Thursday, June 30, 2005

Jonathan Haidt

Via No Nym in the comment section of Bitch PhD. comes a link to the work of moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt. It looks like interesting an important stuff that philosophers should be more aware of. He takes his research to show that virtue theory is the most psychologically viable form of ethical theory. I should like him, then, as I am a virtue utilitarian (I believe we should cultivate the personality traits that would bring the greatest amount of well being to the greatest number of people.) The problem, though, is that he posits too many constraints on the virtues we are capable of.

My comments are based, quite inadequately, on reading one of the essays posted to Haidt's site, as well as the ancillary material on the site. What do expect from a blog?

Haidt presents a strong nativist account of the origin of ethical beliefs, where culture builds on five innate modules he labels suffering, reciprocity, ingroup-outgroup, hierarchy, and purity modules. These modules generate intuitive moral reactions which can then be shaped by culture to form belief systems.

So far, this all looks good for people like me who believe that moral knowledge comes from reflective equilibrium. Reflective equilibrium takes intuitive reactions and organizes them into a consistent scheme. This requires both abandoning some deeply held moral intuitions and working to acquire new ones, so that the set works as a consistent, livable, whole.

The problem is that Haidt's modules are not equally good generators of moral intuitions. Two of the modules, suffering and reciprocity, are foundational for morality. These are the modules that let us instinctively feel the suffering of others and recognize that social relations are fair or unfair. These modules are clearly the basis for the moral emotions of compassion and justice, and should be cultivated. The other three modules are problematic, and one of them is genuinely stupid. The stupid module is the purity module. This is the module that creates our intuitive repugnance for bugs and food that our culture considers unclean. It is also the module that makes some people shudder at the thought of gay sex or human cloning.
It's evolutionary purpose was to keep us away from disease, but now that we have a good scientific understanding of where disease comes from, we can move beyond it. The other two mediocre modules are the modules for outgroup enmity and hierarchy. These are the modules at work in chimp behavior, when the alpha male gets a monopoly on reproduction, or when one troop of chimps wars with another.

Basically the compassion and justice modules are in conflict with the modules for bigotry, oppression (particularly patriarchy), and superstition. Unfortunately, Haidt's strong nativism implies that we cannot dampen these modules or learn to disregard their products. We have to accept them as they are. Hence, in his advice to Democrats, he suggests exploiting the products of the three dumber modules to win votes.

His root shortcoming is that he works within a two paradigm approach: there are only empiricists and nativists, those who think that morality is inborn and those who think it comes from culture. The goal of moral psychology is to find a reasonable compromise. What is missing from this picture are the endogenous, self-regulating parts of the human mind. Humans have feedback systems, which Liszka labels "strength of will" and "autonomy" in his brilliant ethics textbook Moral Competence, which give us control over our moral character. If we didn't have these systems, it would be impossible to internalize moral codes or become ethically competent. Haidt ignores these systems. He explicitly says that conscious reasoning only serves to excuse their intuitions. "If you focus on the reasons people give for their judgments, you are studying the rational tail that got wagged by the emotional dog." This is just not true. People are capable of self improvement, indeed of great moral shifts.

Like a lot of module oriented nativists, Haidt's view seems profoundly pessimistic. Given what I have read, I would not want to live with the species he describes.

Oh yeah, and check out his Disgust Scale. American males average 14, females, 18. I score a very girly 17 manly 10.5. I also on the other hand can't rotate 3D objects in my head. I bet my brain is weakly lateralized, too.

[Update: I missed the part in the scoring instructions where you divide the score on part II in half. Oh yeah, and the test I took was the first one on the list. Molly got an 11.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Michael Scriven

I have become interested in the work on the philosophy of evaluation by Michael Scriven. It began when I saw him speak at the AAPT conference, and he had sensible things to say about evaluating student performance and using student evaluations of teacher performance. Then I encountered an essay he wrote in the Journal of Higher Education on Professorial Ethics, which included this passage:
In state colleges the separation of church and state was, absurdly, invoked to censor the discussion of controversial ethical issues. So ethics joined the niggers of the curriculum, exploited or seduced; and it alone was degraded to this position from a better one
As someone who works in the practical ethics ghetto, and who appreciates anyone who can use the phrase "niggers of the curriculum" in an academic essay, I decided to like Michael Scriven. When I saw how crucial the concept of evaluation was to the things I do: teaching, teaching ethics, teaching critical thinking, I decided I needed to know more of his work.

It turns out his work is hard to track down. He occupies a nebulous realm between psychology, philosophy and management consulting. The organization he helped found, the American Evaluation Association seems to cover any activity in which one makes an evaluative judgment. Many of the pages on its site are weirdly broad, like Find an evaluator, which includes just on the first page a lot of education consulting firms, the AIDS Project Los Angeles, and the inauspiciously named Aporia Consulting Ltd. (A consulting firm that leaves you more confused than when you started? The broad torpedo fish of the boardroom?). Some of this stuff looks like the Saturday Night Live fake commercial for a company called Westline: "Even we don't know what we do."

The one book of Scriven's that I was able to order that seems like it will be useful is
Scriven, Michael, and Alec Fisher. 1997. Critical Thinking: Its Definition and Assessment. Norwich, UK: Center for Research in Critical Thinking.
and even that I had to order from I have ordered
Scriven, Michael. 1991. Evaluation thesaurus. 4th ed. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications.
I also have
Scriven, Michael. 1993. Hard Won Lessons in Program Evaluation. Vol. 58, New Directions for Program Evaluation. Memphis: Jossey-Bass.
although it is less in line with my purposes.

So does anyone stopping by here happen to know anything about Michael Scriven?

Question of the Day

If Unocal is bought by a branch of the dictatorial Chinese government, will it become more evil, or just stay the same amount evil?

say something nice

Truth is stranger has left some comments on my blog and over at bitch, inspiring me to glance at his blog. He is not, as you might think from his comments, an inhuman dickbag.

First of all, he has the sense to see that the occupation of Iraq is pointless. This shows both good judgment and an admiriable willingness to break with his own party.

Second, his discussion of the Shaivo case shows genuine compassion. The fact that his compassion is misplaced should not blind us to the fact that he is exercising a virtue that is in perpetual short supply.

Finally, like me, he misses real reading. I too, read nothing but blogs and children's books these days. And yes. The physical book is vital to the experience of reading.

Monday, June 27, 2005

You know what's worse than grading?

Looking at course evaluations. It really just fills me with dread. I received a lot of really stinging comments when I first started out, and even though my evaluations are almost always positive now that I have more experience, I can only think about the people who tore into me when I was starting out.

So right now I have a stack of them on my desk. The numeric part is quite promising. Two courses scored above the SLU average, three courses right on the SLU average, and one course scored low. I'm planning on going through the written parts and doing some informal coding, marking repeated comments for future reference. But I can't bear it. So I'm blogging it. ack.

On the current global insurrection against empire

Robert Pape at the U of Chicago has compiled a database on acts of suicide terrorism over the last 25 years, which is now being trumpeted around the media. (See the NPR story.) His most interesting result: the most common motivator for suicide terrorism is not religion, but an effort to get a modern democracy to withdraw troops from an ethnic homeland. In other words, we should have believed Osama when he said that his goal was to force US troops out of Saudi Arabia. It also means that sending more troops to Middle Eastern countries was exactly the wrong thing to do in response to 9-11.

