Saturday, January 01, 2011

Georgia Sea Island Singers

Yonder Come Day

Without Equality Sexual Revolution Only Leads Further Into Oppression [Anthony McCarthy]

Imagine you have a gay son. Of course some of you won't have to imagine that because you have a gay son, or, perhaps, a son who is gay and hasn't come out. Imagine your gay son is a teenager or young adult. Immediately, you know that it is very likely that your gay son is going to have sex with other gay men, if not when he's a teenager, when he's an adult. You know about AIDS and HIV, you know that it is spread through unprotected anal sex and you might know that anal sex is among the most common* sexual practices among gay men today. If you are aware of what is known about the transmission of HIV you certainly would want to encourage your son to not engage in unprotected anal sex and, if you are brave enough, you might at least make certain that he is aware of what he needs to know to lessen his chances of becoming infected. That's not easy, even for a gay uncle who is all too well aware of what AIDS is. I know this from personal experience. I would imagine it's harder for most straight parents.

One of the most important realizations about the AIDS epidemic in gay men in the 1980s and 90s was that it was largely a product of the legal oppression of gay men. Gay men hadn't been allowed to marry, they were forced to remain hidden to escape discrimination and violence. That situation prevented many gay men from forming intimate sexual relationships that were ongoing, though some did manage to have them. It also led to the phenomenon of known cruising spots where you could find other men who would have sex with you, strangers who would have sex anonymously and who you might never see again. Those places were everywhere, there were guides published of where to find anonymous sex even in the most surprising rural locations.

Even before AIDS, the practice of casual sex with strangers led to very high rates of venereal diseases among gay men including hepatitis, I remember hearing one gay man assert that having hepatitis was something of a right of passage for gay men. That hepatitis is a seriously dangerous illness, that often leads to cancer of the liver, wasn't taken seriously by a lot of gay men and most other STDs were thought of as being a minor inconvenience. Again, there were and are gay men who don't engage in casual sex with strangers, there are many.

With the identification of AIDS , even before the virus was identified, lessening the impact of the practice of anonymous sex among gay men led to the temporary decrease in new HIV infections, but only after a massive effort to change habits. And that effort was met with strong objection, especially on the part of some of the theorists of gay politics of the 70s. Anything that discouraged gay men from having casual sex with whomever, in whatever way was declared by these thinkers to be internalized oppression. They held that the liberation of sex from love was a major achievement of the gay revolution they imagined they were the bulwark of. They rejected the public health campaign that encouraged condom use and taking measure to protect gay men from the virus, in the early days of the crisis, in the most strident terms. Apparently something called “sex” was, they imagined, separable from the people who participated in it. Which goes as great thinking in some quarters.

When Gloria Steinem said “The sexual revolution was not our war,” it was a brilliant insight. The sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s were mostly for the benefit of straight men, Hugh Hefner's adolescent fantasy life becoming generally available. Without equality, without both political and social equality and the rights that equality is made of, just being able to have sex without social and legal repercussions is bound to result in an extension of oppression. That has been the case extending into history when men were almost always free to rape slaves with impunity, with the approval, explicit or implied, of the law and general society**. I assert that it was also not the revolution that gay men needed either.

The dynamics of freeing sex in a culture of inequality is somewhat harder to see in gay men because even gay men aren't oppressed in the same way and to the extent that women are. But there are inequalities within gay relationships, sometimes economic, sometimes based on differences in intelligence and experience, quite often based on relative psychological vulnerabilities and not infrequently on the basis of differences in physical strength. The variations within any identified group are enough to make any general assertions about the members of that group, increasingly inaccurate.

Some people have noted that the AIDS crisis organized gay men as nothing else ever had. After the idiocy of the fashionable political cant of the 70s was overcome, to some extent, gay communities organized to try to change behavior and stop the transmission of the virus. And that was pretty successful until the idiotic assertion that “AIDS is over” was declared with the availability of drugs to suppress the virus in those who already had it. Though that was a lie, there are about 40,000 new infections in the United States every year, the drugs have major and serious side effects and are expensive and there is no guarantee that the virus won't continue to generate resistant forms that could be even more devastating than the original strains were.

And, as you know, women are infected with HIV through vaginal sex as well as through anal sex by men who are infected. Straight men are often infected through anonymous sex with women or men just as gay men are. I suspect that for many women, who have grown up with the idea that AIDS is primary a problem for gay men are at the stage gay men were in the early days before the syndrome even had a name.

Of course this is all by way of explanation for my comments on the accusations made about Julian Assange. Being a witness to the deaths of dozens of gay men I knew, knowing that just about all of them with a few exceptions, likely were infected through casual sex with someone they didn't know, knowing that women can be infected by men, all of that informs my thinking on whether or not people should be having casual sex with people they don't know in 2011. And the fact is they shouldn't. Women deserve better than they're going to get from men under those circumstances, men who have sex with men deserve better than they get from it. There is nothing liberated about being infected with HIV or hepatitis or chlamydia or any number of other infections that can injure and kill you. Having sex with someone who can persuade you to engage in sex you don't want or who can trick or force you into it is the opposite of free choice. No more than getting robbed by a conman. And there is no law you can make that will protect you from any of that which is stronger than protecting yourself. And there is nothing that is more likely to protect you than knowing who it is you're agreeing to have sex with.

Imagine that these women had sex with a man who was infected with HIV and he was enough of a con artist to convince them to engage in sex without a condom. I would find it hard to believe anyone who doesn't realize that is possible for many if not most women or gay men, especially if they are young and inexperienced. There is no law that is going to protect you from a good con man who is already in your house or in your bed.

I have nieces who I love as well as if they were my daughters, I have nephews who I feel the same way about. I don't want them to have sex with people they don't know because it is dangerous and it leads to a general cheapening of relationships and a decreased respect for other people. I don't want them to grow up feeling coerced into having dangerous and casual sex with people who they have no reason to believe will care about them and have any regard for their well being. The sexual revolution wasn't the right war. The one for equality is. Equality is the supreme political value, with it comes all other rights. Equality is valued less that liberty precisely because it comes with personal obligations to treat other people as you would want to be treated, and more so if you don't think you deserve to be treated well. Only within a culture of the personal restraints required by equality would it be safe to assume that you could engage in casual sex with strangers safely. And even within that, other, culture and with those unavailable assumptions, it would still be risky enough to be unwise if not irresponsible.

* There is a lot of evidence that anal sex wasn't the predominant form of sex among gay men in the United States until the 1970s. There is a large percentage of gay men who don't practice anal sex even today, due to personal preference and in response to HIV. Personally, I didn't and don't and am disgusted at the coercion that gay men often experienced to engage in it has, apparently, become acceptable among young straight people.

** Hagar's treatment in Genesis is pretty standard treatment for slaves. In the story Sarah even suggested it to Abraham as a means of having a son. But the idea that she might have sex with a slave, if it was Abraham who was infertile, doesn't seem to have been seen as an option.

