Friday, December 31, 2010

Ok, some things don't change

From my Xanga in 2001, whining about no boys liking me (yes, I was a typical 13 year old):
Maybe I should just become a nun or something. ... Wait, I don't even go to church or believe that hoo-ha.

Oh, how things change

I rediscovered my old Xanga blog the other day. Most of my entries are from age 13 to 15*, so it's both painful and hilarious to read. For example, I found a post where I was whining about fashion - nothing new there, I suppose, but I loved this line from 2003 (bolded):
None of the clothes I like fit me anyways. At least in the junior department, which is were all the nice stuff is. I'm not like, overweight, but everything there is just so tight that is looks crappy. Like, if I lost 10 pounds it would be perfect. All the jeans are too short even when they're in the Long style (curse you, height!) and all the shirts seem to be built for girls who are like AA cups >_< I'm not even what you would consider busty and they don't fit me. Stupid fashion.

God, how was I complaining about fitting into things when I was barely a B cup? If only Young Jen knew how much more annoying it would get to find well fitted shirts.

If you want to read more...well, don't bother looking for it. I have it friends-locked. No one needs to be subjected to that many Japanese emoticons and personality quizzes.

*I later switched to Livejournal for most of high school and part of college, then finally set up Blag Hag publicly on Blogger. If my trend of upgrading blogging platform continues, I'll switch to Wordpress right when something more awesome surpasses it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Getting off my ASS for the SSA

I have a little bet going with JT Eberhard, who you may remember as the brains behind Skepticon and the new high school organizer for the Secular Student Alliance. JT and I were discussing our dismay at the extra pudge we've put on, the holiday season definitely not helping despite our godlessness. Finding motivation to get off our butts is hard for two bloggers, but we came up with a good idea: Competition!

JT and I are both speaking at the SSA regional leadership conference in Southern California on February 19th. Starting on January 1st, whoever can lose more weight before February 19th is the winner. And to turn it into a good cause, we're encouraging our readers to donate to charity to support our goal. If you want to be awesome, you can support me by using the widget below to donate to the SSA.

You can either donate a flat amount, or pledge (in the comments) to donate a certain amount per pound I lose. JT and I will post updates every Saturday, so you can either donate as we go along, or wait until February 19th in case you think I'm going to break down and gain it all back in a Day After Valentine's Day Chocolate Sale moment of weakness.

And if you want to be less awesome, I guess you could always support JT by donating to Skepticon.

It wouldn't be a bet without consequences. The loser has to buy the other drinks for the whole night at the conference. It's kind of unfortunate that JT is going to spend a significant portion of his first paycheck from the SSA buying me alcohol, but oh well.

Anyway, I hope you'll donate! The SSA and Skepticon are both great causes, and who doesn't want their skeptics to adopt healthier lifestyles?*

*And in case anyone thinks a weight loss competition will just encourage unhealthy dieting or starvation... trust me, I like food way too much. I plan on cracking out DDR and EA Sports Active 2 every day. Yes, I will win this nerdily!


EDIT: JT thinks he has me beat with his plan to eat lots of pizza in order to gain weight before January 1st. Oh yeah? Well you know what I have to say to that?!?!Great minds think alike. (Yes, that's the best Game Face I can come up with)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Most Influential Female Atheist of 2010

It's that time of year again! Yep, time for arbitrarily quantifiable Top 10 lists. Last year's poll on influential atheist women was so successful, I felt like it would be a great idea to do one again.

Yes, we all know polls aren't scientifically meaningful - technically PZ Myers was one of the most influential female atheists of 2009 (should never allow write-ins when Pharyngulites are around). But the way I see it, all the women on this list are winners, and this is just one way to showcase them. Here are the nominees, suggested by my blog readers via twitter and facebook, or added by yours truly:
I know it's hard to vote when there are so many awesome women on one list, so you can vote for up to three. If you want to vote for someone not on the list, please select "Other" and leave your vote in the comments:

It was hard selecting just 15 nominees - you can see a much longer list of awesome female atheists here.

Some people will probably think a women-only list is just perpetuating sexism, or implying women can't play with the "big boys" of atheism, so they need their own poll. But really, it's addressing the problem that so many women are doing fabulous things in the movement, but too few people know about their achievements. This is just one way of highlighting all the awesome work they've done in the past year.

*People using Google Reader or other RSS feed aggregators may not be able to see the poll. Please visit the original post to voice your opinion!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nifty new video about the Secular Student Alliance

I command you to watch it. And if my decree is not enough motivation, you should totally watch it because it has cameos by Richard Dawkins, Brian Dalton (Mr. Deity), and Hemant Mehta:

While watching this video, I realized yet another thing that makes the Secular Student Alliance so awesome. Out of all the people featured, I have only not met one, and that was the guy from Africa. And out of the rest, I consider the majority friends rather than acquaintances, and some of them as very close friends. So not only did the SSA help make my club at Purdue a success, but I've personally made connections that I'll have for a lifetime.

I've come a long way from thinking I was the only atheist out there. Thanks, SSA!

Monday, December 27, 2010

'Tis the season for giving

Boobquake is still making an impact months later*. You may remember that I sold some boobquake t-shirts in my store promising the royalties would go to charity. The total royalities earned from boobquake shirts was $621.87, and my April volume bonus thanks to the shirts was $369.53. That's a total of $991.40 raised from Boobquake! Well, the donations have finally been made.

