Is God disappearing from literature?

Google Books has scanned over 15 million books so far, and a team at Harvard University has been crunching the numbers. They’re looking for various trends that can highlight the evolution of language, and their results are fascinating. Ed Yong has a wonderful review that you should check out, with everything from grammar to Nazis (but no Grammar Nazis).

But I wanted to point out one trend they’ve been seeing in the books over the years:
In the lead researcher’s own words, “‘God’ is not dead; but needs a new publicist.”

And just because I’m a biologist who wants to rub it in…
Woooo! But more than just bragging about it’s growing popularity compared to God*, this graph is still pretty awesome. Not only does it show approximately when these discoveries were made, but look at evolution in the 1940s. Looks like people were a little scared to be talking about it, maybe thanks to Nazis? That would be fascinating to look into more.

This is only the first report from the project, and I can’t wait for the rest to come out! Mmmmm, data and literary nerdiness combined!

*Remember, it’s comparatively. Look at the magnitudes on the y axes. The atheist horde still has some work to do. But at least science is on the upswing, while God isn’t looking too hot if this trend continues!

Having sex like a scientist

What does that even mean? According to this person asking Dan Savage for sex advice, having sex like a scientist is not so good:

He’s a scientist, and he has sex like a scientist. He’s not a good kisser, but worse, he flies through foreplay like its his weekend chore list, and goes straight to the fucking as quick as he can. He’s a voracious bottom, which should work out for me, but in the end, I’m always left finishing off alone. He always comes within minutes, and the whole time does nothing sexy, does nothing to help me along. In fact he does lots of stuff that turns me off. I’ve never lost hard-ons during sex until I was with him. I might as well be a cucumber glued to a body pillow, he’d have about the same interaction.

That’s what this person thinks having sex like a scientist is like?! Man, I’m hurt.

Not that professions necessarily affect your sex lives, but this doesn’t even make sense. Science is effectively based on making observations, experimenting, gathering data, and then correcting your theories through further experimentation. Not to mention reading the literature before setting up any experiments. Sounds like a recipe for a great sex life to me.

Now, engineers, on the other hand…

I wasn’t expecting this remix

Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University sang an a capella version of the Bed Intruder song at their Christmas show. Wha?

It’s pretty good, though my mind is boggled by a Christmas show at a right-wing evangelical school singing a song by an openly gay man about attempted rape. Especially considering the Dean of Law at Liberty University is also the founder of the Liberty Counsel, which puts out a list of “naughty” stores that say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Bed Intruder Song? Totally appropriate for Christmas.

Saying “Happy Holidays?” OMG you’re undermining Christianity by being inclusive!!!!

Got it.



Honestly, I have nothing to add. This whole WikiLeaks/Julian Assange drama exploded when I was holed up in the lab 24/7. A nuclear bomb could have been dropped somewhere and I wouldn’t have noticed. So yeah, I’m trying to catch up on the whole thing, but while I’m doing that, feel free to speak your mind in the comments. I’m curious to see what my blog readers think about it.

A reminder about my comment policy

It seems like my latest feminism related post has devolved into commenters either 1) telling each other how to properly comment or 2) telling me how I’m a horrible person because I’m not moderating the comments. My posts on feminism devolving into flame wars?! Shocking, I know.

So it’s time for a reminder about how commenting works in the land of Blag Hag. If bloggers were like gods (which is pretty much how we see ourselves, with our ginormous egos and all), I’d be very much a deist goddess. I usually won’t moderate comments, except if those comments are:

  • Spam
  • Hateful, abusive, or threatening
  • Trolling or thread derailing
  • Evangelizing or godbotting
  • Mindbogglingly stupid

With the exception of spam and threats, I only ban repeat offenders. That is, I figure most people will occasionally say something mindbogglingly stupid every once in a while (myself included), and I shouldn’t remove them from future discussions for a single event.

My commenting policy is very lax, and for a reason other than laziness. I don’t want Blag Hag to become an echo chamber, so I don’t moderate comments that disagree with me, no matter how insipid or annoying I find them. A lot of feminists blogs moderate out annoying comments by even the most well meaning privilege denying dudes, which is understandable. Those blogs are meant to be safe havens for women who are sick of hearing the same stupid shit over and over again. They’re not feminism 101 blogs.

