Quickies

Quickies: The myth of vitamins, rats and the plague, and photographing light

  • Vitamin B.S. – “How people came to believe the myth that nutritional supplements could make them into better, healthier versions of themselves.”
  • Plague, fleas, and the rats of NYC – “In their quest to quantify the parasites of New York City rats, a group of researchers gave up a year of Sunday mornings to wriggle around in grime-slicked crawl spaces. All I can tell you is entomologists are not like other people.”
  • The first ever photograph of light as both a particle and a wave – “A research team led by Fabrizio Carbone at EPFL has now carried out an experiment with a clever twist: using electrons to image light. The researchers have captured, for the first time ever, a single snapshot of light behaving simultaneously as both a wave and a stream of particles.”
  • Medicating women’s feelings – “Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.”

Amanda

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

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5 Comments

  1. From the first paragraph of “Medicating women’s feelings”:

    Women are moody.

    What? Where is she going with this…

    By evolutionary design…

    Oh god, this isn’t going anywhere good, is this?

    … we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children’s needs and intuitive of our partners’ intentions. This is basic to our survival and that of our offspring.

    As opposed to men, who aren’t any of those things? Yup, this is already off the rails.

    Some research suggests…

    Weasel words. “Some research” can generally be found to “suggest” just about anything.

    … that women are often better at articulating their feelings than men because as the female brain develops, more capacity is reserved for language, memory, hearing and observing emotions in others.

    Nope. Nope. Nope. Yes, there’s a whole cottage industry of research into brain differences between men and women, and a few of these results are even quite clear and reliable, but on the whole it is vastly overblown — the brains of women and men just aren’t that different, particularly when it comes to areas associated with higher cognitive functions, and to the extent that they are different it is likely, in my opinion, that these differences are reflective of the different experiences men and women have as they are acculturated differently in our society, though this is an underexplored hypothesis. I recommend Cordelia Fine’s book “Delusions of Gender” as an antidote to this kind of simplistic thinking about sex, gender, and neurobiology.

    The main thesis of the article, that women (specifically in America, I am presuming) are overmedicated for emotional problems, is not something I know enough about to have an opinion on. Certainly there is an argument to be made that there is a general, gender-nonspecific problem with overprescription of psychopharmaceuticals, but her argument that this is somehow specific to women, because women are naturally more emotional than men, doesn’t hold up at all. Even her point that more women are prescribed psychiatric medication than men I would interpret as likely evidence that men are less likely to seek psychiatric help for emotional problems, precisely because our culture discourages acknowledgment of emotionalism in men.

    1. Thank you! I got about 1.5 sentences in before it was obvious this was essentialist claptrap (though I read the rest). Another fine example is

      These are observations rooted in biology, not intended to mesh with any kind of pro- or anti-feminist ideology.

      Oh, so I guess that’s settled. Cultural factors have *no* influence here, it’s all biology, and no, I don’t have a citation. But science. She also does a bait and switch, leading by saying that Abilify is the number 1 seller in the US, yet spending the rest of the article solely talking about the effects of SSRIs. Those aren’t remotely similar drugs.

      We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.

      Oh, do we now? Just because something is adaptive doesn’t make it good. There are some hypotheses for depression being an evolutionary adaptation, but that doesn’t make it a desirable trait for the human race to have. Not to get all David Pearce, but if we can use chemicals to make us happier, more fulfilled people, then that’s absolutely what we should be doing. I don’t *want* to be anxious and sad all the time, regardless of whether I’m wired to have that tendency.

      I second reading “Delusions of Gender”. Honestly, this article is little more than a psychotropic “Men are from Mars”.

      1. “We need to stop labeling our sadness and anxiety as uncomfortable symptoms, and to appreciate them as a healthy, adaptive part of our biology.”

        This is just so wrongheaded it hurts to read. Nobody gets treatment for ‘sadness’ and ‘anxiety’, they get treated for ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety disorders’. They’re NOT THE SAME THINGS! “Feelings’ are different from ‘constant life affecting disorders’! It’s like watching somebody drowning in a pool, flailing and struggling just to keep their head above water, and when somebody goes to throw them a floating ring shouting “Hey, you know it’s actually healthy to drink 8 glasses of water a day, so what’s the big deal?”

    2. Basically the only thing good about that article was the understanding that women are, pharmacologically speaking, not simply small men. Then it went into ‘now we line everyone up in groups based on their dangly bits or lack thereof and put them into these convenient little boxes’.

  2. I had the same reactions to the article, “Medicating women’s feelings.” The author also assumes all women get more irritable during certain times of their periods. I, myself, find I can get irritable at any time during my period, especially, if I have to read articles like this.
    The other problem is how she describes antidepressants. These medicines don’t just affect serotonin, they also affect norepinephrine and dopamine, both of which are also important in depression. Ideally, the medicine should not suppress emotions. The goal of antidepressants is to prevent a person from going too low in their mood or having disabling anxiety. If a person’s feelings are suppressed, then it is time to switch medications. It is normal to have fluctuations in mood

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