Monday, March 30, 2020

On Trump's Assertion That Masks Are Stolen In Hospitals. The Games He Plays.

I used to write, all the time,  about Trump's inane statements, about his ignorance, his lack of interest in learning and about his extreme selfishness. 

I no longer think those writing exercises improved the health of our nation in any way (1).  Enough Americans (and Vlad "The Impaler" Putin) in 2016 had no problem with electing an ignorant narcissist to run the so-called Free world.  They knew what they would get, liking it well enough.  And they still like him well enough.

So I haven't written much about Trump in recent months. (2)  But perhaps this is worth re-stating:

Trump is a narcissist.  This means that he doesn't have certain moral senses most of us share.  He can intellectually understand empathy, and he can even mimic it, but he doesn't know how empathy feels. 

He lives in a world centered around his ego.  The crucial part of understanding this is not that he is selfish (though he is) or that he sees himself as the Sun God of this century (though he does).  The crucial part to understand is that for him his ego, his very self, is like a soap bubble, hovering in a dark world full of sharp objects.  It is extremely fragile. (3)

It must be defended!  Anything piercing that soap bubble would burst it — pop! — and then there would be no Donald Trump.  And the things which threaten that soap bubble consist of everything which threatens the greatness of Donald Trump.

Once you understand this, you can predict almost everything he will say or do.  He will judge all news on the basis of how they make him look, and he will deem the news fake if they make him look bad. He will vigorously attack all criticism and all critics, and he will punish the critics with all means available to him.  He. Must. Win.

Winning, for him, equals keeping the iridescent soap bubble intact.  If he doesn't win, the bubble will burst.  That's why he never gives up in his stupid email fights, and that's why those fights so often seem to be about little personal things which a president should not care about.  But for Trump the personal barbs are the worst barbs.  They threaten his very existence, and must be fought.

If it looks like he is not winning a particular debate, he will convert it into a different debate, one which he cannot lose.  All narcissists are masters in that game, and this is one instance where, indeed, Trump might be the greatest of all.

That is the background against which we should read his comments about masks being stolen in New York hospitals:

President Donald Trump alleged that a New York hospital lost protective masks or even allowed them to be stolen, questioning how demand for the product could have spiked so rapidly during the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump cited no evidence and didn’t identify the hospital.
By suggesting something this outrageous, Trump takes some pressure off himself, because the diversion he opens here is one journalists will eagerly follow.  Not because they believe what Trump is stating, but because they do not believe it, and wish to make the facts in the case quite clear.  But by doing that they are cooperating with Trump by doing what he intended:  To shift the debate away from the problems of his leadership in this pandemic to other outrageous topics which do not threaten his soap bubble.

(1)  That is a bit grandiose.  I don't have enough readers to make much of a difference, though I do have many influential readers (believe it or not) and all my readers are wonderful brainy and compassionate people.

(2)  Or about anything else. The reasons are complicated, but I have been ill for a couple of months.  It's likely that I had the Coronavirus in February, though without easy testing for antibodies there is no way of telling now.  Whatever it was, it caused a tornado of various after-effects.  I'm slowly recovering and getting shiny eyes back and so on.

(3)  I am not a psychologist so cannot talk about the reasons for Trump's fragile ego, though his parents and especially his cold and rejecting father probably had a role in creating him the way he is now.


Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Short Posts About Women And Gender: Sexism in Politics, Online and In House-Cleaning; New Definition of Feminism And Some Fun Stuff

1.  One study strongly suggests that sexism played some role in Elizabeth Warren's performance in the primaries:

Data for Progress surveyed 2,953 likely Democratic primary voters in August, 2019 and then re-interviewed as many of them as possible (n = 1,619) at the end of January, 2020 -- just before the Iowa caucuses. In the first wave of the survey, respondents reported how much they agreed or disagreed with four statements that are meant to gauge one’s level of “hostile sexism”: 
  1. Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist.
  2. Women are too easily offended.
  3. Most women fail to appreciate fully all that men do for them.
  4. Women seek to gain power by getting control over men.
As you might imagine, many Democratic primary voters tend to strongly disagree with all of these statements, but this is not true for everyone. Roughly one-third of likely Democratic voters do not, on average, disagree with these statements.


...Warren received little-to-no support from the roughly one third of the Democratic primary electorate that does not reject these sentiments. The current front-runners, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, have support from voters with a variety of views on these items.

The linked article stresses that there are many other reasons why someone might not have cared for Warren's policies.  But sexism seems to have played a role.

It's also possible that some primary voters engaged in what the linked article calls second-round sexism, i.e., the belief that other voters are likely to be sexist and that having a woman as the Democratic candidate in the general elections is going to make defeating Trump less likely.  This strategy, then, would explain why the remaining two Democratic candidates are white men roughly Trump's own age:  Minimize all differences except for the bits about Trump people hate so that as many as possible will not vote for him.

2.  Sir Tom Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world-wide web, is worried about the way women and girls are treated online:

Berners-Lee highlights three areas that need “urgent” attention. First is the digital divide that keeps more than half of the world’s women offline, largely because it is too expensive, or they do not have access to the equipment or skills to use it.
Second is online safety: according to a survey by Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation, more than half of young women have experienced violence online, including sexual harassment, threatening messages and having private images shared without consent. The vast majority believe the problem is getting worse.
The third threat comes from badly designed artificial intelligence systems that repeat and exacerbate discrimination. “Many companies are working hard to tackle this discrimination. But unless they dedicate resources and diversify teams to mitigate bias, they risk expanding discrimination at a speed and scale never seen before,” he writes.
I would add to that list all the misogynistic hate sites, including the incel sites, and the radical hatred of all women they disseminate.

I have no idea what a workable solution to this problem might look like, though it could help if other users strongly disapproved of social media behavior which consists of misogyny, sexual harassment and the like.  In other words, the social norm on this needs changing.

3.  I felt a strong sense of deja-vu reading a new Guardian piece which asks if it is ever acceptable for a feminist to hire a cleaner.  That's because roughly the same story was written by my favorite anti-feminist, Caitlin Flanagan, some fifteen years ago, and I wrote about it then.

The hidden framework both those articles use goes something like this:

Most unpaid work at home shall be defined as Women's Work.  If a woman refuses to do it so that she can do more paid Men's Work outside the home, then poorer and more oppressed women must fill the gap she is leaving by that refusal.  Because that unpaid work at home is Women's Work.
This means that the liberation of middle-class women comes at the expense of working-class women, and is not real liberation.  

The only ethical solution is for all feminists to do their own Women's Work *. 

