Monthly Archives: September 2006

Yet more on gender stereotypes

Language Log is continuing their series of posts on gender stereotypes; I found this one on personality differences interesting. They look at a Science paper which ranks groups of men, women, and individuals with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome in terms of an “empathizing quotient” and “systematizing quotient”. Men on average score as more systematizing and women as more empathizing but there’s a large overlap between the distributions:

Those are the SQ distributions but the EQ ones look similar from the scatter plot. It turns out that one can take this personality test online. I come up with SQ=69 and EQ=32; perhaps surprisingly I am within 1σ of the mean for the male population on both indices.
It’s not entirely clear what these numbers say about me, other than that I’m more likely than most to have an organized record collection (alphabetized by artist, and each artist’s records ordered by release date, in case you’re wondering).

LHC as a black hole generator

Backreaction has a substantial and intriguing post about the production of micro black holes in particle accelerators (particularly the LHC). It’s a test for extra dimensions: in three-dimensional space it’s not possible to generate enough energy to create a black hole with a particle accelerator, but for theories of gravity involving extra dimensions, gravity gets stronger at short distances and this enters the realm of possibility. WIth crude approximations it’s possible to estimate that the LHC could produce one black hole per second.
This isn’t dangerous, since tiny black holes evaporate almost instantly through Hawking radiation. In fact, it’s a nice way to measure some properties of extra dimensions if they exist. However, it’s a problem for collider experiments in that information about small length scales becomes inaccessible.
The whole post is worth reading; it’s pretty cool even if supervillains looking for a Doomsday Device won’t find it useful.

Pirates Protest Procrastinated Post [Open Thread]

Pirates demanded a new open thread, so I will comply to avoid walking the plank. I have a bunch of CDs to review, but haven’t figured out what to say about them. Here’s the first one in the queue:
Ratatat: Classics: Ratatat is a band based on the notion that it would be awesome to make songs blending hip-hop beats, techno synth, and arena-rock guitar. Classics is a broader and more layered take on this concept than their self-titled debut album, and finds mixed success. Some of the more intricate songs, like “Lex”, hold together well, but others seem to meander while passing by potentially great moments. One of the great things about their previous record was the way songs would focus on a single brilliant riff and spend three minutes examining it, turning it upside down and inside out. There’s less of that here as they reach for a more complex sound. “Wildcat” and “Tropicana” can both be played at MySpace; both are decent with the latter being slightly better. The best song title on the CD is “Tacobel Canon”, and the track itself is appropriately Baroque-sounding. Rating: 3/5

They’ll have to change the Harvey Birdman song

In 2004 I was critical of liberals who declared their intention to leave the country if Bush was re-elected. However, recent developments have made me see it in a different light—there is something to be said for living in a country where habeas corpus rights are still respected. Note that Canada is not quite far enough away.
Senator Russ Feingold:

One of the most disturbing provisions of this bill eliminates the right of habeas corpus for those detained as enemy combatants. I support an amendment by Senator Specter to strike that provision from the bill. I ask unanimous consent that my separate statement on that amendment be put in the record at the appropriate point.
Habeas corpus is a fundamental recognition that in America, the government does not have the power to detain people indefinitely and arbitrarily. And that in America, the courts must have the power to review the legality of executive detention decisions.
Habeas corpus is a longstanding vital part of our American tradition, and is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
As a group of retired judges wrote to Congress, habeas corpus “safeguards the most hallowed judicial role in our constitutional democracy – ensuring that no man is imprisoned unlawfully.”
Mr. President, this bill would fundamentally alter that historical equation. Faced with an executive branch that has detained hundreds of people without trial for years now, it would eliminate the right of habeas corpus.

However, Specter’s amendment failed 48-51. If “enemy combatants” don’t have habeas corpus then nobody does, because there’s no way for you to contest your classification as an “enemy combatant”. Welcome to 21st century America, where we do not have the legal protections enjoyed by 14th century English peasants.
Meanwhile, the torture bill passed the House 253-168. The lists of the 168 Representatives and the 253 America-hating supporters of tyranny can be found here.
UPDATE: Senate bill passes 65-34, which is a wider margin than I expected and underscores the lack of Democratic spine on this issue. The roll call is here.

I have had it with these motherfucking snakes in this motherfucking Congress

I haven’t blogged much about the torture legalization bill that Bush is trying to get passed, but it’s really pretty frightening. On top of making torture the official policy of the United States, it also tosses out habeas corpus for detainees, so the President can abduct someone and torture them in a secret prison, without having to provide any justification. Bush is already doing this illegally, but instead of exercising their ability to hold the President accountable, Congressional Republicans are rushing to give up their power to a lawless executive. Look, if representative democracy is too hard for these guys, and they’d rather live in a dictatorship, maybe they’re in the wrong line of work.
As I understand it, the original rationale for denying habeas rights to enemy combatants was the impracticality of providing due process to prisoners of war captured on a battlefield. The Bush administration has already undermined this by applying “enemy combatant” status to detainees who had no actual involvement in combat, such as Jose Padilla. Kevin Drum has the latest amendment to the torture legalization bill, which makes this official by redefining “enemy combatant” to include people who have “purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States”. So under this bill the president can accuse someone of supporting terrorists, have him arrested, detained in a secret prison, and tortured, without ever having to provide evidence against him. Of course this is grossly unconstitutional, but there’s also a provision that bars courts from reviewing the constitutionality of these procedures.
I can’t get over the fact that we as a country are about to legalize torture and arbitrary imprisonment. I thought America was better than this.

