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On Nail Polish and Pizza

After a bit of an unusual childhood/teenagerhood, I spent a lot of my senior year of high school and freshman year of college hacking away at a list of things I’d never had to learn that are rote to your average young adult.

I’d never used a microwave before, for instance. (For the record, really mean it about the metal. Also, generalizing from “well, the other containers I put in the microwave those other two times didn’t get hot!” is a terrible plan.) Or matches/lighters. If anyone has hints or tricks on that front for someone with either a mild phobia or silly fear, toss them thisaway. (The first time I attempted to light a candle, I set my thumb on fire. Turns out nail polish is flammable. Have sneakily avoided all kinds of fire since.)

The thing is, it was rarely just a single task that I wanted to know, like, how does one paint their nails? I didn’t actually want the specific information about getting the smelly stuff on your nails and only on the nail parts–though seriously, how does one do their right hand?!–I wanted the set of all the knowledge you get from trying it at age twelve and screwing up and being told you need to take it off because it’s too chipped. It’s knowing which colors are considered professional and which aren’t and whether or not it matters if your nails match your clothes (it seems impossible to do, but teen magazines kept assuring me it’s a thing). So it never was “how do you paint your nails?” that I was asking, it was “how do I get all of the knowledge you have from painting your nails without screwing up a simple step and looking foolish in the process?”

At this point, few normal things reduce me to stressful bafflement, or require me to google around. (Shoutout to WikiHow!) Few things, that is, until last Wednesday, when I realized I had no idea how one places an order for delivery. Or whether one can pay with a credit card. Or if one does it far in advance of when you needed the food. Or how much to tip. It’s all solved now, but geez, I have no idea how I’d be doing without people writing nice articles like How To Order A Pizza Over The Phone.

[Of course, the best laid plans and all that, and the pizza arrived an hour later than I’d scheduled it.]

Monday Miscellany: Anorexia, Anonymous Comments, Alternative Energy Sources

65632_10200463503102210_1178298586_nIf I managed to publish this on time, I’ve survived it to Week 6 of 10, in my ninth quarter of academics. (One quarter of the last three years was spent at Fabulous Unspecified Internship.)

1. PubMed has opened commenting with the intention of allowing it for all PubMed authors. This cannot possibly go wrong.
Upside: No anonymous comments!
Downside: little moderation.

2. Women in my family have been shrinking for decades. [Trigger warning for eating disorders like woah.]

3. Reviewing the DSM 5 as a dystopian novel…death by a hundred lines of cutting satire.

For all the subtlety of its characterization, the book doesn’t just provide a chilling psychological portrait, it conjures up an entire world. The clue is in the name: On some level we’re to imagine that the American Psychiatric Association is a body with real powers, that the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” is something that might actually be used, and that its caricature of our inner lives could have serious consequences. Sections like those on the personality disorders offer a terrifying glimpse of a futuristic system of repression, one in which deviance isn’t furiously stamped out like it is in Orwell’s unsubtle Oceania, but pathologized instead. Here there’s no need for any rats, and the diagnostician can honestly believe she’s doing the right thing; it’s all in the name of restoring the sick to health. DSM-5 describes a nightmare society in which human beings are individuated, sick, and alone. For much of the novel, what the narrator of this story is describing is its own solitude, its own inability to appreciate other people, and its own overpowering desire for death – but the real horror lies in the world that could produce such a voice.

I…suddenly feel like one of those antidepressant commercials with the little cloud over me.

4. If you have been recently describing people who want to have children as breeders and/or children as spawn, stop. [See also: Cease! Desist! and ohmygod whyyyyy were you doing that?] Chana also pointed me to this piece from Leah, which made me think of the importance of tolerating the occasionally fussy baby as part of how we provide social support to parents. If supporting adults doesn’t seem a good enough reason, social support seems a factor in preventing abuse and neglect of children.

