Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 1.13

  • How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money – Part two of the BMJ’s coverage of Wakefield’s vaccine scam. This half exposes how Wakefield intended to profit from the fear he helped spread. Thanks to Denis and all the other readers who sent in related articles.
  • Shameful gender discrimination at UC Davis Veterinary School – A professor asked his class to vote on what grade to give a pregnant student who he assumed would be missing quizzes.
  • Bem’s ESP paper reignites old debate on statistical analysis – “For decades, some statisticians have argued that the standard technique used to analyze data in much of social science and medicine overstates many study findings — often by a lot. As a result, these experts say, the literature is littered with positive findings that do not pan out: “effective” therapies that are no better than a placebo; slight biases that do not affect behavior; brain-imaging correlations that are meaningless.” From James.
  • Forensic DNA test can decipher hair color – “The new analysis used a collection of recently discovered mutations linked to hair color, and it can predict the hue of an unknown person’s hair with about 80 to 90 percent accuracy.”

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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27 Comments

  1. I read the vaccine stuff when it was widely tweeted… but the pregnancy stuff is just fucked up. I gotta wonder what, if any, communication went on between the prof and the student in question before he did something this monumentally stupid.

    And I think the “we can figure out hair color from DNA” is pretty cool… though it immediately pops to mind cases where it will not be useful (about half the women of my acquaintance will DNA for colors other than what’s on their head).

  2. In the article on Bem’s ESP paper, most of our brains don’t appear to be wired to easily understand probability and statistical analysis. If I didn’t take college courses on this, I probably wouldn’t understand it either. Nice follow up piece. Thanks, Amanda.

  3. @mrwilson41: When all you really hear is statistical noise, but you convince yourself it’s amazing music, and you then write a review calling it a great new symphony, most people will just trust your review; especially if you have a PhD attached to your name that lets everyone know who’s the expert!

  4. I have a feeling I’m going to get my head torn off for saying this, but I don’t see that this is gender descrimination. The prof should NOT have asked for suggestions on how to determine a student’s grade. He should have spoken to the student and the dean (or the department head or whatever). He was wrong in that and it was inappropriate. It’s not an indication of misogeny.

    There’s no reason to assume that he sent this email to the class to punish her for being a pregnant woman. For all we know, he would have sent the same email about a male student who had been injured in a car accident and was going to miss classes. The prof would still be in the wrong in that case.

    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

  5. Meanwhile, he [Wakefield] nurtured relationships, with drug industry support, including front of the plane overseas travel. “Please find enclosed a cheque for £2876.70 from Axcan Pharma Inc, a refund of my airfare with regard to my Canadian trip,”[48] he told the special trustees, for example, as he put final touches to the scheme. He was also then negotiating a Johnson & Johnson consultancy[49] and had longstanding connections with Merck and SmithKline Beecham.

    So Andy has been in Big Pharma’s pocket all along? (Scrunching noise as my irony meter jams and disintegrates.)

    ([48] and [49] are references in the BMJ article.)

  6. @Unnamed: I said smelled not was. Anyway, that only a woman could be pregnant, and that because she’s pregnant the whole class should have an opinion about her progress and status in the class; that, at a minimum, is belittling and insulting and her gender is a central part of the equation. And frankly it would have been similarly inappropriate if someone in the class had their parents die in a car crash and had to be absent X number of class sessions and was subjected to a class vote on what accommodation was fair or appropriate. It could be that this is merely an inexperienced or total ass of a professor, or both. My wife is a college prof and has situations like this come up on a regular basis. All prof’s do, but this response seems unique and directly related to gender.

  7. Well, I’ve read the letter, and all of “Dr. Isis’s” commentary, and while I am not and do not in anyway defend this goofball professor for such unprofessional, unacademic, humiliating behaviour, I do agree with @Unnamed that this is not necessarily an act of mysogyny. It might be, but there is simply not enough information to safely make that determination one way or another.

    Furthermore, and contrary to Dr. Isis’s rather inflammatory and heavily skewed and subjective commentary, it seems to me that the letter is clearly a reaction to the students potential missing of quizzes, not a reaction to the cause of missing those quizzes — yes, one can interpret it as a direct reaction to her having given birth if one wishes to, but there is no evidence to safely or rightly make that assumption.

    I find it worrisome that in the current state of feminism amongst skeptics almost any negative statement or action directed at a woman is automatically branded as a sexist or mysogynistic act, rather than simply being perceived as a negative statement or action directed at a person who happens to be female. Sometimes a train going into a tunnel is just a train going into a tunnel.

