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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Imperfect, tractable data is better than subjective life histories

"Paradise is exactly like where you are right now... only much, much better." - Laurie Anderson


On the limitations of data-gathering (on a Gifted Education Branch survey which mainly asks what awards you have won, what competitions you have taken part in, how patents you have registered, what organisations you belong to, etc.:

*many comments about how the survey doesn't measure the GEP's goals "to develop a strong social conscience and commitment to serve society and nation" and "to develop moral values and qualities for responsible leadership"*

A: to be fair though they do have a section for comm service. Also, there is no way for a survey to divine the individual's inner heart so no survey could ever tell [two otherwise identical scholars] apart...

The point of this survey is so that MOE can justify the crapton of taxpayer’s cash that it spent on us. Instead of, y’know, giving it to the poor or using it to build more one-room HDB apartments. In a sense, they’re covering our butts on why we once (wittingly or unwittingly) siphoned off a larger-than-fair share of the nation’s resources.

As a waffly English major and save-the-world type myself, I’m tired of the “it can’t be measured!” battle-cry that some (mostly in humanities, but others too) trot out as defensive apologia for their pursuits. I have sensed that some of these complainants feel as if they were special or felt it demeaning to be held accountable, therefore I eventually moved away from that line of argument so as to disassociate myself from that disingenuous sub-segment.

To me, it is unproductive to be defensive about one’s activities/achievements falling outside the color-blind spectrum of officialdom’s recognition. I’m sure that behind each of the faux self-deprecating comments we make about ourselves lies a life fully lived in unapologetic geeky pursuit of the things that make us come alive. (Some call this quality “integrity”, but they’re just being poetic.)

It is precisely that sort of unapologetic boundary-pushing that we need right now. I point out that there is an "other achievements" box on the survey that you can fill if you value your out-of-the-box "achievements" (define that word as broadly as possible). Yes it’s a small box, but write outside the box if you must, and briefly appreciate the metaphorical aptness as you do so.

In fact, I challenge each of us here to put something true but awesome in their "Other achievements" box for the survey. Something that would stop a reading civil servant in his tracks and force him – maybe, just maybe – to rethink what the hell an “achievement” is. Think of it as a protest ballot (because, hey, when will you ever get to cast one of those, realistically?).

What would each of us put? Some hypothetical ideas:

"Led Saffron Revolution rally on university campus to call for overthrow of Myanmar's military junta after the massacre of Buddhist monks."

"Illegally visited and produced film documentary on AIDS villages in China whose existence the government denies."

“Taught firstborn daughter to share her sweets with younger brother”

“Donated spare kidney to someone have never met before.”

“Convinced 15-year-old nephew not to commit suicide.”

C’mon, what else have we done that won’t fit neatly anywhere else on the survey? I'd like to see some suit have a fit over this.

B: I'd have written back if they'd asked for a (qualitative) retrospective of say 500 words on the program and my honest assessment of its effects. But that wouldn't have been useful for justifying taxpayer spending, and would be too troublesome to carry out, administratively.

Maybe we could draft a letter and get signatures from our batch. Or simply get signatures for [one already sent].

A on MOE's reply to feedback: It looks like they read your letter (well enough to quote bits of it). They do look like they're aware of the limitations of their mechanism and are trying to fill in the (qualitative) gaps.

B: They could totally call for a focus group of GEPpers to reflect and give feedback. That would be great.

C: i agree with A's general arc, but tend to err more on the side of pity for the oft-mocked survey designer, coming from the perspective of understaffed underpaid civil servant tasked to pursue a thankless job - if you have 24 hours in your day, it's much more efficient to sift through a few hundred quantifiable and generally accredited metrics and throw them into a couple of graphs, than to read a few hundred essays and uh, draw any form of trendable conclusion.

if anything, changing the survey to "pls write 500 words about ur life" fundamentally skews the results towards the [thread starter-s] of this world... of course, it is more "fair" to provide both options - but as i mentioned - this whole ballyhooed survey process is probably the product of 1 dude sitting in the "historical academic performance calibration" office, on alternate second mondays of every other month. what's he supposed to do when he looks at your result? feedback to his boss that approximately a dozen geps out of the thousands past are passionate, good at writing, and uh... free? :}

my pessimist view is that few other gep alums have the energy or free time to bother with the survey to begin with, let alone do a out-of-the-box write-in.

This cross-examination rocks

"Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes." - Henry David Thoreau


This is quite a funny cross-examination:

Those payments were love gifts: William Tan

"Dr Chee, a divorcee with three daughters, flatly denied allegations that they had been lovers and insisted that the two had merely had a 'Christian platonic kind of relationship'...

Dr Tan's lawyer, Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim... pointed to e-mail sent by Dr Chee to Dr Tan, which contained terms of endearment such as 'darling' and 'love you always', as evidence of the relationship. Her response: She used similar terms with other friends.

In one e-mail, she talked about living together in a big house 'with grandchildren running around'. Her reply: She was referring to her grandchildren, not theirs.

Another said: 'You are priceless. You deserve everything on earth. You are marvellous. You are my hero.' Her reply: He was indeed admired by many Singaporeans.

Mr Yim asserted that they first became 'intimate' in her office in 2000, and later went to hotels where she footed the bills - which she vehemently denied. He also pointed to a birthday card sent to Dr Tan in 2000, in which her youngest daughter referred to Dr Tan as 'daddy'.

