Now it’s the entomologists, too?

This story is so stale I ought to just scribble up some boilerplate and change the name of the discipline every time a new case comes to light. Now it’s an entomology professor behaving badly.

In February, two months after being charged with sexual assault and harassment against two students in his department, James Harwood resigned from his position as an associate professor of entomology without stated cause.

According to 122 pages of investigation documents that were leaked to the student paper, the independently run Kentucky Kernel, Harwood violated school sexual assault policies by “fondling” the two students at two conferences in 2012 and 2013. He was also found to have sexually harassed the students in each case. Three other students did not file formal complaints but testified to the investigator about other alleged incidents of sexual misconduct as recently as 2015.

In a completely expected twist, the University of Kentucky has also been working to keep the information about James Harwood quiet.

The investigation, which concluded in December, was initially kept secret. The investigator recommended that Harwood’s “employment with the University be terminated and his tenure as a faculty member be revoked.” But Harwood’s subsequent agreement with the university allowed him to resign instead of going through the lengthy process of a disciplinary hearing. This also means that the investigation won’t be disclosed if he applies to new jobs.

Well, so much for keeping his harassment history under wraps — now everyone knows. And that’s good.

So they might as well drop the lawsuit against their own student newspaper, right?

Another suit against Fox News

You will not be surprised by what Andrea Tantaros says.

“Fox News masquerades as a defender of traditional family values, but behind the scenes, it operates like a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny,” Ms. Tantaros’s suit says.

Tantaros is a wingnut, but even wingnuts should be able to expect some decency and fair treatment in their workplace.

I wonder if these revelations will have any effect at all on the evangelical Christian conservatives who do so dearly love the network?

Nah, I’m lying. I don’t wonder at all. If they can swallow Trump, they can choke down anything.

A peek into the mind of an abuser

Wow. This reddit thread by a guy whose girlfriend left him is amazing. He’s getting good advice, but what was so strange was reading this guy’s own version of the story and seeing how wrong he was.

Short version: his girlfriend quietly left him, has a lawyer call him and tell him he has 45 days to pack up and move out; she paid the deposit on the place, the lease was in her name, he says they’ve been sharing the bills, and she’s offered to pay the last bit of rent until he’s gone. But she wants no contact with him, has moved all her stuff out, hasn’t told him where she has gone, and has blocked phone contact. He’s baffled about why, and wonders if she can really do all that.

Along the way he casually mentions that he’d hit her in a domestic dispute a few years before, and that they’d recently had an argument in which the police were called. He downplays these events, but it seems to me that such a thorough, calm, and well-planned departure was probably a rational response to abuse. He writes as if he’s the victim here.

He’s the sole source of information, and even he can’t twist the facts to exonerate himself, which tells me he has to be far worse than he lets on. And his ex-girlfriend? She’s brilliant. It’s a textbook example of how to terminate an abusive relationship, if you have the financial resources (that’s a key modifier: abusers often force dependency, this woman was lucky her boyfriend was a slacker).

A virtue of good journalism

Undark has a very good article on how journalism could be changing the problem of sexual harassment in academia. It really is a big mess that needs cleaning up.

Katze, BuzzFeed wrote, had been admired for, “preaching calm in the face of fear” during the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Yet the laboratory he had led for nearly 30 years “was descending into chaos.” He was found to have “misused university resources for personal gain, including by asking an employee to do chores for him and solicit a prostitute,” the story said.

Katze responded by suing the university in federal court for violating his rights as a tenured professor. He also sued BuzzFeed to block release of the documents in the investigation, which included more than 100,000 text messages, emails, and other material. Both suits were unsuccessful, a fact noted in the story by Azeen Ghorayshi, a staff reporter at BuzzFeed, who has been tracking cases of sexual harassment by scientists for months.

I’ve noticed, over the years, how often harassers use legal intimidation to try to suppress word of their actions getting out…and how often it totally fails and often serves to spread the news even more. There are processes in place to examine these issues; rushing to the courts means you’re either a) trying to suppress an unwanted finding, or b) trying to prevent an unwanted finding from occurring. There is a place for the legal recourse when an unjust ruling is made in the process, but it’s awfully hard to argue that Katze’s case was unfair.

I’d also point out that it’s peculiar because usually the process is weighted in favor of the harasser, anyway.

But maybe the science journalists will actually make a dent in the problem. It’s also a good sign that these reporters are tackling the hard cases.

And yet, reluctant whistleblowers and tangled knots of competing interests and motivations have forever been the hard stuff of journalism, whatever the beat, and science journalists are as obliged as any member of the profession to keep digging, keep writing, keep exposing. Sure, such work won’t change things overnight. But change — however sluggish and freighted with cultural inertia — can’t happen without it.

“I think in the long run,” Balter said, “[a] cultural change will take place that will make sexual harassment more difficult to get away with.”

We can hope.

So, I saw Ghostbusters again last night


I don’t usually do that, but a group of our summer research students were getting together to go, so I tagged along. I also had just read this review, and I wanted to try and see it through those eyes.

