Friday, March 14, 2014

The Centennary of Tove Jansson's Birth

If you don't know any small children to whom you could read the Moomintroll books you should hire a few, just as cover so that you can read them yourself. Tove Jansson, the author responsible for those books, was born a hundred years ago this year:

This year Finland is celebrating the centenary of the birth of Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins, and one of the most successful children's writers ever. Her life included war and lesbian relationships - both reflected by the Moomins in surprising ways.
There is Moomintroll, Moominmamma and Moominpappa - little white trolls who live in Moominvalley, with other fantastical creatures such as the Hattifatteners, Mymbles and Whompers.
Tove Jansson's Moomin books have sold in their millions, and been translated into 44 languages.
Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, has described her as a genius. Other devotees include Michael Morpurgo, writer of War Horse and dozens of other children's books, and Frank Cottrell Boyce, who scripted the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.
"I was completely blown away and enchanted," says Boyce, who read Finn Family Moomintroll as a 10-year-old, after discovering the book in a Liverpool library.
"I didn't realise it was set in a real place. I thought she'd made Finland up. Finland was like Narnia, with these incredible characters that were so strange but instantly recognisable because you had met lots of them - noisy Hemulens or neurotic, skinny Fillijonks."

The books are aimed at children.  Don't let that stop you from reading at least the Tales from Moominvalley, a 1962 short-story collection.  

It is one of the books I might take with me to a deserted island, because of the vast psychological riches the stories contain.  It's hard to pick a favorite among them, but if I had to do so I'd pick "The Fillyjonk Who Believed In Disasters,*"for reasons I discuss in this post.
*The story is so good that a summary doesn't give it any kind of justice.  I know because I tried.

A Crime Post: On Gun Rights And Rape Kits

Which covers the love of guns, its consequences and the way rape kits are analyzed in the US.  Or, rather, not analyzed.

First, on guns.  The state of Georgia has a new proposed bill about "gun rights":

In addition to overturning current state laws and dramatically rolling back concealed-carry restrictions, HB 875 would loosen other gun regulations in the state. The law would:
    •    Remove the fingerprinting requirement for gun license renewals
    •    Prohibit the state from keeping a gun license database
    •    Tighten the state's preemption statute, which restricts local governments from passing gun laws that conflict with state laws
    •    Repeal the state licensing requirement for firearms dealers (requiring only a federal firearms license)
    •    Expand gun owner rights in a declared state of emergency by prohibiting government authorities from seizing, registering, or otherwise limiting the carrying of guns in any way permitted by law before the emergency was declared
    •    Limit the governor's emergency powers by repealing the ability to regulate the sale of firearms during a declared state of emergency
    •    Lower the age to obtain a concealed-carry license from 21 to 18 for active-duty military and honorably discharged veterans who've completed basic training
    •    Prohibit detaining someone for the sole purpose of checking whether they have a gun license
The sweeping bill would also expand the state's Stand your Ground law into an "absolute" defense for the use of deadly force in self-protection. "Defense of self or others," the bills reads "shall be an absolute defense to any violation under this part." In its current wording, the bill would even allow individuals who possess a gun illegally—convicted felons, for example—to still claim a Stand Your Ground defense.

Don't you think the list sounds like civil rights demands for weapons?  Not even for the people owning them, but for the guns themselves?  Less regulation of guns!  Guns should be allowed everywhere and there should be no trace of the guns in any statistical source!

To put all that in perspective, for about ten days I have made a note of any story which tells us how a child has killed or hurt someone with a gun or gotten killed or hurt by a gun.  This is not an actual search for those stories, by the way.  I just made a note when I saw one.  Here is the recent crop.  David Waldman at Daily Kos writes frequently about various types of "gun fails."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Studying Gender Stereotypes in Science. Or We All Know That Women Can't Do Math

Are there fewer women in STEM-fields just because women don't choose them as often as men?  Or could it be that there are demand-side reasons for the relative scarcity of women?  Those "demand side" reasons mean that the people responsible for hiring and promoting workers might have (perhaps subconscious) prejudices about women which affect the likelihood that a woman is picked for a job or an educational slot which requires mathematical skills.

A new study, How stereotypes impair women’s careers in science, by Ernesto Reuben, Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales tries to answer the latter question, about the possible impact of our prejudices concerning mathematics and gender.   Bryce Covert summarizes the study findings:

Researchers from Columbia Business School, the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University conducted an experiment that had both men and women complete an arithmetic task that both genders, on average, perform equally well as potential job candidates. Then test subjects had to decide who to hire. “Our results reveal a strong bias among subjects to hire male candidates,” the researchers note, which was true of both men and women. When the prospective employers were only shown a candidate’s physical appearance, making their gender clear, they were twice as likely to hire a man than a woman. This was because women were expected to perform worse on the math problems, even though it was a task they were equally like to do well.
Women were still less likely to be hired even after the candidates told prospective employers how they did on the task “because men tend to boast about their performance, whereas women generally underreport it,” the authors write. Employers don’t take this into account, particularly if they went into the experiment with a strong bias against women in math.
Things improved when those doing the hiring were given full information about how the candidates did on the task, but even then discrimination wasn’t totally eliminated.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stuff To Read, 3/12/14

I always say that writing can be as fast as your ability to type.  It's the research that props up the writing which takes time.  That's another way to say that I've been doing a lot of research and very little writing today.

So what could you read, instead of me?  Let's see.

This piece talks about a new study which suggests that money buys access to politicians, but that even the smell of money isn't quite enough to guarantee face-to-face access.  More on the power of money in American politics can be found in this editorial.

