Friday, May 10, 2019

Weekend Reading, 5/10/19: On First Women, The Trip To The Alt Right World And Back And Other Topics

1.  Several interesting pieces have recently appeared about women who were first or early path-breakers in some field. 

- This one talks about a book about Cuban flora created by Anne Wollstonecraft, and lost from our attention for 190 years.  The drawings of the plants are beautiful.

- The recent Kentucky Derby makes  an article about early female jockeys particularly timely. 

I have never understood why jockeys should be so overwhelmingly male.  Young girls like riding a lot (so there's no pipeline problem) and women are, on average, smaller than men, which would be a useful characteristic in a jockey.  The reasons that have been proposed for the scarcity of women in the profession range from an argument that being a jockey is more dangerous for women for physical reasons to the impact of a widespread misogynistic culture in the field.

- An interview with Dorothy Butler Gilliam,  the first black woman who worked as a reporter at Washington Post, makes for interesting reading.  Gilliam has written a book about her career as a journalist.

- Finally, this piece is about an early French woman in cinema, Alice Guy Blaché:

Until recently, Guy Blaché was mostly relegated to the footnotes: credited regularly as the first female filmmaker (when credited at all), but overlooked in terms of her impact as an artist and an innovator. And yet starting in 1896, she made around 1,000 films, constantly pushing visual and thematic boundaries. She experimented with early synchronized sound, color and special effects. She explored gender, race and class. And she inspired future giants like Sergei Eisenstein, Alfred Hitchcock and Agnès Varda.

2.   Why would a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy join the Alt Right?  A long piece gives one family's story about the trip there and back. It describes the specific events and mental states which caused a young boy to seek solace online, and it also describes the powerful effect of online hate sites.  Ignoring those sites will happen at our own peril.

3.    Speaking of online hate, two Guardian articles have recently addressed online misogyny and how its effects are beginning to leak into the meatspace. Mary Beard is, of course, correct about the ultimate reason for the ways misogyny is expressed in the social media:  It is intended to silence women in public spaces.

4.  This is a fun quiz to take about evolutionary psychology of the weird kind, the kind I call Evolutionary Psychology (EP) to differentiate it from the more neutral general kind (ep).  And this is a fun take on the invisibility of women running for the Democratic nomination in the presidential primaries. 

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Candy And The Wrapper. Or on Women, Abortions And Pregnancies.

By serendipity, I read two articles about pregnancy, one after the other, and then considered them together.

The first tells us a piece of news which should be truly shocking:  Maternal deaths, and especially black maternal deaths, in the US are rising*:

Globally, maternal mortality fell about 44% between 1990 and 2015, according to the World Health Organization. But the U.S. is out of step: Moms die in about 17 out of every 100,000 U.S. births each year, up from 12 per 100,000 a quarter century ago.
Possible factors include the high C-section rates in the U.S. and soaring rates of obesity, which raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other complications.
Black women in the U.S. are about three times as likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause as others, partly because of racial bias they may experience in getting care and doctors not recognizing risk factors such as high blood pressure, said Dr. Lisa Hollier, the obstetrician group’s president.

That article concludes with a comment by a doctor about the finding that one third of pregnancy-related deaths take place in the time period between one week from giving birth to up to a year after it:

“It’s like the baby is the candy and the mama is the wrapper,” she added. “Once the baby is out of the wrapper, the wrapper is tossed aside.”

Monday, May 06, 2019

Second Fundraising Post For 2019. Retractions and Corrections of Studies Are Mostly Invisible in Social Media.

This year my fundraising will be more than a week, but on the other hand you won't get these begging posts every day!  Win-win.

My heartfelt thanks for all of you who read and comment here.  If you can afford to chip in for the costs of maintaining this blog and like it to go on for a while longer, please check the instructions in the left column on how to give.  Thank you.

I'm reading Gina Rippon's book The Gendered Brain.  The New Neuroscience That Shatters The Myth Of The Female Brain.  There will be a proper review of the book later, but today I want to quote a longer bit from the book, because it ties to some of my own earlier findings about the way research is popularized and about the way corrections and retractions to such research are not popularized.

The particular study Rippon describes was about studying the brain structures of 143 one-month old infants (73 female, 70 male) with a high-resolution scanner.  Because one hypothesis argues that many sex differences in the brains are innate, getting information about very young babies can help us test it.  The results and what happened next:

The authors of this paper reported marked sex differences in total brain volume, grey matter and white matter.  Again, this was quickly disseminated into the public realm, this time by an online research summary source that pitched this report as an important breakthrough in the search for explanations for female-male differences in behaviour.  The source concluded that 'pretending these early sex differences in the brain don't exist will not help us make society fairer.'

The trouble was that the reported findings were actually wrong.  Although the researchers claimed to have corrected for brain size, an eagle-eyed neuroscientist noted that the data in the paper weren't consistent with this claim.  The authors were contacted, rapid checking and reanalysis followed and all the claims of significant differences disappeared.

A correction was quickly issued, published on both the journal's and the research digest's websites.  But there was a two-month gap between these events, and social media had already pounced.  Reference to the paper had already appeared on Facebook with one telling comment:'I actually had an argument about this with someone who claimed to have a degree in the field very recently.  Rubbing her face in this will make me so happy.'
In these days of ideological echo chambers it is the fake news, or in this case fake neuronews, that stick around, even if later disproved.
I include that long quote, because the story here is very similar to what happened to another study, also on purportedly innate sex differences.  I wrote about that in 2014.

Studies which appear to support various ideological beliefs are widely disseminated in social media, because they are click-bait.  Both those who hold those ideological beliefs and those who absolutely do not will read such research summaries.  But those who disseminate these studies tend not to check if the studies are later retracted or corrected.  When that happens, the popularization process leaves people misinformed.

This process is not a symmetrical one in the study of sex differences.  Studies which show sex similarities* almost never get the kind of online media boost that studies showing sex differences do, never get a thousand comments in the New York Times or the Guardian, and so on.
*  An additional reason making this bias worse is that sex similarity findings are often not published at all, and if they are, they are not stressed as one of the main findings of a study.