Monday Miscellany: Misophonia, Maps, Marshmallows

1. The Edge Question is up: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? I haven’t made it through all of them (and every time I try, I lose hours to exploring past questions too). This response, Science as Self-Correcting, is one of the best thus far. It is a feel-good trope, it is a great way to make a fast and sloppy argument for science over religion, but it is simply not accurate. We’re not great at correcting ourselves in the best of circumstances, why would this mysteriously be true in science? (h/t Ed Yong)

But hiring, promotion, and grant committees typically don’t value the contributions made by individual researchers using these tools. As long as this continues, progress may be slow. As Max Planck observed, revolutions in science sometimes have to wait for funerals. Even after the defenders of old practices assume their final resting places, the antiquated traditions sometimes endure, in part from the support of institutional policies. A policy does not die until someone kills it. New reforms and innovations need our active support—only then can science live up to its self-correcting tagline.

2. I would really really like to see a psychotherapeutic treatment for anorexia succeed. Unfortunately, what I see is poor data collection,, treatments with little impact, and statistical handwavery. This is an excellent exploration of one such study, but contains photos of anorexia and discussion of weight.

3. And speaking of disordered eating, Andrea looks at eating disorder prevention, and what actually works. Using evidence!

4. Also at SED, misophonia in patients with eating disorders. File this under “…hunh”


A lot of people have a red handle installed deep in their person, where if somebody yanks on it, it hurts. For some people, it’s some terrible mistake they regret, and for some people, it’s something they’re always trying to get better at that hasn’t worked, or a relationship they can’t repair, or a weakness that makes them self-conscious, or a memory that’s sort of awful. I’m not any better or worse off than anybody else in having something like this in my nature/history; the only difference between mine and anybody else’s is that mine ison the outside.

I mean, let’s say your red handle is that you have a busted relationship with your parents. You’re a happy person, but there’s this one thing that’s really hard, that you haven’t really figured out, that’s just … a thing you haven’t overcome. Imagine if you had to walk around with a big sign around your neck that said, “Once called my mother a terrible name and we haven’t spoken in 10 years.” So that everybody knew – strangers, friends, nice people, mean people, salespeople, people on the train, people who drove by you in their cars while you were walking. Eeeeeeverybody. This is what it’s like to have your red handle on the outside. It can feel a bit like you are at the mercy of literally everyone.

In other words, stop with the fat jokes at Chris Christie. Actually, drop the proper noun there. People are fat, and sometimes this is their red handle, and perhaps you should stop pulling it.

6. Things West Wing taught me. Well, that and forever associating Andrew Jackson’s presidency with cheese.

7. SW friends in particular, you should be reading the whole sky, but this piece on book recommendations in jail ought to convince you. I’ve linked previously to Doing time.

8.  I might endorse switching to describing biases and heuristics as doing mental triage–there are all sorts of flaws with biases–people view them as universally negative, then don’t want to consider that they might have been caught in one, people use them to snipe at arguments rather than address substance, etc–and heuristic isn’t a sticky word that people are liable to recall and use. (h/t Peter Hurford)

Again, we all do this, but we are often reluctant to admit it because we want to present to the world a façade of rationality: I hold my views firmly because I have carefully examined the alternatives and have justifiably rejected them. And sometimes we have indeed carefully examined the alternatives; but usually we haven’t. We’ve undertaken intellectual triage and set a great many possibilities aside with limited or no scrutiny. This is what Dawkins has done with Christianity; he just thinks he hasn’t.

In general, practicing such triage is okay — indeed, it has to be okay because there’s no plausible alternative until we live much longer, eliminate sleep, and acquire faster internal processors — but it’s the sort of thing that can easily go wrong, primarily because, as a self-justifying defense mechanism, we try to fortify our position by attacking or dismissing all the people who believe the things that we’ve decided not to investigate.

9. I’m probably not going to get tired of analyses of the marshmallow test, but this one is from the NYT, and it’s excellent.


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