I've been emphasizing the religious dimension of the current world war. It is good to remember that there are many other aspects. I was unable to find the primary source for Pape's report simply Googling around. Having bitched recently about academics who take their results directly to the media without subjecting them to peer review, I'm sorta obligated not to put too much weight on this result if it has come simply in the form of a press release. Still, I definitely want to hear more about this.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The monsters are humans who have undergone a symbolic transformation that reveals their true nature.

I just saw the much awaited new installment of a movie franchise that changed not just world cinema, but world mythology. The first movie of the series changed people's ideas about how much a film should cost to make. Sadly, the director later remade the movie in a way that he thought made it more politically correct, but really just ruined it. Many people say the second in the series was really the best.

The director of course is George Romero, whose 1968 Night of the Living Dead was showed how much could be done with low budget independent movie making. He also singlehandedly changed people's image of a zombie from a voodoo slave to a shambling flesh eater. And everyone likes the second movie best, because of this bit of dialogue, about the dead's penchant for shopping malls:

Francine: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory, of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives

Well, I could fill in the rest of the ways Romero is like the inverse image of George Lucas, but I'm still shaking from seeing Land of the Dead, and I need (I say need) to talk about the movie I just watched, not Romero's role in film history.

Spoilers for the first three Dead films, but not the current one, below the fold. Holy fuck.

Romero was on NPR today saying that when he writes horror movies, he thinks of the allegory first, and then worries about other details. His best allegories, though, are the one's he made by accident. The most accidental was the casting of his friend Duane Jones as the lead, accidentally establishing a metaphor about race, which was then intentionally carried through the other films. The zombies are pale. The hero is black. The mobs that gleefully chase zombies and ultimately kill our hero are lynch mobs.

The most important theme, though, is the symmetry between the dead and the living. The Monsters are humans who have undergone a symbolic transformation that reveals their true nature. In fact, this is now the essential feature of a zombie movie. It doesn't matter whether the zombies can run, or talk. The point is they are us.

Romero hits that theme hard with this movie. He always hits his messages hard when he puts them there on purpose. There are other allegories for our minute. The living are holed up in a opulent secure compound. In a brilliant touch, they think their wealthy lifestyle is protected because water--two bodies of water, on opposite sides of the gated community--separates them from the shambling masses. Romero is here to remind us that wealth and security are illusions.

Actually, there are three political groups here. The wealthy living, the poor living and the dead. When the poor rise up, the dead are more their allies than enemies. This is a theme he hit in the brilliant first quarter of Dawn of the Dead, when the military attack a housing project, and meet as much resistance from the project's living residents as the dead. (This whole segment was dropped from the recent Dawn of the Dead remake, which was one of its problems.)

Romero is not subtle. When we meet the arch-villain, he his sitting in a high-backed chair facing away from the camera. He swivels (swivels!) to face us when his underling enters to bring him news.

Romero is not subtle, nor should he be. I was thinking about subtlety in rock while listening to S-K's entertain. Carrie sings "If you've come to be entertained/please look away (don't look away)" She's not even subtle when she tries to undermine her own message. Who cares. The point of Rock and Roll is not to be subtle but to look so so pretty when you hit them so so hard on the nose. Look at the video. She how pretty? See how hard?

This is not the best zombie movie I have seen in the last few years. That honor goes to Cabin Fever. But it is better than recent remakes of Romero's work, like 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake. It's better if only because it gives us the allegories we need now, not the ones we needed 20 years ago. The dead are getting smarter. (The two smartest of the dead are an African American man and a white woman who look suspiciously like Ben and Barbara from the original.) We aren't in the same boat: the very wealthy have interests and plans of their own.

The movie, of course, has problems. All of Romero's movies but the first one have problems. He has at least remembered how to pace a movie. At an hour and a half, it says its piece and leaves, like the original, but not like Dawn or Day of the Dead. The ending is a little off. Romero does things for his allegory even when they don't make sense for the characters in the story. Most troubling is the dead end misanthropy of it all. Both the living and the dead are so despicable that our heroes can think of no goal but to go to Canada, "where there are no people." Even they can't live alone, though. The plucky (yes, plucky) band (yes, they are a band) gives us plenty of examples of mutual aid, and do wind up going North together.

Romero soaks (soaks, I say) us in blood when he talks about class. Christ, he should. We are soaked in blood. The New England Journal of Medicine has an article up on the doctors who assist in torture at gitmo. Molly always asks me, when I sneak off to a zombie movie, why I watch them when I know they will give me nightmares. (Real live, just like when you were a kid, mommy can I sleep with you tonight, nightmares.) It is not the movies that give me nightmares, though.

The monsters are humans who have undergone a symbolic transformation that reveals their true nature.

More Caroline Reversals

After changing out of her bathing suit and into her PrettyDress:

"My bathing suit was hurting because I'm wearing this."

I swear she doesn't reverse word order around other words. Perhaps this says something deep about the word "because"?

NYT Thimerosal Story


Friday, June 24, 2005

thimerosal update

Lindsay has the final installment of her debunking of the thimerosal/autism connection up. Excellent work.

So why has only posted a link to the discredited Salon RFK Jr article? Lindsay is doing a better job of covering this issue on her own time than the pros are.

Investigation of "Love" "in" "Action"

The state of TN is investigating the gay youth internment camp "Love in Action" for child abuse. LIA is known for imprisoning a young blogger named Zach who came out to his parents.

Republic of T has posts here and here.

Via majikthise

On the Current Global Religious War, part 6

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has a piece at the Huffington Post about the evangelical Christian take over of the Air Force Academy. (via Murky). He notes that there have been 55 complaints of religious harrasment, and provides a link to this CNN article.

I take this to be another piece of evidence that the bulk of the people fighting in the "War on Terror" are motivated by religious hatred. (It is, I admit, one of the weaker pieces of evidence, but every little bit builds the case.)

I'm tempted to say the war should be renamed "The Eighth Crusade," but the title does not capture the equal culpability of Islamic fundementalists. I'd call it "The War between Christianity and Islam", but that neglects the important strategic alliance fundementalist Christians have made with right wing Judaism.

I also don't think it's an accident that this same institution has developed a culture of sexual harrasment and rape.

So how is Caroline dealing with her new brother?

Vignette 1: Getting ready for the day care co-op

Caroline: I wanna take my baby!
Me (putting doll in diaper bag): ok.
Caroline: No! I wanna take my REAL baby!

Vignette 2: Before Molly came home from the hospital

Caroline: The baby no longer in Mommy's tummy?
Me: Yes, the baby came out of Mommy's tummy.
Caroline: I can go in Mommy's tummy now?
Me: You will have to take that up with her.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A day for geeks, poets and perverts

It's a noble day for geeks, poets, and perverts, three of my favorite kinds of people. Via the Writers Almanac I learned that today is the birthday of:

Alan Turing (1912): Father of modern computing. Instrumental in breaking the Enigma code. He helped us win WWII, and was rewarded by persecution for his homosexuality.

Anna Akhmatova (1888): Great Russian poet. I'm assuming that Languagehat or frequent hat commentator Tatyana will post something about her later today. As Russian speakers, they are far more qualified on this topic than I.

