Links of Great Interest 10/16/09

Ummmm. This just sounds like BAD SCIENCE. Here’s more.

Jamaal Young reflects on Barack Obama winning a Nobel Prize.

Bet you’ve been wondering how to be a better feminist.

Why the heck is Rita Hayworth on this list of incest defenders? Saying you were abused /= defense.

This is just a shout-out to all the LJ Smith fans out there…

Here’s the prologue to Redick’s The Rats and the Ruling Sea. UK readers: this piece just dropped so grab it quick.

Newspaper Rock tears apart an anti-NDN article.

The fashion world needed more blackface because Barbie’s got fat ankles.

This is a great Coming Out Day sermon.

I don’t understand why this “no iPod” rule is selectively followed. Runners, help me out?

Ralph Lauren has some ongoing fail.

Wow. This teacher used racist, homophobic language, and people are DEFENDING him? Peep the comments.

This is a massive archive of black women’s writing from the 19th century.

Ummm.Damn, I heard about driving while black, but I didn’t know we had to watch out for seizures, too. More here.

Some of the press about Impossible Motherhood: Testimony of an Abortion Addict is really interesting.

Is Off Our Backs a racist organization?

Star Jones talks about race in the Polanski case.

Comments

  1. Dom Camus says

    Wow. This teacher used racist, homophobic language, and people are DEFENDING him?

    Also, it’s not just his use of language. Sometimes one sees thoroughly inappropriate use of language which is just poor judgement on the part of the speaker. But in this case his words were seemingly expressing exactly what he wanted them to express. So in fact these people are defending his propagation of homophobic and racist ideas to his class.

    It’s a distinction I’d like to see drawn more often. Because people make mistakes, or have things they need to learn… and I don’t want to see “benefit of the doubt” measures applied in cases like this. He needs firing.

  2. says

    how are you defining “bad science”? there is insufficient information in the article to to make a determination as to whether brody’s methodology was flawed.

    furthermore, the possible antidepressant effects of exposure to semen have been documented elsewhere.

    the potential misuse of such information (or theory) may lead individuals to make bad sexual decisions, from an STD exposure standpoint. but that doesn’t mean the researcher has engaged in faulty scientific investigation or reasoning.

  3. Pocket Nerd says

    I have to agree with Jenny on this one— the universe is not obliged to obey our sensibilities, so science occasionally turns up uncomfortable or unpopular truths. This isn’t necessarily bad science.

    I would want to see the details of Professor Brody’s samples and methodology, however. It’s very easy for our own biases and preconceptions— even if we don’t think we have any— to creep into our research, which is why double blinds are so important. I’d want to see his research submitted for peer review and validated by other scientists before I start shouting it from the rooftops.

    Worse, The media reliably covers science poorly, getting facts wrong, misunderstanding implications, and generally being as sensationalistic as possible. Even if Brody’s research is rock-solid and demonstrably factual, news bozoids will still manage to mangle it. “Unprotected sex is good for you!” is a very dangerous message. Even if it’s true in the specific case Professor Brody suggests, it’s still both false and harmful in the general sense implied by the headline.

  4. says

    Uh, no, read the Brody article – enough of the “methodology” is in there to see how shoddy it is.

    Mr Brody based his conclusions on a study of the sexual behaviour of 99 women and 111 men in Portugal. They filled in questionnaires about the pleasure they derived from their sex lives and contraception use.

    That’s not a sample pool by any true scientific standard. It’s way too few people, and too restricted in location to bar cultural influences. And self-reporting? That’s very soft “science” and requires an even bigger, more diverse sample pool to merit distilling into conclusions.

  5. Pocket Nerd says

    I did read the article. I just don’t trust The Scotsman (or most other popular media) to report the details correctly. How many times have you read headlines declaring “NEW DISCOVERY OVERTURNS ALL KNOWN PHYSICS” or “SCIENTIST PROVES EINSTEIN WRONG!!” If the world of scientific research were as flashy and capricious as the media suggest, we’d all be riding genetically engineered robo-dinosaurs to work at the psychic android factory on the Moon.

