A new challenge for Evolutionary Psychology!

The berry-picking stuff has been done to death — and I haven’t even gotten to blueberries and tubers — but here’s an idea that ought to be pursued. What is the evolutionary and genetic basis of different ways of buttoning shirts? It’s a consistent pattern, has been that way for centuries, so by EP logic, there is surely a button-handedness module or gene.

Once they’ve figured that one out, they should get to work on pockets. That’s an infuriating sex difference.

All berries were pink in the Pleistocene, while meat was blue

They just won’t let it go. Some evolutionary psychologists are determined to salvage the idea that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” has a biological basis. Marco Del Giudice goes digging with Google’s ngram viewer to collect data on whether pink and blue actually have undergone a consistent shift in preferences by sex (something no one has claimed), and thinks he has found evidence to overturn an idea he imagines that EP critics hold. It’s an amazing miss.

The role of pink and blue as gender markers is a source of endless fascination for both academics and the broader public.

Dude. No. We don’t find this pink and blue nonsense fascinating at all. We find evolutionary psychologists constant struggle to find biological significance in cultural phenomena exasperating. What is it with your bizarre obsession?

Five years ago I documented how a narrative that I labeled the “pink–blue reversal” (PBR) had become entrenched in contemporary culture (Del Giudice, 2012).

First, every true American knows that PBR stands for Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But secondly, there is no entrenched “pink–blue reversal” narrative. What is confirmed is that some people have insisted that there is an absolute, biological difference in how men and women percieve the world based on no evidence at all, and they were routed by observations of cultural variations that reveal that these color preferences are not hard-coded by evolution at all, but are conditioned responses to social signals.

There are biases. Visit a toy store; they all have the notorious pink aisle, where toys intended for girls are an eye-burning wash of hot pink. There has been no reversal. The question is whether girls are biologically programmed to prefer pink, the better to pick ripe fruit or respond to blushing or fevers, and that’s been shown to be a hypothesis without any good evidence, and a lot of counter-evidence.

The entrenched narrative is that evolutionary psychologists are full of shit. This paper does nothing to show that’s wrong. Quite the contrary: it demonstrates they’re even more full of shit than we imagined.

The PBR maintains that, in the U.S., pink was associated with males and blue with females until the 1940s, when the convention underwent a rapid and complete reversal. At the time, the PBR was treated as established fact in the media and the scientific literature. However, its originator—American Studies researcher Jo Paoletti—never argued that the convention was reversed prior to the 1940s, but only that it was inconsistent (Paoletti, 1987, 1997, 2012).

Oh, look. The point is sailing over the author’s head. I think it’s achieved escape velocity.

Again, that’s the goddamned point. Evolutionary psychologists want to claim a perceptual bias honed by millennia of hunter-gatherer selection on the African plains; everyone else points out that color fads in fashion fluctuate on a time-scale of years or decades, so you don’t get to invoke genetics as a basis for them.

Evolutionary psychologists come back to claim that the inconsistency makes their opponents wrong.

So what does his irrelevant data look like? Here’s a plot of his discovery of pink/blue color references by sex in books, over the last 140 years. He multiplies the frequency by 107 because the numbers are really tiny, but there is an initially small but steadily rising preference for claiming pink is a girl’s color and blue is a boy’s color over that time.

Clearly, this is evidence of a selective sweep for a pink gene in colors over the course of five generations. (No, it’s not). He argues that the UK was much more consistent in claiming that “pink is for girls”, and it’s just a few instances among those weird American books that claim “blue for girls”.

But wait. That’s from books. What about newspapers and magazines?

In total, the database of quotes from newspapers and magazines comprised 34 instances of standard coding and 28 instances of reverse coding. The combined data are plotted in Fig. 2. While the number of occurrences in the figure is too small to draw confident conclusions, the distribution of standard versus reversed gender coding looks approximately even, at least until about 1920.

(I love the way he labels “blue for boys” as standard coding and “blue for girls” as reverse coding, despite the fact that his own data shows that they’re approximately equal in frequency. Let your biases hang out!)

So the color assignments are basically equal by sex until about 1920, when suddenly the assignment of pink to boys plummets dramatically! An even faster selective sweep!

Del Giudice finds this significant.

