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September 2, 2016 | 29 Comments

Carbon Fibre Masculinity, Homosociality, Gendered Surfaces, & Idiot Academics

A surface of carbon fiber reinforced polymer, you pervert.
A surface of carbon fiber reinforced polymer, you pervert.

Tell you right up front that the only way to be sure of solving the crisis in higher education is to nuke universities from orbit and then salt the grounds once the ashes blow away. See if you don’t agree by the post’s end.

Title of the peer-reviewed paper is “Carbon Fibre Masculinity: Disability and Surfaces of Homosociality” by Anna Hickey-Moody in Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities.

By “carbon fibre” she means carbon fiber; actual fibers of carbon. She says, “Contemporary cultural economies of carbon fibre are, in part, a late capitalist (Jameson) technology of hegemonic (or dominant) masculinity”. It takes a man to make carbon fiber.

As a technology of hegemonic masculinity, carbon fibre extends the surfaces of bodies and produces masculinity on and across surfaces, male and female bodies…

I argue that carbon fibre can be a homosocial surface; that is, carbon fibre becomes both a surface extension of the self and a third-party mediator in homosocial relationships, a surface that facilitates intimacy between men in ways that devalue femininity in both male and female bodies.

There is no way to diagnose the magnificent errors here. It would be like trying to explain what is wrong with the proposition (this example is from David Stove) “In some previous state of our existence we knew the number three face-to-face, as it is in itself, and by some kind of union with it.” All one can do is stare, and hope that the proposition holder is not between us and the exit.

Sedgwick’s work shows how intimacy between men is facilitated across human–carbon-fibre-composite assemblages…, a homosocial relationship is an intimate friendship between two (or more) men, which is misogynist and which is based on the disavowal of the possibility of their sexual desire for one another.

Not desiring sodomy is misogynist?

The properties of carbon fibres, such as high stiffness, workable strength, low weight, high chemical resistance, high temperature tolerance and low thermal expansion (Zheng and Feldman), make the material very popular for building spacecraft, military equipment, and motorsports/formula one cars, civil engineering construction and accessories for competition sports…As a late modern phallic signifier, carbon fibre…

Like the many other signifiers of the phallus and the successful realization of male libido that occupy the global capitalist cultural imaginary and shape economies of relation in late capitalism, carbon fibre is the masculine prosthesis of the decade.

One source says, “A carbon fiber is a long, thin strand of material about 0.0002-0.0004 [inches] in diameter and composed mostly of carbon atoms” so we wonder what kind of men Hickey-Moody has been dating.

In The Logic of Sense Deleuze gives us a theoretical framework for reading surfaces as assemblages of different wholes that articulate together as a surface that makes “sense,” and that makes sex in a redistribution of libidinal desire.

By “surfaces” she means just what you think: surfaces. Thus “The cultural production of surfaces is a sexed and gendered politic that is naturalized and is a way of extending, or growing, sexism.” Also:

Secondly, Deleuze argues that surfaces can articulate redistributed libido, or, as he puts it, bodies can produce certain surfaces as a way of maintaining control of their sexual power; the de-sexualization or the sexualization of surfaces is a way in “which the sexual object is maintained” (Deleuze 274).

Anna Hickey-Moody is—see if you can guess first—“a Lecturer in Gender and Cultural Studies” at the University of Sydney. She is purposely put in front of Australia’s children and allowed to teach among others “GCST2609 – Masculinities“. “By way of introduction to this subject, we will also discuss the fact that men’s lives are very gendered…”

According to Wikipedia, the M-29, a.k.a. the “Davy Crockett“, is “one of the smallest nuclear weapon systems ever built.” Versions of it “weighed about 51 lb (23 kg), with a yield equivalent to somewhere between 10 and 20 tons of TNT.” Which is plenty to take out the University of Sydney. It would be charming to consider the weight of the Crockett’s casing could be reduced if it were re-engineered with carbon fiber.