    That’s what the specialized peer-reviewed scientific literature is for; articles are examined by other scientists, to ensure the methodology is sound and the conclusions are warranted. It’s not a rubber stamp, either. The process is arduous and papers failing to meet rigorous standards are rejected. Professor Brody will be published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, which is, as far as I can tell, a respected, peer-reviewed science journal, so I can only assume his research wasn’t quite as fatuous as The Scotsman suggests. I do know that 200 or so people isn’t a ridiculously low sample size, particularly for an initial study; if the research is fruitful, other psychologists and anthropologists will want to repeat the experiment with other groups, of varying size and cultural demographic, and see if they get the same results. Duplicating an experiment’s results with other teams and under other conditions is another sine qua non of the scientific process.

    That said…

    Psychology, including human sexual behavior— I dislike the term “sexology” because I tend to associate it with sensationalism, but that’s probably just a petty prejudice on my part— often relies on interview and questionnaire for research. This makes it vulnerable to the skew introduced by self-reporting. “Everybody lies about sex” is a cliche, but in this case, it’s an apt one. (For a particularly illuminating example, compare the average length of the human penis based on self-reporting to actually taking measurements.) This, along with implicit vulnerabilities to perception bias and selection bias, is one of the primary reasons physics and chemistry wonks pooh-pooh psychology as a “soft science.”

    These “soft sciences” (another term I don’t like, but useful enough for this situation) are especially vulnerable to “discovering” exactly what the researchers already believe. Let me again recommend Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man: White male scientists in the nineteenth century were delighted to “discover” that white men had larger brains than women and non-whites and that IQ correlated very strongly with whiteness, maleness, wealth, and social privilege— proving conclusively that the White Man truly deserved his position as master of the world. It was mostly bollocks, of course, and Gould does a fine job of demonstrating how the scientists managed to sneak in their own prejudices, generally without realizing they were doing so.

    “Sex without a condom is GOOD for you!” is a great example of “discovering” what one might already want to believe, so I’m skeptical.

  6. Patrick J McGraw says

    Indeed, the sample size and selection bias make any conclusions drawn from the study worthless.

    (This is one reason I love science. You HAVE to show your work.)

  7. Pocket Nerd says

    I really need to stop using the P-word in my posts. 18 hours in the moderation queue make Pocket Nerd a sad nerd.

  8. Pocket Nerd says

    (I also need to stop posting while sleepy. That should have been 12 hours, not 18, and the post should have had a smiley at the end to show I wasn’t actually upset…)

  9. says

    Sorry about the mod queue, P-Nerd. Sadly, a lot of the words we use around here for serious discussion are very popular with people promoting porn sites via spam.

    Beyond the issues of scientific method, I have a real problem with the formulation of the question to start with. It assumes a basic link between sex and mental health that I see no evidence of. And regardless of what this article says, it would seem to *have* to assume that somehow semen gets absorbed into a woman’s blood stream and goes up to her brain where happiness hormones are made, or else I’m not seeing how it could possibly impact HER mental health at all (unless it’s yet another study in which human mental health really just means “men’s mental health”).

    And then there’s the need for some perspective. In the 90s, we learned that because sperm had protein, and protein is good for skin, women should rub semen on their faces! The evidence does not merit the conclusion, because a billion readily-available compounds have protein, some much more than semen, and they don’t ever carry STDs, so by no means does the fact that semen’s got protein suggest that women ought to be putting it on their faces.

    You can blame press reporting for that all you want, and rightly so, but there’s one further question to be asked here, and while it’s more philosophical than scientific, failure to ask the right questions can be just as bad as asking the wrong ones, so:

    How many studies have sought to demonstrate how a female orgasm benefits a male partner? Anybody?

    *tumbleweed rolls on by*

  10. Pocket Nerd says

    Sorry about the mod queue, P-Nerd. Sadly, a lot of the words we use around here for serious discussion are very popular with people promoting porn sites via spam.

    No problem! (Sadly, I suspect this one will be caught as well… I need to stop talking about Naughty Bits!)

    Beyond the issues of scientific method, I have a real problem with the formulation of the question to start with. It assumes a basic link between sex and mental health that I see no evidence of. And regardless of what this article says, it would seem to *have* to assume that somehow semen gets absorbed into a woman’s blood stream and goes up to her brain where happiness hormones are made, or else I’m not seeing how it could possibly impact HER mental health at all (unless it’s yet another study in which human mental health really just means “men’s mental health”).

