Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The teenage slut gene

NewScientist mag reports:
Sexual precociousness is in our genes, new research suggests. A unique study of twins separated at birth finds a genetic link to the age at which a person first engages in sexual intercourse. ...

However, determining the extent to which sexual precociousness is inherited is trickier than making a similar calculation for height. A common family environment – whether it promotes or hinders early sex – could cause scientists to overestimate the effect of genes.

Social effect
By studying 48 pairs of twins raised apart, as well as 23 individual twins, Segal's team sidesteps this confounding factor. "This gives us a pure estimate about how much genes affect behaviour," she says. ...

Segal's team also found that female participants who felt unhappy and unfulfilled in their home life were more likely to have sex at a younger age.
The estimate cannot possibly be that pure. There could be a gene that causes a girl to be "unhappy and unfulfilled" if she also has a lousy home life. Most behavior is probably partially genetic, but pure estimates are nearly impossible.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Benefits of spanking adults

Here is the lastest research on spanking therapy:
Spanking is stressful at first, but it could bring consenting couples closer together. That's the implication of two studies of hormonal changes associated with sadomasochistic (S&M) activities including spanking, bondage and flogging. ...

Nick Neave, a psychologist at the University of Northumbria, UK, says the results are interesting, but future studies should control for whether participants experienced orgasm, ...
I guess Neave wants to know whether the benefit comes from the spanking or the orgasm. I will be looking for the followup research.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Zoo apes found throwing rocks

This study got a lot of press as a big breakthru:
Planning for a future, rather than a current, mental state is a cognitive process generally viewed as uniquely human. Here, however, I shall report on a decade of observations of spontaneous planning by a male chimpanzee in a zoo. The planning actions, which took place in a calm state, included stone caching and the manufacture of discs from concrete, objects later used as missiles against zoo visitors during agitated chimpanzee dominance displays. Such planning implies advanced consciousness and cognition traditionally not associated with nonhuman animals.
Maybe these zoo chimps just happen to like collecting rocks, and throwing rocks at targets. Maybe they are bored and have nothing else to do.

The particularly far-fetched claim is that the chimps are planning for a future mental state. The theory is that they are only collecting the rocks because they anticipate being upset when the zoo visitors arrive, and that they will want to throw the rocks when they are in an upset mental state. This is anthropomorphism.

Humans might buy a bottle of aspirin in anticipation of having a headache later. Is this really supposed to be analogous behavior in chimps? I think that there are leaner explanations. Maybe the chimps collect the rocks because they want to throw them, and then hide them when they cannot find any targets. When the targets show up, they throw the rocks. No mental state analysis is necessary, except that these chimps like to throw rocks.

The article also says:
The behaviours also hint at a parallel to human evolution, where similar forms of stone manipulation constitute the most ancient signs of culture. Finds as old as 2.6 million years suggest that hominins carried and accumulated stone artefacts on certain sites, presumably a case of future need planning.
I think this guy has been watching Planet Of The Apes.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Crisis blamed on blue eyes

Brazil news:
Speaking in Brasília at a joint press conference with U.K. prime minister Gordon Brown, Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva blamed the global economic crisis on white people. ...

“This crisis was caused by the irrational behaviour of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything and now demonstrate that they know nothing. I do not know any black or indigenous bankers so I can only say [it is wrong] that this part of mankind which is victimized more than any other should pay for the crisis."
There are areas of Brazil with no white people. Maybe Lula should move there, and see how she likes it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

JAMA goes nuts defending psycho drugs

A WSJ blog:
Editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association, better known as JAMA, can be a little thin-skinned when it comes to outsiders taking issue with studies published in the prestigious medical journal.

Jonathan Leo, a professor of neuro-anatomy at tiny Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., posted a letter on the Web site of the British Medical Journal this month criticizing a study that appeared in JAMA last spring. The study concerned the use of the anti-depressant Lexapro in stroke patients. In addition to identifying what he said was an important omission in the paper — that behavioral therapy worked just as well as the drug when compared head to head in the study — Leo also pointed out that the lead author had a financial relationship with Forest Laboratories, the maker of Lexapro, that was not disclosed in the study.

Leo says he received an angry call from JAMA executive deputy editor Phil Fontanarosa last week, shortly after Leo’s article was published on the BMJ Web site. “He said, ‘Who do you think you are,’ ” says Leo. “He then said, ‘You are banned from JAMA for life. You will be sorry. Your school will be sorry. Your students will be sorry.”
Seth’s blog nails it. It is amazing to read what JAMA still has to say in defense of blackballing Leo for some legitimate criticism.

The JAMA author was quoted in the press:
I hope I don't have a stroke, but if I do, I would certainly want to be on an antidepressant.
Leo pointed out two problems with this claim: the study did not show that anti-depressant drugs had any statistically significant advantage over non-drug therapy, and the author had an undisclosed conflict of interest.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Taking the aisle seat

From yesterday's paper:
DEAR ABBY: Last night, I went to the movies and took an aisle seat in the back row. Two different couples came in late, and each one asked me to move over so they could sit together. I said, "I got here early, and I like this seat." I did not go on to explain ... Couldn't those people spend two hours separated by one seat from their spouse? -- MARSHA IN SAUSALITO, CALIF.
This doesn't even make any sense. If she took the aisle seat, then she would not have separated other seats.