The discrepancy between the two searches raises an intriguing historical puzzle. While the PBR account remains unsupported, quotes from newspapers and magazines suggest a pattern of variable and/or conflicting conventions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see the Appendix section). However, the marked inconsistency observed in newspapers is virtually absent from the books published in the same period; instead, the pattern found in books overwhelmingly conforms to the standard convention of pink for girls and blue for boys.

I repeat: this “PBR” thing is a strawman made of bullshit. What has been pointed out repeatedly is exactly what he says here: “variable and/or conflicting conventions”. His work confirms what EP critics have been saying all along.

He also thinks the difference between books and magazines is a mystery. No, it’s not. He’s talking about a period when color printing was becoming increasingly common.

“When color began to be added to the products themselves,” Banta writes, “advances in color printing and reproduction followed. Starting in the 1920s, American consumers went from a commercial world of white towels and black Model Ts to a range of products with a fantastic palette of hues from which to choose.”

Right. So it wasn’t genes. It was a shift that occurred as the media began to impose color conventions on the public. It’s exactly what we’d expect if sociocultural influences were fixing arbitrary preferences on us.

Thanks to Matt Lodder for bringing this crap to my attention and getting my morning off to a pissed-off start.

Del Giudice, M (2017) Pink, Blue, and Gender: An Update. Arch Sex Behav (2017). doi:10.1007/s10508-017-1024-3

Bring back Art Bell

Back in the olden days, you know, the 1990s, we would entertain ourselves by listening to Art Bell broadcasting weird conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific nonsense from his double-wide in Pahrump, Nevada, and we would laugh and laugh and mock him on Usenet. Bell seems pretty benign now, since he’s been basically replaced by the vicious kook, Alex Jones, who also has the ear of the president, unlike dotty ol’ Art Bell. Jones is enabling some ghastly stuff, like this discussion with Robert David Steele. Steele is an ex-CIA guy who now promotes something called Open Source Intelligence, which to my inexperienced brain sounds reasonable…but then he brings along all this other wacky baggage. Here’s Steele and Alex Jones having a flaky conversation.

This is totally bonkers. I think they’re talking about PizzaGate kinds of crap, where right-wingers see pedophiles everywhere, while somehow being unable to show any victims. (Meanwhile, real, known child victims of the Newtown murders get called “actors” and the killings are called a “false flag” operation. It makes no sense.)

AJ: He said Hunter S. Thompson wasa about to expose pedophile rings and things, and then it was disinfo against him, out of the pedophile rings, because he was writing about it. Let’s see what Robert David Steele has to say. Go ahead.

RDS: I agree with that and let me just point out that pedophilia does not stop with sodomizing children. It goes straight into terrorizing them to adrenalize their blood, and then murdering them. It also includes murdering them so that they can have their bone marrow harvested, as well as body parts. Pedophilia is much…

AJ: This is the original growth hormone.

Steele seems to think a lot about sodomizing children, murdering them, and extracting their organs. Adrenalin, by the way, is not a growth hormone.

It gets weirder, if less grisly.

RDS: Yes. It’s an anti-aging thing, and this might strike your listeners as way out but we actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20 year ride. So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony. There’s all kinds of…

But why? Why do you need to ship kids out to a non-existent Mars colony to set up a pedophilia ring, when there are plenty of perfectly good pizza parlor basements here on Earth? Why would you spend as much money and effort as would be required to build a colony on Mars simply to set up a bone-marrow harvesting operation? Was Peter Thiel behind this?

Also, if it’s a 20 year ride — which is kind of slow for travel to Mars — wouldn’t they no longer be kids on arrival? If they’re 20+ years old, it’s no longer a pedophilia ring. The pervs will be so disappointed.

AJ: Look, I know that 90 percent of the NASA missions are secret and I’ve been told by high level NASA engineers that you have no idea, there is so much stuff going on. But then it goes off into all that, that’s the kind of thing media jumps on. But I know this: we see a bunch of mechanical wreckage on Mars and people say, “Oh look, it looks like mechanics.” They go, “Oh, you’re a conspiracy theorist.” Clearly they don’t want us looking into what is happening. Every time probes go over they turn them off.

But we don’t see a bunch of mechanical wreckage on Mars…oh, wait. It’s because they turn off the probes. But then, how does Alex Jones know about it?