    And I have a problem with you having a problem with the formulation of the question. (^_~)

    Science is simply a tool for uncovering knowledge, and that knowledge in turn provides tools for better understanding and living in our world. Some quite useful discoveries have come from apparently silly or superfluous questions. Historically, the people most likely to say “You must not answer those questions!” or “You must not question those answers!” are those most interested in protecting the status quo. I humbly submit the current status quo does not serve the feminist cause.

    I don’t think it’s irrational to speculate on a link between sex and mental health. Sex is a powerful biological drive, at least for most people. The need to reproduce is fundamental to every species; it’s not surprising to discover it impacts other behaviors.

    And then there’s the need for some perspective. In the 90s, we learned that because sperm had protein, and protein is good for skin, women should rub semen on their faces! The evidence does not merit the conclusion, because a billion readily-available compounds have protein, some much more than semen, and they don’t ever carry STDs, so by no means does the fact that semen’s got protein suggest that women ought to be putting it on their faces.

    (o_0)

    That’s a new one to me… and it sounds completely nonsensical. “Since oils protect your skin, you should drink six quarts of PennzOil a day!” I don’t doubt what you’re saying, but it definitely sounds like urban myth founded on baseless pseudoscience, or just plain ol’ media sensationalism.

    You can blame press reporting for that all you want, and rightly so, but there’s one further question to be asked here, and while it’s more philosophical than scientific, failure to ask the right questions can be just as bad as asking the wrong ones, so:

    How many studies have sought to demonstrate how a female orgasm benefits a male partner? Anybody?

    *tumbleweed rolls on by*

    I think the problem here— and I suspect you’ll agree— is the sciences are still dominated by men. It’s getting better, but it’s still not good enough. The obvious solution is to give more women opportunities in science and engineering. That doesn’t just mean “hire more women.” It also means we must aggressively support programs for helping girls and young women develop the educational backgrounds they’ll need. It means we must end the harassment and prejudice women face in technical fields. Most importantly, it means we must stop telling girls that they shouldn’t be too smart, that being cute and a little bit helpless is the key to success in life. (And by “success” I mean “getting a man,” because gee, what could be more important than that?)

    (It wouldn’t hurt to stop promoting know-nothingism as a cultural value, but that’s not specifically a feminist issue.)

    Incidentally, humans are one of the few species in which females do experience orgasm. That alone suggests it probably has an important function, biologically speaking…

  11. says

    Okay, it sounds like you’re in the camp that thinks science can happen in a vacuum, separate from culture and privilege and all that good stuff, and I am not.

    “Science is simply a tool for uncovering knowledge” according to the prejudices and agendae of the people who are allowed to decide science’s mandate in a given culture. I’m not saying “You must not ask those questions”, I’m saying why are we asking these questions? Because we’ve been striving as a CULTURE for centuries to figure out how the male orgasm is really quite good for women, and the lucky recipients of semen should shut up their whining about wanting to be treated with respect and have orgasms of their own and just put out. Lie back and think of England, bitchez.

    I don’t think it’s irrational to speculate on a link between sex and mental health. Sex is a powerful biological drive, at least for most people. The need to reproduce is fundamental to every species; it’s not surprising to discover it impacts other behaviors.

    …and this is why homosexuality was a neurotic diagnosis according to the DSM until 1974 – because what’s wrong with these weirdos who don’t want to reproduce? They must be broken! This is why celibates are STILL being told they must be broken, and only people outside science are raising the truly objective questions: “what actually goes horribly wrong in the body of someone who doesn’t have reproductive sex? Nothing? Then do shut up, please, and stop telling people they need fixed, and until they crave a good ol’ heterosexual bang for the republic every week, they will remain broken!”

    That’s a new one to me…

    And that’s male privilege for you. As a woman who at one point ostensibly wanted to date men, gosh, I just couldn’t hear enough about this one! “But you know it’s good for you if I come all over your face while screaming ‘take that, bitch’, right? I mean, you would be healthier!”

    I suppose you haven’t heard the term “facial”, which refers to a very popular act in porn (and real life) in which a man ejaculates onto a female partner’s face. And it’s not degrading at all, no sir, because it’s good for the skin! Hell, gosh, it’s an act of love!

