Prevailing assumptions and pop-psychology inform us that bullies and bullying are caused by such things as low self-esteem and social learning. The way to combat bullying thus becomes clear: raise self-esteem and teach better social skills.
But what if it wasn’t that simple?
My educated guess: It isn’t.
Each individual comes into the world, so to speak, with a distinct set of traits and dispositions. Thank genetic variation for that. Should it be any surprise that some children may be predisposed to being bullies, others to being the targets of bullies? Some recent research supports the notion.
The development of physical aggression in toddlers is strongly associated genetic factors and to a lesser degree with the environment.
In reading, “strongly associated,” I wondered, How strongly?
Genetically informed studies of disruptive behavior and different forms of aggression across the lifespan generally conclude that genetic factors account for approximately 50% of the variance in the population.
That’s strong. But is it ‘approximately’ greater than environmental factors? To the claim of 50%, I would add, “give or take 20%.” Why? It is extremely difficult to tease apart environmental and genetic factors. In fact, it may be impossible to completely differentiate them.
This study consisted of a twins cohort study. Of toddlers. As developmental psychologists will tell you, toddlers are social beings in a relatively rudimentary sense. In the least, their social toolkit of cognitive skills and their range of social emotions is limited.
And yet, at that age some show a clear disposition to antagonistic behavior. Is this a problem? In many/most environments, perhaps ‘yes.’ Can we completely rid the world of bullying? Perhaps ‘no.’
While we can change the environmental elements that generate bullies and bullying, the genetic element that plays a role is beyond our influence. At least for now.
Often I have heard a person praised as someone of “unshakable faith.” I wonder: When will we cease equating inflexible thinking with integrity? One of the greatest strengths of our kind, if not the greatest, is our plasticity. When the environment changes, we can change. When what we know changes, we can change.
Perhaps the problem is that people do not seem to value truth enough — with personal and social ramifications be damned. To me, the person who displays integrity in their pursuit of and dedication to truth (or, “our best current knowledge”) — that person is worthy of esteem. Stasis is easy. Changing what you think — not so easy. And, unfortunately, not often enough admired.
To me, the person who expresses a belief that he or she knows the absolute answer, and unwaveringly and unquestioningly clings to it, is not manifesting integrity nor wisdom, nor strength of character. Instead, I see a person who shows both a lack of imagination and humility. And maybe even a person who lacks the “balls” to admit error while standing tall.
But that’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.
When searching for “the” culprit behind the increasing obesity rates among adults and children alike, many point their fingers at fast food consumption. Natural born skeptics, however, are wary of simple answers.
Is McDonald’s the root of all fatty evil?
In his popular film, Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock performed what I view as a bit of performance art (no, his methods were not nearly rigorous enough to be called “science”). After 30 days of eating exclusively at McDonald’s, Spurlock gained almost 25 pounds.
But wait a minute. A more accurate statement would likely read, “After 30 days of over-eating at McDonalds, Spurlock gained almost 25 pounds.”
Eat too many French baguettes and cheese over the course of a month, whether or not you throw in a handful of fresh vegetables, and guess what: you gain weight.
And believe it or not, you might even be able to lose weight on a McDonald’s diet. One independent film producer, Soso Whaley, did just that. What ultimately matters is calories. Sure, fast-food tends to be calorie-dense, but so is cheese and pizza and ….
A recent study finding confirms the complexity of the issue. In the ScienceDaily article, Fast Food Not the Major Cause of Rising Childhood Obesity Rates, Study Finds, we learn that -
[C]hildren’s consumption of fast food is only a small part of a much more pervasive dietary pattern that is fostered at an early age by children’s parents and caregivers. The pattern includes few fruits and vegetables, relying instead on high amounts of processed food and sugar-sweetened beverages. These food choices also are reinforced in the meals students are offered at school.
Personally, I’m not a fan of fast-food franchises. Or restaurant chains of any stripe. But I deplore scapegoating. What we ultimately are talking about is poor eating habits passed on by parents and society at large to children.
I don’t know. Maybe the true culprit behind it all is a culture of over-indulgence. That’s a nice simple answer. Is it a good answer? Simplistic appeal aside, I doubt it.
Hard science is largely about numbers. They don’t call it an empirical activity for nothing.
Empiricism, by the way, has its roots in personal experience. Something that can be verified first hand. I know it; I have seen it. A more modern understanding of empiricism rests upon unbiased observation, for starters, and also upon measurement. This is key.
Consider the statement, “Smoking cigarettes is bad for you.” Is that a scientific statement, or a value judgement? Now consider this statement: “Men who smoke are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer.” Which seems more scientific? The one with the numbers.
The empirical element of science is all about measurement. If you aren’t measuring, you may just be reporting your bias-prone observations and beliefs.
