Saturday, October 24, 2009

Saturday Cat Blogging

(Picture of Pippin by FeraLiberal.)

Weekly Poetry Slam Thread posted by A Mc

Will Gang Rape Victims Be Gagged by The Greatest Debate Club?

Thirty Republican senators
vote to shield rapists, from lawsuits
Franken bill might get watered down in committee.
Too awful for levity, too intentional for tragedy
In the greatest debate club, they call it democracy,
the Free Press ....... as unperturbed as the Values Voters,
Notably silent when the sex is forced and violent.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Domestic violence & homelessness (by Linda Osmundson)

"Half of all women and children experiencing homelessness are fleeing domestic violence," notes the National Coalition for the Homeless. Linda Osmundson, executive director of CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) in St. Petersburg, Fla., since 1989, gives a statistic that encompasses more effects of violence: "At least 75% of women who are homeless are directly or indirectly victims of domestic violence and/or rape either as a child witness, or a child or adult victim."

Last week, I wrote about how homeless programs need to remember women, including ones who stay in wretched homes for fear of living on the streets. The post below is by Linda, who I've quoted before. She has created a story about Estella, a composite of women who've come to CASA.
-- Suzie
Estella came to the CASA shelter looking a little worked over. Her hair was matted and her clothing was not very clean. She clutched her meager belongings to her in a garbage bag like many battered women. Looking into her eyes, we could tell she had lived a harder life than some of us. Her skin was leathery and tan, and she had visible scars on her arms and legs and some open lesions. She told the CASA advocate that she was hungry in her gravelly voice, and we heated a bowl of spaghetti left over from last night’s dinner. She gulped it down quickly and asked for more. Her eyes darted around the room as she ate.

She was younger than she looked, we discovered when we completed the ubiquitous paperwork for her intake. She had been living here and there on the streets and had no permanent address or any family in the area whose names she could give us for an emergency contact. When we asked her when she had last lived in a real house she vaguely answered, “… a year or two.”

When we asked her to tell us why she had called the CASA hotline at 4 a.m., she sighed and said, “You are the place that takes in those battered women, aren’t you?” Then she launched into the story of her life. Like most battered women who end up homeless, she had lived a life filled with violence since childhood, when her parents beat her with a belt and left her alone without food for whole days. Estella got pregnant as a teenager, and her parents put her out of their home and wouldn’t let her come back even though she lost the baby. She bounced in and out of relationships with men who seemed nice at first but then “turned mean,” as she described it. She never finished high school. She described being viciously raped by a man she’d been staying with and thought was nice. But, when the police were called, she said they looked at her funny and started asking her questions like: Did she let him into the house? So, she just clammed up and told them that she would be fine, until they left in frustration.

Eventually Estella became a permanent street person. At least street people didn’t ask questions and there was a sort of order about the streets that worked for her. She felt free, but always leery of the men who came in and out of her life, leaving their physical and emotional scars. The law of the streets for Estella and most women like her was to find a man to hang out with who became her “protector” from all of the other men. It was sort of an unwritten contract that he could do what he wanted with her and in return he would keep other men away.

When Estella tired of this life, she would retreat to a homeless shelter, but they never listened to her or made her feel safe or understood the violence that had punctuated of her life nearly forever. Sometimes she called a battered woman’s shelter, but they usually didn’t admit her when they found out that she had been homeless. For her, homelessness was just more violence, more sleepless nights and exhausted days.

Women who are homeless are nearly all, like Estella, victims of sexual and physical violence. The violence of child abuse, rape and domestic violence frame their lives and make them feel hopeless. Many domestic violence centers refuse to shelter homeless women because they are not in immediate danger from their last abuser, who is in jail or some other such “safe” location. So, she is not in imminent danger according to them! At CASA, the staff is trained to understand that homelessness and violence go hand in hand for women. Living on the streets is not very safe for men and completely unsafe for women. Like Estella, women must make alliances with men for a kind of protection. Many women turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate away the pain and fear that are their constant companions. While at CASA, women can talk to advocates that have a special understanding of the connections between abuse, violence and addictions, since some CASA staff have had the same experience.

Estella met other women at the shelter who sounded like they were involved with the same partners who had treated Estella so badly. In support groups they laughed together at their similar experiences and they cried together, too. Estella learned that CASA offered free support groups around the community during the day and in the evenings that she could attend every week or whenever she felt down. CASA even offered support groups for women in jail and substance abuse treatment programs.

Estella set some goals for herself and began to feel a little better and safer each day. It was good to have a shower every day. An advocate gave her a gift certificate to CASA's thrift store. She helped with chores, cooked at the shelter some nights, and began to relax and feel normal. Some of the women celebrated successful applications for injunctions for protection with the help of a volunteer advocate. They were scared to stand up and talk to a judge in front of others, but it felt empowering, too, when the judge awarded a permanent injunction.

Then there were the children. Estella found some of them a little annoying because they were always underfoot, but she liked holding the babies sometimes. She also appreciated being in the room on the third floor where there were only women. She even found a couple of the books in the library that were easy to read. Estella began to feel hopeful. She could not forget her past but now she felt like there could be a future that might have light.

