers and the FBI document titled "The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective."...The researchers examined 10 different characteristics of cynical shyness and found that the school shooters fit this profile.

So, it appears from the article (although I haven't seen the original study) to be the following:
(1) They found a bunch of characteristics common amongst high-school "shooters"
(2) Then, they compared high-school "shooters" to these characteristics
(3) Finally, they found that high-school "shooters" fit the characteristics...
...common amongst high-school "shooters"

Wow, that's fascinating. (Maybe I misunderstood? I suspect the researchers somehow developed the criteria of "cynical shyness" some other way. Would be nice if the article said what that was.)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Take ten paces, turn, and draw a picture

Article: School Suspends Boy for Sketching Gun

MESA, Ariz. (AP) - School officials suspended a 13-year-old boy for sketching what looked like a gun, saying the action posed a threat to his classmates..(School) district spokesman Terry Locke said the crude sketch was "absolutely considered a threat," and that threatening words or pictures are punishable.

Keep in mind. We're not talking about "drawing" a gun from a holster. Nope. "Drawing" a gun on paper. If the kid had a sausage rather than a picture of a gun, they'da had to pry that sausage from his cold, dead hands.

A 12 year old British boy has been arrested and charged for throwing a two-inch long cocktail sausage at another person.

Medication, good. Functioning, bad.

Article: Schizophrenia Drug for Youths

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the drug Risperdal for treating schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in children and teenagers.

All well and good. Not sure if the following is a typo or not.

Bipolar disorder causes wide swings in mood, energy and ability to function.

Well, by all means. Let's try to eliminate the ability to function in children and teenagers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Science is good, until you hurt me feelings

Article: Criticism of a Gender Theory, and a Scientist Under Siege

In academic feuds, as in war, there is no telling how far people will go once the shooting starts. Earlier this month, members of the International Academy of Sex Research, gathering for their annual meeting in Vancouver, informally discussed one of the most contentious and personal social science controversies in recent memory.

This is a bit a doozy, and I followed it closely for a bit. It's interesting in two ways: First, academics are so damn petty. Second, though, when scientists disagree with other scientists, the debate, I'd hope, would be scientific. Politics shouldn't be involved. Indeed, when politicians get involved, scientists get all pissy (correctly).

When when the topic is sex, though, all that goes out the window. Here's the deal. Psychologist (Bailey) writes a book suggesting a pretty darn Freudian theory of transgendered individuals.

In his book, he argued that some people born male who want to cross genders are driven primarily by an erotic fascination with themselves as women.

This theory upsets some people. That's cool. That's what science is all about. Keeping throwing out your evidence, critique the evidence of others. But it got ugly.

“What happened to Bailey is important, because the harassment was so extraordinarily bad and because it could happen to any researcher in the field...If we’re going to have research at all, then we’re going to have people saying unpopular things, and if this is what happens to them, then we’ve got problems not only for science but free expression itself.”

In defense, one critic said:

“Nothing we have done...overstepped any boundaries of fair comment on a book and an author who stepped into the public arena with enthusiasm to deliver a false and unscientific and politically damaging opinion”

As I see it, there's the problem: If you can argue the theory is "false and unscientific" then do so. But whether it is "politically damaging" should be completely irrelevant.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tell me about your mother's bomb

They discussed it. And they decided APA psychologists can still participate in interrogations. They just can't be mean about it.

After a raucous debate about what role - if any - psychologists should play in U.S. government interrogations of terror suspects, the American Psychological Association voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to reject a measure that would have in effect banned its members from those interrogations.

I'm just guessing here, but I'll bet the primary difference of opinion exists between those psychologists who think of themselves as part of a "helping profession" (that is, helping people help themselves, rather than helping people torture others), and those who, likely for good reason, don't.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Random 'Human Sexuality' article

Pet camel kills Australian woman
I have no comment. (thanks Joe)

Psychologists can indeed torture

Study: Why girls prefer pink:

“This is the first study to pinpoint a robust sex difference in the red-green axis of human color vision,” says (a) co-author of the study. “And this preference has an evolutionary advantage behind it.”

It's the first week of the semester and I'm trying to get people to take psychology seriously. If this isn't torture, I don't know what is.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I didn't spend six years in Evil Medical School to be called "mister," thank you very much

The first blog post of the semester will be short. The APA is again debating whether they approve of psychologists participating in interrogations of military prisoners. Thus far, the APA has approved. They're voting again this year. An interesting recent article addressing some of the prominent psychologists involved comes from Vanity Fair. Article link here. But the author sets out her agenda as follows:

I was attempting to explain why psychologists, alone among medical professionals, were participating in military interrogations at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere.

And therein lies the rub (or whatever that nifty phrase is). Why would she think of psychologists as "medical professionals"? Why would her editor allow such terminology? Indeed, many psychologists are mental health professionals. But so are social workers, school counselors, and art therapists. Hell, I'm a psychologist and former APA member, but I ain't no stinking medical professional.
Rather than thinking of psychologists as "medical professionals" I offer the following: Professional manipulators. Sadly, that might make them perfect for military interrogations.