You can skip the next part, it’s boring economic crapola. I include it just for completeness’ sake, and because, really, look at this conversation — it’s a pair of flibbertigibbets babbling all over the place. One moment they’re talking about raping and butchering children like Elizabeth Báthory, and then it’s off to Mars, and then it’s a conspiracy theory about secret wreckage on Mars, and now it’s about schemes for taxing people. Focus, Alex!

RDS: Alex, you’re one of the most original guys on the air, and you asked what should you do. I think you should be the truth channel in America. And I think you should try to systematically put guests on that Donald Trump is not listening to because they’re being blocked from him. For example, Carl Denninger, co-founder of the Tea Party. He should be a guest on your show talking about how the Trump health plan, the Ryan health plan, is completely dishonest because it doesn’t have a price list and it doesn’t allow the government to negotiate with the companies. You should have Edward Feige, the inventor of the automated payment transaction tax, that would eliminate all taxes including the income taxes on people like you and me, and it would tax currency and stock transactions

AJ: Is that the Tobin tax?

RDS: I don’t think so. It’s similar. It’s a tiny fractional tax on every transaction, including internal corporate transactions where a lot of money laundering goes on.

Trust Alex Jones to bring back the outlandish nonsense.

AJ: Sure. Well I don’t know about Mars bases, but I know they’ve created massive, thousands of different types of chimeras that are alien lifeforms on this earth now.

Oh god. The chimera obsession again. He needs to stop worrying, we’re too busy populating Mars with chimeras to be letting them run loose here.

I can’t listen to Alex Jones for long — he’s just too unhinged and dangerously delusional. We need to bring back bonkers radio that wasn’t openly evil, ’cause this shit ain’t it.

Yet our president listens to Alex Jones. That puts all those “fake news!” claims in perspective.

NASA has officially denied having slave colonies on Mars. But then they would, wouldn’t they?

Okja. Meh.

I watched the much-promoted Okja last night, the new Netflix movie by Bong Joon-ho. It’s mostly harmless, but not very good. It has problems.

  • The story goes nowhere. Girl raises super-pig on her farm in South Korea for Evil Agri-Corp, Evil Agri-Corp takes it away, girl goes on quest to recover her super-pig. I won’t say how it ends, but let’s just say there are no surprises.

  • The super-pig, Okja, is a CGI pig/hippo hybrid carefully designed for maximum cuteness. It does not make any sense ecologically or physiologically. It’s a huge herbivore, but it only rarely eats. It’s touted as ecologicaly super-efficient, but how that would work isn’t explained.

  • The Animal Liberation Front are the good guys. No. ALF may have admirable goals, but their tactics are dishonest and destructive. They are terrorists and vandals. They are portrayed here as gentle people dedicated to not harming people or animals.

  • The message is incoherent. Don’t kill super-pigs, they’re adorable and intelligent! GMOs are bad! But Okja is a GMO, even though Evil Agri-Corp is trying hard to hide that fact, and the South Korean family has no problem eating fish and chicken. They show how horrible it is to slaughter super-pigs, but hey, that’s not a chicken — it’s a bowl of chicken stew.

  • There are a few scenes in a super-pig slaughterhouse. It is the cleanest, most humane slaughterhouse I’ve ever seen; almost no blood, and the super-pigs just roll over dead when hit with a bolt-gun. It’s so antiseptic and swift, and the animals are sliced apart into bits so neatly, it had me thinking butchery was far tidier than I expected. I don’t think that’s the intended message. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle this ain’t.
    Maybe the slaughter of CGI animals is just nicer.

  • Tilda Swinton, as the CEO of Evil Agri-Corp, was too ridiculously over-the-top. I think it’s a good idea to restrain and regulate agri-business’s excesses, but it doesn’t help to portray them as cartoons. Although, if the NRA is any example, maybe they are all villainous psychopaths.

  • The economics make no sense. Evil Agri-Corp has engineered these meat animals to save their business, and first is going to put everything on hiatus for ten years while 26 super-piglets are individually raised on small farms scattered around the world. Why? This is PR? And then that PR collapses abruptly (thanks to ALF), but there are hundreds and hundreds of super-pigs at a slaughterhouse in New Jersey. I really don’t get it.

  • There are several chase scenes. Apparently, little girls and 6-ton animals can barrel through city streets, subways, and crowded stores and no one gets hurt. It’s always a kind of fortuitous chaos where girl and beast conveniently find each other in New York and Seoul, and then harmlessly charge through pedestrians and cars.