Dr Chee replied that her daughter did so only because she knew Dr Tan could not have children due to his disability and pitied him.

Mr Yim, noting that the girl was then just 10 years old, remarked: 'I have to compliment your daughter for her precocious understanding.'"

In other news, I didn't know William Tan Kian Meng was not a Medical Doctor in 1999.

According to Bright Happy Power™, he was a PhD holder at the time.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Singapore: not the only Kafka-esque country in Southeast Asia

"When a large Thai brokerage polled fund managers about political risk factors in 2010, 42% of respondents chose what the brokerage describes as "a change that cannot be mentioned""

"What if this is it?"

"what if this is it?"

At first I thought this was a Christian banner ad.

In any case, it sounds suitably dodgy, so my initial guess was not too far off.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Links - 18th March 2010

"The human mind treats a new idea the same way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it." - P. B. Medawar


Forehead Tittaes w/ Marion Cotillard (link updated) - "In America, anything is possible. It is the land of opportunity, a place where dreams come true. But women in America must still deal with sexual objectification... French women have known for centuries that to earn a man's respect, you must make him look you in the eyes.
Introducing Forehead Tittaes by Janae: France's best-kept secret. Lab tests prove that Forehead Tittaes actually redirect the male gaze from the chest to the general area of the brain... earns their respect without sacrificing your femininity"

Cocaine users 'making global warming worse' - "We were horrified to learn for every few lines of cocaine snorted in a London club, four square metres of rainforest is destroyed"
This is ridiculous, considering that "For each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rainforest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed"

Professional couch potato wanted: get paid to do nothing and eat more junk food - "It will pay almost £24,000 to a "worker" with a big appetite who is happy to eat 400 extra calories every day in high fat meals such as chips and pizzas, to test the fat binding properties of a weight loss product"

Hot cross buns banned for fear of offence - "Tower Hamlets, Liverpool, York and Wolverhampton have stopped serving them for fear that they could provoke protests from Muslim, Hindu or Jewish students or their parents. It is the first time that councils, rather than individual schools, have taken steps to ensure that hot cross buns are not served to pupils... Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the decisions were “very bizarre”, particularly when Britain was about to go to war. He said that the bans were an attempt to respect religious sensitivities, but it was “taking things a bit too far”. Serving hot cross buns was “not very serious” and was not likely to offend Muslims, Mr Sacranie said. Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP, said: “It’s not as if eating a hot cross bun automatically makes you a born-again Christian.” "
........... This was in the same year (2003) that books with stories about pigs were banned

The lives of the Lehman ladies - "The one woman who rose to the top, Erin Callan, was a beneficiary of a passion Joe Gregory developed, relatively late in the day, at promoting diversity at Lehman. Callan, a Harvard graduate born to a New York cop, was a fighter. But she did herself no favours at Lehman, Ward says, by coming to work in low-cut, short dresses that would have been more suitable to a cocktail party. Callan’s looks were often the subject of morning inter-office e-mails, until she found herself struggling to hold her head above water when the markets started to turn. “Her biggest mistake was to accept a job [chief financial officer] she was not up to,” Ward says. “Joe Gregory had no business in appointing her”"
Maybe Lehman Brothers and Sisters would not have been such a good idea after all.

The Cove, Dolphins, and Mercury - "Mercury poisoning is scary, but it is only one amongst a long and growing list of toxicological concern... if you’re a woman who is or may become pregnant or a child, avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish... avoiding dolphin is best for your neurons. But primary reason to stop the fishery? Perhaps not. It hasn’t shut down swordfish, shark, tilefish, or tuna yet"

Thailand Police Don Smiley Masks: Ha, Ha… Wha? - "“They have to put on a mask because a smile doesn’t come naturally anymore… These past few years that smile has worn thin because we are all angry at each other and willing to show it,” says economist, Ammar Siamwalla. Recently, Abac, a leading polling agency, spent three days questioning more than 2,000 people in the Bangkok area only to discover that on a scale of 1 to 10, people gave Thailand only 5.77 points for being the “Land of Smiles”"

'Gay' police horse case dropped - "Police have stood by their decision to take Sam Brown to court for making "homophobic comments" despite the Crown Prosecution Service dropping the case. Mr Brown, 21, a student at Oxford University, had said to an officer: "Excuse me, do you realise your horse is gay?" Police took the case to court after Mr Brown refused to pay a £80 fine. Mr Brown, who made the comment during a night out with friends in Oxford after his final exams, was arrested under section 5 of the Public Order Act for making homophobic remarks. His remarks were deemed likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress"
Let no one be spared in the battle against bigotry!

Is there a spell to become a mermaid that actually works? - Yahoo! Answers - "Q: Don't say things like "mermaids don't exist" because I take it very seriously and i find it offensive... BTW. I am also a witch
A: Enter a small pond or lake with a mask that allows you to speak similar to ones that divers wear (mermaids can survive in salt or fresh water.) Once you submerge you must begin to chant "let my power surge and fly, through the sea and the sky, take my form and let it be, free to roam the endless sea" Once you said this three times, you should remove your mask. Once removed, deeply inhale the water. At first you will feel like your drowning, this is to be expected. Once your lungs are full of water they will begin to transmute to gills. Be warned, if you surface when this is happening, the process will reverse itself. Best of luck! :D"
Another person: "What you are about to read is absolute truth, and anyone seriously interested in knowing the real answer to a question should never be offended by the truth."

