Friday, February 18, 2011

Perspectives on the Logan Assault.

I have a rule for myself. Never enter a dangerous situation if I don’t know how to get out of it. I have used it when I was snowboarding, mountain biking, working from heights, large crowds and in volatile social situations such as bars. I learned it the hard way, in high school, when I ran my mouth off and wound up in physical confrontations with dangerous people. I learned to recognize danger and I learned that seemingly safe or manageable situations could turn dangerous almost instantly with one mistake or change in conditions. I also became fairly good at finding a way out of danger when things went astray, but, as experience grew, I realized that it was easier to stay out of a jam than to get out of one.
Any crowd has an element of danger. Sadly but realistically, crowds are more dangerous for women than they are for men due to their smaller size and possibility of becoming a sexual target.  This risk is obviously multiplied if the culture of the crowd is misogynistic. CBS and Logan seemed to make a serious misjudgment by assuming that a jubilant crowd is less dangerous than an angry one and judged the danger in terms of Western culture.

North American culture is not misogynistic, as much as feminists would love to have us believe it.  The culture doesn’t exist that could allow enough men to orchestrate and perform such an attack. North American and European men would not tolerate it. In any large crowd, there would be enough strong men to over power any group of men trying to assault a woman.

If you don’t believe me, then I dare you to perform an experiment in a large crowd – say a sporting event or concert. Have a man or group of men pretend to harass a woman and have her scream and complain loudly with some phrase like “Get off me you creep(s).” Immediately, every man within sight or earshot will stand up for her and in all likelihood, the man or men will find themselves pinned to the ground and pummeled or quickly removed from whatever venue. Men will be falling over themselves to get a punch in or to make sure the victim is ok.  Logan is likely used to this culture of chivalry and protection of women.
 Now a large concert or game is nothing like the crowds in Egypt.  I watched one Canadian reporter’s story about getting to his hotel. The cab would not take him all the way and he ended up walking several miles past burned out cars with his full crew to get there. He had several situations that appeared highly dangerous where the crowds were surrounding and jostling his crew. Clearly, this was a lawless situation.
Media everywhere is calling any of this risk analysis “blaming the victim”. Nothing I’ve said removes any of the blame from the men who perpetrated it.  However, their culture was definitely a factor and should have been taken into account. CBS, being vastly more knowledgeable about international situations than I am, should have been able to do a far better analysis. I know I'm speaking from hindsight, but from my perspective, it looks as though they were blinded by their thirst for sensational journalism. A beautiful damsel in the midst of chaos was too much to resist.  But, as we all know, it blew up in their faces and Logan paid the heavy price.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Social Engineerin​g, the Bully and the Science Whore

Tara Parker-Pope at NYT writes an article outlining the latest scientific findings about bullying.  Looking at the social structures of high-school students, the study found that the kids at the top of the social hierarchy and the ones at the very bottom seem to show the least aggression towards others, while the ones in the middle and near the top tend to show the most. You can read the entire article for the full explanation.  Basically, the authors subcribe to the theory that the top echelon kids have do not have to exercise aggression to keep their positions while the middle and near-top kids are fighting eachother for rank.  That is plausible, however, they dismiss the notion that the top-rung kids are just nicer and therefore popular.  I'm sure that in many cases, the upper echelon kids are the top percentile in social skills, so, they just make friends much more easily.  Others will recognize the power of their charisma and fight for opportunities to win their favour.
 I'm sure that both dynamics occur to some extent but scientists seem to have trouble with duel theories; they prefer simple explanations that can be tested so they tend to favor all or nothing theories
So far, these findings seem to be a fairly interesting study in social standing which is fine.  What I have a problem with, is the tone of the rest of the article and findings.  It turns from factual to practical.  Sociologists need to justify their existence and funding, so they try to drive policy with their scientific knowledge.
The research offers a road map for educators struggling to curb bullying and aggression both inside and outside of school. One option may be to enlist the support of students who aren’t engaged in bullying — those at the very top of the social ladder, and the two-thirds who don’t bully.
A road map?  So why is it the job of educators to stifle students' natural inclinations to fight for status? What business, are the personal affairs of students, of the educators? To think that somehow school officials can control the social lives of all students is the epitome of hubris.  Defining all acts of aggression as "bullying" is misguided.  Using this way of thinking to convince teachers to try and remove aggression is highly disturbing.  Why?  Adolescents are learning to use this behaviour.  They are learning the consequences and rules for aggression.

Pretend that sociologists, like Dr. Gallagher, achieve their goal of removing or suppressing aggression among the student populace.  Everyone in school gets along.  No one is intimidated, put down, jostled, ignored, shamed, hit, laughed at or teased.  One big happy student body ready to take on the world with their peaceful outlook on life hand-in-hand.  I see two obvious problems with this.  One, the next generation of leaders, thinkers and doers will be unprepared to handle the real world and be overwhelmed by the hyper-competitive cultures from elsewhere.  Two, their ability to question and challenge authority, essential for a good democracy will be seriously compromise - basically they would be sheep.

Of course, it is a rediculous concept from the start.  Trying to curtail outward aggression will simply make it more subversive and dangerous.
“It does highlight that it’s a typical behavior that’s used in establishing social networks and status,” said Dr. Gallagher, an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry. “Schools and parents need to be tuned into this as a behavior that occurs all the time. It means that school districts need to have policies that deal with this, and I think it means also that we need to turn to the adolescents for some of the solutions."
Well, at least we're turning to adolescents for the solutions; that puts a nice friendly face on all of this doesn't it? Why must sociologist attempt to recommend policy about the personal lives of students? What type of policy could be effective in curbing social ambition or even preventing aggression amongst the social status climbers and who thinks that this is desirable?