It's worth spelling that out given that the class (or capitalist) analysis the argument otherwise applies is equally valid for studying similar ethical questions in the lives of, say, male stockbrokers who choose not to clean their own offices at work and who choose not to launder their own suits or iron their own shirts.

Perhaps the ethics of those choices tend not to be questioned because they are seen as taking place in the public sphere or in a marketplace and not at home?

But what about that same male stockbroker who employs a cleaning lady to clean his fancy townhouse?  Why would the ethical considerations there be any different?   In any case, why are questions about who cleans the toilet seen as somehow the responsibility of women alone when lots of people use those toilets in many households?

The problem with this analysis is that it conflates two different questions.  One of them is low-pay work and the exploitation of workers.  The other one is labeling certain chores as belonging to women and then holding women to different standards than men when it comes to exploiting low-paid workers.  The solution to the worker-exploitation problem is better labor market protections and fairer wages.  The solution to labeling certain chores as inherently belonging to women only is to stop doing that.

4.  The Planned Parenthood website has a glossary of terms.  One of them defines feminism in a manner I have not seen used before:

The belief that people of all genders should have equitable economic, political, sexual, and social rights.
 My guess is that this definition tries to update and expand the traditional definition of feminism which has to do with equitable rights for both sexes.  But switching from sex to gender causes difficulties which the writer of that definition might not have thought about:

When someone writes "all genders" the basis for defining "gender" is probably coming from the gender identity school of thought, which assumes that all individuals have a gender identity which is not based on their actual biological sex but may correlate with it (in which case one is called cisgender inside that school of thought) or not (in which case one is called transgender or nonbinary).

The decoupling of biological sex from gender identity and the use of the latter to define "gender" (what men and women and nonbinary people are) then means that all the genders in the above definition will contain both female-bodied people and male-bodied people (though the relative percentages vary widely).

Suppose abortion was banned.  Would the new feminism, as defined in the above quote, be concerned about this ban?

I don't see how it could be concerned, because the imagined abortion ban would not be singling out any particular gender, as long as all genders contained some male- and some female-bodied people.  All genders would be equally constrained by that abortion ban, and in that sense their rights would remain equitable**.

If this is the way feminism is now defined, then no social justice movement addresses sex-based oppression, despite it still being probably the type of oppression in this world which has the largest number of victims.  So I hope that this is not the generally used new definition, or that people using it figure out how to amend it to allow the traditional tasks of feminism to still be carried out.

5.  Finally, some fun things about women.  Here are ten inspiring stories about individual women (from the International Women's Day celebrations).  This story is about a painting now attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi which was earlier attributed to a male pupil of her father.  And here are colorized pictures of British women working in factories and such during WWI.


* This is, in fact, also the conclusion of the author of the Guardian piece!  The unequal distribution of work at home (child care, cooking, cleaning, laundry) is one reason why women earn less than men, on average, so it's odd to see a self-declared feminist recommend that more women increase their share of that work, and it's even odder to see how quickly she gets past the idea that men should chip in more.

It's also somewhat difficult to see how not hiring cleaning ladies would make their lot better, or how the valuing of  traditional women's work would increase if more women voluntarily do it for bed and board.

**  Similar problems crop up with pregnancy discrimination in the labor market.  When individuals from all genders can get pregnant, discriminating on the basis of pregnancy is actually not gender-based discrimination.

Actually, similar problems crop up with all aspects of sex-based oppression, including sex-based labor market discrimination, sex-based religious rules which limit women's lives, sexual violence and harassment which are predominantly aimed at female bodies (or bodies which look female to others) and so on.

It's worth noting that trans women, for instance, can also suffer from sex-based oppression when others view them as women, and that female-bodied nonbinary individuals are unlikely to be able to escape sexism, given that sexism depends on how others view us, not on how we view ourselves.  Thus, the importance of understanding (and being able to measure and analyze) sex-based oppression is not limited to just those the gender identity school would call cisgender women.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Trump Administration And the Coronavirus Pandemic

Two years ago Donald Trump, Our Leader Extraordinaire:

ordered the shutdown of the White House National Security Council's entire global health security unit. NBC News had a good report on this recently, noting that the president's decision "to downsize the White House national security staff -- and eliminate jobs addressing global pandemics -- is likely to hamper the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus."

And how does he now justify that decision?  Like this:

"I just think this is something, Peter, that you can never really think is going to happen. You know, who -- I've heard all about, 'This could be...' -- you know, 'This could be a big deal,' from before it happened. You know, this -- something like this could happen.... Who would have thought? Look, how long ago is it? Six, seven, eight weeks ago -- who would have thought we would even be having the subject? ... You never really know when something like this is going to strike and what it's going to be."

This is the kind of presidential awareness millions of American voters felt comfortable with..

There's a reason why we want smart, knowledgeable and experienced people running countries and important public organizations.  There's a reason why having years of experience matters.  There's a reason for not engaging one's hind-brain in the selection of leaders.

My anger about Trump's incompetence, denials and clear lack of overall understanding comes from seeing how terribly poorly the US is coping, compared to other industrialized countries.  Testing for the coronavirus in this country has been almost a farce so far:

A week later, the United States declared a public health emergency, a process designed to speed the development of diagnostic tests and other medical products. The CDC received the first “emergency use authorization” to make and distribute its test to the backbone of the public health system in the United States — mostly state labs.

But the emergency policy, intended to keep quality high, also discouraged hospital labs from quickly developing in-house tests. They would need specific approval from the FDA to do so.

“Since CDC and FDA haven’t authorized public health or hospital labs to run the tests, right now #CDC is the only place that can. So, screening has to be rationed,” Gottlieb tweeted on Feb. 2.

The CDC manufactured kits, and on Feb. 6 and 7, 90 test kits were shipped to the public health labs. Some labs began to have trouble with the test. On Feb. 12, the CDC announced the test was providing inconclusive results in some laboratories. The problem was in one of the three components of the test.
How do other countries manage to test thousands of people, then?  What about using the test kits they use?  The answer:

Some critics have questioned why the CDC didn’t switch to tests being used by other countries as soon as the problems arose, but the official said it would have taken longer to apply for a new authorization from the FDA and validate and manufacture a new test than it would to fix a test they knew worked in their own lab.

So it goes.  Currently the US testing is too narrow to allow us to tell much anything about the possible spread of coronavirus in different areas.  This means that we have no idea how correct the numbers of those infected might be.  And then there is this bit:

On Feb. 13, HHS Secretary Alex Azar testified before Congress that a limited five-city pilot would begin to add coronavirus to the usual flu surveillance system to see whether “there is broader spread than we have been able to detect so far.” But the plan was delayed because coronavirus tests weren’t available.