Note: You might want to read this more recent discussion between Gloria Steinem and Suheir Hammad which discusses some of these issues.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Eight Anti-Woman Principles of The Most Extreme Types of MRAs

I have written about Men's Rights Activists (MRA) before. No doubt there are several subtypes of MRAs, some quite sane and interesting, but some neither of those.

One can always spot the latter type in comments threads, because they appear to share a canned and condensed message (like Campbell's tomato soup) which is always the same, whatever the topic of the article they comment on, as long as it's about women and/or feminism. That canned-and-condensed message always has certain parts, though other parts may vary. The shared bits amount to an argument that the traditional societal roles indeed were either equal OR that men are naturally the ruling sex among humans.

This argument also involves an interesting departure from the definition of feminism in the following sense:

Feminism, in my working definition, is the goal of offering all people equal economic and social opportunities irrespective of their gender and of equal valuation of the traditionally female and male fields of activity*.

Thus, one might expect an anti-feminist to work on that definition, especially the equal opportunities part, and some anti-feminists do (as seen later in this post). But the most important MRA principles really DON'T discuss equal opportunities for both genders and how traditional patriarchy might short-change not just women but also men. Instead, the main argument is that even in the traditional patriarchy men are worse off than women, and that this is the reason WHY traditional patriarchy should be brought back.

Here are a few of the most common anti-feminist (and anti-woman) arguments I keep reading in MRA comments and on the more careful MRA sites, together with my responses to them.

1. Women live longer, on average, which is a consequence of unfairness in the medical care systems of various countries. In particular, too much money is spent on breast cancer research and too little on prostate cancer research. Feminists don't care about this terrible inequality, and until they do so, MRAs will pee upon feminists. And, incidentally, all women.

I care about increasing the average life expectancy of men, because they don't deserve early deaths any more than women do, and lonely old age is not much fun for women who lose their male spouses, either.

But the reason for the differences between the life expectancies of men and women isn't in some horrendous plot by a feminist-manipulated health care system. It may be partly a biological difference (sorta like the difference in menstruation or who gives birth) and therefore not perhaps altogether amenable to changes in health care policies. Mostly, however, the difference comes from greater male mortality at earlier ages.

A death at an early age has a large impact on the life expectancy figures, and men are more likely to die early due to accidents (especially car accidents) and homicides. These are not some feminist plot against men, and neither are men required by feminists to engage in, say, reckless driving or to be the victims of violence (committed mostly by other men).

Rather the reverse. Any societal influence on these tragic early deaths is likely to come from traditional masculine cultures and the traditional male role models, the very kinds of values that many feminists question. So why is this an argument against feminism which tries to expand the opportunities of individuals irrespective of their gender? And why don't MRAs work with young boys to make them less likely to end up dead in a traffic accident or as a victim of violence?

2. Men are 95% (the figure from a comment by an MRA and not checked by me) of all on-the-job deaths. Feminists can only complain about earning less once 50% of those on-the-job deaths are of women.

This is an argument very much like the first one in that the MRA activists don't actually mean that men are forced by feminists to take up dangerous jobs. It's an argument for the traditional status quo of the type where women's lower average earnings are somehow balanced by men's greater on-the-job deaths.

But the gender gap in earnings is not much caused by those men who work in dangerous occupations. If we reallocated men and women across industries so as to get a gender-neutral division in the most dangerous occupations, women would still earn roughly as much less than is the case today. This is because the number of workers in dangerous occupations is not terribly large and because most earnings differences are caused by other characteristics than the dangers of a job.

Finally, as I have written earlier, the list of the most dangerous jobs only covers legal occupations. Prostitutes are excluded, even though one study suggested that they may have the most dangerous job of all jobs, and if we take the traditionalist argument of women's main jobs being the care of their children and husbands, so is that occupation excluded, which means that deaths from domestic violence are not counted.

Still, deaths on the job are a valid concern and I'd expect the MRAs to work hard to make the dangerous jobs safer. Incidentally, women were traditionally discriminated against or even explicitly excluded from many of the dangerous jobs and from night-work. One shouldn't turn that fact around into a supposed benefit that women reap by being under-represented in those industries.

3. Men are much more likely to be the victims of violence, yet violence against women gets more attention.

I'd like to rephrase that first sentence to "men are much more likely to be the victims of male violence than women", because the point is important. It's not feminist women who are out there killing men but mostly other men.

All violence is deplorable. Traditionally, much of the violence women experienced wasn't really counted as violence. Rape was not spoken about because it tainted the victim, date rape wasn't a term that existed at all and wife-beating was a private matter between the spouses. Because of the way traditional definitions of violence paid little attention to the types of violence which, in fact, were common experiences of women, feminists changed those traditional definitions. I'm not sure that violence against women gets more attention than violence in general, but it does get attention, these days.

As far as I can tell, the MRA guys aren't addressing the most common type of male-on-male violence. Doing that would be most admirable.

4. Men are much more likely to die in wars.

This is a fact, of course, but the point of presenting it is not to offer an astonishing new fact, but to argue that because women die in wars in smaller numbers (unless we are talking about nuclear war, say, or some modern types of warfare inside densely-populated communities) they have an advantage over men which should be taken into account when discussing gender equality.

That's the nice interpretation. Men fight wars to protect their women and children, and hence deserve a higher position on the totem pole. Of course the fighting is done against other men, not against women of the other "tribe", and of course women were traditionally banned from the armed forces. They still are banned from the armed forces of many countries. Even when women can serve they rarely are allowed to engage in roles where hand-to-hand combat is a possibility. And of course women (with the exception of a few queens) had traditionally very little power to start wars and so on.

This is a fascinating argument, because I've read it so many times as implying that feminists somehow have caused women to not be included in the armed forces! The memory hole swallows everything! The fact that women have been explicitly banned from the military is forgotten! The fact that women have had little power over starting wars is forgotten! The fact that feminists, in general, have advocated for women's full inclusion in the armed forces is forgotten!

5. Men are the majority of prison populations all over the world.

This is usually brought up as if prisons are filled by some method of just scooping people off the streets and as if there should be an equal number of men and women in prisons.

But the way one gets into a prison is somewhat different. The judicial systems of the world can be biased, and often are. The American system, for example, has been found guilty of both racial and gender bias in sentencing. Still, the main reason why there are so many more male prisoners is that men commit more crimes, i.e., even if the judicial systems worked fairly we'd find more incarcerated men.

Why is that the case? As I've mentioned, it could be that women (or at least the mothers of young children) get shorter sentences for similar crimes, because they are viewed as needed by children more often than men who might also be fathers. This bias is deplorable and should end. But its impact on the overall difference of male and female incarceration rates is unlikely to be large.

The larger reason is a gender difference in the rate at which crimes are committed, especially violent crimes. Here is another area in which MRAs could do commendable work, by changing the likelihood that young men drift into a life of crime. At the same time, the ideal feminist world would probably also work in that direction, so I'm not sure why the continuous use of this argument against feminism.