September 1, 2016 | 68 Comments

Why Americans Left Christianity And Became Nones

The title of the Pew report which we’ll discuss is “Why America’s ‘nones’ left religion behind”, though, as you can see, I modified it. For good reason. The original Pew survey from which the nones were discovered, according to their “methodolgy” (nobody can say just “method”, which doesn’t sound as sciency), of the religious only 5% were of Non-Christian faiths. So when we talk about Americans leaving religion, we mean for the most part folks leaving “organized” Christianity.

In this new survey, Pew asked nones—which were 23% of the original survey of adult Americans—why they were nones and not somethings. Numbers first.

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Numbers don’t look like they add up under “Don’t believe” for Agnostics, but since this survey is meant to represent all American adult nones, we’ll just add the error (if it is one) to the overall plus-or-minus. Anyway, there aren’t any surprises in the overall numbers. What’s far more interesting are the reasons people gave for their disbelief.

Pew asked “people to explain, in their own words, why they no longer identify with a religious group. This resulted in hundreds of different responses…but many of them shared one of a few common themes.” The themes are in these pictures, and follow the same headings as the Numbers, and my remarks follow the comment order.

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Don’t believe 49%

Evolution is no disproof of Christianity; not orthodox Christianity, anyway. Yet many think it is, which shows how far scientism has infiltrated the culture. Evolution, incidentally, is an observation. How evolution occurred requires a causal explanation, about which there is plenty to argue over. But one thing is clear, since (as we learned Sunday), our minds (our intellects) are not material, then any theory of evolution involving physical forces necessarily fails to explains the rational nature of human beings. If anything, evolution, then, is a direct proof of God’s existence.

True, all Christians do un-Christian things; yet so do non-Christians do un-Christian things; the difference being Christians recognize un-Christian things are sinful. Beware the hypocrisy fallacy.

The next four comments show the influence of scientism. That it came to be believed that Christianity is irrational is itself the result of irrationality. There is plenty of evidence for Christianity, much of it scientific evidence at that. For instance: miracles, the resurrection of Jesus, observable, measurable and therefore scientific events.

The last excuse “I’m doing a lot more learning, [etc.]” is unintentionally hilarious, because why? Because who wrote the books this individual is reading?

Dislike organized religion 20%

I would hope organized religious groups are divisive. If they are not, then they are not groups. Groups by definition are divisive. Anyway, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

That religion left some people and people haven’t left religion (the next two points) is true enough. Who doesn’t cringe when they hear Joel Osteen speak? The man says he preaches Christianity, but it’s not orthodox Christianity, which leads to the question of just how far removed from orthodox Christianity are many who claim to be Christians? Is Mormonism a true branch of Christianity?

The juxtaposition of the last two comments, about the clergy sex abuse scandal and the Church’s teaching on same-sex acts, is a puzzler. The sex abuse was largely carried out by men “oriented” toward young men and teenagers, and for a small part “oriented” toward children. Yet this “orientation”, which the Church calls intrinsically disordered, is supposed to be made welcome. You have to pick one or the other, folks.

Religiously unsure/undecided 18%

No particular religion is right or wrong? So, Satanism is okay? Baalism? Clintonism? This excuse is used by many, and it proves they haven’t given the matter any thought, and that they’re just happy to be done with Christianity.

The other explanations back this up. Spiritual-but-not-religious is a growing segment. The sort of people pleased to give woo-wooo or Kabbalism a try—hey, it might work. Why not? Once a religion comes along that promises what these people want to hear, they’ll snatch it up.

Inactive believer 10%

In these last three comments, we see the effects of banal worship. If all going to Church is for is to socialize or be part of a community or hear a pep talk or to listen to the ear-tingling words of a personality then Christianity is drained of transcendence and it’s no wonder people move on. Countless “reformers” want to simplify simplify simplify to attract the masses to mass because they think Heaven-directed worship is scary and off-putting, so they opt for man-centered beliefs.

Summary

There is no sense nones will do anything but increase, and Christianity decrease, particularly as a growing segment of the culture views Christianity as “hateful” and “discriminatory”. Nones will get their way, but as I often say, they’ll miss Christians when they’re gone. The ancient warning “Be careful what you wish for” is rarely heeded.