5. This is not psychology related, but it is wonderful. In fact, even the announcement is great enough that I’ll let it speak for itself:

What we are offering you today is the opportunity to bid on a digital portrait of your dashing visage, executed by the one and only Zach Weinersmith, the author and illustrator of the wildly famous Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal webcomic. This is an incredibly rare opportunity, not available since the days of Veláquez in the court of Philip IV, to have yourself preserved for all time, a masterpiece that future collectors will vie for to display on the walls of their own palaces. Needless to say, this is not something you’ll want to miss out on.

6. Still not psychology, still hilarious. @HardSciFiMovies. You should really just take my word for it and go follow them, but for the skeptics:

Xenu of the Galactic Federation demands eternal dominion over all life. He decides to start his own religion. It is popular with celebrities

A hacker must break the encryption on the explosive device within 60 seconds. This would require a computer the size of Mexico. He dies.

A scientist would usurp God, to toy and tinker with the very fabric of life. The resultant kumquats have increased mold resistance.

A scientist bursts into a White House meeting to announce urgent findings to the President. A number of Secret Service personnel are fired.

7. Treating anorexia nervosa in adults. There’s a very thin silver lining in this, but mostly AN is treatment-resistant in ways you won’t see in teen populations.

8. Wind Turbine Syndrome


A Tale of Two Weirds

Bobo dolls are also weeeeeird.

Science is weird, and it is WEIRD.

On the one hand, we have the weird stuff. The study of youtube videos. How long mammals take to pee.  The farting salmon. Heck, everything about the IgNobels. Psychology, for the record, is not exempt. Have you seen the BoBo doll experiments?

Imaginary Bandura to imaginary research assistant: Could you just go in this room, and ah, punch the lights out of this inflatable doll? Look like you’re enjoying it, and keep it up for at least five minutes.

There’s some fascinating arguments that we should maybe talk less about this ‘weird’ science, that when we laugh and sigh and say ‘they spent all that money to study what about snails?’ we’re actually devaluing important research in the eyes of the people who just see it in the newspaper. And I really really want research to be done because it might add something of value to what we know, not because the results will sound impressive*. So I lean towards agreeing–maybe we should frame it less as “how weird and arcane and odd it is that people think this is worth spending their time on!” and more like “woah, isn’t it neat that we can learn important things from experiments like launching jellyfish into space?!”

And on then, on the other hand, there is WEIRD science, and it is this that should be keeping us up at night, leaving us a little ragged and hysterical and twitchy, not the people who swallowed shrews whole and then examined their poop.  I kid, I kid. (Not about the shrew-swallowing, though, that’s totally an actual scientific study.)

Our research studies, the ones that make grand and sweeping claims about human behavior? They come overwhelmingly from Western, educated participants living in industrialized, rich, and democratic countries.

And it’s more than just the college sophomore problem, wherein to get class credit, your collegiate 20-year-old will obligingly answer questionnaires, take the Implicit Association tests, and get trapped in endless prisoner’s dilemmas. (Trust me, as a psych-studying former college sophomore, by the three hundred and seventy second time you get asked to press Z to cooperate or M to defect, it is oooold.)

So we have this majority of research that’s conducted on a very specific–and non-majority!–of the population. And then we use it to make some Big Claims about how people think. Like, really big claims about conformity and social interventions and How Humans Got This Way. (I am making side-eyes at you, evolutionary psychology**.) And this seems to be a very incorrect plan.

Truth is, we don’t have a great handle on how much of a problem WEIRD research participants are. Though preliminary research suggests that we should be incredibly concerned by our habits of extrapolating WEIRD research to claims about human behavior. (From the abstract: “One of the least representative samples of the human population.”)

And of course, if you want to determine the usefulness of an intervention in the United States, you don’t much care to get an international sample of the world, you want to know about Americans (though here I would remind you that not all Americans are young adults attending research universities). But what if you want to know about conformity? Or gendered behavior? Or memory? Or sleep? Or IQ? Or moral development? The foundations of these are all considered solid and basic, the sort of thing you’ll see in high school, or 101…and guess who we sampled?

Look, it’s entirely possible that non-WEIRD people act just like WEIRD people. (It seems incredibly unlikely, but go with me here.) The problem is, we really don’t have enough information. And we keep brushing it off and explaining to college freshman that yes, people will conform and agree that this line is shorter than those lines at these rates. We’re missing all this potential nuance! and data!