Wider testing for the virus is required to properly plan the need for hospital facilities and medical staff and for deciding when stronger quarantine policies might be in order.  So far the US testing has been totally inadequate for these purposes.  To put it into perspective:

As of Sunday, 1,707 Americans had been tested for the novel coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. South Korea, by contrast, has tested more than 189,000 people. The two countries announced their first coronavirus cases on the same day.
This looks like a clown show, to be honest.


Sunday, March 08, 2020

On Gender Norms And Women's Roles. Results From UNDP Surveys.

The New Sex/Gender Norms And Roles Survey:  Main Results

The UN Development Program (UNDP) has published new near-global survey results on social norms about gender.  The findings come from data collected in two waves in the World Values Survey.  The latest wave, from 2010 to 2014, covers surveys done in seventy-five countries.  For a sub-group of thirty-one countries, data is available for both waves in the World Values Survey (2005-2009 and 2010-2014). The latter allows us to see what might be happening over time in various countries about how people, both men and women, view women's proper roles and women's abilities and capabilities.

I spent some time with the results, what with today being the International Women's Day.  How gender roles, norms and gender stereotypes actually work in practice seems a useful topic for thought today, right?  After all, they are one of the main channels which guarantee that women don't stray outside the narrow and rigid traditional sex roles or retrogressive views about what femininity means and how it is properly demonstrated*.

The survey questions try to measure how people, both men and women, view women's empowerment in politics, education, economic life and in physical integrity within a particular culture.  The table below (click to make it larger) shows the questions that were asked:

Both the BBC and the UK Guardian reported on the main findings from the surveys.  Here's the Guardian:

Almost 90% of people are biased against women, according to a new index that highlights the “shocking” extent of the global backlash towards gender equality.
Despite progress in closing the equality gap, 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights.

And the BBC:

A new UN report has found at least 90% of men and women hold some sort of bias against females.
The "Gender Social Norms" index analysed biases in areas such as politics and education in 75 countries.
Globally, close to 50% of men said they had more right to a job than women. Almost a third of respondents thought it was acceptable for men to hit their partners.
There are no countries in the world with gender equality, the study found.
The indices referred to in the above quotes are two.  The first one simply counts the percentage of people who hold at least one bias, and the second one counts the percentage of people who hold at least two biases**.

The report itself also summarizes more of the overall findings and also results about change over time in the sub-group of thirty-one countries with data from both waves.  Here are some extra overall findings:

About 50 percent of men and women interviewed across 75 countries say they think men make better political leaders than women, while more than 40 percent felt that men made better business executives. Almost 30 percent of people agree it is justifiable for a man to beat his partner.
Women are skewed towards less bias against gender equality and women’s empowerment. Men are concentrated in the middle of the distribution, with 52 percent having two to four gender social norm biases. More than 50 percent of women are biased in the political arena. Men present biases higher than 63 percent in both the political and economic dimensions, especially for the indicators “Men make better political leaders than women do” and “Men should have more right to a job than women.”Globally close to 50 percent of men agree men should have more right to a job than women.
And here are a few findings about changing social gender norms over time for the thirty-one countries with data from both waves:

More worrying, despite decades of progress in advancing women’s rights, bias against gender equality is increasing in some countries, with evidence of a backlash in attitudes among both men and women.
According to the GSNI2, the proportion of people with moderate and intense biases against gender equality grew over the last few years in 15 countries (out of 31). The share of both women and men worldwide with moderate to intense gender biases grew from 57 percent to 60 percent for women and from 70 percent to 71 percent for men (table 3). Surveys have shown that younger men may be even less committed to equality than their elders.34

Progress in the share of men with no gender social norms bias was largest in Chile, Australia, the United States and the Netherlands (figure 7). At the other extreme, indicating a backlash, the share of men with no bias fell in Sweden, Germany, India and Mexico. The share of women with no gender social norms bias increased the most in the Netherlands, Chile and Australia. But most countries in the sample showed a backlash, led by Sweden, India, South Africa and Romania (see figure 7).

All the above findings matter, of course.  But it's worth diving much deeper into these survey results, to see stuff that becomes invisible in the averaging process that produced those frightening overall percentages.   That's what I do in the next section.

Individual Country Data And Change Over Time

Certain overall patterns are visible across all countries in both the waves of the World Values Survey.  The most important one is that women, almost everywhere,  are less likely to hold the biases the report analyzes than men, though the differences are not large.  That the male and female average biases go together within each country demonstrates the importance of culture, tradition and religion.  All of us grow up absorbing the cultural and religious norms of our communities, after all.

To give an extreme example of this, consider the respondents without any gender social norm bias in the country data of the surveys.  Sweden, a gender-egalitarian country, has extremely high percentages of both men and women who expressed no gender bias in the two waves of the survey, though those numbers declined from the first two wave to the second: 

In 2004-2009 82.2% of women and 79.79% of men showed zero gender bias, while in 2010-2014 the respective percentages fell to 71.69% and 68.29%.

In contrast, corresponding numbers for Jordan, a country with little gender-equality, looked very different.  In 2004-2009 the percentage of both men and women without any gender norm bias was 0.4%, and in 2010-2014 rather similar results applied, with 0.83% of women and 0.5% of men showing zero bias.

The point I wish to make is that the overall averages reported in the BBC and the Guardian hide large amounts of variation between countries

Some countries (Jordan, Ghana, India, Malaysia, Rwanda, South Africa and Turkey among the countries for which data is available for two waves***) show very strong bias against women's empowerment (so that the percentage of respondents showing no bias at all is at most only a few percentage points), while some other countries (Sweden, Australia and the Netherlands among the countries for which data is available for two waves) show strong social agreement about the desirability of social, political and economic equality between men and women (so that the percentage of either men or women or both who hold no bias exceeds fifty percent).

Most countries fall between these two extremes.  The United States comes closer to the latter group than the former, with 46.09 % of women and 39.08% of men showing no bias in the 2010-2014 wave of the survey.

The United States is also one of the countries for which reported bias shrank between the two survey waves, for both men and women.  The change was especially large for men (from 33.06% to 39.08%).  This is, of course, great news.