I agree that she should not explain why she took the aisle seat. No one wants to listen to her problems. But she should not complain about latecomers climbing all over her to get to the available seats, either.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bear market movies

During bull markets, the Hollywood movies are uplifting movies with happy endings. I just saw the new movie Knowing. It is a bear market movie. Roger Ebert gives it 4 stars, his top rating (with a spoiler):
"Knowing" is among the best science-fiction films I've seen -- frightening, suspenseful, intelligent and, when it needs to be, rather awesome. ...

The plot involves the most fundamental of all philosophical debates: Is the universe deterministic or random? Is everything in some way preordained or does it happen by chance? If that questions sounds too abstract, wait until you see this film, which poses it in stark terms: What if we could know in advance when the Earth will end?
Yes, the world comes to an end. Everyone dies. The only ones who escape are 3 sinister space aliens and the 2 kids they kidnap.

The remarkable thing is that no one shows any interest in saving anyone. The atheist scientist and his Christian preacher father make no effort to survive. Most people spend their last hours looting. They are all morbid and depressed all the time, and completely fatalistic that horrible things are going to happen and there is nothing that they can do about it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sugar is sugar

I keep hearing people complain about how unhealthy High-fructose corn syrup, and how it is much worse than ordinary sugar. Here is the story.

The two simplest sugars are glucose and fructose. Ordinary table sugar is sucrose. Each sucrose molecule consists of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule joined together. When you eat sucrose, the first thing your body does is break it down into 50% glucose and 50% fructose. All of these sugars occur naturally in many plant foods.

High-fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, plus some water to make it liquid. It is cheaper than sucrose because Iowa grows corn and Cuba grows cane sugar, and the USA has policies favoring Iowa farmers. It is easier because it is liquid.

I don't see how HFCS could be any less healthy than sucrose. It is essentially the same stuff once it gets into your body.

Update: Here is some new research:
Two papers in the journal PNAS in 2007 and 2008 showed that glucose and fructose act quite differently in the brain (hypothalamus) - glucose decreasing food intake and fructose increasing food intake. ...

The fact that fructose metabolism by the brain increases food intake and obesity risk raises health concerns in view of the large and increasing per capita consumption of high fructose sweeteners, especially by youth.
I don't know if this is significant or not. It seems to me that all good-tasting foods make me want to eat more, and bad-tasting foods make me want to eat less. So maybe that makes good-tasting foods fattening.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

College donation brainwashing

The Dilbert cartoonist writes:
Suppose you hire a plumber to fix a leak. You pay him for his work and he leaves. A year later he calls back and asks if you would consider giving him additional money because you continue to get benefits from the repairs. In addition, he argues, you could help subsidize future customers that would otherwise not be able to pay for his services. Would that seem appropriate?

Now imagine he calls back every few months for the rest of your life, asking the same frickin' question every time. Would you be okay with that practice?

Private colleges do this sort of thing all the time and somehow it seems okay. It makes me wonder what-the-hell kind of brainwashing goes on in those institutions.
No, it is not okay. The college I attended used to ask for class dues in order to fund the alumni magazine subscriptions. Then the administration took over the magazine and made it more officially a fund-raising rag. They still call it a weekly, even tho it only comes out once or twice a month. And they still ask for class dues. It would make more sense to donate to AIG.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Map of Science

Los Alamos brags:
Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have produced the world's first Map of Science—a high-resolution graphic depiction of the virtual trails scientists leave behind when they retrieve information from online services.
According to their map, the most isolated branch is Child Psychology. Apparently people in that field don't rely on much real science in related fields.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Teenagers say arguing is normal

The Boston Globe reports:
Of those questioned, ages 12 to 19, 71 percent said that arguing was a normal part of a relationship; 44 percent said fighting was a routine occurrence.

The results of the survey, conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission across the city and equally among boys and girls, are startling for local health workers who see a generation of youths who seem to have grown accustomed, even insensitive, to domestic violence. ...

Health counselors are specifically concerned with teenagers' views of the controversy. Of the teens questioned, more than half said both Brown, 19, and Rihanna, 21, were equally responsible for the assault. More than half said the media were treating Brown unfairly, and 46 percent said Rihanna was responsible for the incident.
So what is so startling? Do the local health workers somehow know whether or not Rihanna is responsible for the incident?

Britain pays women to make rape allegations

Pierce Harlan, Esq.
Sexual assault advocates in the United Kingdom are constantly lobbying for changes in the law to jack up the UK’s purportedly low conviction rate for rape.

Sexual assault advocates also refuse to discuss a dirty little secret: some women in the UK likely lie about rape because they have a financial interest to do so. The UK compensates victims of non-forcible rape and even inappropriate touching over clothing. Consistent with the double standards so prevalent in this area, the UK does not compensate men who were falsely accused of rape, no matter how terrible their victimization.
British women get paid $15k for a rape, and $1400 for a claim of inappropriate touching. The claims do not have to be proved in court, and they rarely are.

