Monday Miscellany: Gorilla Opacity, Polyamory, Bad Statistics

1. Polyamory doesn’t get a free pass at being radical without an analysis of power in our interactions.

2. On signaling status and using luxuries to get past gatekeeping, The Logic of Stupid Poor People.

Why do poor people make stupid, illogical decisions to buy status symbols? For the same reason all but only the most wealthy buy status symbols, I suppose. We want to belong. And, not just for the psychic rewards, but belonging to one group at the right time can mean the difference between unemployment and employment, a good job as opposed to a bad job, housing or a shelter, and so on. Someone mentioned on twitter that poor people can be presentable with affordable options from Kmart. But the issue is not about being presentable. Presentable is the bare minimum of social civility. It means being clean, not smelling, wearing shirts and shoes for service and the like. Presentable as a sufficient condition for gainful, dignified work or successful social interactions is a privilege. It’s the aging white hippie who can cut the ponytail of his youthful rebellion and walk into senior management while aging black panthers can never completely outrun the effects of stigmatization against which they were courting a revolution. Presentable is relative and, like life, it ain’t fair.

3. Statistics Done Wrong: A Woefully Complete Guide

If you’re a practicing scientist, you probably use statistics to analyze your data. From basic t tests and standard error calculations to Cox proportional hazards models and geospatial kriging systems, we rely on statistics to give answers to scientific problems. This is unfortunate, because most of us don’t know how to do statistics. Statistics Done Wrong is a guide to the most popular statistical errors and slip-ups committed by scientists every day, in the lab and in peer-reviewed journals. Many of the errors are prevalent in vast swathes of the published literature, casting doubt on the findings of thousands of papers.Statistics Done Wrong assumes no prior knowledge of statistics, so you can read it before your first statistics course or after thirty years of scientific practice.

4. Bystanders won’t always interpret you as charitably as I do.

5.  Miri responds to this post in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

 Folks, nobody will hear you loudly doing nothing about bigotry. Nobody will care that you determinedly, passionately shrugged and closed the browser tab and moved on. The best case scenario of this is that trolls will keep trolling and bigots will keep bigoting.

The best case scenario of speaking up is that you change minds. The good-but-not-best case scenario is that you don’t necessarily change any minds, but the bigot will stop posting bigotry because they’ll realize they’ll be hated for it. And others won’t see that bigotry and either be hurt OR assume that it’s okay and they can do it too.

6. Back in my homestate, Texas A&M combines religion and neuroscience into a new course. How this could be a course I’d jump at the chance to take: what does religion change (if anything) in the brain? Are those changes religion-specific? Do certain kinds of rituals result in certain kinds of responses? What about spirituality? Does one have to believe in the supernatural stuff, or just participate in the ritual?  What this course actually is:

[…]when discussing evolution of the nervous system, the students will also consider the Biblical book of Genesis and other creation stories. The lesson about action potentials — the cellular process that transmits information within and between neurons — will also include a discussion of Descartes and dualism between mind and brain.

7. Found this pullquote on tumblr from Allie Brosh’s new book, Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened. You should almost definitely buy it here.

Most people can motivate themselves to do things simply by knowing that those things need to be done. But not me. For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. If I win, I have to do something I don’t want to do. If I lose, I’m one step closer to ruining my entire life. And I never know whether I’m going to win or lose until the last second.

8. Via Scott at Slate Star Codex, this study, entitled The Invisible Gorilla Strikes Again: Sustained Inattentional Blindness in Expert Observers. And you know, I think I’m just going to let him explain:

You remember the Invisible Gorilla Test? Now they’ve done the same thing, except that this time they ask radiologists to evaluate a patient’s lungs for potential cancer, and see how many of those radiologists fail to notice that the patient’s lungs also contain a gorilla. I am not making this up. One day, we will tell our grandchildren about the bad old days when science was about discovering bosons and stuff instead of just cataloguing the situations in which we can trick people into ignoring gorillas.

Yes, this is a link post that just quoted a link post. Let’s just ignore that.

Aaaand, now that I’ve linked you to something that used “gorilla opacity” in serious terms, I think that’s enough silliness for Monday.


  1. says

    Great links, namesake, thanks. :)

    I especially liked this bit of writing, as it resonates powerfully for me personally:

    For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. If I win, I have to do something I don’t want to do. If I lose, I’m one step closer to ruining my entire life. And I never know whether I’m going to win or lose until the last second.

    This is totally why there’s a big stack of unopened mail on the bookshelf near the door, because despite being intelligent and educated, I still want to magically believe that if there are bad things inside the envelopes, leaving them unopened will mean the bad things pass me by.

    This is, for anyone not used to being in this particular mental state, very rarely true.

  2. karmacat says

    In reference to #6, a colleague of mine did a study in his native Turkey looking at relationship between Muslim rituals and obsessive compulsive disorder. So I imagine you can do a lot of interesting studies related to religion and the brain

  3. timberwoof says

    #8 reminded me of a sci-fi novel and a movie made from it in which a university researcher uses drugs to revert his form to his earlier stages of evolution. (Yeah, yeah, I know.) In a primitive mind-state, his buddy takes him to an ER and has a chest X-ray made, then gets a radiologist to look at the film. The radiologist says, “What kind of a joke is this? Why are you making me examine a gorilla?”

  4. Tecolata says

    #6 reminds me of an incident when I was in high school (A VERY LONG TIME AGO!) and a woman who was a dinner guest used what we now call “the n word”. My mother turned to her and said politely, but firmly, “we do not use that word in this home”. The woman (can’t remember who she was or how she came to dinner, talk about a reverse Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) tried to justify using the word, black people do it, it’s not racist blah blah blah and my mother refused to argue, just repeated “we do not use that word in this home”. The woman shut up.

    Did it change her mind? Maybe not. But she had assumed that because we were white it was OK to use that word. If nothing else, she learned that she could not automatically expect all white people to be OK with this language. Maybe learned to be more careful.

    My mother served in the Navy during World War 2 and the lesson she took from that was never to ignore even small injustices, since small injustices can become big ones if no one does anything about them.

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