Category Archives: Science

How to Prove Anything

some scientific collaboration going down

As you know, we love science here in Boogieville.  However, as I’m sure you’ve also gathered, we also understand that bullshit is a virus that can infect anything.  Or, to put it another way, or in context (as you prefer), scientists are potentially as full of crap as anybody else and so they don’t get no free pass on the last helicopter leaving the stinking bullshit-crazed hordes for the land of bovine-free pastures.  Or something.  It’s late, OK?  Well, it’s not late but it’s been a vaccination day here in Boogieville, as in a real vaccination day not some faecal metaphor I’ve (badly) made up, and I always get crazy on vaccination day because the idea of deliberately injecting my kids with germy crap just makes me a bit hyper-active.  For want of a better word.  For the very reason that I don’t entirely trust doctors because they are as susceptible to bullshit as…etc etc.


My point* is this:

When you’re tempted to believe something just because it’s ‘science’, remember this:

Cigarettes may be useful for distance runners

Or: You can prove anything.  If you want to.  Or even if you don’t ‘want ‘ to but snakes curling around your subconscious do.

The review paper is a staple of medical literature and, when well executed by an expert in the field, can provide a summary of literature that generates useful recommendations and new conceptualizations of a topic.

‘However, if research results are selectively chosen, a review has the potential to create a convincing argument for a faulty hypothesis. Improper correlation or extrapolation of data can result in dangerously flawed conclusions.’ [emphasis mine]

And it may well be – and most often is – the case that the bias is subconscious and is simply a product of the prevailing cultural mores.

‘…take the phenomenon of “White Hat Bias“, where researchers distort “information in the service of what may be perceived to be righteous ends”. And even the most objective and ethical researcher is still going to be looking at data through their own world-view, which may cause them to miss something that is in the data, or to “see” something that isn’t really there.

This is something that Steven Jay Gould at least had a handle on (yes, I’m finally getting round to reading ‘The Mismeasure of Man’), though he’s not the only one.  And this is basically the whole bloody point of Cordelia Fine, but maybe now a man has said it (again), it’ll be regarded as a real thing rather than some shrieking-feminist-optical-illusion.

Most scientists, however, still don’t really get it.  They still think they can shrug off their prejudices when they shrug on their nice white lab coats, like the coat is some sort of super-hero cape that confers upon the wearer the power of super-objectivity.

As with the racism we’re all guilty of, you have to accept there’s a problem to find your way to a solution.  Scientists, like everybody, have to accept they do have bias; only then can they do their utmost to negate it. Otherwise, you’re just blowing smoke up your arse.

When you’re a raging misogyistic homophobe with a lifetime membership of the KKK who just happens to be a ‘scientist’,  just to say ‘I’m not biased, me’ does not actually remove your bias.  Amazing, I know, but TRUE nonetheless.

So when you’re next pondering an article that tells you you’ll never rule the world because women are more suited to ironing and that’s just the way it is, and you are considering thinking the article may be THE TRUTH, haul your running shoes on, spark up a fag and chainsmoke through a marathon, and see where ‘independently reviewed truth’ can get you.

Note: I really wouldn’t do this.  I suspect you might die.

*There is no real point to this post.  I just thought it was an interesting article.

Enough About Breasts

We here in Boogieville love science; there’s few things we like better than learning a show-stopping scientific fact that makes you whistle Wow!, and we even love science  despite the fact that it’s subject to the same gender bias as everything else.  Never, ever believe the crap that science is ‘objective’.  Some of it, sure (possibly) can be, but from the fact that the vast majority of scientists are men, through to the fact that scientific results are published in a gender-biased world, the process of science is no more free of stereotypes than anything else.  But, ah, we love it so.  Even if we need to double-think it like anything else.

And so we were, back in the day, interested to learn of ‘facts’ related to breastfeeding.  For any mother making the choice whether to breastfeed or not, information related to whether it was a ‘good idea’ was welcome.  Knowledge is power, after all.

But now we’re sick to the back teeth of ‘facts’ about breastfeeding.  We categorically do not want to hear of any new studies on the subject.  No, we just don’t.

It was this that finally pushed us over the edge.  It told us this:

A UK study involving 10,000 mothers reports that babies breastfed for four months or more are less likely to have behavioural problems in early childhood.

Mothers were asked to assess issues including clinginess, anxiousness, restlessness, lying and stealing in their children up to the age of five.

Straight off, we’re finding this problematic.  For a start, this isn’t taking babies who’ve never so much as sniffed a breast versus those who’ve had boob stuffed in their mouth for a year, for example.  This lack of clarity immediately makes me suspicious that researchers couldn’t find even a hint of anything statistically significant unless they took some arbitrary cut-off point for breast feeding, thus managing to include some partially breastfed babies in the ‘formula’ group…Hmm.

And when exactly did ‘clingyness‘,’ anxiousness‘ and ‘restlessness‘ become ‘behavioural problems‘?  Talk about cultural influences!  Unbiased?  My arse.  And ‘lying’?  It wasn’t long ago that we were told that the earlier your child starts lying, the more intelligent they are.  I quote:

[Lying] is a sign that they have reached a new developmental milestone.  Those who have better cognitive development lie because they can cover up their tracks.’  This was because they had developed the ability to carry out a complex juggling act which involves keeping the truth at the back of their brains.’

Given this, and the fact that the same study also told us that ‘all toddlers lie’, I’m unclear as to how this could be considered a ‘behavioual problem‘, either.  Unless you take this extra line about ‘early’ liars:

He added: ‘They even make bankers in later life.’

But I’m not sure that’s fair.

So that leaves us with stealing, which is, I admit, bad but it does carry the bonus of arriving home and discovering all manner of delights hidden down the sides of the pram.  Boogie was an habitual tealeaf, but only when she was still too young to understand the concept of property or to have read Engles (she’s only just ploughing through it now…), so that tells us jack shit about jack shit, n’est ce-pas?