The following picture demonstrates changes in how respondents view gender norms about women between the two survey waves:

In interpreting it, keep in mind that, for instance, Swedish men and women still hold much more gender-equal views than Chilean men and women.
In general, I would counsel caution in how we would interpret the data on changing gender norm bias over time.  Stuff like this, reproduced from a quote above:
Progress in the share of men with no gender social norms bias was largest in Chile, Australia, the United States and the Netherlands (figure 7). At the other extreme, indicating a backlash, the share of men with no bias fell in Sweden, Germany, India and Mexico.
That's because this particular survey has only been done twice.  Specific events (and news about them) immediately preceding a particular wave of the survey could influence the answers of the respondents in that wave, even if there was  no longer term trend toward more or less bias against women's empowerment.  It's also worth checking if demographic changes in the populations to be surveyed are controlled for before interpreting the findings as changes in the gender norm biases rather than in the population composition.

Relating to all this, note that the general dismal findings might perhaps not be so dismal.  This, too, has to do with the fact that these surveys are very recent.  My guess is that data from earlier times would have shown even more gender norm bias.

On Descriptive And Normative Bias

What does all this data really mean?  It's important to note that the questions respondents were asked could elicit both descriptive and normative bias.  The former relates to how things actually are in a particular society, the latter to how things "ought to be" in that same society.

It is possible that some respondents interpreted in the results as holding biases are answering on the basis of descriptive bias.  As an example, if you live in a country where men are almost all the bread-winners stating that it's more important for men than women to get a university education might just be a statement of fact, not an expression of one's normative beliefs of how that society should be arranged or how women's lives should be regulated.  Likewise, a respondent agreeing that men make better political leaders than women gives a statement hard to interpret if no woman has ever held political power in that respondent's country.  How does one evaluate a statement like that without any data?  Perhaps by assuming that the way things are is based on actual male advantage?  But that assumption hasn't actually been tested.

Final Comments

I hope you read this far.  I almost didn't write this far, what with my body falling apart and so on.  The take-home message to me, after wading through lots of tables and text, is not to take it for granted that equality between men and women will just go on increasing, rather than stalling or even reversing.  In fact, the survey itself notes that advances appear to have slowed down and may have even ended in some parts of this earth.

For those wishing a happier concluding comment, you can always look at the complement of the overall findings:  If one third of the respondents seem to think that men can use physical violence against their partners, then two thirds don't think that way, and if almost half of all men think that men have more right to a job than women, then more than half of all men don't think that way.

*  In my view getting rid of all the gender roles, norms and stereotypes about femininity and masculinity that we possibly can is the only functional road to a more feminist and fairer world.

** The cutoff points and aggregation methods used in the report when constructing the two indices from qualitative answers are, of course, to some extent based on choice. Some choices are easier than others.  For instance, to call an answer biased when it "strongly agrees" or "agrees" that men's access to jobs matters more is a fairly straightforward choice.  But what does one do when someone's agreement or disagreement with an assertion is a number picked from a ten point scale?  Where, on that scale does one draw the bias line?

***  This choice is based on nothing but my current lassitude, caused by ill health.  All the same stuff can be seen in the larger data set, but I wasn't going to go and copy numbers twice, sorry.  Rests weary head against the cool pillow.

Monday, March 02, 2020

Dispatches from the Fever Bed

I have the flu.  I have the flu after I got the flu vaccine.  This is the third year in a row (vaccine-flu, vaccine-flu, vaccine-flu).  Someone up there (Zeus, you bugger?) does not care for me. 

That is an explanation for part of the silence on this blog.  The rest is to do with my deep self-doubts about the value of doing the kind of work I have tried to do here.

When I get some clarity on the latter I will let you know.  Because you are all, of course,  waiting for that with bated breath....

Just kidding.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Parroting Interlude

Have a singing and dancing Finnish parrot, Nakke:

My own current parroting/writing abilities are taking a vacation right now.  No joy in Snakepit Inc.

Nakke, by the way, appears to vocalize in a rather meaningful manner.  In the next video he drops a mug off the counter in the kitchen and then states "look."  When he drops the tea towel, he mutters "finished."

Sunday, February 16, 2020

My sensitivity To Tap Water

Last weekend I traveled to New York City and for various reasons, largely laziness, ended up drinking a lot of tap water and coffee and tea made out of tap water.  I then spent three days sick with stomach pains and extreme diarrhea.  My apologies for you having to read that. 

I cannot drink tap water now without getting sick.  If that sounds like something from the Twilight Zone, I understand.  I wouldn't believe me, either,  if I hadn't experienced this.

My problem began six years ago, two weeks after (as I found out later) my local water authority changed the way water is treated.  At that time not all areas had switched to the new water-treatment system, and for a few years I could drink tap water while traveling in areas which had not yet  made the switch.

Indeed, this was how I realized the connection to tap water, early on:

I had experienced some vague symptoms for about a week, when I went away for a week and all symptoms disappeared.  I returned home, and after two days the symptoms were back.

I had to make another week-long trip after another week or so, the symptoms disappeared again, only to return when I returned to the Snakepit Inc.   Clearly, then, whatever was affecting me was linked to my home.

I began testing foods  and thinking about any possible home-related stressors (I always react with my stomach to everything*, even to falling in love).  At some point I shifted to drinking bottled spring water and the symptoms, which by then had gotten worse, got better.  When I began making tea and coffee with spring water, too, the symptoms completely disappeared.

I then designed a set of tests and went through them, methodically, to see which types of water caused the symptoms, by spending three days drinking each type of water and then returning to a week of spring water drinking.  The results of these experiments were that tap water, boiled tap water, filtered tap water, and purified water all caused the symptoms**.  Only spring water did not.

Fast forward to the present, and I am perfectly fine as long as I drink only spring water.  I can use tap water in, say, boiling pasta, but I can't make coffee with it.  That boiling the water makes no difference suggests that I am not reacting to bacteria in the water but to something different.  The timing of this problem strongly suggests*** that it is linked to the use of ozone treatment in water purification, possibly a sensitivity to the residuals created by it, even when their total amount is below the legal upper limit.


*  When I was a child my family moved to newly built accommodations shared by several families, all getting water from the same new well.  We lived in those accommodations during the five-day work-week and went away for the weekends.  Every week I got a stomach complaint by Wednesday and every week I recovered by Sunday night.  A medical checkup found no reason for this.

The inspection of the new well had been delayed.  When it was finally inspected, it was found to be polluted with E. coli bacteria.  Many others had drunk the same water, including other children, but I was the only one who showed symptoms.

When it comes to the stomach, I am the princess from the Princess And The Pea story.

** I also had the house water tested and it tested fine.  As an aside, I found the same sensitivity to coffee and tea served in the local area cafes, which further supported the theory that the flaw wasn't about the plumbing at Snakepit Inc. but somewhere else.