Figuring out where she would live after she left the shelter was a problem. Estella had never really kept a job very long. She didn’t read very well, although she had learned to compensate for that over the years. When an employer discovered that she couldn’t decipher simple written instructions, she was usually terminated. Subsidized housing was usually for women with children. There wasn’t much out there for single women, another reason why she had to attach herself to the first man that came along. Estella could stay for 6 months in the shelter's housing. She didn’t know where she would go after that but she wasn’t going to think about it now.

Question for the weekend (by Suzie)

Overachiever? Perfectionist? Get your worth from what you do? Check, check, check. If I were going to have a tombstone, it would read: “I could have done more.”

What might yours say?

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

Alli isn't in trouble. She likes to be in the middle of a ball of dogs. Snoopy is sitting on her, Bella is figuring how to get in on the action, and Noah wants in, too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bye Bye, Mr. Kanazawa

My series below is over, but it seems truly worthwhile to contrast two quotes from Kanazawa's blog posts, because I find them an excellent summary of what is ultimately wrong with Evolutionary Psychology.

First, here he talks about the supremacy of biology over all social sciences. Indeed, the post is titled "Social Sciences Are Branches of Biology." I quote:

That, unfortunately, is the sorry state of social sciences today. Social sciences in the 21st century are where physical sciences were in the 17th century. Social scientists believe in the firm separation between human sciences (social sciences) about the behavior of human species, and nonhuman sciences (biology) about the behavior of all other species in nature, governed by entirely different sets of laws and principles. It would be a huge step forward in the history of science to break down this wall as well, and subsume social sciences under biology.

I will conclude this post with another favorite quote of mine from Weinberg.

The reason we give the impression that we think that elementary particle physics is more fundamental than other branches of physics is because it is.

The reason we give the impression that we think that evolutionary psychology is more fundamental than other branches of social and behavioral sciences is because it is.

Emphasis is mine.

The second quote I want to bring up is the one where Kanazawa happily admits that he has not taken any biology classes since high school:

As an aside, Mr. Lal was trained in mechanical engineering and currently works as a software engineer. He does not have any background in psychology, let alone evolutionary psychology, and has not taken any biology class since high school. (But then again, neither have I.)

Emphasis again is mine.

Let's put these two ideas together: First, all social science are really just biology, but the foremost of them is Evolutionary Psychology. Second, one of the official propagandists of Evolutionary Psychology admits that he hasn't actually studied biology.

That sounds pretty troubling.

The Making Of The Model Body

For women, naturally. Air America has a slide-show of some of the most interesting recent photo-shopped female fashion images. These are a biased sample, of course, as we have no idea how many other images have been altered in this manner.

In some ways I find the subtle changes scarier than the silly pictures where a woman's stick-body is given a humongous head. The latter are pretty obvious, after all, but not realizing that these people brush away most every wrinkle or even slightly sagging flesh does truly contribute to unrealistic expectations about what people should look like. And I don't even know what to say about the skin tone changes.

Reader Appreciation Day

I don't tell you often enough how erudite and marvelous you really are. My recent travels in all sorts of comments threads remind me how very lucky I am. And yes, of course you can send me money.

Apropos of nothing, I was reading through the book into which I scribbled as a teenage goddess. It has the usual teenage angst, lots of stuff about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, lots of imagined sex (hee) and some very odd poems about mathematics. Reading it is like meeting someone I once knew but have now forgotten. I have a lot of empathy for her, even when I laugh at some of her pronouncements.

She was a proto-feminist, too. I have translated one poem I wrote at age sixteen for you:

I found myself in the poem I read:

It spoke of women,
of flesh-eating petals
of slack roses dangling
of meals which are eaten with
soft knives at night.

There are no sorrowing women
(it says)
Only a dank smell in old velvet.

And I turned the page
with these bones
which shine through the skin of my wrists

Not with my ovaries
not with my bloody womb
not with my vagina.

These bones are what
they do not lust after.
These bones are irrevocably

On Screening For Prostate and Breast Cancers

The American Cancer Society is modifying their previous whole-hearted support for screening in the case of certain types of cancers, including breast cancer:

The cancer society's decision to reconsider its message about the risks as well as potential benefits of screening was spurred in part by an analysis published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Brawley said.

In it, researchers report a 40 percent increase in breast cancer diagnoses and a near doubling of early stage cancers, but just a 10 percent decline in cancers that have spread beyond the breast to the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body. With prostate cancer, the situation is similar, the researchers report.

If breast and prostate cancer screening really fulfilled their promise, the researchers note, cancers that once were found late, when they were often incurable, would now be found early, when they could be cured. A large increase in early cancers would be balanced by a commensurate decline in late-stage cancers. That is what happened with screening for colon and cervical cancers. But not with breast and prostate cancer.

Still, the researchers and others say, they do not think all screening will — or should — go away. Instead, they say that when people make a decision about being screened, they should understand what is known about the risks and benefits.

What is happening here? The researchers speculate that screening might pick up a lot of "innocent" tumors: tumors which might never grow or which might even go away on their own, but that dangerous tumors might grow too fast for screening to be of much use. This might mean that much of the treatment of cancers found in early detection could be excessive:

Overdiagnosis and overtreatment as a result of cancer screening are a major concern. It is estimated that for every 100 women who are told they have breast cancer, as many as 30 have cancers that are so slow-growing they are unlikely to be life-threatening.

