Skepchick Quickies 2.25


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. This makes me feel better about signing up for only afternoon and evening courses. I’m not lazy. I’m just really, really smart!

    Also, I’ve yet to watch the movie on Temple Grandin. I need to track down a copy!

  2. Intelligent people have “unnatural” preferences

    Studies like this drive me crazy. Very little data, far-reaching conclusions, and massive amounts of hand-waving, and the cherry on the top is using the word theory when hypothesis is more accurate. A more honest way of expressing one piece of this data would be:

    “Men who score higher on IQ tests self-report a preference for monogamy.”

    This is less sexy, but way more accurate. Further you could speculate that these men are actually more monogamous, prefer monogamy but fail, feel uncomfortable discussing their non-monogamous tendencies, or find it amusing to lie to researchers. I don’t see where this study differentiates between these possibilities before doing into wild flights of fancy about how evolutionary pressures play into this.

  3. From the article on acupuncture : “The women were randomized to receive one of three treatments: acupuncture specific for depression; control acupuncture, during which needles were inserted in points not known to help alleviate depressive symptoms; or massage. All of the women received eight weeks of therapy and were assessed for depression at the four- and eight-week marks by an interviewer who was unaware of the treatment each woman received.”

    Sooooo, no actual control group, with no therapy received?

  4. @Skept-artist:

    No, don’t you see? There were two control groups! One just got massages and the other got fake acupuncture! . . . and suddenly I realize I’m not being snarky because that’s actually how the researchers looked at it.

    Dear Scientists,

    Your experiments should not be out-scienced in less than 30 seconds by a music school drop out.


    Music School Drop Out

  5. @Elyse: Wish I could nominate you for COTW.

    Also, I love that they reported their findings as significant when they’re *not* actually statistically significant! If u is a syentist u shud no ur math.

  6. Er… davew… here I was, yelling “Woo-Hoo! I’m a genius,” and you had to go and spoil it. The “Starve2Act is a genius” meme is a socially helpful one. It makes me happy, thus making me happy. Why would you want to interject a bunch of skepticism into an idea that works perfectly well for an important subset of humanity? Also, I doubt you’ve considered just what will replace the “S2A/Genius” meme. Without that guiding principle, I predict chaos and an uptick in reality TV watchers.

    I hope you’re proud of yourself.

  7. “…for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence.”

    Oh, great. Cue the snarky commentary about how my girlfriends are smarter for being polyamorous and I’m dumber for it. Sigh.

  8. The Temple Grandin movie is on HBO this weekend, 27 Feb. I don’t have a TV and hope it will be out on the net or on DVD in the next few months. I am checking out her books at the library.

  9. @starve2act: I hope you’re proud of yourself.

    Always. I get a great feeling of satisfaction in stamping out fun and happiness wherever I encounter them. :-)

    More seriously I think it is important for skeptics to be just as skeptical of bad science (or at least badly reported science) whether we like the conclusions or not.

  10. @Skept-artist: To be fair, the acupuncture not specific for depression group is actually a very good control group. The generalized acupuncture group is single blinded (participants don’t know if they’re getting “depression specific” acupuncture) and randomized whereas a “do nothing” group would not be blinded at all. Also, reputable studies of new anti-depressives use standardized therapy as a control group- so both groups are being treated; it’s just a comparison study for the efficacy of the new drug.

  11. @Displaced Northerner: Okay, I can see that. But isn’t it also good to have a ‘see if it improves without any intervention’ group? Because the ‘not specific’ acupuncture group is still getting a novel intervention, right?

    I’m still low on the learning scale for clinical studies so any clarification is helpful to me.

  12. Found an old gem at the bottom of the grey article.

    “”When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.” ~Asimov

  13. @Izzy: Great comment by PZ. Here’s his take on the author. ” He’s like the poster boy for the stupidity and groundlessnessof freakishly fact-free evolutionary psychology. Just ignore anything with Kanazawa’s name on it.”

  14. @Skept-artist: I can see how it would seem to be better to have a “do nothing” group- but that doesn’t account for the placebo effect, which is VERY real especially in depression. If you have a group that receives no therapy, you can’t account for the psychological effects of believing that you’re being treated.

    In essence, the non-specific acupuncture group is the no intervention group- because it’s a meaningless intervention. It can be assumed that these patients are improving either because of the natural course of their illness or because of the placebo effect- but there’s nothing special about “depression acupuncture.”

    I think this study does have a useful component, though. When it comes to depression in pregnancy, I think it’s important to give women a “placebo” option, because there are no anti-depressive meds that are a Class A in pregnancy (controlled studies have shown the drug to be safe in pregnancy). It’s important to note that for many drugs there is no evidence of human fetal risk, though- so it can be safe to take a med if necessary. I think prescribing trips to the spa or a massage parlor is a great alternative to try before initiating a medical therapy (with close observation, of course).