    I’m being facetious, and yet, do a search for “is semen good for my skin” and you will weep at the confused young women wanting to know if Loverboy really IS trying to help them clear up their acne by wanting to squirt on their faces. Next up: the cleansing properties of piss on acne. Take that, bitch!

    I think the problem here— and I suspect you’ll agree— is the sciences are still dominated by men.

    No. I mean, yes, that’s a problem, but the problem is still that when scientists of either gender formulate questions, they are still coming off a strongly patriarchal “what’s good for the gander is good for the goose” slant. They can’t help it. I’m coming off that slant, too.

    That doesn’t just mean “hire more women.” It also means we must aggressively support programs for helping girls and young women develop the educational backgrounds they’ll need.

    Yeah, but they’re still coming from a culture that treats women’s issues as an afterthought.

    Incidentally, humans are one of the few species in which females do experience orgasm.

    And if I’m not misinformed, we’re one of the few that can be held down and forcibly raped. Which would seem to negate the purpose of the female orgasm, wouldn’t it? If it’s all about reproduction. But you know, maybe *intelligence* is what we should be asking questions about. Consciousness. Maybe we should be wondering about the evolutionary purpose of brains that could come up with various forms of abortion over the centuries (it was done with herbs years ago). Maybe we should be marveling not at the wonders of jism, but at the wonders of brains that came up with birth control.

    One more thing you should know about why I don’t cut science any slack for its treatment of women’s issues: when I was 16, after fighting through tons of “I’m sure you’re okay, I can’t be bothered” doctors, I got diagnosed with PCOS, a hormone imbalance women can get. I was told to lose a few pounds. I was running track at the time, had no fat on me, and weighed 114. I started starving myself to try to lose muscle, because it was either that or lop off a limb. Doctors encouraged this, because “studies had shown fat causes PCOS – some women have to get underweight to get rid of enough fat to fix the PCOS.” I gained three pounds and again got a lecture from the doctor, and was encouraged to keep on starving.

    You see where I’m going?

    Now I’m much heavier, because starving ruined my metabolism, and eating less makes me gain weight and working out makes me gain weight, but every doctor who’s bitched about my weight, to whom I’ve told these things, just looks at me scornfully because they don’t believe me. Clearly, I’m just a fat, lazy, lying pig.

    But interestingly, last year, it came out that STUDIES INDICATING FAT CAUSED PCOS HAD NEVER REALLY BEEN DONE. Nope, it just made sense to blame fat chicks without research, didn’t it? And every doctor I had, bought into it. So they did, like, an actual scientific study. Guess what? Turns out PCOS causes weight gain, not the other way around. And in fact, there are probably a number of different disorders being lumped together as PCOS, and according to my current female ob-gyn, the only time PCOS is associated with fat is when a woman suddenly becomes 50 or more pounds heavier within a very short time – that’s PCOS screwing with her hormones. Other versions of PCOS have very little to do with weight, except that they make it very difficult to lose weight the way normal people can.

    She sent me to a female endocrinologist, and you know what happened? That woman told me “Lose a few pounds before you come back” as I was leaving. I told her I’d been struggling with my weight since I was 11, so how. She said to eat low carb. I told her I’d been low carb for the most part since 1994. She sighed and snapped, “Then just don’t gain anymore!” Jesus Christ, like I have any idea why I put on weight. I do know that NOT working out and eating total crap will maintain my weight, but I don’t feel good when I do that. So what should I do?

    See, science has never been there for me. I’ve always been completely on my own to practice fucking medicine on myself because science is so engulfed in its own prejudices and privileges that at no point am I even visible, let alone deserving of a real scientific answer.

    Science was radical when religion ruled the world and science was anathema. But now that science is largely accepted, it gets practiced the same way religion does: it goes where the privileged want it to and gets used as a tool of oppression.

  12. Dom Camus says

    Guess what? Turns out PCOS causes weight gain, not the other way around.

    This is a huge problem with the way science is done at the moment. Papers are published in peer reviewed journals, but in fields other than mathematics there is no guarantee that a particular paper’s reviewers will have a strong grasp of statistics. In particular, data which suggests correlation between two variables is constantly claimed as evidence of causation.

    Of course, there are plenty of scientists in all fields who are capable of using statistics correctly, but because we tend to view fields other than our own through a media filter we’re more likely to hear of flawed studies, since for obvious reasons their conclusions tend to be more “interesting”.

