Skepchick Quickies, 7.12


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

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  1. With regard to the particle physics article you posted: one thing that is very hard to convince believers in pseudoscience (as well as fundamentalists) is that there are degrees of correctness in science. Quantum electrodynamics (QED) may be “wrong” on some level (the structure of a proton) and still provide very good predictions on other levels (the magnetic moment of an electron). This is similar to the case in my own area of gravitation: Newton’s law of gravity is “wrong”, but it works well enough that we hardly ever need to use General Relativity (GR), which is good, since GR is a lot more complicated to use. And GR itself is unlikely to be the “final” theory of gravitation, though as with the QED story, that’s a controversial position.

    Where pseudoscience and fundamentalism fail is in believing that all incorrect things are equally incorrect. You see this with the young-Earth Creationists, who take every missing piece of data or every small uncertainty of geology to be an argument in favor of their position. Scientists are perfectly able and willing to use “incorrect” theories that still provide empirically correct results.

    A favorite Isaac Asimov quote (which I’ve used before and probably will again):

    [W]hen 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.

  2. Also, where pseudoscience fails is that while we eventually embrace change when the evidence presents itself as strong enough to cause a modification of our knowledge base, psuedoscience does not. Dogma does not change with evidence. Dogma changes not with evidence, but only when the elite want to effect a change that benefits them.

  3. 1. xckd is on homeopathy this morning and brilliant.

    2. That article regarding Xtian fundies in the military is terrifying. I knew some of the issues (rifle scopes with bible verses) but I had no idea the problem was so incredibly widespread.

  4. Feminism has a bad name for the same reason evolution and climate science and abortion do: four decades of propaganda attacks by well-funded right-wingers with an axe to grind against any signs of social progress.

  5. @Jen – I think Bering was over-reacting, but I do think its true that whenever you make a small, non issue into a crisis, you diminish the larger associated issues. Its a trap people fall into when they have to keep people’s attention on their cause – they need to come up with fresh angles, new problems, interesting issues. When the well runs low they start harping on the small, silly issues and then people who are not friends of the cause start to point it out. This leads to more people questioning the validity of the real issues.
    What’s ironic is that I think Bering is shooting his own foot by pointing out her foot shooting. If you want people to take you seriously, you don’t throw a fit over idiotic criticism.

  6. It appears that the feminist mentioned in the article is a bit sanctimonious and, in this post at least, willing to make jokes at men’s expense while attacking any such shots at women, something that may not make her a misandrist, but definitely shows a lack of self-awareness and humor.

    The writer, however, is something I find to be far more damaging. He is being pedantic for the sake of pedantry.

    To wit, Ms. Nagoski was perhaps a bit hypercritical and a bit hypocritical but Mr. Bering is, in responding the way that he did (in a national magazine), being a bore by swatting a fly with a sledge hammer.*

    *Not to suggest that Ms. Nagoski is a fly, just that the problem being addressed was made worse….. Now how’s being pedantic?

  7. @Non Believer: I agree with what you’re saying, but the real error Bering made was building a strawman argument out of unrelated personal anecdotes and examples taken from one extremist who doesn’t even come close to representing what feminism really is. The problem isn’t feminists, it a bunch of people with their own agendas characterizing feminism as whatever they want it to be so they can get ahead/get angry.

  8. @Joshua: That’s exactly what I thought reading the article! The author comes off as a bit of an ass. His misuse of the study meant to identify internal biases didn’t help. A bias isn’t proof you’re right, it’s proof a bias exists!

  9. That SciAm article was stupid. First, that is not an appropriate place to respond to such a thing, maybe it was more of a blog, but even then it would be stupid. The entire thing is taking one incident and using it to say every feminist is foolish. Not to mention that he is still in a position of privilege and the worst thing he can do to save face is try to refute it. If you don’t agree with it, ignore it and move on.

  10. I have to agree with @Jen.

    He did have a point with her over reacting. But to turn around and use the old trope of taking a joke/bumorless drives me up a wall. To respond to some calling you sexist by pulling out one of the most common and demeaning sexist statements you can find does not prove them wrong.

  11. @Jen:

    Hmm… that sounds a little bit like no true Scotsman.
    My impression of Feminism for a long time was that it is all about not having any humor and being angry about pointless things. And that pretty much made me reject Feminism altogether. Even though I now realize that I actually completely agree with most Feminists and I always have.

