All posts filed under: Science / Tech

The Price of Sex

Working as a photographer for a charity a few years back, I was travelling through Malawi and stopped overnight in a mining town. It was a Wednesday, and I headed out to a bar. Other than a woman serving, everyone else there was male. Some were playing pool. Some were drinking, but most were doing neither. I asked the bargirl why there were no women in the place. With a look that suggested I was being dim, she explained: “The men get paid on Friday.” On the surface, in a mining town, the gender pay gap is huge, with the vast majority of money officially going to men. And yet, by Saturday morning, much of the cash has been transferred to bar owners, prostitutes, girlfriends, and wives. A privileged observer might suggest that women in such a town ought to be liberated to earn their own money. But the point is that they already are. While most fair-minded people would no doubt agree that women should be free to take mining jobs if they choose, …

Sheep and Mirrors: On Being Social

I’m pregnant with our third child when I read Marlen Haushofer’s 1963 novel ​The Wall​. It’s a terrifying thought experiment where the main character is confronted with the possibility she’s the last human being alive. As she documents her fight for survival, I wonder if I’d have the will to carry on if everyone I knew was dead and I had no hope of ever seeing or loving another human again. I suspect every remaining joy in the world would suddenly lose its lustre. But why? Is the ability to interact with other humans really so vital that I’d rather die than live alone? As a wife and mother of three young boys, as someone who thrives on communicating, and lives in an age of astonishing connectivity, I suspect the notion of total solitude is more unfathomable to me now than at any other point in my life. I live on an island in a country full of geographically isolated (but increasingly connected) towns, where internet access is seen as a necessity, not a luxury. …

Climate Change—Assessing the Worst Case Scenario

Does a thinking person today have a chance of figuring out what to think about climate change? On the one hand, we are told there is a scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate. On the other hand, the most pessimistic future scenarios strain our credulity. The most extreme example may be the retired professor who believes that we will all be dead by 2026. The activist group Extinction Rebellion is telling us that climate change represents “an unprecedented global emergency” and is calling for radical measures to deal with it. Such claims seem to be gaining ground and appearing with increasing frequency in the media. And according to a recent poll, nearly half of Americans believe climate change will result in the end of the world within the next 200 years. Even among the more optimistic, many find it prudent to consider the worst case, but have very little information to help them decide where to draw the line between farsightedness and fantasy. And I understand those who assume that even though some …

What Is Autogynephilia? An Interview with Dr Ray Blanchard

Ray Blanchard is an adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto who specialises in the study of human sexuality, with a particular focus on sexual orientation, paraphilias, and gender identity disorders. In the 1980s and 1990s he developed a theory around the causes of gender dysphoria in natal males that became known as ‘Blanchard’s transsexualism typology’. This typology—which continues to attract a great deal of controversy—categorizes trans women (that is, natal males who identify as women) into two discrete groups. The first group is composed of ‘androphilic’ (sometimes termed ‘homosexual’) trans women, who are exclusively sexually attracted to men and are markedly feminine in behaviour and appearance from a young age. They typically begin the process of medical transition before the age of 30. The second group are motivated to transition as a result of what Blanchard termed ‘autogynephilia’: a sexual orientation defined by sexual arousal at the thought or image of oneself as a woman. Autogynephiles are typically sexually attracted to women, although they may also identify as asexual or bisexual. They …

Andrew Yang—Technocratic Populist

Andrew Yang is a peculiar candidate for the presidency; not only has he no previous political experience, but he has also placed great emphasis on issues that have been on the fringes of mainstream media political discourse usually examined by academics or YouTube personalities. It is a credit to him that topics like automation, the meaning and value of work, the concentration of elite talent in to narrow career paths, and of course, UBI, have had a chance to be touched upon during this campaign cycle. Nonetheless, the most provocative aspect of the Yang campaign, and of the man himself, is the unusual tension between a technocratic emphasis on expertise and efficiency, and the populist rhetoric he uses to denounce remote elite enclaves, and to call for a revolution that, in the words of Bismarck, we undertake rather than undergo.1 Yang views himself—or at least projects himself as—the people’s technocrat. An expert that the average Joe can trust. Yang as Technocrat Technocracy is government by experts. The term is Greek in origin, fusing tekhne (describing …