What the Hobby Lobby case reveals about the US religious right's attitudes toward contraception.  A spoiler:  They think contraception destroys marriage and makes men disrespect women.

The US is ranked 98th in the global ranking of national legislatures when it comes to the number of women in them.  Sure, some other countries achieve a higher ranking through quotas, but many don't need quotas to get there.  This country is behind Kenya and Indonesia and just ahead of United Arab Emirates.  Part of the reason for America's less-than-stellar performance is the two-party system which makes atypical candidates less likely than multi-party systems.

On crowdworkers.  A new kind of labor market and mostly unregulated.

And one more example of the Republican wingtip-in-the-mouth syndrome when it comes to so-called women's issues:

New Hampshire state Rep. Kyle Tasker (R) posted a joke about domestic violence to Facebook on Monday while defending a fellow lawmaker's comments about abusive relationships, according to William Tucker's New Hampshire politics blog, Miscellany: Blue.
Tasker posted a graphic joke about domestic violence that read, "50,000 battered women and I still eat mine plain!"
Tasker has since deleted the joke from Facebook...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Put Me On A Pedestal

So that you can look up my skirt more easily?

Mike Huckabee, the former Republican Governor of Arkansas, tells how he has run against female candidates in political races:

“I’ve twice run against women opponents, and it’s a very different kind of approach,” he tells me. Different how? “For those of us who have some chivalry left, there’s a level of respect. ... You treat some things as a special treasure; you treat other things as common.” A male opponent is “common,” a woman requires “a sense of pedestal.”
“I’ll put it this way,” Huckabee says. “I treat my wife very differently than I treat my chums and my pals. I wouldn’t worry about calling them on Valentine’s Day, opening the door for them, or making sure they were OK.”

That's just wonderfully informative.  And funny, given that he seems to equate female political rivals with his wife and male political rivals with his pals (presumably all men).  Or at least he has trouble trying to explain how those female politicians might differ from male politicians, except in some extremely deep and gendered ways  which require chivalry from him, probably Valentine's Day cards, opening doors and making sure that they are OK.  I'd think it would be fairly easy to beat Huckabee if that's how he plans to run any future races against women.

Chivalry, by the way, is an interesting concept.  Many conservatives seem to assume that in the olden days the world was full of chivalrous men, opening doors, even when a woman didn't want to go anywhere, rising when women entered the room and so on, but now chivalry is almost dead and that's because of feminazis.  Indeed, some not-so-nice sites suggest that the price of chivalry is submission, and that the alternative to chivalry (of the imagined type that once ruled everywhere) is not being treated with respect and politeness as a human being but being treated with extra nastiness for overstepping the boundaries of traditional gender roles.

That's not what Huckabee is saying.  His ideas come from his own traditional gender norms, perhaps reflected in his earlier support for wifely submission in marriage.

I can't help feeling a bit sorry for our Mike.  He's trying too hard to make the Republican war on women come out right, but he just doesn't get it, because in his worldview women really cannot take the kinds of roles those uppity women are taking.  Sadly, there are no ready-made answers to the proper way of campaigning against someone who is both supposed to stand on a pedestal and then get that pedestal toppled. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Today's Science Snack. On Hormones And Women's Voting

Remember that study in 2012:  "The Fluctuating Female Vote:  Politics, Religion and the Ovulatory Cycle" by Kristina  M. Durante,  Ashley R. Arsena and Vladas Griskevicius?   It argued that women's voting is affected by their menstrual cycles, and linked the argument to the usual evolutionary psychology stuff about reproductive drives and how they might influence women differently at different stages of the ovulatory cycle.

The next stage of the game:  A new study*, Harris, C., & Mickes, L. (2014). "Women Can Keep the Vote: No Evidence That Hormonal Changes During the Menstrual Cycle Impact Political and Religious Beliefs Psychological Science" argues that a replication of the Durante et al. study failed to find the same effects.

Neuroskeptic, at a Discovery magazine blog, writes about some of the methodological concerns with that particular field of psychological studies which might exist in both the original studies and in the replications, especially something called "researcher degrees of freedom," from here:

[I]t is unacceptably easy to publish “statistically significant” evidence consistent with any hypothesis.
The culprit is a construct we refer to as researcher degrees of freedom. In the course of collecting and analyzing data, researchers have many decisions to make: Should more data be collected? Should some observations be excluded? Which conditions should be combined and which ones compared? Which control variables should be considered? Should specific measures be combined or transformed or both?
It is rare, and sometimes impractical, for researchers to make all these decisions beforehand. Rather, it is common (and accepted practice) for researchers to explore various analytic alternatives, to search for a combination that yields “statistical significance,” and to then report only what “worked.” The problem, of course, is that the likelihood of at least one (of many) analyses producing a falsely positive finding at the 5% level is necessarily greater than 5%.
I'm not sure if that's a polite way to hint at the possibility that researchers can go on fishing trips with the data until they find significant results in at least one tiny part of the analyses, and that it is those significant results which then will be published.

Setting all that aside, replication still matters, even "replication"** suffering from possible "researcher degrees of freedom" problems.  That's because replications which fail to produce the original results tell us something about the fragility of the results,  so to speak, and about the ease with which opposite results can be manufactured.

Finally, it's worth noting that the women-and-their-hormones (and men-and-their-hormones) field also needs to be studied by people outside the evolutionary psychology camp, because any overt biases of the researchers will be different.  Evolutionary psychologists seek to verify their reproductive theories, those outside that field have different basic theories and thus different blinders.
*I have not read this replication study or the response to it, though I did read the original Durante et al. study.
**In quotation marks, because replication should not deviate from the steps the original study took.  But if we don't know what those steps where...