Skepticism

Skepchick Quickies, 2.18

Jen

Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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61 Comments

  1. @tkingdoll: Honestly, I didn’t check the date – but considering she’s been in the press within that last couple of months for detoxing, I think it’s safe to say she hasn’t recovered completely from dubious medical practices.

  2. Being new to this community I don’t understand why the green burial story is on the list. Could someone quick explain your position so I can decide whether I agree with this one as much as I have previous opinions? At this point I don’t disagree with most of that article.

  3. 1. Can we get a photo of Paltrow in a bikini?

    2. All I see is the San Diego Chicken trying to box?

    3. >>And in a “shocking” finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another’s intentions. >>

    Actually not so shocking.

    4. There’s a urn in the bottom of the sea
    There’s a urn in the bottom of the sea
    There’s a urn, there’s a urn
    There’s a urn, there’s a urn
    There’s a urn in the bottom of the sea

  4. @spellwight: We don’t really have a “position.” There’s a bunch of writers on this, all with our own opinions on things, plus in the Quickies we include many reader-submitted links. I don’t personally have an agenda for links in the Quickies list – I just post whatever I find interesting, in both negative and positive ways.

    As far as this particular link goes, I think it’s a cool idea too. :)

  5. I just saw a smiley face with a beard, must have been a self portrait from Kindergarten.

    I have a new product we can market. Jesus Crispies, fried in the holiest peanut oil. I can see it now sitting at home with a big o’ bag of Jesus Crispies, a six of Strongbow, and play some old school video games. That’s my new Sunday.

  6. @spellwight: Hiya! Just as Jen says, not all news in the Quickies is intended to be mocked or laughed at. Sometimes the news articles are simply posted because they are interesting.

    Personally, I think putting someone in a coffin and then burying it is a waste, unless you have plans on rising from the grave.

  7. @SicPreFix: We get a ton of links – seriously, my inbox is easily over 50% link submissions. Sometimes stuff slips through the cracks, especially with two different people posting the links. Sorry we missed it before.

    I think the article in question here is ridiculous, for a number of reasons. But I think charges of “female chauvinism” are equally unnecessary. If you mean this in the sense of feminism run amok, I don’t think it’s feminist in the slightest. The article has a sensationalized tone that panders to untrue stereotypes about both men and women and features some dubious, or at the very least not very well-explained, science. It has plenty of problems, but if female chauvinism is in fact one of them, it’s far behind several others in terms of proportion.

  8. @Jen said:

    We get a ton of links – seriously, my inbox is easily over 50% link submissions. Sometimes stuff slips through the cracks, especially with two different people posting the links. Sorry we missed it before.

    Ta. I should have thought of that. My oversight.

    @Jen also said:

    It has plenty of problems, but if female chauvinism is in fact one of them, it’s far behind several others in terms of proportion.

    Yes, good point.

  9. @Jen: The article has a sensationalized tone that panders to untrue stereotypes about both men and women and features some dubious, or at the very least not very well-explained, science.

    An excellent point. The bikini article brings to mind some very valid questions about using fMRI to draw inferences about human thought processes. The basic idea that increased blood flow to a part of the brain can be linked to specific cognitive functions is still speculative. Steve Novella has been very clear on The Skeptics Guide and on his Neurologica blog that what we interpret as thought in our brains comes from lots of different areas working in lots of different ways. Showing someone a picture and pointing to a specific area as the part of the brain that corresponds to how the researcher would use the object in that picture makes a number of assumptions. It may all be true, but it is still too early for the kind of conclusive statement that the National Geographic article makes.

  10. And, as for the jesus chip:

    The couple stashed the iconic morsel in a foam dish with a clear plastic lid and say they plan to keep it.

    I guess when it starts growing green mold that’s what? the sign of the apocalypse? Jesus come to life oh my envious atheist Brothers?

  11. I was at Susan Fiske’s presentation at the AAAS meeting, and this story doesn’t really do it justice. The research is much more interesting than it sounds, in one study showing the bikini photos for 200 milliseconds changed the men’s behavior towards women they met immediately after the study.