Alfred Kinsey (1894): Founder of modern sexology. Broke the news that, yes, indeed, everyone masturbates. The book that bore this horrific news earned the title "fourth most harmful book of the last 200 years" from the far right magazine Human Events.

To honor today, please do something geeky, poetic and perverted. Bonus points if you tell the whole internet about it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Salad baby

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

According to hospital regulations, all babies must sleep in salad bins when they are not being held by a caregiver.

In the basement of the hospital, workers clear mixed greens from clear plastic tubs just like this one, so our baby has a place to sleep.

More new photos if you click through to flickr

Monday, June 20, 2005

It's a Boy: Joseph Loftis Hinshaw

One minute old
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Joseph Loftis Hinshaw was born at 1:13 PM today, June 20, 2005, the birthday of his late great grandfather. He weighs nine pounds, two ounces, and is 22 inches long. Also, he insisted on entering the world with one arm sticking up beside his head. And his head is the size of a basketball. Mother and baby are well, but very tired.

More pictures if you click through to flickr.

Addendum: Molly wants to emphasize that not only did she birth a nine pound, two ounce baby, but she did it WITHOUT DRUGS


Sing it to the tune of "kenya."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Why I love PZ Myers

Hands for father's day.

I've blogged too much today. I'm going to bed.


Majikthise has a good post up on the Thimerosal/autism issue, following some harsh posts by Orac in response to this Salon article. Orac also takes some time out to respond to a query of mine.

The case against a thimerosal/autism connection looks very strong. (He said, having read no actual scientific research on the subject.) The failure of autism rates to decline after countries stopped using thimerosal is particularly damning.

I'm thinking of using this as a problem for my freshman level scientific methods course. I'd give the students the Salon piece and Orac's first reply, and ask them to get to the bottom of the issue. Students who can find all of the relevant primary sources and evaluate them intelligently would get the highest grade. Of course, doing this is just making more work for myself, because now I have to track down all the relevant primary sources and evaluate them intelligently. Perhaps I should just give students credit for reading Majikthise.

Caroline Language Blogging

There are a couple of linguistic tics Caroline has which I have been meaning to note.

First: She reverses word order around the word "because" quite often. Once you realize this, it becomes much easier to parse what she is saying. For instance, yesterday she said

*It's clouds because they're dark.

When she meant

It's dark because there are clouds.

I think she believes that the grammar of "because" is somehow symmetrical. (Also, she actually pronounces clouds as "cwowds")

Second: She has already noticed that "asking nicely," in addition to saying please, means raising the pitch of your voice about a fifth. Some adults don't even realize they're doing this: when you are pleading for something, you talk in a high, feminine voice. Adults go up a full octave, but Caroline's voice is already so high, she really only can go up a fifth. Well, Caroline may not be aware that she is doing this, but she has picked up the habit.

Caroline [fast, loud, normal register]: Iwannadoitmyself!
Me: How do you ask?
Caroline [slow, quiet, a fifth higher than usual]: pleeeaaase.

Third: although she pronounces all her L's as Y's, she knows the difference between an L and a Y and will try to correct you if you talk like her.

Caroline: Daddy, yook at this yeaf.
Me: What a nice yeaf.
Caroline: No! not a yeaf, a yeaf!

Fourth: The motivation for the persistent "why" questions seems to be that she believes "why" is a generic request for more information. Like a lot of liberal parents, I do my best to give honest answers to every why question that comes up.

Caroline: Iwannagooutside.
Me: We can't go outside, because its raining.
Caroline: Why? Why raining?
Me: because the sun causes water on the ground to evaporate, and the water vapor cools as it rises (etc.)

The why questions that bug me most, though, are the ones that seem to ask after essences.

Caroline: What's that? Worm?
Me: Its a leaf.
Caroline: Why? Why yeaf?

I'm puzzled by this construction. Is she saying "Why is that a leaf?" Should I answer, "Because of its leafy essence" or "because it is a flat appendage of a plant with high concentrations of chlorophyll"?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Using Human Stem Cells Instead of Animals

Over at Science there's a short news piece about substituting testing on human embryonic stem cells for animal testing in toxicology. (Link requires a subscription.) The idea is getting support in Europe, where animal rights consciousness is higher than here.

A woman we knew at Texas Tech was doing her research on monkey neural stem cells, because she thought this was a more moral alternative to working with human embryonic tissue. I always thought this was exactly backwards.

Quiz: What Religion Are You?

Via brad at Adam Kotsko's The Weblog comes the What Religion are You? Quiz.

Apparently, I'm a Unitarian. Who knew? Molly got her religion pegged exactly. I'm pleased that my Theravada score was higher than my Mahayana score, because it confirms my suspicions. It looks like "Western Buddhist" isn't an option, although I am coming to suspect that it should be a separate religious classification.

Also, the quiz does not distinguish secular humanists from atheists, which may be a problem. I put a lot of emphasis on my atheist answers, but secular humanism only came out #3.

My Results

# 1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
# 2. Theravada Buddhism (97%)
# 3. Secular Humanism (87%)
# 4. Liberal Quakers (86%)
# 5. Mahayana Buddhism (74%)

Molly's results:

# 1. Liberal Quakers (100%)
# 2. Unitarian Universalism (92%)
# 3. Neo-Pagan (92%)
# 4. New Age (89%)
# 5. Secular Humanism (84%)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Still defeated by office technology

ok, its two hours later, and I'm still depressed over my experience with the fax/copier. Here's another thing that bugs me about that machine. It has this fancy full-color touch screen display that must have seemed really user friendly on the drawing board, but is so dim, and produces so much glare given the light in the room, that you can only read the damn thing if you crouch a little and tilt your head at a 50 degree angle to the plane of the display.

On the other hand, there's this:
"Giblets's coffee was manufactured in Sri Lanka in a Pizza Hut over the internet by the void-slaves of Yothmagog the Unnamable One... for half the cost!"

Against Fax Machines

Fax machines hate me. Why? What have I done to them? Composing the letter below took 15 minutes, including reading the bills in question. (I wrote to Hilary and Chuck about the Senate version of the bill). Getting the fancy copier/fax machine to actually send these letters to my voices in Washington took 45 minutes.

And I never did get the letter to Hilary sent.

The worst was when I accidently entered the voice number for Chuck's office rather than the fax. I could hear his staff assistant on the speaker on the copier, but couldn't find anything I could speak into to apologize to him. Then for some reason the automatic redial decided to work (it hadn't before). The copier/fax called Chuck Schumer's staff assistant three times.

The following things failed to stop the copier/fax from redialing.

Hitting Stop
Hitting Clear
Logging out of my account.
Turning the copier off.

That's right. Turning the copier off did not stop it from redialing. I tried to unplug the copier/fax, but in a very 2001ish moment, the machine kept on dialing. I realized the plug I pulled was for the card reader and not for the machine itself. At this point I was convinced the copier/fax was going to start talking to me: "I'm very dissapointed in you, Dave." Then, for no reason, it stopped.

I think I made every faxing mistake possible during the 45 minutes I wrestled with the fax. I entered the fax number wrong. I entered a voice number instead of a fax number. I forgot to enter my department's budget code. Whenever I entered something wrong, the automatic redial worked. Whenever I entered everything right, but the line was busy, the automatic redial didn't work.

And I was supposed to get real work done today.

I feel totally defeated by office technology.