    (Full disclosure: I am a former mathematician and therefore not at all impartial with respect to this problem!)

  13. Pocket Nerd says

    Okay, it sounds like you’re in the camp that thinks science can happen in a vacuum, separate from culture and privilege and all that good stuff, and I am not.

    No. I think you’re misunderstanding me, or maybe I’m just not communicating clearly.

    “Science is simply a tool for uncovering knowledge” according to the prejudices and agendae of the people who are allowed to decide science’s mandate in a given culture. I’m not saying “You must not ask those questions”, I’m saying why are we asking these questions? Because we’ve been striving as a CULTURE for centuries to figure out how the male orgasm is really quite good for women, and the lucky recipients of semen should shut up their whining about wanting to be treated with respect and have orgasms of their own and just put out. Lie back and think of England, bitchez.

    Science is a tool, no more and no less. Like a hammer, it can be used for good or evil; it can be used to build houses, or to bash skulls. I’m saying we should build more houses and bash fewer skulls, metaphorically speaking.

    I never claimed any of this happens outside the society’s preconceptions and prejudices. But science is also an irreplaceable tool— unless you think we’d all be better off doing without technology. (I’m not being sarcastic. Some people really do think that, and frankly, I’m not interested in arguing with them. That gap is just too large for me to bridge.) I don’t think science is going away. At least, I hope it’s not. The message I’m trying to communicate is not “Silence, wenches! The God of Science commands you!” Rather, it’s “science is a tool, but too long it has been used exclusively by people who would rather keep you mute and subservient. Take it. Make it yours.”

    …and this is why homosexuality was a neurotic diagnosis according to the DSM until 1974 – because what’s wrong with these weirdos who don’t want to reproduce? They must be broken! This is why celibates are STILL being told they must be broken, and only people outside science are raising the truly objective questions: “what actually goes horribly wrong in the body of someone who doesn’t have reproductive sex? Nothing? Then do shut up, please, and stop telling people they need fixed, and until they crave a good ol’ heterosexual bang for the republic every week, they will remain broken!”

    No. Homosexuality was diagnosed as a mental illness because of the irrational xenophobia of (mostly male) psychologists and psychiatrists. Gradually, however, those who studied of human sexual behavior began to realize homosexuality was not a mental aberration; it was actually remarkably common, among humans, among hominids, and among numerous other species. It did not correlate strongly with the various forms of psychopathy. In short, there was no scientific reason to think homosexuality was a disease, or required treatment. I submit psychologists as a whole were ahead of the game on this one— they struck homosexuality from the roll of mental illnesses 35 years ago, whereas homosexuals are still struggling for mainstream acceptance today.

    (And I think you’ll find that educated and science-minded people are probably more accepting of homosexuality in general… although once again, the media, and the right-wing interests that own much of it, love to make a big noise about any research that can possibly be twisted into “QUEERS R BAD!!” I think you’ll also find homophobia correlates very strongly with anti-science, ignorance, and low education.)

    Note, too, that nobody has ever suggested homosexuals don’t have a sex drive. Without an urge to copulate, they wouldn’t be rubbing their slippery bits against people of the same sex— they just wouldn’t be rubbing their slippery bits at all. It’s not even fair to say that directing one’s sex drive toward people with whom one cannot possibly conceive children is “wrong,” or even “nonreproductive.” Humans are a social species, and kin selection plays a major role in our evolutionary strategies for survival. In other words, a homosexual, or even an asexual, is still contributing to the propagation of her genes if she contributes to the society in which she lives: Historically, our social groups tend to be related to us, and regardless of that, our relatives survive better of the tribe, city, or culture isn’t falling down around their ears.

    Incidentally, please note modern psychology talks more of “normative” than “normal”— i.e. different does not imply bad, nor does conformism imply good. Having no sex drive, or having an unusual focus for your sex drive, is not a problem unless it’s demonstrably harmful to yourself or others. (I.E. becoming aroused at trains isn’t a problem, but a compulsion to rape is, even though the latter could theoretically be procreative sex.)

    And that’s male privilege for you. As a woman who at one point ostensibly wanted to date men, gosh, I just couldn’t hear enough about this one! “But you know it’s good for you if I come all over your face while screaming ‘take that, bitch’, right? I mean, you would be healthier!”

