Friday, May 08, 2015

Deep Thoughts for Today

Especially for online debates:

Never quitting an argument does not equal having won.

On learning Dragon Dictate (a speech recognition system I bought to get around that broken humerus):

Text that I read:

Testing Dragon Dictate by Echidne.  This is unedited.

How Dragon heard it first time:

Testing Dragon dictate by A Kidman. These is on anything

And second time:

Testing Dragon Dictate by a kidney. Base is on 18

And third time:

Testing Dragon Dictate by ECH I D and E. Base is on NDT

I'm enjoying chatting to the Dragon!

On the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theories which are wild in Texas:

Remember that this is the state which has exorbitant influence on the textbooks for US schools.

If I were located in another galaxy I'd have lots of fun with this juxtaposition.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Get Some Male Co-Authors To Improve Your Paper. That's One Reviewer's Advice For Two Female Biologists.

Here's a fun story (from a week ago)  about the lives of female academics.  Well, not all their lives and perhaps nowadays even only small snippets of their lives, but this stuff is still part  of the musty smell of academic gowns:

Fiona Ingleby [and Megan Head] wrote a paper on the difficulties of making the transition from graduate school to post-doctoral position for women. She submitted it for review. A review is kind of an invited comment, you know, so given Lewis’ Law, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at what followed — she got a negative review that actually justified the contents of her paper.

Get it?  Men can run faster and therefore men must be better researchers!  But women are, on average, more flexible than men.  Maybe women write more complicated papers?

Duh.  Both comparisons are idiotic.  Which means the review is idiotic, too.

But wait!  It gets better:

Would those men have to be very fast runners, too?  The reviewer believes that men are superior thinkers, runners and -- probably -- reviewers.  If we employ those pesky 'ideologically biased assumptions.'  By the way, I'd really like to see the empirical evidence that demonstrates better health and stamina among the men in the relevant age group.

The journal whose editor passed these anonymous comments to Ingleby reacted promptly:

PLOS ONE has strict policies for how we expect peer review to be performed and we strive to ensure that the process is fair and civil. We have taken a number of steps to remedy the situation. We have formally removed the review from the record, and have sent the manuscript out to a new editor for re-review. We have also asked the Academic Editor who handled the manuscript to step down from the Editorial Board and we have removed the referee from our reviewer database.

Which is the correct thing to do.  Not because the reviewer suggested that the authors should consider average gender differences in the quality of the papers as one possible hypothesis to be examined*, but because he/she didn't say that.

Instead, he/she assumed that the poor little ladies need burly shoulders to lean on and masculine brains to borrow to get anything done.

I can't now get rid of the imagery of male biology graduate students sprinting around campus fountains, clad as ancient Greek Olympians were, the winner of the race getting the laurel wreath and the best publication placements, while the feeble and sickly female graduate students sit on the lawn under pink parasols and applaud.

*Or rather, the authors should try to hold the quality of papers constant while studying, say, any differential treatment of male and female researchers.

Added later:  The importance of this case is in the way anonymous reviews are used to decide which article gets published in which journal.  So they have power.

On the other hand, the final acceptance rates by gender could be used in later research  to determine how good men and women are in research.  Cases like the one above are unlikely to be common, but they point out that something which is supposed to be a somewhat objective assessment of the quality of the work (a peer review) may not be that at all. 


Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A Blog-Keeping Post

When is the best time for my annual fund-drive (aka begging)?  That is really asking when you (sweet, erudite and generous readers) have the most money I can wheedle off you.

Without a better answer, I'm going to declare next week for that unpleasant (for you) but necessary (for me) task.  Or you can give now or later.  If affording it is hard, do not worry.  I value all my readers.  But this blog doesn't come completely free, even if I assigned my own labor zero value.

I'd also like to remind you all of my ISIS-and-women series, what with this argument I just heard on Twitter about how Western feminazis want jazz hands but are silent about the Yazidi women.  The series still lacks the final post, but the others are linked to at the bottom of this introductory post.  Including the one about  the Yazidi girls and women.

The Venus de Milo, a Spinster?

What might the statue we call the Venus de Milo depict?  What is she doing?

Given her missing arms it's hard to know.  The most recent attempt to reconstruct her arms and figure out her possible task uses 3D-printing and the theory that she was spinning thread, a very common task for women all over the world in the past and still in some places.

Virginia Postrel's piece in Slate also mentions several other theories, and clearly we cannot just conclude that the statue depicts a spinster (initially a term for a woman who spins and here used by me as a bad pun, because of the treatment of the statue in more glorified ways as the epitome of female beauty).*

But it's a good hypothesis.  She writes:

Barber, a professor emeritus at Occidental College and the doyenne of textile archeology, proffers a thesis the 19th-century critics never debated. She imagines Venus doing something that occupied endless hours of women’s time before the Industrial Revolution: spinning thread. She suggests that the statue held a distaff of fluffy fibers in her upraised left arm, while with her right she guided the thread toward a weighted drop spindle hanging in front of her. “This was a pose painfully familiar to women in ancient Greek society,” Barber notes.

Hence the 3D-print testing.

What struck me a bit weird about the whole approach is that it doesn't use the expertise of those women who still spin in the same manner.  From Peru:

They would know if the reconstruction looks feasible** and what the odd twist in the statue's back might mean to them, if anything.
* Wonder what her waist-to-hip ratio might be?  That's for evolutionary psychologists who believe that men have always preferred the same ratio and humongous breasts on women.
**Other than the apparently falling fabric around her hips.  Perhaps she is twisting to stop it falling further?  Just kidding.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Meanwhile. in Paraguay

A ten-year-old girl was raped, allegedly by her stepfather, and cannot get an abortion because of the Catholic church, ultimately.  Abortion is only available when the pregnant person's life is at risk.

This quote angered me:

The 10-year-old is one of three children who share a rented room in the city of Luque with her mother and stepfather.
The mother, who works in a school cafeteria, reported in January 2014 that her husband was sexual abusing her daughter, but the authorities took no action. When the girl’s stomach started to swell and ache last month, the mother took her to hospital fearing she may have a tumour.
After doctors revealed the girl was pregnant, her mother asked them to perform an abortion, but this is forbidden in Paraguay unless the pregnancy has life-threatening complications.
The girl was taken to a shelter and her mother was imprisoned on 27 April and accused of failing in her duty of care. A judge is considering a further charge of being an accomplice in the rape. The stepfather is on the run.

Bolds are mine.

Note the poverty of the girl's mother.  Note that she went to the authorities and was ignored.  Note that she is now imprisoned for failing in her duty of care.

What may be demanded of mothers is very different from what may be demanded of everyone else, including the authorities.