As much as I want everyone to feel comfortable commenting here, I think it’s important that my blog in particular not delete these sorts of comments. Why? Because I’m constantly getting emails and comments from guys who finally understand and are improving their behavior. They thank me for being patient with them, and for showing what assholes they were being. If I banned them outright, they would have never stuck around long enough to learn more about feminism.

That and as my dad says, “No man is ever totally worthless, he can always serve as a bad example.”* I view comments the same way.

But also, I’m busy. Like, really fucking busy. Grad school hardly leaves me with enough time to blog, and I do at least skim all of the comments to make sure no one is breaking my rules. And when it’s finals week like this past week, I don’t read anything until the weekend – so sometimes a bad comment will sneak through.

In these cases, the proper course of action is not to repeatedly hound me about moderating that comment, thus bringing even more attention to the trollish remark. You know why? Well, for one, you become a thread derailer, which I rank as a graver crime over a single incident of trolling or poorly attempted snarky humor.

And two, I’m kind of an asshole. The more you get upset about a comment someone left on a random blog on the internet and feel like you have the right to tell me what is or is not acceptable for my own blog, the more I’ll lol and leave it there out of spite, and then continue to giggle at your more and more angered pleas for moderation. At that point it doesn’t even matter if I theoretically agree with you on the trollish comment’s craptacularness. Yep, when I’m not being a deist goddess, I’m more of a chaotic neutral trickster god.

So, go forth and make the comments multiply, but don’t make my head hurt while doing it.

*I still find it somewhat disconcerting that my dad has a blog. Oh, the internet.

I survived my first quarter of grad school!

I plan to celebrate by doing absolutely nothing for a week. Thankfully for you, my version of doing absolutely nothing includes blogging.

Then I’ll be flying around visiting family for a bit, including hitting up the Harry Potter theme park with my parents. Kind of overly excited for that.

I may post a real summary of grad school so far later, but right now I’m content with being braindead for a bit. Consider this an open thread until I put a real post up. What awesome stuff have I missed recently while I was busy finishing my research?

Feminists' selective science phobia

Evolutionary psychology gets a lot of flack from both inside and outside science. And to be honest, a lot of it is well deserved criticism – too much of evolutionary psychology is arm chair philosophizing and overly optimistic adaptationism, rather than hard data.

But I still assert that’s no reason to write off the field as a whole. For one, there are plenty of good studies out there, and it’s often the media that warps results into broad conclusions, not the scientists themselves. Two, it’s a baby field that’s still learning quality control – give it another ten years to refine its standards and come up with improved ways to make measurements, such as advanced brain activity imaging technology. And three, it is completely unreasonable to insist that the brain is magically not under selective pressure like every other thing in nature.

Unless it doesn’t mesh with your philosophy, of course.

Sometimes I hate calling myself a feminist because of who it associates me with. For example, this latest example of feminist sciencephobia from Jill at I Blame The Patriarchy:

Evolutionary psychology rests on the shaky (often enpornulated) hypothesis that modern human social behaviors are actually species-preserving adaptations.

No, it rests on the very strong hypothesis that the brain evolves like any other organ.

Because evolutionary psychology, like all psuedoscience, is administered by jackasses who are heavily invested in patriarchy, the behaviors in question just happen to be the very same behaviors commonly observed to be beloved of patriarchyists. And also of sexists, misogynists, horndogs, militarists, straight people, politicians, consumers of pornography, consumers of “beauty,” racists, godbags, liberal men, Hollywoodists, homophobes, matrimonialists, and other cogs in the megatheocorporatocratic machine. Everybody who loves the current world order loves the romantic myth that it is the result of the random interaction of mindless genes, or biological “design.” Sadly, the world order is actually the result of something way more sinister: the completely arbitrary social construct of the culture of domination and submission.

