Science does not rely on authority as an indicator of truth.

Ben Goldacre: Battling bad science


Go to transcript

It is worth reiterating that contrary to popular depictions of science, science does not rely on authority as an indicator of truth.

The video reminds me of an xkcd comic showing the problem with using statistical significance if the studies showing no effect are unreported.

Significant
In this analogy, the study showing a link between green jelly beans and acne has only a 5% probability (or less) of being a coincidence (p < 0.05). This would be convincing evidence that there is a link between green jelly beans and acne, except all the 19 studies showing no link between non-green jelly beans and acne were unreported and discarded. If all the study results were reported, then it would suggest that the result of the green-jelly-bean study is indeed a coincidence: 1/20 = 5%.

Scientific studies in real life can be even worse. Companies, and even university researchers, are not obligated to publish studies in which the results show no effect (studies with “null results”). This means that researchers can run the hypothetical green-jelly-bean study 20 times until they get the result that they want, by coincidence. What normally happens does not involve ill intent, but has the same effect. The hypothetical green-jelly-bean study is run independently by 20 different research teams (who can be separated by time), who are unaware of each other, because studies with negative results are not published. Only the group with the positive result publishes its results, but the result is actually a coincidence. See the concept of publication bias at Wikipedia.
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Carl Sagan on why his science organization should stop excluding women (1981)

If membership is restricted to men, the loss will be ours:

Early-1981, following IBM’s withdrawal of support due to the organisation’s continued exclusion of women within its ranks, renowned astronomer Carl Sagan sent the following impassioned letter to each and every fellow member of The Explorers Club — an international society dedicated to scientific exploration since its inception in 1904 — and argued beautifully for a change of policy.

Later that year, The Explorers Club welcomed its first female members.

Carl Sagan’s letter:

Dear Fellow Member of The Explorers Club:
Thank you for the opportunity to write to you about the admission of women to The Explorers Club. The human zest for exploration and discovery is the hallmark of our species and one of the secrets of our success. It is a tradition that goes back much further than the 76 proud years in which The Explorers Club has been in existence. When our organization was formed in 1905, men were preventing women from voting and from pursuing many occupations for which they are clearly suited. In the popular mind, exploration was not what women did. Even so, women had played a significant but unheralded role in the history of exploration — in Africa in the Nineteenth Century, for example. Similarly, Lewis and Clark were covered with glory, but Sacajewea, who guided them every inch of the way, was strangely forgotten. All institutions reflect the prejudices and conventions of their times, and when it was founded The Explorers Club necessarily reflected the attitudes of 1905.
Traditions are important. They provide continuity with our past. But it is up to us to decide which traditions are essential to The Explorers Club and which are accidents of the epoch in which it was institutionalized. Times have changed since 1905. It is very clear that a foolish rigidity can destroy otherwise worthwhile institutions; they are then replaced by other organizations more in tune with the times. IBM’s recent withdrawal of corporate support for The Explorers Club because of our “exclusionary policy toward women” should be pondered carefully by every member. Many other former supporters may follow suit.
Today women are making extraordinary contributions in areas of fundamental interest to our organization. There are several women astronauts. The earliest footprints — 3.6 million years old — made by a member of the human family have been found in a volcanic ash flow in Tanzania by Mary Leakey. Trailblazing studies of the behavior of primates in the wild have been performed by dozens of young women, each spending years with a different primate species. Jane Goodall’s studies of the chimpanzee are the best known of the investigations which illuminate human origins. The undersea depth record is held by Sylvia Earle. The solar wind was first measured in situ by Marcia Neugebauer, using the Mariner 2 spacecraft. The first active volcanos beyond the Earth were discovered on the Jovian moon Io by Linda Morabito, using the Voyager 1 spacecraft. These examples of modern exploration and discovery could be multiplied a hundredfold. They are of true historical significance. If membership in The Explorers Club is restricted to men, the loss will be ours; we will only be depriving ourselves.
The supposed parallelism between our situation and those of other organizations seems to me strained. The Bohemian Club is a resort; The Explorers Club is not. The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are for children. Their membership derives almost exclusively from adolescent and pre-adolescent youngsters, who have not yet fully accomodated to the opposite sex. But we presumably are adults, with a special responsibility for interacting with all humans on this planet.
I do not believe that the primary function of our organization is to promote male bonding or to serve as a social club — although there is certain room for both. I believe that the fundamental dedication of the club is that stated on the masthead of every issue of The Explorers Club Newsletter: “To the conquest of the unknown and the advancement of knowledge.” If this is our purpose, then admission should be open to all qualified members of the human species.
Cordially,

(Signed)

Carl Sagan

We cannot name ourselves without Othering ourselves in the White Gaze.

In Bad Romance: Feminism and women of colour make an unhappy pair, Sana Saeed writes:

“Women of colour” beautifully illustrates the exact problem I discovered with feminism, as a woman who did not fit the mainstream criteria for being just a Woman. As a “woman of colour,” I am not just a Woman. I am a woman with a little something extra; there is a difference struck between women like me and white women. There is no Woman. There are no Women. There are two groups: women and “women of colour.” This tidily, and unfortunately, translates into the “us” and “them” categorization.

Because this distinction is made and has been proudly appropriated by “women of colour” without much criticism, this presumption that the white woman’s identity is a sort of “foundational” identity for all women is prevalent within feminism.