***  I contacted a few experts at the water authority about it and this is as far as they came with their suggestions, when I finally managed to convince them that I wasn't a total Mad Hatter.  Sigh.  Now that was fun, that convincing.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Short Posts, 2/13/20. Vanishing Tomboys, Feminist Porn?, UK Male And Female Homicide Rates, And Trump Obstructing Justice

1.  Tomboys.  Where did they go?

The New York Times article on this topic notes the disappearing tomboys:

But this kind of tomboy began to recede in the mid-1980s. Hostility to feminism emerged in that decade, with the rise of the New Right and shows like “Thirtysomething,” in which educated women were sent back to the domestic realm, as Susan Faludi charted in her book “Backlash.” This was followed by the pink-hued “Girl Power” of the 1990s, which moved away from the more masculine-presenting tomboy toward an image that seemed to comfort the male gaze. Jo gave way to Sporty Spice, Xena, Buffy — coifed, petal-lipped and sometimes baring midriff — with the message that one didn’t need to sacrifice femininity to have power.
It was an understandable counter to the somewhat limiting message of the earlier tomboy era, which implied that while masculinity was good for boys and girls, femininity was bad for both. But it also edged out a certain kind of acceptable masculinity in young girls, and came with its own confinements — namely the idea that girls could be strong, so long as they were also pretty.

A tomboy (1) is "gender nonconforming," i.e. at deviance with rigid sex roles based on stereotypical (and often sexist) views about femininity and masculinity.  That this now seems rarer than thirty years ago is disappointing for those of us who see rigid sex roles as one of the main channels cultures have used, and still use,  to maintain sex-based hierarchies.

2.   Porn as empowering women?  Some types of choice feminism ("I choose my oppression") offer me hours of hilarity.  This is one such example:

New York Fashion Week kicked off on Monday, marking the beginning of a month-long event where designers showcase their latest creations in four different cities. Where London is known for its celebration of emerging designers and Paris for its grandeur, New York is revered for its progressive values: its catwalks are often home to bold political statements, promoting diversity and body positivity along the way. Given this reputation, the news that Pornhub stars will walk the runway this Sunday in what has been deemed a “feminist statement” is puzzling.

Modelling for Berlin-based fashion label Namila, several adult film actors will showcase a collection named “Herotica”, alongside Pornhub’s ambassador Asa Akira. Nan Li, one of the designers behind the collection, aims to challenge the porn industry’s exclusive focus on men’s entertainment: “Porn isn’t something existentially male. Most women just have been excluded from determining the narrative.”

Although the idea of resisting pornographic tropes is compelling, the label’s hope to reclaim women’s agency fell flat when it chose to collaborate with a website that distributes footage made as a result of female exploitation. In yet another case of femvertising that claims to champion women while profiting from their mistreatment, the fashion venture is an insult to women who are trafficked, sexually abused and filmed in secret for Pornhub videos. Although the site encourages its users to report illegal content, as a hosting platform it takes no legal responsibility for the videos that are uploaded, making it a hotbed for illegal photos and videos.

It's not that porn couldn't be feminist, of course  (2), but this is not the way to go about achieving that.  Rather, such surface moves offer coverage for the abuse of women by Pornhub and similar sites without addressing the real issues violence in online porn has created.

3.  The new UK crime statistics for the year ending in March 2019 show an uptick in the homicide rates for female victims, though homicides, overall, have declined (3).  As has been the case in previous years, men were about twice as likely as women to be the victims of homicide.  Men were also vastly more likely to be found guilty of homicide than women.  Ninety-two percent of those sentenced were men.

Some additional differences between male and female homicide victims are also worth noticing:

There were large differences in the profile of victim-suspect relationships between men and women victims. In the year ending March 2019, female victims were more likely to be killed by a partner or ex-partner or a family member, while male victims were more likely to be killed by a friend or acquaintance, stranger or other known person.

Almost half (48%) of adult female homicide victims were killed in a domestic homicide (99). This was an increase of 12 homicides compared with the previous year. In contrast, 8% of male victims were victims of domestic homicide (30) in the latest year. This was an increase of six homicides compared with the previous year.

Reflecting the above quote about the relationships between the victim and the suspect, women were more likely to be killed in or near a house or dwelling (71%) than men (39%).

In one sense this reminds me of the argument that the most dangerous place for women is their homes, but this shouldn't be interpreted to mean that they'd be safer if they spent more time outside the home.  That's because male and female uses of space differ.  Women, on average, spend less time in such dangerous places as (secluded) streets, paths and alleyways where 30% of male and 6% of female homicides took place.

4.   There's a certain bitter satisfaction in watching Attorney General William Barr scold Trump for his tweets.  The whole farce about the sentencing of Roger Stone has offered me similar but ultimately hollow pleasure.

And now I feel quite small for that fleeting enjoyment.  But anyone who read through the Mueller Report can tell that Trump is up to his old crimes.  And he is now untouchable, because of the Republicans.

So it's only fair that they get at least a little trouble for orchestrating that outcome.   

1.  Its male equivalent is an equally important form of refusing to obey traditional (1950s) sex roles.  That equivalent doesn't have a very good name, sadly.

2.  At least we could do sex reversals on typical porn videos!  "Watch Justin Fucked Hard In All His Apertures And Loving It."

Just kidding there.  Or making the point that we must dig much deeper under the surface of porn to address its many problems before we can talk about feminist porn.

3.  Because homicides are a fairly rare event in the UK, annual numbers must be treated with some caution when trying to forecast trends.


Friday, February 07, 2020

Short Posts 2/7/20: Ripping Nancy Pelosi, International Day To End FGM And Funny Songs

1.  This is fun if you like making fun of song lyrics.

2.  Nancy the Ripper.  That's what I saw someone call Nancy Pelosi after she tore apart Trump's speech.  I have no idea if that ripping apart was a deliberate move or just one of those moments when the frustration boils over the edge of the political pressure-kettle.  What she said suggests the latter:

“It’s appalling the things that he says. And then you say to me: ‘Tearing up his falsehoods, isn’t that the wrong message?’ No, it isn’t,” she said, adding: “I feel very liberated. I feel that I’ve extended every possible courtesy. I’ve shown every level of respect.”
It's fascinating that some have attacked her for that move, given what Donald Trump has done to the rules of courtesy and comity:  They certainly have never been expected to apply to our Dear Leader!  But Pelosi shouldn't lower herself to his level, I hear.  That she tried the high road for such a long time makes me awed by her patience.  I would have eaten and digested someone many times during the last year, given that facts and such matter not at all.