Dear Representative McHugh,

Representative John M. McHugh
2333 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515-3223
PHONE (202) 225-4611
FAX (202) 226-0621

June 17, 2005

Dear Representative McHugh,

Please do everything you can to support H. R. 952, the “Torture Outsourcing Prevention Act.” More broadly, I plead with you to do everything you can to crack down on the use of torture by US agents. Torture conducted in the name of US policy is destroying our reputation as a nation that fights for freedom; it is undermining the war on terror by confirming the worst beliefs of those who distrust us; and most importantly, it is corroding our souls. The least you can do is end the hypocritical practice of employing the worst imaginable tactics, and then pretending our hands our clean, because they have taken place on foreign soil.

The media has been full of irrelevant discussions of whether this or that practice constitutes torture, or what to do in ticking bomb scenarios that never happen. Given the number of people who have simply died from our interrogation techniques, people like Abed Hamed Mowhoush, or Manadel al-Jamadi, or Dilawar; given the number of people who have been detained who are now known to be innocent, people like Omar Deghayes or Khaled el-Masri or Dilawar again; given that no effort is being made to determine if we are even torturing the right people; given all these things, it is clear that the United States is committing the worst of crimes.

Please help us be a better nation.


Rob Loftis

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ethical Reading (pt. 3)

Flea has a nice post up talking about the role of reading in her life.

It reminded me that I am keeping a list of books I manage to read in their entirety, rather than skimming for a class or a publication or something. Hopefully it isn't too self indulgent to post it, because people do seem to like reading lists of readings.

So here we are

Summer 2005

Mohr, James C. 1978. Abortion in America: the origins and evolution of national policy, 1800-1900. New York: Oxford University Press.

Spring 2005

Lloyd, Elisabeth A. 2005. The Case of the Female Orgasm: Bias in the Science of Evolution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Liszka, James Jakôb. 2002. Moral competence: an integrated approach to the study of ethics. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Fall 2004

Huxley, Aldus. 1962. Island. Reprinted by Harper Collins Perennial, New York, 2002, ISBN: 0060085495

Coetzee, J.M. 2003. Elizabeth Costello. New York: Penguin.

Carlson, Allen, and Arnold Berleant, eds. 2004. The aesthetics of natural environments. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press.

Summer 2004

Thompson, Paul. 1995. The Spirit of the Soil: Agriculture and Environmental Ethics. New York: Routledge.

To the Editors

The Editors
The New York Times
229 West 43rd St.
New York, New York 10036-3959

To the Editors:

Please use more caution when reporting scientific results that have not been subjected to peer review. If you took greater care in checking that the results you report are scientifically valid, you would not have published an article like “Studies Rebut Earlier Report on Pledges of Virginity” (Lawrence Altman, June 15, 2005). That story gives the appearance of being balanced, because it reports on both a scientific study and its critics. But if you look closer you will see that the studies mentioned in the headline have not undergone peer review. Moreover, they not likely to pass peer review and the authors have no intention of submitting them to peer review. Giving equal time to such a report is no more justified than giving equal time to alleged science put forward by people who believe in UFOs, ESP, intelligent design, or who deny the existence of the Holocaust. Objective science reporting calls for more than “balance”; it requires knowledge of what is good science and what is not.

We urgently need good science reporting on subjects like teenage sexuality and the effectiveness of huge government programs. I hope the Times will continue to uphold its reputation for quality, intelligent journalism, and not just report on any press release by activist groups masquerading as science.


J. Robert Loftis

evil lies that will kill us all, pt. 2

More links on abstinence only

1. I was wrong when I said the Heritage Foundation studies weren't available. One of them is here. No Nym, who provided the link, has nice summaries here and here. (Thanks to No Nym!)

2. Check out Helen Epstein's report in the New York Review of Schnookson the effect of abstinence only education on the spread of AIDS in Africa. Much of her focus is on the bogus attempt to spin the success of Uganda's ABC program. (Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms) as a success for abstinence only. Basically, people are treating the ABC program as if it were an A only program.
Mrs. Museveni's claim that abstinence had triumphed over AIDS in Uganda is incorrect. Between 1988 and 2001, the average age at which young Ugandan women started sexual activity rose by less than a year, even though the national HIV rate fell by some 70 percent.[4] Most Ugandan girls begin having sex at around age seventeen, a year or so younger than in Zimbabwe, where HIV rates are about five times higher. More than half of all Ugandan women have been pregnant by age nineteen. HIV rates in pregnant teenage Ugandan girls fell rapidly during the first half of the 1990s, but during this time, the rate and ages at which these girls became pregnant—a marker of their sexual activity—barely changed at all.[5] Moreover, a study carried out in a rural area of Uganda found that young women who abstain from sex until they are twenty are just as likely to become infected with HIV by age twenty-four as young women who first had sex in their teens

The net effect of spinning the ABC program as an A program is to dismantle one of the only effective anti-AIDS programs in Africa.
But condom programs in Uganda are now threatened. Under pressure from both the Ugandan and US governments, billboards advertising condoms, for years a common sight throughout the country, were taken down in December 2004. Radio ads with such slogans as "LifeGuard condoms! Ribbed for extra pleasure!" were to be replaced with messages from the cardinal of Uganda and the archbishop about the importance of abstinence and faithfulness within marriage. In November 2004, Engabu, a highly popular Ugandan condom brand, was pulled from the shelves because of alleged problems with its manufacture. At the same time, the government now insists that all condoms entering the country be subjected to additional quality control tests. However, Uganda does not have the equipment to carry out such tests, and this has resulted in a shortage of condoms.
Other fun quotes
According to po-lice reports, among the most fre-quent culprits in cases of defilement—or sex with a minor—are Chris-tian pastors, along with teachers and policemen, and a local NGO recently urged pastors to use condoms because they were endangering their congregations.
In order to educate their peers about HIV, the students dress the phallus in a new condom every day, and a fresh box of condoms—free for the taking—is placed at its feet. "He symbolizes the culture of our hall of residence," one of the students explained to me. "He has girlfriends, but he always uses a condom." One afternoon shortly after I arrived, a pastor from a nearby church marched up to the statue, removed its condom, set a match to the box of free condoms, and then prayed over the fire: "I burn these condoms in the name of Jesus!" he boomed, and then promised each student a free Bible.

3. Don't forget Congressman Waxman's usefull report of evil lies that show up in abstinence only programs.

Ok, basically all I have done today is quasi-academic blogging (and some completely non-academic blogging.) I need to do real work.

What other costumes were worn halloween 2004

doctor greg
Originally uploaded by Leslie Rock Star.

Here's another random flickr photo tagged "Halloween 2004." Someone's halloween was more sinister than mine.

Halloween 2004

Original photo redacted because Molly says, "I look like they chubby goth girl with bangs (sans bangs) described by david sedaris."

try this one instead


Halloween 2004
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

More Objective Cuteness

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Although I admit that the photos I was sent recently by Molly's friend Bethany also show very cute children, my child is clearly the cutest.

First Birthday

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

And this is from her first birthday.

Recent Caroline Pics

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I'm uploading more pictures of Caroline, for her adoring fans. Here's one from a few weeks ago. There are more if you click through.

