All posts filed under: Science / Tech

Keep Social-Justice Indoctrination Out of the Therapist’s Office

One of the earliest stains on the legacy of psychiatry, my medical specialty, dates to the American 1840 census, when the US government first began systematically collecting information on “idiocy” and “insanity.” According to the results, the purported rates of mental illness among free blacks in northern cities were deemed to exceed those among enslaved blacks in the south by an 11-to-one ratio. South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, a notoriously strident defender of slavery, seized upon the results as “proof” that “the African is incapable of self-care and sinks into lunacy under the burden of freedom. It is a mercy to him to give this guardianship and protection from mental death.” Five years later, the American Statistical Association published a new analysis of the census data, in which it illuminated what distinguished American psychiatrist Edward Jarvis called the “inconsistencies, contradictions, and falsehoods” of the original. Jarvis’s own review revealed recording errors and deliberate misuse of data. Yet many citizens in pro-slavery states continued to believe that enslaved blacks were less inclined toward insanity because …

Gaslighting the Concerned Parents of Trans Children—A Psychotherapist’s View

I first met Jo and Carol in Manchester two years ago, when I spoke as a clinician on a panel at what is believed to be the first conference dedicated to the issue of detransitioners (people who once presented themselves as transgender, but then decided to live in accordance with their biological sex). At this event, seven young women spoke publicly about why they transitioned, why it wasn’t successful, and how they came to the decision to detransition. All of these women had undergone mastectomies, and some had hysterectomies and even oophorectomies (the removal of both ovaries). They had all taken testosterone, which permanently deepened their voices, and gave rise to new forms of body and facial hair. Although they had experienced much in their lives, none was over the age of 25. As you might imagine, these testimonials were shocking and harrowing. Jo and Carol both have daughters embroiled in the trans-activist cause. (As at all points in this piece, I am using terms such as “girl,” “boy,” “son,” and “daughter” in reference to …

When Journalism Blurs Into Activism—A Canadian Case Study

This all began with an imaginary teachers’ manual. It ended with us challenging Canada’s self-described “national newspaper” about a range of stories in which ideologically-driven narratives seemed to trump fact. We are two long-in-the-tooth Canadian journalists who began our careers in the 1980s. We’ve written investigative pieces about AIDS, alternative medicine, drug-money laundering, health fraud, and chiropractic (which we co-authored a book about in 2003). Paul also has been a journalism professor at the University of Western Ontario, while Wayne founded Southam InfoLab, a research unit for a large Canadian newspaper chain. While neither of us is a scientist or mathematician by training, we learned that the correct reporting of facts and data is an important component of good journalism. We also learned how easy it is for even objective journalists to garble, ignore, or misunderstand the numbers they cite in their articles. Many writers, ourselves included, start their careers with only a tenuous grasp of many basic mathematical concepts. We generally either teach ourselves how to become informed and competent laypeople, or we recognize our …

Why Climate Science Is Like the Rest of Science

Recent White House initiatives suggest that addressing climate change has risen to the policy forefront of government at the presidential level for the first time in US history. Last week President Biden convened an online international meeting of heads of state on the issue and committed the US to a dramatic effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level of 50 percent of emissions in 2005 by the year 2030, which will require unprecedented action and cooperation between government and major industries. By and large, the public’s mood has shifted from one of skepticism to support, but because the issue is so deeply embedded in scientific predictions whose details are often absent in popular discussions, statements from prominent scientists have great potential to influence the debate. As a theoretical physicist whose primary research has been in what is often called “fundamental physics” I am acutely aware that my colleagues can project an air of superiority in being dismissive of other disciplines and the scientists who labor in them. My late friend and colleague Freeman …

When Will Activists (and the Media) Get Honest About Police Shootings?

Minutes before Derek Chauvin was convicted on all three counts of murder and manslaughter, Ma’Khia Bryant, a black teenage girl in Columbus, Ohio, was shot dead by police. Almost immediately, enraged protestors gathered outside police headquarters. “Say Her Name!” they chanted. The New York Times reported that the girl’s grieving mother, Paula Bryant, had told WBNS that her daughter was “a very loving, peaceful little girl.” In an attempt to correct a tendentious version of events immediately promoted by civil rights attorney Ben Crump (and uncritically repeated by the Times) in which the young victim was described as unarmed, the Columbus police department took the unusual step of releasing the officer’s body-worn camera video the same day. During a briefing at which the footage was exhibited for the press, police played the video twice, the second time in slow motion—because events on the ground escalated with such rapidity that it’s the only way to follow what happened: The police officer gets out of his squad car and approaches a group of people milling about in …