In the case of prostate cancer, for every 100 men with diagnoses, as many as 70 have cancers that if left untreated would never have harmed them. Even for men with aggressive prostate cancer, whether screening improves the odds of survival remains a matter of debate.

That excessive treatment is not desirable should be obvious. Who wants to be cut or poisoned or radiated if it is not necessary for survival? Such excessive treatment also costs money. The obvious problem here is how to distinguish the "innocent" tumors from the ones which do demand immediate attention.

As an aside, the professional views on screening for cancers have always been much more complicated than the recommendations consumers get. To give you an example of that, suppose that some type of cancer can be detected very early with screening but that knowing about its existence doesn't ultimately help with treatment or survival rates. Suppose, also, that two individuals both develop the cancer at the same time and live equally long with it, but one gets screened early and the other one only gets diagnosed at a late stage in the disease. Any crude comparisons of these outcomes would then suggest that screening helps people with cancer live longer, when that is not in fact the case.

That example does not mean that screening wouldn't be beneficial if early detection allows for better intervention methods. But finding something early is not a treatment in itself.

Today's Action Alert

WAM which works for gender justice needs your help:

We know that there's more support for gender justice in media than there is for causes like that. But we need your help to prove it. Right now your donation to launch the new WAM! can count more than ever. It's easy - but ONLY IF YOU DO IT NOW.

From right now until 3PM ET TODAY (Thursday), we're competing in America's Giving Challenge. All we have to do to win $1000 is get the highest number of $10+ donors out of the charities competing on our day.

Can you give at least $10 today to help launch the new WAM! with an extra $1,000? We really can win if we all pitch in.

Right now they are losing to Make Abortion Impossible or something like that. That's not good at all. Besides, WAM does excellent work.

If you can afford to help WAM, you can do so here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Kanazawa Question. Part III.

This is the final part in the series, I hope, and it is about the biases I have noted in Satoshi Kanazawa's blog posts at Psychology Today. (Part I of the series is here and Part II here.)

I spot at least four types of bias in Kanazawa's writings. The first one concerns which data are picked as evidence and which data are completely ignored. I have given an example of that in the first post of this series.

The second one is about the types of issues within Evolutionary Psychology Kanazawa chooses to analyze. His predominant focus is on sexual selection, as if the other kinds of selection pressures somehow mattered much less. And even within that narrower field he chooses to ignore certain topics, such as female infidelity, now established to exist among chimpanzees (if infidelity even has a meaning in that context) and also among humans. But Kanazawa only discusses this as an aside while striving to explain to married women why they should be pleased with their spouse's infidelity:

The more desirable a man is (the more resourceful, the higher his social status, the physically more attractive), the larger the number of other women who would want to have sex with him regardless of whether he is married, either in an attempt to steal him away from his current mate (mate poaching) or in an attempt to be impregnated by him so that their child will have his superior genes but then to turn around and pass off the child as their current long-term mates' genetic offspring (cuckoldry)

That this aside suggests a kind of polygamy practiced by women (in the sense of having sex with more than one man) is not something Kanazawa wants to pursue.

That's because of his third bias, which is the desire to mostly view women as passive objects of male lust except for the fact that they are also in control of everything. Honest.

To see what I mean, note that Kanazawa has written nine posts on the Barbie doll as the evolutionary ideal. But why spend so much time discussing the characteristics of the gender which does all the sexual selecting? That doesn't seem to make much sense, especially given this statement by Kanazawa:

The power of female choice becomes quite apparent in a simple thought experiment. Imagine for a moment a society where sex and mating were entirely a male choice; individuals have sex whenever and with whomever men want, not whenever and with whomever women want. What would happen in such a society? Absolutely nothing, because people would never stop having sex! There would be no civilization in such a society, because people would not do anything besides have sex. This, incidentally, is the reason why gay men never stop having sex: there are no women in their relationships to say no. Sexually active straight men on average have had 16.5 sex partners since age 18; gay men have had 42.8.

In reality, however, women do often say no to men. (In my experience, they always do.) This is why men throughout history have had to conquer foreign lands, win battles and wars, compose symphonies, author books, write sonnets, paint portraits and 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. There would be no civilization, no art, no literature, no music, no Beatles, no Microsoft, if sex and mating were a male choice. Men have built (and destroyed) civilizations in order to impress women so that they might say yes. Women are the reason men do everything.

OK. Let's take this argument seriously (and ignore the insults in it, too). If men indeed are willing and able to have sex 24/7, why would they ever have bothered to check out which babes are the most fertile? Each act of sex takes only a few minutes, after all, and the prehistoric day on the savanna is a long one. It doesn't seem to make sense for such men to be so choosy about women. They have plenty of sperm and plenty of stamina and they can go on all day long. Never mind if they happen to have sex with a few tree trunks or whatever, there's plenty more left for all the babes, right?

That whole quote is pretty nasty to us women, because it implies that all civilization is created by men alone. But that's what comes from ahistoricity, I guess. Note also that there are other ways of explaining the benefits of civilization than the use of sexual spurs.

