Archive for Science

Feb
28

Vaccination: It’s Bigger Than You

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Dec
26

What’s in a racial label?

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Esther J. Cepeda’s Washington Post op-ed discusses a study by Emory University researchers, “A rose by any other name?: The consequences of subtyping ‘African-Americans’ from ‘Blacks’”. Specifically, the study looked at how white people responded to the two terms and their attached stereotypes. Notice, there’s as much class as race here:

The researchers conducted four distinct studies in the realms of employment, media and criminal justice to determine the perceptions of the two labels in different contexts.

The data they collected point to whites believing that the label “Black” evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status, education, positivity, competence and warmth than the label “African-American.” And whites “will react more negatively” toward “Blacks” than toward “African-Americans.”

Even more chilling, the researchers found that use of the label “Black” in a newspaper crime report is associated with more negative emotional words than in an article featuring the words “African-American.” And whites view a criminal suspect more negatively when that person is identified as “Black” versus “African-American.”

Wonder how they’d react to calling them “citizens” or “people”? Or “neighbors”?

I noticed how both Cepeda and I both typed lower case above when writing “white” as though it is an ordinary adjective and less of a racial label, while the study prefers “White.” Race is always there, Cepeda notes, because “no matter how post-racial any of us thinks we are, we’re all carrying around varying degrees of racial and ethnic bias.”

For example, this reference in the report to another study jumped out at me for some reason:

Participants, who were predominantly White Americans, rated “poor Blacks” low in both warmth and competence and perceived them similarly to poor Whites and welfare recipients (Figure 1, p. 885, 887, Fiske et al., 2002). Conversely, participants rated “Black professionals” as having high competence and high warmth and perceived them similarly to Americans, the middle class, Christians, the Irish, and housewives (Figure 2, p. 638, Cuddy et al., 2007).

The Irish? HEY! What’s up with that?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Poverty, Race, Science
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Nov
23

Cesspits of bad behavior

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Hans Speckaert – Conversion of St Paul on the Road to Damascus. Via Wikimedia Commons.

In business today, too often integrity is an afterthought.

The San Francisco Chronicle quotes from the blog, Both Sides of the Table, by investor Mark Suster, “I believe that integrity and honesty are very important to most venture capital investors. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they are required to make a lot of money.”

In a piece that might be titled, “The Real Jerks of Silicon Valley,” Alyson Shontell examines how many rising stars in Silicon Valley tend to be “–holes”. (The construction pops up frequently in the piece.) The rogues gallery is expansive, including Uber’s Travis Kalanick. He’s had a particularly bad week. Still,

“Sometimes,” one acquaintance said of Kalanick, “–holes create great businesses.”

Read More→

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Nov
21

Compassionate at birth

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Genesis 4
9 And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

One of the takeaways from the Genesis account of Cain’s murder of his brother is, yes, you are. And we are wired that way, suggest experiments involving young children. Cognitive scientist Paul Bloom, author of Just Babies told Inquiring Minds last week that a basic sense of morality likely developed via Darwinian evolution:

“I think all babies are created equal in that all normal babies—all babies without brain damage—possess some basic foundational understanding of morality and some foundational moral impulses,” says Bloom on the Inquiring Minds podcast.

The question is how much of our moral sensibility is innate and how much is acculturation? By studying babies before they receive instruction and language, Bloom and other researchers hope to get at that answer. Using simple puppet plays , researchers find that babies and toddlers exhibit a sense of fairness, and a preference for “helping” characters. They avoid “hindering” ones.

Interestingly, as the toddlers get a little older, this sense of fairness seems to morph into pure egalitarianism—at least when it comes to distributing other people’s stuff. “There’s a lot of research suggesting that when it comes to divvying up resources that strangers possess, they are socialists—they like to share things equally,” says Bloom.

When asked to hand out treats to other people or to stuffed animals, 3- and 4-year-old children will divide resources equally, if at all possible. Even if they know that one person deserves more of a resource than another because she worked harder for it, they will still opt for equal distribution. In a study of 5-to-8-year-olds, when it was impossible to divide resources equally—for example, if the children were given five erasers to distribute to two people—they would even throw the extra eraser in the trash instead of giving more to one person than the other.

“But this compassion and this helping, it all pertains to the baby’s own group,” says Bloom. They are less naturally generous with out-group members.