    You’re right. That’s male privilege, not that I really had a choice on my sex. But if it makes you feel better, I would have thought that was ridiculous bullshit in the 90s as well, and argued passionately with anybody who suggested it was good for the skin without presenting clear evidentiary support.

    I suppose you haven’t heard the term “facial”, which refers to a very popular act in porn (and real life) in which a man ejaculates onto a female partner’s face. And it’s not degrading at all, no sir, because it’s good for the skin! Hell, gosh, it’s an act of love!

    I’m being facetious, and yet, do a search for “is semen good for my skin” and you will weep at the confused young women wanting to know if Loverboy really IS trying to help them clear up their acne by wanting to squirt on their faces. Next up: the cleansing properties of piss on acne. Take that, bitch!

    I do know what facials are. I suspect they’re not motivated by a desire to improve your partner’s appearance so much as a desire for symbolic dominance. I also think they’re creepy.

    (Of course, if any woman reading this particularly enjoys facials or urophilia, please don’t let my distaste stop you. Another forum I frequent uses the phrase “Your Kink Is Okay But It Is Not My Kink,” and I think that’s appropriate here.)

    I think the problem here— and I suspect you’ll agree— is the sciences are still dominated by men.

    No. I mean, yes, that’s a problem, but the problem is still that when scientists of either gender formulate questions, they are still coming off a strongly patriarchal “what’s good for the gander is good for the goose” slant. They can’t help it. I’m coming off that slant, too.

    So let’s change it! Yes, I know it’s not quite that simple, but isn’t that what this blog is about? I mean, the media is ridiculously patriarchal and man-driven, producing movies by men, for men, and often involving the implied or explicit degradation and powerlessness of women. I don’t see anybody here arguing for an end to movies or novels, though.

    (Hmmm. You know what I’d love to see? A blog dedicated to promoting feminism in science the same way THL does for entertainment media.)

    And if I’m not misinformed, we’re one of the few that can be held down and forcibly raped. Which would seem to negate the purpose of the female orgasm, wouldn’t it? If it’s all about reproduction.

    Actually, no, you’re dead wrong on that one. Rape, and other even more gruesome practices for which we don’t really have simple words in the English language, are not uncommon in the animal kingdom. Male rats gum up a female’s genitalia so no other rat can inseminate her… sort of an Elmer’s Glue chastity belt. Non-dominant orangutans reproduce by a strategy called “sneak and rape,” which is pretty much self-explanatory. In some species of insect, males rape other males, injecting their own sex cells so the raped male will pass on the rapist’s genes when it next mates.

    But simple arguments from “natural behavior” are fatuous, mostly because (as I pointed out above) humans are a social species, and a reproductive strategy that makes great sense for a solitary predator, or a non-social territorial species, not only don’t apply to us, they’re downright harmful. And beyond all that, of course, we have the capacity to weigh the moral value of what we do. Even if you could prove conclusively that serial rape was the absolute best reproductive strategy for human males (and, lest anybody be confused at what I’m saying, it’s not) that still wouldn’t make it morally okay to practice. (That’s called the naturalistic fallacy.)

    But you know, maybe *intelligence* is what we should be asking questions about. Consciousness. Maybe we should be wondering about the evolutionary purpose of brains that could come up with various forms of abortion over the centuries (it was done with herbs years ago). Maybe we should be marveling not at the wonders of jism, but at the wonders of brains that came up with birth control.

    Indeed! Our brains are huge, gaudy, and extremely expensive, biologically speaking. They’re about the only things that make us notable as a species.

    One more thing you should know about why I don’t cut science any slack for its treatment of women’s issues: when I was 16, after fighting through tons of “I’m sure you’re okay, I can’t be bothered” doctors, I got diagnosed with PCOS, a hormone imbalance women can get. I was told to lose a few pounds. I was running track at the time, had no fat on me, and weighed 114. I started starving myself to try to lose muscle, because it was either that or lop off a limb. Doctors encouraged this, because “studies had shown fat causes PCOS – some women have to get underweight to get rid of enough fat to fix the PCOS.” I gained three pounds and again got a lecture from the doctor, and was encouraged to keep on starving.

    You see where I’m going?