Would more women in Catholic Church reduce abuse? - ""It is clear that, statistically, women abuse much less than men. And in terms of reporting, are much more likely to (report abuse)" ... Janet Smith, chair of life ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit [said] "Women can be Christ-like as well as any man, but we wouldn't choose a woman to play the role of Hamlet, right?" She added that women play a big role in the structure of the Catholic Church, holding 23 percent of the top "power positions" in the United States, 48 percent of the administrative positions and 80 percent of all paid positions. Jones, however, said those statistics were meaningless as long as women cannot be priests. "We have women that are running all sorts of things, but they are not allowed in the most important position of all, which is the priesthood." Smith countered: "I disagree that the priesthood is the most important position in the church. Every human soul has the obligation to seek holiness. And the power that the true Catholic wants is the power to serve as Christ served.""

Man used penis to assault female police officer - "The accused got to his feet and was standing over the police officer exposing his penis and thrusting it in her face, forcing her to take evasive action to avoid getting struck"

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My calibrated scale of tourism destinations

Tim the Great asked me how Macau was (I have finally downloaded the pictures and have started deleting duplicates and renaming them), so I presented a calibrated scale of tourism destinations:

jakarta - 1
god forsaken village at the top of a hill in crete - 2 [Ed: Ethia]
malaysia - 3
hong kong - 4
macau - 5
vilnius - 6
talinn - 7
amsterdam - 8
rome - 9
japan - 10

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chatroulette fun

Chatroulette fun:

"i love this clip
moment i will start to masturbate"

The cost of allowing Men who have Sex with Men to donate blood

"When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package." - John Ruskin


The cost of allowing Men who have Sex with Men to donate blood

In a discussion on blood donation, it was said that excluding Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) from donating blood was not only discriminatory, but a waste of blood.

I said that the relative cost of allowing MSM to donate blood was high, and the relative benefit was low, and was countered with some atrocious calculations ("Out of the 3% gays, maybe 1 % have HIV. Meaning you eliminated 3% of 1% which is 0.03% comtanimated donations. This you call a high benefit ? 0.03% savings ? This is about 12 cents of €413.93. There must be hundreds of other ways to save the 12 cents.")

So, here is a calculation of the economics of banning MSM from donating blood (see below for the link to the Excel, which you can play around with).

(see below for justification of the assumptions, and a discussion of what happens when you change the variables)

In short, although the cost per clean packet of blood only rises from $801.40 to $802.65 if we allow MSM to donate, we know that economics teaches us that what is important is the marginal impact. And here, we see that the cost per additional packet of blood you get is $854.70, which is about a 7% premium. I confess that this is not as much as I expected, but coupled with safety reasons (see below) is provides additional reasons to keep the ban on MSM donating blood.

The calculation above assumes that the screening measures to keep the blood of infected non-MSM out of the system are ineffective (see: The Top 52 Reasons for Not Being Able to Donate Blood). To account for the measures, you can change the value of the "HIV infection rate in population" variable, since in the calculations it really represents the infection rate of the sample of blood donors, rather than the population as a whole, but this doesn't change the qualitative result, and the cost per additional packet from allowing MSM to donate blood doesn't change much anyway.

More importatly, this economic calculation does not take into account safety - there is a window period of 3-6 months during which HIV tests may give a false negative, i.e. saying that a person (or, in this case, blood sample) is clean although the person actually has HIV. This is a consideration because allowing men who have not had sex with men for a year to donate blood (we do the same for those who have visited prostitutes more than a year ago, or have had sex with a MSM more than a year ago) would not be acceptable to those who campaign for the ban on MSM blood donation to be lifted, since this would still discriminate against sexually active gay men (i.e. the vast majority of them).


1) The cost per unit of blood donated is $800 (Kanavos, Yfantopoulos, Vandoros and Politis conservatively estimated that a unit of blood transfused cost between €294.83 and €413.93)
2) We have 10,000 blood donors (a priori assumption)
3) The sex ratio of blood donors is even (Different studies reported different things, but varying the sex ratio doesn't change the results for the cost of allowing MSM to donate blood, though it does affect the number of additional packets you will get. More importantly, I was lazy to change the ratio after doing my reporting)
4) 5% of males are MSM (this is a rough median of various figures I found; again, the relative cost does not change when this variable is changed, though the number of additional packets does)
5) The HIV infection rate in the population is 0.2% and 6.7% in the MSM population; the US population is 300 million, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's March 2010 newsletter reports that "MSM account for nearly half of the more than one million people living with HIV in the U.S. (48%, or an estimated 532,000 total persons)". Tweaking the variables gives similar results to the results reported earlier.

If you want to play with the variables (or check my formulae), you can download the Excel.

Sexism in Singapore Law - "Slander of women"

Section 509 of the Penal Code (Word or gesture intended to insult the modesty of a woman) is bad enough, but someone draws my attention to Section 4 of the Defamation Act:

"Slander of women.
4. Words spoken and published which impute unchastity or adultery to any woman or girl shall not require special damage to render them actionable."

Well done.