August 31, 2016 | 16 Comments

Gonorrhea, Wee P-values, and Tax Increases

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Adventurous reader Ted Poppke discovered a peer-reviewed paper that, according to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), proved that increasing sales tax on booze “caused a 24% decrease in gonorrhea cases reported to the U.S. National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System, but had no effect on chlamydia.”

Caused. Strong word! The strongest there is in science. When a scientist says X causes Y, he has reached the pinnacle of Y-studies, for once we have learned the cause of Y, we have learned what most of what science can tell us of Y. Discovering cause is thus a terrible burden. Unfortunately, in many fields discovering a wee p-value has taken the place of discovering true cause, the consequences of which I detail in my just-in-time-for-Labor-Day Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics.

The paper is “Maryland Alcohol Sales Tax and Sexually Transmitted Infections: A Natural Experiment” in American Journal of Preventive Medicine by Stephanie A.S. Staras, Melvin D. Livingston, and Alexander C. Wagenaar. From the paper’s beginning:

Alcohol tax increases may decrease sexually transmitted infection rates overall and differentially across population subgroups by decreasing alcohol consumption in general and prior to sex, thus decreasing sexual risk taking and sexually transmitted infection acquisition…

Results strengthen the evidence from prior studies of alcohol taxes influencing gonorrhea rates and extend health prevention effects from alcohol excise to sales taxes. Alcohol tax increases may be an efficient strategy for reducing sexually transmitted infections.

To say “Alcohol tax increases may decrease sexually transmitted infection rates” is to invoke causal language. Somehow increasing the amount the government collects on bottles of beer will cause people who would have otherwise contracted gonorrhea to not contract gonorrhea.

Before examining the paper, think how this assertion can be proved. At least one man (or woman) who would have got gonorrhea when the sales tax was low would not have got it when the sales tax is high. How could raising a sales tax cause the absence of gonorrhea where that same gonorrhea would have necessarily been present under the low sales tax?

Obviously, a sales tax rate has no causative powers on gonorrhea, so the contention fails immediately. But the sales tax might have caused some other thing or things to happen, like setting off a chain of dominoes, which blocked the gonorrhea from setting up. And this is what the paper implies. A man who would have drank to excess and engaged in sex (or sex-like activities) with an infected woman (or vice versa) will now be stopped from drinking that little bit extra he would have under a cheaper tax, with the consequence he’ll now retain enough judgment to realize beer googles blur. Perhaps he’ll read a book instead.

Now the only way to tell this for sure is to run experiments on actual men and women, raising the tax for some, lowering it for others. But even this is dodgy, because we’ll always be left with a counterfactual question. Would this man had the sales tax been lower contracted the gonorrhea he safely avoided tonight when the tax was high? How can we ever know this? Answer: we cannot: we can only assume it.

This bewildering point is belabored and bothered to emphasize the over-certainty which is caused when mere correlations in external datasets take the place of (even imperfect) experiments. What the authors did was to collect gonorrhea and chlamydia rates before Maryland’s tax increase, and then collect them again after. Enter the statistical model, a regression-like creation with parameters for the state’s general tax rate, the state’s alcohol tax rate, a rate of gonorrhea and chlamydia infections for times and places other than in Maryland under the new rate, and an “ARIMA noise model”, which we can ignore.

The p-value associated with the alcohol tax rate parameter (under various manipulations) was wee for gonorrhea and not wee for chlamydia. What about parameter for rates of other sexually transmitted diseases? They didn’t check; or if they did, they remained silent about them (I’m guessing they didn’t check).

From the p-value weeness, they concluded “A 2011 Maryland 50% increase in alcohol-specific sales tax decreased statewide gonorrhea rates by an estimated 24%—preventing nearly 1,600 gonorrhea cases annually.”

Mighty bold claim. All gleaned from mixing databases and calculating a parameter inside a dicey statistical model.

The kicker was noticed by the AEI:

However, Staras et al. do not establish that alcohol consumption decreased as a result of the sales tax increase. In fact, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in Haughwout and colleagues, estimates that annual alcohol consumption per capita in Maryland increased by 0.03%, from 2.2058 gallons of ethanol in 2010 to 2.2065 gallons of ethanol in 2012 for people aged 14 years and older (the group studied by Staras et al.).