$500 has been donated to the Red Cross for disaster relief, and

$500 has been donated to the James Randi Educational Foundation

The delay in donation paid off, since the JREF is having their Season of Reason right now. What does that mean? An anonymous donor is matching all donations, meaning Boobquake's contribution to the JREF is effectively doubled to $1,000!

I know that's still not much for a big organization, but it's equivalent to one of my paychecks, so I feel like quite the philanthropist right now. But really, the money wasn't mine - I should be thanking all of you who bought merchandise in order to support these organizations. So, thank you!

We may still debate if boobquake did any good in terms of politics, religion, or women's rights, but it's certainly not debateable that it raised money for two wonderful causes.

*The months later part is mostly due to me moving twice after April, first to my parent's house and then to Seattle. This resulted in Zazzle checks (which are already notoriously delayed thanks to waits in processing) to get returned to sender for a while as they tried to find me. I then realized I could just get paid through PayPal, so that solved that issue. ...But yeah, it's also partially due to procrastination. Oh well, I guess it worked out, since we ended up having a matching donor!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

For my ginger friends

Even though the science is wrong*, I still laughed:*Zach presents sexual antagonism as having a lower chance of reproducing, but if you do reproduce, your daughters will be high quality so it makes up for your lower quality. But that's not right. It's that his sisters are so high quality, it doesn't matter that he'll never reproduce, because they'll more than make up for it. His parents wouldn't care that he's an evolutionary dead end, since the sisters are pulling his weight in terms of grandchildren. Of course, never getting laid while watching your sisters fend off endless suitors doesn't sound too great either, so the joke stands.

Though I've been attracted to three red-headed guys, so maybe Zach's theory is bunk. Hmmm, his wife is also an evolutionary biologist. What does it all mean?!

Merry Christmas!

I'm having lunch with my grandparents and uncle, then I'm off to the airport. Yep, spending my Christmas flying back to Seattle. Oh well, I don't really mind. I got to see my family and friends, and that matters more than the date I see them on. Plus it was hundreds of dollars cheaper to fly today.

I'm still kind of sad that I didn't get to see my brother, sister-in-law, and nephews. It snowed too much yesterday to make the drive... stupid Midwest. I'm kind of tempted to keep my nephews' dinosaur coloring book, though.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm a singer now too!

Well, sort of. I'm autotuned saying three words, but it's still for awesome. You can listen to and download Skeptical by Three Ninjas here.

Here's a snippet of the lyrics:

My skeptical muscle is strong like Bertrand Russell
I like to avoid fights but still find the occasional tussle
I try to act famous but I'm just a small corpuscle
and if creationism comes up expect me to dominate the discussle
These faith-based fucks like to pretend to sound logical
but it's founded on fallacies frequently fully mogical
you can misinterpret data about polystrate logs
but everyone points and laughs reading Ken Ham's blog

Make sure you check out his other delightfully nerdy songs!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Are atheists unfit soldiers?

The US military seems to think so, at least from their Mandatory Soldier Fitness Tracker survey that measures a soldier's competency in areas like Family, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual. Justin Griffith, an outspoken foxhole atheist, wasn't shocked when he flunked the Spiritual section, but was appalled when he was referred to counseling because of it. Here's a snippet from his results:

Spiritual fitness is an area of possible difficulty for you. You may lack a sense of meaning and purpose in your life. At times, it is hard for you to make sense of what is happening to you and others around you. You may not feel connected to something larger than yourself. You may question your beliefs, principles, and values. Nevertheless, who you are and what you do matter. There are things to do to provide more meaning and purpose in your life. Improving your spiritual fitness should be an important goal. Change is possible, and the relevant self-development training modules will be helpful. If you need further help, please do not hesitate to seek out help from the people you care about and trust – strong people always do. Be patient in your development as it will take time to improve in this area. Still, persistence is key and you will improve here if you make this area a priority.

Make sure you read Justin's full piece describing the test, because it makes these results even more revolting. Apparently not believing in a higher power or considering yourself spiritual means your life lacks purpose and meaning. Who wrote this crap, and why is it being used by the United States government?

Kudos to Justin for being outspoken about this. It takes immense bravery to speak out as an atheist, especially in the military. Hopefully this will gain enough attention that something will be done about it.

PS: And in case his name sounds familiar, it's because he's the one organizing Rock Beyond Belief, a secular concert/extravaganza in response to an overtly Christian concert held at his base earlier this year. I'll be speaking there, along with awesome people like Eugenie Scott, Hemant Mehta, Margaret Downey, and great musical guests. Make sure to show him some love!

My PhD is going to be magical

Mom: She's visiting from Seattle, where she's getting her PhD.
Random Guy: Oh? What are you studying?
Me: Genome Sciences.
Guy: Oh yeah? The really small stuff, right?
Me: Well, I guess it's really small...
Guy: Do they wear hats too?
Me: ...genome, like genetics. Not gnomes.

Mom: So your program is officially called Genome Sciences? Why not Genetics?
Me: Well, genomics is more holistic... Sort of bigger picture.
Mom: I'll remember that name by thinking of gnomes wearing G-strings!
Me: ...sometimes I wonder what goes on in your brain.