The Unbearable Accuracy of Stereotypes

"To knock a thing down, especially if it is cocked at an arrogant angle, is a deep delight of the blood." - George Santayana


Strongly supporting my observation that "stereotypes persist and endure because they are often true":

"The tacit equation is, if stereotypes are associated with social wrongs, they must be factually wrong. However, the accuracy of stereotypes is an empirical question, not an ideological one. For those of us who care deeply about stereotypes, prejudice, and social harmony, getting to the truth of these collective cognitions should guide inquiry about them.

Unfortunately, this has not always been our experience. Because of his inquiries into stereotype accuracy, the first author has been accused by prominent social psychologists of purseying “nonsense,” of living “in a world where stereotypes are all accurate and no one ever relies on them anyway,” of calling for research with titles like “Are Jews really cheap?” and “Are Blacks really lazy?,” of disagreeing with civil rights laws, and of providing intellectual cover for bigots...

To argue for the need to take seriously the possibility that sometimes, some aspects of some stereotypes may have some degree of accuracy, therefore, is to risk making claims that are unbearable to some social scientists. However, science is about validity, not “bearability.” It is about logic and evidence...

No social scientist has ever explicitly claimed that all beliefs about all groups are inaccurate. Thus, toppling the assertion that all stereotypes are inaccurate might appear to be refuting a straw assertion. Unfortunately, however, this straw assertion, even if it is merely an implicit rather than explicit assertion, appears to have an ardent scientific following. For decades, stereotypes were predominantly defined as inaccurate, with virtually no evidence demonstrating inaccuracy. Furthermore, among those who define stereotypes as inaccurate, statements regarding what sort of beliefs about groups are accurate (and, therefore, not stereotypes, almost never appear... Accurate beliefs about groups, therefore, appeared to be an empty set.

Furthermore, in their empirical studies, the social sciences have considered people’s beliefs about almost any attribute (personality, behavior, attitudes, criminality, competence, demographics) regarding almost any type of group (in addition to race, sex, class, occupation, dorm residence, sorority membership, college major, and many more to he a stereotype. It seems, then, that for all practical purposes, the social sciences consider any and all claims and beliefs about groups to be stereotypes...

So little of the stereotype research has assessed the accuracy of the beliefs under investigation...

[We can't define stereotypes as inaccurate beliefs about groups since] almost [no social psychology "research purportedly addressing sereotypes"] has empirically established that the beliefs about groups being studied are in fact erroneous. There would be nothing left—no studies of the role of “stereotypes’ in expectancy effects, self-fulfilling prophecies, person perception, subtyping, memory, and so on. Poof! We would have to throw out the baby, the bathwater, the tub, the bathroom, and indeed tear down the entire scientific and empirical house in which all our current understanding of "stereotypes" exists...

Fortunately, many modern definitions of stereotypes do not define stereotypes as inherently inaccurate, and are instead agnostic in terms of stereotype accuracy. One of the simplest of these definitions, and the one we use throughout this chapter, was provided by Ashmore and Del Boca (198l) who stated that 'a stereotype is a set of beliefs about the personal attributes of a social group' (p. 21). Stereotypes, as defined by Ashmore and Del Boca, may or may not be accurate and rational, widely shared, conscious, rigid, exaggerations of group differences, positive or negative, or based on essentialist or biological rationales. Stereotypes may or may not be the cause or the effect of prejudice, or the cause of biases and self-fulfilling prophecies...

Stereotype accuracy issues occur, therefore, at two different levels of analysis. each captured by a different question. First, how accurate are people's beliefs about groups? Just as a person might not accurately remember how many games Roger Clemens won in 2010 (inaccuracy in person perception) and still remember that the Yankees won the World Series that year (accurate belief about Clemens’s group), inappropriate application of a stereotype does not mean that the stereotype is itself inaccurate. A person may correctly know that, on average, women earn about 70% of what men earn, but have no accurate knowledge whatsoever about how much Nancy earns.

Second, does people’s use or disuse of stereotypes in judging individuals increase or reduce the accuracy with which they perceive differences between small groups of individuals with whom they have personally come into contact? This is the accuracy version of the “stereotypes and person perception" question. Do, for example, general stereotypes of male superiority in athletics lead the coach of a soccer team to erroneously view the particular boys on the team as better than the particular girls on the team, when they really have equal skill?...

How much correspondence [between stereotypes and reality] should be considered “accurate”?... we adocate holding people to a high standard—the same standards to which social scientists hold themselves.

J. Cohen (1988), in his classic statistical treatise imploring social scientists to examine the size of the effects they obtained in their studies and not just the “statistical significance” of the results, suggested that effect sizes above .8 could be considered "large.” Such an effect size translates into a correlation of about .4... By this standard, correlations of .4 and higher could be considered accurate because they represent a “large” correspondence between stereotype and reality.

This standard has been supported by two recent studies that have examined the typical effect sizes found in clinical and social psychological research. One recent review of more than 300 meta—analyses - which included more than 25,000 studies and over 8 million human participants — found that mean and median effect sizes in social psychological research were both about .2 (Richard et al., 2003). Only 24% of social psychological effects exceeded .3. A similar pattern has been found for the phenomena studied by clinical psychologists (Hemphill. 2003). Psychological research rarely obtains effect sizes exceeding correlations of 3. Effect sizes of .4 and higher, therefore, constitute a strong standard for accuracy. Last, according to Rosenthal’s (1991) binomial effect size display, a correlation of at least .4 roughly translates into people being right at least 70% of the time. This means they are right more than twice as often as they are wrong. That seems like an appropriate cutoff for considering a stereotype reasonably accurate...