Measurement generates…numbers. Thus, when I see numbers in a report about a recent scientific finding, I am happy. Frankly, the numbers are the most dependable part — and though they too frequently aren’t — should be the most highlighted part. Instead we usually get the trumped-up interpretations of numbers we never see.
A recent study into preventative mental health caught my attention. And the write-up deserves some kudos. The heading read:
Nice. A number up front and center. And the wording, ”help prevent,” reflects scientific sophistication. Measured language reflects the workings of a cautious mind, a mind familiar with the complexity of our lives and universe.
Now consider the lead sentence -
The incidence of mental health issues amongst 509 British youth was reduced by 25 to 33% over the 24 months following two 90-minute group therapy sessions, according to a study led by Dr. Patricia Conrod of the University of Montreal and its affiliated Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Centre.
Yeah baby! Give me those solid-gold numbers. The scientist that shares numbers is like the person that allows you to open their wallet and tally their wealth firsthand.
Be wary of those who say in word or deed, “trust me,” while keeping the numbers out of view.
Further, the report shared -
In the two years that followed the interventions, students completed questionnaires every six months that enabled the researchers to establish the development of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, conduct problems and suicidal thoughts. The effects were clinically significant, with a 21-26% reduction in severe depression, anxiety and conduct problem symptoms over the course of the trial. Teenagers high in impulsivity had 36% reduced odds of reporting severe conduct problems. Similarly, teenagers high in anxiety sensitivity reported 33% reduced odds of severe anxiety problems. Teenagers high in hopelessness exhibited similar decreases in severe depressive symptoms (23%) as compared to youth with similar personality profiles who did not receive interventions.
Got to love those numbers. Yet….and maybe this qualifies as a bit of a quibble: a very important measure was not provided. The baseline. Whenever we read of increases and decreases, we should rapidly wonder, “What was the baseline or original rate?” For if something decreases, say, your risk of cancer by 50%, it is helpful to know whether the original risk is 1 in 10 0r 1 in 1,000,000. In the second case, the effect is not nearly as significant, no matter that both cases tout a 50% change.
Many people view numbers as boring. Unless you manage to work a smiley face somewhere into the equation. Or add a musical score. But numbers and science go hand in hand. Whenever you read about scientific findings that lack numbers: be skeptical.
One might think that the children who feel the least secure, or positive, about themselves and their abilities would benefit most from high levels of praise. One could be wrong.
New research to appear in the journal Psychological Science reveals that the tendency is for adults to give children with lowest self-esteem the highest amounts of “inflated praise.” You know, to best lift them up. Yet here’s what they discovered:
But while children with high self-esteem seem to thrive with inflated praise, those with low self-esteem actually shrink from new challenges when adults go overboard on praising them. [source]
There you have it. More is not always better. It seems that generic responses to all children are not likely to have the same effect on all children. Consider the trend of giving blue ribbons to all for their mere participation in some activity. Can’t hurt, right? High praise is always a good thing, right? Maybe not. Maybe human psychology is more complicated than that.
After a full year of attempting to start a collaborative blog — “Florida Skeptics” — I have acknowledged failure and am moving back home. No, not to my parents’ basement. Here. Henceforth I will begin blogging on a regular basis at 360 Degree Skeptic. And I look forward to it.
Why am I not following the advice of winning competitors who exhort, “Never give up. You can make your dreams come true if you just keep trying”? Because there is more to success than effort. For one, there is innate talent for the task. Potential. Sometimes you just don’t have it. In my case, my introverted, independent nature may have made mine an uphill battle from the get-go. For another, there are social and environmental conditions to consider. Success doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
There is no shame in failure (at least when tossing platitudes around). Trial and error is an essential form of learning. And I do enjoy learning, even when it doesn’t result in awards and rounds of applause.
Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get learnin’!
[Guest post by Susan Gerbic]
The single most powerful skeptical tool on the Internet today is Wikipedia. Only 11 years old, this living, breathing encyclopedia has already changed the epistemology in every language.
I’m here today to plead my case, and ask for help.
On my blog Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia I urge the skeptical community to embrace Wikipedia as our most relevant tool, enabling us to shape the public into better critical thinkers. We already know that shouting and belittling believers does nothing but force them to circle the cognitive dissonance wagons, and shut down. Allowing them to do their own research and think things through independently, without pressure, is the only way to potentially change their minds.
Guerrilla Skepticism is the act of inserting well written, carefully cited skeptical references into Wikipedia pages where they are needed, while still following the guidelines and rules of everyone’s online encyclopedia. This grassroots method allows skeptics working at home to contribute to the skeptical movement without personally confronting people. I began this project in June, 2011 and we are now currently editing in 17 languages with over 85 editors, and growing!
The World Wikipedia project is working to translate well-written pages into other languages, as well as review current pseudoscience pages and forcing them to back up every claim with a notable citation. In other words, prove it or lose it.