  8. My two cents on the vet school post and some of the questions raised in the comments:
    I’m a recent grad from a different vet school, but I’m from California, so I know many UCD grads and my best friend graduated from UCD vet school a couple of years ago. She had a baby third year. Therefore I know the student described here is not the first to have a baby during vet school. I know that UCD has a written policy on absences and illness.
    Dr. Feldman is not new or inexperienced. I think he is the head of internal medicine and wrote a textbook that it so well known that it is called “Feldman and Nelson” for short. He’s not getting fired for this, guaranteed.
    If this had happened at my school, petty competition would have meant that my classmates would have thrown this student to the lions and given her a C. But maybe her classmates are more mature than mine (lolololol…).
    It is sexist because there have been students before her that have missed class without it being put to a vote. We know he would not have done this, e.g., for a male that got hit by a car, because that has happened, and he didn’t do it then.
    Finally, the excuses: Everyone that I have talked to say Feldman is a stand-up guy and he was probably trying to circumvent the established protocol and give her a *better* grade than the policy would allow. I agree with Unnamed’s sentiment: probably stupidity, not malice. Still needs a refresher in federal law, though. (And the definition of mysogyny does not require malicious intent.)

  9. @John Greg: “I find it worrisome that in the current state of feminism amongst skeptics almost any negative statement or action directed at a woman is automatically branded as a sexist or mysogynistic act, rather than simply being perceived as a negative statement or action directed at a person who happens to be female. Sometimes a train going into a tunnel is just a train going into a tunnel.”

    Exactly. Isis has obviously made up her mind and her decision seems solely based on the fact that the student in question is a pregnant woman.

  10. Yes I’m sure the professor would have raised up a male student’s sexual history as a basis to decide their grade in the class /snark.

    Yet another case of “the feminists are so mean to the men!”

  11. Also, I’m sorry but the fact that he might be a complete idiot and not a misogynist (as if there isn’t big overlap) isn’t our fucking problem.

    When you have a building burning and a guy standing next to it with a gas can and a match he better have a damn good explanation for what the hell he was doing.

    When you have someone act in such a way that looks like pure WTF misogyny then he better have a good explanation on what the fuck he was thinking.

    But no let’s all defend the guy who did something wrong. Despite the fact that the question isn’t whether he did something wrong, it’s whether he did it because he’s an idiot or an asshole.

  12. Pregnancy is not an illness or injury. It is a choice, and a unilateral one at that. Contraception and abortion are affordable and easy, as demonstrated by the plethora of women who are childless by choice.

    It is only fair for the consequences of unilateral decisions to be borne by those who make said decisions.

    Why should someone who choose to have a child get special treatment at the expense of those who didn’t.

  13. @Glow-Orb:
    From comments on that post from some of the students and the like further down, it seems this was a special situation where they curriculum was changing the following semester and repeating the unit would be a huge pain.

    I too fail to see the misogyny in this (besides that injected by the author in snarky presumptions of the professors intent) it seems to be a case of a student will be significantly absent and the current situation isn’t entirely normal, so the professor asked “what do you students think should be done?”

    but given the lack of details besides some out of context snippets and some major spin and bias applied by the author it is hard to get a clear unbiased picture of the scenario.

    the only time I see the pregnancy being raised as the point of issue though is in the large amount of spin being injected by the author, from the excerpts it seems the primary concern is that of absence and unusual circumstance

  14. UnnamedNo Gravatar // Jan 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm:

    There’s no reason to assume that he sent this email to the class to punish her for being a pregnant woman

    It is a vital part of his fucking job to know that his students deserve to have their grades kept private and not made the subject of a public vote. I’ve never yet met a teacher who did not know that. It is also part of his job to know what misogyny is and not to blunder into it.
    In the unlikely event that this character somehow had no clue, he’s grotesquely incompetent.

  15. @Ing213:

    Eeek! And LOL.

    So, out of anger and endorphin flushing excitement, and the joyous fun that entails, you have decided to utterly and completely overlook the statement “This means she will undoubtedly miss one, or more, or all quizzes in VMD 444” and focus solely, completely, and myopically (hysterically, perhaps) on “One of our classmates recently gave birth and will be out of class for an unknown period of time” (and profoundly reinterpret that as “One of our classmates recently had the audacity to get pregnant so that she could take time off our classes and for exclusivley selfish reasons will be out of class for an unknown period of time and is therefore just another selfish female”) as the sole, entire, complete, and absolutely inargueable point of contention — with a heavy dash of incomprehension.

    Well, whoopee doodle. Arent you the critical thinker. And speaking of biased agenda….

    “It’s so nice you felt the need to comment despite clearly not knowing dime one of the issue!”

    LOL! Kettle; pot; black, etc.

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