Consensual stereotype discrepancies are a mix of accurate and inaccurate beliefs. Nonetheless, most judgments were either accurate or near misses. Only a minority were more than 20% off...people’s consensual stereotype discrepancies for between group differences are consistently more accurate than are their consensual stereotype discrepancies for characteristics within groups... these results provide little support for the idea that stereotypes typically exaggerate real differences. Exaggeration occurred, but it occurred no more often than did underestimation... the extent to which people’s stereotypes corresponded with reality was strikingly high. Consensual stereotype accuracy correlations ranged from .53 to .93. Personal stereotype accuracy correlations were somewhat lower, but still quite high by any standard, ranging from .36 to .69... [For gender stereotypes] results are broadly consistent with those for ethnic and racial stereotypes...

Addendum: Although most of the studies only assessed the accuracy of undergraduates' stereotypes, several assessed the accuracy of samples of adults. Some of the highest levels of accuracy occured with these adult samples, suggesting that the levels of accuracy obtained do not represent some artifact resulting from the disproportionate study of undergraduate samples...

The studies examined a wide range of stereotypes: beliefs about demographic characteristics, academic achievement, and personality and behavior. The consistency of the results across studies, therefore, does not reflect some artifact resulting from the study of a particular type of stereotype...

Despite the impressive and surprising evidence of the accuracy of stereotypes, there is some consistent evidence of inaccuracy in stereotypes. In the United States, political stereotypes tend to have little accuracy (e.g.. Judd & Park. 1993). Many people in the United States seem to have little knowledge or understanding of the beliefs, attitudes, and policy positions of Democrats and Republicans.

A recent large-scale study conducted in scores of countries found that there is also little evidence of accuracy in national stereotypes regarding personality... somewhat more surprising is that people from cultures with a great deal of contact (various Western European countries: Britain and the United States) also have highly inaccurate beliefs about one another’s personality characteristics...

What happens when people rely on a largely accurate stereotype to judge an individual? Given that the prior section demonstrated moderate to high accuracy in many stereotype beliefs, this becomes a pressing question. It turns out that there are some conditions under which relying on an accurate stereotype can increase accuracy in judging an individual...

Consider stereotypes of peace activists and al-Qaeda members. You hear the same thing about an individual from each group: They have “attacked” the United States. Should you interpret this to mean that they engaged in identical behaviors. Not likely. The attack perpetrated by the peace activist is most likely a verbal “attack” on U.S. war policies; the al Qaeda attack is probably something far more lethal.

The same principles hold regardless of whether the stereotypes inolve groups for whom stereotypes are deemed acceptable (e.g.. peace activists or al Qaeda or groups for whom stereotypes are deemed socially unacceptable (e.g. genders, nationalities, races, social classes, religions, ethnicities, etc.). For example, if we learn both Bob and Barb are regarded as “tall,” should we conclude that they are exactly equal in height? Of course not. Undoubtedly. Bob is tall for a man, and Barb is tall for a woman, and, because men are, on average, taller than women, tall means different objective heights for men and women...

What about judgments about more socially charged attributes, such as intelligence, motivation, assertiveness, social skill, hostility, and so on? The same principles apply. If the stereotype is accurate and one only has a small bit of ambiguous information about an individual, using the stereotype as a basis for judging the person will likely enhance accuracy. For the statistically inclined, this is a very basic application of Bayes’s theorem and principles of regression. Let's assume for a moment that 30% of motorcycle gang members are arrested for violent behavior at some point in their lives, and 0.3% of ballerinas are arrested for violent behavior at some point in their lives. People who know this are being completely reasonable and rational if, on dark streets or at lonely train stations, they avoid the bikers more than ballerinas, in the absence of much other individuating information about them.

In all of these cases, the stereotype “biases” the subsequent judgments. At least, that is how such influences have nearly always been interpreted in empirical social psychological research on stereotypes. It is probably more appropriate, however, to characterise such phenomena as stereotypes "influencing” or “informing” judgments. Such effects mean that people are appropriately using their knowledge about groups to reach as informed a judgment as possible under difficult and information-poor circumstances. If their knowledge is reasonably accurate, relying on the stereotype will usually increase, rather than decrease, the accuracy of those judgments (see also Jussim, 1991, 2005).

If you are given absolutely no information, and are asked to predict today’s high temperature in Anchorage and New York, what should you do? If you know anything about the climate in the two cities, you will predict that it will be warmer in New York. Indeed, you should predict this every time you are asked to do so. Would this mean your beliefs about climate are somehow irrationally and rigidly resistant to change? Ot course not...

People should primarily use individuating information, when it is available, rather than stereotypes when judging others. Do they? This area of research has been highly controversial...

Fortunately, literally hundreds of studies have now been performed that address this issue, and, even more fortunately, multiple meta-analyses have been performed summarizing their results...

The effects of stereotypes on person judgments, averaged over hundreds of experiments, range from 0 to .25. The simple arithmetic mean of the effect sizes is .10, which is an overestimate...