Many people assume that sex crimes are underreported, but I suspect the opposite. When you give people incentives to make false claims, then people will make more false claims.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting a bathroom whupping

A Chicago newspaper reports:
Fewer topics are as culturally divisive as spankings. If you are black, you probably call the act of disciplining a child with corporal punishment "a whupping." ...

Schandelmeier-Bartels claimed that after she complained, an African-American program coordinator told her "It's a black thing: We beat our children."

Later, when she took the matter to Andrea Adams, her supervisor, she was again told: "This is how we discipline our children in our culture." ...

For those of you who don't know, a "bathroom whupping" usually happens after a child has acted out repeatedly in school or in public. In this case, the 6-year-old boy had gotten five write-ups for bad behavior during the summer program. A phone call was made to his mother, and his aunt picked him up.

The aunt asked Schandelmeier-Bartels "where the bathroom was."

When she returned to where she left the boy and his aunt, Schandelmeier-Bartels said she heard "Whack" "Ow" "Whack" "Ow" "Whack" "Ow" several times, according to the suit. She reported what she considered abuse to the state and the police.

The next day, the boy's aunt complained to Andrea Adams, the supervisor at the cultural center.

Schandelmeier-Bartels said her supervisor "yelled at" her, and told her to get out of her sight.

"Just because you don't beat your child doesn't mean she can't beat hers," Schandelmeier-Bartels said she was told. "Who are you to tell her how to raise her child?"
The complainer (Schandelmeier-Bartels) was fired, and then won a federal lawsuit.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pediatricians give bad TV advice

Reuters reports:
CHICAGO - Whether watching television hurts or helps babies' development has divided researchers and parents. A study released on Monday concluded it does neither.

The study of 872 children found no correlation between the amount of time they had spent viewing television before they reached 2 years of age and their progress at age 3. ...

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children younger than 2 never watch screen media, ...
People usually assume that pediatricians have some scientific data to support their recommendations. They often don't. They never had any scientific support for this TV recommendation.

Americans have goofy ideas about dreams

The NY Times reports:
The psychologists began by asking college students in three countries — India, South Korea and the United States — how much significance they attached to dreams. Relatively few students believed in modern theories that dreaming is simply the brain’s response to random impulses, or that it’s a mechanism for sorting and discarding information. Instead, the majority inall three countries believed, along with Freud, that dreams reveal important unconscious emotions.

These instinctive Freudians also considered dreams to be valuable omens, as demonstrated in a study asking them to imagine they were about to take a plane trip. If, on the eve of the flight, they dreamed of the plane’s crashing, they were more likely to cancel the trip than if they saw news of an actual plane crash on their route.
I would have thought that American college students would be less superstitious than Indians. I have run into otherwise educated and rational people who did not know that Freud's theory of dreams was complete nonsense. And your dreams are probably nonsense also.

Monday, March 09, 2009

UK domestic violence crackdown

A UK newspaper reports:
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was left ashen-faced at the launch of the Government's domestic violence campaign today when a campaigner accused her of using 'gimmicks' and 'spin'. ...

A poll carried out for the Home Office found that one in five people approved of men slapping wives or girlfriends for wearing revealing clothes in public. Some 6 per cent said it was always acceptable and 14 per cent said it was sometimes allowed.

Almost one in seven said women who nagged their husbands deserved to be hit.

The MORI Poll, which covered more than 1000 people nationwide, found around 13 per cent of those asked said assaults were sometimes justified if the woman was flirting with other men.

Ms Smith said the domestic violence campaign, which is touring England in March and April, would challenge the view that it was ever acceptable to attack your partner.
While they are at it, I think that they should launch a campaign against nagging, flirting, and wearing revealing clothes by wives and girlfriends.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Physicians want to tax chocolate

The Scotsman newspaper reports on the British Medical Association’s Scottish local medical committee conference next week:
Chocolate should be taxed in the same way as alcohol to tackle the obesity crisis, Scottish doctors will be told next week. Dr .David Walker, a Lanarkshire GP, … said increasing the price of products containing chocolate would help reduce consumption and bring in more money which could be used by the NHS to deal with the health problems caused by obesity….

"But babies and young children are on their way to being addicted to chocolate before they can even walk." Dr Walker said the government should look at defining products with certain levels of chocolate in them and tax them extra.
Maybe they should also tax low-calorie foods to help skinny people avoid them.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Do men objectify women?

SciAm reports:
Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske presented findings from a new study this past Sunday, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Chicago, where she and her colleagues compared, "...heterosexual men’s perceptions of scantily clad women, scantily clad men, and fully clothed men and women."

And what they found is the 21 male subjects had the best memory for photos of sexy bikini-clad women. ...

Fiske explained that the areas, the premotor cortex and posterior middle temporal gyrus, typically light up when one anticipates using tools, like a screwdriver. ...

Fisk also tested the men for levels of sexism and found a surprising effect those who scored high on this test, "...the hostile sexists were likely to deactivate the part of the brain that thinks about other people's intentions.
This is feminist research that attempts to classify normal men as diseased. Fiske is mindreading the men to claim that they are not doing enough mindreading of the women! Sometimes mindreading is not necessary.