Saturday, July 14, 2007

I'm Loving This

The wingnut pundits can't stop themselves from acting in the way I described in this article. Here are Tucker Carlson and Willie Geist on Barack Obama not being manly enough to run:

From the July 12 edition of MSNBC's Tucker:

CARLSON: Well, everybody knows that a book club is no place for a man. So why has Barack Obama suddenly turned into Oprah? Willie Geist rounds up the girls, brings the chardonnay, and heads to the Oprah book club -- or the Obama book club -- when we come back.


GEIST: All right now, Tucker, we've got to talk about something here. I thought we men had an understanding -- in fact, I didn't even know it had to be said out loud -- we don't join book clubs, and we sure as hell don't organize them, for crying out loud. Senator Barack Obama has violated the trust of men everywhere by doing just that. His campaign kicked off an Obama book club in New Hampshire this week. It's called "From Doubt to Hope: Discover Barack in his Own Words." Eighty-five people showed up at the first meeting on Tuesday night. So what's this week's book, you ask? Well, Dreams from My Father. Yes, Barack Obama's own memoir was the first book.

Turns out all the books in the club are about Obama. Not kidding. The meetings include conference calls with influential figures in Senator Obama's life. I don't know where to begin. Not only are you a man starting a book club, you're starting a self-serving book club.

CARLSON: You know, Willie, I would laugh too, but when Oprah launched her magazine, I was in the magazine business. And someone told me, "You know what? Every month they're going to have a picture of Oprah."

GEIST: That's right.

CARLSON: And I said, "That is so solipsistic. That's -- that's crazy. That'll never work."


CARLSON: And now it outsells Newsweek, practically, right? So this will work. That's my guess.

GEIST: It makes you wonder what he won't compromise of himself. Are we going to have mani/pedi parties next? You know what I mean?

Sigh. Bolds mine. So much of politics has nothing to do with logic or the proposals the candidates present.

The Shocking Predictions Of Economic Models

Some economists are imperialists. They like to explain everything in the whole wide universe by using simple economic models, usually models which are static (with no time passing at all) and certain (with no "not-knowing" about anything). When you then add the ceteris paribus assumption (holding all other things constant) you indeed get some very shocking predictions. Usually they are shocking only because the basic model is too crude and simplistic to allow for what goes in reality or they are shocking for only some parameter values in the model and there is no real attempt to see if those are the values that actually prevail in reality.

One example of this: It's pretty easy to show by using the basic models of competitive markets and monopoly that there would be less crime under a monopoly, because a monopoly always produces less than a competitive market in those models. It also charges a higher price for its products.

I've seen this argument used to conclude that Mafia is a good thing to have, because it is like a monopoly (single provider of crime services) and thus it would cause less crime than a competitive market of many independent criminals. And there may be some partial truth in that.

On the other hand, the basic models I refered to assume that the product these types of crime firms sell is all the same, a homogeneous product like flour or sugar. But in reality Mafia is likely to branch out into crimes in totally new fields, and some of that is caused by the very fact of its power in the market. So we can't usually just compare the two situations by using the models that apply to homogeneous products.

Why all this boring econo-babble? Because of Steven E. Landsburg's new book, entitled More Sex Is Safer Sex. The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics. A chapter from that book is available for your perusal, the very chapter that talks about why having more partners for casual sex might reduce the rates of HIV in a population. Landsburg uses this argument to state that it might be a good idea to encourage currently uninfected people to have more casual sex. That way anyone in that market is less likely to "hook up" with an infected partner, and the disease won't spread as rapidly.

Now, this is unconventional wisdom. But the article (by Michael Kremer) from which it comes (or at least the working paper for that article) isn't quite as sweeping in its conclusions:

Under asymmetric information about sexual history, sexual activity creates externalities. Abstinence by those with few partners perversely increases the average probability of HIV infection in the pool of available partners. Since this increases prevalence among the high activity people who disproportionately influence the disease's future spread, it may increase long-run prevalence. Preliminary calculations using standard epidemiological models and survey data on sexual activity suggest that most people have few enough partners that further reductions would increase steady-state prevalence. To the extent the results prove robust, they suggest that public health messages will be more likely to reduce steady-state prevalence and create positive externalities if they stress condom use rather than abstinence.

Note all those "mays" and "suggests" and "few enough"? That's what drops out when economists start to sell their science as unconventional. Kremer's conclusions depend on the parameter values in the model.

I have another example by Landsburg, from his microeconomics textbook. In it he argues that polygyny benefits women, not men, and he uses an example like this:

For example, imagine a one-husband one-wife family where an argument has begun over whose turn it is to do the dishes. If polygamy were legal, the wife could threaten to leave and go marry the couple next door unless the husband conceded that it is his turn. With polygamy outlawed, she does not have this option and might end up with dishpan hands.

So. Of course if polygamy was legal the husband could just threaten back that he will get another wife unless the current one does the dishes. But the most serious flaw in the argument is that it works only if half-a-husband (from the couple next door) is not much different from a whole husband. This is an odd view of marriage, but not uncommon among the "polygamy benefits women" crowd. Men need multiple wives, women only slices of a husband.

Today's Deep Thought

Has to do with the word "slut". A term that is applied to women who have several sexual partners or who are regarded as easily seduced or who like sex too much.

The deep thought is this: If Evolutionary Psychology is correct in arguing that men are much more into casual sex than women, why would it be necessary for societies to police women's behavior by, say, calling some women sluts? This name-calling is counter-intuitive. There is no need for it as women aren't really into casual sex. But suppose that some of them are. Then the name-calling cuts back on the number of possible partners slutty men have (see how I snuck that in?).

I can guess one EP answer for this, and that has to do with the desire to limit women's access to other partners. This desire can be satisfied by calling some women sluts or whores or hussies and so on. But it doesn't really work if women truly are pretty uninterested in casual sex in the first place. Because then there would be no need to invent terms such as slag or skank or slut or so on.

Friday, July 13, 2007

When Women Rule The World

This is the name of a new series on Fox:

What if it was "a woman's world"? What if women made ALL the decisions? If men were their obedient subjects?

These questions and more will be explored when a group of strong, educated, independent women, tired of living in a man's world and each with a personal axe to grind, rule over a group of unsuspecting men used to calling the shots on WHEN WOMEN RULE THE WORLD. […]

The participants will be brought to a remote, primitive location where the women will have the opportunity to "rule" as they build a newly formed society — one where there is no glass ceiling and no dressing to impress. For the men, their worlds of power and prestige are turned inside-out and upside-down. And for these women, turnabout is fair play! […]

How will the men react? How will the women treat the men? Can women effectively rule society? Will the men learn what life is like for some women in today's world? Will this new society be a Utopia or a hell on earth? And in the end, who will be man enough to succeed in the new social order?

The scariest nightmares of conservative men brought to life! Watch monster women bite off the penises of brave male warriors! Watch women making a mess of all of it, reduced to weeping estrogen-poisoned blobs of jelly! Watch the return of caveman patriarchy! Bang! Get that! That was my truncheon on your itty-bitty female head. See me drag you back into the cave by your hair! Me the boss!

Can women rule the world? I have no idea, but men don't do a very good job of that, either. We have loads of evidence on that. Interesting, though, that Fox is picking a scenario that few women have ever suggested: Matriarchy. Feminists are all about equality, not about reversing the power relationships. But Fox is all about male dominance, and this show is intended to prop that up.

I'm the polite blogger, yanno. Well, I've just had my fill about politeness today. Fuck those Fox assholes. Fuck them for making fun of the real injustices and troubles the majority of women have to endure in this world. Fuck them for making it into a game to prop up their own petty feelings of threatened masculinity. Fuck them for their disgusting slimy bias and their silly little commercial brains. Fuck them for having the empathy of a toe cheese.