Now you know where I get it from.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Atheist golfing

Me: *hits drive on 18th hole, pushes it a little to the right* Uh oh, I'm almost in someone's yard.
Dad: You'll like the sign in their yard.
Me: *drives up*
Sign: Jesus is the Reason for the Season
Me: Ha! Darn, I missed.

After my approach shot, I proceeded to shank my chip, and then because I was laughing so hard, I whiffed my mulligan chip. To put that in perspective, I haven't whiffed since I was little, and ended up shooting an 87. Not bad for not playing in 4 months and using someone else's clubs (which were too short and too light for me), but I think God was still punishing me for mocking his gaudy Christmas sign.

Oh well. Shot an 84 today, so God must not care too much.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Omg Harry Potter

Tomorrow morning I'm going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, FL.



Actually, I have nothing else to add. I just wanted to rub it in to my friends who aren't here with me. That's what friends are for, right? ;)

I'll make sure to post geeky photos when I get back. And I'm sure I'll have interesting stories to tell, especially if my dad keeps calling Dumbledore "Dingledorf."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I need to fly more often

Don't Ask Don't tell has been voted to be repealed. Yay!

I'd say more or find a relevant news article to link to, but I'm currently sitting in the New Orleans airport and functioning on 4 hours of sleep. So you get shoddy blogging, sorry.

So, now that we think it's okay for gays to be open about their sexuality when they're getting shot at fighting for our rights, will we actually extend those rights to them and let them marry when they come home? Or is that too much to ask?

Oh well. Baby steps.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Overheard at the post office

It's hard to convey tone through text, but keep in mind both of these guys were light hearted in this conversation:

Guy: I need some stamps, what kind do you have?
Employee: Well, we have the bells, the holiday ones, and then the godless ones.
Guy: Godless ones?
Employee: Yep! *shows him some holiday stamps with pine cones and other nature-y things on them*
Guy: I guess I'll take two of the godless-
Employee: Two heathen stamps!
Guy: -and two of the overly religious ones.
Employee: Shhh, we're not allowed to say that.

I giggled. Definitely a "No Jen, you're not in Indiana anymore" moment.

That and the fact that a young woman wearing a cross necklace happily helped me stuff 21 copies of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas into envelopes as I was frantically trying to get in before closing. Hooray for Seattle.

Google can now filter by "reading level"

This is a really neat advanced search feature just released by Google! You can now filter by "reading level," including within posts for a certain site. How do they determine what's considered Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced?
The feature is based primarily on statistical models we built with the help of teachers. We paid teachers to classify pages for different reading levels, and then took their classifications to build a statistical model. With this model, we can compare the words on any webpage with the words in the model to classify reading levels. We also use data from Google Scholar, since most of the articles in Scholar are advanced.
Okay, I'm sure that's not a perfect method, but it's still nifty. For example, comes up very advanced:
I wonder what my blog looks like? well, I'm sure that's just a result of blogging in general, right? We're all a bit more informal around here.
...Well, PZ does a lot more reviews of scientific articles than me, I'm sure that helps his score. Surely I must be better than something like

I'm going to interpret this as "I write in a way that's easily accessible to the general public," rather than "I write like a goddamn moron."*

*I should note that my ex-boyfriend pointed all of this out to me, along with this. I think this is payback for my quip about engineers being bad in bed. Internet karma, indeed.

1,000th post!

And to celebrate, I'm going to go meta-blogging on you.

I can't believe this is the thousandth post I've written at Blag Hag. If you estimate a half hour spent writing each post, that's nearly 21 days of my life I'll never get back.

Just kidding, of course. That's time well spent. I started this blog mostly out of boredom, but now thanks to it I'm a published author, speaking to groups (even internationally!), and have people who actually call themselves fanboys and fangirls.

I'm still not quite used to it - the last bit especially - since it has happened so fast. I started blogging in March of 2009, and I still see myself as a random opinionated student with an internet connection. It's bizarre that a year ago I was the one fangirling over bloggers like PZ, Hemant, and Greta, and now I consider them all friends and "colleagues" - as much as atheist bloggers can be colleagues.

But - forgive me for being cheesy - I couldn't have done it without you guys, my readers. Thank you so much for reading, sharing, commenting, showing up to meetups, and supporting me through sweet emails (even though I don't always have time to reply, I swear I read every one with a huge grin on my face). And thank you for hanging in there when I say something stupid - blogging is my way of thinking out loud and learning about myself, and already when reading older posts I can see how much I've progressed.

I've always had a passion for writing, but never felt like anyone would care about my work. You proved me wrong and are helping make my dreams come true.

And since this suddenly got too sappy, have a silly photo:I was playing Pictionary with my friends, and the word was "blogger" - so they drew me! (Yes, the name was written after the clue was guessed, rule freaks.) A perfect likeness, as you can see.

