Skepchick Quickies, 3.2


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. I think there is some truth to the idea that science is getting harder to do, but what I think it happening is that the funding of science is getting harder to do, and the new ideas that are worth pursuing are harder to market because the people the ideas need to be marketed to don’t understand them.

    There is still plenty of science to do that needs being done. There won’t be a shortage for at least centuries. I think there are limits to what the current round of science funding gate-keepers can imagine is worth funding. That is unfortunate, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy because then the next generation of new science ideas never gets developed.

    I think this is a direct consequence of the age of people getting funding creeping up and up and an extreme reluctance to fund anything that might be “high risk”. “High risk” in this context means something that will make the reviewers look foolish if it doesn’t work out.

  2. So I want to throw this question out there, triggered by the “rape culture” item.

    How drunk is too drunk? Is there a knowable boundary between “lowered inhibition” and “unable to consent in any meaningful way” ? The extremes are easy to spot, one glass of wine and fifteen shots of tequila provide ample demonstration. But there’s PLENTY of middle ground. And appearances can be tricky in both directions. Walking clumsily can come with pretty good mental clarity, and walking steadily can occur during a blackout.

    BTW — alcohol-induced incompetency does not only affect women, I hope nobody here would think it does.

  3. @Kahomono: It’s a good question. I get hornier when I’m slightly tipsy, and I don’t feel that it’s a matter of not being capable of consent. I think part of the solution is how well you know the potential partner, and whether you know that she/he is about to pass out from too much alcohol (not a good time to have sex, then).
    I think we can assume, though, that anyone who thinks rape is wrong (hopefully most people) would agree that initial consent can be retracted at any point. So if a mildly tipsy (let’s assume a woman) seems competent and eager to have sex, but then once in the bedroom she can’t put a sentence together, or seems less eager, then clearly the sex needs to stop.

  4. Damn, I know Blake Richman’s co-worker. You would have thought they would have changed his name for the story.

  5. The “science is getting harder” study was certainly based on a weird set of data.
    1) Size of discovered asteroids – well, we would naturally find the brightest first, and those tends to be the largest…
    2) New mammal species discovered – this is a finite set, and all the easy to discover critters have been discovered, so it makes sense that this would occur
    3) New elements found – we have run out of naturally occurring elements to find, and now must “create” new ones, at great cost

    If the study were instead based on exoplanets found, or transistors that fit on a microchip, or polycarbonate applications, would it have indicated science is getting easier?

    While I certainly agree science is getting harder (and I thinks that’s a good thing), I am not sure this study supports that notion.

  6. @Kahomono:

    I think the answer is simple. If you’re too drunk to determine if your partner is consenting, then don’t have sex. If you don’t think that you can maintain self-control when you are that drunk, then don’t drink that much. You can’t accidentally rape someone, but if you are genuinely unsure, then err on the side of not-raping.

    Rapists and rape apologists have for a long time framed rape as something that they either didn’t realize or couldn’t help, and it has become widespread enough that plenty of non-rapists have come to believe that they really could end up accidentally raping someone where it’s “just a misunderstanding” or something like that. The truth is, when the wording doesn’t use the scary R-word, rapists will admit to what they did. They know perfectly well that the victim didn’t/couldn’t consent. But again, if you are really unsure, just err on the side of not-raping and you’ll be fine.

  7. @catgirl: “But again, if you are really unsure, just err on the side of not-raping and you’ll be fine.” — words to live by

  8. Yeah, I’m calling big-time bullshit on the science getting harder article. [apology for rant in advance]

    I’ve enjoyed his books in the past but this punk-ass Jonah Lehrer has been writing some stupid shit lately. He’s playing fast and loose with semantics and misinterpreting cherry-picked examples to try and manufacture sensation. In doing so he’s taking the US public’s distrust and cynicism with science and both using it as a raw material and feeding it. It’s almost like he’s trying to get people to say ” Aw, fuck it. Science has had a good run, but it’s just not worth it anymore.” – Irresponsible during a budget crisis when Republicans in congress are itching to slash science funding (well put, @daedalus2u: ).

    He’s drawing the wrong conclusions all around. Yes, big papers have more authors these days. To me this indicates that between technology and collaboration we are able to solve bigger and more difficult questions than we ever could in the days when journal articles began “Dear Sirs, During investigations in my laboratory I have uncovered a most singular point regarding [x] that I submit here for your enlightenment.” We’ve figured out how to collaborate to increase efficiency and I would argue we’re getting more bang for our buck.

    WTF is up with citing the size of mammals/asteroids discovered? As @DataJack: points out, the reasons for these declining are obvious and say nothing about how hard scientific discoveries in general are. We could alternatively look at molecular cloning (teasing a single gene out of a genome). Decades ago, a grad student would spend their entire PhD thesis cloning a single gene. Now, if I want to clone a gene, I can do it in the time between other experiments in a matter of days (or have a tech do it for me). Does that mean science is getting easier? You can cherry-pick examples to argue anything.

    Whether discoveries are low-hanging fruit is irrelevant. We should be asking about the importance and utility of our discoveries. In neuroscience, we might not be discovering new brain structures anymore, but that doesn’t mean we’ve peaked. We’ve moved on to study the circuits, cells and molecules that underlie how the damn thing works, and we’ve just begun! Sure, the amount of effort and money that goes in has increased, but the magnitude of the discoveries that come out has increased even more.

    Lehrer is treating science journalism like literary criticism. His conclusions lately have been quite sensational and they put eyes on pages but they’re piled on top of heaps of sloppy logic and they’re not doing the scientific community any favors. Jackass!

    (sorry, that is all)

  9. Just a point on Cowen’s argument vis a vie Lehrer’s article. In The Great Stagnation, Cowen predicts the stagnation will be temporary, so there’s a distinction there.

  10. @catgirl:

    If you’re too drunk to determine if your partner is consenting, then don’t have sex.

    Because the person in the condition of your first clause is magically capable of the self-control required by your second?

    You start with a paragraph of advice to me (however off-topic and unsolicited) and then open your next paragraph addressing the larger audience with “Rapists and rape apologists”… you carefully leave out the implied “like Kahomono” but it’s just as clear as it can be.

    I was afraid that even raising this question would bring it to that and it took all of 5 replies down the thread to get there.

    My original question, the one I actually asked as opposed to the one you seem to have wished I would ask, is about the fact that there are many shades of gray in this matter, in addition to the black and white that appear to make up your view of it.

    Your final dictum amounts to “never ever have sex unless little or no alcohol (or other intoxicant) has passed either your lips or your prospective partner’s.” I thank you for making your position easy to understand, but alas, it’s pretty useless.

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