It's all about perspective

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Lines in the sand

Should people be allowed to have stupid beliefs?

I am an atheist. Nearly everyone who knows me knows it. While I do not doubt what I know, I do waffle on how exactly to practice this outlook on life. There are those, like P.Z. Myers, J.T. Eberhard, and Richard Dawkins, who think a direct and confrontational approach to anti-scientific beliefs are the way to “win” the culture war between religion and science. On the other hand, there are people like Kenneth Miller and Pamela Gay who, being either of faith or at least willing to believe in such things, think a cooperative approach is necessary.

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Weak Ties

Ok, so I’m roaming around on the internet doing research for another blog post I’m working on, when I run into the Weak Tie Hypothesis. It argues that, in any social group consisting of persons A, B, C, etc, if A and B are strongly connected and A and C are strongly connected, then B and C are also linked. To extend this further, we could say that B learns of a job opening in a neighboring firm, which he tells to A, who tells to C and gets the job she never would have known about without B. Social groups are in debt to these weak links for keeping the groups up-to-date on things going on outside the group or keeping them connected to other groups.

Network of Social ties

Graphic borrowed from Project Management 2.0

So I have two questions:

  1. Since we can label and differentiate these weak links from strong links, can we then determine their level of influence?
  2. Assuming the answer to the above is “yes,” can we then take that micro-level (individual-level) hypothesis and apply it to macro-level (group-level) research?

This stuff is fascinating. As a symbolic interactionist who is working on the connection between micro and macro level research, a system that can be used to measure not only the influence of individuals on other individuals, but one that could measure the influence of systems on those same individuals would be a great tool.

What if we could accurately measure, by means of these weak ties, a group’s influence on society? Then it wouldn’t be a matter of changing the minds of the people in the group, but changing the minds of their weak ties that would cause their downfall. Since weak ties bring new ideas, keep groups relevant, and sometimes bring in new members, removing access to these weak ties could utterly destroy groups within a very short time. Furthermore, could we measure exactly how many weak ties an idea needs in order to become a movement, or to make a video go viral, or to create social change? Goddamn.

I’m probably lending more to this than should be, but if any of the previous is possible, look out. I need a mathematician. Or I need to take more math classes… Either way I need to get in to grad school…

Similarity is not Equality

It’s Roller Derby time boys and girls. Yet while I waited patiently for that 7pm whistle last sunday which started the rekindled sport my mind wanders to thoughts of gender equality. I know, boring, but hear me out. I’ve been noticing an upswing in articles related to the oppression of men and this all-women sport has rekindled my interest in the subject. Now before you go off laughing about how its impossible for men to be the subject of oppression based on their gender, I would have you stop and think about this for a moment.

I am, due to my own history with the state and childcare, an unflinching supporter of Father’s rights. In this instance I am absolutely convinced there is a biased view of parenting in this country which favors the mother. Does this happen all the time? Not hardly. Does it happen enough that it should be investigated? I say a resounding “yes.” While going through the custody process myself I encountered several avenues of assistance that were available to the mother, that were not available to me, which were based solely on her gender. Furthermore, the prevailing child development model at the time was one that claimed children were developmentally disadvantaged when separated from their mothers. This standard was absolutely biased against fathers and thankfully is beginning to change.

In part, I believe it is changing because of the drastic difference in education based on gender. Last year I read several articles and blog posts about how the current model of education; one that many believe is detrimental to boys’ learning, is not being studied on that basis of gender [1]. In my own recent attempts to join the K-12 teaching ranks, I have found a great emphasis on race and class, but no one is talking about gender. For this reason alone I feel there should be an open discourse about it.

Now, it appears this may actually happen. (more…)

Study shows genetic disorder leads to lack of racial stereotypes and social fear.

Williams syndrome children show no racial stereotypes or social fear | Not Exactly Rocket Science | Discover Magazine.

So we find ourselves another study claiming that, essentially, racial stereotyping is natural and genetic. Only with genetic disorders can we truly get past these natural urges.

What a crock. This study is based on the “Preschool Racial Attitude Measure (PRAM-II), which is designed to tease out traces of gender or racial biases in young children.” It does this by showing young children a picture of two people. These are made different by color, gender, or both. The child is then told a story about the two pictures and asked to point out the person they feel the story is more likely about. Bias is determined by the how often the child points to the gender-same or ethnic-same people when the story uses positive adjectives versus when the child points to gender-different or ethnic-different people when the story uses negative adjectives.

This measurement is faulty for a couple of reasons.

1: The children are only shown two choices so there is bias built in to the measurement. Add a third choice for “neither” and a fourth choice for “feel equally about both” and the test might actually start measuring something.

2: While the test is measuring prejudice, it is not measuring stereotype. A prejudice is a preconceived judgment or opinion. Since the test uses positive and negative adjectives as a measurement tool, you are asking the children to apply a positive or negative judgment to the pictures. Stereotyping, on the other hand, would be measured by the children’s willingness to classify people without those value judgments. Now then, the real question becomes, “are these children assessing values because they feel one gender/race is superior to the other, or because they are simply more comfortable with one over the other?”

So what then does this study show? Not much really. It is fascinating in that it attempts to look at the genetic foundations of prejudice and may even be applicable to group-think studies. I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for the finished paper and will likely be doing a full critique of it.

In the beginning…

So I want to talk about race. I’ve done this before, but in my previous post I only talked about science and splitting hairs between the definitions. This time, I want to talk about what this little monster called race has done, what it’s been doing, and what it’s likely going to do to us if we don’t do something. I’ll likely not get to all of that in this post, but I have to save something for next time.