So yes, we should probably present weird science as less about the weird, and more about the science. But WEIRD science? We need to talk about it more. Lots more.


*It’s actually slightly more complicated than that, because of course I’d rather have something that gets us closer to a cure for a horrible disease or fixes some global crisis. However, this seems to be reflected in the fact that we spend more money on developing approaches to cancer than we do on investigating bellybutton lint. 

**No, I don’t think evolutionary psychology is entirely bunk. But I think it should be especially concerned about these sampling issues, and it makes me nervous that I don’t see it. 

Monday Miscellany: Male Gamers! Millenials! Midterms.

It’s Monday! I have midterms! So, whilst I dog-paddle furiously in academic soup and mix metaphors with abandon, here’s some links.

1. Even as I knew Male Gamers Only was a satire, I got caught up in it and I had…Feelings.

2. The Curse of Cute. Dammit, science, ruining EVERYTHING. (…She said, sipping clean water and using the internet.)

3.  Attention, news media. Not all Millennials are white and privileged. [See also: not all people

I have a timer set on my phone. It counts how often I hear the words “millennial” or “Generation Y’er” with some sweeping crass generalization about how awful people my age are. It is coupled of course with photos, of some Instagram-lit, tattooed, white manic-pixie dream girl and her alt-rock flannel boyfriend. The chances of the poster children looking like me (fat, and unambiguously black) hover between not-in-the-slightest and Christmas miracle. Rhetoric that comes anywhere close to talking about my life is even less common.

It’s easy to to make fun of the entitled, selfie-taking stereotype. In reality those of us born between 1980 and 2009 are a diverse group, who have had extraordinarily different experiences growing up. The lack of engagement with race, class, regional, political and immigration issues in journalism about millennials does us all a disservice by dodging the serious questions of what our coming of age means for the future of America.

4. This piece about science and whether there really is a self correcting mechanism, makes me feel like a psych hipster. I was suspicious of priming research before Kahneman made it cool. And this:

It is tempting to see the priming fracas as an isolated case in an area of science—psychology—easily marginalised as soft and wayward. But irreproducibility is much more widespread. A few years ago scientists at Amgen, an American drug company, tried to replicate 53 studies that they considered landmarks in the basic science of cancer, often co-operating closely with the original researchers to ensure that their experimental technique matched the one used first time round. According to a piece they wrote last year in Nature, a leading scientific journal, they were able to reproduce the original results in just six. Months earlier Florian Prinz and his colleagues at Bayer HealthCare, a German pharmaceutical giant, reported in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, a sister journal, that they had successfully reproduced the published results in just a quarter of 67 seminal studies.

5. The psychology of intent versus impact. Yeah, we’re really bad at untangling the two. Here’s why.

6. Talking to our children about rape.

7. Neil Gaiman on libraries.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

8. There are new ethical guidelines for experimental testing involving humans, and by and large, it’s awesome. Not awesome? Things like this [emphasis mine]:

Granting agencies increasingly require that research they fund involving [randomized controlled trials] will be preregistered, but many psychological intervention studies are simply noncompliant. Checking published randomized clinical trials of psychological interventions, one finds that more recent ones are registered, but that often the outcomes reported in the published papers differ from what is reported in the registration. Alternatively, the registration involves designation of a primary outcome that could be assessed by a full range of measures, without stating which measure will be used. Researchers thus assess psychological distress with the BDI, the CES-D, the distress thermometer, adjective checklists, and a battery of self-reported anxiety measures. They then pick the measures that make the intervention looked most effective. This is the source of rampant selective reporting of outcomes and confirmatory bias. The proportion of clinical trials that report negative outcomes continues to decline, and there’s little doubt that this stems from selective reporting, not improvement in the design and evaluation of interventions.

My reaction. Luckily, these new guidelines are extending what sorts of trials should be registered.

Happy Monday!