The Hard Problems of Vegetarianism

“We have to speak up on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves,” wrote the famous utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer in Animal Liberation, the book that converted me (and countless others) to vegetarianism more than 10 years ago. You don’t have to buy into Singer’s pain-and-pleasure calculus to find the moral force of his argument compelling: Humans are gratuitously inflicting pain and suffering on intelligent, sentient creatures for no other reason than because they enjoy the taste of their meat, the texture of their skin, or the softness of their fur. They do so even though they know they could, at a small cost to themselves, live without it, and even though they share a virtually universal conviction that it is wrong to cause harm for trivial reasons. And yet, vegans and vegetarians remain a small minority. Almost all of this meat, leather, and fur is being produced in factory farms that deprive animals of most of what would make their lives worth living. Driven by the relentless logic of profit-maximization, we curb the …

Interrogating Jane

Jane Austen, beloved English novelist of the Regency period, is now embroiled in the custody wars over the history and legacy of the British Empire. The Daily Telegraph has reported that the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire, is planning an “historical interrogation” of the Austen family’s connections to slavery and colonialism. Museum director Lizzie Dunford pointed out that the Austens consumed tea, sugar, and cotton, all of which were the products of Empire. One of the potential new exhibits is entitled “Black Lives Matter to Jane Austen.” Unsurprisingly, some Austen fans rejected this idea as decisively as Lizzie Bennet turning down a marriage proposal. During an interview about the row on TalkRadio, Welsh comedian Abi Roberts spoke for many appalled Austen fans when she declared that the museum’s curators had “gone completely bonkers.” “My father was a life-long lover of tea,” wrote one reader in a representative letter to the Telegraph‘s editor. “In addition, he spent four years in Burma and India, albeit as a private in the army … can anyone advise …

The White of the AI

“It is a truth little acknowledged that a machine in possession of intelligence must be white.” I do appreciate a Jane Austen reference and so I read on, hoping to find a stylish argument, only to be disappointed. The very next lines of the paper by Stephen Cave & Kanta Dihal in Philosophy and Technology said this: In this paper, we problematize the often unnoticed and unremarked-upon fact that intelligent machines are predominantly conceived and portrayed as White. We argue that this Whiteness both illuminates particularities of what (Anglophone Western) society hopes for and fears from these machines, and situates these affects within long-standing ideological structures that relate race and technology. The paper is entitled “The Whiteness of AI,” and the authors explain that they will use “white” and “black” for colour and “White” and “Black” for race. They go on to argue that AI is White on the basis that images of AI have a lot of white in them. This Whiteness, the authors suggest, discourages non-Whites from getting into AI. They say their article aims to …

When Sons Become Daughters, Part IV: Parents of Transitioning Boys Speak Out on Their Own Suffering

What follows is the fourth instalment of When Sons Become Daughters, a multi-part Quillette series that explores how parents react when a son announces he wants to be a girl—and explains why so many of these mothers and fathers believe they can’t discuss their fears and concerns with their own children, therapists, doctors, friends, and relatives. To find out more about how the author collected and reported information, please refer to his introductory essay in this series.   The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Queen Menno is a gay man in his early 40s—Dutch by birth and a Londoner by choice. He’s “gender critical,” meaning that he rejects the fashionable belief that self-declared gender overrides the reality of biological sex. His YouTube channel features a satirical listing of newly conceived pronouns, set to the tune of The Sound of Music’s Do-Re-Mi; a song about pop star Sam Smith’s non-binary identity, modelled on Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee from the musical Grease; and a reworked version of Kylie Minogue’s Locomotion, in which a pharmaceutical pied piper …

The Permanence of Segregation

[It] is sentimental and romantic to assume that any education or any example will ever completely destroy the inclination of human nature to seek special advantages at the expense of, or in indifference to, the needs and interests of others. ~Reinhold Niebuhr Spatial geographers and demographers tell us that segregation occurs whenever the proportions of two or more populations are not homogenous throughout a defined space. Plant and animal species are therefore usually—but not always—segregated; people, too, in societies throughout the world, are usually—but not always—segregated according to language, cultural difference, religion, nationality, educational background, political allegiance, and socioeconomic status. To be sure, none of this means that demographic patterns are fixed. Empirical evidence shows,1 for example, that American suburbs are more diverse than ever; recent evidence from England and Wales, too, suggests that ethnic mixing in neighborhoods and schools is increasing rather than decreasing.2 Rates of mixed marriages and cross-cultural exchanges, too, have everywhere increased. Yet one can acknowledge these demographic developments and still plainly observe that spatial configurations of segregation are everywhere recognizable; …