Unfortunately, there is no real progression of racism so a simple linear look at race in the United States is somewhat worthless. Now we can track it and study it and find it throughout history, but race is a subtle thing with not-so-subtle trappings. Its like finding out that all your apples taste sour not because of that new fertilizer you’re using, but because of what your great-grandfather used; it was fine for him at the time, but now its wreaking havoc on you. Now this shit our forefathers threw all over the place is coming back to poison us.

Seeing as how race is a social construct it changes with each new leap or change in culture. This used to take several generations, but with the advent of the modern age and the swiftness with which information can be distributed these changes occur at a much more rapid pace. So now we find ourselves trying to figure out where to go from the forgotten and broken promises made in the 60’s, the 70’s, and all the way back to the Bill of Rights. This was supposed to be the future and the future wasn’t supposed to be racist or have anything to do with skin color. And for anyone, ANYONE, who says that race and racism is over because we managed to get a black man in the White House; shut up and sit down because you haven’t been paying attention for pretty much your whole damn life.

The United States of America, the country I love and, contrary to how I write about it, am so proud of, needs to face the truth about itself. This country was born from the womb of racism. Our forefathers committed heinous atrocities all in the name of economic progress. We hunted down and killed Native peoples by the millions. We bought and sold human beings. We treated human beings like little more than trinkets to be done with as we wished. I say we need to own this. We need to take responsibility for what our predecessors did because no one else is. We were shamed into action in the 60’s and 70’s, but shame, like anger, is an emotional energy that only lasts so long and does not extend into the next generation. Now we sit here almost two generations down the road and there is no real change that can be counted. One person, one family making good does not a revolution make, nor fulfill a promise.

Every time we pledge allegiance to the flag, every time we sing the Star Spangled Banner, every time we cheer the Braves or the Chief’s and we’re talking about a sports team instead of political leaders, every time we tell an off-color joke, every time we laugh at an off-color joke, every time we cross the street to avoid someone who looks different than us, we say to our children, our friends, and our society that “all of that stuff was okay. All of it was necessary and perfectly fine. You don’t have to take responsibility for it either.” This absolutely must stop.

So let me start at the beginning.
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Racism?

I’m a member of a few social networking sites. Myspace, Facebook, Atheist Nexus, and a place called OkCupid. OkCupid is an entertaining site as it mashes up a dating site like Yahoo personals or Match.com with a social network site like Myspace. I have some fun on there and have met a few entertaining people. But what sucks the hours right out of my day is the forums.

Just like any forum there are varied and sometimes quixotic topics ranging from “how many drinks would it take to sleep with the poster above you” to “critique my profile.” Today though, I was looking through the forums and ran across this topic titled “In the name of God…” It was started by a thirtysomething white male in response to a few emails he had received.  Apparently the original poster (OP) specifies on his profile that he is only looking for a single white female. The person who emailed the OP inquired about this and wondered if he would be willing to “give up on all other races and possible love connections just because they are not white.” The OP responed to this by relegating his choice in skin color on his potential mate to the same level as hair and eye color, weight, or height. The woman emailing the OP brought in God and made the OP out to be a racist and herself to be more enlightened because she’s a God-fearing woman and the OP must not be. What followed has been a flurry of topic responses calling him prejudiced, racist, a bigot, and many others. There are plenty of responses that back the OP, but far more that denounce his choice of potential mates.

So I have been wondering, is this man’s exclusion of several ethnicities from his pool of potential mates based on racism or on a measurement of attraction he has no conscious control over?

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Stuff has a story

At least, that is what Annie Leonard says from the documentary video “The Story of Stuff.” You can watch it at www.storyofstuff.com. Never before have I seen the process of consumerism brought under the magnifying glass like this has. From where the raw materials come from to where they eventually go to; this movie walks the viewer step by step through it all. No matter your level of education about this issue, no matter your social or economic status, you should watch this film.

We all know: from the lowest-paid worker in the overexploited nations to the meagerly-paid blue collar American, that there is something wrong, we just can’t seem to all put our fingers on it or wrap our collective heads around it. Annie Leonard helps put some of the pieces together.

One of the interesting concepts she brings up is “externalized cost.” As she explains on the website: “[…] the price tags on consumer products don’t capture the true cost of producing and distributing all this stuff.” In the big box stores, or in any stores for that matter, when consumers want a product sold to them cheaper the store only has a few options to them. They can either: take a cut in profits (highly unlikely), buy it cheaper (more likely), cut their cost in the item, or not care what you think. The problem comes in when the store chooses option two or three. To cut their cost in the item, or rather, their cost of storing and staffing the store house, they have to cut pay or benefits. Failing to meet the customer’s price at that point, they will buy it cheaper. This results in the same problem as before; too many people get their wages or benefits cut just so the consumers can have something they didn’t need in the first place cheaper. By putting the excess cost of the items on the actual people that produce the goods, distributors and manufacturer can enjoy the same amount of profit and still provide consumers with the lowest price.

This has to end. And only the consumers can end it. We are the ones who create the demand. We are the ones who settle for products that will not last longer than a few weeks. We are the ones who are turning a blind eye to the injustices visited upon our planet, our fellow people, and ourselves.

Visit www.storyofstuff.com and get educated on what we are doing to the planet, our friends, and ourselves.

It is time to ensure the continued story of our planet.

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