3.   You probably didn't know that yesterday was the International Day Of Zero Tolerance For Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).  The tolerance is certainly not at zero level, though things are better than they were thirty years ago.  This article shows the three most common types of FGM:

The most extreme type, infibulation,  is getting rarer which makes me happy:

Women who have undergone infibulation – where the labia are cut and sewn together to drastically narrow the vaginal opening – have to be cut open again to enable sexual intercourse and childbirth. 

4.   I feel politically very alone.  Am I alone in this?  Heh.   

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Recognizing Expertise Over Time. A Feminist Take.

I came across this picture somewhere online.  It's a joke about how the way we acknowledge expertise has changed over time:

The joke in the picture is a good one, suggesting that who qualifies as the expert on some issue has changed in undesirable ways over time.  In the 1990s the expert was a leading scientist, in the 1990s a PhD student, in the 2000s a media expert (whatever that means), and in the 2010s the expert is Karen on Facebook.

I agree on the punchline, of course I do!  Far too many people now get their news from the curated and biased smorgasbord Facebook algorithms and our friends and allies on social media offer us.  Though times were not necessarily that much greater in the past decades, it's certainly true that expertise now has much more to do with gut feelings than with actual demonstrated knowledge of a field.

But I can't avoid seeing cartoons such as the above from other angles, too.  For instance, it looks like everyone in the picture is white, though it's hard to tell with a cartoon, and of course acknowledged experts in the US mostly are white both for reasons of population numbers (whites are still the majority) and for reasons of racism (fewer people of color in the upper echelons of various fields and of those who are in the upper echelons,  fewer are seen as experts by others because of that race-tinted fog we all live in).

In fact, there are good reasons to keep all other things except for the punchline topic as constant as possible between the decades so as to drive the punchline home.  Those other things are not held constant, however.  The first three experts are clearly intended to be read as men, while the last one is intended to be read as a woman*.  If the name "Karen"** doesn't get you there, then the hairstyle should...

Would the story have been weaker if the last figure had been, say, Kevin, in a baseball cap, from Facebook?  Or is it the case that naming this Facebook friend "Karen" strengthens the case the cartoon is making?  After all, women are very rarely viewed as valid experts, even if the women in question wear lab coats and have PhDs.

This post is an example of those posts I write which are often deemed to be about nitpickery.  Or comma-fuckery, as Finns say. 

And the topic is trivial, of course, except in showing how diffuse and common those little reminders of sexist hierarchies are in our daily lives.  It also shows one of the reasons why it's so hard to get those real experts who just happen to be women the respect they deserve.


*  We have regressed so terribly when it comes to gender norms that one's hairstyle is now immediately coded as signifying gender or biological sex.  I have learned this in those parts of the social media young people use!

Boys have short hair and play football (and when they grow up they will wear lab coats and become experts or at least media experts).  Girls, on the other hand, have long hair and wear skirts and when they grow up they will become Karens on Facebook.   And yes, I know that this is an exaggerated take, but it's not as exaggerated as it should be.

**  I can't tell if the woman in the cartoon is called Karen because of the Karen meme.  That meme, in itself, probably partly operates so strongly because women are not supposed to complain and be vocal, so those who do tend to stand out in an unpleasant manner as strident and demanding.  I see this a lot in politics. 

And of course it's the case that women, too, from all demographic groups can be difficult and bossy and nasty people.   Karen in the meme is usually interpreted as a young-to-middle-aged white woman, often an ex-wife, who took custody of the kids.  That last interpretation adds a soupcon of open anger at women into the picture.

Even more generally, our unconscious sexism contributes to the success of memes such as the Karen one.  Because the rules for deciding when someone is strident and overly demanding vary by sex, a person like Karen looks so much worse than an otherwise identically behaving but male version of Karen.  Kevin, say.  We expect the Kevins of this world to be assertive, after all, so they have to break furniture while demanding service at some store before they are deemed entitled or strident or demanding.

Monday, February 03, 2020

Short Posts 2/3/20. On Impeachment, Nursing Salaries, Child Grooming Scandals, The New Inclusiveness, And Sudden Social Change

This post is a giant cupboard full of tiny snippet thoughts and links that I have gathered but have not had the energy (yet) to work into something bigger and more meaningful. 

1.  How best to view the impeachment process:  As kabuki theater?  Or as a game between two sports teams, each with acolytes who care about nothing but winning?  Or is it the case that one side cares about nothing but winning, even if that winning means beheading the umpires and scrapping all rules, while the other one wants to win only the "holier-than-thou-races?"

And how far have I fallen when I see the whole process from such a bitter and cynical angle?

Maybe the sanest approach to watching this while trying to predict the outcome of the next presidential elections is to return to seeing the importance of the material world:

Trump won't win if the economy goes bad enough rapidly enough to be seen as bad in the immediate environs of enough voters, but he might win if this doesn't happen, or if he starts yet another unnecessary war somewhere far enough not to matter a lot in those immediate environs of most voters (rah, rah, U.S. of A).

I sometimes think that many Trump voters don't actually like Trump's ethics and morals (or the lack of both, really), and view him as  a crook.  But he is their known-and-true crook, while the Democratic alternatives look filled with uncertainty.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Welcome to George Orwell's 1984. On The Politics Of Doublethink.

George Orwell, 1984:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself--that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious to the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the world "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink.

The bolding of the last sentence is mine, and it is bolded, because doublethink is everywhere in today's political debates.

So it goes, as another writer (Kurt Vonnegut) used to sigh.

Dealing with nonstop doublethink necessitates mental health breaks.  Mine (I need more of them, these days, it seems) consist of lying in the darkened bedroom, with chocolate at hand, watching Nordic noir (1) or similar crime stories from other European countries.  I talk back to the television screen, extremely fluently in Finnish,  fairly fluently in Swedish, less so in German, and barely at all in French and Italian.  But my accent always sounds wonderful.  Bastardo!  Merde!  Kusimulkku perkele!  

Sometimes, when the plots become too predictable,  I watch all the episodes on full fast-forward.  A goddess can have her fill of existential Angst, fantastic ultra-modern architecture, and grey landscapes where dead-eyed people with never-closing inner wounds (and more expensive furniture than they could ever realistically afford) struggle, stumble and fall.  But she might still want to know who is left standing at the end of the series, if anyone.

But I also re-read classics, to recuperate, and that's why this post begins with a big mouthful from George Orwell.

My mental health breaks are a different reaction to the same Weltschmerz:  Why bother reading or engaging with people online (2) when fairly identical  parallel conversations can be had by yelling at the television screen?  At least the television isn't terribly good at gaslighting.  Nowhere near as good as even the most rudimentary Twitter users, at both ideological extremes, not to mention Our Dear Leader on Twitter.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Pottery Barn Solution To Rape: You Break It, You Bought It.