Anyway, feel free to celebrate in the comments. Or at the very least, if you've been lurking, say hello!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This needed to be said about rape allegations

And Furry Girl says it perfectly [Warning, NSFW link], in respect to the Julian Assange drama :

When lefties fanatically spearhead every rape/abuse allegation leveled by anyone, they are creating an environment that enables and even encourages false accusations from angry parties. While it's a travesty that police and courts tend to not believe people claiming that they have been sexually assaulted, the solution is not to unquestioningly champion anyone who makes the claim. Never believing and always believing allegations are both wrong. Rape and assault are awful, fucked up things, but that doesn't mean claims shouldn't be subjected to any fact-checking or skepticism. Murder is awful, too, and even with our badly flawed judicial system, we still generally try and sort out the facts and give the accused their day in court and a chance to defend themselves.

Hysterics will no doubt claim that I'm defending rape or don't take it seriously. On the contrary: I consider rape and sexual assault accusations to be so serious that they deserve extra consideration and yes, even questioning when it's warranted. I think we're obligated to turn a critical eye on potentially fraudulent allegations. As someone who recently sung the praises of vigilante justice, I'm clearly all in favor of exacting harsh physical and social revenge upon rapists, predators, and abusers - but if you're going to do that to someone, you had better be sure.

What is the workable alternative to having some degree of caution about rape accusations? Is the argument that rape is so terrible that it's morally justifiable to destroy innocent lives in the pursuit of ferreting out any potential rapists? (The word for that is collateral damage.)

Make sure to read the whole article, as it's a great overview on what's gone down in Assange's case specifically.

The only thing I disagree with Furry Girl about is her labeling this as a problem of the "feminist left." I'm part of the feminist left, but I'm first and foremost a skeptic. This is just one of the many reasons why I think it's so important to get more women to be skeptical thinkers. Questioning does not make us a "tool of the patriarchy" - questioning is empowering.

Seattle Atheist meetup tonight!

You know you totally want to have dinner with me and a bunch of other heathens. The meetup starts at 7 pm in the Blue Star Cafe at 4512 Stone Way N in Wallingford. I hear there will be games, too!

Is God disappearing from literature?

Google Books has scanned over 15 million books so far, and a team at Harvard University has been crunching the numbers. They're looking for various trends that can highlight the evolution of language, and their results are fascinating. Ed Yong has a wonderful review that you should check out, with everything from grammar to Nazis (but no Grammar Nazis).

But I wanted to point out one trend they've been seeing in the books over the years:
In the lead researcher's own words, “‘God’ is not dead; but needs a new publicist.”

And just because I'm a biologist who wants to rub it in...
Woooo! But more than just bragging about it's growing popularity compared to God*, this graph is still pretty awesome. Not only does it show approximately when these discoveries were made, but look at evolution in the 1940s. Looks like people were a little scared to be talking about it, maybe thanks to Nazis? That would be fascinating to look into more.

This is only the first report from the project, and I can't wait for the rest to come out! Mmmmm, data and literary nerdiness combined!

*Remember, it's comparatively. Look at the magnitudes on the y axes. The atheist horde still has some work to do. But at least science is on the upswing, while God isn't looking too hot if this trend continues!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Having sex like a scientist

What does that even mean? According to this person asking Dan Savage for sex advice, having sex like a scientist is not so good:
He's a scientist, and he has sex like a scientist. He's not a good kisser, but worse, he flies through foreplay like its his weekend chore list, and goes straight to the fucking as quick as he can. He's a voracious bottom, which should work out for me, but in the end, I'm always left finishing off alone. He always comes within minutes, and the whole time does nothing sexy, does nothing to help me along. In fact he does lots of stuff that turns me off. I've never lost hard-ons during sex until I was with him. I might as well be a cucumber glued to a body pillow, he'd have about the same interaction.
That's what this person thinks having sex like a scientist is like?! Man, I'm hurt.

Not that professions necessarily affect your sex lives, but this doesn't even make sense. Science is effectively based on making observations, experimenting, gathering data, and then correcting your theories through further experimentation. Not to mention reading the literature before setting up any experiments. Sounds like a recipe for a great sex life to me.

Now, engineers, on the other hand...

I wasn't expecting this remix

Jerry Falwell's Liberty University sang an a capella version of the Bed Intruder song at their Christmas show. Wha?

It's pretty good, though my mind is boggled by a Christmas show at a right-wing evangelical school singing a song by an openly gay man about attempted rape. Especially considering the Dean of Law at Liberty University is also the founder of the Liberty Counsel, which puts out a list of "naughty" stores that say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas."

Bed Intruder Song? Totally appropriate for Christmas.

Saying "Happy Holidays?" OMG you're undermining Christianity by being inclusive!!!!

Got it.



Honestly, I have nothing to add. This whole WikiLeaks/Julian Assange drama exploded when I was holed up in the lab 24/7. A nuclear bomb could have been dropped somewhere and I wouldn't have noticed. So yeah, I'm trying to catch up on the whole thing, but while I'm doing that, feel free to speak your mind in the comments. I'm curious to see what my blog readers think about it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A reminder about my comment policy

It seems like my latest feminism related post has devolved into commenters either 1) telling each other how to properly comment or 2) telling me how I'm a horrible person because I'm not moderating the comments. My posts on feminism devolving into flame wars?! Shocking, I know.