It is hard to avoid the feeling that Satoshi Kanazawa really doesn't like women very much. Just try reading through his blog posts on Psychology Today without getting that feeling. Then try to think of reasons why Psychology Today lets him post without even comments. Makes a girl scratch her blond head, it does.

Here is the best example of the way he shows us how much he loves us*:

Another fallacy on which modern feminism is based is that men have more power than women. Among mammals, the female always has more power than the male, and humans are no exception. It is true that, in all human societies, men largely control all the money, politics, and prestige. They do, because they have to, in order to impress women. Women don't control these resources, because they don't have to. What do women control? Men. As I mention in an earlier post, any reasonably attractive young woman exercises as much power over men as the male ruler of the world does over women.

Funny, isn't it? Let's pass by that zoological blunder and move straight to the meat of the argument, the one I have bolded for you. So women are actually in power, even though they don't control the resources, because any reasonably attractive young woman has as much power over men as the male ruler of the world does over women?

Yup. Any seventeen-year old blond babe has power over the richest man on earth! Well, at least for a few minutes. Even half an hour. And she needs no laws to hold onto those resources that she now controls. For a few minutes, at least.

I'm looking at the cheese sandwich by my computer, waiting to be eaten. It's kinda blond, you know, and very attractive to me. If it could negotiate, it might ask for all my resources in exchange for a few bites.

But then I'd just go downstairs and make another cheese sandwich. Sigh. Remember that this man is the scientific fundamentalist who has the hard facts on evolution.

That whole post on feminism is really very nasty. According to Kanazawa the women with the most power on this earth would be found in places like Afghanistan.

The fourth bias Kanazawa has is a very odd one, given his desire to grab all objective science (mineMINEmine) into his own hands. It's an anti-science bias of the weirdest sort. Wait for this. It's worth it:

As an aside, Mr. Lal was trained in mechanical engineering and currently works as a software engineer. He does not have any background in psychology, let alone evolutionary psychology, and has not taken any biology class since high school. (But then again, neither have I.) The fact that someone like Mr. Lal can offer a very insightful explanation of a puzzling phenomenon from an evolutionary psychological perspective suggests that Robert Wright's words in his 1994 book The Moral Animal are still true today: "For now, this is the state of evolutionary psychology: so much fertile terrain, so few farmers." The field of evolutionary psychology is still wide open. Anyone who is interested in the topic and has bright ideas, like Mr. Lal, can make a contribution to the field.

Bolds mine.


That was fun, wasn't it? Now I'm going to eat that sandwich.
*This is actually supposed to be from a review of Susan Pinker's book.
If you are interested in an actual critique of it, read this excellent series at Slate. It also takes apart Louise Brizandine's pot-boiler.

The Kanazawa Question. Part II.

To continue our introductory tea-party with Satoshi Kanazawa, I was also struck by the ahistoricity of his arguments:

Blondes And Evolution

For instance, Kanazawa argues that men have always preferred blondes, because blond hair signals youth in women and young women are more fertile. Thus, men who were drawn to youth left more offspring and also passed on this desire for youth to their male offspring. But remember that these preferences were rigidly fixed about 30,000 years ago on the African savanna. Did blond babes wander around there, stroking mammoths and gathering flowers?

And if they did, how come aren't women blond all over the world today? They should be, based on that basic story.

To solve this dilemma, Kanazawa suddenly moves the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation (EEA, the term for the mythical place where all the gene-setting is supposed to have happened 30,000 years ago) to Northern Europe:

In Africa, where our ancestors evolved for most of their evolutionary history, people (men and women) mostly stayed naked. In such an environment, men could accurately assess a woman's age by the distribution of fat on her body or by the firmness of her breasts (as I discuss in a previous post). Men in cold climates did not have this option, because women (and men) bundled up in such environments. This is probably why blonde hair evolved in cold climates as an alternative means for women to advertise their youth. Men then evolved a predisposition to prefer to mate with women with blonde hair in response; those who did on average had greater reproductive success than those who did not, because, unbeknownst to them, they ended up mating with younger, healthier women with greater reproductive value and fertility.

See how easy that was? But what about the Aleut women? Surely they should have fair hair, too?

There's another problem with this explanation, and that is the fact that much of the Scandinavian fair hair doesn't actually change with age until the time when it goes gray. It's not a great indicator of youth. (I can't help trying to imagine what kind of a society these people were supposed to have in the EEA. Didn't they know anybody? Did men walk around on the frozen tundra, checking out heads? It seems much more likely that people 30,000 years ago lived in small societies where everybody knew everybody else.) -- Then there's the HUGE problem created if we allow for several EEAs as Kanazawa seems to be arguing. People would then have different evolutionary psychologies, right? Or could have them, depending on whether they were fixed on the tundra or the savanna.

I call Kanazawa's approach ahistoric because it takes something from the Western culture and interprets it as an evolutionary trait. But of course Kanazawa's field of Evolutionary Psychology is also explicitly ahistoric in that it ignores cultural evolution and all proximal causes for the events it studies. Good researchers in the field try to control for those. Others don't even try. Yet the proximal explanations are often the more obvious ones, and to simply not discuss them makes the offered evolutionary explanation look even iffier.