Newsweek on the gender gap at Berkeley

Newsweek has an article on the gender gap in science, and looks at Berkeley’s physics department in particular:

To get a sense of how women have progressed in science, take a quick tour of the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley. This is a storied place, the site of some of the most important discoveries in modern science—starting with Ernest Lawrence’s invention of the cyclotron in 1931. A generation ago, female faces were rare and, even today, visitors walking through the first floor of LeConte Hall will see a full corridor of exhibits honoring the many distinguished physicists who made history here, virtually all of them white males.
But climb up to the third floor and you’ll see a different display. There, among the photos of current faculty members and students, are portraits of the current chair of the department, Marjorie Shapiro, and four other women whose research covers everything from the mechanics of the universe to the smallest particles of matter. A sixth woman was hired just two weeks ago. Although they’re still only about 10 percent of the physics faculty, women are clearly a presence here. And the real hope may be in the smaller photos to the right: graduate and undergraduate students, about 20 percent of them female. Every year Berkeley sends freshly minted female physics doctorates to the country’s top universities. That makes Shapiro optimistic, but also realistic. “I believe things are getting better,” she says, “but they’re not getting better as fast as I would like.”

Overall the description of Berkeley is positive; they highlight some of the female researchers here and mention policies that the campus is undertaking to improve the situation.

Friday Random 10: Conventional Wisdom

From a playlist of songs rated four- and five-stars:

  1. The Reindeer Section, “You Are My Joy”

  2. Cat Power, “Werewolf”
  3. Pixies, “Havalina”
  4. Zero 7, “Speed Dial No. 2″
  5. Blonde Redhead, “Hated Because Of Great Qualities”
  6. Sleater-Kinney, “One Beat”
  7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Cheated Hearts”
  8. Built To Spill, “Conventional Wisdom”
  9. Sigur Ros, “Hoppípolla”
  10. Snow Patrol, “How To Be Dead”

A while back I saw that Blonde Redhead song on a list of the top “fuck you” songs of all time, which was entirely appropriate. Kazu Makino spits the bitter lyrics over sparse and nearly funereal instrumentation. But today I’m more in the mood for “Conventional Wisdom”, the best song from Built To Spill’s latest album:
Some things never change
Nothing’s gonna change that
Some things you can’t explain
Like why we’re all embracing conventional wisdom in a world that’s just so unconventional

The Female Brain: not a zombie erotica title

While we’re on the subject of gender bias: One of my pet peeves is when people employ bogus neuroscience or evolutionary psychology arguments to back up gender stereotypes. This is distressingly common, and especially annoying when it only takes a few seconds to think about it and realize that the stereotype in question isn’t even true. Sure, I may know a lot of eccentric people, but I doubt they’re genetic mutants just because they don’t conform to some “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” scheme. And of course, these kinds of false or socially-constructed stereotypes are one of the major factors driving the gender gap in the sciences.
Thus it was with some dismay that I learned of the recently-released book The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, which advertises itself thusly:

Brizendine reveals the neurological explanations behind why
• A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000
• A woman remembers fights that a man insists never happened
• A teen girl is so obsessed with her looks and talking on the phone
• Thoughts about sex enter a woman’s brain once every couple of days but enter a man’s brain about once every minute
• A woman knows what people are feeling, while a man can’t spot an emotion unless somebody cries or threatens bodily harm
• A woman over 50 is more likely to initiate divorce than a man

From what I know about neuroscience, it struck me as extremely unlikely that there are “neurological explanations” for these things, even putting aside the fact that most of them aren’t true of people who aren’t lame sitcom characters. It turns out that my skepticism is well-founded: Mark Liberman at the excellent Language Log examined the claims in the book, and found that (despite lots of footnotes) there’s little to no science supporting them. (There’s a collection of links in this post.)
Unfogged’s LizardBreath remarks, “I’ve reached a point with pop-science accounts of how women differ from men, where I firmly assume that any claim that science has shown a physical cause for behavioral differences between the sexes is bullshit.” I’ve been at that point for a while now, too.

NAS Report on Women in Science

A National Academy of Sciences panel on women in science finds:

For 30 years, the report says, women have earned at least 30 percent of the nation’s doctorates in social and behavioral sciences, and at least 20 percent of the doctorates in life sciences. Yet they appear among full professors in those fields at less than half those levels. Women from minority groups are “virtually absent,” it adds.
The report also dismisses other commonly held beliefs — that women are uncompetitive or less productive, that they take too much time off for their families. Instead, it says, extensive previous research showed a pattern of unconscious but pervasive bias, “arbitrary and subjective” evaluation processes and a work environment in which “anyone lacking the work and family support traditionally provided by a ‘wife’ is at a serious disadvantage.”

(Via Bitch, Ph.D.) Although the conclusion is unsurprising to anyone who has followed this issue, it’s good to see the gender gap getting attention at high levels beyond Larry Summers dismissing it as due to “innate differences”. The NYT article is short on recommended reforms, but I don’t know whether that is also true of the original report.
The panel included UC Berkeley’s chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and the late UCSC chancellor Denice Denton, who committed suicide recently, had also been on the panel before her death.
Back in March we had a pretty good comment thread on this subject.