So it's time for a reminder about how commenting works in the land of Blag Hag. If bloggers were like gods (which is pretty much how we see ourselves, with our ginormous egos and all), I'd be very much a deist goddess. I usually won't moderate comments, except if those comments are:
  • Spam
  • Hateful, abusive, or threatening
  • Trolling or thread derailing
  • Evangelizing or godbotting
  • Mindbogglingly stupid
With the exception of spam and threats, I only ban repeat offenders. That is, I figure most people will occasionally say something mindbogglingly stupid every once in a while (myself included), and I shouldn't remove them from future discussions for a single event.

My commenting policy is very lax, and for a reason other than laziness. I don't want Blag Hag to become an echo chamber, so I don't moderate comments that disagree with me, no matter how insipid or annoying I find them. A lot of feminists blogs moderate out annoying comments by even the most well meaning privilege denying dudes, which is understandable. Those blogs are meant to be safe havens for women who are sick of hearing the same stupid shit over and over again. They're not feminism 101 blogs.

As much as I want everyone to feel comfortable commenting here, I think it's important that my blog in particular not delete these sorts of comments. Why? Because I'm constantly getting emails and comments from guys who finally understand and are improving their behavior. They thank me for being patient with them, and for showing what assholes they were being. If I banned them outright, they would have never stuck around long enough to learn more about feminism.

That and as my dad says, "No man is ever totally worthless, he can always serve as a bad example."* I view comments the same way.

But also, I'm busy. Like, really fucking busy. Grad school hardly leaves me with enough time to blog, and I do at least skim all of the comments to make sure no one is breaking my rules. And when it's finals week like this past week, I don't read anything until the weekend - so sometimes a bad comment will sneak through.

In these cases, the proper course of action is not to repeatedly hound me about moderating that comment, thus bringing even more attention to the trollish remark. You know why? Well, for one, you become a thread derailer, which I rank as a graver crime over a single incident of trolling or poorly attempted snarky humor.

And two, I'm kind of an asshole. The more you get upset about a comment someone left on a random blog on the internet and feel like you have the right to tell me what is or is not acceptable for my own blog, the more I'll lol and leave it there out of spite, and then continue to giggle at your more and more angered pleas for moderation. At that point it doesn't even matter if I theoretically agree with you on the trollish comment's craptacularness. Yep, when I'm not being a deist goddess, I'm more of a chaotic neutral trickster god.

So, go forth and make the comments multiply, but don't make my head hurt while doing it.

*I still find it somewhat disconcerting that my dad has a blog. Oh, the internet.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I survived my first quarter of grad school!

I plan to celebrate by doing absolutely nothing for a week. Thankfully for you, my version of doing absolutely nothing includes blogging.

Then I'll be flying around visiting family for a bit, including hitting up the Harry Potter theme park with my parents. Kind of overly excited for that.

I may post a real summary of grad school so far later, but right now I'm content with being braindead for a bit. Consider this an open thread until I put a real post up. What awesome stuff have I missed recently while I was busy finishing my research?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Feminists' selective science phobia

Evolutionary psychology gets a lot of flack from both inside and outside science. And to be honest, a lot of it is well deserved criticism - too much of evolutionary psychology is arm chair philosophizing and overly optimistic adaptationism, rather than hard data.

But I still assert that's no reason to write off the field as a whole. For one, there are plenty of good studies out there, and it's often the media that warps results into broad conclusions, not the scientists themselves. Two, it's a baby field that's still learning quality control - give it another ten years to refine its standards and come up with improved ways to make measurements, such as advanced brain activity imaging technology. And three, it is completely unreasonable to insist that the brain is magically not under selective pressure like every other thing in nature.

Unless it doesn't mesh with your philosophy, of course.

Sometimes I hate calling myself a feminist because of who it associates me with. For example, this latest example of feminist sciencephobia from Jill at I Blame The Patriarchy:

Evolutionary psychology rests on the shaky (often enpornulated) hypothesis that modern human social behaviors are actually species-preserving adaptations.

No, it rests on the very strong hypothesis that the brain evolves like any other organ.

Because evolutionary psychology, like all psuedoscience, is administered by jackasses who are heavily invested in patriarchy, the behaviors in question just happen to be the very same behaviors commonly observed to be beloved of patriarchyists. And also of sexists, misogynists, horndogs, militarists, straight people, politicians, consumers of pornography, consumers of “beauty,” racists, godbags, liberal men, Hollywoodists, homophobes, matrimonialists, and other cogs in the megatheocorporatocratic machine. Everybody who loves the current world order loves the romantic myth that it is the result of the random interaction of mindless genes, or biological “design.” Sadly, the world order is actually the result of something way more sinister: the completely arbitrary social construct of the culture of domination and submission.

I should have stopped reading here, but I was impressed. I didn't think someone could fit so many straw men and ad hominems in a single paragraph! But I know Jill thinks this is her "snarky" "style," so I kept reading to see her views on the science.

Annie Murphy Paul uses revelations facilitated by evolutionary psychology to make the (tired old) case that women are pretty much prisoners of biology, or, more specifically, of the menstrual cycle. Her apparent thesis: ovulating women are constrained by biological impulse to go to bars, wear tight dresses, and emit musical, magical laughter, whereupon they become attracted to male lantern-jawed superheroes. Non-ovulating women, on the other hand, are practically a different species. They are drab and dull and fail to effervesce or mate, and prefer pansy-ass dudes.
As an evolutionary biologist, I've yet to hear an evolutionary biologist who claims people are prisoners of biology. We are, however, not immune to our biology. It's not insane to suggest that some of our behavior is innate - humans just have the special ability to consciously choose to overcome some of it. That may be difficult for behaviors that are really ingrained in us for evolutionary reasons.