The “We Got Your Wiki Back!” Project, a sub-set of the greater Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia undertaking, is important to our community’s reputation and mission. The main idea is to remember that we are not improving Wikipedia for skeptics; our audience is the general public. We are not preaching to the choir. This is important work that must be done if we are to be taken seriously by the public. We know who these people are, we know what they are “famous” for, so we alone hold responsibility for supporting them and enlightening the public. They are our spokespeople; we are all on the same side. Whether or not you agree with these people, they are our representatives. We can’t afford to sit around and hope someone else does our job for us; we need to pull out the dust rags and brooms. We can’t expect the public to respect our spokespeople, if we don’t respect our spokespeople?
We need your help, there are thousands of edits just waiting to be added into Wikipedia, maybe even hundreds of thousands of edits, and hundreds of pages that need to be created or rewritten. I need people who are good at proof-reading, people who can improve the basic edits we leave, researchers, current editors, people willing to caption videos and so much more. In English and other languages as well. We aren’t looking for a handout, we want your time, we want your attention. We train, we mentor, we need you, please join this most powerful and important project.
Questions? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friend me on Facebook or twitter as Susan Gerbic.
As regular readers have noticed, over the past year my blogging frequency had decreased to near zero. That’s starting to change. I have recently launched a new website & blogging endeavor: Florida Skeptics. I have a number of other “Sunshine State” thinkers lined up to participate and am looking for more. This week I made my first new post there.
If you care to check it out, here’s the link: Florida Skeptics
I once had a dog that was an extremely quick learner. Sometimes too quick. You might say she would prematurely jump to conclusions — though I’m not sure you could call them “conclusions.” Perhaps you might more accurately say she was quick to generalize. For example, one day, when on my way out to our pool with a towel wrapped around my waist, I called her out with me. I had a new game for her. Attached to a fishing pole with a length of rope I had tied a plush, toy squirrel. When pulled around the yard and made to evade her, she went nuts. Loved it. It was as if she had snorted cocaine.
Three days later I wrapped a towel around my wasted and headed out the backdoor. My dog went nuts. I was confused for a moment. And then I remembered. My dog had mistakenly associated “Andrew heading out backdoor with towel around waist” with “fun-chasing-squirrel-ish-thing.”
While this does not qualify as superstitious behavior, perhaps it is one step down that road. Further down the road we might have the dog bringing me the towel, thinking it would magically make the faux squirrel appear.
A baseball player taps his wooden bat to his foot, and accidentally drops the bat. The bat appears to balance upright for a moment, long enough for the batter to grab it and assume his stance. He clobbers the next pitch for an out-of-the-park home run.
Upon his next at bat, the player attempts to recreate the event. He taps the bat to his foot, then balances the bat on end. And next nearly hits another home run. So he continues this practice. This behavior could be called superstitious. The individual has mistakenly concluded that a coincidental behavior caused a subsequent event.
Is this religious behavior? No. What is missing here is the essential social element–a supernatural element. If the player were to say a prayer to Saint Babe, hoping for invisible strings pulled in his favor from the supernatural realm, I believe we could say the baseball player’s behavior has ventured into the realm of religion.
Of course, there is more to religion as we know it than personal rituals. But for now the important point is that religion relies upon supernatural agents. And agents do have or at least could have intentions. Intentions to help, intentions to hurt. There is a crucial social element to religion. And this crucial social element explains why chimpanzees can not be said to engage in religious behavior. Superstitious, maybe, but not religious.
What goes missing from all forms of chimpanzee behavior that seems nearly or even pre-religious is social intent. An understanding – or misunderstanding as the case may be – that behavior x is associated with supernatural agent y for intention z.
What do chimpanzees lack? Why do no chimpanzees build altars to their alpha beyond the clouds? There are likely a number of reasons. But a most important reason is surely what hominids call “theory of mind.” The chimpanzee theory of mind is woefully undeveloped compared to humans.
What is a theory of mind? It is the ability to see the world from another individual’s perspective. It manifests as an understanding that individuals differ in what they see and know. Human children develop this ability remarkably quickly and well. You may have heard a line that goes something like this: “I know that you know that I know what you know.”
Wow! How socially smart is that? Or maybe Machiavellian. Or both. As Robin Dunbar has noted,
“Chimps have a very limited theory of mind — knowing what other chimps know or don’t know and acting accordingly.” (17)
Without the human’s advanced ability to project their perspective into the minds of others, even imaginary others, chimpanzees show little religious behavior. Yet in a couple instances of peculiar chimpanzee behavior we might see the very early behavioral kernel that would later grow into the full-fledged tendency to imagine and worship invisible, “great” agents.
