Jul 29 2009

In celebration of hair

[hairy and proud, Frida Kahlo]

Yes, the Daily Mail is at it again. A woman off the telly, went outside, in public, with possibly some hair on her lip (also possibly a shadow). Luckily, the Mail informs us that her young son “didn’t seem to mind his mother’s moustachioed look”. That’s nice.

Female hair really seems to be one of the last taboos and causes all kinds of kerfuffle when celebrity women go outside, in public, without being suitably plucked, shaved, waxed, sugared and electrolysed. I know women who shave their forearms. Forearms!

What I find disturbing about this is that bodily hair is a sign of pubescence and womanhood in women and there seems to be some very unhealthy drivers for making women look pre-pubescent. I find having hair sexy and womanly, and a micro act of resistance.

Plus, and I’m willing to concede that this is just me, I would love to know what it felt like to have a beard. I can imagine stroking it and twiddling it. Although I couldn’t be arsed with shaving every day so on balance I’m pleased I can’t grow one (and am unlikely to gain that talent even in later life as I’m not from a hirsute family).

It’s time for hairy women to reclaim the mantel of Frida Kahlo and refuse to be bullied into expensive, painful and unnecessary treatments (particularly by the Daily Mail). If it feels more comfortable fine, but if not you should still be allowed out in public.

Jul 25 2009

New Daily Mail Scientist

[Daily Mail ad run in the Metro. Yes, in 2009]

This may well be a foolhardy adventure, a titanic battle, an Icarian endeavour, I cannot help myself but carefully and scientifically dissect another Daily Mail article. After I’m long dead I hope that the fossilised remains of my blog will be found so that others will know that there was resistance to this cancerous newspaper.

I’ll address most paragraphs in turn.

Fathers DO matter: Scientists claim they play crucial role in child’s development

In a world where advances in cloning and genetics are threatening to make men redundant, scientists finally have some reassuring news.

No dipshit, it’s only in your paper that claims like this are made.

A study has shown that fathers play a crucial in family life – and that without a dad present in the crucial first stage of life, offspring grow up to be less sociable.

Let’s pick out the crucial words in this sentence: “father”, “family life”, “dad”. We all know what those words refer to don’t we. Yes, humans.

Although the findings come from a study of animals, it adds to the growing evidence that fathers influence the way children develop.

Right, so in fact a study HASN’T shown anything about “fathers” or “family life”. And given the variety of parenting models in the animal kingdom you are going to have to show applicability (who thinks they will?…)

Previous studies have shown that girls reach puberty younger, become sexually active earlier and are more likely to get pregnant in their teens if their father are absent when they were young, New Scientist magazine says.

I will address these ‘previous studies’ at the end and the problems with them. I will also take the New Scientist out the back for a damn good thrashing.

Other work has suggested that sons of missing dads have lower self-esteem later in life.

Other work? What like that paper I wrote with my own shit through the motion of wiping my arse? Obviously no need to reference, it is accepted wisdom.

The latest study looked for biological changes in laboratory mice when they were raised without fathers.

Here we go. Paragraph 6 and we find out you’re talking about mice. Five paragraphs on vague conjecture with a clue that this is a completely rehashed article from the New Scientist and we culminate in fucking lab mice.

A team at McGill University, Canada, used a strain of mice which, like people, are usually monogamous and tend to rear their young pups together.

A strain of mice, which like people, live in cages in laboratories, have tails and run around on wheels all day.

They removed the fathers from some of the mouse pups three days after birth until they were weaned at 30 to 40 days old.

The scientists, led by Dr Gabriella Gobbi, then analysed the behaviour and brain cells of the pups – and compared them to mice brought up with both parents.

Brain cells in the ‘single parent’ mice had a muted response to the ‘cuddle hormone’ oxytocin, a feel-good chemical released in the brain during sex or moments of intimacy.

‘Cuddle hormone’ is a technical term I’ll have you know. And given that the Daily Mail are anthropomorphising these mice to an alarming degree, does them talking about them having sex make this article paedophilic?

That meant they were less likely to feel positive when in the company of others. The fatherless mice were also more anti-social.

They found that they were feeling less positive through a survey where the mice were asked to rate their positivity on a scale of cheese to incontinence on a first date. Indeed fatherless mice are more likely to be Goths.

‘Usually if you put two animals in the same cage they investigate and touch each other, but when we put to animals deprived of a father together they ignored each other,’ said Dr Gobbi.

Maybe its because the offspring of divorce parents have less expectations of long-term relationships and decide not to get involved in an intimate relationship that will inevitably end in heart-break and despondency. Oh, wait a minute, they’re FUCKING MICE.

The scientists are unsure whether the same biological changes take place in human children raised without a father – and whether the findings are applicable to people.