After all, one reason why men commit more crimes has to do with the traditional definitions of masculinity, the idea of man-the-provider and greater opportunities for men to commit crimes by their greater traditional presence in the public sector (including streets). Feminism would like those traditional definitions of masculinity to be less violent and feminism would like to see more sharing of the breadwinning role. Those could reduce the male need to commit crimes. Even the not-so-great move towards more women committing (especially non-violent) crimes with greater opportunities for crime works in that direction. So what's not to like in the feminist views?

6. Women have all the choices. They can choose a career or to stay at home or both. The only choice men have is to work and work and work.

Interesting. I didn't know that there are laws banning men from combining family and career or laws that state that men must work until they drop.

Here comes the first of all these principles which is explicitly about unequal opportunity by gender and it's not based on facts.

HOWEVER, the MRAs do have a point about the pressure of the traditional male gender role here. While the female gender role has changed pretty dramatically in the last forty years, the male gender role has changed much less. As a consequence, many men feel as if they are forced into paid work as the sign of what men should do. But it's all inside their heads. Any man who wishes to have a different kind of combination of work and fatherhood should negotiate this with his partner and should think about this while choosing a partner in the first place.

That's the advice I always see offered to women. But I should repeat that no law bars men from becoming SAHDs. I should also point out that most women don't actually have all those choices. Most women work because they need the money, just as most men do. I'm all for a more egalitarian sharing of household and child-rearing chores, by the way, and so are many other feminists. So why the anger towards us when it comes to being able to have more choice in the labor market and at home? Why don't the MRAs join with us to negotiate more humane working conditions, better parental leave and so on?

Variants of this argument state that women decide to stay at home eating bonbons, decide to take long maternity leaves and otherwise ride on the backs of men who work until they drop while their wives go out shopping. Similar answers suffice for those, though of course they are much more misogynistic versions. A heterosexual man wanting to take a long paternity leave or to ride on the back of his wife or to go on shopping sprees should negotiate that with his partner.

It sounds as if the MRAs don't like the traditional male gender role. Feminists tend to agree. But while feminists would like to make gender roles less rigid, many MRAs want to see women put back into an equally rigid female gender role.

7.Most homeless people are men. Because the homeless are the poorest of all people, men are worse off than women.

This argument conflates two different things. Though it is true that men have a higher homelessness rate than women, it's not because men are poorer than women. In fact, the poor may be more likely to be female than male, even in the US.

According to 1996 data, the best estimate for the percentage of homeless people who are male is 68%. This percentage is higher in cities (71%) and lower in suburban areas (55%). The latter figure suggests that one reason women are a small percentage of the homeless in the cities may be the additional danger that being female causes them on city streets. Another reason may be more help available for women who are homeless together with young children.

The male-homelessness argument is used to defend the idea that the men at the top of the society are balanced by the men at the bottom of the society, and that therefore the overall patriarchal society is a fair one. But note that none of this is about equal opportunity, and given that the homeless may not be the poorest of the poor, neither is this evidence for some weird kind of balancing mechanism.

Indeed, any analysis of more international data refutes the argument that men are both the richest and the poorest individuals. Women are the majority of the global poor, for example.

I should also point out that homeless men and the damage caused by past wars may be correlated, so that the other MRA arguments above could in some sense seen as causing this one!

8.Custodial courts are biased against men and fathers. Domestic violence cases are biased against heterosexual men or for heterosexual women.

These arguments are major ones among the MRAs. Indeed, they may be the reason why some men become Men's Rights Activists (which really is an inappropriate term for those men who are Patriarchy Activists and/or misogynists, see this comment thread for a zillion examples). Losing custody of your children can tear a heart apart and being accused of domestic violence when you didn't commit it or when you think you didn't commit it can make a person bitter towards the whole world. Of course being the victim of domestic violence can literally stop your heart and leave you no time for bitterness.

The problem with discussing these bias arguments is in the need to read not only the studies MRAs proffer but also the studies their opponents offer, and I have done neither to a sufficient extent to conclusively judge the fairness or the unfairness of these court systems. But in principle the question is an empirical one and should be capable of an empirical answer, with good enough research.

That sounds so lame, doesn't it? I should end with some kind of a snappy summary of all the research in these two fields. But I haven't read it. Though neither have the MRA guys, except for the studies which support their point of view. And one family court lawyer I talked to (NOT a feminist, by the way, oh no) stated that the courts in at least his state are biased towards fathers and against mothers. Thus, to make a claim about bias in the court system is not the same as finding such a bias. As I stated, the latter is a task for empirical research on a wide scale and carried out by as neutral researchers as possible.

The domestic violence argument the MRAs make is even trickier. The Wikipedia link on domestic violence gives you a flavor of it, though beware of the possibility of bias in Wikipedia, too. I quote from it:

Dr. Martin Fiebert, from the Department of Psychology of California State University, has compiled an annotated bibliography of research relating to spousal abuse by women on men. This bibliography examines 275 scholarly investigations: 214 empirical studies and 61 reviews and/or analyses, which demonstrate that women are as physically aggressive, or more aggressive, than men in their relationships with their spouses or male partners. The aggregate sample size in the reviewed studies exceeds 365,000.[105]

However, in a review of the research Michael Kimmel found that violence is instrumental in maintaining control and that more than 90 percent of "systematic, persistent, and injurious" violence is perpetrated by men. He points out that most of the empirical studies that Fiebert reviewed used the same empirical measure of family conflict, i.e., the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) as the sole measure of domestic violence and that many of the studies noted by Fiebert discussed samples composed entirely of single people younger than 30, and not married couples.[106] Kimmel argues that among various other flaws, the CTS is particularly vulnerable to reporting bias because it depends on asking people to accurately remember and report what happened during the past year. However, men tend to under-estimate their use of violence, while women tend to over-estimate their use of violence. Simultaneously men tend to over-estimate their partner's use of violence while women tend to under-estimate their partner's use of violence. Thus, men will likely over-estimate their victimization, while women tend to underestimate theirs.[107]

Similarly, the National Institute of Justice states that the studies that find that women abuse men equally or even more than men abuse women are based on data compiled through the Conflict Tactics Scale, a survey tool developed in the 1970s and which may not be appropriate for intimate partner violence research because it does not measure control, coercion, or the motives for conflict tactics; it also leaves out sexual assault and violence by ex-spouses or partners and does not determine who initiated the violence. Furthermore, the NIJ contends that national surveys supported by NIJ, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics that examine more serious assaults do not support the conclusion of similar rates of male and female spousal assaults. These surveys are conducted within a safety or crime context and clearly find more partner abuse by men against women.[108]

Straus and Gelles found in couples reporting spousal violence, 27% of the time the man struck the first blow; the woman in 24%. The rest of the time, the violence was mutual, with both partners brawling. The results were the same even when the most severe episodes of violence were analyzed. In order to counteract claims that the reporting data was skewed, female-only surveys were conducted, asking females to self-report, and the data was the same.[109]

The simple tally of violent acts is typically found to be similar in those studies that examine both directions, but some studies show that men's violence may be more serious. Men's violence may do more damage than women's;[110] women are much more likely to be injured and/or hospitalized, wives are much more likely to be killed by their husbands than the reverse (59%-41% Dept of Justice study), and women in general are more likely to be killed by their spouse than by all other types of assailants combined.[111]
Hmmm. Note, however, that physical chastising of wives by husbands has traditionally been accepted in many cultures and still is in many, whereas we don't have similar traditions about wives chastising their husbands. This historical difference makes me somewhat mistrusting of arguments which suggest that both genders are equally guilty of intimate partner violence, especially as women are more likely to be found in the death statistics.