First, there is the chimpanzee “rain dance” -
“…a sometimes spectacular collective display, done just before a storm (in response to thunder and lightning?) or during rainfall (in frustration at being drenched?) Saplings or lianas are bent and flailed or thrashed, and sometimes swapped off, leaving a trail of damaged vegetation. Interestingly, with one exception, the raindance is an east African custom, being done at Budongo, Gombe, Kibale, and Mahale, but no further west in Africa.” (18)
Perhaps this chimpanzee behavior, like Christianity and Islam, must be transmitted culturally, through the nurture of social learning acting upon pre-existing potential.
Similarly, chimpanzees will make threat displays at inanimate phenomena. Numerous researchers have observed individual primates make this category of behavior upon encountering a waterfall.(19) Rather than like another of our dogs, who retreated to his hiding places upon hearing the sound of rain, maybe these chimpanzees instinctively strive to chase the source of the commotion away.
“Other chimpanzee populations [besides Gombe] have waterfalls, but they do not show the display [“Adult males scale the lianas, whip them back and forth, swaying in mid-air and bouncing off the crags”]. Instead, they toss boulders into pools to produce huge splashes.” (20)
As we covered previously (e.g., see Who Goes There?), animals are better off (have better odds of survival) to mistakenly react to an inert object as if it were a living being than to react to a stationary, yet potentially dangerous being as if it were a harmless object.
Another chimpanzee behavior that seems to precede the advent of religion, and also fully relate to it, is the use of objects to empower itself. This phenomenon relies upon the innate psychological tendencies not only the individual, but of group mates. In a phrase: classical conditioning. Without it, totems and sacred objects would lose the essential dimension believers ascribe to supernatural forces, yet are more accurately seen as evidence of psychological plasticity being hyper-extended into the phantasmal.
Consider the anecdote of chimpanzee Mike, who rose to the top of his social group thanks to kerosene cans. No, not just the inert objects, but his use of them. As Jane Goodall recounts:
“Mike learned to keep as many as three cans in front of him as he charged, batting them forward one after the other with his hands. And he would charge not once but several times. When he finally stopped, even the mighty Goliath hurried up to him. Panting nervously and bowing to the ground, he kissed, touched, or groomed him, thus acknowledging [granting, really] Mike’s superior status.” (21)
For Mike, the kerosene cans were really just a means of creating an impressive ruckus, an arousing clamor. Which became associated not with just the cans, but with the manipulator of those cans. You might say Mike somewhat accidentally acquired supernatural powers. “Super” because kerosene cans are not something that occur in the chimpanzees’ natural environment.
No, Mike did not need a burning bush to impress his troop. Had he been able to generate one, he might today be known as the Pan Moses. And, as with humans, it seems that a response classically conditioned does not readily become extinguished if it is periodically reinforced to some minimal degree. In Mike’s case, once he succeeded in nearly scaring the excrement out of his troop (maybe he did), he only needed to threaten the use of the cans to re-excite others and thus keep low the firing threshold of the pertinent neurons in their brains. And when the cans were confiscated by annoyed camp workers?
“He then had to resort to mere branches and rocks like the others. But if artificial props had indeed raised his status, he no longer needed them. His position remained unchallenged. Without question, Mike is the most feared, the most respected of them all.”(22)
Likewise, with our kind, once props and perhaps mere symbols for have endowed their user with prestige—social power—that power becomes easier to maintain. Academy Award winners, Nobel prize winners—not only do these individuals enjoy a surge in their status just after winning the award, but the prestige follows them to their grave. How real is the affect? Winners of these awards live significantly longer, on average, than losers. Talk about survival value. Thanks not to something dietary, something physical, but to how symbols can pull the strings of the human beings social instincts.
You might say that prestige is a social power of high proof. Mere belonging, a weaker brew, but still impactful. In many ways, the tool of religion is just another way human beings, males especially, acquire and wield social power.
(17) Dunbar, R. Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1996.
(18) McCrew, W. C., The Cultured Chimpanzee: Reflections on Cultural Primatology, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 123
(19) McCrew, W. C., 2004, p. 156
(20) McCrew, W. C., 2004, p. 148
(21) Goodall, J., My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees, National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., 1967, p. 171
(22) Goodall, J., 1967, p. 171
I sometimes snicker when I hear projections about human technology in the far future. The snicker comes from this thought: “What makes you think human beings will even be around in 5 centuries/millennia/million years?” It is possible, after all, that our species goes the way of the dodo bird. In fact, the vast majority of species that have been sufficiently “fit” to maintain a form long enough for a record to be made via fossils have failed to achieve everlasting fitness. What makes us so special?
Disease, nuclear war, environmental collapse . . . . I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to me that the persistence of human civilization is inevitable. Call me a pessimist.
And speaking of going the way of the dodo, as you may have noticed, my blog posts have become much less regular. Although summer is almost over, I don’t see that changing. And the posts here may actually cease relatively soon.