Take Kanazawa's discussion on polygyny (the practice of one man marrying several women):

Once married to a man, it is in the reproductive interest of the woman to monopolize access to all of his resources (material or otherwise) so that he would invest them in her joint children with him. Any sexual relationship he may have with other women might potentially jeopardize her exclusive access to his resources, so obviously it is in her interest to make sure that he does not have sexual relationships with other women.

The problem, however, is that, as I explain in a previous post, mating among all mammalian species (including humans) is a female choice; it happens whenever and with whomever the female wants, not whenever and with whomever the male wants. The more desirable a man is (the more resourceful, the higher his social status, the physically more attractive), the larger the number of other women who would want to have sex with him regardless of whether he is married, either in an attempt to steal him away from his current mate (mate poaching) or in an attempt to be impregnated by him so that their child will have his superior genes but then to turn around and pass off the child as their current long-term mates’ genetic offspring (cuckoldry).

The most cursory glance at the history of marital customs suggests that mating has not been a female choice in many cultures. Indeed, arranged and forced marriages were (and still are) common, and so were severe legal punishments of women who did make their own choices outside marriage. Kanazawa does not discuss this, because his approach is ahistoric and because he assumes no evolution in the last 30,000 years.

The Sterile Box Of The EEA

What is it that we get in place of history? The sterile box of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation.

Remember that evolutionary psychology is based on the arguments(not necessarily facts) that evolution stopped about 30,000 years ago, that human psychology was fixed at that time, and that all this happened (in most accounts) somewhere in Africa. It is obviously of tremendous interest to understand what that place, the EEA, was like.

But on the whole Kanazawa doesn't enlighten us on that. Based on his blog posts, it was just a large empty box into which goes anything Kanazawa likes and nothing he dislikes. A theoretical construct, if you like. But in reality those prehistoric humans must have had ways to make a living, a climate to contend with and some form of family or tribe to belong to. Many of the Evolutionary Psychology arguments ignore such constraints and replace them with parables coming from the sperm and the egg. A frequent assumption seems to be that the men had access to a vast number of female strangers and that they had to learn how to pick the most fertile ones quickly. But such a tribal setting sounds most unlikely to me.

It is this sterility of the EEA concept which is its main attraction to the many amateur Evolutionary Psychologists. It allows for all sorts of JustSo stories, intellectual games of trying to figure out why everything in today's society might have been an evolutionary adaptation once. But it is that very sterility which means that alternative JustSo stories can work every bit as well. The ones you pick tell a lot about your personal biases, by the way.

Which brings me to the final topic in this introduction to Kanazawa, to be described in the third and last post of this series.

The Kanazawa Question. Part I.

Is whether I should write about professor Satoshi Kanazawa or not. On the one hand, I have already done so to the tune of thousands of words on this blog, and he is not that interesting.

On the other hand, he has offered himself as the face of the kooky kind of evolutionary psychology, often called Evolutionary Psychology with capital letters, the kind which discusses male virility, big-breasted babes and coy women, the kind which demands to be taken seriously as a biological science, without actually doing any gene research, for instance. Or very much properly controlled empirical research, either. Never mind. The Evolutionary Psychologists plan to take over all social sciences (they actually do plan this)! Then everything will be explained by big-breasted but coy women and men who hump all day long!

Most of it would be quite hilarious except for the fact that Kanazawa now writes a blog on Psychology Today (without allowing comments, by the way), and what he says in those blog posts of his is pretty dangerous stuff. The Men's Rights Advocates worship him as a semi-god, and anything like that must be based on some sort of woman-bashing. And bash women Kanazawa does, most excellently. For instance, men have created EVERYTHING: art, literature, technology, just to impress women and to get them to fuck them. And because our Pleistocene-based genetic makeup (of which we have no actual evidence) is fixed as it was 30,000 years ago (see post below for more on this), this is how things shall always be. Take that, you stupid women.

That is all pretty bad, isn't it? Kanazawa also argues that sexual harassment is a natural guy thing, whether guys treat you as one of them or whether they treat you as a coy object to be impregnated, and all this appears to deserve some attention.

On the third hand, it might be better to just let Kanazawa go on, because what he says is such bad PR for the whole field of Evolutionary Psychology that we might get better evolutionary psychology sooner. What do you think? Are readers able to judge really stoopid stuff when they see it?

I'm not convinced of that, and because nobody else will stoop to writing about Evolutionary Psychology and especially Kanazawa's misogynistic versions of it I probably should. The minute someone properly qualified wants to pick up the task I shall do a Snoopy dance. (Though what "properly qualified" might mean in that field is most unclear.)

Are you with me so far? Let's go and get acquainted with Satoshi Kanazawa, The Scientific Fundamentalist. Yes, that's what he calls himself. His blogs also tell us that he is giving us the hard facts about evolution. That's because he has a time-machine which allows him to flit back-and-forth to the Pleistocene era and because he has Secret Knowledge not yet available for geneticists. Mmm.

Hard Scientist.

That's how Kanazawa sees himself. But his tone is all wrong for a scientist. I know many social scientists, and almost to a person they are fairly humble creatures when it comes to their actual work, admitting uncertainties and discussing alternative ways of looking at problems. I have never met one who would yell at you about him having all the truths, standing there with his arms folded ready to punch the first person questioning anything. He is almost threatening, you know. Anyone who criticizes him is already in the wrong, because he holds the TROOF!