Case of the Female Orgasm pt. 8

Thanks to Murky in the comments for CFO 7 for this link to Lloyd's response to the study on the heritability of orgasms by Spector et al. As you might explect, she accepts the heritability results, but challenges the adaptive interpretation of the results. The post is great, and I'm just beginning to get through the comments on it. There is also an extended reply to Lloyd here..

Also, following back to Murky's blog, I see a nice post about evidence the some dolphils are nerds.

This is all too much to process first thing in the morning.

Addendum. Murky also has a nice post on that really stupid study about Ashkenazim and intelligence. Ok, Murky's on the blogroll. Of course, if I read everything on my blogroll, I'd have already seen Lloyd's post at Philosophy of Biology.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

And so to bed

Pepys has an interesting post up about watching the beheading of a republican (no, not that kind of Republican) for plotting against Charles the first. A teaser:
A very great press of people. He made a long speech, many times interrupted by the Sheriff and others there; and they would have taken his paper out of his hand, but he would not let it go. But they caused all the books of those that writ after him to be given the Sheriff; and the trumpets were brought under the scaffold that he might not be heard. Then he prayed, and so fitted himself, and received the blow; but the scaffold was so crowded that we could not see it done.

He scores again!

I got my second publication of the year.
Dear Contributers,

On Friday I entered into an agreement with George Leaman of the Philosophical Documentation Center Press at Charlottesville, Va to publish a volume to come out of the October Conference at UD. Tentatively the title will be "Ethical Issues in the Life Sciences."

Soon you will receive from me (or from PDC) a letter of agreement to publish your contribution to the volume.

Later you will receive an e-mail from me with "instructions for authors." So we are now on our way to publication. Thank you very much.

Fred Adams
Loftis, Rob (2006?) "The Other Value in the GMO Debate" in Ethical Issues in the Life Sciences. Charlottesville, Va : Philosophy Documentation Center.

And just in time for my yearly self-evaluation

Campus wildlife

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I saw a nice pileated woodpecker on my way back from the library. Of course he got all shy when I went back to get my camera. Three more pictures on flickr.

Update: I moved the time of this post up so that the first post on the page would be the more important screed against abstinence only.

Updated update: I put the time back approximately where it was originally, since everyone is commenting on this post.

A big red flashing sign saying "This science is completely bogus"

People always ask me (because I study these things for a living), "How can I tell good science from bad? It seems like every time one expert tells you something, another expert will tell you something else"

It actually isn't hard at all to identify the truly bogus science--and you don't need to rely on any technical knowledge or any intuitions about what is plausible and what isn't. Most truly bad science comes with a big red flashing sign the science is bogus. Take for example, the recent pair of studies which allegedly show that pledges of virginity are effective in preventing risky sexual behavior.

The study has been writen up in the NYT. The third paragraph of the article mentions this fact:
The new findings have not been submitted to a journal for publication, an author said. The independent experts who reviewed the study said the findings were unlikely to be published in their present form.
That's really all you need to know. These studies have not been subjected to peer review. The authors, rather than having their work vetted by other experts, went straight to the press with it. You can stop reading the article now. There is no credible expert testimony to be found here. No evidence of anything.

But lets keep reading anyway, just to see how badly knowledge gets transmitted in our society.

The story begins, really, with an article by Peter Bearman at Columbia and and Hannah Brückner at Yale, published in the The Journal of Adolescent Health. Bearmna and Brückner found that STDs were just as common among people who pledge abstinence as those that don't. Why is this? Well, people who take abstinence pledges do delay vaginal intercourse. This is from the B&B article:
Thus, pledgers experience first sex later than others across adolescence, and a significant minority holds out far into young adulthood. By age 25, we estimate that 25% of consistent male pledgers are still virgins, compared with 7% of nonpledgers and 15% of inconsistent pledgers. For females, the corresponding numbers are 21% for consistent pledgers, 6% for nonpledgers, and 10% for inconsistent pledgers. Note that these results are for vaginal intercourse only.
Pledgers also have fewer partners than nonpledgers: the average numbers for males are 2.4 and 1.5 respectively, for females, 2.7 and 1.9. (As always the numbers for male and female partners don't add up, so either men are having sex with some undersampled population of women, or someone is lying.)

The problem seems to be that any benefits of delayed vaginal intercourse and decreased number of partners are completely cancelled out by increased rates of other kinds of sex and decreased rates of condom use. Male pledgers, for instance, were 4 times as likely as nonpledgers to report having anal sex without vaginal sex. They also only used condoms about 30% of the time for their first round of buttfucking, which is a good predictor for how often they will use condoms in the future.

In other words, abstience only education increases the rate of unprotected anal sex, and this cancells out the benefits of delayed vaginal sex with fewer partners. And check this out
In this context, it is important to know that pledgers are less likely than nonpledgers to be tested for STDs, and to have ever seen a doctor because they are worried about an STD.
Also, check out the huge failure rate for pledges of abstinance
Of all respondents, not conditioning on having had sex, the pattern is roughly similar. Specifically, 61% of all pledgers, 90% of all nonpledgers, and 79% of all inconsistent pledgers have sex before marriage or interview date.
When I taught in Alabama, I always had students tell me that abstinence was the only 100% effective method of birth control. This was often accompanied by some preposterous figure for the failure rate of condoms, like 20%. But look, even the best pledgers have a 61% failure rate. No matter how bogus your condom data is, pledges of abstinence work even worse.

Ok, so that is the beginning of the story. A study in a peer reviewed journal showing that abstinence only has no public health benefit. How does the Heritage foundation respond? By showing that the same numbers can be cooked to show something else. They went over the same data used in B&B's article. According the NYT, the found that
adolescents who made virginity pledges were less likely to engage in any form of sexual activity. If those who made promises did become sexually active, their array of sexual behaviors was likely to be more restricted than those of adolescents who did not make a pledge, Dr. Rector's team said.
Those who made pledges were less likely to engage in vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal sex and sex with a prostitute, and they were less likely to become prostitutes than were adolescents who did not take such a pledge, the Heritage team said.
Wow, how did they make the numbers say something completely different? Well, they just violate the norms for good statistics. Again, the NYT
The team needs to do "a lot of work" on its paper, said David Landry, a senior research associate at the Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York. He said in an interview that it was "a glaring error" to use the result of a statistical test at a 0.10 level of significance when journals generally use a lower and more rigorous level of 0.05.
Also, the researchers decided to use self-reports of STD rates, rather than the laboratory tests of blood samples used by B&B. After all, which is more likely to tell you the truth about an STD, a biological assay or a teenager who has taken an abstinence pledge?

What about the Times role in all of this? Well, I suppose they think they have provided fair and balanced coverage because they both quoted the Heritage foundation and its critics. I got all of my information critical of the study from the Times article. But this is a completely shit model of scientific objectivity. You shouldn't report both sides of an issue when one side hasn't even been subjected to peer review. Effectively, there is no credible other side to this issue. Giving equal time to the Heritage Foundation study is like giving equal time to holocaust deniers, people who believe in UFOs, or creationists.

(For a nice discussion of how journalist "balance" distorts science, see this article in the Columbia Journalism Review.)

Here's what I want to know: Why can't I call up the New York Times, present them with a bunch of unpublished data, and have them write a story about it.


Bruckner, Hannah, and Peter Bearman. 2005. After the promise: The STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges. 36 (4):271.