Why let this blog die? Two reasons. First, I turned 50 this year and I realized that I have a finite amount of time to write the dozen or so books I so want to finish. More time spent blogging is less time spent writing books.
Second, I have decided I’d like to join a community of bloggers. So I am in the process of developing a new site that would feature a number of voices and encourage dialogue.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. For now.
[recycled material - first appeared here]
A single science article caused me to both nod and shake my head while reading it. It was about a study on treating “crippling” shame.
What I agreed with was some the author’s thoughts about shame. Jessica Van Vliet, from the University of Alberta, went on record with -
“Shame can prompt us to make changes that will help protect our relationships and also preserve the fabric of society. It’s important to emphasize that shame is essential and has value. . . .The problem is when people get paralyzed with shame and withdraw from others. Not only can this create mental-health problems for people, but also they no longer contribute as fully to society.”
No, shame is not a “toxic” emotion, always bad. The ability to feel shame is a social emotion, innate and essential to healthy human functioning. But too much of it can be a bad thing. Just can be too much of any emotion.
Van Vliet transitioned into explaining how debilitating shame can be overcome. That’s when I began shaking me head. Her explanation seemed infused with psych-speak (“one of the key components to overcoming these feelings is to step back from the problem”). I kept wondering what data she used to base her conclusion upon.
How did she come to the finding that the news release of her research touts? What, precisely, did she find, as relayed by the article, Making connections the key to overcoming shame?
Disappointingly, the article made no mention of the actual research Van Vliet was basing her conclusion, and advice, upon. I had to do some sleuthing to find out. And what I found in an abstract of her paper almost made me blush.
Methods: The participants were nine women and four men between the ages of 24 and 70. Data came from interviews in which the participants recalled a distressing shame experience and described how they recovered. Emphasis was on the participants’ subjective perspectives, meanings, and interpretations. [abstract]
Poor quantity of data. Poor quality of data. It seems that “scientists” in the psychological fields (my own) are still quite adept at taking an inch of observation/interview/measurement and running four miles with it.
The article concludes this way -
“Connecting to others helps to increase self-acceptance, and with self-acceptance can come a greater acceptance of other people as well,” said Van Vliet. “People start to realize that it’s not just them. Other people do things that are as bad or even worse sometimes so they’re not the worst person on the planet. They start to say to themselves, ‘This is human, I am human, others are human.’”
Really? Is that really what happens? Or is that a mere veneer of client/therapist thinking laid over a complex, largely unconscious, phenomenon? Where the data is weak/soft, researchers should be overtly tentative in the explanations they propose. Otherwise, they aren’t doing good science.
To any regular readers: I’ve been in summer vacation/travel mode. Which partly explains the crickets at this site.
While traveling I’ve seen some pretty neat things. Animals and plants not found in my home region . . . foreign cities (to me) . . . housing made in a different style from different materials, etc.
Previously on this site I have shared NASA photos of the Martian landscape. I have marveled at the technological wizardry that has allowed us to extend our sight “beyond sight.” And while I am pro non-Earth planetary exploration, I often have my mind blown by what I see here on our home “3rd rock from the sun.”
The NASA astronomical, pic-of-the-day site often features photos that make that point in jaw-dropping fashion. It seems we tend to forget that the planet Earth is an astronomical body, and a dynamic one at that. These pics make that point. Enjoy.
Give me a lie detector test, please. I swear upon my mother’s grave . . . wait, she’s still alive–what else can I swear upon? At any rate, trust me when I tell you I have never voluntarily sat down to watch the FOX television program, “Lie to Me.” My wife enjoys the whole genre of detective-ish, who-the-hell-done-it shows. And sometimes I’m in the room. One of the shows I don’t mind so much is Lie To Me. Why? First, I’m a fan of the lead actor, Tim Roth. Second, I know something about the field of psychology. And, when I find bogus portrayals of what we know about human psychology . . . well, let’s just say I get excited. Who doesn’t like to get excited? My wife will often plead for me to “stick a sock in it.” Or something.
What gets me riled about the show? The blatant and largely bogus exaggeration of the meaning of human gestures. “Oh, he scratched his head, that must mean he’s unsure of what to say.” That, or maybe he has an itchy scalp.
Sure, clues are possible. And as good poker players know, individuals do have “tells” that can indicate whether or not they are bluffing about what cards they hold. After the person has been studied to determine his/her individual habits. But the entire field is far from something we could call hard science.
Imagine an infant making a distressed facial expression as daddy picks it up. Oh-oh, must mean something. Is baby afraid of daddy? Then the infant passes gas — or something more substantial.
My point: We are creatures with inner lives as well as outer. And our feelings about one will bleed into the other. As an illustration: many a time my wife has asked me about some topic, then questioned me about the facial expression I unknowingly exhibited while responding. “Oh, I was just thinking about this a-hole I encountered today.” And that influenced what my face “said.”