According to Loretta Ross, however, the term “women of color” was coined in 1977 among some black and other “minority” women in Washington, DC as “a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color who have been ‘minoritized’.” Ross says, “Unfortunately, so many times, people of color hear the term ‘people of color’ from other white people that [PoCs} think white people created it instead of understanding that we self-named ourselves.”

However, regardless of its history, Sana makes a salient point: the term “woman of colour” suggests “a woman with a little something extra”, which implies that whiteness is the default.

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White Canadians earn more, because they have white privilege.

White Canadians earn more than non-white Canadians, even when comparing only the whites and non-whites with the same education and of the same age. Comparing only the foreign-born white Canadians with the foreign-born non-white Canadians, white people earn more. Comparing only the second-generation, Canadian-born white Canadians with the second-generation, Canadian-born non-white Canadians, white people still earn more.

In other words, even when controlling for age, education, and generation, white Canadians earn more than non-white Canadians. Racial appearance causes the difference in earnings.

Wellesley Institute’s study, Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market, was released in March 2011 and draws on data from the last mandatory long-form Census (which has been cancelled recently by the politically-conservative Harper government):

THE LAST AVAILABLE CENSUS DATA before the federal government cancelled the country’s mandatory long form Census reveals a troubling trend in Canada.

Despite years of unprecedented economic growth and an increasingly diverse population, this report confirms what so many Canadians have experienced in real life: a colour code is still at work in Canada’s labour market.

Racialized Canadians encounter a persistent colour code that blocks them from the best paying jobs our country has to offer.

[…]

Default explanations like “it takes a while for immigrants to integrate” don’t bear out. Even when you control for age and education, the data show first generation racialized Canadian men earn only 68.7% of what non-racialized first-generation Canadian men earn, indicating a colour code is firmly at play in the labour market. Here, the gender gap — at play throughout the spectrum — becomes disturbingly large: Racialized women immigrants earn only 48.7 cents for every dollar non-racialized male immigrants earn.

The colour code persists for second generation Canadians with similar education and age. The gap narrows, with racialized women making 56.5 cents per dollar non-racialized men earn; while racialized men earn 75.6 cents for every dollar non-racialized men in this cohort earn.

Further Reading:


Related posts:

Misogynist activist at the University of Waterloo hates scientist Marie Curie and women.

In The Fourteen Not Forgotten and Sexist Posters at Waterloo, Christine Cheng discusses a misogynist activist at the University of Waterloo who put up fourteen posters last month (February 2011) vilifying scientist Marie Curie and women in general. (Her post is also cross-posted at the Geek Feminism Blog.)

A photograph of Marie Curie has an image of a mushroom cloud next to it. It is titled 'The Truth'. The caption at the bottom of the poster says, ''The brightest Woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie. The Mother of the Nuclear Bomb. You tell me if the plan of Women leading Men is still a good idea !'

The incident reminds many of us of the École Polytechnique Massacre. Both the University of Waterloo and l’École Polytechnique de Montréal focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering) fields, and female students are a minority. Both schools are located in Canada. Both misogynists appear to be angry that women are attending university and are being educated in male-dominated fields.

The Marie-Curie-hating misogynist at Waterloo has also sent out a misogynist e-mail pretending to be the university’s president, and has created a Facebook page with similar misogynist rantings. The university’s Women’s Centre and LGBT student centre have closed due to safety concerns.

A male undergraduate at the University of Waterloo made this ridiculous—yet typical male-privileged—comment before taking down his post:

Yes, it is wrong, yes, it is inappropriate, but get a life if you are going to fuss and cry over stupid shit like this. Because if you do, you must be living in a sheltered bubble.

A commenter at hook & eye named bakka111 responds to this reaction:

The “Sheltered bubble” comment from Bill’s portfolio is particularly ironic. Just who lives in a sheltered bubble? Those who fear the messages because they have experienced the mundane-threats a patriarchal culture issues to women, or those who have never experienced such threats. Oh the irony.


Further Reading:

Workers, mostly immigrants, organize unions in Silicon Valley.

A woman of color reads from a sheet of paper while another woman of color stands beside her.

Striker Maribel Garcia reads a statement from women who went on a hunger strike in a tent encampment on the sidewalk in front of one of Versatronex' biggest customers, Digital Microwave Corporation.

In Up Against the Open Shop – the Hidden Story of Silicon Valley’s High-Tech Workers, David Bacon writes:

On January 29, 1993, workers at the Versatronex plant in Sunnyvale, California, filed out of its doors for the last time. Seventeen years have passed since, but there are still electronics workers in Silicon Valley who remember the company’s name. It was the first Valley plant struck by production employees and the first where a strike won recognition of their union.

The struggle of these workers, almost all immigrants from Mexico, Central America and the Philippines, demolished some of the most cherished myths about the Silicon Valley workforce. It showed workers there are like workers everywhere. Under the right circumstances, even in the citadel of high tech’s open shop, people are willing to organize for a better life.

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The Paternalistic Academic-Industrial-Complex of Feminism

Here are some excerpts from Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism, edited by Jessica Yee. (Excerpts via Racialicious):

Jessica Yee: “Introduction”

[W]e’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white women are praised for winning “women’s rights,” and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process. We are not equal when in the name of “feminism” so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a woman based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, and not your own. We are not equal when initatives to support gender equality have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work or wearing a niqab. So when feminism itself has become it’s own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it?

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