Havrilesky interviews Spurlock

At salon. His new show looks really good.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The Parable of the Shit in the Municipal Water Supply

[This parable is meant to be free floating, and can apply to a huge number of issues Democrats are asked to compromise on.]

Randolph "Randy" Nelson would like to vote Democratic. He wants universal health care. He opposes adventurous wars abroad. One thing holds him back.

“My family has been taking a shit in the municipal water supply for eight generations. It’s a part of our heritage, and we don’t take kindly to outsiders telling us where we can shit.”

A lot of politicians are hearing Nelson’s message. “I knew I would be called a flip flopper when I came out in favor of shitting-in-the-water-supply rights,” says Dale Looserville, a state representative “but the proud tradition of dropping your pants and spewing filth into reservoirs was simply too important to my constituents.”

Effete city-dwelling activists disagree. “These people are shitting in the water supply!” exclaims Thurston Wannabe Classtraitor IV. “My family drinks that water,” he adds. “Of course, we can filter our water, but what about all the people who can’t or don’t?”

Others believe that money lies at the heart of this issue. “Sales of bottled water are now vital to Coka-Cola’s profits,” says industry watcher Susan Industry-Watcher, “that’s why they give so much money to politicians like Looserville.”

Experts also note that past efforts to stem shitting in the water supply have failed. “The past five laws on this issue have greatly damaged the shit-dependent economy without any noticeable effect on the quality of the city’s water,” says Wordsworth Notatallaclasstraitor XXVI, of the Totally Funded By the Shit Lobby Institute. “The bottom line is simple: you can’t stop people from shitting where they want to shit. If the Democrat party continues to interfere in shitting-in-the-water-supply rights, they are permanently marginalizing themselves.

For NPR News, I’m Jason Lopez.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The time I broke ranks

There are threads at Bitch and Majikthise about whether abortion rights should be a "core issue" or even a "litmus test" for Democratic candidates. Much of this was sparked by the decision of NARAL to endorse pro-choice republican Lincoln Chafee.

I'm not ready to contribute a full post to this issue, but I do want to relate the story of the one time I voted for a Republican.

It was the governor's race in Illinois, and a conservative, downstate democrat was running against a liberal republican. I was a Chicago resident at the time, and the thing that pissed me off most about the conservative Democrat was the fact that he was in bed with the NRA. Here was a guy from a rural area promoting the gun trade, which didn't hurt his constituency much, but killed people every day in Chicago. It was really an upwind/downwind issue. People who live upwind from the factory don't mind the smog. People who live away from cities don't mind the gun trade.

Gun control turned out to be my litmus test. I didn't think of myself as a single issue voter on gun control. But in this case, it was the one that did it for me.

I don't remember where either candidate stood on abortion.

The Republican I voted for was George Ryan. He won, and left a complicated legacy. On the one hand, he placed a moratorium on all executions in Illinois. His last act as governor was to commute the sentences of everyone on death row. On the other hand, he got caught up in a nasty bribery scandal dating from his days as secretary of state.

I still feel like I made the right choice.

Update: The Nation has a peice on why gun control is the issue democrats should give in on. Interestingly, the proposal doesn't seem to simply be compromise, but completely dropping gun control from the agenda. Because, you know, we can always count on the cities to vote Democratic.

productivity and the english language, pt. 1

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

Why why why?

You never see this in real books, but it comes up all the time in rulebooks and software documentation.

The table of contents, rather than giving you page numbers, gives you section numbers. In this case what you get are a secondary set of section numbers. So the table of contents tells you that Section IV.A.5 can be found in section IV.5. What fucking good is that?

Page numbers appear on every page in the same place. You don't have to keep flipping forward to find the next one in the sequence. They are a lovely established convention for finding your way around a text.

The death of decent forms of communication will be the downfall of society.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Dear Mayor Willie M. Herenton

The city of Memphis has a comment page here.

Dear Mayor Willie M. Herenton

Please investigate the organization "Love in Action," a group which claims to be able to "cure" homosexuality, for possible child abuse. I am not a resident of Memphis, however news of this group and their hateful actions is spreading accros the country, indeed the planet, and is reflecting very badly on your city, which as you well know, is dependent on tourist dollars.

Love in action runs a detention facility where parents can send their teens to be "scared" out of their sexual orientation. Regardless of why you believe about the causes or morality of homosexuality, many of the practices of this camp are clearly abusive. Most disturbing is this quotation from the head of the facility, reported on

I would rather youcommit suicide than have you leave Love In Action wanting to return to the gay lifestyle. In a physical death you could still have a spiritual resurrection; whereas, returning to homosexuality you are yielding yourself to a spiritual death from which there is no recovery. [emphasis added]

One of the organizations opposing Love In Action reported the following interview with a survivor of the program

He told us about the program, and described some very horrific things that took place while he was apart of it.
These things included "shaming sessions", where the clients have to, once a day, describe in emotional detail "sinful activities" they'd partaken in...these sessions were then extended to having to describe these things in front of 50 or 60 people on "friends and family" nights, where the family was encouraged to shame them, not be supportive.

He also verififed that most of the staff of LIA are not certified to do any sort of therapy, and that he knows several former clients who've all left the program and since come out as as gay, who feel the program is emotionally damaging, and/or ineffective. He also infomred us that the program offered him no alternatives when he left, referred him no where else and only mentioned that they were there if he needed thiem.

The rest of the world is very concerned about this situation, and hope you will act on it.



Another interesting post about the Zack story.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Why I love Lindsay Bayerstein

I love that Judith Jarvis Thompson paper. I read it for the first time when I was about 13. It was one of the first philosophy papers to really make an impression on me.

That's from the comments on this post at Majikthise.

Most of the 18-25 year olds that I expose to the JJT paper can't appreciate it. And there's Lindsay, eating it up at age 13.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Zack :' (

Zack :' ( is a 16 year old blogger who just came out to his parents and has been sent to a "Christian" re-education camp.

Via Majikthise

Update: scare quotes added to the word "christian"

second update: The Republic of T has collected links on this evolving story here and here.

The are pictures from day for of the protest in front of the "Christian" re-"education" "camp" here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

link to good "embryo adoption" post

Molly pointed me to this post at A Little Pregnant about Snowflakes, the fundamentalist "embryo adoption" group.

A teaser:
Why, lingering in insensate stasis is every bit as bad as being branded, mutilated, and hanged for disobedience. Yep, postponing telophase? That right there is a dream deferred, my friends, and therefore a dream denied.

Against Leadership

I have a visceral, instinctive dislike of the word 'leadership'. My dislike of 'leadership' does not sink to the level of the loathing I feel for words and phrases like 'detainee' or 'extraordinary rendition'. 'Leadership' is not a word built to obfuscate, nor is it some piece of Newspeak creeping out of Orwell's fiction and into the actual world. Still, I suspect 'leadership' is a bad word. The first thing I imagine when I hear the word 'leadership' is a place called the "Center for Leadership Excellence," which I imagine Dilbert's Pointy Haired Boss graduated from. And lo and behold, there are many such places.

I speak out against the word 'leadership' at my own peril, for not only does SLU have its own center for leadership, the "St. Lawrence University Leadership Academy," but its center for leadership is an important partner in the CBL program, which I believe strongly in. (In fact, according to the document I just read, the CBL has a dynamic partnership with the St. Lawrence University Leadership Academy.) The Leadership Academy offers a half credit course on "the role of leaders and leadership from both historical and theoretical perspectives" and sponsors a conference on leadership.