How small is an effect of r = .10? It is small according to J. Cohen’s (1988) heuristic categorization of effect sizes. It is among the smallest effects found in social psychology (Richard et al.. 2003). An overall effect of .10 means that expectancies substantially influence social perceptions about 5% of the time. This means that stereotypes do not influence perceptions 95% of the time...

There is always the possibility that researchers have not searched in the right places or in the right way for powerful stereotype biases in person perception. At minimum, however, the burden of proof for the existence of widespread, powerful stereotype biases in person perception has shifted to those emphasizing such powerful biases...

People seem to be generally doing the right thing—relying on individuating information far more than stereotypes...

Madon et al. (1998) examined the accuracy of seventh-grade teachers’ perceptions of their students’ performance, talent, and effort at math... teachers were mostly accurate. The correlation between teachers’ perceived group differences and actual group differences was r = .71. The teachers’ perceptions of sex differences in effort, however, were highly inaccurate—they believed girls exerted more effort than boys, but there was no sex difference in self—reported motivation and effort. When this outlier was removed, the correlation between perceived and actual group differences increased to r = .96.

We are aware of only two other studies that have addressed whether people systematically and unjustifiably favor or disparage individuals belonging to certain groups. Both yielded evidence of accuracy accompanied by small bias...

The utility of an accurate stereotype was also demonstrated by Brodt and Ross (1998). College students made predictions about the behaviors and preferences of other college students who lived in one of two dormitories. The students in the "preppie" dorm were widely seen as politically conservative, wealthy, and conventional. The students in the “hippie” dorm were widely seen as politically left wing with unconventional practices and preferences. Perceivers (other students who did not live in either dorm) viewed photographs of individual targets, were informed of each target’s dorm, and then made predictions about each target’s behaviors and attitudes. Perceivers’ predictions were then compared to the targets self-reports on these same preferences and attitudes.

When perceivers predicted targets to be consistent with their dorm (for a preppie dorm resident to have preppie attributes or for a hippie dorm resident to have hippie attributes), 66% of their predictions were correct (they matched the targets self-reports). When perceivers jettisoned their dorm stereotypes, and predicted targets to be inconsistent with their dorm, 43% of their predictions were correct. Relying on the preppie—hippie dorm stereotypes enhanced the accuracy of person perception predictions...

Ethnic and Gender Stereotypes Are More Valid Than Most Social Psychological Hypotheses...

First, the accuracy of two of the other major types of stereotypes—religion and social class—have, as far as we know, never been examined. Although we can think of no reason why patterns of accuracy should differ for these types of groups. we will never know until the research is actually conducted.

Second, the existing research has overwhelmingly examined the stereotypes held by college students, largely because those samples are convenient. Is this important? Maybe. Suggesting it may not be that important has been the research by McCauley and colleagues, and by Clahaugh and Morling (2004) showing that the accuracy of noncollege groups is nearly identical to that of college students. Nonetheless, more research with noncollege samples is needed...

Fourth, most of the research on stereotype accuracy to date has been conducted in the United States and Canada. Perhaps stereotypes in other countries are less (or more) accurate...

People are better at judging differences between groups, and at judging the rank order of attributes within a group, than they are at judging the exact level of particular attributes within a group... [people] either consistently over- or underestimate the level of an attribute in a group...

[Ed: This is the same reason we use ordinal, not cardinal, utility]

On average, personal stereotypes corresponded well with groups’ attributes (i.e., individual beliefs about groups correlated moderately to highly with criteria). Nonetheless, some personal stereotypes were highly inaccurate. Nearly all of the studies reporting personal stereotype accuracy correlations found at least some people with very low—near zero—correlations...

Ideology/motivated egalitarianism/universalism (which, despite the intended benevolence of an egalitarian ideology, seems to lead people to hold less accurate stereotypes - Wolsko et al., 2000). Despite the existing evidence showing only weak relations between prejudice and stereotyping (Park & Judd. 2005), perhaps under the right (or wrong) conditions, deeply held prejudices and hostilities can sometimes lead to highly distorted stereotypes...

Education and mass communication levels are so high in the United States and Canada, where most of the stereotype accuracy research has been conducted, that, perhaps, in general, people are more exposed to social reality in these places (and, probably, in other Western democracies) than in many other places around the world. Perhaps poverty and ignorance help breed stronger inaccurate stereotypes. Perhaps the propaganda of demagogues in authoritarian regimes helps perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes...

Stereotypes can be accurate. Some scholars and lay people resist this conclusion, believing that crediting any accuracy to stereotypes is tantamount to endorsing prejudice. We argue that the opposite is more likely true—that acknowledging the accuracy of some stereotypes provides the episiemological clarity needed to more effectively address prejudice and bigotry, and to more effectively investigate the nature, causes, and moderators of stereotypes.

Not all stereotypes are accurate, and those that are inaccurate may be the most damaging. A special and important case is that of manufactured stereotypes, which are intentionally designed to despoil the reputation of particular social groups... [like] the perpetual stereotype of Jews as seeking world domination...

Whereas Jews do not seek world domination, it is not always absurd to believe that certain groups seek domination over, if not quite thc world, at least large parts of it (consider. e.g., Rome. Nazis, Communists, Imperial Japan, the Mongolian Khans, and, possibly, some modern Islamic extremists, etc.). Without standards and methods for assessing (in)accuracy, it becomes impossible to reliably sort out valid from bogus beliefs...