  • At the end, I’m just left with questions. Are GMOs bad, or do they create cute animals? Is eating animals bad, or only the ones that are cute? Agri-business is bad, or just the ones run by ineffectual psychotic twins? I think I wasn’t supposed to think, but instead to just enjoy adorable friendly CGI hippo-pig frolicking with tween girl.

Maybe you’ll enjoy it if you like sanitized videos of fake animals. I think it dodged all the issues.

Having it both ways

When they were asking for $18 million in tax incentives, Ken Ham’s Big Wooden Box was simply a “tourist attraction”. Now though, when they’re asking for a tax exemption, they’re a “religious organization”. They even got a court ruling saying it was only fair for the state to support it, just as they would any theme park.

…because the tourism incentive “is neutral, has a secular purpose, and does not grant preferential treatment to anyone based on religion, allowing (Answers in Genesis) to participate along with the secular applicants cannot be viewed as acting with the predominant purpose of advancing religion.”

Remember those words: it cannot be viewed as acting with the predominant purpose of advancing religion. See what Answers in Genesis says today.

According to the letter sent by John E. Pence, secretary general for Answers in Genesis, the Ark Encounter was organized exclusively for religious purposes, and is solely owned and operated by Crosswater Canyon, a Kentucky non-profit corporation which is recognized as a tax-exempt religious organization and public charity under Section 501©(3) religious organizations and public charity.

Both Ark Encounter and Crosswater Canyon are clearly religious organizations, the letter reads. The Ark Encounter project was designed to factually present the biblical and historical truths of the Bible, including the biblical accounts of Noah and the Ark, the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, and other biblical truths revealed in Scripture, through the Ark’s exhibits and guest experiences. Crosswater Canyon was organized exclusively to support the religious mission and purposes of Answers in Genesis, and to own and manage the Ark Encounter for Answers in Genesis.

So the tax incentives are being used to promote a sectarian religious enterprise, according to AiG’s own consigliere? It always has been and is in all of its attributes a church? OK. Wish I had a time machine so I could hand that letter over to the judge who ruled that propping up AiG’s finances wouldn’t advance religion.

What’s the difference between “wellness” and “health”?

I don’t know. The former seems to be a profitable buzzword for charlatans.

Four decades later, wellness is not only a word you hear every day; it’s a global industry worth billions — one that includes wellness tourism, alternative medicine, and anti-aging treatments. The competition for a hunk of that market is intense: In Manhattan, two for-profit meditation studios are vying to become the SoulCycle of meditation, and Saks Fifth Avenue has temporarily converted its second floor into a “Wellery,” where you can experience aroma and light therapy in a glass booth filled with salt, or get plugged into a meditation app during a manicure. Every giant corporation has a wellness program: yoga at Goldman Sachs, communal sleep logs at JPMorgan Chase. A new magazine has debuted out on Long Island this summer, Hamptons Purist. (“Look around the city,” says its editor, Cristina Greeven, who came up with the idea on a surfboard in Costa Rica: “It used to be a butcher, a baker, and a hardware store. Now it’s SoulCycle, Juice Press, and a meditation place.”) It will have to compete with the Goop magazine, to be edited by Paltrow and published by Condé Nast, which this spring also announced the launch of Condé Nast Pharma, a division that offers “brand-safe” wellness-based content to pharmaceutical advertisers. The advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi has its own wellness division, capitalizing on “women’s unmet wellness needs” in the marketplace.

Wait, a “wellery”? This bullshit has really gone too far.

I think what “wellness” is about is selling a need — your chakras are out of alignment, you need to fix them. Gluten is poisoning you, you need more quinoa. You’re getting older, you need to stuff this random thing up your vagina. The Martians are trying to control your mind, you need to wear this lead-lined beanie. All those magazines aren’t about helping you, they’re about telling you what’s wrong with you, and then selling a non-solution to the problem they’ve just imagined.

It’s very profitable, though!

“It’s been overwhelming,” says Ashley Lewis, senior director of wellness at Goop. “We sold over $100,000 worth of vitamins on day one, and that trajectory has just continued.”

The best advice comes from the author’s doctor.

My lovely, thorough, and smart GP says every year at my annual checkup: Please tell me you’re not taking any supplements. At best, she says, you’re doing no harm, you’re just giving yourself some very expensive pee.