There is a moment, in the film’s climactic fight scene, when each of the Ghostbusters have exhausted their weapons and had a turn at battling the ever encroaching hoard of ghosts. One of the Ghostbusters, played by Kate McKinnon, remembers her last resort. She whips two hidden guns out of her proton pack, licks the barrel, and, with the Ghostbusters theme song wailing, absolutely DESTROYS every evil thing on screen, in one of the most amazing 30 seconds… 60 seconds? Eternity? Longest moments of my life.

She isn’t a princess. She isn’t a prop. She isn’t a love interest. She is the main character, in a movie with no other “greater” male main characters. She’s being a bad ass action hero, saving the day not for the happy ending kiss, but for herself and her friends and the world. But most importantly… and this is so, so very, very incredibly important: You can’t see her boobs while she does it.

Wait, let me repeat this: she’s a main character, an action hero, AND there’s no sexy impossible back bending moves in the scene that show off a tight catsuit or cleavage or the silhouette of her toned butt. She is not leaping all over the screen just to fuel all the fanboy’s fantasies later at home. She is not wearing sexy make up and she does not even have long hair that blows in the wind, still curled, after she defeats the bad guys. Kate McKinnon’s character saves the world in a dirty, baggy MTA jumpsuit.

I have to say that on a second viewing, the plot looks worse — it’s kind of an arbitrary mess that throws up hordes of ghosts for the heroes to zap. But that review is exactly right about what makes the movie work — it treats women as people.

Now that’s going to color all the other superhero movies that are inevitably going to pour onto the screen over the next few years, and I hope studio executives are noticing. The new movie playing at my local theater now is Suicide Squad, which I have very little interest in seeing for a lot of reasons, including the terrible reviews, but now I’m wondering…is Harley Quinn a human being in the story?

Stop teabagging science, Scott Adams


Scott Adams, the cartoonist and professional self-promoter, is undermining his brand and marketing himself poorly, again. He is complaining about the DNC in ways that demonstrate that he’s an insecure man and profoundly ignorant.

It’s all about the men, don’t you know.

But if you’re an undecided voter, and male, you’re seeing something different. You’re seeing a celebration that your role in society is permanently diminished. And it’s happening in an impressive venue that was, in all likelihood, designed and built mostly by men. Men get to watch it all at home, in homes designed and built mostly by men, thanks to the technology that was designed and built mostly by men. I mention that as context, not opinion.

Don’t thank technology, guy. Thank sociology for the fact that men build and design things, while women and minorities are relegated to serving the dominant white men, and thereby have their roles diminished. Being the beneficiary of a long history of discrimination does not make you a better person. If you actually worked with women, rather than sitting alone drawing cartoons designed to prove your point, you’d know that they are just as capable as men.

But it takes a special kind of wanker to see other people getting their due and think that acknowledging other people’s achievements somehow diminishes your own. Scott Adams must be fun at children’s birthday parties; he probably goes around reminding the kids that he has birthday parties, too, and he’s had more of them and they’re better than this stupid party.

I’m especially peeved at Adams’ continuing abuse of science, though. This is not science.

I watched singer Alicia Keys perform her song Superwoman at the convention and experienced a sinking feeling. I’m fairly certain my testosterone levels dropped as I watched, and that’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. Science says men’s testosterone levels rise when they experience victory, and drop when they experience the opposite. I watched Keys tell the world that women are the answer to our problems. True or not, men were probably not feeling successful and victorious during her act.

Apparently, we men are terribly hormonal, and dependent on our testicles to appreciate happiness. Unfortunately, Adams has taken a tiny grain of scientific evidence and mangled it into something unrecognizable.

First, we have to appreciate the fact that testosterone levels fluctuate a lot. There is circadian and seasonal variation, and also individual variation in testosterone levels.

Male   Female  
Age: T Level (ng/dL): Age: T Level (ng/dL):
0-5 months 75-400 0-5 months 20-80
6 mos.-9 yrs. <7-20 6 mos.-9 yrs. <7-20
10-11 yrs. <7-130 10-11 yrs. <7-44
12-13 yrs. <7-800 12-16 yrs. <7-75
14 yrs. <7-1,200 17-18 yrs. 20-75
15-16 yrs. 100-1,200 19+ yrs. 8-60
17-18 yrs. 300-1,200    
19+ yrs. 240-950    
Avg. Adult Male 270-1,070 Avg. Adult Female 15-70
30+ yrs. -1% per year    

I almost certainly have much lower levels of testosterone now than I did when I was 20, but I don’t know, because I’ve never had them measured. Scott Adams did not have his testosterone levels measured, either, but he felt free to claim a nonexistent measurement validated his perception of how science works. Also, despite likely declines in my testosterone over the years, I’m happier and more secure and confident now than I was in my 20s; it’s almost as if environmental circumstances have a greater effect on the cognitive perception of my life.

But also, Adams left out a significant point in those scientific studies, as explained in this paper: Effects of victory and defeat on testosterone and cortisol response to competition: evidence for same response patterns in men and women.