  12. @pryce said:

    … showing the bikini photos for 200 milliseconds changed the men’s behavior towards women they met immediately after the study.

    How can that possible be? Did they repeat the same meeting at the same time with the same guys in the same frame of mind meeting the same women, but on the first run through they didn’t see the 200 milliseconds, and on the second run through they did?

    I don’t get it?

  13. 1. If cupping can improve the acting in “Sky Captains world of tomorrow” then it truly is miraculous.

    2. I see god in my coffee regularly.

    3. See, and this is where we pause to remember, National Geo does not constitute being published, nor does it constitute peer review.

    4. Cool

  14. A quick summary of the particular study I mentioned: The men going into the study thought they were there is participate in two separate studies, the first involving seeing photos while in fMRI scanners and the second being the interviewer for a mock job interview. In the photo portion, half the men were given short glimpses of the bikini photos, half were not. In the interview portion a half an hour later, the men who saw the bikini photos rated the exact same female interviewees as significantly less intelligent and more physically attractive than did the men who did not see the photos.

  15. Interesting research. The next time I see a woman in a bikini, I will remember to ask her if she needs more suncream.

    How can that possible be? Did they repeat the same meeting at the same time with the same guys in the same frame of mind meeting the same women, but on the first run through they didn’t see the 200 milliseconds, and on the second run through they did?

    You can try to measure the behavior of 100 men who didn’t see the images (control group) and measure the behavior of 100 other men who did. Maybe men the second group were drooling significantly more often that men in the first group or something like that.

    I liked the soylent green story too.

  16. @durnett:

    I too could go on and on about the relationship between tools and people. What was also interesting was the part about it was a similar score to pictures of the homeless…or they even responded when the woman had no head…er…hmmmm
    no head- no brain- no thoughts-
    Brings up terms like “Barbie Dolls” and calling women “Living dolls” . So should I now be weary of such endearments from men? Although I haven’t been called a “Barbie” by anyone but my sons. They refer to my pre-occupation with the color pink and high heels….but nevermind…lol…

  17. @Jen: “We get a ton of links – seriously, my inbox is easily over 50% link submissions.”

    Sorry, I’ll try to cut down a bit.

    Actually, I skim through hundreds of articles per day in Google Reader and send only about 5 or 6 of them to Skepchick. From that perspective, I think I’m showing an unusual amount of self-restraint.

  18. @Steve: No, it’s great! I don’t mean to sound as if I’m complaining. Just trying to make a lame excuse as to why I can’t keep track of them all better. :) I think it’s awesome readers have so many links to share. You guys definitely do a better job of finding interesting stuff than I do on my own!

  19. @virginskepchick: Brings up terms like “Barbie Dolls” and calling women “Living dolls” . So should I now be weary of such endearments from men?
    I never thought of “living doll” as an endearment. It sounds kind of creepy to me, but that may be a result of having seen the Chucky movies too many times.

  20. @pryce: “… showing the bikini photos for 200 milliseconds changed the men’s behavior towards women they met immediately after the study.

    I don’t get it either. This sort of research is hard to blind, hard to control, and hard to interpret objectively. Plus if you look at Susan Fiske’s other writing this is exactly the sort of result she is looking for.

    Most of all, so what?! Men are visually stimulated? Pictures of sexy girls whip up men’s frothy little minds a bit higher for a while? I can see where this is headed and I don’t like it. Susan Fiske will have pry my pornography out of my cold, dead hands… of course this will be pretty easy with all the lube.

  21. When I hear the term “living dolls” makes me think of shit like “toddlers and tiaras”. Then I think of “little miss sunshine” and my day is better.

    And on the TLC vein (My wife stops on the channel every now and then, I usually pull out the laptop or book at the point) what is with the current fad of larger than average families? Just jumping on the Jon and Kate bandwagon?

  22. “But Fiske doesn’t think such an experiment would work the same way, because women usually react to men they desire by “interpreting their minds, thinking about what they’re interested in, and then trying to please them,” she said. ”

    I don’t know which way I should be more offended.