  15. As much as I’d love to believe the intelligence vs atheism/liberalism article, it’s loaded with enough bullshit to fertilize a small farm. IQ is a horrible measure of intelligence. I’ve personally tested anywhere between 120 and 138 at different times, so a difference of 11 points between liberals and conservatives is not very impressive. The suggestion that liberals care less about family and friends than conservatives do pissed me off as well. Based on the articles PZ’s written about him previously, he seems to take a lot of stock in IQ scores, and has a serious problem with confusing correlation and causation. As Brian Dunning has pointed out a few times, there’s a strong correlation between black hair and rice consumption. That doesn’t mean one causes the other.

  16. I have a few questions about the intelligence and ‘unnatural preferences’ article
    ” …but intelligence does not correlate with preferences and values that are old enough to have been shaped by evolution over millions of years.” I wonder which preferences and values those might be?
    “…more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in God…” Someone prove to me that there is a natural evolutionary tendency to believe in GOD, I was forced to believe in god when I was young, and as soon as I was able to think for myself I realized GOD was a 1%er and was president of all the violent biker gangs.
    “…evolutionarily familiar entities as marriage, family, children, and friends.” What has marriage got to do with evolution? What did it evolve from?
    The only thing I got out of this article was that the staff at GEN is either biased towards conservatism or is expressing their evolutionary tendency to have a less than average IQ .

  17. @Displaced Northerner: It’s funny, my first assumption was “well, of course it’s going to help. A placebo is a novel intervention that can certainly improve conditions.” But I think the question I mean to be asking is, what is the benefit of the placebo above baseline (is that the right term?) Is that 63% improvement they cite? Because as you point out, the whole study is basically, “is this placebo better than that placebo?” Because I certainly agree with your last paragraph and would just like to see that quantified, if that makes sense.
    Thanks for taking the time to walk me thru it.

  18. …for men (but not women), preference for sexual exclusivity correlate with higher intelligence.

    Since when is monogamy or exclusivity “unnatural”? It’s no less natural than non-monogamy. We can find humans and other animals that practice all kinds of mating strategies.

    Also, why isn’t atheism natural? For as much as we know, all animals are atheist except humans. And liberalism? Since when is that unnatural?

  19. @James Fox: I want a coastal territory and set up a state-sponsored religious/philosophical expedition company to send believers to the edge, I mean “experience the wonder of knowing the ultimate earthly truth.” I’ll give you 25% of all tithings in exchange for pulpit and town square crying rights. Consider it Darwinian weeding of your populace. ;-)

  20. Its funny that in the crapstorm of questionable propositions in the intellegence article the one that stood out to me was the assmption that people are evolutionarilly predisposed to conservatism, which was defined as caring only about friends and family groups. The thing that bugs me about this is that evolutionarily, those were pretty much the only people you had regular contact wtih. How much have we really evolved since we got the technology (and population) to interract with enough people to even form a concept of the other?

  21. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t get the article on acupuncture. The premise of the article is that acupuncture doesn’t work, but the absence of double-blind or a placebo group is more grounds for that than cooking the data. The article does a good job explaining that the data is incorrect, but not to the degree that it shows a different conclusion.

    The conclusion is that acupuncture works, not that it is significantly better than massage therapy or even better at all.

    The study, as far as it goes DOES support acupuncture as a viable treatment for depression. It may not be a valid study (probably isn’t for the above reasons), but not for the reasons explained in that article.

    What the article DOES show is that the cooked data result is not significantly different from the accurate data result.

  22. it’s fun when skeptics like to ignore or question the science when it doesn’t fit in with thier own personal take! If the study had shown men that lay anything in a skirt have high inteligence…would people think “hey maybe they were engaging in locker room bragging?” (as in ask a Geek at MIT how many women he’s laid and he’ll lie lie lie – yes I do know this from personal experience). Maybe more likely to say if some highly intelligent people get a partner maybe they make choices in a life mate that has more to do with intelligence and personality than JUST “she’s hawt”. Maybe smart people are more able to see the big picture? I dunno…it’s pretty much a guess when it comes to sex!

    I have met Temple Grandin in person. She was giving a talk at Dartmouth. She was very obviously autistic, but I have never been to a talk where the speaker was more gracious and giving to the audience afterword. My own daughter is disabled. Temple somehow made a bee line for her, and they spoke at lenght. Temple managed to do this without upsetting the other people waiting to speak to her, she assured them she would stay as long as possible. They laughed, and Temple went out of her way to let my daughter know that her disability wasn’t “abnormal” but was instead a benefit to society. They both talked about being visual thinkers, and my daughter was brought to tears at finally meeting someone that could “think” they same way she “thinks”. Even years later, my daughter speaks of meeting Temple as a turning point in her life. Anyway that says autisic people need to be “fixed’ and are “abnormal” . My heart goes out to Jenny M. autistic son, mom thinks he needs “fixing”. And he suffers bizarre treatments in her obsession to fix him. How much nicer is she tried to understand him and give him what he needs to succeed.