And most of all, fuck them to the deepest hell for suggesting that the only alternative to the current system is some perverse upside version of more of the same.
For a more polite and much funnier post on this, go here.
An afterthought: Suppose that Fox had created the same series except with blacks and whites. Suppose the question they would have asked is whether blacks can rule the world. What do you think the reaction would have been? I suspect the reaction would have been swift and negative.

That Pew Survey on Mothers And Work

The Pew Research Center did a survey in 1997 about the desirability of mothers working full-time, part-time or not working at all outside the home. A similar survey was just repeated. The title chosen for this piece is "Fewer Mothers Prefer Full-Time Work."

The word "prefer" is a tricky one. The study asked women with children under 18 which one of those working situations would be ideal for them. Now, what "ideal" means here makes an enormous difference, yet we are never told if the question refers to some ideal world where working part-time (the most preferred option) has no negatives, such as less income in the future and smaller retirement benefits and fewer promotions. Or perhaps "ideal" means the best the woman can conceive given the realities of the American labor market and the cultural values prevailing in this country and her partner's preferences and so on. Or perhaps "ideal" really is interpreted as the best possible circumstances.

In any case, the survey shows:

In the span of the past decade, full-time work outside the home has lost some of its appeal to mothers. This trend holds both for mothers who have such jobs and those who don't.

Among working mothers with minor children (ages 17 and under), just one-in-five (21%) say full-time work is the ideal situation for them, down from the 32% who said this back in 1997, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Fully six-in-ten (up from 48% in 1997) of today's working mothers say part-time work would be their ideal, and another one-in-five (19%) say she would prefer not working at all outside the home.

There's been a similar shift in preferences among at-home mothers with minor children. Today just 16% of these mothers say their ideal situation would be to work full time outside the home, down from the 24% who felt that way in 1997. Nearly half (48%) of all at-home moms now say that not working at all outside the home is the ideal situation for them, up from the 39% who felt that way in 1997.

The lack of enthusiasm that mothers of all stripes have for full-time work outside the home isn't shared by fathers – more than seven-in-ten (72%) fathers say the ideal situation for them is a full-time job.

I'm uncomfortable with the descriptions "lost some of its appeal" and "lack of enthusiasm", because these disguise the reasons why attitudes may have changed by sort of answering that in a fairly vacuous way. For an example of societal trends that just may have affected these answers, the labor market has become increasingly rigid in terms of the hours expected from full-time workers and I can't remember the last time when I have read a mainstream article or watched a program where working mothers are viewed as a good thing. Just does not happen.

The sample sizes in this study are quite small. For example, the survey only has 75 mothers of children under 18 who work part-time, 153 SAHMs and 184 women working full-time. The total number of fathers of children under 18 in the survey is 343. The small sample sizes mean that the margins for sampling error are quite large. For instance, the margin for sampling error for the SAHM sample is plus/minus 11%. In other words, one must be careful about applying the sample percentages directly to wider populations.

Now to the fun part. Why would most women think that part-time work would be the ideal solution for them? Could it be something to do with this finding, also from the same study:

On questions related to work and motherhood, the views of the full adult population are not much different from the views of mothers themselves. The public is broadly ambivalent – but tilts more negative than positive –about the phenomenon of mothers working outside the home.

The Impact on Society of Working Mothers. A plurality of the general population (41%) says the trend toward more mothers working outside the home is a bad thing for society, while 22% say it is a good thing and 32% say this trend hasn't made much difference.


There is virtually no difference of opinion between men and women in assessments about the social impact of more mothers of young children working outside the home. Younger adults (especially those under age 30) are more positive, on average, than older adults about the impact of this trend. These age differences are more pronounced among women than among men, however.

Respondents who grew up with a working mom are less negative about the impact of working mothers on society than are respondents whose own mother was not employed at the time they were growing up.

African-Americans and Hispanics are a bit more positive than whites about the impact of working mothers on society. Republicans, political conservatives and white evangelical Protestants are more negative than their respective counterparts about the impact of working mothers on society. There are no or minimal differences in opinion on this question by education or income.

Working Mothers and Children. About four-in-ten (42%) adults say an at-home mother is the ideal situation for children; a nearly identical proportion (41%) say a mother working part-time is ideal and just 9% say a mother working full-time is ideal for children.

Men are more likely than women to consider an at-home mother the ideal situation for children. The same gender difference is found between moms and dads with children under age 18; fathers of minor age children are more likely than mothers to consider an at-home mom the ideal situation for children.

What is quite fascinating about this study is that it asked a question about what might be best for children: mothers working various amounts outside the home or not; and it asked a question about what might be best for the mothers themselves in that respect. But it DID NOT ask a question about what might be best for children: fathers working various amounts outside the home or not, or the companion question about what might be best for fathers themselves. Such a question would probably have gotten the expected answers, but including it would have tilted the framework towards a little less bias.

For biased the framework is. The way the choices are framed is based on the assumption that it is mothers who are responsible for primary parenting. But of course the society also holds that opinion. It is a very brave woman in such a survey who answers that a mother working full-time is best for the children, and it is a fairly brave man who says that he would prefer to work less in order to spend more time with his children.

To place that last sentence into some perspective, the survey also asked all women and men in it, including those who didn't have children under 18, to answer the question about what would be the ideal working arrangement for them. Remember that 72% of fathers with children under 18 chose full-time job as the ideal for them. Well, when all other men are included, the percentage finding full-time work ideal drops to 56%, and whereas only 16% of men with children under 18 thought that staying at home would be the ideal for them, 23% of all men thought so. It's the men without young children who express desires similar to those women express. Very odd.

You want to see how these sorts of things are popularized? You can start with the pdf file. Then you can read the summary which omits some things in the original file. Then you can read the Washington Post article about the survey. And last, you can see how the stuff gets popularized on yahoo.

It could be fun to have a competition on spotting the omissions, errors and biases in that last piece. Note, for example, that it decided not to report on fathers' evaluations of their own parenting. Fathers give themselves worse evaluations than mothers who work full-time, actually. Note also that the sample size reported applies to the whole study, not the part the summary discusses. Note also the "not surprisingly" addition.

Girls Gone "Wild". How It All Works.

Amanda at Pandagon has written about the Miss New Jersey "scandal." Poor Miss New Jersey. She was supposedly blackmailed about some racy pictures that were available on the Internet. Click on the Pandagon link to see what those pictures look like and read Amanda's take on the whole sordid saga.

Now, it could be that there are further pictures showing her eating barbequed Christian babies, who knows. But if these are the pictures that almost made her lose her tiara, well, the world has gone crazy.

Reading about this made me remember all those arguments about "Girls Gone Wild" and the new-fangled form of sexist exploitation which consists of appropriating women's photographs on the Internet and then playing various sexist games with them. Many participants in that debate argued that the pictures couldn't possibly hurt a woman's later career opportunities at all, even if some men rated it for fuckability without her permission, say.

This beauty pageant story makes me think that the pictures will hurt the women later on. The double-standard is well and thriving, it seems. Now, if you really want to have the top of your head blow off, contrast this policing of women's sexual lives with that Evolutionary Psychology argument that women are by nature coy and less interested in casual sex than men.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler

C.M.O.T. Dibbler is a character in Terry Pratchett's science fiction books which take place on Discworld. Dibbler is not really a criminal but an entrepreneur. From the back of the Discworld books:

Usually seen selling some kind of food in a bun (no matter how questionable its origins), C.M.O.T. Dibbler is always on the lookout for Discworld's latest business opportunity (again, no matter how questionable its origins). Not a man who asks questions, in fact, and he would prefer if you would also keep off ones like "what's in this sausage?"

