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Thor vs. Jesus and Social Science

Mittwoch, 9. November 2011 16:45

This little comic comparing different gods‘ achievement made me laugh twice — first because the comparison is so sweet, and second when I talked about it with a friend who pointed to some methodological flaws in the conclusion. So I can’t resist sharing it here, and commenting on how it illustrates some problems in (especially) social science research on intervention effects.


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Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism — Empiricism meets Constructivism

Montag, 7. November 2011 0:31

Following some of the feminist blogosphere since some time now, I frequently come across criticisms of „Evolutionary Psychology“. Discussing some of that with a friend who works in the field revealed that there is a lot of discontent and a feeling of being misunderstood among scholars there. A reply from an evolutionary psychologist that he referred me to disappointed me (I want to respond in detail to that later), as well as a recent journal publication with a very promising title (David M. Buss & David P. Schmitt (2011). Evolutionary Psychology and Feminism [pdf]. Sex Roles. doi:10.1007/s11199-011‑9987-3). Both show that they are at least as ignorant of what the critique is all about as their critics are of Evolutionary Psychology. I’m going to try to fill in some of these gaps in both directions, and explain why I mostly side with „the feminists“ at the end. This is at the same time part of a thought process of mine concerning epistemology („what and how can we know about the world“) and the role of science in a much more general sense. I didn’t really feel ready to write about that yet, but I might not anytime soon, and this kind of discussion arises so often that I decided to share my preliminary thoughts. I’m aware there will be holes and inconsistencies and look forward to criticism.


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From gift and credit to money — did markets make us Homo Oeconomicus?

Sonntag, 18. September 2011 13:11

Via Chris Bertram on Crooked Timber I read an article by David Graeber, a social anthropologist, called „On the Invention of Money – Notes on Sex, Adventure, Monomaniacal Sociopathy and the True Function of Economics“. It is sufficiently long to really cover all these topics, and I agree with Bertram that it is „one of the most informative and entertaining pieces I’ve read in a long while“. Do read the whole thing!

The core argument is about how money came to be — which in most economic textbooks is explained as a logical development from a barter trade system, where you have to find somebody with a complementary need and offer in the marketplace. But this assumption about our economic past is soundly refuted by actual anthropological and historical research. It is very fascinating to follow the research as to what are actual probable pathways to money usage. And how economic activities were organized before that tells us a lot about how the economic system shapes even deep-rooted human qualities. The bottom line there is that behavior in accordance with „Homo Oeconomicus“ models probably only really came about after markets were invented. And it is because economists cannot (or don’t want to) imagine a human being with different ways of decision-making that they persist on the „money developed from barter trade“ myth despite solid evidence to the contrary. This is, again, in the service of not acknowledging the own status as a „reflexive“ social science which not only describes but also strongly influences human behavior and social processes.

So, first of all, how did people go about their business before money was around?


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What is Privilege? Not experiencing, and understanding with difficulty

Sonntag, 3. Juli 2011 17:32

What could have been a tweet is becoming a small post instead, because I found a discussion in the comment section so enlightening that I want to quote it here, along with some of the original content. The starting point is a story of sexual harassment at a (as far I understand) atheist or sceptic conference. Now, as some people said, the harassment was not „serious“: She was in the elevator back to her room after a party early in the morning, and a guy who got into the elevator with her asked her to have coffee in his room or something. She declined, end of story.

The case becomes interesting and even illustrative because it pits two camps against each other that I both subscribe to: open communication (and sexuality) advocates and feminists. And because the fascinating issue of „privilege“ (in this case the classic „male privilege“) comes in, which I’m starting to find a useful figure of thought in a number of social issues. To give my conclusion away: I’m siding with the feminist critique. And here’s why:


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What’s wrong with evolutionary explanations of human behavior (as commonly understood)

Mittwoch, 1. Juni 2011 18:10

The evolutionary side of human behavior is something which is always good for heated discussions, having strong implications for important social issues. And often enough, people criticizing the evolutionary perspective find themselves in the trap of being seemingly unscientific. This, I believe, is a symptom of how the prevailing positivist („objectivist“) understanding of science is narrowing the scientific discourse, and the public discourse about science. But „political correctness“ is not the only way to oppose these (pseudo)evolutionary arguments.