Stereotypes are not static phenomenon, but shift with circumstance, policy, social contact, and other forces. To what degree do stereotypes map these changes? How responsive are the to social shifts, or to targeted interventions? Why do some stereotypes shift rapidly and others remain entrenched? Perhaps not surprisingly, if one makes the common assumption that stereotypes are inaccurate, and answers these questions by assumption, one is not likely to even consider such questions, let alone provide answers to them...

In sum, accepting that stereotypes can sometimes be accurate provides the means to distinguish innocent errors from motivated bigotry, assess the efficacy of efforts to correct inaccurate stereotypes, and reach a more coherent scientific understanding of stereotypes. We believe that this proposition can advance the depth, scope, and validity of scientific research on stereotypes, and thereby help improve intergroup relations."

--- The Unbearable Accuracy of Stereotypes in Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination / Lee Jussim, Thomas R. Cain, Jarret T. Crawford, Kent Harber, Florette Cohen

In summary:

- Stereotypes are mostly accurate, regardless of how you measure accuracy
- Stereotypes are accurate regardless of who holds them
- Many types of stereotypes are accurate
- Stereotypes aren't usually exaggerated and don't usually lead to exaggeration
- The stereotypes most people believe are the most accurate

- People start with stereotypes but as they get more information about an individual they abandon the stereotypes and use the more-relevant individuating information in evaluating the individual

Addendum: Truth, lies and stereotypes: when scientists ignore evidence

"Typically, when people have clear, definitive, relevant information, they rely on that information almost exclusively. Indeed, reliance on personal characteristics, rather than stereotypes, is up there with stereotype accuracy as one of the largest and most replicable effects in social psychology. Some 20 years ago, when social psychologist Ziva Kunda and philosopher Paul Thagard tabulated all the studies they could find that addressed this issue, they concluded effects of unique, personal characteristics on judgments were massive. The effects of stereotypes in such situations are small to nonexistent. On the other hand, when personal information is absent, or ambiguous, people do rely on their stereotypes, although even in these situations, stereotype biases are not very large"

Monday, March 15, 2010

Links - 15th March 2010

"The capacity of human beings to bore one another seems to be vastly greater than that of any other animal." - H. L. Mencken


School cancels prom over fear of lesbians

Cute animals are just as delicious as ugly ones - "It is Canada’s annual seal cull again, and the animal rights protesters are preparing their traditional response. Yet they are strangely silent about the rat genocide in South Georgia, where millions of non-indigenous rodents will be killed over the next five years. If you prick a rat, does it not bleed? The EU has banned the import of seal produce, much to the fury of some Canadians. Why ban seal skins and not fur? How can the home of foie gras and veal crates complain about smoked seal loin? Our relationship with animals and food in this era of plenty is riven with hypocrisy. There are only two intellectually coherent positions on meat — extreme veganism or enthusiastic carnivorism. But the middle position seems to dominate popular thought; a mishmash of sentiment and wishful thinking. It’s the cute-arianism position — I’ll eat meat, but only from animals that don’t make me go aah"
One comment: "If we human beings did not produce our food in a factory like manner, a substantial portion of us would be dead"
Addendum: Withthe Times firewall, here's a mirror in The Australian

Dutch nurses: Care does not include sex - "A union representing Dutch nurses will launch a national campaign Friday against demands for sexual services by patients who claim it should be part of their standard care"

Avoidr - "Avoidr uses Foursquare to check where your not-friends are so you can avoid them."

Get your chatroulette on - A study on chatroulette: "I broke these 90 people into 3 categories: boys, girls, and perverts... There were 71% guys, 15% girls, and 14% - in the middle of the workday, mind you - were perverts... I was nexted by 19 out of 20 people, in an average time of 2.9 seconds. One out of 20 actually talked to me... At first I took it personally, but then after I got comfortable nexting people, I realised I would definitely next me too I really only pause on pretty girls. So for the next phase of my study, I called my friend Genevieve, who is a really pretty girl... 9/10 people talked to Genevieve, for a minimum of 2 minutes or until she nexted them. It was really amazing. Most everyone was nice to her... This really hot Icelandic girl offered to show her boobs... Then to conclude the study, I joined Genevieve. 'Everybody's nexting us now'"

Freud, Fraud and Sexual Health - "Freud supported his conclusions with only six full case studies. Some of the patients were not even his... Freud did not, in fact, produce dramatic cures in these cases... 'Professor Crews argues that Freud devised a self-validating method of inquiry, deluded himself about his patients' illnesses, and failed to cure them. He founded a doctrinaire movement that has excommunicated dissenters while trying to evade empirical scrutiny'"