But we’ll keep the headline and everything we’ve written up until this point because no one is really going to read this far and what can science tell us about the moral decline of Britain anyway.

In the strain of mice used in the experiment, the fathers lick and groom the young pups more than the mothers do. Because grooming affects the development of pups, it could be the lack of physical contact that cause the changes in the brain, the researchers say.

It seems that mice feminism has also gone to far and these mothers aren’t even looking after their children properly. OK, this paragraph does seem to entirely undermine the preceding drivel showing that mice parenting does seem to differ from human parenting somewhat, but apart from that the similarities are uncanny.

The finding follows another study which showed that men experience a huge surge in oxytocin after a child is born.

Let’s just randomly chuck this study in. Totally unconnected, but shit who cares?

Dr Ruth Feldman of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel tested oxytocin levels of 80 couples before a child was born and six months afterwards. She found that levels of the feel-good chemical rose in mothers and fathers after the arrival of a child.

‘Feel-good chemical’ is another technical term, keep up.

The chemical affected the parents in different ways.

Banal sentence of the entire article. Congratulations.

Mothers with the highest levels spent much longer gazing at their children, stroking and kissing them and speaking in a “sing song” voice, she found.

i.e. become insufferable to be around.

Dads with the highest levels played more with their child than fathers with the lowest levels.

‘Fathers and mothers contribute in a very specific and different way,’ she told the magazine.

She believes fathers may be ‘biologically programmed’ to help raise children.

This is a very very bizarre statement.

Right so let’s look at the studies the Daily Mail randomly chose to cite and how they arbitrary chose to report them. Sadly this Daily Mail article is a pretty much direct rehash of the New Scientist article it refers to. New ‘Scientist’ Fail.

I’ve been warned before that the New Scientist can be sexist, but this is the first time I’ve come across such a biased and unscientific article.

I have blogged here about the studies looking at early female pubescence and absent fathers when Oliver “bad-parenting-causes-schizophrenia” James tried to peddle his social-conservatism as caring liberal. (In summary; “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that”).

There are a number of social determinants that affect girls becoming sexually active earlier and teen pregnancy. Education, access to information, aspirations, abuse, gender inequality, coercion, poverty – can all play a role and interact with each other.

The two studies referred to directly in the article are by Dr Gabriella Gobbi of McGill University Health Centre and Dr Ruth Feldman of Bar-Ilan Universit, were both unpublished studies from Conference Posters presented at the World Congress of Biological Psychiatry and the Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting, respectively. Dr Gobbi’s: The fatherless brain: Impact of paternal deprivation in Peromyscus californicus on social behaviour and on Oxytocin, NMDA and monaminergic synapses in the prefrontal cortex, poster, WCBP (pdf of programme). Dr Feldman‘s: Maternal and Paternal Bonding in the Postpartum: Hormones, Parenting Behavior, and Mental Representations.

I therefore doubt very much that the article reflects what these researchers will have concluded in their studies. Even if they themselves did make these giant leaps, the work is unpublished and there has not been an opportunity to peer-review.

Reporting ideology rather than science is what the Daily Mail does. Which is why I am more annoyed with the New Scientist for this crappy article. Of course the Mail was going to pick it up and use it as more evidence to espouse its socially conservative and judgmental propaganda. But for a scientific publication to use a study in mice to comment on human social interaction, is willfully ignorant.

Jun 6 2009

How to get your research in the Daily Mail

[From Lolcats]

Many years ago I used to work for a press cuttings agency and would therefore read most of the papers every day. One of the most interesting things about this job was seeing how the same story was retold by different papers through different ideological lens. You didn’t think you were getting unbiased news did you? And if that was what people wanted, they would read AP or PA everyday.

No, news is given to us with the light or heavy spin of political opinion. And research is used to enable this in the mainstream press.

This can be well demonstrated by this story about an interview with Sir Stuart Rose by the Observer (trailing the full interview in their Magazine) and in the Daily Mail. The story is that Sir Stuart Rose gave his personal opinion on women and the ‘glass ceiling’. He is the Chief Executive of Marks & Spencer, one of the biggest retailers in the country, and so we are expected to care what he thinks.

Now the Observer pad this article out by getting reactions from other organisations namely the Fawcett Society and Refuge. Fawcett gives stats on the number of women in senior positions in various sectors and Refuge gives a fairly meaningless quote about changing expectations.

The Daily Mail rehashes this article (rather than the original interview) and adds in it’s own bit of ‘new’ research about female happiness. Couple of interesting points about the Daily Mail piece:

  1. It leaves out key pieces of information
  2. Edits the quotes from Fawcett and Refuge in a way that I think distorts their meaning
  3. And throws in a piece of research on female happiness as a way of directly linking the concept that ‘women have crashed through the glass ceiling’ and ‘women are less happy because of it’.