  23. @kittynh: You’re absolutely correct, kittynh. On both subjects.

    On Temple Grandin’s speech, I have to say she makes some very good points. Growing up with high-functioning Asperger’s (not diagnosed until later in life) I was always the “weird one”. But, strangely, people like having me around for my different perspective on things.

    Well, it always seems strange to me. ;-)

  24. Re: the Intelligence/Liberalism article, all I can say is sorry for my colleague Mr. Kanazawa, and what the hell is a peer-reviewed journal publishing this crap for? First of all, a 6 (or 11) point difference in IQ does not a significant difference make, not by a long shot (unless your sample size is huge). Most IQ scores vary by 5 pts either way for a single person, so this makes the conclusions of this study pretty tenuous. Also, why the insistence that conservatism is more evolutionary than liberalism? Where is the evidence supporting this?

    This whole study and article are just a big bowl of wrong. I mean, this is the kind of muddy, non-critical, “sciency” thinking that gives Social Psych it’s soft rep. It is possible to do *real* scientific studies in psychology. I swear.

    I like what PZ had to say about this dude. Wackadoodle.

  25. I’ve got a question about the visual thinking thing. Is that odd? I’ve been told most people think in words, but I’m pretty sure I don’t believe that. Most times I experience thoughts as colors or patterns or movement, often as music – but almost never originally as words.
    Thoughts are things by themselves and then they get translated into language, pictures, etc.
    Don’t they?

  26. As others have voiced although I would love to take pride in the idea that liberal/atheists are that way because of a higher intelligence alas I cannot. For it’s my reasoning skills that put me in both positions, it’s also the reason I cannot accept these findings as scientifically accurate.

    1.IQ is not a perfect indicator of intelligence (and specifically reasoning skills)

    2.The difference in the IQs are minimal and that margin of error would more than bridge the gap

    3.It’s premises have not been supported. For example “conservatism” is “evolutionarily familiar”

  27. @Danarra: For the most part I think in words. Although I think I can purely visualize as well. It’s tough to distinguish, isn’t it? I may be mis-remembering, but isn’t one of the reasons we have no memories from early babyhood because we have no language at that age?

  28. Not only is Avatar Satanic, but this in depth analysis proves that Lady Gaga is a pawn of the Illuminati and a disciple of Baphomet.

    Re: That IQ thing: When the header said “intelligent”, I expected, well, something other than a couple of points off 100. And something truly different, behaviourwise. PZ’s epithet was far too kind.

  29. @Danarra: I think in pictures and words, but mostly pictures. Actually it’s more like movies, as Temple describes in the video. I see colors when listening to music. Novels play in my head like movies. When reading non-fiction, I think in the words as written as if listening to a lecture. When an object or scene is described, I get pictures surrounded by words.

  30. @ Skept-artist – I don’t know. I’m aware of having to translate thoughts into words – but maybe that’s because I find the process kind of difficult. My guess is that most people don’t actually think in words, but the translation process is so quick and effortless, they’re not even aware their thoughts didn’t start out in language?

    I never heard the thing about language being the key to memory – but that would be pretty interesting if true. Maybe something about how the brain categorizes data has to already be in place?

    @OnlyCheryl – your description is definitely closer to the experience I recognize. Do you also hear the words when you’re reading?

  31. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized most people don’t think like I do- I think it written words. I don’t picture images when I read a novel- I picture the words and where they are on the page. I have an uncanny ability to know exactly where on a page a passage I’m looking for is. Even when I think about things, I think of the written word. Because of that, I get words that start with the same letters confused.

  32. @OnlyCheryl: @Danarra: @James Fox: @Displaced Northerner: Since we have this little thread for us. I was thinking about this on my subway ride home this past hour. And to put it in terms that we’re already using: When I read, it’s like a lecture, I have to really concentrate to ‘picture’ the places, characters, etc. When I imagine talking to someone or having a conversation, it’s all words, no image. When I daydream, it’s mostly images, even if someone speaks during it. It plays out like a movie. When I’m drawing or painting and my mind really wanders, it’s like a cacaphony of all of the above.
    If I try to ‘listen’ to music in my head, I can hear it almost as perfectly as if I had my headphones on.
    This is the only way that I can describe the sensation of ‘thinking’. Look at the way we describe it to each other. We have to refer to other things. This makes a lot of sense to me. I always wonder, ‘is the way I see green, the same way you see it?” I mean, most of us can agree on what ‘green’ is, but is it different in any way?
    Personally, I think, for the most part, it IS the same. This becomes especially apparent to me when mixing paint and asking for a second opinion. ‘Is this color too warm? Do I need to grey it down?’ If these subtle distinctions can be made using two sets of eyes and they come to the same conclusions, I would guess, in general, that green is green.
    Woah, tangent.