My skepticism over gesture-reading as strongly indicative motives has recently been fueled by a finding announced with this heading:
The news release summed up the study this way -
For decades many NLP [neuro-linguistic-programming] practitioners have claimed that when a person looks up to their right they are likely to be lying, whilst a glance up to their left is indicative of telling the truth.
Professor Richard Wiseman (University of Hertfordshire, UK) and Dr Caroline Watt (University of Edinburgh, UK) tested this idea by filming volunteers as they either lied or told the truth, and then carefully coded their eye movements. In a second study another group of participants was asked to watch the films and attempt to detect the lies on the basis of the volunteers’ eye movements.
The authors concluded that the claim of eye movement indicating truth-telling and lying is “unfounded.” They called on “the public and organisations to abandon this approach to lie detection.”
I’m just glad handwriting analysis (graphology) has long been rejected as pseudoscience. And that most personal correspondence these days is conducted via a keyboard and not a lone ink-chopstick. Otherwise I might get locked up as a lunatic, due to my extremely poor fine motor skills. “Cuff this guy, detective. He’s dangerous, very dangerous.”
Alas, at this point there doesn’t seem to be a reliable method for determining who is lying, who is telling the truth, and who is capable of what.
But wouldn’t it be nice.
In the form of plastic-wrapped paper on my driveway, last week I received a free weekly, local newspaper that included an article about a fire. Under, “Church Day Care Burns Down,” I learned that Gawd apparently didn’t like the Trinity Assembly of God Daycare Center located a few miles from my house. Why didn’t he like it? I don’t know. How do I know he didn’t like it? He fried the thing with a lightning strike. An act of Gawd.
I know, I know. There I go applying the “god done it” conjecture to events of the wrong sort. Wrong meaning the outcome doesn’t jibe with religious dogma.
And on that note, I share this cartoon from atheistcartoons.com -
I say, fire both the plumber depicted in the cartoon above AND Gawd. Both seem incapable of reliably producing positive results.
[recycled material - first appeared here]
I have a zany side, and that is why I enjoy humor such as that found over at the Onion. I also enjoy creative writing. Combine the two and the results can be amusing. At least to me. Maybe you’ll get a little kick out of today’s different sort of post.
MAN ADMITS TO FACIAL PROFILING
Florida resident, avowed liberal, and amateur sociologist Andrew Bernardin has recently admitted to himself, and now the world, that he freely engages in facial profiling. His profiling extends beyond the face but stays superficially based upon appearance. Why does he do it? No, not to screen for potential terrorists, but to quickly gauge a person’s intelligence.
In this exclusive, Bernardin shares the protocol he uses to makes snap IQ judgments based upon appearance:
First, if the person is walking upright, give him or her 100 points. Which is average. Then add and subtract from there.
If the person is a man and he is wearing glasses, give him 10 points. If his glasses have lenses as thick as a English muffins, and they are smudged, one of the hinges secured with electrical tape, subtract 20 points. If the lenses are wafer-thin and the guy is pretty, he’s a newscaster. His name is Brock Stanton. Subtract 25 points.
If the person is a woman you can also look for glasses. Give ten points for glasses, though deduct ten if the lenses have a diameter larger than a baseball.
If a person, man or woman, has glasses whose lenses are scarcely bigger than his or her eyeballs, this person is highly fashionable, hence cool. Subtract five points.
For sizing up a woman’s intelligence it is important to take a look at her heels. For every half inch of heel above one inch, subtract 5 points. Then consider her make-up. For each shade on her face beyond 2, subtract 10 points. And jewelry: for every ring on each hand beyond 2, subtract 5 points.
For guys you want to subtract points for any amount of make-up as well as for each ring that is not a wedding band.
If the guy is wearing a wedding band, add 15 points. A married man spends less time hanging out with his buddies. In case you haven’t noticed, when a man is among buddies it’s impossible to get him to do anything intelligent unless you throw him a banana.
If a woman is wearing a wedding ring you do not add points. This a science and science is not sexist. A scientist realizes that if a woman is married there is something significantly wrong with her. Subtract ten points. When a woman pledges her life to a man she does not do so for intellectual reasons.
It can be more difficult to gauge the intelligence of men because many men are capable of dressing smartly without actually being smart. Usually these man are married and borrowing brain power from their spouses. Putting a nice suit on Bonzo doesn’t instantly transform him into Professor With-it. You can get fooled. In this case you’ve got to wait for the man to open his mouth before you can see if he’s got a brain in his head.
That’s why Bernardin recommends conducting your intelligence survey on a weekend. Saturday is best. On Sunday any doofus can dress up and pretend to be something they’re not.