    Now I’m much heavier, because starving ruined my metabolism, and eating less makes me gain weight and working out makes me gain weight, but every doctor who’s bitched about my weight, to whom I’ve told these things, just looks at me scornfully because they don’t believe me. Clearly, I’m just a fat, lazy, lying pig.

    But interestingly, last year, it came out that STUDIES INDICATING FAT CAUSED PCOS HAD NEVER REALLY BEEN DONE. Nope, it just made sense to blame fat chicks without research, didn’t it? And every doctor I had, bought into it. So they did, like, an actual scientific study. Guess what? Turns out PCOS causes weight gain, not the other way around. And in fact, there are probably a number of different disorders being lumped together as PCOS, and according to my current female ob-gyn, the only time PCOS is associated with fat is when a woman suddenly becomes 50 or more pounds heavier within a very short time – that’s PCOS screwing with her hormones. Other versions of PCOS have very little to do with weight, except that they make it very difficult to lose weight the way normal people can.

    She sent me to a female endocrinologist, and you know what happened? That woman told me “Lose a few pounds before you come back” as I was leaving. I told her I’d been struggling with my weight since I was 11, so how. She said to eat low carb. I told her I’d been low carb for the most part since 1994. She sighed and snapped, “Then just don’t gain anymore!” Jesus Christ, like I have any idea why I put on weight. I do know that NOT working out and eating total crap will maintain my weight, but I don’t feel good when I do that. So what should I do?

    See, science has never been there for me. I’ve always been completely on my own to practice fucking medicine on myself because science is so engulfed in its own prejudices and privileges that at no point am I even visible, let alone deserving of a real scientific answer.

    Science was radical when religion ruled the world and science was anathema. But now that science is largely accepted, it gets practiced the same way religion does: it goes where the privileged want it to and gets used as a tool of oppression.

    I understand how you feel. Or, rather, I empathize; as you point out, I’m a product of male privilege, and I’ve never been on the receiving end of that sort of sexual prejudice. I’m watching my significant other go through similar problems; she’s a woman training to be an engineer, and she faces constant prejudice, ranging from “what do you think you’re doing in my class? WOMEN can’t understand this stuff!” to “oh, since this is especially hard for your puny female brain, I’ll pay lots of extra attention to you.” I’m proud of her, though; she’s blazing a trail, and as an engineer, she’ll make the environment marginally less hostile to the next women to choose careers in science.

    Yes, the powerful and privileged control science, as they control almost every other tool… but I don’t think the answer is to eschew science. I think the answer is to take it from them, as I said above. Reality is on our side here; science doesn’t care if you’re male or female, black or white, gay or straight. It just is. Take control of science. Make it your own. Don’t let men dominate the process any more.

    Jennifer, this has been a fascinating discussion, but our replies are growing beyond the comfortable constraints of this little comment boxes. Please, I invite you to have the last word. Thank you for listening, and for taking the time to discuss this with me; I always enjoy having my views challenged with well-informed and rational arguments.

  14. says

    Yeah, it’s not what science IS that’s a problem. Science is a good thing because it dares to question everything and apply critical thinking and standards. And people like Pocket Nerd and you get that, as do loads of dedicated (and probably very frustrated) researchers, and I appreciate and respect that.

    But constant questioning doesn’t bring in funding. It doesn’t publish papers. Scientists, however good or bad their various personal intentions, operate in an academic culture better suited to pure math, where you can actually have answers that are right or wrong, with no room for interpretation.

    And that’s because that’s what people, for the most part, want. We want simple answers. We don’t want to have to work anything out for ourselves – just give us an easy answer to memorize. I actually think that’s a big part of where prejudice comes from – we even want shortcuts to the act of getting to know and evaluating other human beings, so if we can eliminate an entire gender, skin color or whatever as “not to be associated with”, then YAY our work is done and we can squeeze in another game of golf.

    If we lived in a society where people by and large accepted that these shortcuts in thinking are not acceptable, and people who make them are not being responsible, then science could ask questions about whether semen benefits women somehow without pissing me off. Because that society would be at least as concerned about what PCOS does to a woman’s quality of life as it would be about whether men are getting laid in the precise manner they most enjoy. Maybe more so, since any serious comparison of what PCOS does to a life and what mildly disappointing condom sex does to a life would choose PCOS as the more serious problem.