For example, we've evolved to crave sugary food because thousands of years ago, that craving would have kept us alive. It's subconscious - we don't think, "Gee, I really want that cookie because I may not be able to eat for another week." It explains why people are inclined to eat too much sugary food now that it's abundant, but it by no means says we are prisoners to that behavior and that we must eat sugary food until we're diabetic.

Many feminists would have no problem with that example, but they still proceed to freak out when the same thought process is applied to behavior between the sexes. Even if we did find some difference between the sexes, that doesn't mean there's a value difference between those behaviors, nor does it mean we even have to do them.

But no. Jill and feminists like her are just content imagining a world where Big Bad Male Scientists are out to get them:

Paul cites research conducted, unfortunately, by psychologists and “dating advisers,” since who else would know from this shit? One researcher dude juxtaposed menstrual cycle data with the nightly revenues of (a whopping) 18 lap dancers. Awesome.

Research dude: Hmm. I wonder where we could conduct some research on ovulating women?

Grad student dude: How about a strip club? We can totally multitask by working and abusing the sex class at the same time.

Research dude: It’s pure genius! I’ll take full credit.

In this case research dude concluded that not only do strip club clientele discern whether lap dancers are ovulating, but that pervs lavish more cash on ovulating lap dancers than they do on dull old non-ovulating ones. Paul calls this “one of the most arresting studies of male responses to female fertility cues.”

She goes on to miss the point so badly that I'm inclined to believe she's misrepresenting Geoffrey Miller's study on purpose to fulfill her paranoid fantasies. As someone who's actually read the paper in question, allow me to correct Jill (or you know, you could be a good scientist and go read it yourself.):

Female fertility cues! Apparently women who work in strip clubs are not, contrary to what spinster aunts have maintained through the ages, just trying to make the best of their fucked-up sex class status by working themselves through law school or a drug habit or a musician boyfriend. These hotsy-totsy babes are in fact sending their slavering clients “female fertility cues.”
Jill tries to spin it so it seems like the study is saying women become strippers just to send "female fertility clues." The study says no such thing about the motivation for becoming a stripper: It looks at women who already are strippers, and sees if there's any differences in the tips they get depending on where they are during their menstrual cycle. They found that men are more likely to tip when women are ovulating. They don't have a mechanism for the interaction, but speculate on what sort of cues could clue men in. Do the women behave differently? Is there some sort of physical difference men subconsciously notice? Is is a pheromone or other sort of chemical signal? They don't make any conclusions.

Furthermore, strippers who take birth control pills are “’shooting [themselves] in the foot,’ since [they'll] miss out on the bountiful tips garnered by women in estrus.” That’s right. Sexploitation isn’t about male domination, it’s about human reproduction. Human reproduction is natural. Natural is good. Therefore sexploitation is good.

They are shooting themselves in the foot in terms of making tips. Since they don't ovulate, they don't receive the boost in tips. The researchers by no means imply that making tips is obviously the most important thing and birth control isn't important. Seriously, where the fuck does she even get the rest of that paragraph other than from an overactive imagination?

She goes on and on about how women can't possibly have any sort of innate behaviors, or as she calls it, a "primal urge to exude pornulated dudefantasy." Really, and we're supposed to take you seriously?

I about lost it when I hit the most glaring Biology Fail of the piece:

But isn’t this just a reiteration of the hysterical women stereotype? Not at all, says one of the kindly dude researchers.

“The traditional and rather patronizing male view was that women are fickle, that their preferences are random and arbitrary. Now it turns out that what looks like fickleness is actually deeply adaptive and is shared with the females of most animal species.”

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: does Dude even realize that ‘most animal species’ are either arthropods or nematodes, depending on which geek you’re talking to? Together they number in the millions. Here at Spinster HQ we were unable to locate any research on, for example, the fickleness of female flatworms. Maybe they like to sport around in spandex when it’s that time of the month, but published studies omit to mention it. So this guy, in his attempt to science-ize an enormously detrimental sexist stereotype, grossly mischaracterizes the scope of the planet’s animalian diversity to further his own anthrocentric worldview.

And also, do not speak to me, dude, of “the rather patronizing male view.” How fucking patronizing is it to argue that ‘fickleness’ is a fucking adaptation shared by all females everywhere? That women’s behavior is, in fact, irrational, only now this irrationality has scientifically proven reasons? This dude is killin’ me!

Spinster HQ didn't look very hard, nor did they read very closely. The "fickleness" this "dude researcher" is talking isn't about irrationality, it's about is Bateman's principle, which is "the theory that females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males invest, and therefore in most species females are a limiting resource over which the other sex will compete." It's called that because this "dude researcher" named Bateman first found this trend in fruit flies. You know, arthropods. It's been found across a wide range of taxa.