Well, sometimes truth is stranger than science fiction:

Chopped cardboard, softened with an industrial chemical and made tasty with pork flavoring, is a main ingredient in batches of steamed buns sold in one Beijing neighborhood, state television said.

The report, aired late Wednesday on China Central Television, highlights the country's problems with food safety despite government efforts to improve the situation.

What can I read now to escape reality?
Cross-posted on TAPPED.

A Belated Post on David Brooks' Concern For Angry Women

I was trying to sleep earlier this week so didn't get a post in on David Brooks' latest column of cultural criticism. I love cultural criticism, by the way, and that's why I'm in the blogging bidness. One day I will take it on in a really big way, the way Brooks practices it, which is by taking the conclusions you want to arrive at and then working backwards to "evidence" that supports the conclusions. Now that is a fun game, and as I can't be the Oracle of Delphi I can at least be a cultural critic. Once I get my consciencectomy done.

If you didn't read the Brooks column (it's behind a firewall), I can give you a summary. Brooks found three female singers singing angry songs about men and concluded that this is because women don't get married until they are thirty or so. Hence, they are hooking up all through their teens and twenties and this is what makes them so very sad and angry and callous, too. Or in Brooks' own inimitable words:

Now young people face a social frontier of their own. They hit puberty around 13 and many don't get married until they're past 30. That's two decades of coupling, uncoupling, hooking up, relationships and shopping around. This period isn't a transition anymore. It's a sprawling life stage, and nobody knows the rules.

Once, young people came a-calling as part of courtship. Then they had dating and going steady. But the rules of courtship have dissolved. They've been replaced by ambiguity and uncertainty. Cellphones, Facebook and text messages give people access to hundreds of "friends." That only increases the fluidity, drama and anxiety.

The heroines of these songs handle this wide-open social frontier just as confidently and cynically as Bogart handled the urban frontier. These iPhone Lone Rangers are completely inner-directed; they don't care what you think. They know exactly what they want; they don't need anybody else.

Mmmm. What do men sing about, by the way? What did women sing about in the past? Say Edith Piaf? What theories can we make about all that?

Then there are the facts. In 1890, the median age at first marriage was 26.1 years for men. In 2003 the same figure was 27.1 years. In 1890, the median age at first marriage was 22.0 for women. In 2003 it was 25.3. The median age at first marriage has gone up and down in the intervening years, but the point is that there isn't as much change as Brooks implies. Note also that men in the 1890s seem to have had about thirteen years of the hooking-up culture before settling down, on average.

It's not fun to do cultural criticism based on such facts, though. A song or three is a better way to get going, and supports the conclusions one wishes to reach much better. The conclusion is that women are unhappy in their new-found freedom.

Looking For A Few Good Feminists

To start a blog on feminist issues in various fields of research. When I was writing my four posts on the Evolutionary Psychology article in Psychology Today I looked, in vain, for another blog that could take the task on. There are science blogs that do that, true, among many other tasks, but we really need blogs which dedicate themselves to this issue.

Why? It's always seemed to me that misogyny has three pillars on which the whole structure is supported. They are fundamentalist religion, misogynistic quasi-science and violent and misogynistic popular culture. These look like pillars to me, not only because of the phallic aspect, but because almost any argument against women's rights finally comes to rest on one or more of these supporting pillars. Right now the forte of feminist blogs is in criticizing and fighting the popular culture. Religion is covered, but less often, and science is covered only rarely.

I may be wrong about this. Perhaps I just didn't search long enough. But I'd dearly love to see more feminist blog coverage of religion and quasi-science.

Lady Bird Johnson, RIP

I have been reading the obituaries on Lady Bird Johnson's long life, and it occurred to me how closely the accolades she received were based on traditional gender roles. Take this quote:

Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was once described by her husband as "the brains and money of this family" and whose business skills cushioned his road to the White House, died yesterday afternoon at her home in Austin, Tex. She was 94.

Mrs. Johnson was hospitalized for a week last month with a low-grade fever. She died of natural causes, surrounded by family, including her two daughters, and friends, said a family spokeswoman, Elizabeth Christian.

Mrs. Johnson was a calm and steadying influence on her often moody and volatile husband as she quietly attended to the demands imposed by his career. Liz Carpenter, her press secretary during her years in the White House, once wrote that "if President Johnson was the long arm, Lady Bird Johnson was the gentle hand."

She softened hurts, mediated quarrels and won over many political opponents. Johnson often said his political ascent would have been inconceivable without his wife's devotion and forbearance. Others shared that belief.

This is very much the traditional path a woman can take towards power, by being the supportive helpmate behind a powerful man. It's also traditional to imply that she was the real brains or whatever behind the partnership, but that statement never makes people wonder why the real brains took the second place.

Something else is also quite traditional in that quote, and that is the acknowledgment that she, too, was in the game of politics. Spouses can play the game as long as it's played quietly, as if in pillow talk. What spouses (or rather wives) CANNOT do is play the game in public, as Hillary Clinton did. That is not allowed, because it ruins the helpmate myth.

I have no idea if Lady Bird Johnson actually was the traditional political helpmate. She achieved a lot during her life, in any case. But note that the "reflected glory" that is the reward of the traditional political wife is not something that carries over very well when we do a gender reversal. If Lady Bird Johnson had been the husband of a female president her achievements would look a lot less impressive. This is something that needs to be addressed if we want to see more women in politics.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Naive Post

Remember the massacres of 9/11 2001? Remember how it was decided that Afghanistan was the place where the terrorists trained and where Osama bin Laden was hiding? Remember that this was the reason why the United States attacked Afghanistan when Taliban refused to hand bin Laden over? Remember that bin Laden is still a free man?

Now fast-forward to the present time. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff warns us of another possible attack this summer:

I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk," Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board in an unusually blunt assessment of America's terrorist threat level.

"Summertime seems to be appealing to them," he said of Al Qaeda. "We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities."

Chertoff said there were not enough indications of an imminent plot to raise the threat levels nationwide. He indicated that his remarks were based on "a gut feeling" formed by previous patterns of terrorist attacks, recent Al Qaeda statements and intelligence he did not disclose.

There is an assessment "not of a specific threat but of increased vulnerability," he said.

There have been reports that suggest intelligence warnings are at a similar level to the summer before Sept. 11, 2001, and that Al Qaeda may be mobilizing.

In recent days, ABC News said a secret law enforcement report warned that Al Qaeda was preparing a "spectacular" summer attack.

On Tuesday, ABC News said "new intelligence suggests a small Al Qaeda cell is on its way to the United States, or may already be here."

When I read that bit about "intelligence warnings being at a similar level to the summer before Sept. 11, 2001" I realized that something else is back to a very similar level: Al Qaeda's training fields still exist, most likely in Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and that is where bin Laden and his aides are suspected of hiding, too:

Other U.S. counterterrorism officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, shared Chertoff's concern and said that al-Qaida and like-minded groups have been able to plot and train more freely in the tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border in recent months. Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be hiding in the rugged region.

So in a sense, nothing has changed in the risk factors which existed before the fall of 2001. What is it, then, that has been accomplished in the "war against terrorism"? And why are we killing people in Iraq while letting Al Qaeda train in peace?

The Only True Religion Is Mine

Pope Benedict would say that:

Protestant churches yesterday reacted with dismay to a new declaration approved by Pope Benedict XVI insisting they were mere "ecclesial communities" and their ministers effectively phonies with no right to give communion.