Real Women

I was very taken with this piece from Disrupting Dinner Parties:

Every boy I’ve ever dated had visible intercostals, because they were all athletes of a particular type. You can find it in the wild. They were all real men. Men with 4% body fat are real men. Men with a 35% body fat real men. Men with no chest hair are real men. Men whose back hair comes out of the collar of their shirt and merges with the hair on their head are real men. Men who have body hair, but choose to remove it, are also real men. (As usual, women who are small enough to have trouble finding adult clothes that fit are real women. And women who are big enough to have problems finding any clothes that fit area also real women.)

All people are in fact real people.

And this puts me in mind of my least favorite ‘body positivity’ phrase.

Real women have curves.

I mean, yes. Real women have curves mostly because it’s very hard to create fully angular people, and while they do stack better, and would probably be easier to pack into public transportation, body fat just doesn’t do that well, and people don’t do so well without body fat.

But that isn’t what this is saying. Real women have curves is just another way to preference one particularly body type (because really, what do you see in those ‘inspiring’ ads? Hourglass figure, curves only in certain places, curves that come in certain ways, and definitely don’t contain cellulite or stretch marks) over another especially restrictive one, whilst feeling like you’ve contributed to making everyone feel more included. Because now, you can try to cram yourself into Tiny Box A or Tiny Box B!

Oh, you’re not stick skinny? Real women have curves!

Just not the sort formed by fat rolls, or located in stomachs!

Real women have curves, but they’re well lit and highly made up curves!

Real women have curves, but they are young curves and definitely 70% boob curvature.


Body positivity should involve actual positivity! Not a slapdash paint job on the old body policing. Body positivity shouldn’t involve mocking old standards of beauty in favor of restrictive new ones. It shouldn’t mean pretending society doesn’t have harmful messages about acceptable sizes and shapes and attach moral responsibility to failure to conform, because hey, we said that curves were cute!

Real women have passions and hopes and hearts and brains. Real women have mass and occupy physical space. Real women identify as women are not imaginary. Real women are probably damn tired of trying to be the right kind of curvy or skinny and would like to keep living without exerting their existence as simultaneously women! and their body type! and also real! over and over again, thank you.

Two Shoes


[Adapted from a really old piece from my formerly-pseudonymous blog]

This is half of the last pair shoes I danced in, and half of the shoes I stopped thinking of myself as a dancer in. On the left, Grishko 2007’s in a medium shank, size 6, 5X wide. On the right, Sansha Recitals, size 10, medium width. It’s a point of pride to me that I can still name them–years of walking up the counter and the smell of rosin.

Grishko, please.
Size 6.
Medium shank, but I’ll take soft if you have it.
And, ah, 5X?

The broken in shoe smells a little musty. It’s fully ‘dead’, all squishy in the toe and right above the nail in the arch. I wore it in a flapper dress, with a huge feather. I wore it in a full length silk skirt, dancing to music from the African Symphony Orchestra, flirting with the audience to Santana, and in my last performance, when I cried because the audience applauded, and I was shaking tired and my feet were bloody, and I just wanted to keep making them clap.

The new shoe still isn’t sewn all the way. The come without ribbons, in pink boxes. You pull them out and spend an hour jabbing away at layers of canvas and silk to put all the ties on. I never finished adding the elastics. The shoe isn’t broken in. I’ve stood up on my toes in them, but I haven’t rubbed them with water and rubbing alcohol, or banged them against the floor and heated and bent them in my hands. They aren’t molded to my feet, musty, or dull. New shoes hurt. And because I figured out that summer that too many mirrors meant eating too little food, they’ll never get that treatment. No matter how well I made myself behave, and eat, and like my curves, being in that room tore it to shreds.

So I stopped being a dancer. I was one, for 15 years. I’ll always walk like one, love moving and dipping and turning.

Each time I move, I’ll unpack a box of leotards, holding each one up. Year after year, red and black and navy, halters and ladder-backed and with little edges of print fabric. Leg warmers, custom made, one set. Another, with a hole in the heel. Soft and warm with memories of early Saturdays in the studio.

I should throw them out, I tell my roommate. She’s the third roommate to hear it. And then I’ll fold them all back up. Roll the legwarmers, wrap the ribbons around the shoes. Two boxes, stacked in the corner of our closet.