I liked watching the first few classes of Robert Sapolsky’s „Human Behavioral Evolution“ course at Stanford from 2010, which are available for free on iTunes U (yes, you need iTunes). Even though the pointedness and entertainment of his arguments can be a little too much for a European audience, I highly recommend it for everybody who wants to fill in gaps in his or her understanding of evolution. And for people who consider themselves solid on the basics, I recommend a 20-minute summary of the criticism of evolutionary biology, at least as it is perceived and used by the public. I’m talking about the last 20 minutes, starting at 1:14, of the lecture 3 — Behavioral Evolution II (April 2, 2010). Here is a brief summary:


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Medical Journals and Pharmaceutical Companies

Freitag, 27. Mai 2011 20:05

Via a post on Crooked Timber aptly titled „Ghostwriters of Science“ I got to read a science article in the guardian, and googling around found an actual journal publication by Richard Smith, a long-time editor and chief executive with BMJ (the British Medical Journal, one of the high-impact medical journals), which criticizes the same mix-up under the title „Medical Journals Are an Extension of the Marketing Arm of Pharmaceutical Companies“ (May 2005 Issue of PLoS Medicine).

The picture that presents itself is shocking. A majority of randomized controlled trials of drugs is funded by the respective companies by now, they adhere to high scientific standards and are published in high-ranking peer-reviewed journals, and they still manage to be deceptive — for instance, being four times more likely to yield favorable results than independently funded studies in one comparison. How?


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Explaining the World with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Astrology, Constructivism, Science and (In)Definite Articles

Donnerstag, 12. Mai 2011 20:29

I fear this is the longest title in the history of my blog, which in a way suits its topic well. I just finished the biggest book I have ever read, actually a collection of books under the title „The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“, by Douglas Adams. It comprises the original Guide and the other four books in the trilogy.

I bought it in Palo Alto before my real traveling started, and it has lasted me well into the second quarter of this year, of course as frequent visitors of my blog know with another big and some small readings in between.

Once again, my generally high esteem of artists‘ late work was reinforced — while the original book is funny, the later books are far better. I laughed my hardest reading the second last one, „So Long and Thanks for All the Fish“, and the last one, „Mostly Harmless“, apart from still being very funny, I found most insightful. That despite how I just read on Wikipedia the author himself describing this book as „bleak“, and saying he had a very bad year when he wrote it. I suppose that tells us something about the relationship between art and happiness…

Anyway, here are just some examples of important topics of life made understandable with the help of absurdity, Science-Fiction at its best.


Thema: English, Weltreise 2011 | Kommentare deaktiviert | Autor:

Golden Oldies and the present Dark Age of Social Sciences

Dienstag, 10. Mai 2011 18:03

Thanks to Matze, I finally ended up reading an article which I’m sure I had opened before but couldn’t remember anything from, I suppose it was a victim to one of my old laptop’s many out-of-battery shutdowns. It’s „Golden Oldies (Wonkish)“ by Paul Krugman, who I usually enjoy reading but find slightly too absorbed in contemporary economic policies. Not so this time, where he deals a blow to contemporary Economic Science that in most part applies to other social sciences as well, especially Psychology.


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Long-term effects of radiation on wildlife around Chernobyl

Mittwoch, 4. Mai 2011 19:28

A fascinating article which I found through the Valuscience Blog of my friends at Magic in Stanford is titled „Is Chernobyl a Wild Kingdom or a Radioactive Den of Decay?“. The authors, Timothy Mousseau, a US-based evolutionary biologist, and Anders Møller, a Danish biologist, basically debunk the myth that already after a relatively (for standards of nuclear waste and pollution) short period of time, the „Chernobyl Exclusion Zone“ has become almost a national park’s worth of happy wildlife. The article is very long and narrative in tone, though, so here are some remarkable findings of my skimming.


Thema: English | Kommentare (2) | Autor:

Scientific Fields Arranged by Purity

Montag, 11. April 2011 7:42

It must be old news for some, because the comic is actually from 2008, but I laughed very hard and at the same time felt it says a lot about our world in many ways. Oh well, here it is, thanks to XKCD:


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