I am hardly in a position to complain about studying historical and theoretical perspectives on leadership. Many philosophers I teach--Aristotle, Confucius--develop theories of the rights and duties of those on the top side of various hierarchical relationships. Many of the things they say are still important in a democratic context. Certainly Plato felt that the education of leaders was the most important element of politics.

Still, I distrust these sorts of studies when they use the word 'leadership'. I distrust them almost as much as I distrust leaders. 'Leadership' is such a vague word. When Confucius talks about the duties of nobility, he had in mind five relationships that had concrete meanings in his society: father/son, ruler/subject, husband/wife, older brother/younger brother, friend/friend. When people talk about leadership in America, there is no particular relationship they refer to. They really mean any situation where one person can take credit for being the guy who gets things done, the go-to guy, the rainmaker. Yes I know someone else did the work, but I made all the phone calls. I sent out a lot of emails on my blackberry. I appropriated the surplus value of your labor. With the word 'leadership' you get pure managerialism, tradition efficiently stripped away, leaving pure exploitation.

Of course, at the Leadership Academy they teach people to be better leaders than that. Their course on leadership promises
A focus on relational models of leadership which emphasizes leadership as “a relational process of people together attempting to accomplish change or make a difference to benefit the common good” (Komives and McMahon, p.68).
But if people are working together for the common good why privilege one of them as "the leader"? The best sort of leadership studies would be suicidal to the concept of leadership. (I bet you could assign the Tao Te Ching in such a course.)

'Leadership' is a different sort of bad word than 'extraordinary rendition'. The phrase 'extraordinary rendition' is evil because it obscures the concept it names (outsourcing torture). 'Leadership' is bad because it accurately names precisely the part of the concept that does the most damage to human society. It identifies the part of a social relationship where one person gets to be more important than all the others.

I don't think the academy should teach leadership. I know Plato said that the education of leaders was the most important part of politics, but my utopian vision doesn't involve perfectly education leaders. Back when I actively developed utopian schemes, I was a communitarian anarchist (one of those anarchists who thinks everyone should share stuff, not the Ayn Rand type anarchists.)

So, with all due respect for my coworkers who teach leadership, I ask you to stop. There are much better kinds of civilization we can teach.

Downing Street Memo Petition

Moveon is looking for 500,000 signatures on a petition sponsored by Representative John Conyers demanding that Bush come clean about the lead up to the war and the evidence of his perfidy in the Downing Street Memo.

sign the petition here

Post Mortem for the CBL part of my ethics class

“Our examination does not aim, as our others do, at study; for the purpose of our examination is not to know what virtue is, but to become good, since otherwise the inquiry would be of no benefit to us.” –Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics 1103b26

So last semester I had students in my ethics class participate in the community based learning program. This was my first venture into the enterprise that used to be called "service learning" until people realized how condescending that sounded. I had long been convinced that CBL should be a part of ethics courses, in part because I believe in two theses originally put forward by Aristotle: we study ethics to become more virtuous, and virtue is acquired by habit. I didn't think these premises were sufficient to show the importance of CBL, because there wasn't a connection to the kind of learning done in the university: how can you work the development of virtuous habits into a course that is based on reading and discussion, and where the instructor is required to be neutral on controversial political issues?

Then I saw Jim Liszka give a talk on community based learning. He clued me in to the importance of reflection in modern community based learning projects. Here is a description of the role of reflection in CBL from Edward Zlotkowski (????), which I encountered recently:

Indeed, service learning practitioners tend to place special emphasis on reflection as the key to making service yield real learning...What is distinctive about reflection in a service-learning context is its multi-layered quality: what students reflect on results not just in greater technical mastery ("course content") but also in an expanded appreciation of the contextual social significance of the discipline in question and most broadly of all, in "an enhanced sense of civic responsibility"

(Z is quoting key phrases from Bringle and Hatcher 1996) This is real. This is what the university should be doing. Indeed, Zlotkowski argues, it may save the university's ass.

The problem is that many people think that CBL, like blogging, is career suicide. It sucks up all your time and isn't rewarded by the administration because it is not another publication line on your CV. Liszka said you shouldn't try it until after you have tenure. So when I approached Ron Flores here at SLU about adding a CBL component to my ethics class my primary concern was that it not suck away all my time. Ron and his team assured me that they had everything set up so that it wouldn't, and he was right. From my perspective, using CBL was effortless.

Which turned out to be a problem. I was teaching a general ethics course using Liszka's Moral Competence. (More on this brilliant text in another post.) I decided to focus on caregiving in the CBL, simply placing students in situations where they would have to provide care for others (like the local nursing home or NYSARC, a local group that works with the retarded) and then inviting them to reflect on the experience in a journal. Ron and his team did an excellent job of handling the placements. I graded the journals. The whole thing took no more of my time than any assignment.

The lack of involvement meant that I had no way of dealing with problems that came up. While a many students reported having great experiences, many others had problems. The first warning sign was the low rates of participation. I had set the bar high: I wanted 40 hours from them for the semester. My impression was that most SLU students could spare that much time. This is a wealthy residential campus. People aren't commuting four hours a day and they typically are not working full time jobs. I thought the few that did work full time could strike individual deals with me.

No one gave the required 40 hours. The average student gave 10 hours. The student who did the best gave 27. Two CBL reports do not list the student hours, and I seem to have misfiled two more reports. (Should I gratuitously admit that in my blog? I'm sure they're here somewhere.)

More importantly, students at best managed to draw formal, strained connections between their CBL experience and the classroom material. My best student catalogued the feelings she had during her placement using Liszka's categories of moral emotion. The root problem was that I tried to do this on the cheap. I was unable to either motivate my students or help them draw connections, because I had no real idea what they were doing.

What to do for this class next year? Well, first of all, I'm not going to worry about committing too much time to the project. I am no longer playing the philosophy game to win; I'm playing for love. I don't care whether things I write will be cited after I am dead. I don't care if I ever get tenure. The important thing is to do the job I do well right now.

So the main thing I've decided is that I need to do a CBL placement myself, and see what the students will be doing. I can then pick out readings and topics based on what happens on the ground. Should I reduce the number of hours I require? If I can make the CBL component relevant to the class, I won't have to, at least not by much.

Also, I think I'm going to make all the students blog their CBL next time.


Bringle, R.G., and J.A. Hatcher. 1996. Implementing Service Learning in Higher Education. Journal of Higher Education 67:221-239.

Edward Zlotkowski (????) Pedagogy and Engagement

This Week in Blogging History

Sunday 8 June 1662 Sam Pepys gets in a fight with "my man Will," his apprentice and surrogate son. Will was seen out and about "with his cloak flung over his shoulder, like a Ruffian." Which so engraged Pepys that he boxed the boys ears, twice. Later, he has misgivings about it.

This is also an unusual Pepys post because he mentions no modes of transportation.

June 12 2003 Invisible adjunct posts again after a brief hiatus and migrates to movable type. Shout outs to a lot of people who are still blogging and on my blog roll. I didn't enter blogistan until after she left, so I had no idea she was so close to the blogs I currently surf.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004 Giblets surfs the tube looking at all the Reagan tributes. Reagan on the Food Network. Reagan on VH1. Good times.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Genetic link to ability to orgasm in females (CFO, pt. 7)

From Steve Horwitz, via email.