    “The problem isn’t feminists, it a bunch of people with their own agendas characterizing feminism as whatever they want it to be so they can get ahead/get angry. “

    I disagree, while it is true that people are mischaracterizing feminism, there are definitely people out there who call themselves feminists and are a little loopy. And the loopier something is the more people are going to report about it.
    I think a lot of people, at least from where I come from in Scotland, simply don’t know what feminism is about, even though most probably would agree with the consensus tenants. But I find a lot of people are really biased towards feminism, not because they disagree since they often don’t even know what it is about, but because of the way it is portrayed, quite often by self styled feminists.

    It’s a bit like Animal Right advocates. You tend to remember the people who dig up dead grandmothers, and start thinking that’s what Animal Rights is really all about.

  12. @ 9, my impression was that the whole point of the article was to say that the extreme cases weren’t representitive of what feminists are, but that many people view them as such.

    While I do find it a bit strange that the author would publish his rant in a magazine, I have to admit I agree with some of his points.

    I’ve lost count of the number of relatives I’ve talked to about global warming who think it’s a sham because they’ve heard some misinformed activists claim it’s going to wipe out all life on Earth. Anyone who actully knows a small amount of the science behind GW knows that that’s a massive exageration. Just like anyone who’s read up on feminism, or frequents blogs like skepchick, knows that the misandrists aren’t representative of the whole feminism movement.

    I’m not saying the effect the author discusses is dominant in impacting how the public percieves feminism or global warming. Only that dismising it entirely is conterproductive.

  13. Our culture is built on a value-system that says men are better, the things men do are more interesting, the things men are interested in are more relevant.
    When a woman looks at that setup and starts screaming, men look at her all wide-eyed and surprised. Often they call her humorless and hysterical.
    Most of the men in this situation mean no harm. Since they’ve been favored and privileged from birth, they genuinely do not see the problem.
    To them a screaming woman is an over-reaction.
    It’s not.
    The system is wrong at it’s foundation.
    Some progress has been made – but since the unquestioned assumptions and expectations haven’t changed, if we stop pointing out the inequities, the system will revert back to it’s even-more broken original state.

    Does that mean the woman in all cases is unquestionably right? No, of course not. But until the unconscious biases of our culture begin with the premise that women are fully human, I think it’s reasonable to expect women to make a little noise. Some of it humorless, some of it hysterical, some of it an overreaction – most of it justified, though.

  14. @Bacfarc: I’ve found it’s hard to get both of those groups to also understand that QED, GR, or even Newtonian Physics or evolution aren’t what the world *is*. They aren’t. They are artificial models constructed to help us understand how the world works. Disproving one doesn’t mean whatever it covers suddenly doesn’t exist. It means we have something better to replace it.

    In chemistry, The Plum Pudding Model of the Atom was replaced by the Bohr Model was replaced by the Lewis Theory of Bonding, and then the Valence Shell Electron Theory which was replaced by the Molecular Orbital Theory. In a nutshell. It’s even more complicated than that if you include all of the alternative theories that didn’t replace anything, but compliment the existing ones.

    We still teach the Bohr model to high schoolers, the VSEPR theory to college students, and only once you’re past General Chemistry do you start really learning about the *current* understanding of the atom, because it’s so amazingly complicated, like everything else in the world at a fundamental level.

    In my experience it’s been very hard to get someone into pseudoscience or fundamentalism to *understand* that.

  15. @Jen
    The “feminists earning themselves a bad name” article really ticked me off. It actually put me in mind of this XKCD cartoon. While the writer is trying to skirt that fallacy by saying that people like the scary mucus obsessed lady are “giving feminists a bad name” it’s still the same issue. Someone says or does something dumb while being part of a group. People assume that person is representative of the group. Crapstorm ensues. And of course, person who said something stupid gets a lot of attention for being part of the group, thus confirming the low opinion of anyone that would love to justify their low opinion of the group to begin with.

    I mean, FFS it’s not like we can police who is or is not allowed to call themselves a feminist. Sarah Freaking Palin is trying to claim to be a feminist now. (*scream*)

  16. I have a great deal of respect for both Drs. Bering and Nagoski. I disagreed with Nagoski’s initial objection to Bering describing a two-day-old sample of sexual secretions as gross (sure sounds gross to me), would never call it misogynistic, and certainly don’t think that sex researchers need to avoid such descriptions in order to remain “sex positive.” This opinion has not changed for me even after reading Nagoski’s further elaboration on her views.