I should have stopped reading here, but I was impressed. I didn’t think someone could fit so many straw men and ad hominems in a single paragraph! But I know Jill thinks this is her “snarky” “style,” so I kept reading to see her views on the science.

Annie Murphy Paul uses revelations facilitated by evolutionary psychology to make the (tired old) case that women are pretty much prisoners of biology, or, more specifically, of the menstrual cycle. Her apparent thesis: ovulating women are constrained by biological impulse to go to bars, wear tight dresses, and emit musical, magical laughter, whereupon they become attracted to male lantern-jawed superheroes. Non-ovulating women, on the other hand, are practically a different species. They are drab and dull and fail to effervesce or mate, and prefer pansy-ass dudes.

As an evolutionary biologist, I’ve yet to hear an evolutionary biologist who claims people are prisoners of biology. We are, however, not immune to our biology. It’s not insane to suggest that some of our behavior is innate – humans just have the special ability to consciously choose to overcome some of it. That may be difficult for behaviors that are really ingrained in us for evolutionary reasons.

For example, we’ve evolved to crave sugary food because thousands of years ago, that craving would have kept us alive. It’s subconscious – we don’t think, “Gee, I really want that cookie because I may not be able to eat for another week.” It explains why people are inclined to eat too much sugary food now that it’s abundant, but it by no means says we are prisoners to that behavior and that we must eat sugary food until we’re diabetic.

Many feminists would have no problem with that example, but they still proceed to freak out when the same thought process is applied to behavior between the sexes. Even if we did find some difference between the sexes, that doesn’t mean there’s a value difference between those behaviors, nor does it mean we even have to do them.

But no. Jill and feminists like her are just content imagining a world where Big Bad Male Scientists are out to get them:

Paul cites research conducted, unfortunately, by psychologists and “dating advisers,” since who else would know from this shit? One researcher dude juxtaposed menstrual cycle data with the nightly revenues of (a whopping) 18 lap dancers. Awesome.

Research dude: Hmm. I wonder where we could conduct some research on ovulating women?

Grad student dude: How about a strip club? We can totally multitask by working and abusing the sex class at the same time.

Research dude: It’s pure genius! I’ll take full credit.

In this case research dude concluded that not only do strip club clientele discern whether lap dancers are ovulating, but that pervs lavish more cash on ovulating lap dancers than they do on dull old non-ovulating ones. Paul calls this “one of the most arresting studies of male responses to female fertility cues.”

She goes on to miss the point so badly that I’m inclined to believe she’s misrepresenting Geoffrey Miller’s study on purpose to fulfill her paranoid fantasies. As someone who’s actually read the paper in question, allow me to correct Jill (or you know, you could be a good scientist and go read it yourself.):

Female fertility cues! Apparently women who work in strip clubs are not, contrary to what spinster aunts have maintained through the ages, just trying to make the best of their fucked-up sex class status by working themselves through law school or a drug habit or a musician boyfriend. These hotsy-totsy babes are in fact sending their slavering clients “female fertility cues.”

Jill tries to spin it so it seems like the study is saying women become strippers just to send “female fertility clues.” The study says no such thing about the motivation for becoming a stripper: It looks at women who already are strippers, and sees if there’s any differences in the tips they get depending on where they are during their menstrual cycle. They found that men are more likely to tip when women are ovulating. They don’t have a mechanism for the interaction, but speculate on what sort of cues could clue men in. Do the women behave differently? Is there some sort of physical difference men subconsciously notice? Is is a pheromone or other sort of chemical signal? They don’t make any conclusions.

Furthermore, strippers who take birth control pills are “’shooting [themselves] in the foot,’ since [they’ll] miss out on the bountiful tips garnered by women in estrus.” That’s right. Sexploitation isn’t about male domination, it’s about human reproduction. Human reproduction is natural. Natural is good. Therefore sexploitation is good.

They are shooting themselves in the foot in terms of making tips. Since they don’t ovulate, they don’t receive the boost in tips. The researchers by no means imply that making tips is obviously the most important thing and birth control isn’t important. Seriously
, where the fuck does she ev
en get the rest of that paragraph other than from an overactive imagination?