    1. Oh, so guys don’t try to please women?
    2. Oh, so women don’t have an initial, non-intelectual response to man-meat?
    3. How about you do the test first, and then form a theory to explain the evidence.

  23. davew:

    Yes, social research can be hard to control, but the study I mentioned earlier (comment #31) was actually quite well controlled and with multiple independent interpreters coming to the same conclusions before publication. As for the research mentioned in the NatGeo story, the same controls were in place as most fMRI studies.

    The “so what” of the research isn’t about men being stimulated. It is about the particular ways they are stimulated. The fact that the same part of the brain is active when someone sees a homeless person, and when certain men she scantily clad women tells us something about how sexism works on the neural level.

    I too have read Susan Fiske’s writing and I don’t think this is the “sort of result she is looking for.” Instead based on the current the literature of social cognitive neuroscience, I’d say this would be the result you’d expect to find. Also, Dr. Fiske made a specific point in her presentation say that she in no way supports or advocates censorship. If someone wants to take your porn away, blame the politicization of science, not the science itself.

    Hanes:
    My problem with the NatGeo story is that it simplifies the research in a way that the researchers specifically tried to avoid. Plus, the entire second half of the story is comprised almost entirely of questions for the audience, not from the research. That horrible quote about women reacting to men by interpreting their minds is totally out of context. Fiske was asked a question about running the same test on women who are attracted to rich, smart, older men, and she was trying to explain that the neural region she was talking about was associated with objects without human mental characteristics. If you have to recognize human intelligence to think someone is smart that region probably wouldn’t light up, so the research might find different patterns. She didn’t say it wouldn’t work, she said it might be different in that case (she also said one of her grad students might be prepping such a study).

  24. Re: Green burial
    Cremation is space saving and I’m all for that but the energy and gassing are less green than a simple hole in the ground and a body. The article James Fox linked to has more of the right idea. I just don’t see the point in keeping a memorial stone or “plot” reserved for someone who has decomposed. In the “good old days”, the bodies would be dug up and the bones returned (and decorated) by the family and the land would be reused.
    I don’t think it would be too hard a sell for families that are already committed to “green” to accept that their loved one’s remains (bones) would be exhumed after several years, turned into bone ash and used to fertilize the grounds.
    Ideally, I’d like the cemetary to simply become obsolete with families burying their loved ones on their property. I think the public health concerns have been pretty much debunked.

  25. That’s not Jesus, that’s the little alien-elephant musician thing from Star Wars. He was part of the cantina band. Or was he in Jubba’s palace?

    Yes, that’s it. Jesus was a musician-slave in Jubba’s palace.

  26. @pryce:

    I wish I could find the original article. I went looking for it including Susan Fiske’s own site and failed to come up with it.

    “I too have read Susan Fiske’s writing and I don’t think this is the “sort of result she is looking for.” Instead based on the current the literature of social cognitive neuroscience, I’d say this would be the result you’d expect to find.”

    I’m not sure there is a distinction here. All scientists have bias. I’ve done science and I know. It’s just that my science was chemistry where bias is much easier to avoid (if you’re not Pons or Fleischmann.) In the social sciences it is almost impossible to avoid.

    Case in point: how many images were these men shown 10’s, 100’s, 100o’s? If my brain lit up in a quantifiably similar way for a homeless person, a bikini, and a Snickers bar would that invalidate the research or would they twist the theory to fit? One reason I would like to get my hands on that paper is to find out how many different images were used, how they were chosen, how similarity of fMRI was established, and a look at all the statistical correlations not just the ones the researchers thought were interesting.

    I do believe these researchers took excellent fMRIs and were able to accurately map brain areas. I have less confidence about their conclusions. Any one of us could make up a dozen different interpretations of the results except ours would likely be both funnier and grosser.

    Also fMRI for this sort of research in general is coming into question (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-phrenology) This debate, at once technical and philosophical, concerns both fMRI’s accuracy, because it measures neuronal activity indirectly by detecting associated increases in blood flow, and its legitimacy in linking complex mental functions to particular brain regions. Critics feel that fMRI overlooks the networked or distributed nature of the brain’s workings, emphasizing localized activity when it is the communication among regions that is most critical to mental function.