  33. @Skept-artist – cool tangent. So, putting together this reply – I’m writing words, but before it’s actually words there is a soundless concept in my brain, if I pay attention to it, I see an image kind of like a brown gravy, then there’s movement which coalesces into rhythm – and then there are words. I’m not sure how one thing morphs into another – I think grammar might actually come before the words. Sort of – rhythm, cadence, grammar, then words.

    And I ask myself the same thing about colors – is what I see as red what the person next to me experiences as red? Or are they seeing orange? Or even black or green? It’s difficult to parse out what we’re actually experiencing from what the cultural shorthand tells us we’re experiencing…or is that just me?

  34. @Danarra: That’s really fascinating. We should convince the Skepchicks to do an AI where everyone has to explain how their thoughts become words/text. Because reading your last comment, while it makes a certain sense to me, seems really different from how I would make a detailed description of my thought process. I’d be really interested to see all of the different responses.
    As for colors, this is something that has been on my mind since high school, when my art teacher learned one of the other students was color blind. Together, they made a special color chart for him (can’t remember which type of color blindness it was) so that he could differentiate the colors he couldn’t see.
    Sheesh, I’m going to be Googling all night! And it looks like I have some more content for my new blog :)

  35. @Danarra: In the words of the philosopher Keanu: Whoa. That was amazing to read. It made me think more about my own thought process and how essentially boring it is: literally just words. The words pop into my head- usually nouns that have various appearances- and then I form them into sentences with adjectives based on how the words look in my head. I actually find myself speaking thoughts without knowing I’m having them sometimes.

    And I’m SO glad I’ve finally heard someone else say that they’ve thought about our interpretations of color. I asked my sixth grade science teacher that question (she was a nun) and she told me that it was a pointless question to ask- of course we all saw it the same- then told me she expected more from me. I was only 10 years old and that really stuck with me for the rest of my life. It was a sad moment in my childhood because she made me question my intellectual curiosity. Thanks for reawakening that curiosity!

  36. @Danarra: @OnlyCheryl – your description is definitely closer to the experience I recognize. Do you also hear the words when you’re reading?

    Yes, I have a whole cast of voices in my head. Depending upon the character in a novel or the writer in non-fiction, I hear a corresponding male or female voice. They will even have accents relative to the material. None of the voices are like those of people I know, and none ever sound the same from book to book. The only change is if a movie is made of a book, then when re-reading, I start hearing the actor’s voices.

    When I start to write, there is a wash of color that takes over depending on my mood. If I’m writing a silly thing, there is yellow; feeling depressed is all brownish-gray; passionate or angry both is like reddish-purple; neutral can be blue or green. I hear the words just before writing in a voice that is only mine but does not sound like me. It’s a problem sometimes because the voice speaks faster than I can type or write. Sometimes I skip a word or two without realizing it, so I always review things carefully.

    When I talk to people the colors go off in my head like fireworks because there is more sensory input from body language, inflection, etc. It gets to be too much sometimes as my mind just goes in all directions with pictures, words, and colors.

    What about tactile sensations and scents? Say orange and I smell oranges. Say wool and my skin itches. I not only picture those things but I fully experience them on a sensory level.

  37. @Skept-Artist – I’d love to hear how everybody else thinks. I’ve got a hunch there is more variation than anyone suspects. And what’s the URL for your new blog?

    @OnlyCheryl – Oh yeah, I’m very suggestible on the tactile front. It was something like a game the last place I worked with the boys trying to get strong reaction out of me – especially when mentioning smells. Of course, I’m also incredibly jumpy, so they played on that even more.

    @James Fox: Duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuude!!!!!!!! I haven’t heard that album for YEARS. My sister used to play it when she was learning guitar. Pleasant memory. Thanks for bringing that back. Still hearing Silver and Gold in my head, though.

    @Displaced Northerner: Catholic school and nuns had a chilling effect on me, too. But intellectual curiosity shall not be bested! Once more into the breach, dear friend!

  38. @Skept-artist:

    Today I used the idea I had for Saturday’s AI. Why don’t I ask this? It might be a little heavy for a Saturday afternoon, but whatevs… if it turns out to be too much I’ll just make up for it by talking about boobies next weekend.

  39. @Danarra: I had a Burl Ives folk/children’s album as a young child and had mentioned it to my wife a few years ago. My wife found the CD and while driving on a camping trip she put the CD in to play without telling me. It was a real nostalgia moment for me and lots of laughing and eye rolling by my teenage children. I think I lost some streed cred when they reaized I really liked Little Yellow Duck…, sittin on the water.

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