Monday Miscellany: Pirates, Psychotherapy, Prestige

1. Psychotherapy’s Image Problem: I have some quibbles with this article. For one, it’s a pretty rote process to test a psychiatric medication. You have the pills, which are, most importantly, not as unique and complicated as People Practicing Therapy, you compare them against treatment as usual or placebos and then you do statistical magic* and have some sort of answer about how helpful it is. So yeah, of course it’s easier to have the American Psychiatric Association putting out guidelines for use. Secondly, the writer (as was pointed out in several letters to the editor) pitted medication and therapy interventions against each other, when in fact many people use them together–and that seems to be something we’d like to encourage.

2. Again, a caveat. This article about a Wyoming cowboy who prefers dresses to pants could use some help with framing. But, “He asks classes not to judge him by his dress, and they’ve responded. Students once arrived in hoodies, removing them to reveal pink hair ribbons and matching pink shirts. Goodwin nearly wept at the gesture.” didn’t leave me dry-eyed.

3. Why would a blogger at Science Based Medicine and an editor at PLoS One accept an article about homeopathy for publication? Because he had great reasoning, that’s why.

4. ElodieUnderGlass writes to a reader about work settings and the adults that inhabit them.

The woods are a tough mistress. Lots of us live in them. Many of us can’t afford to stake our money on a principle. Many of us sacrifice our dignity on the altar of Customer Service, and we don’t do it because we enjoy it. Nobody goes to school hoping to be an Ophelia. Nobody wants to grow up to be a telemarketer. People don’t usually work in factories for spiritual fulfillment.

5. Oh ho, those entitled Millenials want to pay for their groceries! Just live on that prestige! In other words, I’m really really fed up with the way universities force students into unpaid internships. Northwestern does it, and ProPublica isn’t a fan.

6. Dateline told me it was true, video games are making our kids violent. But what if they’re also influencing them to run too many errands?!?!11l!!!

“It’s a concern that has been expressed by society for a long time now,” said Butow. “It goes back as far as the 1999 Columbine massacre in the United States, and potentially even further than that. For more than a decade, we’ve had to consider, as parents, what we’re exposing our children to, and I don’t think there’s a single parent with a teenage child who has not asked themselves at one point or another ‘If I buy this game for my son or daughter, am I encouraging arbitrary behaviour or acts of inexplicable charity?’”

*not actually magic. Or as simple as bang! results. But, simpler than people


This is the story of a girl who doubted herself.

Who didn’t trust him at age six. Who compared him to a rattlesnake once.

Who can still pull up the memory of that shocked face–the way she turned around in the car, while driving no less, and the look of horror when that eight year old voiced the comparison…one she’d mulled over saying for weeks.

Who had panic attacks on planes, because something had to be broken to feel that distant about a family that never did anything well, bad.

Who is an adult now.

Who feels too adult.

But adults get praised for having boundaries. For being so perceptive, for handling it so well. Even as they think, what’s changed? 

And it’s that adult woman with boundaries and understanding and maturity, who sometimes hates that word, because she was used to be mature enough to use big words, but not mature enough to talk about who belonged in the circle of people who knew about her life.  It’s that woman who wants to find the six year old, the eight year old, the ten year old girl who thought she was wrong, who doubted her feelings. Who thought something was wrong in her. And she wants to just hold her.

To say that yes, you’re doing the right thing. That you can create an entire persona, that you can protect yourself and feel numb and cold and someday it’ll be as if the happiness dial suddenly turned all the way up.

That it won’t feel like having a home, but it will feel like freedom. And that in a decade, in three thousand, six hundred and fifty two days, there will be friends who become family, who ask how therapy went, who wrap blankets around you when you’re anxious and wrap you in hugs because they know you. Who ask if you want company when they see the caller ID, who will let you show up on the doorstep.

And that when things start to be okay, when it starts being brave and not mean to say ‘He didn’t care. He doesn’t want to know me.’ the adult woman will be angry on behalf of the eight year old who knew.