What always strikes me as odd about the most fervent MRA guys is how very focused they are not on men's rights but on the return of a complete patriarchy where women would have few rights. The position of the most extreme type of MRAs can be summarized as "Heel, bitch." That there are so many of that type makes it hard for me to take the rest of the MRAs seriously. Add to this the eagerness with which the average blog commenting MRA embraces all sex differences that benefit men as biologically or divinely determined and you have to admit that I have exerted admirable tolerance in writing this post as politely as I did.
*A comment to this post made me realize that I should have defined those traditionally male and female spheres of activity more precisely. It's not a reference to male- and female-dominated job categories in the labor force, but a reference to older gender-based division of labor in the public vs. private sector of society and within the households.

Eight Reasons Not To Date A P**n Star

I happened on an article with that title on some site called Guyism. Probably the place where guys are made into guys? You should read the post, with its eight reasons, because it is hilarious, though not perhaps in the way it was meant to be. I'm only going to discuss a few of those reasons here, though I should mention that none of the reasons consider the danger of getting sexually transmitted diseases.

My instant thought after seeing the title of that post is that of course most men wouldn't want to date a pron star! That's for masturbation, not for marriage, after all, and the whore/madonna dichotomy is still strong in the culture. Besides, as I have suggested before, the ownership of women's sexual availability has that public/private division and pron starts definitely fall on the public side. Dating tends to fall on the private side of that fence.

Let's have a look at the few of the reasons why a guy shouldn't date a pron star. Here's reason number eight:

The fact that someone is a porn star is often misconstrued by men as "she'll be most likely to have sex with me because it is her job, after all." And while you may be basking in the thought of sleeping with one; you probably couldn't be more off-base. But, if you were dating an adult actress, men would hit on her everywhere she went. Of course this happens with every beautiful woman, but coupled with the delusion that every guy that hits on her in a grocery store probably thinks shes going to immediately take them to their car and change their life sexually in the back row of the Trader Joe's parking lot — you have a makings of a potentially volatile situation every time you go out in public.
Guess who else might not want to date the pron star for that reason? The star herself. Wherever she goes, pron-consuming men will think that she is available in the public sense of women's sexuality. The imaginary guy here can avoid the situation by not dating her. She cannot.

And what about reason number seven, that the man dating a pron star would have to defend her against the approaches of other men? Well, that goes for the star herself, too, unless she is expected to be open to such approaches.

Reason number three points out that people will call her a slut or a whore and you might not want to be around when that happens. But she will be around when that happens.

Finally reason number two:

People are going to want pictures and autographs from her

This is probably going to be uncomfortable and borderline inappropriate. "Can I see your piercings?" and "Will you sign my ass?" and "Now, tell me this isn't the biggest one you've ever seen?" will become the questions you will start to hear in your sleep.
Sigh. Guess who else is hearing those questions in her sleep.

So it goes.

Well, the whole post is not that different from some dating pieces in women's magazines (though I'm yet to come across one where people debate the pros and cons of women dating a male pron star). It's meant as something light and entertaining, not as something that a mean feminazi will try to take apart.

But I'm concerned about the way pron is changing the expectations of people when it comes to sex. The linked post suggests that roughly 100% of men watch pron, and if that's true then it is very important to keep asking what it is that pron gets wrong and how it presents a one-sided view of sex which could bias the assumptions men and women hold about real life sexuality.
The euphemisms are so that this blog doesn't get x-rated again.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Housekeeping Announcement

I realized that I cannot finish my series on the science of sex differences this week. Though the posts are not based on loads of extra research, they tend to end up long and I just don't have the energy to write the four posts I have in mind right now. So they (or most of them) will be posted over the next few weeks.

My apologies for that.

More On The Scott Sisters

When I wrote my short good-news post on their release, I didn't know that Governor Haley Barbour allowed the release on the condition that Gladys Scott would donate one of her kidneys to her sister, Jamie, who suffers from renal failure:

But an unusual aspect of the arrangement is also drawing scrutiny: Barbour said his action was "conditioned on" one sister donating a kidney to the other.

The case involves sisters serving double life sentences for armed robbery convictions. Barbour agreed this week to suspend their sentences in light of the poor health of 38-year-old Jamie Scott, who requires regular dialysis. The governor said in a statement that 36-year-old Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her giving a kidney to her inmate sibling.

"The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society," Barbour said in the statement. "Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott's medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi. . . . Gladys Scott's release is conditioned on her donating one of her kidneys to her sister, a procedure which should be scheduled with urgency."
Nasty. Very, very nasty. And note how this discussion is turning our eyes away from the fact that the Scott sisters' sentence was atrociously unfair to begin with.

But worry not! If Gladys' kidney turns out not to match she doesn't have to go back to prison! Mindboggling. That Gladys may have suggested this "trade" is irrelevant. Prisoners should not be released on the basis of such "trades" or because their cases cost the state of Mississippi too much.

Otherwise any prisoner with rich relatives could simply buy his or her way out. I know that we don't have the kind of justice system children are taught at school but at least we shouldn't turn it into some explicit market system.

RIP, Isabella Caro

Isabella Caro was a French actor and model. She died last November at the age of twenty-eight. She had suffered from anorexia since the age thirteen, and in 2007 posed for a publicity campaign about the illness. At the time she weighed less than seventy pounds. One picture from the campaign:

It's unclear whether Caro's death was caused by her anorexia or whether it simply made her less able to resist other diseases, and it's equally unclear whether her illness was solely triggered by the modeling industry, though it clearly had a role:

Caro reports that while a teen a designer asked her to lose 10 kilos (22 pounds) if she wanted to be in the fashion world, and that's when she decided to stop eating and lose weight. She ended up being an anorexic.

Geraldine Doyle: 1924-2010 (by res ipsa loquitur)

The woman on whose image Rosie the Riveter was based has died. Rosie started life as a way to motivate and recruit workers during World War II and wound up a feminist icon. But Geraldine Doyle didn't know that a UPI photo taken of her working in a metal shop had inspired the artist who drew the famous World War II-era poster until 1984.
"You're not supposed to have too much pride, but I can't help have some in that poster," Mrs. Doyle told the Lansing State Journal in 2002. "It's just sad I didn't know it was me sooner."
In addition to being a metal worker and the inspiration for what would become a section of America's cultural wallpaper, Geraldine Doyle was a cellist and a mom. RIP.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Good News

The Scott sisters have had their prison sentences indefinitely suspended, which means, in normal language, that they can get out of prison. They were sentenced in a 1994 robbery case which netted a total of eleven dollars, and have been in prison ever since. Which really was a travesty of justice.