    However, I thought Bering’s reply was way overboard. Dr. Nagoski describes herself as a feminist, but generally speaking the only people dumb enough to take the word of a single self-described feminist as emblematic of all feminists are people who are determined to hate them. I don’t think Bering is actually anti-feminist at all, but he is….shall we say, blunt. And in this case, mercilessly so. Yes, it sucks to be accused of prejudice, but you’d think a gay atheistic evolutionary psychologist who says things like “We’ve got God by the throat, and I’m not going to stop until one of us is dead” in interviews would be well used to handling visceral reactions by now. I was surprised to see him react that way, especially considering that his past columns have covered such topics as bestiality and pedophilia which I’m sure have received far more emphatic responses.

    So what got Bering’s goat? Perhaps the fact that he and Nagoski actually overlap quite a bit in their research interests. I’m betting they agree on far more than they disagree, and it stings more to be criticized by someone who is familiar with your focus areas than someone who knows nothing about them. But the research on disgust shows that people are generally disgusted by sexual bodily fluids when they’re divorced from the body, even if those fluids happen to come (sorry) from their lover. Hell, some people are disgusted by their own fluids. Disgust for a fluid does not by any means necessarily indicate hatred or even dislike of its source. So I don’t see anything wrong with Bering’s initial light-hearted (it is a blog, after all, even if one on Scientific American) description. I did, however, think he spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to tear Nagoski to shreds over what amounted to a paper cut in comparison.

  17. I was actually offended by the guy saying that feminine secretions are gross. I probably would have written a blog post about it too. I wouldn’t have said something like “Mucus is too good for men, they can stick to semen” because that’s just hypocritical. In conclusion, they were both wrong.

  18. Advocatus Diaboli,

    Here’s what Bering actually said:

    Baker and Bellis are clever empiricists. They also apparently have stomachs of steel. One way that they tested their hypotheses was to ask over 30 brave heterosexual couples to provide them with some rather concrete samples of their sex lives: the vaginal “flowbacks” from their post-coital couplings, in which some portion of the male’s ejaculate is spontaneously rejected by the woman’s body.

    I really don’t see anything wrong with that, as few people on the planet would be eager to interact with the combined spunk of a man and woman post-sex, including the pair which produced it.

  19. @Rillion:
    I was basing that on the article linked where he wrote:
    “Yet in my description of this indubitably gag-worthy procedure, one in which women squatted over a glass beaker and hastened their flowback with a cough, I made the obviously tongue-in-cheek statement that the investigators must have had stomachs of steel.”

    I found that offensive, yeah. The same way I get offended when people talk about menstrual blood being gross. It’s juvenile.

    It’s ridiculous anyway, I doubt the investigators gave 2 figs about it. They just did their job and didn’t even think ‘”ew this was inside a vagina!”. It’s not like they would touch it with their hands or anything. I’ve seen biologists pick through octopus guts, handle animal poo, nonchalantly wipe placenta on their lab coats, I’m pretty sure they don’t care about a bit of mucus.

  20. @Vene: It was a blog, it just happens to be associated with Scientific American. I was very surprised to see such a rant there, though.

    @Rillion: “(sure sounds gross to me) … However, I thought Bering’s reply was way overboard.” This is pretty much what I was thinking when I read this article. Well, that is after I thought “these are adult professionals?!”

    @Advocatus Diaboli: It’s a lot different to say “having to collect excreted vaginal semen samples is gross” than to say “feminine secretions are gross”.

  21. Does anyone wonder why porn idolizes semen so much? Complete conjecture here, but maybe that had something to do with it.

    Heterosexual women are supposed to love being covered in, rolling around in, eating, licking, etc. semen (once divorced from the body), so I guess it is a little annoying for female sex juices to require steel stomachs to handle with gloves and beakers.

  22. @Elizabeth:

    It was not about the female secretions of someones lover.

    It was the post coital mix of them and semen from strangers.

    people need to stop mixing these things up.


  23. I’d just like to say that the article about religious proselytizing and discrimination in the armed forces made my skin crawl.

    On a secondary note: Look, even if we accept for the sake of argument, that we did kill Christ:
    a: It was a long time ago. Neither I nor any close relatives of mine played any part in that.
    b: Salvation through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is, as I understand it, a pretty central part of the whole christian thing. So if you really hold us responsible for that, you should be thanking us for your eternal salvation, you ungrateful turd.
    Just wanted to get that off my chest.

  24. To be honest, I think idiotic condescending comments do deserve to be overreacted at sometimes. Although I didn’t agree with everything the article said, I don’t mind the overreacting. :)

  25. Bering is a wuss, but can’t see it, as he thinks everyone is as weak stomached as him.

    Nagoski on the other hand is unusually infatuated with mucus and has absurd standards of gyni (that’s the antonym to misogyni, isn’t it?).

    Combine the two and you get a very boring blog war.

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