Friday, February 16, 2018

Short Posts, 2/16/18. On Russian Election Interference, Porn As Sex Education And Other Interesting Topics

1.  Thirteen individuals working at a Russian troll farm have been charged with "an audacious scheme" to criminally interfere in the 2016 US presidential election.  The indictment makes for fun reading.

It shows that the main goal of the trolling (1) was to disrupt, to sow distrust of American institutions and doubt about factual evidence, to create false evidence,  and to exacerbate existing political divisions within the US.  That appears to be Putin's plan of interference in Western liberal democracies.

The concrete focus of the scheme was to stop Hillary Clinton from winning the election.

2.  I have long feared that online pornography takes the place of proper sex education for far too many preteens and teens (2).  A recent NYT article suggests that my fear is justified:

“It gets in your head,” Q. said. “If this girl wants it, then maybe the majority of girls want it.” He’d heard about the importance of consent in sex, but it felt pretty abstract, and it didn’t seem as if it would always be realistic in the heat of the moment. Out of nowhere was he supposed to say: Can I pull your hair? Or could he try something and see how a girl responded? He knew that there were certain things — “big things, like sex toys or anal” — that he would not try without asking.
“I would just do it,” said another boy, in jeans and a sweatshirt. When I asked what he meant, he said anal sex. He assumed that girls like it, because the women in porn do.

Bolds are mine.  A 2015 study on pain during vaginal and anal intercourse with other-sex partners found this:

About 30% of women and 7% of men reported pain during vaginal intercourse events, and most of the reports of pain were mild and of short duration. About 72% of women and 15% of men reported pain during anal intercourse events, with more of these events including moderate or severe pain (for the women) and of mixed duration. Large proportions of Americans do not tell their partner when sex hurts.
Teens may not be able to understand that commercial porn is produced for a particular market (most of it for heterosexual men), that the actors are paid performers, not actual loving couples, and that what is performed in those scenarios is not based on what women might like in sex:
Many of the heterosexual videos are shot from the male point of view, as if the man were holding the camera while he has sex with a woman whose main job, via oral sex, intercourse or anal sex, is to make him orgasm.

3.  An article about sexism in Silicon Valley, has this interesting bit (3):

Some recruiters might say that it’s harder to hire a woman in a position at a VC or tech company because of a limited pool of women computer science graduates. But, Chang argues, male college graduates aren’t subject to the same requirements. Only 61 percent of the top male investors on a 2015 list of Forbes Midas List of standout venture capitalists had a STEM degree, and all but one of the women on the list had STEM backgrounds. The discrepancy points to a double standard: why could men majoring in history and literature get hired but women couldn’t?
There were few women on that list, which makes it hard to draw wider statistical conclusions.  But this example reminds me of similar aha! experiences I've had when I have suddenly been able to look at some oft-repeated arguments from a different angle and then found them flawed (4).

4.  The Winter Olympics provides a good example of the odd kind comparisons many of us make in politics, too:

In the former case we compare the Olympic medal harvest of the United States with that of, say, Lichtenstein, without necessarily converting the numbers so that they are proportionate to population sizes.

In the latter case we evaluate political representation or the success of diversity efforts without relating the numbers to the sizes of the groups we are interested in.

Sometimes this means that we fail to see how some minorities are over-represented while other minorities are under-represented, assuming that fair representation would be proportional to the population percentage of each group.  Sometimes this means that we function on the unconscious assumption that all population percentages are equal.

That might be the case when absolute numbers are the only focus of some article.  Consider the following table, which is intended to demonstrate that Americans' fear of Islamic terrorism is misplaced:

It's not my intention to argue against the message of the table, but to point out that the figures we are given are simple counts.  

If we wanted to know how dangerous jihadists, right-wing terrorists, armed toddlers, beds and lawnmowers might be, we would need to relate those counts to something that measures the frequency with which we come into contact with those people or items.  

Beds are very common and falling out of bed is a rare event for most of us.  Lawnmowers are also very common and are used by millions of Americans on a weekly basis for much of the year.  This suggests that neither beds nor lawnmowers are particularly dangerous.

On the other hand, though toddlers are common, armed toddlers are not.  My guess is that armed toddlers, indeed, are very dangerous.

Whether jihadists and right-wing terrorists, then, are more dangerous than "other Americans" (who were responsible for 11,737 annual deaths) depends not only on the three reported death counts in the table but also on the total numbers of   jihadists, right-wing terrorists and other Americans inside this country (5). 


(1)  The indicted individuals did far more than troll, of course.  The indictments list several US laws they broke. As an aside, they organized a cage and a fake Hillary Clinton inside it for one march!

(2)  Largely because of (right-wing Christian) opposition to proper sex education at school or at home.

(3)  For more on the reasons why women are scarce in computer science today, see this post and this one.

(4)  For example (and not related to the topic here), it's always worth asking, when reading an article about how bad something is, what that "bad" is compared to.  Often it's an imaginary golden past which wasn't golden at all.

(5)  I cannot stress too much that the data in this table is not suitable for prediction when it comes to the various terrorist groups.  That's because their behavior may not follow the same pattern it demonstrated in the past.