This too is indirect evidence, because we don’t know if some who would have drank more drank less because of the tax increase, or those who would have drank even still more still drank enough. And so on.

Not for the last time I ask all to abjure all hypothesis tests.

August 30, 2016 | 23 Comments

On The Severe (And Unrecognized) Limitations Of fMRI

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So this 44-year-old Frenchman—let’s call him Jacques—presented for a “mild left leg weakness“. The leg bone being connected to the hip bone, etc., it was eventually discovered that Jacques’s “skull was filled largely by fluid, leaving just a thin perimeter of actual brain tissue.”

Here’s the kicker:

And yet the man was a married father of two and a civil servant with an IQ of 75, below-average in his intelligence but not mentally disabled…

While this may seem medically miraculous, it also poses a major challenge for cognitive psychologists, says Axel Cleeremans of the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

“Any theory of consciousness has to be able to explain why a person like that, who’s missing 90% of his neurons, still exhibits normal behavior,” says Cleeremans. A theory of consciousness that depends on “specific neuroanatomical features” (the physical make-up of the brain) would have trouble explaining such cases.

To say that explaining this man via current theories of the brain is a “major challenge” is like saying Bill Clinton has a “small problem” with the ladies. According to these theories, the man should be a “vegetable”. It’s always vegetable, isn’t it? I guess neurologists didn’t see the original The Thing. Skip it.

The missing matter of Jacques’s brain was noticed by Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The MRI picture above is from the Lancet (under the bland title “Brain of a white-collar worker”).

Functional MRI is similar, except that fMRI takes pictures to discover functions of parts of the brain. That is the claim, at any rate. How do they work? People are asked to think about, say, vegetables and then squeezed into an fMRI machine, which duly takes its pictures. Loads of statistical manipulations then take place after which it will be discovered that certain areas of the brain glow statistically significantly more brightly than other areas. These glowing areas will then be declared vegetable-fantasizing areas of the brain.

But this wouldn’t work for Jacques, because poor Jacques is light in the head. Yet it’s a sure bet that Jacques knows his vegetables from his Peugeot.

Enter Kate Murphy, who wrote “Do You Believe in God, or Is That a Software Glitch?” in the New York Times (I’m guessing Murphy didn’t provide the article’s title: writers rarely do). Murphy reminds us of the “study published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uncovered flaws in the software researchers rely on to analyze fM.R.I. data. The glitch can cause false positives — suggesting brain activity where there is none — up to 70 percent of the time.”

Murphy said, “This cued a chorus of ‘I told you so!‘ from critics who have long said fM.R.I. is nothing more than high-tech phrenology.”

No need to click on the link: I am the “I told you so.” I have long warned readers that the statistical methods behind fMRI rely on wee p-values and hypothesis tests, methods guaranteed to lead to over-certainty—as I document in nauseating detail in my new award-eligible book Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. Another must-read book is Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience by Sally Satel (psychiatrist) and Scott Lilienfeld (psychologist).

About those statistical methods, Murphy rightly reminds us of the dead fish hooked to an fMRI which “found neural activity in its brain when it was shown photographs of humans in social situations.” This happens because the fMRI is not taking pictures of your brain. It is showing you statistical models based on estimates of which might be happening in your brain.

Other statistical problems in analyzing fM.R.I. data have been pointed out. But these kinds of finger-wagging methodological critiques aren’t easily published, much less funded. And on the rare occasions they do make it into journals, they don’t grab headlines as much as studies that show you what your brain looks like when you believe in God.

…The fM.R.I. errors added fuel to what many are calling a reproducibility crisis.

“People feel they are giving up a competitive advantage” if they share data and detail their analyses, said Jean-Baptiste Poline, senior research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley’s Brain Imaging Center…

There is also resistance because, of course, nobody likes to be proved wrong. Witness the blowback against those who ventured to point out irregularities in psychology research, dismissed by some as the “replication police” and “shameless little bullies.”

For the record, I am a often-shame-filled big bully.

MRIs are not useless. After all, they can show us nearly empty skulls à la Jacques. Shrapnel and other miscellaneous objects also show up nicely. But for telling the difference in brains between rational theists and ultimately irrational atheists? Nuh-uh.