The Deep Question Of The Day

A friend (who has read this blog) asked if I ever write anything fun here.

Any suggestions of cheerful and fun issues?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Saving money and your hard-on: another Assange update (by Suzie)

Monday's NYT quotes London's Sunday Times quoting Julian Assange on the book deal that may bring him $1.7 million.
"I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat."
Mr. Assange also told the newspaper that he had already spent more than $300,000 on his legal fight to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual misconduct, which he has denied.
I have some money-saving tips for him:
-- Treat women better.
-- Return to Sweden.
-- Give up your salary of at least $86,000. This figure comes from the Wau Holland Foundation, which pays a lot of WL bills with donations. We don't know if other entities also contribute to your salary, nor do we know if you get additional money for expenses. Your fans will cover your material needs.

Proceeds from the book will go to him, not WL, and that gives him additional job security.
Today in the NYT, Katrin Bennhold asks her girlfriends: "Is it rape when you have sex with someone who didn’t tell you it was OK, but told you it was OK earlier that night?" Almost all said no. But this isn't the same as Ms. W's allegation. According to leaked documents, he lost interest in sex when W insisted he wear a condom. Later, he "agreed unwillingly" to use one. In the morning while she was sleeping, he didn't use a condom when he penetrated her. She clearly had not consented to sex without a condom.

Unlike most of Bennhold's friends, W and Assange were not in a steady relationship, and she was much younger. Bennhold calls her a groupie, but we know only that she greatly admired him and welcomed his attention. We have no idea if she came to his speech to try to get him to have sex with her, although it shouldn't matter if she did. If W is a groupie, what would Bennhold call the head of an organization who has sex with two volunteers in the same week?
Assange said his other accuser took a photo of him naked in bed. I can't decide which account I find funnier: Gawker's or Wonkette's.
When the story first broke about the condom breaking (or being torn), some fans squeed that Assange must have a really big penis, and that's also why he doesn't like condoms. Not necessarily. As the Kinsey Institute noted in a study this year, men who can't sustain an erection while wearing a condom are less likely to wear a condom while having sex. (Duh.)
Men who reported having sex with three or more partners in the past three months were almost twice as likely to report erection loss compared with men having fewer partners. These findings underline the importance of encouraging men to discuss condom use with new lovers.
Men who lost their erections were much more likely to remove condoms prematurely, or to report that the condoms broke. Earlier research showed that men who didn't know how to use a condom properly were more likely to report breakage.
ETA: On the HuffPost today, investigative journalist Nick Davies of The Guardian defends the excerpting of Swedish police documents.
Assange's UK lawyer tried very hard to persuade us to suppress the file. He argued that since Assange had been a source for our stories, we should 'protect' him. I reckon that that is an invitation to journalistic corruption, to hide information in order to curry favor with a source. We were right to publish. ...
It has been a depressing experience to see some of those who were most furious at the global propaganda run by Bush and Rumsfeld now leading the cheers for a new campaign of misinformation, happy to be manipulated, content to recycle falsehood and distortion no matter what damage they may do.
Yahoo reports: David Leigh, The Guardian's investigations editor, said they actually saved Assange some embarrassment: "Nick left out a lot of graphic and damaging material in the allegations because he thought it would be too cruel to publish them."
ETA2, from Gawker:
Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently holed up in an English country mansion, fighting extradition to Sweden where he faces a sex crime investigation. What better time for Newsweek to publish an exclusive photo gallery: "Christmas with Julian."

If this leaking thing doesn't work out, Assange may want to embark on a career as an Eddie Bauer model: See an apple-cheeked Julian tossing firewood; see him reading his fan mail in a tasteful pullover, or frolicking in a santa suit, carrying a novelty toy sack that reads "Dear Santa, I've been very, very, very good (most of the time.)" Haw haw. His style says, "Sure, I'm under house arrest in a mansion because of creepy sex crime allegations, but I also appreciate fine scotch and the company of a good hunting dog."

Looking For Sex Differences. The Complications

This is the second post about my quick impressions after reading three critical books about the science of sex differences, and it has to do with the preliminary questions researchers ask, how they frame the research and perhaps even the question how one becomes a researcher of biological sex differences. (The first post can be found here.)

Publication and Study Biases

Note first, that almost all of us are viewed as either female or male by the society. None of the researchers of sex differences among humans are non-sexed aliens from outer space (well, I don't think so though one never knows for sure) and every one of them has already made his or her non-scientific impressions about gendered behavior and what might cause it.

If your impressions make you believe that gendered behavior is mostly caused by biological sex differences, you are much more likely to enter a field studying those differences than if your impressions make you believe that gendered behavior is mostly caused by either environmental and cultural factors or some complicated soup of all possible factors.

Because of this, I believe that the overall field of biological sex differences may have an inner bias in what questions it analyzes and how it looks at the evidence: It will begin with observed gender differences in a particular society and then move from that to the attempt to find corresponding biological differences as an explanation for those. Environmental/cultural factors will be mentioned, but astonishingly seldom actually controlled for. This may over-attribute gender differences to biological sex differences.

I am not arguing that these biases were overt. They are most likely unacknowledged, except in a few famous cases of clear misogyny being the motivating factor (coughBaron-Cohencough).

But what it probably DOES mean is that the research will search for certain types of differences, ignore other types of differences and most certainly ignore the similarities which are found. It also means that alternative explanations will be down-played.

The same thing would also happen if there was a science of sex similarities. But it doesn't exist, so we don't have to worry about that one! Whenever results fail to show a sex difference they are either "put into a file drawer" (meaning that they are not published), never to see sunlight again, or they are posted in a rewritten form where something else is emphasized as the major finding.

The file drawer bias in research findings is not unique for the field of sex differences. It applies to most research where findings of "no support for a particular theory I like" are not published as often as they should be.

But its impact is especially severe in this field, because the process of excluding certain kinds of findings from public awareness is two-fold here: First, findings of "no difference" are under-reported in the academic publications, and, second, the popularizers grab almost always only those findings which reinforce the story of biological/evolutionary sex differences.

To see how this research bias works in quite subtle forms, consider the vast literature into women and girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). Jordan-Young defines it as follows (pp 30-31 in Brainstorm):

This syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes overproduction of androgens from the adrenal glands, is the most common cause of genital ambiguity. Androgens are elevated throughout fetal development, which is an especially unusual situation for female fetuses. Because of the hypothesis that high androgen levels may masculinize the brain as well as the genitals, people with this disorder -- especially girls and women -- have been much studied by scientists interested in brain organization.
CAH women and girls are a major source of data for those who want to analyze biological sex differences and also one of the pieces of evidence which is usually offered as support for innate causes of masculine vs. feminine behavior. Jordan-Young discusses these studies in great detail and I recommend reading her book on those.