But on Saturday people tend to let it all hang out. And when letting it all hang out they let their true selves out of the bag. And it’s often not a pretty sight.
On Saturdays many men wear t-shirts and the nature of the t-shirt is a transparent reflection of intelligence.
Here are a few things to look for: 1.) if the t-shirt has has a university logo on it, give 5 points; 2) if the t-shirt has simple artwork on it, add 10 points; 3) if the t-shirt has the brand name or logo of an apparel company modestly presented, do not add or subtract any points. 4) if the t-shirt shows allegiance to a sports team, subtract 5 points if it is baseball, 6 points if it is football, 7 points if it is basketball, and 15 points if it is hockey. 4) if the t-shirt has any profanity on it, subtract 20 points. and 5) if the shirt has a confederate flag on it, subtract 30 points.
And there you have it. The Bernardin protocol for engaging in facial profiling.
P.S. Sociologist Bernardin would like to add this disclaimer: When measuring other people’s intelligence by their looks you often wind up measuring nothing more than your own prejudice. And prejudice is something you deduct from your own I.Q.
Okay, I’m usually a little behind the curve of new gadgets. For instance, my cell phone is only a phone. It’s not a smart phone; it’s a dumb phone. And in our house we actually have one of those old-fashioned cathode-ray tube televisions. It’s mostly gathering dust. You have use a crank to start it up, if I remember correctly. Sure, we have a couple flat-screens as well. The Model T television is in a room where we seldom watch, except, say, during football games when I don’t want to miss a play.
But man, things are changing fast. I was in a department store yesterday, and it seems that now all DVD players (excuse me “Blue Ray”) have a wireless function that allows you to stream Netflix and YouTube, etc., directly to your screen. A new benchmark has been set.
This morning I got an eye-full of a technological advance of another variety. Maybe it’s because I’m half a century old, but this image just about blew my mind:
What is it? The surface of Mars — yes, Mars! — and the solar panels of the NASA Opportunity rover, with rover tracks in the distance. [source] Mars is somewhere between 33 million miles from Earth and 249 million miles, depending on where they are in their respective orbits around the sun.
Wow! Talk about a telescopic view! Half a century ago the relatively new government agency called NASA was just beginning to explore space. And back then the “space” explored was the thin-air, far reaches of the Earth’s own atmosphere. Which is what, maybe a mere 200 miles “out there”?
What will technology be capable of in another 50 years? Heck, I can’t guess what a state-of-the-art cell phone will do in ten.
[recycled material - first appeared here]
Imagine this headline to a new science finding:
Selective Brain Damage Modulates Human Groovyness, Research Reveals
And a lead sentence that reads:
New research provides fascinating insight into brain changes that might underlie alterations in feeling groovy and and hip attitudes.
My guess is that most people would (or should) react this way: “What?!”
How different, I ask, is the following title and lead sentence to an actual bit of news reporting:
New research provides fascinating insight into brain changes that might underlie alterations in spiritual and religious attitudes.
Here’s the problem: most people only assume they know what is meant by the term spirituality. Yet ask people to define it, and the responses will be as diverse and vague as they would be to a request for a definition of “groovyness.”
Although it is a popular word, spirituality is a lousy variable. Strong science and strong science writing gets specific, and the term spirituality is not.
Research has shown that beyond what is required to climb and stay out of poverty (for one’s region of the globe), more money does not correlate with greater happiness. So what factors seem to be associated with happiness? Personality, having a ‘healthy’ relationship with a partner, novel experiences of the pleasant sort . . . and respect?
A recent study found that “admiration by peers” is more closely related to psychological well-being than is monetary achievement alone [source]. As someone with an interest in social psychology, this makes sense to me. Of course, this is one study, so I’m naturally taking the results with a grain of salt. Why does the finding make sense? Human beings are an incredibly social species. In years past, and still today, many a philosopher and scientist has pointed to language as the sine qua non of what distinguishes our kind from the rest of biological life. If that is so, what is language but an extraordinary social tool?
As for happiness and respect/admiration, I recall another study that found happiness related not to money and possessions in a vacuum, but to money and possessions relative to one’s peer group. Which may dovetail with the admiration idea. So if you are a millionaire among billionaires, maybe you aren’t so happy. But if you are the first person in your neighborhood to own your own house . . . . job well done. You have moved to the head of ‘your class.’
Of course, people can be admired for a number of things, including physical attributes and many a type of skill and accomplishment. Do these equally influence happiness? My guess is, “it depend.” There are no doubt many factors involved. And any correlation applies only to the average Jo(sephine). And there is no such individual animal.
For many years I had a suspicion that the consumption of soft drinks has played a role in the rising number of overweight adults and children in our society. What fueled my suspicion? Admittedly, some extremely weak “data” and personal bias.