Come home, you pompous buffoon

Tim Minchin’s wish is coming true. George Pell is coming home!

Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George Pell, has been charged with historical sexual assault offences and ordered to appear in a Melbourne court.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said the Vatican-based cardinal was required to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on July 18.

Pell has a collection of direct, personal sexual abuse allegations hanging over his head from years ago. He was an associate of Gerald Ridsdale, and while living in a house with a notorious child rapist does not make him guilty of the same, it did make him well practiced in the art of plausible denial and presenting apologetics for the church. He then acquired a reputation for platitudes and avoidance, rather than action, in dealing with the Catholic Church’s history of sexual abuse in Australia.

He’s not a nice man, but somehow he has been promoted upwards within the Catholic hierarchy. He’s in charge of the Vatican’s finances — it seems to me that being the top man in charge of papal excess and loot ought to be another crime.

Existential Comics tackles Scientism

This is terrible. I’m supposed to be on the side of the atheists, but I can’t help but agree that the philosophers have it right. In this comic, it’s Hannah Arendt (in gray), Mary Wollstonecraft (green dress), and Simone de Beauvoir (red scarf) vs. Sam Harris. Simone Weil and Elizabeth Anscombe help take on Richard Dawkins and Neil de Grasse Tyson in other parts.

The commentary is scathing, too.

“Scientism” is the position that Science can solve all problems, or that all problems are empirical. Philosophically, it is mostly associated with the strongest statements made by the logical positivism movement, which mostly died out in the mid 20th century. Culturally, however, it is stronger than ever, and is closely tied to movements like the so-called “New Atheists”. These newer, more naive forms of Scientism, also have a strong tendency to call philosophy “a big waste of time”, “pointless arguing”, “nothing but semantics”, etc. Rhetorically, they tend to say that non-empirical ideas have no way to guarantee they are true, so are pointless to talk about. This is a rather ridiculous point to make, since their entire movement is based around spreading a certain set of non-empirical, philosophical norms, which they apparently don’t feel it necessary to open up to criticism. What they mostly seem to mean is, assuming everyone agrees with us on the important philosophic questions, such as atheism, utilitarianism, capitalism, eliminative materialism, etc., then we don’t need anything but science. Well, this is a maybe true in a strange way, insofar that if everyone agreed on every philosophical position, i.e. if philosophy was solved, then we probably wouldn’t need philosophy. Philosophy, however, has not been solved. Furthermore, if it is going to be solved, it certainly won’t be solved by a bunch of people who don’t even read or engage in philosophy. The real goal is often just to draw a border around what we should or shouldn’t question, because they don’t want any of the fundamental aspects of society to change. And, well, people who don’t want society to change often also find themselves not wanting people to even think about changing society.

This is, of course, a deeply conservative position, and reflects the politics of the people who make this sort of claim. In a lot of ways “New Atheism” is just a political movement that is attempting to secularize conservatism (in particular, it seems, the foreign policy doctrine that the United States and Europe should be “exporting” their culture overseas, i.e. governing the Earth). People who want to change society in a fundamental way, not just improve the efficiency and technology within society, seldom use this kind of anti-intellectual rhetoric. For example, Mary Wollstonecraft, in the 1700s, was trying to convince people to allow women to be educated in the same manner as men. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that science or technology alone aren’t going to solve this kind of problem. People wanting to make comparable changes today also aren’t going to be fooled into thinking that all we need is more advanced technology, or to understand atoms better or something. Somewhat amusingly (or actually probably not that amusingly), people like Richard Dawkins, when attacked for their conservative views, will sometimes try to defend themselves by saying that they actually are feminists, or whatever. But, of course, when you get down to their views and actions, it’s obvious that what they mean by “feminism” is “gender equality was already achieved a few decades ago, so everyone needs to stop complaining about it.” Sam Harris, for instance, when asked why there were so few women in the “New Atheism” movement, had this to say:

There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree intrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women. The atheist variable just has this- it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.

The “critical posture”, of course, means “people who agree with Sam Harris”. Someone who doesn’t find it necessary to read a book about a topic before writing a book on that topic can hardly be said to have a “critical posture”.

The New Atheism is a “deeply conservative position” — but not for all of us. Unfortunately, those of us who want the New Atheism to be a progressive force are being rapidly squeezed out.

So it goes.