A new article in Biology Letters reports on a British twin study which estimates that 34% of the ability of females to have orgam during intercourse is genetic (confidence interval 27–40%). The number goes up to 45% for orgasm in masturbation (confidence interval 38–52%). The study sent questionnaires to members of the British national twin registry. They received replies from 683 non-identical twins and 714 identical twins.

This follows an earlier Australian study which I am trying to track down. It would help if I could get the Biology Letters article.

So how does this bear on the Symmons evolutionary hypothesis that we have been discussing on this blog? If the female orgasm is a developmental byproduct of the male orgasm, we should expect genes associated with female orgasm to show a lot of variation. If there was direct selective pressure on the genes, that should show up as reduced genetic variability.

Here is the write up from SFGate.

This is the write up in New Scientist.

Note some of the discrepencies in science journalism. New Scientist says this is the first study of this kind. SFGate points to the Australian study earlier this year. Also, New Scientist opens with some cheap jokes. On the other hand, they gave Lloyd a phone call. Both articles mention use of these findings to develop drugs to promote orgasm in women. Alert feminists will note that the FDA has been slow to approve drugs that help women sexually. Women's use of viagra, for instance, has never been approved.

Infertility Blogs

I followed a link at Timna's to this blog by a woman going through IVF. Retrieval and fertilization were last thursday. Implantation was sunday. If you didn't know that IVF was harrowing, read the blog.

One thing that struck me was the PGD was a routine part of the process for our blogger. In my one good publication, I listed PGD as a form of genetic engineering. I stand by that analysis. This lets you know where reproductive technology is now.

Infertility blogs are a huge genre. Molly has been reading a lot in that area. She is fond of Chez Miscarriage. Also, A Little Pregnant has a nice list of infertility blogs.

Odd how blogging brings together personal and professional interests.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Who else is named caroline?

A random selection of other photos tagged "Caroline"

Originally uploaded by doctor paradox.

Objectively cuter than other children

Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

It took us a while to realize this, because it goes against common sense. Normally parents think their child is cute because they are her parents. But after a while, it just became clear to us that Caroline is objectively cuter than other children. Indeed, by any rational standard of toddler cuteness, she may be the cutest toddler in the history of the species, if not the genus. Molly and I have begun to discuss how this might affect her development as a person.

Well, this is a cute picture from the pre-toddler days.

added: I'm not trying to brag, or run down others' kids. I just am trying to state a simple fact, like the fact that gravity obeys an inverse square law. Objects close to the earth accelerate at 9.8 meters per second per second, and Caroline is the cutest creature in the hominid line.


Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

I uploaded a bunch of Caroline pictures, because everyone knows she's the cutest. This one is from the summer of 2004. There's another batch clustered around winter-spring 2003. We seem to be irregular documenters of our child, with the photos coming in bursts.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Where all the drugs go

From the Milwakee Journal-Sentinel this piece on the effect of pharmaceuticals that pass through the body and into the ground water. These are agents that were designed to be biologically active even in small doses, and sewage filtration systems weren't designed with them in mind. (Via

Friday, June 03, 2005

Walden by Day, Bedford Falls by Night

There were two gatherings in the town square today, each drawing on different populations of our tiny hamlet. In the afternoon, the residents of Walden gathered for the Farmer's Market. Walden gets the downtown park every friday afternoon, and I have never seen a better gathering of organic, locally grown produce. It is also a great time for snaking. The Carriage House Bakery sells tofu curry pockets and pesto knots. An Asian woman with a thick accent, whose name I have never learned, sells dumplings and odd savories. This year she seems to be trying to assimilate more to local culture, and is selling more whole-grain snacks, whose health benefits she trumpets. Fortunately she is still selling those dumplings with the sweet red bean paste in them. Generally there is a guy with an acoustic guitar and two mics, one for the vocals and one for the guitar.

Tonight Beford Falls had their turn at the park, and we saw a different turn on food and agriculture. It was "John Deere Day." We saw no local agricultural outputs, but there was an impressive array of agricultural inputs. Well, really just tractors. tractors in various shapes and sizes but all the same color, that shade of greene John Deere has no doubt trademarked. The food was not local. There were stands selling coke and popcorn and pretzels. Kids from the high school were selling candy. I have noticed that the crowd at Bedford Falls gatherings tends to be about 10 years older and 50 pounds heavier than the crowd at the Walden gatherings.

To be honest, I like the music at Beford Falls gatherings better. Country bands playing standards: Hank Williams senior, George Straight, Chuck Berry and other pre-Beatles rock and roll. This is the real folk music, not because it is made by the folk, but because it has been shaped by the needs of the social setting: what the audience is familiar with, what works with the state fair atmosphere. The self consciously folk musicians at the Farmers Market are too dominated by Dylan and the image of the poet as romantic genius. You cannot underestimate the damage the sixties did to folk music.

My names for the two communities in Canton are not quite apt. Although "Walden" reminds people of the back to the land movement that populated this region with hippies, Henry David himself put nature on such a pedestal he could never be a good farmer. Any attempt to shape nature was beyond him. Michael Pollan said that trying to draw an environmental ethic from Walden was like learning about marriage when your only categories are chasitity and rape.

I don't like Bedford Falls as a name for the Red Sate contingent in upstate New York either. I don't recall anyone in Frank Capra's movies having such a fascination with vehicles. While at John Deere day I had a longish conversation about Corvettes, prompted by an effort to guess the year of one passing buy. Not five minutes later I overheard some people trying to identify the year a passing harley was made.

Still, I think people know what I mean when I call this place Walden meets Beford Falls. There are some interactions between the sides of the community. The Rotary Club is getting behind SLU's efforts to establish a sister village in Sri Lanka. With any luck I will be taking students there next summer to help with the rebuilding effort. It is a purely low level connection: US rotary club to Sri Lanken rotary club. There are values we all share.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Requiem for a Haircut

Picture 004
Originally uploaded by rob helpychalk.

The mohawk did not last long. I have too many meetings coming up: one with the dean, one which includes a guy from the Rotary club.

In somewhat related news, a group of conservative intellectuals have listed J.S. Mill's On Liberty as a runner up for the ten most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. (via Wonkette) Other runners up include Darwin's Origin of Species and Descent of Man. What made the list? The top 3 are to be expected, The Communist Manifestor, Mein Kamf, and The Quotations of Chairman Mao. Number 4 is weird: The Kinsey Report. That's right Kinsey caused nearly as much damage as Chairman Mao.

In any case, I leave you with a quote from the Chapter "On Individuality, as an Element of Well-Being" from Mill's contribution to the most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries.

He who does anything because it is the custom, makes no choice. He gains no practice either in discerning or in desiring what is best. The mental and moral, like the muscular powers, are improved only by being used. The faculties are called into no exercise by doing a thing merely because others do it, no more than by believing a thing only because others believe it. If the grounds of an opinion are not conclusive to the person's own reason, his reason cannot be strengthened, but is likely to be weakened, by his adopting it: and if the inducements to an act are not such as are consentaneous to his own feelings and character (where affection, or the rights of others, are not concerned) it is so much done towards rendering his feelings and character inert and torpid, instead of active and energetic.

He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision. And these qualities he requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his conduct which he determines according to his own judgment and feelings is a large one.