Coming just four days after the reinstatement of the Latin mass, yesterday's document left no doubt about the Pope's eagerness to back traditional Roman Catholic practices and attitudes, even at the expense of causing offence.

Religious schisms. They will always be with us. Still, that Benedict is one scary dood.

Picture stolen from Wayne Besen

Added later: Devilstower on Daily Kos points out the odd implications of all this to the current holy marriage between conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelists in the United States.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Costs Of The Wars

Even the narrowly defined financial costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq occupations are quite high:

The boost in troop levels in Iraq has increased the cost of war there and in Afghanistan to $12 billion a month, with the overall tally for Iraq alone nearing a half-trillion dollars, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which provides research and analysis to lawmakers.

The figures call into question the Pentagon's estimate that the increase in troop strength and intensifying pace of operations in Baghdad and Anbar province would cost $5.6 billion through the end of September.

And what does all this money buy? Safety and security for us? How would you measure that? And what about "victory", the only goal president Bush accepts? How would you define that?

I shouldn't ask questions which can't be answered. But note that while money is spent on those wars the Department of Homeland Security is in disarray:

The Bush administration has failed to fill roughly a quarter of the top leadership posts at the Department of Homeland Security, creating a "gaping hole" in the nation's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat, according to a congressional report to be released today.

As of May 1, Homeland Security had 138 vacancies among its top 575 positions, with the greatest voids reported in its policy, legal and intelligence sections, as well as in immigration agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard. The vacant slots include presidential, senior executive and other high-level appointments, according to the report by the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Whatever the reasons for all those vacancies they certainly don't make me feel more secure.

The Vitter Amendment

Louisiana Senator David Vitter has come clean about once having been a client of a Washington D.C. escort service:

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," Vitter said Monday in a printed statement. "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there _ with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."

I don't usually write about politicians' private lives or family members as those are none of my business. So why the deviation from that rule in this post? Because of the policies Senator Vitter has supported. He is a fervent defender of the traditional marriage and also an advocate of abstinence-only policies. Indeed, his homepage states:

U.S. Sen. David Vitter last week authored a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee expressing support for reauthorization of the Title V Abstinence Education Program of the Social Security Act.

Taken together, Vitter's support for abstinence outside marriage and his defense of the traditional heterosexual marriage might mean that gays and lesbians in his ideal world would have to practice life-long celibacy. To expect that of others and yet to fail (most likely more than once) with the much smaller challenge of marital fidelity makes Vitter into either a hypocrite or an unrealistic policy-maker. Or both.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My Apologies

For the four long posts below. Now I'm going to sleep. When I wake up I will post something short and funny. But right now all I can think of is that there really are two kinds of writers: Those who like adjectives and those who do not.

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. Part 4.

This post covers the last three politically incorrect points about humans, from the Psychology Today article by Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa. Here are the first, second and third parts.

The next point is one which I Googled extensively, but never found the study that would support it. Such a study might exist, but it's not very easy to find:

8. The midlife crisis is a myth—sort of

Many believe that men go through a midlife crisis when they are in middle age. Not quite. Many middle-aged men do go through midlife crises, but it's not because they are middle-aged. It's because their wives are. From the evolutionary psychological perspective, a man's midlife crisis is precipitated by his wife's imminent menopause and end of her reproductive career, and thus his renewed need to attract younger women. Accordingly, a 50-year-old man married to a 25-year-old woman would not go through a midlife crisis, while a 25-year-old man married to a 50-year-old woman would, just like a more typical 50-year-old man married to a 50-year-old woman. It's not his midlife that matters; it's hers. When he buys a shiny-red sports car, he's not trying to regain his youth; he's trying to attract young women to replace his menopausal wife by trumpeting his flash and cash.

In my research I found several articles which argued that the midlife crisis is a myth for both men and women, and some that looked at men only and found the crisis mostly a myth. But I found no mention about the wife's menopause in those studies.

But note that in the previous point the authors argued that men settle down into lives of dull mediocrity after that youthful competitiveness ebbs. Why, then would they suddenly get all riled up by their wife's menopause? Can you hold both theories at the same time? And how does all of this reflect the new findings that male fertility rates drop with age, too? Should younger women dump their older husbands and go look for someone more likely to have boisterous sperm?

9. It's natural for politicians to risk everything for an affair (but only if they're male)

On the morning of January 21, 1998, as Americans woke up to the stunning allegation that President Bill Clinton had had an affair with a 24-year-old White House intern, Darwinian historian Laura L. Betzig thought, "I told you so." Betzig points out that while powerful men throughout Western history have married monogamously (only one legal wife at a time), they have always mated polygynously (they had lovers, concubines, and female slaves). With their wives, they produced legitimate heirs; with the others, they produced bastards. Genes make no distinction between the two categories of children.

As a result, powerful men of high status throughout human history attained very high reproductive success, leaving a large number of offspring (legitimate and otherwise), while countless poor men died mateless and childless. Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty, the last Sharifian emperor of Morocco, stands out quantitatively, having left more offspring—1,042—than anyone else on record, but he was by no means qualitatively different from other powerful men, like Bill Clinton.

The question many asked in 1998—"Why on earth would the most powerful man in the world jeopardize his job for an affair with a young woman?"—is, from a Darwinian perspective, a silly one. Betzig's answer would be: "Why not?" Men strive to attain political power, consciously or unconsciously, in order to have reproductive access to a larger number of women. Reproductive access to women is the goal, political office but one means. To ask why the President of the United States would have a sexual encounter with a young woman is like asking why someone who worked very hard to earn a large sum of money would then spend it.

What distinguishes Bill Clinton is not that he had extramarital affairs while in office—others have, more will; it would be a Darwinian puzzle if they did not—what distinguishes him is the fact that he got caught.

So any man with power who does not have affairs while in office would be a Darwinian puzzle? This is another example of the kinds of exaggerations that irritate me when it comes to Evolutionary Psychologists. Note how one example is selected and that one example is used to prove some general underlying theory. Here the theory seems to be that all men are by nature polygynous and if they are powerful enough they will satisfy their urge to have many women. On the other hand, women are not supposed to be polygynous and would therefore not act in a similar manner. Except, perhaps, for Catherine the Great, although the horse was certainly invented.

Finally, to the last point. My fingers ache and my writing has most likely gone to shit. But this is so beautiful:

10. Men sexually harass women because they are not sexist

An unfortunate consequence of the ever-growing number of women joining the labor force and working side by side with men is the increasing number of sexual harassment cases. Why must sexual harassment be a necessary consequence of the sexual integration of the workplace?

Psychologist Kingsley R. Browne identifies two types of sexual harassment cases: the quid pro quo ("You must sleep with me if you want to keep your job or be promoted") and the "hostile environment" (the workplace is deemed too sexualized for workers to feel safe and comfortable). While feminists and social scientists tend to explain sexual harassment in terms of "patriarchy" and other ideologies, Browne locates the ultimate cause of both types of sexual harassment in sex differences in mating strategies.

Studies demonstrate unequivocally that men are far more interested in short-term casual sex than women. In one now-classic study, 75 percent of undergraduate men approached by an attractive female stranger agreed to have sex with her; none of the women approached by an attractive male stranger did. Many men who would not date the stranger nonetheless agreed to have sex with her.

The quid pro quo types of harassment are manifestations of men's greater desire for short-term casual sex and their willingness to use any available means to achieve that goal. Feminists often claim that sexual harassment is "not about sex but about power;" Browne contends it is both—men using power to get sex. "To say that it is only about power makes no more sense than saying that bank robbery is only about guns, not about money."