Also note how it says "almost." There are plenty of counter examples of males being the choosy sex. And while there's evidence going both ways in humans, the point is it doesn't matter. If science did prove, without a doubt, that female humans invested more energy into reproduction and that caused them to evolve with a specialized set of behaviors, it doesn't mean we are slaves to that behavior or that it justifies our actions, or the actions of others around us.

The cherry on top of the post was Jill's bullet point that claims evolutionary psychology cannot explain homosexuality. Even though there are multiple competing hypotheses about the persistence of homosexual behavior. Even if you're not familiar with evolutionary psychology, that was the second Google result. Way to do your research.

The a priori assumption that evolutionary psychologists are all evil dudes with an agenda to instill 50s era gender roles is frankly paranoid. Ironically, Jill wrote a great post about how feminists need to trust science more. Too bad she's a hypocrite - this isn't the first time I've called her out on it. "Supporting science" is not the same as "Supporting science only when it doesn't make you uncomfortable about your world views."

And you know what? Feminists get the "man hater" stereotype exactly because of posts like that*. I'm a feminist because I'm pro social equality for both sexes. Dismissing researchers because they're male isn't equality.

*I should clarify because of a comment below. Feminists will carry that stereotype no matter how rational our arguments are or polite we act just because feminism pisses a lot of people off, and they react harshly out of privilege. But there are too many people who basically are feminists except they still believe that stereotype, because there's one rotten apple that's particularly stinky and ruins the label.

You know it's the end of the semester when...

...the only time you're not in the lab is when you're at home sleeping.

...and you seriously considered just sleeping at work to be more efficient, but didn't want to smell the next day. you leave the lab at 1am after being at work for 17 hours only because you have to catch the last bus home.

...and while you're standing at the stop, two of your classmates comes to catch the last bus as well.

...and it's not the first time you all have done that this week.

...and you still don't feel prepared for everything that you have to finish.

Yay grad school. At least we're all going insane together?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's the nerdiest thing you've done this week?

Me? Worked in the lab writing Python programs until midnight. And since I'll probably be doing that again tonight (woo research presentation on Friday), you get this filler post.

What's the nerdiest thing you've done in the past week?

I asked this to my friends over Facebook, and my personal favorite was "Flirt with a NPC." I'm sure you guys won't disappoint me either.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Still feeling aftershocks from boobquake

On Friday I was interviewed by Definitely Not the Opera on the CBC, which I'm told is sort of the Canadian equivalent to This American Life on NPR. I was for their episode "What happens when you make your 'private parts' public," and of course I talked about boobquake. It was a fun interview, and you can listen here. This interview was especially nifty because I actually got to go into NPR's Seattle studio to record it. Happens to be a couple blocks from my lab, and I got to feel all officially with the fancy mikes and headphones instead of a shoddy webcam and Skype.

Oh, and boobquake made PC World's top 8 Facebook memes. Woo.

And I just got a lovely email from a college student who's on a Forensics team (not CSI forensics, the speech and debate type). She's used boobquake as her topic for four competitions, and placed first in the last three! Congrats, Kait!

Some of my classmates joked that I should talk about boobquake for my end of the quarter research presentation on Friday, but I don't think the department would appreciate that much. Sigh, guess I'll go back to finishing my actual science then...

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Biblical Guide for Rape Victims

In case you were confused about what you're supposed to do after being raped, according to the Bible (click here for larger):The Bible certainly is the beacon of morality!

(Via reddit)

If you had infinite money, what scientific quesiton would you ask?

You'd think someone who stayed up all night writing a research proposal wouldn't want to think about research proposals anymore. But in fact, that is all my brain can comprehend at the moment. And since I'm about to go pass out and potentially sleep most of the day away, I felt I should get a nice discussion topic up here for you guys.

If money was not an issue, what scientific question would you ask? How would you go about doing your research? Please expand on the significance, innovation, and approach of your specific aims...wait, no, scratch that last part. Babble in a blog comment.

Also, thank you to the gigantic spider than nearly crawled over my hand at 5am. Your fear-induced energy gave me the second wind required to finish my paper.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

This is what I do in lab

From xkcd:
What, you think we learn something from staring at all those As, Cs, Ts, and Gs? Nah, we just want to freak you out.

...Now, back to doing genetic tests :\

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Grad School Spirit

From PhD comics:Uh...

1. I know we're the Huskies, but I have no idea what our specific mascot is called. I see a lot of undergrads wearing sweaters that say "Dawgs" on them, is that related?

Wikipedia informs me our mascot is Harry the Husky. Um, okay. Purdue Pete is way cooler.2. Purple and gold, right? ...*checks Wikipedia* Phew, I'm right. It's not some crazy-specific description like Purdue's "old gold" (yes, there is a difference).

3. I have no goddamn idea. The only reason I learned Purdue's fight song was because we were basically brainwashed during freshmen orientation.

4. Division I, Pac 10. I only know this from going to my undergrad at another Division I school.

5. No idea.

6. Derp?

7. I went on a bus by it once!

2 points. I am a graduate student!

Hey, I'm not as bad as some people. I've now been inside seven buildings on campus! ...Though I've only been inside two of those more than once. Sigh.

Friday, December 3, 2010

End of semester madness!