  15. says

    I need to add one more thing, which is:

    Sex is a powerful biological drive, at least for most people. The need to reproduce is fundamental to every species; it’s not surprising to discover it impacts other behaviors.

    There is no scientific proof that sex is a powerful biological drive in humans purely because of biology. It’s another of those things, like any claim that men and women are inherently different, that can’t be divorced from culture. We are inundated from infancy with reasons to obsess on sex, with the expectation we will obsess on sex, and so we do. And we assume it’s what drives other species because… well, I have no idea actually. What on earth gives a human the narcissistic arrogance required to think we know how another species thinks?

    What if the reason our culture tries to make us obsess on sex is not because the urge is inherent, but because it’s fading naturally in our species, like it seems to be with pandas, who by the way seem to be an exception to your claim above? Maybe we’re losing that urge because it’s our time to go, or maybe it’s just that humans have talents which can drive us more fundamentally than our sex drives? We have drugs that some people find better than sex. Maybe we’re terrified that if we don’t keep everyone obsessing on sex, we’ll die out like pandas.

    Or maybe we’re afraid if we don’t keep people obsessing on sex, they’ll do something bloody extraordinary, and who knows where that might lead.

    Additionally, there are a lot of other exceptions to your claim about other species. There is homosexuality in a lot of species, for example. I don’t think there’s any way to know if there’s celibacy, but for all we know, it might occur.

    It makes no more sense to me for science to assume there’s a point to life and work backwards than it makes when religion does the same thing. Religion thinks we’re working toward an afterlife or something; science thinks we’re here to birth the next generation.

    No, true science realizes it can’t assume there’s a single point to every mechanism in animals and work backward to find the evidence. This is why evo-bio just isn’t real science, IMO. It rests on too many “facts” not in evidence.

  16. Anemone says

    I have read elsewhere (in women’s magazines for instance) that women who are sexually active tend to have better mental health. I have not read any scientific literature (not an area of interest), but if this is based on actual research, the scientific paper in question should mention it in the introduction. And if this is the case, it makes sense for scientists to wonder how it works. And some researchers lean towards chemistry while others lean towards social factors. (“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”) I gather the actual paper is not available online, so all we have is the news article. Which could be seriously distorted. Personally, I’d give the researcher a slight benefit of the doubt for now, but shred him if I didn’t like the paper itself.

    I do hate it, though, when psychologists talk about evolution. The invertebrate paleontologist in me thinks they know nothing. Certainly it’s a hot topic and everyone wants to link their work to it. (Not me, not me, at least not with respect to physical evolution.) I have no idea what function, if any, orgasms have, but I’m pretty sure sex in humans (no or only mild estrus, no mating season) has multiple functions, including reproduction, bonding, and dominance.

    I can see how the topic (“semen is good for women!”) could come across as biased by the general population. I can also see some biochemistry geek completely missing the social context, too.

  17. says

    My last two replies to Pocket Nerd were out of order – his comment before that was stuck in the queue at the time I was posting.

    I’ll just say one last thing, and that’s that I don’t think we’re disagreeing so much as seeing it from different angles. I don’t think women taking over science will work for the same reason women getting more jobs in H’wood hasn’t changed anything: the rules have to change. In H’wood, there are a lot of people who feel as I do (that white men are not the only people we want to see as having interesting stories). But the rule remains “your lead must be a white man.” We need the demographics of the workers in these fields to change, sure. But if the rules don’t change, it won’t help.

    In other words, at some point, the power establishment’s going to have to get over itself and admit it can be more inclusive without the world coming to an end.

  18. says

    Much as I like USA shows (Psych, Monk, Burn Notice) I am getting tired of yet-another USA show featuring a white guy lead and his white guy co-lead (White Collar).

    Then there are other networks: Mentalist (white male lead, white female co-lead), Castle (white male lead, white female co-lead–but she might be Latina, it’s hard to tell what with the white-washing of lead actors–see James Roday of Psych) and of course many others that aren’t coming to mind right now because that’s about the limit of my fiction TV watching right now.

    Afterlife on the BBC was interesting, but I missed the final season of that (it dropped off their schedule or something) and that other show you just reviewed sounds *really* interesting. I’ll have to look that up.

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