Sexual harassment cases of the hostile-environment variety result from sex differences in what men and women perceive as "overly sexual" or "hostile" behavior. Many women legitimately complain that they have been subjected to abusive, intimidating, and degrading treatment by their male coworkers. Browne points out that long before women entered the labor force, men subjected each other to such abusive, intimidating, and degrading treatment.

Abuse, intimidation, and degradation are all part of men's repertoire of tactics employed in competitive situations. In other words, men are not treating women differently from men—the definition of discrimination, under which sexual harassment legally falls—but the opposite: Men harass women precisely because they are not discriminating between men and women.

"Men sexually harass women because they are not discriminating between men and women!" Thank Goddess for that. And what evidence does Browne have on men treating women and men exactly the same, except when they are harassing women for sex? Perhaps the evidence exists, but I have not found it.

Then there is the "now-classic study" which shows that:

Studies demonstrate unequivocally that men are far more interested in short-term casual sex than women. In one now-classic study, 75 percent of undergraduate men approached by an attractive female stranger agreed to have sex with her; none of the women approached by an attractive male stranger did. Many men who would not date the stranger nonetheless agreed to have sex with her.

I know about this study! It consisted of supposedly attractive undergraduates going around, in plain daylight, offering a quickie to various students they presumably did not know personally. Would I have said "yes" to such an offer, whatever my desires might have been?

Of course not. I'm not crazy, and going away with an unknown man who propositions to you without any of the usual context would be crazy. A woman doing that might not only get pregnant if she's not on the pill; she might get tortured, mutilated and killed. The odds are not the same for men and women in casual sex, and the study did not take that into account. The results say very little about women's desires if somehow those other factors could be equalized.

The end of this series. I'm sure that I could have made more trenchant criticisms if I had worked on all this a bit longer but I don't want to. It doesn't really deserve even this amount of work.

But on the title of all these posts: Why do beautiful people have more daughters? The answer is that Kanazawa has not shown they do. Hence asking "why" makes no sense at all.

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. Part 3.

This is the third installment of my comments on the ten politically incorrect points about humans. The first discussed some framing issues and the second covered my reactions to the first three points. So this one will continue with the fourth point which gives women a short rest from being bashed. Don't worry, the bashing will continue right after this one.

4. Most suicide bombers are Muslim

Suicide missions are not always religiously motivated, but according to Oxford University sociologist Diego Gambetta, editor of Making Sense of Suicide Missions, when religion is involved, the attackers are always Muslim. Why? The surprising answer is that Muslim suicide bombing has nothing to do with Islam or the Quran (except for two lines). It has a lot to do with sex, or, in this case, the absence of sex.

What distinguishes Islam from other major religions is that it tolerates polygyny. By allowing some men to monopolize all women and altogether excluding many men from reproductive opportunities, polygyny creates shortages of available women. If 50 percent of men have two wives each, then the other 50 percent don't get any wives at all.

So polygyny increases competitive pressure on men, especially young men of low status. It therefore increases the likelihood that young men resort to violent means to gain access to mates. By doing so, they have little to lose and much to gain compared with men who already have wives. Across all societies, polygyny makes men violent, increasing crimes such as murder and rape, even after controlling for such obvious factors as economic development, economic inequality, population density, the level of democracy, and political factors in the region.

However, polygyny itself is not a sufficient cause of suicide bombing. Societies in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean are much more polygynous than the Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa. And they do have very high levels of violence. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a long history of continuous civil wars—but not suicide bombings.

The other key ingredient is the promise of 72 virgins waiting in heaven for any martyr in Islam. The prospect of exclusive access to virgins may not be so appealing to anyone who has even one mate on earth, which strict monogamy virtually guarantees. However, the prospect is quite appealing to anyone who faces the bleak reality on earth of being a complete reproductive loser.

It is the combination of polygyny and the promise of a large harem of virgins in heaven that motivates many young Muslim men to commit suicide bombings. Consistent with this explanation, all studies of suicide bombers indicate that they are significantly younger than not only the Muslim population in general but other (nonsuicidal) members of their own extreme political organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. And nearly all suicide bombers are single.

Here is where I need a research assistant. Are nearly all suicide bombers single? I can remember family members referred to in quite a few articles. But surely there is a more obvious reason for suicide bombers being younger and single (if they are): That way they don't leave grieving children behind. This type of a proximal explanation is almost always ignored in Evolutionary Psychology.

What about the religious significance of Islam that is mentioned here? The Tamil Tigers are not fighting on religious grounds, true, but are the Islamic suicide bombers really fighting for their religion or something that might be connected with the religion in their minds but has more to do with feelings of humiliation in general? I'm not sure.

And what role would polygyny really have here? Wouldn't it depend on how common polygyny actually is in the Muslim countries from which these bombers come? It seems to me that the expectation that a young man must support a stay-at-home wife is more likely to cause a large number of young men to remain unmarried in those countries than polygyny.

Note, by the way, how neatly all these points support conservative thinking about this world, even if they have to gather the evidence from diverse places.

The next point to be discussed:

5. Having sons reduces the likelihood of divorce

Sociologists and demographers have discovered that couples who have at least one son face significantly less risk of divorce than couples who have only daughters. Why is this?

Since a man's mate value is largely determined by his wealth, status, and power—whereas a woman's is largely determined by her youth and physical attractiveness—the father has to make sure that his son will inherit his wealth, status, and power, regardless of how much or how little of these resources he has. In contrast, there is relatively little that a father (or mother) can do to keep a daughter youthful or make her more physically attractive.

The continued presence of (and investment by) the father is therefore important for the son, but not as crucial for the daughter. The presence of sons thus deters divorce and departure of the father from the family more than the presence of daughters, and this effect tends to be stronger among wealthy families.

This argument is based on the assumption that women marry men for their wealth, status and power. but that men marry women for being young, big-breasted and blond. A dad can't help his daughter to get any bigger boobs, so he might as well bugger off. But he can give a son wealth, status and power. How does he give the son status and power, I wonder?

Sigh. It's more likely that men feel a son needs an adult role model of the same gender. Or the fathers may have read about all those studies which suggest that sons are hurt by absent fathers and so on. That "proximal" solution, once again. -- Note also that "significantly" here probably refers to "statistical significance" which is not the same thing as "much greater probability." I have no idea if studies actually prove what is argued here, by the way.

Next point:

6. Beautiful people have more daughters

It is commonly believed that whether parents conceive a boy or a girl is up to random chance. Close, but not quite; it is largely up to chance. The normal sex ratio at birth is 105 boys for every 100 girls. But the sex ratio varies slightly in different circumstances and for different families. There are factors that subtly influence the sex of an offspring.

One of the most celebrated principles in evolutionary biology, the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, states that wealthy parents of high status have more sons, while poor parents of low status have more daughters. This is because children generally inherit the wealth and social status of their parents. Throughout history, sons from wealthy families who would themselves become wealthy could expect to have a large number of wives, mistresses and concubines, and produce dozens or hundreds of children, whereas their equally wealthy sisters can have only so many children. So natural selection designs parents to have biased sex ratio at birth depending upon their economic circumstances—more boys if they are wealthy, more girls if they are poor. (The biological mechanism by which this occurs is not yet understood.)

This hypothesis has been documented around the globe. American presidents, vice presidents, and cabinet secretaries have more sons than daughters. Poor Mukogodo herders in East Africa have more daughters than sons. Church parish records from the 17th and 18th centuries show that wealthy landowners in Leezen, Germany, had more sons than daughters, while farm laborers and tradesmen without property had more daughters than sons. In a survey of respondents from 46 nations, wealthy individuals are more likely to indicate a preference for sons if they could only have one child, whereas less wealthy individuals are more likely to indicate a preference for daughters.