That doesn't sound like a scientist to me. It sounds like a religious fanatic, actually.

The ethical scientist.

Kanazawa argues that it is important to make a distinction between "what is" and "what ought to be". He is only addressing the former! That means he is very very neutral, very scientific (and don't look at his data!). Of course "what ought to be" often translates into "what is" over time and so on, but the basic premise is clear enough: He is going to avoid value judgments.

And then he writes a post about why modern feminism is illogical, unnecessary and evil! That is a value judgment, my fried friend (left that typo in as it's funny). That scientific neutrality didn't last very long, did it now?

What about all those hard facts

Kanazawa alone controls? His recent book, called Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters*, has been criticized for statistical mistakes which refute the results of the study the title refers to: In fact, we have NO IDEA if beautiful people have more daughters than ugly people. Kanazawa appears to have ignored this criticism altogether, going on as if his conclusions still apply.

One of his blog posts discusses the ideal waist-to-hip ratio and its universality in all cultures:

The outcomes are remarkably uniform in every experiment in every country; most men prefer women with a .7 waist-to-hip ratio, and most women prefer men with a .9 waist-to-hip ratio.

But in fact at least two studies have demonstrated that this presumed universality of the .7 ratio is false (I haven't checked on the .9 ratio). Men in different cultures choose differently, and extending allowable ratios towards a humanly impossible wasp waist in one study made that the most preferred choice of many men.

I am not sure why Kanazawa ignores the studies which contradict his argument. Perhaps he isn't following literature outside his own writings that much? Or perhaps his "hard facts" can never be changed by evidence. Who knows?

A few more examples:

In a different post Kanazawa argues that women have always had a longer average life expectancy than men:

However, in the only two biologically meaningful measures of welfare – longevity and reproductive success – women are and have always been slightly better off than men. In every human society, women live longer than men, and more women attain some reproductive success; many more men end their lives as total reproductive losers, having left no genetic offspring.

But this is in fact, untrue, if we look at historical evidence. That women currently live longer, on average, is true. But this was not always the case. (Incidentally, note the use of extreme values in his reproductive success argument. He compares women to the worst of men, not to the great inventors and sperm-flingers he usually talks about. Now those guys have it good!)

Later in the same post Kanazawa states:

Women used to be a lot happier than men despite the fact that they made much less money than men. The sex gap in happiness (in women's favor) has declined in the past 35 years as the sex gap in pay (in men's favor) narrowed. Now women make as much as, sometimes even more than, men do. As a result, today women are just as unhappy, or even more unhappy than, men are. As I explain in a previous post, money does not make women happy.

That quote has not just one but three errors. First, women were not "a lot happier than men." Second, women today do NOT earn as much as men, on average (check out my series on the gender gap in earnings). Third, the construct "as a result" is incorrect, because the study Kanazawa refers to explicitly rejected the idea that women in the labor force or high-earning women were the cause of the supposed increases in female unhappiness.

These are by no means the only examples of questionable "facts" in Kanazawa's posts, but they should suffice to demonstrate that just calling facts "hard" ain't necessarily so.

That's it for Part I of the Kanazawa question. Part II addresses a few additional problems with his approach and Part III his biases.
*The Amazon reviews of the book are fascinating, because someone is trolling them. Also, see this discussion there.

On Evolutionary Psychology

If you happened to have read some of those Kanazawa rants at Psychology Today, you might feel ready for a somewhat more in-depth treatment of some of the issues that bother me in evolutionary psychology.

An excellent primer is
Smith, E.A., Borgerhoff Mulder, M. and K. Hill (2001). Controversies in the evolutionary social sciences: A guide to the perplexed. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 16(3):128-135.

It is well worth the effort it might take to read, because it clearly explains the limitations and problems with evolutionary psychology.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Echidne The Girl Detective

Found out something odd. A story at New Scientist, about possible evolution of humans today, goes like this:

Women of the future are likely to be slightly shorter and plumper, have healthier hearts and longer reproductive windows. These changes are predicted by the strongest proof to date that humans are still evolving.

Medical advances mean that many people who once would have died young now live to a ripe old age. This has led to a belief that natural selection no longer affects humans and, therefore, that we have stopped evolving.

"That's just plain false," says Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University. He says although differences in survival may no longer select "fitter" humans and their genes, differences in reproduction still can. The question is whether women who have more children have distinguishing traits which they pass on to their offspring.

To find out, Stearns and his colleagues turned to data from the Framingham Heart Study, which has tracked the medical histories of more than 14,000 residents of the town of Framingham, Massachusetts, since 1948 – spanning three generations in some families.
Pass it on

The team studied 2238 women who had passed menopause and so completed their reproductive lives. For this group, Stearns's team tested whether a woman's height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol or other traits correlated with the number of children she had borne. They controlled for changes due to social and cultural factors to calculate how strongly natural selection is shaping these traits.

Quite a lot, it turns out. Shorter, heavier women tended to have more children, on average, than taller, lighter ones. Women with lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels likewise reared more children, and – not surprisingly – so did women who had their first child at a younger age or who entered menopause later. Strikingly, these traits were passed on to their daughters, who in turn also had more children.

Then have a look at the picture they are using next to the story to show the kind of slim and tall woman who is going to go extinct:

A bit biased, eh? Note the suit and the briefcase.