What I want to discuss here is the way these studies have tried to control for all other possible effects than CAH. This is by comparing CAH women/girls to their female siblings or to some larger population of women/girls without CAH but with the same age, ethnicity, social class and so on. A neat way of controlling for any environmental factors, right?

Not quite, and the reason is that having CAH means corrective surgery, continuous medical supervision (every three months during childhood and adolescence) and hormonal treatments to induce higher adult height, for example. What is not controlled for in the vast majority of CAH studies are these very facts, because the control group consists of individuals who are not suffering from a chronic condition. Neither do these studies really control for the stigma of CAH and the way it affects the woman's sexual and reproductive opportunities.

To give an idea of one study which did try to take these into account (Brainstorm p. 229):

While some aspects of interest are indisputably masculinized in girls and women with CAH, perhaps an "organizing" effect of prenatal androgens is not the best explanation. Note especially that few studies have attempted to evaluate the effect of illness itself, or the medical intervention that chronic illness entails. As an exception, Froukje Slijper (1984) compared girls with CAH to girls with diabetes as well as to healthy controls and found that both groups of girls with chronic illness scored in the more masculine range than controls on the gender scale.
The Search For Sex Differences And Their Meaning*

How does one go about searching for biological differences between the sexes in fields such as cognition? The obvious answer (problematic though it is, as will be seen) is that one starts with observed differences, then excludes non-biological explanations and finally tries to find some other difference, preferably genetic or prenatal, which can be linked to those observed behavioral differences.

Sounds good, right? Or at least familiar. But what if we reversed the search? What if we could begin with some biological sex differences and then see what they produce in the behavior of the sexes? Some of that search might even find that such differences produce not gender differences in behavior but gender similarities!

Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender (pp. 142-143):

One very striking example of the principle that brain difference can yield behavioral similarity, discussed by De Vries, comes from the prairie vole. In this species, males and females contribute equally to parenting (excepting, of course, nursing). In female prairie voles, parenting behavior is primed by the hormonal changes of pregnancy. But this leaves a mystery. How do father voles, which experience none of these hormonal changes, come to show paternal behavior? The answer turns out to lie in part of a region of the brain called the lateral septum, which is involved in the triggering of parental behavior. This part of the brain is very different in males and females, being much more richly endowed with receptors of the hormone vasopressin in the male, yet this striking sex difference in the brain enables male and female prairie voles to behave the same.
Of course humans are not prairies voles. But neither are humans rats, and I keep reading how rat behavior is relevant for understanding the limitations of the human female all the time.

It's therefore important to remember that we may be biased if we start only with observed gender differences in behavior. It's quite possible to have biological sex differences which create similarities in behavior by compensating for some other biological difference between the sexes.

Not that all observed gender differences get the same attention from the researchers or the politicizers, by the way. You may well be aware of the clear difference in the average score between men/boys and women/girls in the skill of three-dimensional mental rotation. That one has been extensively studied. It's political uses are equally many.

But this is not the only test of spatial ability in which we find gender differences. Lise Eliot in Pink Brain, Blue Brain (p. 122) discusses the object-location test. This consists of showing test subjects a picture with many randomly scattered objects, and then showing them a different picture with some objects moved to different positions:

The task is to circle the items still in their original place and cross out the items that had been moved.

A recent summary of more than three-dozen such studies shows that women have a small-to-moderate advantage in object-location memory, but the difference depends in part on the type of objects subjects are asked to remember. Women do better with most objects except for stereotypically masculine ones, like a necktie, golf ball, trophy, suit coat and aftershave (men are better at remembering these objects' locations.)
How fascinating that the gendering of objects matters in this test! That suggests to me that the three-dimensional mental rotation tests should be done with a weird furry creature or a six-legged and asymmetric Barbie doll, instead of something that looks like building blocks, especially given that those are now sold in boys' aisles in toy stores.

It's important to note that one can practice these kinds of spacial abilities and raise one's scores that way. This means that the scores do not measure a purely innate characteristic.

A Final Reminder

It is important to remember our biases and partial blindness when discussing this field. Jordan-Young, Brainstorm, p. 256:

Historians and philosophers of science are giving increased attention to the way that gaps in knowledge, as well as knowledge itself, are actively produced and maintained. The study of this phenomenon, what Tuana calls "the epistemology of ignorance" and Proctor (2008) calls "agnotology" reveals that specific ideologies, cultural schema, and political interests systematically block certain forms of information and cause people to "forget" or fail to incorporate certain facts into the overall thinking on the subject.
*Added later: I forgot to note here that much recent research suggests a very complicated interplay between what used to be called nature vs. nurture, and that in some ways we may have been asking the wrong questions even more generally.

Monday, December 27, 2010


That's the best I can get to while saying "snow" right now. Seventeen inches of it has fallen and after several bouts of vigorous shoveling my sinuses have packed their little suitcases and moved to the Bahamas. Which is the shadow side of winter.

But newly-fallen snow is wonderful! The way it envelops and blankets the visual world, turning it into an architectural and austere pen-and-ink drawing, except for the fluffiness of the snow. The way sounds are muffled and made distant contributes to that strange feeling of being both exposed and safely contained in the snow.

This is the time of the year when I miss my dogs the most, because nothing was as hilarious to watch as their great happiness with new-fallen snow. My Hank used to turn herself into an industrial plow, drilling straight ahead, and sometimes I'd only see her tail and ears in the middle of the snow-plow effect. Henrietta would take snow baths, lying on her back and wriggling, and then she'd toss a lump of snow in the air and swallow it in one big gulp. Then the both of them would take off and run down slopes, sometimes making somersaults, and mostly ending next to me while shaking themselves vigorously. Mmm.

On Ballerinas And Football Players: The Failure of Gender-Neutral Parenting


This week I'm going to write up some of the ideas I got from reading on the science of sex differences, off-the-cuff mostly and as short summaries of certain topics which keep cropping up in the books.

The first of them is that clever quip of one of the bully boyz of EP (the scary type of evolutionary psychology; I use the capitals for them). It goes like this:

What are the people called who don't believe in innate sex differences? Answer: Childless.

It doesn't come as a great surprise, then, that every single one of the authors of the three books I read mentioned that when they were talking about their book projects, parents would always tell them the same story: They (the parents) brought their children up in a gender-neutral fashion, and what did they get? Girls in pink ballet tutus and boys in blue football uniforms! Ergo, sex differences are all innate, every single one of them.

Well, it's pretty clear that upbringing has much to do with such differences (as I will discuss in later posts this week), but sure, some differences are most likely innate. Though ballet tutus and football uniforms or the color preferences for blue or pink are not. They are all culture-coded as things that girls can like and things that boys can like. Go into any toy store and check for yourselves.