  27. davew:

    First, I think the distinction I drew is correct. Your original post seemed (I may of course be mistaken) to assert that Dr. Fiske wanted to find these specific results because she is motivated by a desire to remove pornography from society. She isn’t, instead she expected to find these results because earlier research (by others as well as herself) showed she might. Could the theory be wrong, and there be other explanations? Of course, that is why to try to replicate results over a variety of stimuli.

    In this study, a group of heterosexual men who rated high on pre-tests as hostile sexists (those who perceive women as less than men or hyper aggressive) and a group of heterosexual men who rated as non-sexist were each made to look at a bright dot on a black background to focus visual attention. Then they were shown short glimpses (200 ms, too quick to move there eyes) of an image of a person (the bright spot translated to focusing on the person’s neck). This was repeated four times: with an image of a women in a bikini, an image of the same women in the same position fully clothed, an image of a clothed man, and the same man in bikini briefs. The non-sexists changed little over the four images (though when shown cropped images of either faces or bodies, they remembered seeing the bikini photos more than the others). However, it is the hostile sexists who showed the unique neural patterns with the bikini photos that we have been talking about. It isn’t that all men see sexualized women as objects, but that incredibly sexist men do. Maybe not surprizing, but how they do that is interesting. Of course, if your brain lit up in the exact same way for a homeless person, a women in a bikini, and a Snickers it would alter what the researchers specifically think that neural region responding to. If it didn’t I agree there would definitely be a problem. But I’ve seen nothing that would make me think this wouldn’t happen, and I wonder what exactly makes you think this?

    And of course I am aware of the limitations and concerns about fMRI, that is why I (and as far as I can tell, Dr. Fiske) approach fMRI findings as supremely tentative. The only people who don’t take these sorts of findings with a grain of salt are people who write bad science stories like this one.

    BTW, this was part of a symposium at AAAS called “Social Emotion and the Brain” with some other interesting research, especially Jean Decety’s work on empathy.

  28. Cupping is pretty common in the alternative sexuality crowd (read: kinky folk). I like to think that Gwyneth is pulling a fast one on everyone. “Oh these? It’s alternative medicine, don’t you know. I’m *new age,* not perverted!”

  29. As someone who’s studied neuroscience, I’m annoyed by articles that say “we had people do/look at Y and X part of the brain lit up, therefore…” The truth is, an slightly bigger increase in blood flow to that particular brain area (because these scans are subtractions so they’re not measuring dynamic flow to the entire brain) doesn’t necessarily mean as much as these articles like to think it means. The area associated with tool use? Come on. Or it’s an area that you thought was loosely associated with tool use but it’s function is actually more broad. Like the area is associated with complex motor planning. That may indicate an anticipation of sex, and yet not literally seeing women “as objects”. GAH!

  30. I agree with you totally Kimbo, my point is that the article makes it seem like the researchers are claiming more than they actually are. The researchers said something closer to: “Sexist men and non-sexist men appear to have different reactions to the same stimulus. The difference appears to be in a region that might associate with recognition of tools. But of course we could be wrong.” The article writer presents it as “omg, men see women as tools!”

  31. @Kimbo Jones: Yeah, I had a feeling this would happen during the symposium. You could feel the press in the room salivating, “Sexism! Neuroscience! Boobs! I can sell that!”

    I worry a lot about people getting bad science information from popular media (this is actually what I study). I think we need to worry about people getting the wrong idea about science from this kind of story. Not just the people who read this story and think it is totally true, but the people who read it and assume the researchers are easily dismissed crackpots. Neither may be correct, but both can be extrapolated from the story.

  32. @pryce

    Thanks for the interesting discussion.

    “Your original post seemed (I may of course be mistaken) to assert that Dr. Fiske wanted to find these specific results because she is motivated by a desire to remove pornography from society.”

    I did not mean to imply this. I was just trying to be funny. What I believe is that Dr. Fiske has some preconceptions about the way mens’ brains work and designs experiments to confirm these hypotheses.