FairAndBalanced Fox News

Something to clear your palate while working on today's menu from me.

The New Career Choice For Women: High-End Prostitution!

Did you ever read Freakonomics by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner? I never did, what with being an economist-n-all. Anyway, these gentlemen have written a new book, called Superfreakonomics, and the Internet is abuzz with the way they discuss global warming in it. As in "wrong". But few are probably going to feel that there's anything wrong with the way they discuss prostitution:

There is one labour market women have always dominated: prostitution. Its business model is built upon a simple premise. Since time immemorial and all over the world, men have wanted more sex than they could get for free. So what inevitably emerges is a supply of women who, for the right price, are willing to satisfy this demand. But what is the right price?

Sudhir Venkatesh, a sociologist at Columbia University in New York, spent his graduate school years in Chicago, embedding himself with a street gang that practically ran a South Side neighbourhood. Along the way, he became an authority on the neighbourhood's underground economy, and began collecting data on the local prostitutes.

Knowing that traditional survey methods don't necessarily produce reliable results for a sensitive topic like prostitution, Venkatesh hired trackers to stand on street corners or sit in brothels with the prostitutes, directly observing some facets of their transactions and gathering more intimate details from them as soon as the customers were gone.

Most of the trackers were former prostitutes — an important credential because such women were more likely to get honest responses. Venkatesh also paid the prostitutes for participating in the study. If they were willing to have sex for money, he reasoned, surely they'd be willing to talk about having sex for money. And they were.

It turns out that the typical street prostitute in Chicago works 13 hours a week, performing 10 sex acts during that period, and earns an hourly wage of approximately $27. So her weekly take-home pay is roughly $350. This includes an average of $20 that a prostitute steals from her customers and drugs accepted in lieu of cash.

Their income of roughly $18,000 a year is next to nothing compared with what even low-rent prostitutes in Chicago earned 100 years ago. A woman working in a "dollar house" took home the equivalent of about $76,000 today annually, while prostitutes at the Everleigh Club, the city's top brothel, could earn the equivalent of about $430,000.

Why has the prostitute's wage fallen so far? Because demand has fallen dramatically. Not the demand for sex. That is still robust. But prostitution, like any industry, is vulnerable to competition.

That competition, dear ladies, is you giving it out for free! So let's return to the beginning of that quote: " Since time immemorial and all over the world, men have wanted more sex than they could get for free. So what inevitably emerges is a supply of women who, for the right price, are willing to satisfy this demand. But what is the right price?"

So why would the supply of "free" sex have risen? What is so different from the new generation of women,eh? Are they rather stupid, not to realize that you'd make more by charging for fucking? Or let's put it in reverse: Why was the supply of "free" sex so much less in the past?

Levitt and Dubner don't seem to answer these questions for us (at least in the above excerpt I found). But they are very important questions, after all, and their answers have something to do with the way societies punished women who "supplied" "free" sex. You can still get stoned for it in a few places on earth.

By not answering these questions Levitt and Dubner make it sound as if men would always want more sex than they can get "freely", whatever the societal setup. Yet the amount they appear to get has risen over time, and in theory, at least, it's possible to imagine a society where the "supply" of "free" sex would be enough to cause the prostitution markets to die out.

Is it really true that prostitutes in the past earned so very much? Even those at the bottom of pay scale? The excerpt above compares today's street prostitutes to prostitutes who worked from brothels in the past. Were there no street prostitutes in those days of yore? The point I'm trying to make is that we need to compare like with like, and I'm not sure if the above comparisons really are of that type.

Never mind. Levitt and Dubner discuss a study of today's street prostitutes and their lives and then skip happily over to interview one high-end prostitute who is making loads and loads of money! In fact, the more she charges, the more customers she gets, and the more she earns with less work! It's totally TEH career of the future for us wimminz. Note that we are not talking about street prostitution here, nope. We are talking about competing with the Trophy Wife markets:

About this, Allie is probably wrong. Although she views herself as similar to a street prostitute, she has less in common with that kind of woman than she does with a trophy wife. Allie is essentially a trophy wife who is rented by the hour. She isn't really selling sex, or at least not sex alone. She sells men the opportunity to trade in their existing wives for a younger, more sexually adventurous version — without the trouble and long-term expense of actually having to go through with it.

For an hour or two, she represents the ideal wife: beautiful, attentive, smart, laughing at your jokes and satisfying your lust. She is happy to see you every time you show up at her door. Your favourite music is already playing and your favourite drink is on ice. She will never ask you to take out the rubbish.


Street prostitutes like LaSheena might have the worst job in America. But for elite prostitutes like Allie, the circumstances are completely different: high wages, flexible hours and relatively little risk of violence or arrest. So the real puzzle isn't why someone like Allie becomes a prostitute, but rather why more women don't choose this career.

That's the puzzle. Levitt and Dubner don't even TRY to answer that puzzle. It's something about the mysterious women, refusing to supply sex for good money, when they should. They are probably too stupid to realize that they could do that instead of getting married as trophy wives. Which is just prostitution under another name.