What am I up to? I'm writing a "fake" research proposal for one of my classes on doing a genome wide association study and exome sequencing to search for genetic components of homosexuality. I say "fake" because it's a project for a class, not something I'm actually submitting to the NIH or NSF. Well, I mean, I could theoretically submit it as a grant if it ends up being super awesome and a mind-blowing scientific idea, but at this rate I'm just trying to not embarrass myself when turning it in.

On top of that I'm attempting to finish my actual research from this quarter since our presentations are next week. I'm not nervous about the speaking part - heck, I do that for fun now - but talking about science is a bit harder than making jokes about atheism. So, yeah, again - aiming for not embarrassing myself. Frantically trying to learn R to make my graphics, since my professor nearly had an aneurysm when he saw I was using Excel to make my charts.

Aren't the end of quarters great?!

I know a lot of you are also students - consider this an open thread to complain about all the work you have to do and to procrastinate doing it. Non-students welcome to whine too.

The Hipster Bible

I appreciate this much more after having lived in Seattle for a couple of months:The only reason I don't like hipsters is because they screw up my gaydar. Seriously, I might as well flip a coin. Especially in Capitol Hill.

Check out the rest here. I wish the whole Bible was translated this way!

(Via Godless Girl)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

And the media sensationalizes science again

I came home to a flurry of emails, tweets, and blog posts about NASA's big announcement. I was momentarily floored when I saw headlines like this:
"NASA Finds New Life" - Gizmodo

"NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical" - The Richard Dawkins Foundation

"Bacteria first species observed to use arsenic-laced DNA backbone" - Ars Technica
Though upon actually reading about the discovery, the most accurate title came from Boing Boing: Weird life form on Earth - kind of, maybe.

Look, it's an exciting discovery, but everyone is over-hyping it. This bacteria is not an arsenic-based life form in the sense that we are carbon-based life forms. It does not use arsenic as a source of fuel. It does not exclusively build its DNA backbone using arsenic. It doesn't even really like to do that at all in the wild - it incorporates arsenic under laboratory conditions that force even higher concentrations of arsenic upon it. It is not a different type of life that arose separately from phosphate-using lifeforms.

What it is is an excellent example of evolution. While coming from a phosphate-using ancestor, this bacteria has somehow adapted to an extreme environment that would kill most other organisms. I'm more interested in how it avoids death by this toxin than the fact that it incorporates a molecule extremely similar to phosphate into its DNA. PZ has a more thorough scientific breakdown over at Pharyngula.

Way to go, shoddy science reporting. Creationists are probably wetting themselves over this "new life form," ready to tell biologists how it could have only been designed. I mean, just look at how this redditor is reacting to your sensationalism:

Is it ok that I'm already discriminating against arsenic based life forms because they are fundamentally different than me? Bunch of arses, they are.

Sigh. Well, at least I don't have a whole new DNA structure to memorize. Getting a PhD in Genomics was already hard enough.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Creation Museum seeks Kentucky tax support

It's bad enough the Governor was speaking at a press conference with them today. But it's terrifying now that we know why:
Operators of the popular Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky are seeking state tax incentives to build a creationism theme park at a nearby site -- a project that Gov. Steve Beshear officially will announce today .

Mike Zovath, senior vice president of the non-profit group Answers in Genesis, one of the partners in developing the park, said Kentucky officials have told him the proposal for state tourism-development incentives "looks good."

He said the park -- to be called Ark Encounter -- would include a massive wooden ark that would offer educational attractions. Additional details weren't released Tuesday.

[...]The developers are seeking incentives under the Kentucky Tourism Development Act, which allows up to 25 percent of the cost of a project to be recovered. Under the law, the state each year returns to developers of approved projects the sales tax paid by visitors on admission tickets, food, gift sales and lodging costs. Developers have 10 years to reach the 25 percent threshold.
Wow. How could funding the freaking Creation Museum not violate the separation of church and state? The only way this place could be considered "educational" is that it educates us on how incredibly wacky some people are. Or if they had a sign every three feet along the "museum" explaining why they're mind-numbingly wrong. You know, signs showing actual science.

Of course, what do you expect coming out of Kentucky? Wait, what's that...?
Zovath said Answers in Genesis and its partner, Ark Encounter LLC, a for-profit company based in Springfield, Mo., have not finalized plans to build the park in Kentucky and are still considering locating it in Indiana.
OH GOD NOOOO! Not my home state! We're embarrassing enough...

Seriously though, how could this fly? What's the logic here?
Martin Cothran, senior policy analyst for the Family Foundation, said his organization doesn't believe there would be a problem in giving a tax break to an organization that is "not explicitly religious.""Whether you agree with them or not, they are making a claim that what they are doing is scientific and it's not necessarily the state's business to second guess that," Cothran said.
...Are you fucking kidding me? As someone who's been to the Museum, they very clearly say that they get all their knowledge from the Bible, and that it's their goal to make facts mesh with the Bible. They hardly claim that it's scientific. No, they devote the whole museum to demonizing science and the scientific method.

But even if they do claim to be scientific, it certainly is the state's business to second guess that! Are we just going to let any religious group throw the word "science" around so they can get funding?

It's bad enough that Kentucky was unlucky enough to be the home of the Creation Museum. Explicitly helping them will give us a legitimate reason to laugh at the state. Laugh, and then cry.