Archive for the Science! Category

I’ve had it…

Posted in Blogging, GIGO, Science! with tags , , on April, 2011 by melendwyr

I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with Razib Khan’s combined failure to apply the standards of scientific reasoning and basic courtesy on his blog.

Recent posts, which ended once again in Mr. Khan’s closing of the thread, have annoyed me past the point of endurance.



Posted in Politics and Society, Science! with tags , , , , , on March, 2011 by melendwyr

TGGP‘s recent post regarding Will Wilkinson’s opinions of some of Gordon Gallup’s hypotheses regarding homosexuality and its stigmas – particularly, why being gay is so commonly viewed as bad across cultures, or why ‘homophobia’ exists – attracted my notice, and inspired some ire.

I posted a snarky remark about how awful some of the evolutionary psychological ‘explanations’ are. But it did make me think a little about what worthwhile explanations might exist.

Simple explanations – which require that we make fewer leaps beyond what we know and into what we might be mistaken about – are better, all else being equal. Are there any explanations for why people could be made uncomfortable by gays?

One aspect of human cognition which seems to be universal is that children go through a phase, soon after they recognize that there are two human genders, in which they are very concerned that they act ‘appropriately’. Whatever ‘appropriately’ is in their culture. But little boys obsessively ensure that they dress, play, and eat the way little boys are supposed to, and likewise with little girls. Being told that they behave like a member of the other group is an insult. Until after puberty, in fact, most children not only have little interest in doing things like or with the other gender, they actively desire not to do so. Girls/boys have ‘cooties’, and so forth. This facilitates learning more about the roles, in sort of the same way that young children want to imitate their parents’ actions. There’s a natural tendency to acquire adaptive knowledge, and in the ancestral environment kids who wanted to learn the things that they’d eventually end up doing to live would have obvious benefits over those who didn’t. (Evolution didn’t anticipate schooling, much less attending school well into adulthood.)

Although sexual orientation isn’t necessarily associated with the personality traits caught up in gender roles, it may be statistically linked with them, and people certainly believe they’re linked.

So: if we learn that a given person is of non-standard sexuality, isn’t it possible that we expect them to cross over the attitudinal and behavioral standards for their gender roles as well, and this violation of expectation makes us uncomfortable? I’ve noticed that people resent those who break a rule if they are themselves expending resources to ensure that they keep it – and the harder the rule is to keep, the more we are angered/annoyed/frightened by those who don’t keep it.

Why can’t homophobia simply be attributed to discomfort at violations of expectations to which most people force themselves to conform?

Wait a minute: maybe the CSI Effect is real after all…

Posted in Politics and Society, Science! on February, 2011 by melendwyr

…or at least, the reports of its demise are premature.

There’s been a bit of talk lately about a study which claims to show that the supposed ‘CSI Effect’, in which jurors have totally unrealistic expectations about the kinds of forensic testing that should be present in a court case (See this NPR story to see what I’m talking about) isn’t real.

Where’s the problem?

“What we decided to do was survey people called for jury service before they were actually selected,” he says.

Juror pools are not the same as collections of actual jurors, because in the American legal system lawyers are permitted to exclude a certain number of jurors for whatever reason they wish, with the result that each side tries to exclude candidates they feel will be unsympathetic with their arguments and include those who’d be sympathetic. In a mugging case, for example, the defending lawyer might ask the pool of potential jurors if they or any close family member had ever been mugged themselves and then ask that anyone answering in the affirmative be dismissed, reasoning that such people might be inclined to view someone accused of the crime with pre-judgment.

I’ve heard claims that people whose professions include training in standards of evidence or specific types of science likely to be involved in court cases are specifically excluded by lawyers – or more generally, anyone who would be inclined and capable of applying critical thinking to their arguments. To what degree this is true, I don’t know.

But the pool of potential jurors clearly does not accurately represent the population of actual jurors. A study on the attitudes of the former cannot be used to reach conclusions about the latter.