Why White Privilege is Wrong—Part 2

Many people enjoy invoking race as an explanation for all sorts of things. It is a shared pastime for both the far-left and the far-right. The media expend vast sums of money and effort to ensure we don’t escape discussions about race as something that is or should be important. This vocal minority of political extremists and news broadcasters has directed our attention away from more powerful causal explanations that underlie group outcomes. Perverse incentives for these two groups have made race a more a prominent feature of our lives. As a consequence, white privilege has become the favoured explanation for differences in group outcomes among many educated people. But unintentional or otherwise, by attributing success to white privilege, affluent individuals who invoke this mistaken idea thwart the ambitions of those who are seeking success but who are also lacking in privilege. If we want to not only understand differences in group outcomes but also mend them, then we need a more robust and less ideological framework. The Pitfalls of One-Thing-ism   The presumption that …

I Asked Thousands of Biologists When Life Begins. The Answer Wasn’t Popular

Shortly after being awarded my Ph.D. by the University of Chicago’s department of Comparative Human Development this year, I found myself in a minor media whirlwind. I was interviewed by The Daily Wire, The College Fix, and Breitbart. I appeared on national television and on a widely syndicated radio program. All of this interest had been prompted by a working paper associated with my dissertation, which was entitled Balancing Abortion Rights and Fetal Rights: A Mixed Methods Mediation of the U.S. Abortion Debate. As discussed in more detail below, I reported that both a majority of pro-choice Americans (53%) and a majority of pro-life Americans (54%) would support a comprehensive policy compromise that provides entitlements to pregnant women, improves the adoption process for parents, permits abortion in extreme circumstances, and restricts elective abortion after the first trimester. However, members of the media were mostly interested in my finding that 96% of the 5,577 biologists who responded to me affirmed the view that a human life begins at fertilization. It was the reporting of this view—that …

Science and Data: Notes on a Misconception

Science would be impossible without evidence. But champions of science frequently portray data or evidence as the fundamental building blocks of scientific knowledge. They will say that scientific theories should be “evidence-based”—confirmed by data or supported by evidence. They will say that a good theory follows inexorably from the evidence, whereas a bad theory has little or no evidence to back it up. But this familiar way of thinking about science is the misconception that the contents of scientific theories somehow emerge out of the data. In fact, as the physicist David Deutsch showed in his 2011 book The Beginning of Infinity, the contents of scientific theories are explanations of the data. And people, not data, are the source of those explanations. The misconception that scientific theories are “based on evidence” has an important practical consequence: it steers science toward generating data instead of seeking explanations for the world. To aim science explicitly toward seeking explanations, we must clarify and overturn this misconception, and present an alternative vision of an exclusively explanatory scientific ethos. Creativity and …

How Feminism Has Constrained Our Understanding of Gender

This week Melinda Gates said that she is committing $1 billion to promote gender equality by doing things like dismantling “harmful gender norms.” To many people, this sounds like a wonderful idea, but in reality, how effective are gender equality strategies that blame inequality solely on social factors such as gender norms and stereotypes? Professor Alice Eagly, in her paper “The Shaping of Science by Ideology: How Feminism Inspired, Led, and Constrained Scientific Understanding of Sex and Gender,”1 explores the ways in which feminism helped to create the now widely held misconception that gender is simply a product of social influence. This feminist misconception is not simply a dry academic fossil from the nature-nurture debate—it’s a flawed notion that has become central to how we treat men and women in all areas of life. This one-sided view of gender has caused problems in a range of areas, including therapy, the workplace, sports, and the law. Much of Eagly’s expertise relates to workplace psychology, so this is the area on which she focuses. The central problem …

The Dangerous Life of an Anthropologist

Limping in crutches, his broken leg shielded in plaster following a jogging accident, the distinguished biologist Edward O. Wilson made his way slowly toward the stage at a convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1978. Climbing the stairs, taking his seat, and shuffling his notes, a sudden burst of activity punctuated the silence as the entire front row of the audience leapt onto the stage hurling insults. They jostled Wilson and then poured iced water over his head. The protesters would turn out to be Marxists, incensed by the publication of Wilson’s book Sociobiology. This story has become a familiar feature of the nature/nurture debate, used to illustrate the vitriolic hostility expressed by ideological groups scrambling to silence what most people already take to be an incontrovertible fact: that humans, just like every other species on earth, have a nature. As crowds abandoned Wilson to evacuate the auditorium that day, one man at the back of the room tried to push his way forward against the multitude heading towards the …