The generalized Trivers-Willard hypothesis goes beyond a family's wealth and status: If parents have any traits that they can pass on to their children and that are better for sons than for daughters, then they will have more boys. Conversely, if parents have any traits that they can pass on to their children and that are better for daughters, they will have more girls.

Physical attractiveness, while a universally positive quality, contributes even more to women's reproductive success than to men's. The generalized hypothesis would therefore predict that physically attractive parents should have more daughters than sons. Once again, this is the case. Americans who are rated "very attractive" have a 56 percent chance of having a daughter for their first child, compared with 48 percent for everyone else.

Here we come to the really interesting stuff. For example, if you Google "generalized Trivers-Willard hypothesis" you will find that it was created by ----add trumpet sounds here----Mr. Kanazawa himself! Yup. And the research is mostly his on this topic. A letter to the editor(pdf) at the journal where Kanazawa's papers were published (Journal of Theoretical Biology) addresses some of the problems in this research:

Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa has published several papers in
your journal recently finding evidence for differential sex
ratios, with big and tall parents, engineers, violent men,
and less attractive parents being disproportionately more
likely to have sons than daughters. As a statistician, not a
biologist, I cannot speak to the theoretical content of these
papers, but I believe the statistical arguments therein to be
seriously flawed. This is not to say that the results are not
scientifically correct, just that they have not been convin-
cingly demonstrated by the statistical evidence.

What this states, pretty much, is that Kanazawa failed to prove any of the theories he proposes. Perhaps he could do so in a better done study. But he has not done so yet. This is how scientists usually write, by the way. You have to understand that to see how very strong the criticisms of this letter are. (For somewhat easier-to-read versions of the same criticisms, see here and here.)

Here we come to the part where women are the cause of everything, even though they don't compete except in boob size:

7. What Bill Gates and Paul McCartney have in common with criminals

For nearly a quarter of a century, criminologists have known about the "age-crime curve." In every society at all historical times, the tendency to commit crimes and other risk-taking behavior rapidly increases in early adolescence, peaks in late adolescence and early adulthood, rapidly decreases throughout the 20s and 30s, and levels off in middle age.

This curve is not limited to crime. The same age profile characterizes every quantifiable human behavior that is public (i.e., perceived by many potential mates) and costly (i.e., not affordable by all sexual competitors). The relationship between age and productivity among male jazz musicians, male painters, male writers, and male scientists—which might be called the "age-genius curve"—is essentially the same as the age-crime curve. Their productivity—the expressions of their genius—quickly peaks in early adulthood, and then equally quickly declines throughout adulthood. The age-genius curve among their female counterparts is much less pronounced; it does not peak or vary as much as a function of age.

Paul McCartney has not written a hit song in years, and now spends much of his time painting. Bill Gates is now a respectable businessman and philanthropist, and is no longer a computer whiz kid. J.D. Salinger now lives as a total recluse and has not published anything in more than three decades. Orson Welles was a mere 26 when he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane.

A single theory can explain the productivity of both creative geniuses and criminals over the life course: Both crime and genius are expressions of young men's competitive desires, whose ultimate function in the ancestral environment would have been to increase reproductive success.

In the physical competition for mates, those who are competitive may act violently toward their male rivals. Men who are less inclined toward crime and violence may express their competitiveness through their creative activities.

The cost of competition, however, rises dramatically when a man has children, when his energies and resources are put to better use protecting and investing in them. The birth of the first child usually occurs several years after puberty because men need some time to accumulate sufficient resources and attain sufficient status to attract their first mate. There is therefore a gap of several years between the rapid rise in the benefits of competition and similarly rapid rise in its costs. Productivity rapidly declines in late adulthood as the costs of competition rise and cancel its benefits.

These calculations have been performed by natural and sexual selection, so to speak, which then equips male brains with a psychological mechanism to incline them to be increasingly competitive immediately after puberty and make them less competitive right after the birth of their first child. Men simply do not feel like acting violently, stealing, or conducting additional scientific experiments, or they just want to settle down after the birth of their child but they do not know exactly why.

The similarity between Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, and criminals—in fact, among all men throughout evolutionary history—points to an important concept in evolutionary biology: female choice.

Women often say no to men. Men have had to conquer foreign lands, win battles and wars, compose symphonies, author books, write sonnets, paint cathedral ceilings, make scientific discoveries, play in rock bands, and write new computer software in order to impress women so that they will agree to have sex with them. Men have built (and destroyed) civilization in order to impress women, so that they might say yes.

Isn't it nice that suddenly women have choices? So far their choices have amounted to nothing but turning blonde and buxom. Now suddenly it is their say-so that causes civilizations to be built or destroyed! If only some woman had been merciful to Hitler...

Here the common fallacy of Evolutionary Psychology crops up, the tendency to equate the evolutionary pressures with people's actual desires. Leonardo da Vinci didn't go to work thinking that he will get laid if he paints well enough, and in any case he was most likely gay.

What about this theory or theorilette? (A nice word, that. I just invented it in my desperate desire to get laid.) It's true that some areas of creativity, such as mathematics, seem to favor younger men over older men. But other areas of creativity do not. I'm not sure if meaningful comparisons between women and men can be made here, given that women were not really able to practice their creative talents until quite recently, and even today they may be delayed by childbearing and child rearing.

Note, again, how unusual circumstances (such as using Bill Gates (the second richest man in the world) and Paul McCartney as examples) are somehow taken and made into the general way things are. Yet no evidence is offered that these men have more children than the average.

The last three points will be covered in Part 4.

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. Part 2.

Did you read the post below first? If so, you are ready for this one, in which I'm going to comment on the first three of the ten "politically incorrect" truths. The rest will be discussed in Parts 3. and 4. of this series.

First a caveat: Note that I am not an evolutionary psychologist, although I'm pretty good at statistics. This combination means that I can spot certain problems fairly easily but might miss other problems altogether.

It may also mean that I don't get a valid point. This is sad, but given the current incentive structure in academia I might wait a very long time for a real evolutionary psychologist (not Evolutionary Psychologist, see Part 1. below) to turn up and spend time and effort in the necessary refutations. Sadly, there is nothing for them in that kind of work. Promotions or tenure are not based on it, but on their own scientific work. That, in turn, is hardly ever discussed in the popular media because it's not controversial enough. -- In short, I'd love to stop talking about this crap. Could someone else take it on, please?

Then to the ten points. They all share two things: They pick something that in general is not the most common feature of modern life and they elevate it to a biological truth, and they ignore the most obvious (proximal) explanations in favor of a rather exaggerated evolutionary scheme. It is in the exaggerations that Evolutionary Psychologists most irritate me.

Here is the first of the politically incorrect points in the article:

1. Men like blond bombshells (and women want to look like them)

Long before TV—in 15th- and 16th- century Italy, and possibly two millennia ago—women were dying their hair blond. A recent study shows that in Iran, where exposure to Western media and culture is limited, women are actually more concerned with their body image, and want to lose more weight, than their American counterparts. It is difficult to ascribe the preferences and desires of women in 15th-century Italy and 21st-century Iran to socialization by media.

Women's desire to look like Barbie—young with small waist, large breasts, long blond hair, and blue eyes—is a direct, realistic, and sensible response to the desire of men to mate with women who look like her. There is evolutionary logic behind each of these features.

Men prefer young women in part because they tend to be healthier than older women. One accurate indicator of health is physical attractiveness; another is hair. Healthy women have lustrous, shiny hair, whereas the hair of sickly people loses its luster. Because hair grows slowly, shoulder-length hair reveals several years of a woman's health status.