Key information left out – the Fawcett stats on women in top positions in different sectors.
By leaving this information out the fundamental assertion that Sir Stuart makes goes unchallenged in the Daily Mail article. It would be a sentiment that the Daily Mail would agree with “How can there be gender inequality when we’ve had a female Prime Minister/CEO/fighter pilot” etc. You don’t need a GCSE in statistics to work out the significance of this statement. You don’t even need to have gone to primary school.

‘Interesting’ editing of quotes.
I was at first surprised to see Refuge quoted in this piece, given that I think it is fair to say they are a feminist organisation. That was until I realised the Daily Mail hadn’t included the whole quote given to the Observer:

“There has been a subterranean war between men and women, which has largely been won by women who don’t understand what they’ve lost. The hard-won freedom of choice has imprisoned women. I just see an exhausted generation trying to do it all.

Only the highlighted text made it into the Daily Mail article. For more on judicious misquoting, watch this video. WARNING: Contains Ann Coulter.

But most interesting of all, the Daily Mail leads on a “new study”, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness (pdf), that the Daily Mail says claims women are “less happy nowadays despite 40 years of feminism”. Sigh. I know you can probably guess what is coming but I think it needs to be spelt out for posterity.

Firstly, this is not a new study. In fact the Daily Mail has already covered this piece of research at least FIVE times, the first back in 2007 (see here, here, here, here (all pdfs) and here).

As an aside, notice the picture they use of a WOMAN on a COMPUTER with her back turned on a LITTLE BLOND GIRL. How could she?

Secondly, the study is an attitudinal one and the researchers themselves point to many of the problems with their study design: different data sets, shifting expectations, increased ‘emotional intelligence’. This is not a longitudinal study, this is not a cohort study, this is not a study using the same parameters or methodology for each survey.

What concerns me more is the fact that the study has yet to be peer-reviewed (only being accepted into the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, but not yet published and still no link to their data-set) and yet has obviously been widely press-released and the authors proudly boast their media coverage which includes; The New York Times, CBS News, Financial Times, Guardian, Daily Pennsylvanian and the Western Mail (Wales).

Is this science? The study itself has merit bearing in mind the limitations it points to. Knowledge is a good thing, I don’t think this is a particularly enlightening piece of research but I wouldn’t say it was worthless.

What I do have a problem with is what seems to be the authors’ prioritisation of sensationalised press coverage over academic peer-review. They have for the past 2 years seen the fruits of their labours; wide coverage in the mainstream press and links to stories hinting that perhaps, you know, feminism has gone too far.

The Daily Mail is not particularly pro-women, they are always going to write this kind of guff and find some study or other that will back up their ideological position. Researchers however, should be aghast at the manipulation of their work and should be ashamed of the reactionary articles that reference them rather than proudly linking to them on their website. Unless, this is what passes for academic success these days.

Jan 23 2009

Headlines and ‘dick fingers’

I’ve been ‘encouraged’ to post another blog by a blogger friend with too much time on his hands. But to be fair, he has alerted me to a very interesting link about ‘quotes’ in ‘newspapers’. That is, the quotation marks used in newspaper headlines which completely misrepresent the story and evidence in the piece. Typical headlines being ‘Finally, the scientific proof that ‘women lie about rape” etc.

What is important to understand is that most people only read the headline and first two paragraphs of each article in a newspaper. The facts involved which frequently contradict the headline, are therefore reserved for the final paragraphs.

This is used often about science stories, however, I just found a horrendous example in, guess where? The Daily Mail.

Here again is an issue of ‘facts’ and the Daily Mail’s inability to grasp them. According to an article on their website, a couple of paedophiles were able to abuse children ‘because of human rights legislation’.

This is in fact a story about two paedophiles being rightfully imprisoned for their awful crimes none of which had anything to do with human rights legislation. The prosecuting lawyer then said in passing that if they ever were released (and they had been jailed indefinitely) they should not be allowed to live together but this may be impossible as he believes “that may offend human rights legislation”.

There is then a string of comments to this article from, well, thick Daily Mail readers, talking about repealing the Human Rights Act.

Firstly, this pair has been imprisoned indefinitely. They will only be released when they are no longer a threat to society and if they have severe personality disorders that makes them abuse children, they may never get out.

Secondly, they may not both get out or get out at the same time.

Thirdly, the problem is that they are paedophiles not that they live together.

Fourthly, they are not a risk to each other so it is unclear under what law they could be separated.

Fifthly, the headline is based on the passing comment of one man and has no evidence to back it up.

Sixthly, they are not using the Human Rights Act to overturn a bail condition that they not live together, given that they are both in prison and not getting out.

Some comedian I saw recently called this kind of Daily Mail reaction the ‘What Next’ syndrome, i.e. “Speed cameras? What next, we’re all going to be micro-chipped and an electric current sent through our bodies whenever we near the speed limit?” Answer: No.