Tantalizing Criticism

Posted in Reviews, Science!, Things You Should Read with tags , , on November, 2010 by melendwyr

Some of you may remember my writing of a frustrating and outraging book I’d recently read that I said I would blog about. Well, I never quite got around to it – I wrote drafts and drafts, rethinking and rewriting, but I never quite expressed everything that I found wrong with the book. Yes, there were that many things wrong.

So I’ll just say it:

The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris, was absolutely horrifying. It started off relatively well, pointing out that the most distinctive and definitive traits of humanity were from a naturalist’s perspective not at all the things we’d most likely think of (hence the title of the book). And it does a reasonably good job of reviewing the nature of human sexuality from an ‘alien’ point of view.

But it’s also full of pseudoFreudian psychobabble, grotesque misrepresentations of associative processes, just-so stories, inaccuracies, arguments asserted without proper logical or evidentiary support, and mindless repetition of the dogmas of the times in which it was written.

I may eventually point out a few of the specific problems I had with the book, because without providing the justifications this ‘review’ is really just a slander. But that will be a subject for another day.

Familial Genetic Profiling: Get Over It

Posted in Politics and Society, Science! on June, 2010 by melendwyr

razib khan, over at his new Discover blog site, briefly discusses an article in Slate which mentions familial genetic profiling, and this guy has the following response:

The article goes to list all the law-related reasons why using this partial-match system is problematic. The bottom line is that this new expansion of CODIS searches is infringing on some rights and privacy statutes. So some laws will have to be re-written if this is all going to become legal and above-board.

The bigger message is that the government’s always going to be doing these types of law enforcement expansions in total stealth mode, and it’s up to the public and their constitutional defenders to drag such changes out into the daylight and force them to be regulated.

All I can say is: How ridiculous! If law enforcement officials have a genetic profile of a criminal, and they note that a sample taken from a crime scene is almost but not quite a match to the known profile, why in the world would we expect them not to take a closer look at family members of that criminal? We know that siblings are more likely to resemble each other than randomly-chosen strangers – should we prohibit taking photographs of criminals to protect the ‘privacy’ of their relatives who may look somewhat similar?

What exactly are we expected to expect? Laws banning cops from taking note of partial profile matches? How precisely would that protect the privacy of the innocent, especially when no information about their own DNA is stored in the computer? The similarities between siblings are only statistical, after all. Possessing knowledge about one person’s DNA does provide statistical knowledge about the DNA sequences of their biological relatives, but I cannot see how that is an invasion of their privacy, nor how using partial matches to determine avenues of investigation constitutes a violation of relatives’ rights.

If a crime victim gave a description that is vaguely like that of a known criminal with an alibi, but he had a sibling who strongly resembled him, would it be a violation of that sibling’s rights if police took note of this? We’re quite willing to accept that. Why is this different?

Is it merely that genetic profiling is new and unfamiliar?

Dresden Codak: Dark Science

Posted in Reviews, Science!, Things You Should Read with tags on June, 2010 by melendwyr

Ooh, a new DC comic!

Not as wacky or as inspired as Codak’s work usually is, but I’m grateful for anything given how much time passes between updates. Plus this is the beginning of a new series, so the use of an old and shopworn joke isn’t as objectionable as it might have otherwise been; I’m confident that high levels of surreality will again be attained. The art style, as usual, is pleasing to the eye.

Also, the particular titled parodied are quite clever. I wonder what other books could be so amusingly ‘adapted’.

Problems with Schizophrenia Comic

Posted in Medicine, Politics and Society, Science! on September, 2009 by melendwyr

See this comic.

What’s the problem? The claim that the schizophrenic aren’t more dangerous. Actually, people with delusions are significantly more likely than those without to engage in physical assault – and the problem is that it’s very difficult to predict when they’ll do so.

Obviously, given ‘sane’ individuals can be very violent too, and if a given schizophrenic has no history of violent reactions there’s really no reason to think they’ll suddenly start. But all else being equal, they’re a greater danger to others than they’d otherwise be.

I’m not even going to touch the discussion of what the causes of schizophrenia are – that topic requires more work than is suitable for this post.