Men also have a universal preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio. They are healthier and more fertile than other women; they have an easier time conceiving a child and do so at earlier ages because they have larger amounts of essential reproductive hormones. Thus men are unconsciously seeking healthier and more fertile women when they seek women with small waists.

Until very recently, it was a mystery to evolutionary psychology why men prefer women with large breasts, since the size of a woman's breasts has no relationship to her ability to lactate. But Harvard anthropologist Frank Marlowe contends that larger, and hence heavier, breasts sag more conspicuously with age than do smaller breasts. Thus they make it easier for men to judge a woman's age (and her reproductive value) by sight—suggesting why men find women with large breasts more attractive.

Alternatively, men may prefer women with large breasts for the same reason they prefer women with small waists. A new study of Polish women shows that women with large breasts and tight waists have the greatest fecundity, indicated by their levels of two reproductive hormones (estradiol and progesterone).

Blond hair is unique in that it changes dramatically with age. Typically, young girls with light blond hair become women with brown hair. Thus, men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger (and hence, on average, healthier and more fecund) women. It is no coincidence that blond hair evolved in Scandinavia and northern Europe, probably as an alternative means for women to advertise their youth, as their bodies were concealed under heavy clothing.

Women with blue eyes should not be any different from those with green or brown eyes. Yet preference for blue eyes seems both universal and undeniable—in males as well as females. One explanation is that the human pupil dilates when an individual is exposed to something that she likes. For instance, the pupils of women and infants (but not men) spontaneously dilate when they see babies. Pupil dilation is an honest indicator of interest and attraction. And the size of the pupil is easiest to determine in blue eyes. Blue-eyed people are considered attractive as potential mates because it is easiest to determine whether they are interested in us or not.

The irony is that none of the above is true any longer. Through face-lifts, wigs, liposuction, surgical breast augmentation, hair dye, and color contact lenses, any woman, regardless of age, can have many of the key features that define ideal female beauty. And men fall for them. Men can cognitively understand that many blond women with firm, large breasts are not actually 15 years old, but they still find them attractive because their evolved psychological mechanisms are fooled by modern inventions that did not exist in the ancestral environment.

There is so much in this one point to discuss, so much. But I'm going to limit myself to just a few points.

First, the preference for large breasts is not universal. People at different time periods and in different countries have focussed on different parts of the female body, from thighs (in Elizabethan England), to hips (in much of the Caribbean) to the nape of neck (in Japan at one time). If breasts are more in fashion now it may well have to do with the American domination through movies and popular culture in general.

Second, the 0.7 waist-to-hips ratio was initially established in a study done in the U.S.. Its supposed international applicability was based on the fact that some of the students used in the study had roots in various other countries. It's possible that later studies have been done to prove this one, but Anne Innis Dagg (in "Love of Shopping" Is Not A Gene) reports on several studies on nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes in Tanzania and Peru which found that the men in those tribes preferred women shaped big and tubular, not like an hour-glass, because the former shape was associated with a fatter woman and hence a better worker. Once some of these men got into contact with Western lifestyles their preferences changed. -- This suggests that it is very difficult to disentangle "evolutionary" explanations from the cultural hegemony the Western nations currently have.

Third, the blonde thingy. The authors write: "Blond hair is unique in that it changes dramatically with age. Typically, young girls with light blond hair become women with brown hair. Thus, men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger (and hence, on average, healthier and more fecund) women. It is no coincidence that blond hair evolved in Scandinavia and northern Europe, probably as an alternative means for women to advertise their youth, as their bodies were concealed under heavy clothing."

Ok. If this explanation works, how come are the Inuit women not mostly blonde, too? Their clothing covered sagging breasts even better than the Scandinavian clothing. Then that stuff about blond hair changing to brown hair and so on, to show age. Actually, a lot of Scandinavian blond hair doesn't change at all with age, until the final whitening. And black hair shows aging pretty convincingly, too, in the sense of gray hair. But the oddest part of this explanation is the idea that all this selection took place in women but caused by men.

Sigh. This is really boring. When I was growing up in Finland what was really exotic was dark brown or black hair. Now that got you dates! I suspect that blond hair is valued in other countries, because it is relatively rare. Oh, and on the blue eyes. They were boring in Finland, because they are the most common types of eyes there.

Let's move to the second politically incorrect fact in the article:

2. Humans are naturally polygamous

The history of western civilization aside, humans are naturally polygamous. Polyandry (a marriage of one woman to many men) is very rare, but polygyny (the marriage of one man to many women) is widely practiced in human societies, even though Judeo-Christian traditions hold that monogamy is the only natural form of marriage. We know that humans have been polygynous throughout most of history because men are taller than women.

Among primate and nonprimate species, the degree of polygyny highly correlates with the degree to which males of a species are larger than females. The more polygynous the species, the greater the size disparity between the sexes. Typically, human males are 10 percent taller and 20 percent heavier than females. This suggests that, throughout history, humans have been mildly polygynous.

Relative to monogamy, polygyny creates greater fitness variance (the distance between the "winners" and the "losers" in the reproductive game) among males than among females because it allows a few males to monopolize all the females in the group. The greater fitness variance among males creates greater pressure for men to compete with each other for mates. Only big and tall males can win mating opportunities. Among pair-bonding species like humans, in which males and females stay together to raise their children, females also prefer to mate with big and tall males because they can provide better physical protection against predators and other males.

In societies where rich men are much richer than poor men, women (and their children) are better off sharing the few wealthy men; one-half, one-quarter, or even one-tenth of a wealthy man is still better than an entire poor man. As George Bernard Shaw puts it, "The maternal instinct leads a woman to prefer a tenth share in a first-rate man to the exclusive possession of a third-rate one." Despite the fact that humans are naturally polygynous, most industrial societies are monogamous because men tend to be more or less equal in their resources compared with their ancestors in medieval times. (Inequality tends to increase as society advances in complexity from hunter-gatherer to advanced agrarian societies. Industrialization tends to decrease the level of inequality.)

How can you say "the history is western civilization aside, humans are naturally polygamous?" Who created western civilization? Vulcans? I don't have much to say about this point, except to note that despite the promising beginning (HUMANS are naturally polygamous) the rest of the text is all about men being naturally polygamous.

The authors also define sexual relations as institutional or legal relations, which leaves out all adultery (and begs the question what the prehistoric form of all this might have been). In the chimpanzee world the females turn out to be quite "adulterous", getting impregnated by strange males behind the back of the dominant guy of their group or by any male in the group. As Evolutionary Psychologists are usually keen to apply chimp research to humans (and did so just a little earlier) it is odd that it's not happening here. Probably because the thesis being pursued here would not benefit from it, such as this argument: "Only big and tall males can win mating opportunities." Note that this assumes all mating opportunities are decided between males in fights. The females do nothing at all. They just stand there, like barrels of beer. They never take lovers.

The next point is still on polygyny:

3. Most women benefit from polygyny, while most men benefit from monogamy

When there is resource inequality among men—the case in every human society—most women benefit from polygyny: women can share a wealthy man. Under monogamy, they are stuck with marrying a poorer man.

The only exceptions are extremely desirable women. Under monogamy, they can monopolize the wealthiest men; under polygyny, they must share the men with other, less desirable women. However, the situation is exactly opposite for men. Monogamy guarantees that every man can find a wife. True, less desirable men can marry only less desirable women, but that's much better than not marrying anyone at all.

Men in monogamous societies imagine they would be better off under polygyny. What they don't realize is that, for most men who are not extremely desirable, polygyny means no wife at all, or, if they are lucky, a wife who is much less desirable than one they could get under monogamy.