    This was repeated four times: with an image of a women in a bikini, an image of the same women in the same position fully clothed, an image of a clothed man, and the same man in bikini briefs.
    snip
    Of course, if your brain lit up in the exact same way for a homeless person, a women in a bikini, and a Snickers it would alter what the researchers specifically think that neural region responding to. If it didn’t I agree there would definitely be a problem. But I’ve seen nothing that would make me think this wouldn’t happen, and I wonder what exactly makes you think this?

    I have no reason to believe this, but the experiment didn’t exclude it. If the sample of images was broadened from 4 to 40 then the correlation would be more impressive. And if these “unique neural patterns” showed up only in certain men and only for a very specific image out of a large set images then the interpretation would be somewhat more believable. I want my Snickers test, damnit!

    And of course I am aware of the limitations and concerns about fMRI, that is why I (and as far as I can tell, Dr. Fiske) approach fMRI findings as supremely tentative. The only people who don’t take these sorts of findings with a grain of salt are people who write bad science stories like this one.

    You are correct. I should have focused my criticism more on the article and less on Dr. Fiske. If you find a link to the original paper please post it.

  33. @davew:
    I can’t find the original paper online either, which is annoying (although I did find the Jean Decety research I mentioned here if you’re interested: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18940230). I like your ideas about broadening the images. That probably would help to clear things up. (In the same vein I think we should also look at more than just Snickers. What about Baby Ruth? or Pay Day? M&Ms? Dammit, I want candy now)

  34. The most powerful tool in cognitive neuroscience is the assessment of individuals who suffer neural lesions. As others on this thread have stated, an area lighting up on an fMRI scan during a behavioral task is meanlingless in and of itself. The main takeaway point is that cognitive activity is NOT LOCALIZED!!! Although there is regional specialization, human cognition is the product of distributed neural activity in the brain. Period!!!

    Language is the classic example. In children language has contributions from both hemispheres (which is why children who have undergone a hemispherectomy for epilepsy are not rendered aphasic) whereas in adults language has more significant contributions from the dominant perisylvian cortices (ie. Brocas and Wernickes).

    The neural region that has been extensively studied is an area called IT wherein lies the fusiform gyrus. This region lights up in both hemispheres when we recognize a familiar face. It has also been confirmed that when damaged, a patient cannot recognize familiar faces ie. a condition called prosopagnosia. Now does this mean that when these gyri light up after seeing a face of Obama, that all knowledge of Obama resides in Obama neurons? NO!!! Also these areas also light up when an individual recognizes familiar objects eg. when a surgeon recognizes familiar surgical instruments, then the fusiform gyri light up on an fMRI scan. It would be an act of extreme stupidity if one concludes that Obama is therefore like a surgical tool ie. an “object.” That is the mistake Fiske is making in her research. She is making phrenologic statements about human cognition without a real grasp of how the brain works.

    The regions that lit up in Fiske’s study were in the anterior temporal lobe which are involved in the categorization of inanimate objects (eg. tools). In patients who have suffered herpes simplex encephalitis, these regions are damaged and such object categorization and recognition are impaired. In one such patient I participated in managing, he harassed female physicians and support staff with sexist comments and inappropriate behaviors (ie. masturbating). He still treated women as objects!!!!!

    The bottom line is that various social ills such as racism or sexism cannot be localized to discrete cerebral cortical regions.

  35. Ok, Late to the party, but, what? No nomination for @davew for COTW for, “Susan Fiske will have pry my pornography out of my cold, dead hands… of course this will be pretty easy with all the lube.” ???

    Also, if I am not supposed to be worried about subliminal advertising at 24 fps/30 fps (say 42 or 33 ms per frame), at what point should I be worried that big media is influencing me with subliminal advertising? If 200 ms turns me into a sexist pig, then how many cokes would I buy at 100 ms???

  36. Sorry, not to be too obscure, but in the States, television is show at about 30 full image frames per second, cinema is shown at about 24 full frames per second. *THEY* said that repeated, single-frame images have no subliminal advertising effect… Wouldn’t six or four full frames of an image of a woman in a bikini have a non-subliminal effect?

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