A Theory About Gender And Toys

Indeed, I was very pleased to find my own theory about how this gender-coding happens mentioned in one of the books, though of course proposed by someone else. It goes like this:

Children at a certain age appear to have a very strong need to determine their own sex and how that sex is supposed to behave. They become little gender police officers, forcing other children to follow the same rules. This need may well be innate (though see later in this post).

What the cues are for how one's sex behaves depends on the culture the children find themselves in. For example, a child growing up in an African tribe where only men weave will soon learn to think of weaving as something men do, but a child growing up in an African tribe where only women weave will soon learn to think of weaving as something women do. It happens that there have been tribes with both these gendered divisions of labor, and though I made up the example of how children might react to them, it's not an unlikely consequence of a gendered world that boys would try weaving in one tribe and refuse to try it in the other tribe, and vice versa for girls.

Note that this doesn't necessarily mean that there wouldn't be innate differences in children's play. It's just to point out that things like the colors pink and blue are clearly societal and not something to do with genes. They only became firmly connected with gender in the current order (at first pink was proposed for boys as the more virile color of the two) less than a hundred years ago.

How would one test the theory I summarized above?

Ideally, children should be brought up in the middle of nowhere so that they get hold of no television or other images that have to do with sex and gender, and, ideally, all the adults should model reverse gender roles.

Why Gender-Neutral Child-Rearing Is Impossible

Such an experiment is impossible. But so is the experiment of bringing children up in a gender-neutral fashion in a world where practically NOTHING is gender-neutral. What the parents say about this may not be what they do, in any case, but even if they tried their utmost, the society will cause the plot to backfire.

Cordelia Fine makes the point best in Delusions of Gender (pp 209-210):

Imagine, for a moment, that we could tell at birth (or even before) whether a child was left-handed or right-handed. By convention, the parent of left-handed babies dress them in pink clothes, wrap them in pink blankets, and decorate their rooms with pink hues. The left-handed baby's bottle, bibs and pacifiers -- and later, cups, plates and utensils, lunch box, and backpack -- are often pink or purple with motifs such as butterflies, flowers and fairies. Parents tend to let the hair of left-handers grow long, and while it is still short in babyhood a barrette or a bow (often pink) serves as a stand-in. Right-handed babies, by contrast, are never dressed in pink, nor do they ever have pink accessories or toys. Although blue is a popular color for right-handed babies, as they get older any color, excluding pink and purple, is acceptable. Clothing and other items for right-handed babies and children commonly portray vehicles, sporting equipment, and space rockets; never butterflies, flowers or fairies. The hair of right-handers is usually kept short and never prettified with accessories.

Nor do parents just segregate left- and right-handers symbolically; with color and motif, in our imaginary world. They also distinguish between them verbally. "Come on left-handers!" cries out the mother of two left-handed children in the park. "Time to go home." Or they might say, "Well, go and ask that right-hander if you can have a turn on the swing now." At playgroup, children overhear comments like, "Left-handers love drawing, don't they," and "Are you hoping for a right-hander this time?" to a pregnant mother. At preschool, the teacher greets them with a cheery, "Good morning, left-handers and right-handers." In the supermarket, a father says proudly in response to a polite enquiry, "I've got three children altogether, one left-hander and two right-handers."

And finally, although left-handers and right-handers happily live together in homes and communities, children can't help but notice that elsewhere they are often physically segregated. The people who care for them -- primary caregivers, child care workers, and kindergarten teachers, for example -- are almost all left-handed, while building sites and garbage trucks are peopled by right-handers. Public restrooms, sport teams, many adult friendships, and even some schools, are segregated by handedness.

You get the idea.

It's not hard to imagine that in such a society, even very young children would soon learn that there are two categories of people -- right-handers and left-handers -- and would quickly proficient in using markers like clothing and hairstyle to distinguish between the two kinds of children and adults. But also, it seems more than likely that children would also come to think that there must be something fundamentally important about whether one is a right-hander or a left hander, since so much fuss and emphasis is put on the distinction. Children will, one would imagine, want to know what it means to be someone of a particular handedness and to learn what sets apart a child of one handedness from those with a preference for the other hand.

We tag gender in exactly these ways, all of the time.
I borrowed such a long quote because it is an important one. Bringing a child up in a gender-neutral fashion is impossible in a society which regards gender as the crucial aspect of children. Just think of the first question people ask of new parents.

What Do Children's Toy Choices Share?

At this point I'd like to turn the science of gender differences upside down and pay a bit more attention to gender similarities in toy choice.

Gender-neutral toys are many and include various games, balls, coloring books, crayons and building blocks. (At least this is true in studies of children's play, though Legos and Lincoln Logs are now stocked with boys' toys in toy stores.) But those are not the ones I want to discuss here. Instead, I want to ask what the pink ballerina outfits and the blue football uniforms share.

A funny thing happens when you ask that question, or at least it happened to me. I immediately realized that ballerinas and princesses are the female equivalent of football players and space heros.

These are all highly valued roles for individuals of a particular gender. In short, both girls and boys aim high in their play schemes, even though they pick their heroes on the basis of a gendered code. Note also that ballet is a strenuous physical exercise. When girls' choices are discussed, we rarely notice the similarity between ballerinas and football players in that sense.

And One Final Difference

I'm concluding this post by drawing your attention to one difference between girls and boys which crops up in study after study but doesn't seem to get much attention. This is the fact that the aversion towards the toys of the other sex is not symmetrical. Boys refuse "girls' toys" more than girls refuse "boys' toys" and play with them shorter lengths of time when they are not refused.

I found this pattern fascinating, because traces of it can be seen in the behavior of adults (in, say the percentages of men and women who read books written by the other gender), too, and because "a tomboy" is mostly not punished for her behavior but "a sissy" is (this is an actual research term, believe it or not!).

What causes the stronger gender-coding by boys (and men)? Is it the fact that they have more to lose from gender-deviant behavior, given that women still have less power, in general? Could it be that parents discourage "gender-deviant" play more for boys than for girls because of the differential costs of it for each sex? Or is there a "girls have cooties" gene?

Well, I doubt that last theory myself.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sweden & Saudi Arabia (by Suzie)

Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism. I fell into a hornets' nest of revolutionary feminism. -- Julian Assange
Too bad he didn't ask any of his Swedish men friends about the matriarchy that rules the country before he requested residency there. He was denied, but what did he expect, as an unwed father traveling alone? It's amazing he was even allowed in without being accompanied by, or at least with the permission of, his mother.

Once he became a resident, he wouldn't have been allowed to drive in Stockholm, and he certainly couldn't gallivant around the globe and expect to return in good standing. At least people wouldn't make so many jokes about his hair -- it would be covered. Since only 5 percent of Swedish men are employed, it's hard to imagine an NGO paying him at least $86,000 a year. At least he could have done much of his work from home.