Levitt and Dubner don't actually properly tell us why Allie's profits rise as she raises her prices. It must be that she is exerting market power, as if she had a local monopoly in sex-for-money. But it isn't really sex she appears to be selling as much as "trophy-wifeness": The proper way for a wife to act. Or that's what Levitt and Dubner hint at.

It's all pretty fascinating. Like picking up a rock and looking at the slimy critters wiggling all over each other. Because ultimately Levitt and Dubner are arguing that women sell sex and men buy it, even when we talk about marriage. That means that if you pay a woman enough, she will act as a proper trophy wife. Or she should act that way. Or something like that.

And high-end prostitution is completely vanilla. No customer ever wants to hurt the prostitute, no. They bring wine and gift cards! They are harmless married dentists or stockbrokers! They just want to enjoy a moment when women act like they should act at home, too.

Let's go back to that first excerpt, about men always having wanted more sex than they could get free. There's no actual evidence for that, but never mind. Let's set up something similar but in reverse:

Since time immemorial and all over the world, women have wanted more romance than they could get for free. So what inevitably emerges is a supply of men who, for the right price, are willing to satisfy this demand. But what is the right price?

But such a market has never existed, to my knowledge. Why would that be? Worth thinking about, this one. It also links to the whole attitude of Levitt and Dubner.

The picture above was selected to draw attention to the way women's legs are used in the linked excerpt to the chapter on prostitution.

How To Get A 24-Hour Migraine With Frequent Vomiting

Easy-peasy! First spend several hours on the Psychology Today site, where you find the misogynist Satoshi Kanazawa preaching us on the evils of feminism and how Barbie is an evolutionary construct! No-one there argues back to his ideas. He doesn't allow comments and there's no other blog written by someone critical of his ideas.

And no-one there appears to know (or care) that the study his recent book (Why Beatiful People Have More Daughters) is named for was completely faulty: We don't actually know why beautiful people have more daughters because most likely they do not.

You could stop at this point, naturally, if you weren't obsessive-compulsive or something. But that would have been too easy, so you slip-and-side onto a Men's Rights site, because of a quotation you find where someone says that Kanazawa has proven, completely and finally, how men MUST be the bosses of wimminz.

The Men's Rights sites vary a lot, from truly ghastly (kill-all-women) to pretty ghastly (menz-do-everything-better). This one (which I'm not going to link to) is interesting because it has a whole lot of articles which you can read to find the theoretical underpinnings of what they are to believe. Those articles, for instance, tell us that the gender gap in wages doesn't exist at all. In fact, women earn more than men for the same work! Eat that, you silly feminist economist.

As an aside, that's one of the major problems of the Internetization of all these debates. People now accept different studies as the troof, and hence the debate has become pretty much impossible. How could I debate those MRA guys when they already believe that a) women earn more than men, b) the problem with rape is mostly false accusations and c) feminists are in power in this country? If I give them studies which disprove those things they won't find them in their short list of Approved Sources. The end of the story.

But this particular site wasn't just about those common topics. I followed one long thread from the beginning to the end, because it consisted of lots of visitors who actually tried to talk with the local denizens.

The odd thing is that I started with much empathy for some of those denizens: They were clearly men who had been horribly hurt by something in their lives and who had chosen to generalize from that hurt to all women. Even some of the nasty comments seemed to be based on hurt. It seemed as if they believed that white heterosexual men truly were the oppressed in this country! At any moment a PC policewoman could walk in and take them to jail for rapes they didn't commit.

But as the discussion continued, something odd turned up: Yes, they argue that women are in power in the United States, and that is wrong. But the desirable state is not equality. Nope. It is men who should be in power, because Satoshi Kanazawa and Steven Pinker have proved that to be the only possible arrangement. In short: what these Men's Rights Activists thought men's rights consist of is the right to dominate women.

My empathy had disappeared into a puff of bad air by this time. Then the migraine and the vomiting.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Food For Thought -- But You Shall Puke

Broadsheet, the women's blog at, reported on this New York Times article:

Somalia's hardline Islamist group al Shabaab has publicly whipped women for wearing bras they say violate Islam by constituting a deception, north Mogadishu residents said Friday.

The insurgent group, which seeks to impose a strict form of sharia Islamic law throughout Somalia, amputated a foot and a hand each from two young men accused of robbery earlier this month. They have also banned movies, musical ringtones, dancing at wedding ceremonies and playing or watching soccer. [ID:nL9050633]

Residents said gunmen had been rounding up any woman seen with a firm bust and then had them publicly whipped by masked men. The women were then told to remove their bras and shake their breasts.

All that is horrible. Then check out some comments to the Broadsheet post:

At Least Have The Common Decency

To give them poles to twirl around on.


It Is Now Officially The Most Breastisis-Obsessed Week EVER On Broadsheet

What's up with the lack of linkage or pics, though?

I wanna see Somali ladies shaking their titties, too...

Maybe it's over here?


Show Us YOUR Tits, Tracy!

Stop teasing us with stories about Somali ladies' sweet jubblies! We wanna see the Broadsheet bazookas!

Compassionate and empathetic these guys are not. Neither do they have anything useful to say, though it's of some interest that they are essentially engaging in sexual harassment.

I have recently spent some time on various science-y sites, reading posts by professors of anthropology and such. They get comments almost as bad. It's enough to WAF: Write As Feminist.