And after all this, we get this:

Only 6% of breastfed children were found to have behavioural problems, compared with 16% who were formula-fed.’  Which, we can only presume should read ‘Only 6% of long-term breastfed children were found to have behavioural problems, compared with 16% who were formula-fed or breastfed for less than four months.’

But let’s face it, who cares?  6% versus 16%?  I’m sorry, my friend, you’re going to have to do better than that.  And you’re especially going to have to better than than given all of the following:

Maria Quigley, the lead researcher from Oxford University, explained:

‘We just don’t know whether it is because of the constituents in breast milk, or the close interaction with the mum, or whether it is a knock-on effect of reduced illness in breastfed babies.’

There may also be a socio-economic reason. Mothers who breastfeed tend to be older and better educated, which might contribute to fewer problems in the child’s upbringing.’

Or maybe it’s because the babies who started off being breastfed and got switched to formula at four months were completely pissed because formula didn’t taste as nice and, in revenge, formulated a demonic plan to take over the world, the first stage of which was to be ‘restless’?  Those pesky four-monthers.

In short, they’ve no fucking clue what caused the difference.  So what’s the fucking point?  The fucking point, of course, is to keep mothers in a state of constant anxiety.  And I’m not having it any more.  Just.  Stop.  It.  No more studies about breast v. bottle.  I mean it.  Any more and I’m going to start getting clingy.  There. I’ve warned you.

Because unless they suddenly discover that breast milk is actually poisonous, or formula makes people vote Tory, these studies are only useful for one thing: being rolled up and used to beat mothers around the head.  And I’m sick of it.

Women May Not Actually Be Gold Diggers By Nature Shock

But they may be just as shallow as men when it comes to looks.

I read an article about this in an old Psychologies magazine left in the waiting room at my doctors, a place that, with the advent of kids and an over-active imagination, I’ve come to know pretty well.  I’m there so often I suspect my kids think ‘the doctors’ is just a really crappy stay ‘n’ play.  Anyway, I now can’t find the article online and I can’t find the research the article was talking about either so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The telling phrase was (and I paraphrase ‘cos my memory isn’t what it was) the greater a woman’s own economic security, the less likely she is to find wealth attractive in a male – and the more likely she is to go for looks.  Could this possibly mean that there’s a reason other than evolutionary biology why women ‘chase’ rich men??  Ooh, I think so!

Look out for this article not appearing in the Daily Male.

This dovetails nicely with a spot I saw on the BBC (again, no links – hey, I’m going rogue here!) about Russian women taking classes to find a rich husband; several interviews with the various women revealed that they wanted rich husbands because otherwise, their lives would be, well, shite.  Evolutionary biology?  My arse.

How to Suddenly Find Yourself With Nothing to Do

Get a frickin’ great book that you can’t put down and other jobs, chores, children seem to melt into the ether.  Or maybe that’s just me ignoring all of the above.  Whatever.

Claudia Fine rocks.

I’m now on page 200-odd and I’m telling you: buy, borrow, beg or steal it if you have to, but read this book.  If only so when the next idiot tells you that women’s and men’s brains are just different, you can smile a self-satisfied smile, and shoot a laser of superior knowledge into their head and fry their brain.  Merely by looking at them.  It’s that good.

I Think I’m In Love

Whoo-ee, but it’s been a long time!  Since I posted, that is.  I think the sheer excitement of receiving actual comments caused temporary finger paralysis.  Three comments! Count ’em!  Well, two really; I feel that I have to discount the one that congratulated me on the fabulousness of my musings and then signed off with, ‘You’re so interesting and fabulous I think you’ll really love the David Cameron-endorsed voucher codes available here…’  Or something equally random.

Anyway, I’m finally posting because I’m so excited I’m in danger of doing a Pretty Woman at the Opera and peeing my pants.  I finally received my copy of Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender which is, essentially, a punch in the face of gender essentialists everywhere (oh, you know who you are.  And don’t stand up against a wall when we meet).  I’m only on, like, page 21 and already I’m composing gushing love letters to the woman which are making me blush.  What a woman!  Smart and funny!  And, undoubtedly with this new book, a feminist!  And probably gorgeous – I’ve no idea, but I’m way too far down the track of obsessive fandom to imagine otherwise.

Being a big fan of neuroscience, I’ve already read her book, ‘A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives’, which, importantly, confirmed my suspicion that I’m not actually a depressive; I’m a realist who tells my brain to can it when it tries to lead me down the path to La La Land (a place where, amongst other things, rabbits are just cute, rather than over-sexed destroyers of the English countryside and the coalition government has the interests of the poor firmly at heart (not the work-shy poor, obviously; even La La Land has some standards).  This book, however, is shaping up to be something else again.  It’s impossible to impart exactly how wonderful this book appears to be, but let me just say this: that Cordelia Fine does good sarcasm.

Take this:

‘…[a] French philosopher…declared women “incapable of penetrating to truths that are slightly difficult to discover”, claiming that, “[e]verything abstract is incomprehensible to them.” The neurological explanation for this, he proposed, lay in the “delicacy of the brain fibres”.  Presumably, one abstract thought too many and – ping! – those fibres snap.’

Or this:

‘…a headmaster at a well-known…private school [said] “Overall, boys choose subjects to suit their learning style, which is more logic based.” He was gracious enough to leave his audience to make the inference that girls’ preferred learning style was an illogical one, rather than making the point explicitly.’

What can I say?  Sarcasm just melts me.  I need to stop now because I need to read the rest.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  Though if she turns out to be Tony Blair’s bridge partner, or somesuch, I may not.  My heart wouldn’t take it.