This theory assumes that what matters for women in marriage is only material wealth and that the only way women can get access to such wealth is through marriage.

If one man is ten times wealthier than other men, then being one of that man's nine wives would make a woman better off, financially speaking, than marrying one of the other men as the sole wife. The problem with this argument is that there is nothing to guarantee that the man will allocate the proportionate share of wealth to each of his nine wives (men tend to have all the power in polygynous marriages), and that it ignores the competition for resources by those other wives. It also ignores the competition for fathering resources between the children of different wives and the bad effects this might have on the children. (One recent study on African polygynous families found that the children did worse healthwise than the father's resources indicated.)

I've actually been rather nice in that paragraph, because another interpretation of the argument seems to be that a slice of a husband is every bit as good as a whole husband. But if that is really true, then the surplus men in a polygynous society could simply get together and have one wife between them.

The major point here is that to understand who benefits from polygyny requires much more careful definitions about the parameters of the model. What is marriage for, in short.

This post continues (and continues) later.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters. Part 1.

NOTE: The next parts of this series are here, here and here.

Phila linked to an article in Psychology Today about 10 politically incorrect truths about people. In the context of psychology, the term "politically incorrect" means either that the authors are going to talk about evolutionary psychology theories where women don't compete at all but men do, like ferocious kangaroos, or about evolutionary psychology theories which tell us how racial minorities have lower intelligence levels. Or both.

I call the kind of evolutionary psychology this article represents Evolutionary Psychology, capitalized, because it's a sort of religion-cum-ideology and not a real study. There was a time when I cruised the websites of Evo-Psychos quite regularly and found most of them to be woman-haters. You can look up the work of Stephen Sailer, for instance and just follow the links he scatters to go to where I went. Take a shower afterwards.

I always have a lot to say about the Evolutionary Psychology pieces, and that is the reason why this post is given the haughty name of "Part 1". This post is going to be just about the fringes of the article; about one of the authors and what I found about his work by Googling. The next post will look at the ten politically incorrect truths in a little more detail.

Let us go then, you and I, and look at the beginning of the article more carefully. It states:

Human behavior is a product both of our innate human nature and of our individual experience and environment. In this article, however, we emphasize biological influences on human behavior, because most social scientists explain human behavior as if evolution stops at the neck and as if our behavior is a product almost entirely of environment and socialization. In contrast, evolutionary psychologists see human nature as a collection of psychological adaptations that often operate beneath conscious thinking to solve problems of survival and reproduction by predisposing us to think or feel in certain ways. Our preference for sweets and fats is an evolved psychological mechanism. We do not consciously choose to like sweets and fats; they just taste good to us.

The implications of some of the ideas in this article may seem immoral, contrary to our ideals, or offensive. We state them because they are true, supported by documented scientific evidence. Like it or not, human nature is simply not politically correct.

I bolded the two sentences I want to say a little more about.

Evolutionary Psychologists (note the capitals) usually make this assumption: That human nature is a collection of psychological adaptations, adaptations, which happened a long time ago, and adaptations which still affect our behavior even if they might now be useless.
What these guys usually fail to point out is that they are also assuming that adaptations stopped at some point in the early dawn of prehistory. They are not explaining why this would be the case and they usually ignore the evidence that adaptations in other fields have been shown to sometimes be quite rapid. Neither do they allow for much flexibility in the human psyche. What they want to have is a situation where we all are, deep inside, nomadic early humans walking the African savannas in small family groups.

But they don't want us to think too much about that actual setup, because that might make us question some of those theories they give us. For instance, many of their theories really require that humans or their ancestors would have had a large amount of access to unknown individuals of the opposite sex (so that large, non-sagging breasts, say, would be used as a proxy for youth in women) and an opportunity to amass material wealth. Neither of these seems to be true for the current or recent nomadic tribes in Africa.

That was about the first bolded sentence. The shorthand of the authors demands respect for a very partial theory which is totally untestable today, given that we can't send observers back into prehistory and that we don't have the kind of genetic information that would be needed to test the theories today.

What about the second bolded sentence? Whenever I see the kind of argument presented as here, I know that something smells off. Real scientific articles don't say that they are going to "tell the truth." That's just not the way science is written. Then the codeword "politically incorrect." Before reading any further I knew what the piece was going to contain. I also knew that it would be linked to on Free Republic, Pajama Medias and other wingnut sites. The wingnuts secretly agree with the authors of this piece so they will link to the article. That's ok. What is not ok is to pretend that "science" has found these arguments to be true. The second part of this post will explain why that is not true.

Enough about the preamble to the article. What about the authors? They are listed as Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, the authors of the book with the same name as this post, to be published in September of 2007. Mr. Miller appears to have died, which means that Mr. Kanazawa is likely the actual author of this article. I decided to focus on him at first, to see what else he may have written and what is being said about him.

It turns out that he is a controversial guy:

The London School of Economics is embroiled in a row over academic freedom after one of its lecturers published a paper alleging that African states were poor and suffered chronic ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries.

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, is now accused of reviving the politics of eugenics by publishing the research which concludes that low IQ levels, rather than poverty and disease, are the reason why
life expectancy is low and infant mortality high. His paper, published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, compares IQ scores with indicators of ill health in 126 countries and claims that nations at the top of the ill health league also have the lowest intelligence ratings.

It also turns out that Kanazawa is the author of many of the findings he discusses in the Psychology Today article. This means that much of what he says is not backed by other people's research but his own. That matters. It is very important to see what kind of a statistician he is. More about that in the next post on this topic.

What is quite fascinating, by the way, is reading the various wingnutty blogs which have posted on this article, and the comments threads. The following is not an atypical comment:

The real proof of the analysis-- which contradicts feminism-- is that the more status and power a woman has-- the fewer men she sees as potential mates-- because they must be at least as high status as her and preferably higher status.

Women are most powerful from 16-30 or so (" You might get lucky tonite"). As they age , they lose power over men ( women over 40 ,"they are so grateful") For men-- it is the reverse-- young men have little status and little power over women, but as they age,, they get more power typically, as they accumulate resources. Its absurd for a 25 year old man to date a 45 year old woman. But the reverse is the norm, if he has the big bucks.

Sigh. Actually, most married couples are approximately the same age. This commenter makes it sound as if 45 to 25 is the usual case. And all those surveys about partner preferences take place in a world where women, on average, have less money than men do. But that is not taken into account.

I included that comment because it tells a lot of the appeal of the church of Evolutionary Psychology and the fact that many of its congregants are fervently anti-feminist.

This whole thing reminds me of that old saying about the lie being half-way around the world before truth gets its shoes on. It's very easy to write stuff like that and keep publishing it. To refute it takes time and by the time the criticisms are ready the story has moved to some other field.

Lead Exposure And Crime

An interesting article in the Washington Post discusses some new research on the correlation between childhood exposure to lead and increased propensity to crime in adulthood. Further on in the article one expert notes that lead exposure has been found to be associated with worse impulse control in general, and that could explain the correlation.

On the other hand, lead exposure also correlates with socioeconomic class, because poorer areas are more likely to have buildings with old, peeling lead paint, for example. The way I read the article, though, indicates that the researchers controlled for income and perhaps also for education. If this is true, the findings can be useful.

But be careful about how much to attribute to lead. The crucial paragraphs are these:

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

Note the word "variation". It is not the case that lead exposure would explain 65-90% of all crime, only in variations of that crime rate across locales and perhaps time periods. To give a rough example (with no actual basis in any real numbers), suppose that violent crime has increased by 10% over some time period in one place. Then what Nevin argues is that between 6.5 and 9 of those percentage points are attributable to greater lead exposure.

That is still quite a strong finding, if true.