Or put in politer language, an age-old solution to rape in many cultures has been to make the rapist marry his victim.  That way the cracks the rape caused in the local cultural networks are healed and both involved families can go on with their lives.  The psychological costs of this are, of course, for the rape victim to bear.  But the solution is a win-win for everybody else.

The reason for my harsh language is that Turkey, again (this was tried in 2016, too), considers the introduction of a marry-your-rapist law* which would allow men who are accused of having sex with a minor to avoid further prosecution by marrying that minor.  Its purpose, in this specific case,  may not be only the furthering of the rights of rapists but also the furthering of child marriage:

United Nations agencies warned the bill would generate a landscape of impunity for child abuse and leave victims vulnerable to experiencing additional mistreatment and distress from their assailants.
Marry-your-rapist” bills have been seen across the world and are pushed in the name of protecting and safeguarding family “honour”.

While the legal age of consent is 18 in Turkey, a 2018 government report on child marriage estimates a total of 482,908 girls were married in the last decade.
Bolds are mine and point to the Pottery Barn analogue.


*   Specifically, the proposed law would:

...give men suspended sentences for child sex offences if the two parties get married and the age difference between them is less than 10 years.

There's a Wikipedia page about all the countries which currently have such laws or have had them in the past.  Many Middle East and Latin American countries have such laws, and certain US states have legal loopholes which allow the same outcome.  For a case study of one woman who was married to  her rapist in this country, see here.

The general worldwide trend has been toward the repeal of marry-your-rapist laws, not toward introducing them.  Turkey's Erdogan has chosen the latter path. Turkey's old marry-your-rapist law was abolished in 2005, only to resurface as a proposal in 2016 and again now.  The proposal was defeated in 2016.  Let's hope it can be defeated in 2020,  too.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

On Sexism In How The Media Used To Covered Social Science Research

 I have been clearing out old archives and stuff, and came across my Book Project: How The Media Popularizes Sexism In Its Coverage Of Social Science Research
I set the project aside in a first-draft stage in 2015. That particular sexism problem in the media seemed to me to be waning by that time (so there was less need for the book), and for all sorts of reasons (some weird Echidne-type ones, some justifiable ones)  completing the manuscript no longer seemed worth the cost and effort. 

But now I think it would be a pity not to let anyone else see the work I have completed, so I here offer you (below the fold) the first chapter of the planned book. 

It's the only chapter which is fairly complete.  I think it can stand alone as a good summary of the basic issues in how the media has tended toward sexism in popularizing research.  If there is interest I can post the other draft chapters, too (there's four or five or six of them), but they don't have the footnotes inserted and have never been rewritten.  So that's the stage in which they would be published here. 

Note that the links in the footnotes may well have died of old age.  Sorry about that.  But I enjoyed the examples I use in that chapter, and I hope you might, too.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

What Is Domestic Violence? The One Year Anniversary of the New Trump DOJ Definition

Yesterday I came across the one-year-old news that Trump's Department of Justice (DOJ) had changed its definition of domestic violence on the DOJ website.  Here are the old and new definitions:

Old definition:

A pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone. 

New definition:

The term “domestic violence” includes felony or misdemeanor crimes of violence committed by a current or former spouse or intimate partner of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with or has cohabitated with the victim as a spouse or intimate partner, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction receiving grant monies, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction.

The explanations for this change appear to be the need to use legal language in that definition.  Perhaps.

But as others have pointed out the change removed any language from that definition which referred to non-physical manipulation, coercion and the general kind of mind-fucking which creates a long-term basis for repeated domestic abuse.

To see what I mean by that, consider what one UK government website gives as legal guidance about understanding the nature and features of controlling and coercive behavior:

Domestic violence and abuse is defined as:
"Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional." [Domestic abuse guidelines for prosecutors]
The Government definition also outlines the following:
    •    Coercive behaviour is an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim
    •    Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour
That last quote is not meant to be viewed as the legal equivalent of the DOJ definitions.  What it does, however, is demonstrate how coercion and control are both a form of domestic violence in themselves and how they create the overall framework within which long-term domestic violence can thrive.

The few cases of domestic violence I have witnessed or learned about in the real world all had that coercive and controlling aspect first*.

So why would Trump's DOJ website choose to remove any reference to it?  This could be just inadvertent, but it could also be because fundamentalist patriarchal families might not survive if the male leadership in them could be questioned as control or coercion by outsiders.  Many in Trump's base are members of various fundamentalist churches, and many of those churches preach male leadership and female submission in families.


*  Controlling the victim's daily time-table to a minute, checking the victim's computer and cell phone daily, and gradually isolating the victim from all friends and family:  All these seem to start before (or at the same time as) physical violence. 

I believe that control and coercion is what is always present in the worst type of long-term domestic violence, the kind where the victim is not just physically  but also mentally assaulted and therefore finds it very hard to flee the abuser.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Short Posts On Defining Womanhood And Women's Proper Places

1.  There's going to be a real mansplaining conference

This conference is aimed at us ladies.  The audience is expected to be full of vagina-bearers!   But worry not, the speakers are all men from the misogynistic manosphere sites, and the speeches will tell women how to be great women again!  An important first step is to get rid of feminism, of course.  Then there will be speeches about how not to get fat (1), how to be an obedient wife, and so on.

In short, its a conference about the kinds of docile and well-trained wives alt right misogynists want to have (given that they don't see women as full human beings).   It's a bit as if someone created a conference for domestic dogs where humans explained to dogs why dogs shouldn't be free and why they should obey their masters and eat crappy dog food only and so on, all couched in terms of the "innate biological nature" of dogs.  And of women.

Sigh.  This shit happened when I began blogging, sixteen years ago, and it is still happening.  But fear not, things are in some ways even worse today, as the next piece explains (2).

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Idle Thoughts, 1/11/20. On Humpty Dumpty And Reality Twisting In American Politics.

1.  This is the time to remember  Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
A perfect reminder of what is happening in much of American politics at the current time.  Debate has become something quite similar to Humpty Dumpty's opinions, and the bit about who the master might be at the end is crucial.

It also connects to the Power Of Naming.  Who is allowed to name and define me and my body?  Who is allowed to define democracy?  Freedom?  Markets?  Impeachable offenses?

That last sentence links to this:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is backing a resolution to change the Senate’s rules to allow for lawmakers to dismiss articles of impeachment against President Trump before the House sends them over.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) announced on Thursday that McConnell has signed on as a co-sponsor to the resolution, which he introduced earlier this week.
What do the Senate Rules about  impeachment mean, after all?  What matters is which is to be master, of course.