“What next, human rights legislation actually encourages paedophiles to abuse children?” Answer: No.

What next, the Daily Mail actually accurately reports a story on science, women, asylum seekers, gays, human rights, or Europe? Answer: No.

NB. Dick fingers: the gesture indicating quotation marks.

Aug 22 2008

Women to blame for own oppression – scientific FACT

More anti-woman propaganda from our friends at the Daily Mail, same story here (“Women are too shy to break through the glass ceiling, says female scientist”). The important word in the Daily Mail’s headline is “says female scientist”. It can’t be sexist or biased because a woman said it! And she’s a scientist! This is a regular trick by the Daily Mail, similar to a comment piece from a few years ago about India being rubbish since the British left – written by an Indian. So not racist at all then?

Despite this basic anti-intellectual point (women can indeed be misogynistic, people of colour can be racist, etc), what about the ‘scientist’ word. Hmmm, not a lot of evidence for that. Shannon Goodson proudly announces that she not only has a bachelors degree, but a Masters too! While still reeling from this academic achievement, I noticed that her Masters was in Organizational Psychology. Now, I’m not one to poo-poo psychology (well, OK I am) but I think it is a stretch to call her a ‘scientist’.

Her notable qualifications have included being a guest on The Dr Pat Show, and presenting her research to “professional associations all over the globe”. Again, the devil is in the detail. Goodson has presented to Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, European Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and both the Southwestern and Southeastern (of the USA) Psychological Associations.

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that this individual is a charlatan, I’m sure she is a very nice human being. Just that her scientific qualifications are limited and her book (non-peer reviewed) is being used to blame women for the structural discrimination they suffer – a point that she should not have been unaware of when writing it.

Psychology is an interesting and controversial discipline, which has historically had an anti-woman streak running through it. It has given us Freud and evolutionary psychology (not to mention the Bell Curve). So we should, at the very least, be demanding of the application of the scientific method when it comes to sweeping statements about half the World’s population.

Again, the book does refer to differences in female achievement between countries and is probably more rigourous than the papers present it. But researchers must be conscious of the way their research will be presented and communicated. This research has been presented in some of the UK press as ‘proof’ that women aren’t cut out for business. Obviously, journalists with their arts degrees are largely to blame, but so are the researchers for the misuse of their research.

Aug 15 2008

Some Gays Have Children, Get Over It

Oh the Daily Mail like nothing more than when the mighty fall. They particularly like it when the individual’s involved fit the characteristics on their hate list of moral crimes. Which is why they are so delighted that Euroderm Research is in liquidation. Because the founders are not only a gay couple, they really flaunt their gayness, in a massively gay way.

Their crimes (and why its wrong)

  • Being homosexuals (well, goes without saying right?)
  • Being in a long term stable relationship (goes against promiscuous stereotype, dammit)
  • Getting married (makes homosexuality normal, they also had an ‘extravagant civil ceremony’ the swines, unlike all the modest, tasteful, unvile weddings that heterosexuals have all the time)
  • Having children (makes it seem like children need loving parents regardless of gender)
  • Being rich (being all of the above AND rich is just, well unfair)
  • Being vulgar (they are new money and they spend it on stuff – ooo the Mail hate that – and have called their children silly names)

The article also makes reference to them “provoking anger” by “posting pictures of their children on a gay dating website”. Sigh. Right, so what’s the story here? They have a profile on Gaydar and were looking for friends and in order to pictorially demonstrate their lives together they include family pictures of them with their kids. What the nasty right-wing want to get across is that gay men are paedophiles, that same-sex couples shouldn’t have children and that children can in some way be hurt by appropriate pictures of them being posted to a site where on other profiles there *may * be an explicit picture of a man. The leap of logic there is too wide for me even to comprehend.

But the vicious myth that gay men are paedophiles lives on, without evidence, without analysis but based purely on homophobia. So let’s look at some of the facts about paedophilia:

  • 1% of children experienced sexual abuse by a parent or carer and another 3% by another relative during childhood. (NSPCC)
  • 11% of children experienced sexual abuse by people known but unrelated to them. 5% of children experienced sexual abuse by an adult stranger or someone they had just met’. (NSPCC)
  • The vast majority of children who are sexually abused are girls (UN)
  • The vast majority of people who sexually abuse children are men. (Royal College of Psychiatrists)

So, does being ‘heterosexual’ make you more prone to paedophilia? Should gay men be encouraged to be parents given that they are less likely to be sexually abusive? I await the Daily Mail’s campaign on that one.

Why is this a feminist issue? Because at root homophobia is sexist, gay men are ‘like women’ therefore wrong and gay women are ‘not proper women’ and therefore wrong. I presume this will be a common theme, I shall expand upon it in future.