She goes on and on about how women can’t possibly have any sort of innate behaviors, or as she calls it, a “primal urge to exude pornulated dudefantasy.” Really, and we’re supposed to take you seriously?

I about lost it when I hit the most glaring Biology Fail of the piece:

But isn’t this just a reiteration of the hysterical women stereotype? Not at all, says one of the kindly dude researchers.

“The traditional and rather patronizing male view was that women are fickle, that their preferences are random and arbitrary. Now it turns out that what looks like fickleness is actually deeply adaptive and is shared with the females of most animal species.”

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: does Dude even realize that ‘most animal species’ are either arthropods or nematodes, depending on which geek you’re talking to? Together they number in the millions. Here at Spinster HQ we were unable to locate any research on, for example, the fickleness of female flatworms. Maybe they like to sport around in spandex when it’s that time of the month, but published studies omit to mention it. So this guy, in his attempt to science-ize an enormously detrimental sexist stereotype, grossly mischaracterizes the scope of the planet’s animalian diversity to further his own anthrocentric worldview.

And also, do not speak to me, dude, of “the rather patronizing male view.” How fucking patronizing is it to argue that ‘fickleness’ is a fucking adaptation shared by all females everywhere? That women’s behavior is, in fact, irrational, only now this irrationality has scientifically proven reasons? This dude is killin’ me!

Spinster HQ didn’t look very hard, nor did they read very closely. The “fickleness” this “dude researcher” is talking isn’t about irrationality, it’s about is Bateman’s principle, which is “the theory that females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males invest, and therefore in most species females are a limiting resource over which the other sex will compete.” It’s called that because this “dude researcher” named Bateman first found this trend in fruit flies. You know, arthropods. It’s been found across a wide range of taxa.

Also note how it says “almost.” There are plenty of counter examples of males being the choosy sex. And while there’s evidence going both ways in humans, the point is it doesn’t matter. If science did prove, without a doubt, that female humans invested more energy into reproduction and that caused them to evolve with a specialized set of behaviors, it doesn’t mean we are slaves to that behavior or that it justifies our actions, or the actions of others around us.

The cherry on top of the post was Jill’s bullet point that claims evolutionary psychology cannot explain homosexuality. Even though there are multiple competing hypotheses about the persistence of homosexual behavior. Even if you’re not familiar with evolutionary psychology, that was the second Google result. Way to do your research.

The a priori assumption that evolutionary psychologists are all evil dudes with an agenda to instill 50s era gender roles is frankly paranoid. Ironically, Jill wrote a great post about how feminists need to trust science more. Too bad she’s a hypocrite – this isn’t the first time I’ve called her out on it. “Supporting science” is not the same as “Supporting science only when it doesn’t make you uncomfortable about your world views.”

And you know what? Feminists get the “man hater” stereotype exactly because of posts like that*. I’m a feminist because I’m pro social equality for both sexes. Dismissing researchers because they’re male isn’t equality.

*I should clarify because of a comment below. Feminists will carry that stereotype no matter how rational our arguments are or polite we act just because feminism pisses a lot of people off, and they react harshly out of privilege. But there are too many people who basically are feminists except they still believe that stereotype, because there’s one rotten apple that’s particularly stinky and ruins the label.

You know it's the end of the semester when…

…the only time you’re not in the lab is when you’re at home sleeping.

…and you seriously considered just sleeping at work to be more efficient, but didn’t want to smell the next day.

…so you leave the lab at 1am after being at work for 17 hours only because you have to catch the last bus home.

…and while you’re standing at the stop, two of your classmates comes to catch the last bus as well.

…and it’s not the first time you all have done that this week.

…and you still don’t feel prepared for everything that you have to finish.

Yay grad school. At least we’re all going insane together?

What's the nerdiest thing you've done this week?

Me? Worked in the lab writing Python programs until midnight. And since I’ll probably be doing that again tonight (woo research presentation on Friday), you get this filler post.

What’s the nerdiest thing you’ve done in the past week?

I asked this to my friends over Facebook, and my personal favorite was “Flirt with a NPC.” I’m sure you guys won’t disappoint me either.