As the toast of leftist patriarchy, maybe he never thought that concepts of liberty and privacy could be so horribly twisted as to apply to women's autonomy over their bodies. In Sweden, I thought he could get no more than four years if convicted of rape. But now that I understand Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism, he would probably be stoned to death. He should be glad that he doesn't have any Swedish women in his family, lest they kill him to restore the family honor.
I understand that some of you, if not all, are burned out on Assange and WikiLeaks. I swear I'm trying to stop myself from posting anything else.
P.S. Assange may want to speak to WikiLeaks's spokesman in Iceland to ensure Iceland isn't the Iran of feminism.

My Christmas Reading: The Science of Sex Differences

I finished Lise Eliot's Pink Brain, Blue Brain. I then read Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender, and then Rebecca M. Jordan-Young's Brainstorm.The Flaws in The Science of Sex Differences. I have read the other side of the debate in the past.

Short conclusions (much more will appear in later posts:

1. Do not read all these in two days or so. You get tremendously angry and then you kick holes in the garage door.

2. The history of sex differences in science is a nasty one, and there's not much reason to expect we are doing much better right now.

The general tendency seems to be to grab onto any particular innate explanation as the right one. In the nineteenth century it was women's smaller brains or something odd about the spinal cord connecting the pelvis to the brain or wandering wombs.

In the twentieth century it was any observable difference in some brain part, and any differences found were then interpreted as meaning that they show why men are better, pretty much. In some cases the differences turned out to be reversed, but suddenly THAT was why men did better in some cognitive field.

And all this was always interpreted as "hard-wiring", not possible to change and eternal, despite the fact that the actual behavior of men and women was changing at the very same time, and despite more recent findings which show the brain changing with how it is actually used. In short, we (or some group of people) have a bias to welcome findings of innate differences and a bias to resist a more complicated treatment of the topic. I have seen exactly the same with the recent chimpanzees and sticks study.

3. Anyone willing to study innate sex differences between men and women is already biased in one particular direction. This is ignored almost totally, even though anyone finding sex similarities is labeled as biased.

4. Really bad research is regarded seriously when it reinforces basic stereotypes. Really good research is ignored when it fails to reinforce basic stereotypes.

To give an example of the former, studies which measure the correlation between unusual prenatal testosterone exposure in girls and "masculine" behavior almost always use a large number of measures for "masculine" behavior. Almost all of the published studies in this field find one or two significant differences. But they may have studied fifteen such measures or even twenty measures! Yet the finding of those one or two significant differences is publicized as an important one. Statistically speaking, such findings are quite likely to be flukes.

5. The "file drawer" aspect (i.e., that certain types of studies fail to get published) is tremendously strong in this field.

It takes two forms: Studies which don't find differences are often not published at all OR are published in a form which focuses on something else than the sex difference, and later studies which cannot reproduce the differences found in an early (and now very famous) study are not disseminated outside the narrow research community.

The consequences of these are that people in general believe science has found a humongous number of purely innate differences and people go around believing research results which have been falsified in later (invisible) research.

6. I'm becoming very suspicious of a few "researchers" or popularizers as actually knowing that they are lying or utterly not caring one way or the other, just to sell books or ideas. I even wonder about the actual research of a few of them. This is because nobody has been able to replicate the oh-so-famous findings, even in studies which were much better done in the methods sense.

7. If a difference is found which appears to handicap men or boys (say, verbal skills and reading skills), the next step is to argue for compensatory actions in the society. If a difference is found which appears to handicap women or girls (say, three-dimensional mental rotation abilities), the next step is to argue that nothing can be done at all, and that any compensatory treatment should cease this minute.

So, How Did I Do Playing Seer? [Anthony McCarthy}

Note: I always hate it when alleged news program spends time making predictions about the future that they could spend on reporting, not that they'd use the time for that anti-oligarchic practice.

I'm not a reporter, I am not a journalist, and I indulged in making a list or predictions about a year ago and, since I've complained about people not being held accountable for theirs, here's the record. Other than Harry Reid winning his election (I didn't foresee Sharon Angle) I'd say it's a mixed record.

Predictions for 2010 by Anthony McCarthy

Larry Summers will say or do something massively embarrassing and damaging to the Obama administration and the welfare of the large majority of Americans. Given the media we have, it will be his saying something embarrassing instead of doing something damaging that could force his resignation. Though I wouldn’t count on that.

Barack Obama will be pressured to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. That he is “losing Iraq” will be the leverage used to pressure him to do this. He will give in.

On the positive side, Barack Obama will continue to do relatively small things that will improve things, which will be nice but mostly inadequate. If one of the right-wingers on the Supreme Court needs to be replaced, he might do a relatively big thing to improve things. Appointing Justice Sotomayor was the best thing he has done to date. If he somehow gets to replace two, it could be huge and big enough to make having elected him worth it. However, if the replacements act to sustain the fiction of corporate personhood or money as speech, those will be of negligible worth. Corporate personhood will become even more of a danger to us as it is used to attack the possibility of democracy and equality.

The Senate will remain the greatest break on change we can believe in. The fiction of Democratic control will hurt the party in the elections this year. Harry Reid will, thankfully, lose his election. He will have done little to make his time as the Democratic leader unregrettable. The worst features of the Senate will be on full display throughout the year, Senators will be largely unaware of the shame they are earning. They seem to be impervious to the will of The People, as their antics on health care prove. As anyone who has studied high school civics should know, that’s the intended result of this blight on democracy.

Nancy Pelosi will either assert the needed will to force the President and Senate to enact an abridged Democratic agenda or not. Her year could be the decisive factor in forcing Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats to keep faith with their supporters. She must be encouraged and supported along with the house progressives or even her best efforts will be assured of failure. Much of that will depend on the left pressuring the progressives and genuine moderates to overcome lock step Republican-blue dog resistance. I don’t see any chance of this happening without liberals and the left intelligently applying force to House members.

The present day, Republican extremists ruling the Supreme Court are on the verge of putting the knife in the back of electoral democracy. Barring the death or retirement of one of the five, they will succeed. The far right majority will try to finish what the Bush II regime and the Rehnquist court started, cementing the corporate-Republican alliance into place.

The media will continue to be the force that defeats progress and destroys democracy. The exceptions to this may exist but will be suppressed if they show signs of overturning the established order. The spectacle of the Bush II regime combined with the generally tacit belief in democracy and justice will not overcome their inherent greed and block think.

The big question in the States is how bad will it be allowed to get. Will we all be living in a perpetual Mississippi or Arkansas or Louisiana someday? Because with the line of lies the media have sold us, that is the direction we are headed in. Look where California is headed if you don’t see this as being possible. California!

And The People, the real foundation, the trunk and roots of the United States, the actual country? That’s the big question. Will we ever have had enough to give up the superstition that our present system serves us and is the best one we could have? Will we face that those of us who are devoted to the common good must fight against the other side harder and more insistently? Will we grow up even in the face of mounting need to do so?

Will we face that giving up is not an option with which we can live for very long?