By our natures, we strongly value those around us over strangers. And to the extent that you and I don’t, to the extent that you and I might recognize that somebody suffering, I don’t know, from the Ebola virus in Africa, is a life just as valuable as those of our closest friends and family, that’s an extraordinary cultural accomplishment. And it’s something that’s not in the genes. It’s not what we’re born with.

What strikes me is how this research echoes something paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey said about Turkana Boy in speculating about the development of compassion in early Man:

Bipedalism carried an enormous price, where compassion was what you paid your ticket with. You simply can’t abandon somebody who’s incapacitated because the rest will abandon you next time it comes to be your turn.

There but for the grace of God. Compassion has an evolutionary advantage, Leakey suggests. Perhaps it is what helped us rise above the law of the jungle.

The irony is that a libertarian-leaning conservative posted the Mother Jones article on Bloom — “Science Says Your Baby Is a Socialist” — to a Facebook forum as a tweak to lefties (socialist babies, I suppose). In fact, it would seem that a movement that sneers at being your brother’s keeper in organizing human society is hardly an accomplishment, cultural, political, or evolutionary.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Nov
14

Hannity will have a conniption

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That right-wing bugaboo, political correctness, can actually enhance creativity, says Dr. Jack Goncalo, associate professor of organizational behaviors at Cornell. He took hundreds of test subjects, broke them into small groups, and asked some at random to be “politically correct” or “polite.”

All were then asked to spend 10 minutes brainstorming business ideas. Creativity was measured by counting the number of ideas generated and by coding them for novelty.

Contrary to the widely held notion that being politically correct has a generally stifling effect, the results showed that a politically correct norm actually boosted the creative output of mixed-sex groups …

Although political correctness has often been associated with lowered expectations and a censor of behavior, the new culture actually provides a foundation upon which demographically heterogeneous work groups can freely exchange creative ideas, Goncalo said.

Setting boundaries and norms for behavior reduces uncertainty and made men and women more comfortable sharing creative ideas. The effects were reversed in same-sex groups where behavioral expectations are presumably more defined. The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman writes that PC norms apply peer pressure to prevent people from behaving badly who otherwise might:

Read More→

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Oct
25

“Summoning the demon”

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Technology has a momentum all its own. It has a tendency to take us places before we consider whether they are places we need to or ought to go.

From the realms of my fuzzy memory: Twenty years ago I caught a noon broadcast by Paul Harvey on my car radio. A wealthy California couple had been killed when their small plane crashed. The childless couple had been trying to have a baby through in vitro fertilization. Their efforts remained frozen in a refrigerator at the fertility clinic. As the news reached the public, selfless local women were coming forward and volunteering to carry to term the heirs to the couple’s millions.

I laughed all the way home about technology getting out ahead of our ethics.

Yesterday at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk offered a darker tale about the development of artificial intelligence:

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.

The classic formulation of that warning comes from a one-page, short story by Fredric Brown, titled “Answer,” from Angels and Spaceships (1954). After finally networking computers from ninety-six billion planets, the lead scientist puts the first question to the new supercomputer: “Is there a God?”

The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of single relay.

“Yes, now there is a God.”

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.

A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.

Around the coffee urn at the NSA, they must think, “How cool is that?”

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : Science
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Sep
09

If Dogs Could Talk

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Don’t you like a good new fashioned dust up between two biologists who you would expect to agree on most things? A recent hypothetical draws a strong reaction which draws an even more outlandish hypothetical. Biologist, author, blogger and atheist PZ Myers recently wrote in a post titled The only abortion argument that counts:

We can make all the philosophical and scientific arguments that anyone might want, but ultimately what it all reduces to is a simple question: do women have autonomous control of their bodies or not? Even if I thought embryos were conscious, aware beings writing poetry in the womb (I don’t, and they’re not), I’d have to bow out of any say in the decision the woman bearing responsibility has to make.

Which drew this reaction from Richard Dawkins:

To which PZ responds by drawing up an even more fantastic hypothetical Read More→

Mar
09

Next He’ll Privatize The Air

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The billboard pictured here is real, it’s located in Lima, Peru, and it produces around 100 liters of water a day (about 26 gallons) from nothing more than humidity, a basic filtration system and a little gravitational ingenuity.

Clever idea. And it looks like they give away the water to the poor. Socialists.

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Jan
22

Explaining Who We Are, How We Vote

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They hate Demographs in Raleigh, eh?

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Another way to explain who we are: The 15 types of communities that make up America

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Jan
18

What Meets The Eye

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Okay, it’s the engineer in me. There are more examples of cleverly disguised infrastructure here.

[h/t Roger Hartley]

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