2.  Linked to the above, I found this news (not news?) most interesting:

A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Hillary Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results, and current and former law enforcement officials said they never expected the effort to produce much of anything.
What matters is who is to be master,  not the likelihood of tangible results from an inquiry.

3.  Finally:
The surveillance video taken from outside Jeffrey Epstein's jail cell on the day of his first apparent suicide attempt has been permanently deleted, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Epstein, the disgraced financier who was facing federal sex-trafficking charges, was found semiconscious in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, in New York around 1:27 a.m. on July 23.
But that video is now gone because MCC officials mistakenly saved video from a different floor of the federal detention facility, prosecutors said in a court filing.
 Just a clerical error!  Anyone could have accidentally deleted an important video (or election results)!  Because what matters is which is to be master, or to remain one.

But be of cheerful heart, my sweet and erudite reader!  Humpty Dumpty did fall off the wall at the end and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Some Advice For Political Readers In 2020. Or How To Be Informed.

This may be more of a rant than an advice column, because it is based on my recent deep immersion in all sorts of online worlds (1), almost all political, and because that immersion made me despair about the human race (and so very glad that I have now decided to apply for citizenship in the Elf World).  Still, there might be a few crumbs in the rant that are useful for others.

Here it goes:

1.  When you read about the weird conclusions of some study or about the outrageous sentencing in some court case which makes you believe people have utterly lost their minds, check the original sources before you retweet or join the approval cavalcade.  Do this even if the weird conclusions or findings support your worldview.

This is extremely useful, because the intermediaries who carry you their conclusions have already interpreted the data for you, and by accepting their conclusions you accept their interpretations as valid.  There are times, of course, when you trust the interpreter and save time by just accepting the condensed messages.  But more generally you should always double-check.

I have seen one evolutionary psychology study widely interpreted as being about something it was not, and this was done by People Who Should Have Known Better.  It also could have been easily avoided by just reading the study, or at least the conclusions of the study which do not mention the popularized applications at all. (2)

And once I saw a widely liked and retweeted Twitter post about a study on sexual violence discuss a PAGE NUMBER in the original pdf as meaning something.  It was a page number, for goddess' sake.

That extreme example should serve as a helpful reminder that we don't really know if those who pretend to be experts (or goddesses) online actually have any expertise.  Self-preservation requires a skeptical approach.

2.  Because of the powerful information bubbles we now inhabit online, it has become dangerous to believe that something you see widely cited as factual actually is widely accepted as factual.  If you are a lefty, say, your information bubble probably filters away all studies which don't support lefty views, and it's also likely to keep re-advertising those studies which do support lefty views.  The reverse applies on the right.

Under these circumstances "everybody accepts" or "everybody knows" or "scientists agree" don't mean what they used to mean (though of course tilting the findings and biasing the discussion always happened).

It's not pleasant to go and read stuff in the "other" bubble(s), but it's important to do so.  A bit like seeing the dentists. And by those visits you can learn that your arguments indeed don't have any holes or you get your cavities filled and strengthen your bite.

3.  Number-blindness is one of the worst information epidemics I come across online, from all sorts of people and supporting all sorts of political issues.  Too many people get qualitative arguments but fail in understanding the importance of quantitative arguments: 

It makes a huge difference if, for instance, a group consists of half men and half women or if a group consists of 96% men and 4% women (3)!  The two are not the same kind of "gender neutral" groups.

The meaning of a hundred percent increase in the incidence of an infectious disease should have different interpretations if the country-wide cases of that disease went up from 100 per year to 200 per year than if they went from 100,000 per year to 200,000 per year.  In other words, to properly understand the importance of percentage changes we need to know what the base figures are (4).

It matters if a particular political project would improve the lives of the numerical majority, or the lives of one percent of all people, and it also matters greatly where that one percent is initially located along some relevant measure (say wealth or health).   It matters, in electoral politics, how to get the majority (more than fifty percent of the electorate) to vote for your candidate, and to figure out how to get that overall majority you may need to appeal to many different minorities (5) at the same time, not just one group.  If you want to win the election, that is, rather than remain ideologically squeaky clean.

I'm going to start a file on all the terrible mistakes I see online when it comes to understanding statistical data and also on how very common quantitative ignorance is.


(1)  Reddit.  There is a site called nofap, with hundreds of thousands of members, mostly men.  It's about stopping the use of online pron for masturbation.  Or really about stopping the use of pron as a better substitute for real-world sex, especially for men (given that most pron is created for heterosexual men's viewing desires).  That site made me read a lot on erectile dysfunction among young men, and the question whether increases in it might correlate with the consumption of certain kinds of pron.  The scientific jury seems still be out on that, but then the saturation of the online pron market is fairly recent and future studies will tell us more.

That wasn't the only sex- or gender-related finding I brought home from my travels.  I also realized, after various excursions to not only Reddit sites but to other places, too, that I have lived in an Echidne-bubble where women can actually have short hair and wear work boots and so on, while in quite a few of those places we are very firmly back in the 1950s gender values.  Even some of the Woke World sites tend to be pretty accepting of sexist stereotypes.  Or at least of gender stereotypes.

More generally, I found that many political sites tend to develop their own lists of Approved Study Findings and that debates about those findings are not encouraged but must be accepted without questions.

(2)  I have been too exhausted, after all that travel, to dig up the actual reference I talk about here (it was some years ago).  It had something to do with daughters, sons and divorce, I think.  If there are many demands for more information on this, I might look it up, provided I get donations first!

Just kidding on the donations.

(3)  That example was caused by one UK government authority arguing that penetrative offenses in sex crimes are gender-neutral, apparently because boys and men are among the victims.  This argument was then extended to the perpetrators being treated with gender-neutral terminology, too.

But the actual figures of men and women in the sexual crime perpetrator statistics are like the latter ones, not the former ones.  To me "gender neutral" means something much closer to that fifty-fifty case.

(4)  This is especially clear when a study finds, for instance, that the increase in one's chances of getting some kind of a rare cancer is fifty percent if one has certain risk factors.  That increase does not mean that the new cancer risk someone with those risk factors faces is fifty percent.  It's an increase of fifty percent in the initial (and very tiny risk, given that we are talking about a rare cancer) likelihood.

(5)  By "minorities" here I don't mean just racial or ethnic or religious minorities and so on, but any group with certain shared interests who tend to vote in a similar manner but are not large enough to be a numerical majority of voters on their own.