First, the weak data. Many years back I had observed in my own high school, and later read about the phenomenon in the press, the increasing popularity of soft drink machines in cafeterias and common areas. I had also observed and read about the “super-size” trend. As a child, the few times my parents treated us kids to a soft drink — invariably at a McDonalds while on a road trip — those drinks came in what I consider reasonably-sized servings. My parents would buy a “medium” or two for the table of mouths to share. I liked the orange soda and would lobby for that to be one of the choices. My guess is that the medium cups back then held somewhere between 8 and 12 oz. Today at convenience stores and fast food restaurant across the land, you can buy relatively bucket-sized servings. That’s a whole lot of calories.
Second, the bias. My family never drank soda in the home. It was not considered part of a wholesome diet. And to that I agree, with good justification today. Naturally, because it was not a part of my upbringing, it was easier for me to perceive it as “bad.” Additionally, I had two older brothers, much older, who grew up on the tail end of the “hippy” generation. One of them became a vegetarian of the “health food nut” variety. Perhaps even of the health-food-Nazi variety. Through his influence, at least in part, I saw soda as an evil commodity. Upon spotting a “Coke” tractor-trailer truck cruise down the highway, I often mused about the waste of resources to deliver this ‘empty calorie,’ teeth-rotting beverage manufactured by greedy and downright evil corporations to ignorant consumers across the land.
While my perspective on soda has softened some, it has seemed reasonable to me that the consumption of soda play a role in the “weight problem” of many an American. Perhaps I should disclose that I still don’t drink soda at home — on road trips for a caffeine-delivery vehicle, sure — so I may continue to harbor a bias against it on that level.
But alas, there doesn’t seem to be much empirical support to this hunch. (I use “alas,” because if that were the problem, it would be a fairly easy one to fix with zero cost to me and my lifestyle.) In fact, some recent research has found that it is actually unlikely that soda plays a role.
Susan J. Whiting, lead author of a study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, has reported,
“We found sweetened drinks to be dominant beverages during childhood, but saw no consistent association between beverage intake patterns and overweight and obesity.” [source]
What was this conclusion based upon? Good question. From the news release I gather that the researchers performed a “cluster analysis” of the demographic data of some slice of the Canadian population. I wonder, how big was that slice of population? Hmm.
Yes, this is just one study. But if the consumption of sweetened drinks like soda were a major factor, you’d think there would be a consistent association.
Interestingly, the authors did share what factors were associated with children becoming overweight in their analysis. These were: household income, ethnicity, and ‘household food security’ (whatever that is, though I can guess it means whether or not households experience times of relative food scarcity).
So what have I learned? Soda may not be bad — in terms causing weight gain in children. Yet part of my bias remains. As a ‘tree-hugger’ of a mild sort, I still think the regular consumption of this product isn’t so good for general health reasons and for reasons of planetary health. I still don’t like seeing behemoth soda trucks speeding down our highways, belching smoke.
Beer trucks don’t elicit the same response in me. Yes, I’m biased.
The other day, while watching a cooking show, of all things, I stumbled upon an illustration of convergent evolution. Briefly put, and in my own, off-the-cuff, semi-educated words, “convergent evolution” refers to specific traits that different, non-related species have acquired independently, presumably for their adaptive value. For example, the long tongues of certain moths and hummingbirds could be said to have ‘converged’ on this solution to the task of sipping nectar from long-throated flowers.
That both humans and baboons have hands with five fingers would not be an example of convergent evolution, seeing both species share a common ancestor and acquired the trait that way.
What in a cooking show got me thinking about convergent evolution? Actually, the thinking came later. An incorrect hunch came first. The show was one of the reality, cooking battles variety, with the contestants needing to include in their dishes this “secret” ingredient: haddock. Upon seeing the raw, whole-fish variety sporting a black line running down its body, I thought, “Man, that looks like a snook.” I know what a snook looks like because I go fishing here in Florida, and the snook is a popular sport fish.
Was my hunch right, is the haddock a relative of the snook? Nope. All the two fish really share is the dark lateral line on a grey-ish body. Otherwise, they are quite different. As you can see by these images.
A Wikipedia investigation of the matter confirmed my error. While the haddock and the snook share their Kingdom, Phylum and Class, from Order on down they are different. Meaning they are not closely related species at all.
And yet the two fish species did “converge” upon the trait of having a dark lateral line. I wonder why. I wonder how.
One thing this convergence brings to my mind is that “random” mutations are not truly random. Sure, relative to intentional design, they are random. But they are not completely random. Not in a long shot. First, the mutations affect pre-existing genes in a manner not fully random. Second, these changes occur in environments that may or may not select for them.
So I wouldn’t say that the haddock and the snook both randomly struck upon the trait of the dark lateral line. But then again, I don’t know what I’d say about it. In the least, I need to learn a lot more about the subject.