In the name of stamping out bullying?  Bullying is the act of picking on a weaker person repetetively.  Adults with the best of intentions are trying to protect their kids.  Nobody wants to think about the consequences that such proposed social engineering would have in the long term.

This is not a conspiracy.  It is simply a misguided notion used by sociologists to gain funding for the great social engineering experiment and a reaction to overblown, media-driven fear of a simple aspect of human nature.  It fits in nicely with the war on the male.  Aggression and bullying are seen as male-type behaviours and viewed negatively.  Unfortunately, many babies are still in this bathwater and we will need them as western civilization faces its challenges in the future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Science on the Street Corner

A quick round up of recent sightings of science walking the street picking up dates.

Sharon Begley at Newsweek tells us how math whiz, Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, slices through scientific studies showing us how Everything We Hear About Medicine Is Wrong.
But at NIH Ioannidis had an epiphany. “Positive” drug trials, which find that a treatment is effective, and “negative” trials, in which a drug fails, take the same amount of time to conduct. “But negative trials took an extra two to four years to be published,” he noticed. “Negative results sit in a file drawer, or the trial keeps going in hopes the results turn positive.” With billions of dollars on the line, companies are loath to declare a new drug ineffective. As a result of the lag in publishing negative studies, patients receive a treatment that is actually ineffective. That made Ioannidis wonder, how many biomedical studies are wrong?
Surprised? Why?
biostatistician Steven Goodman of Johns Hopkins ... worries that the most-research-is-wrong claim “could promote an unhealthy skepticism about medical research, which is being used to fuel anti-science fervor.”
What is an unhealthy skepticism?  I agree that the anti-vaccine hysteria is a problem, but shouldn't we then be encouraging skepticism about skepticism instead of trying to demand unquestioned compliance with science doctrine?

Jay P Greene explains, with respect to education, exactly what I've thought about so-called scientific reasoning and how it is misapplied and over-trusted in many aspects of life.
Science has its limits. Science cannot adjudicate among the competing values that might attract us to one educational approach over another. Science usually tells us about outcomes for the typical or average student and cannot easily tell us about what is most effective for individual students with diverse needs. Science is slow and uncertain, while policy and practice decisions have to be made right now whether a consensus of scientific evidence exists or not. We should rely on science when we can but we also need to be humble about what science can and can’t address.
He goes on to explain how scientific studies are completely misinterpreted, perhaps intentionally, by ideologues who push their agenda anyways.  With study sponsors like these, who needs scientists?
We already have a taste of this from the preliminary report that Gates issued last month. Following its release Vicki Phillips, the head of education at the Gates Foundation, told the New York Times: “Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests.” Science had produced its answer — teachers should stop teaching to the test, stop drill and kill, and stop test prep (which the Gates officials and reporters used as interchangeable terms).
Unfortunately, Vicki Phillips mis-read her own Foundation’s report. On p. 34 the correlation between test prep and value-added is positive, not negative. If the study shows any relationship between test prep and student progress, it is that test prep contributes to higher value-added.

CBC News - Canada's government-run science pimp uses the old toilet seat comparison to scare us about mall food court trays.  Did anyone really eat straight off of those things anyways?  They wait until the end of the article, by which time 25% of readers have already ordered a year's supply of anti-bacterial wipes, to offer a reasonable statement.

Despite the presence of some serious pathogens, they are not a major concern for healthy people, Hancock said.
"The number of bacteria that are transferred from a tray, even if it's in the range of hundreds of bacteria, they're not sufficient to cause disease because we have very efficient systems in our body for getting rid of bacteria."
I hope they got their money's worth with our hard-earned tax dollars.  See, not everyone can (or should) send swabs to a university lab because it's bloody expensive.  I think new rooms are always stocked with an emergency swab kit. 
Editor:  "Slow news week, get out the swabs and start testing surfaces."
News Hack:  "What surfaces?"
Editor:  "Any surface people eat near or touch.  Then make sure you compare the results to our stock toilet seat results"

Remember, this is the same organization that warned us that chicken has bacteria on the surface.  Is that why my mom slapped me when I licked raw chicken breasts?

Read more:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Can Government Change Culture?

To continue where I left off in my last post, I need to explain why I have reservations (to put it mildly) about the claim that government can change culture. If carried out perfectly, the success of the culture will depend on the strength of the ideology. This problem is not just as simple as finding the right ideology. The execution is essential so the strength and wisdom of the leadership is also imperative. Compounding this are the internal politics within any ruling party or government and the difficulty of dealing with the complexities of the real world against the fact that no ideology is perfect. Governments are made up of people who are far from perfect. When government tries to encourage people to better themselves, you get what you often end up with are anemic chearleading campaigns, like the Participaction campaign. When hubris makes them think that they can mould people into something better, you end up with disastrous endeavours like Canada’s residential schools.
Despite the serious problems mentioned so far, the biggest problem with the idea is that it is backwards. Government is mostly a tool for culture. Of course it can sway opinion and strong leadership can inspire change. But in the end, a leader is only as strong as his connection to the will of the people. He can only reflect the favourable aspects of the culture and try to focus that energy on to a worthy goal.