In this study, we report evidence from sport competition that is consistent with the biosocial model of status and dominance. Results show that testosterone levels rise and drop following victory and defeat in badminton players of both sexes, although at lower circulating levels in women. After losing the match, peak cortisol levels are observed in both sexes and correlational analyses indicate that defeat leads to rises in cortisol as well as to drops in testosterone, the percent change in hormone levels being almost identical in both sexes. In conclusion, results show the same pattern of hormonal responses to victory and defeat in men and women.

So, if he were correct (he’s not), then all across America men were experiencing a decline in testosterone, while women’s testosterone levels were rising. Since women outnumber men, that translates into a net gain in American T levels!

Please also note that these hormonal effects are not about “happiness”, but about dominance. I know that to the normal clueless guy dominance is equated with happiness, but it’s simply not true — mammalian hierarchical behavior also increases stress, so it’s not as simple as testosterone being the happy chemical. Testosterone also drives feelings we don’t regard as “happy”.

Throughout vertebrate phylogeny, testosterone has motivated animals to obtain and maintain social dominance-a fact suggesting that unconscious primordial brain mechanisms are involved in social dominance. In humans, however, the prevailing view is that the neocortex is in control of primordial drives, and testosterone is thought to promote social dominance via conscious feelings of superiority, indefatigability, strength, and anger. Here we show that testosterone administration in humans prolongs dominant staring into the eyes of threatening faces that are viewed outside of awareness, without affecting consciously experienced feelings. These findings reveal that testosterone motivates social dominance in humans in much the same ways that it does in other vertebrates: involuntarily, automatically, and unconsciously.

So maybe watching Alicia Keys also made American men less angry and less arrogant…if the song had the purported effect on testosterone levels, which, I emphasize again, was not measured. Personally, I did not feel threatened or diminished by a woman singing a song, so I don’t have any reason to think my testosterone levels were affected at all…but then, I should not deny Scott Adams his perception of the experience. Maybe he felt totally crushed and defeated by a woman musician and his balls actually shriveled.

The song might have had other positive effects.

Elevated levels of testosterone have repeatedly been associated with antisocial behavior, but the psychobiological mechanisms underlying this effect are unknown. However, testosterone is evidently capable of altering the processing of facial threat, and facial signals of fear and anger serve sociality through their higher-level empathy-provoking and socially corrective properties. We investigated the hypothesis that testosterone predisposes people to antisocial behavior by reducing conscious recognition of facial threat. In a within-subjects design, testosterone (0.5 mg) or placebo was administered to 16 female volunteers. Afterward, a task with morphed stimuli indexed their sensitivity for consciously recognizing the facial expressions of threat (disgust, fear, and anger) and nonthreat (surprise, sadness, and happiness). Testosterone induced a significant reduction in the conscious recognition of facial threat overall. Separate analyses for the three categories of threat faces indicated that this effect was reliable for angry facial expressions exclusively. This testosterone-induced impairment in the conscious detection of the socially corrective facial signal of anger may predispose individuals to antisocial behavior.

So maybe the hypothetical reduction in men’s testosterone levels made them less angry, more sensitive to the social cues of their loved ones, and less antisocial? These sound like good results that are not at all in conflict with happiness!

If the Scott Adams Castration Effect* were real, that would argue that maybe we ought to be broadcasting Alicia Keys everywhere. Maybe more Beyoncé is the path to World Peace.

*The Scott Adams Castration Effect is what I’m calling the fearful sensation of diminishment that some men experience when faced with strong women. The poor man. He’s got it bad.

How to fix gender representation in vidyagames

I have thought of a way to get more representation of women in video games. I was inspired by the latest Feminist Frequency video, which asks “Are Women Too Hard To Animate?”

And my first thought was yeah, well, boob physics is really hard and requires adding lots more math to the code, if you want to be properly salacious.

And my second thought was gosh, game programmers must be really lazy.

And my third thought was that game programmers sure put a lot of thought into sexualizing their games.

And that’s when my new idea popped into my head. Have you ever seen a naked man running? There’s this small dangly bit that you can’t avoid noticing that is bouncing and flopping and twirling as they move, and it can even, sometimes, change shape in response to the environment. I imagine simulating penis physics is even harder than boob physics, and you can’t cheat and just have an immobile lump down there on a naked man, because all the viewers would see that as sad and sick (either that, or it’s really cold in the game environment), especially the male viewers.

So that’s my solution. We have to demand more male nudity in video games, and not just when they’re standing around — we must insist on full frontal nakedness in action shots. And of course, there must be graphical accuracy in the animation.

Imagine the design phase of games. Everytime the designers suggest a male protagonist, the programmers will say “Aww, man, that’s gonna be hard, I’m gonna have to spend weeks coding shape-shifting pendulums, and then we’re going to have to spend months playtesting his junk. Can we just have the hero be a woman?”

This is going to work. It draws on what are clearly entirely natural impulses in programmers: to throw in lots of sex, while doing as little creative work as possible.