Sigmund Freud-- January 6, 1999 - "Freud used rules of interpretation that were much too lax and circular. I'll give you an example. He had concepts at his disposal such as resistance and denial and reaction formation, and these concepts enabled him to take a statement by a patient that seemed to contradict his theories and simply to appropriate it as a corroboration of his theories. Well, if you play by these rules, obviously, you can prove anything any time... he misrepresented the outcome of the majority of his cases... when he spoke to the general public about psychoanalysis, he called it successful in the most triumphant terms. And now that we have many more of his letters and private papers to look at, we can see that he never believed that himself. He was simply lying... People who feel resentful of science found that psychoanalysis was a kind of rival science that they could understand, and it stood against all of this arid materialism. Psychoanalysis gave us a kind of secular church in which people who had lost their religious faith could still have a confessional, could still believe in original sin, namely, infantile sexuality, and could feel superior to other people because they had a deeper, darker insight"

dhamma musings: So Can Killing Sometimes Be Justified? - "Q: What will be or would be the kammic consequences of killing a bet bug or some other insect?
A: Why not try metta (loving-kindness) meditation to protect yourself and them at the same time? Metta should be the first approach and killing the absolute last. It is said that no insects ever trouble the Buddha because of his strong metta, which is gentle yet commanding of respect. When I was on a tropical island known for its huge mosquitoes for three months, I did not get bitten once, while most of others did. I did practise metta then.
[For termites and killer wasps which enter your home and threat you and your family] you can send thoughts of loving-kindness to the insects and persuade them to leave. It does work. I have tried it for a few hundred insect ‘invaders’ myself. For termites, I suggest removal of the affected parts of the house or even the insects one by one. Let’s all practise Metta harder. Time for less rationalization for killing and more practice to avoid killing."

Human-Animal Relationship of Owners of Normal and Overweight Cats -- Kienzle and Bergler 136 (7): 1947S -- Journal of Nutrition - "It was not possible to achieve a similar distribution of gender, because the majority of cat owners were females... Thirty percent of owners of overweight cats compared with 12% of owners of normal cats stated that they did not feel very happy prior to acquiring a cat, and the cat was intended to console and encourage them. These results are suggestive of 1) a closer relationship between overweight cats and their owners than between normal cats and their owners, 2) more over-humanization of overweight cats than of normal cats, 3) a potential role of overweight cats as a substitute for human companions... Playing with the cat appears to be an effective counterbalance against overweight... When asked how the owners perceived the body condition of their cats, only a small percentage readily indicated that their cat was overweight. The majority preferred euphemisms like a little bit too big, or did not perceive or admit anything extraordinary about the weight of their cat."

MAS: Financial Database - Exchange Rates
SGD-Foreign currency exchange rates for 23 currencies (Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Yearly)

How Real are the Defects in Toyota's Cars? - "Consumer advocates... were all too happy to imply that Toyota didn't care how many people it killed as long as they made a profit... In the original Sudden Acceleration Incident craze that afflicted America in the late eighties, the National Highway Safety Transportation Administration eventually ruled that the problem was "pedal misapplication", aka stepping on the gas when you meant to step on the brake. These incidents were highly correlated with three things: being elderly, being short, and parking (or leaving a parking space)... the age distribution really is extremely skewed. The overwhelming majority are over 55... Here's what else you notice: a slight majority of the incidents involved someone either parking, pulling out of a parking space, in stop and go traffic, at a light or stop sign . . . in other words, probably starting up from a complete stop... Obviously, most people are going to err on the side of believing that the car was at fault, rather than a beloved relative"

Something to be said for Japan's gray zone - "Why does Japan so often smudge the good/evil divide? Typical Japanese sentiment seems to accept the shadier parts of our psyche, reminding me of Jung's many admonishments against suppressing the shadow side... I have to be careful on the train in Japan, glancing down at a stranger's newspaper. I could easily glimpse a nude schoolgirl or other offensive photo, propped open on the lap of an innocent-looking salaryman sitting right in between a dozing grandmother and a pregnant mother. I have learned not to judge this salaryman. In the West, certain things are labeled "wrong"; in Japan, it's not so clear. Perhaps Japan's wide swath of gray proves more honest and practical than a clear-cut avowal of wrong and right"

Excuse me... she's a model? - "I WAS livid when I read about Jack Neo's affair. I don't know him or his wife personally, nor do I have any opinions about his dalliances. But, please, can we not call his mistress, Wendy Chong, a "model"? Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but mine could not behold any in the published photos of this "freelance model"... When it comes to mistresses, Jack's tastes mirror his movies: Heartland. Wendy and her deluded sisterhood of "freelance models" are one of the reasons that the Singapore modelling industry is in the doldrums... The only "model" who should be worried is Ris Low, because someone else is now poised to take over those 15 minutes of fame - or should it be shame?"

Plus c'est la meme chose

"Donc, tant que cela ne sera pas fait, il n’y a aucun signe à espérer, le reste c’est du vent, hein."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Gender differences in liking for Horseriding

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards." - Robert Heinlein


On why more girls than boys like riding:

"There is one striking exception to the second law of animal appeal and that concerns the horse. The response to this animal is unusual in two ways. When analysed against increase in age of children, it shows a smooth rise in popularity followed by an equally smooth fall. The peak coincides with the onset of puberty. When analysed against the different sexes, it emerges that it is three times as popular with girls as with boys. No other animal love shows anything approaching this sex difference. Clearly there is something unusual about the response to the horse and it requires separate consideration.

The unique feature of the horse in the present context is that it is something to be mounted and ridden. This applies to none of the other top ten animals. If we couple this observation with the facts that its popularity peak coincides with puberty and that there is a strong sexual difference in its appeal, we are forced to the conclusion that the response to the horse must involve a strong sexual element. If a symbolic equation is being made between mounting a horse and sexual mounting, then it is perhaps surprising that the animal has a greater appeal for girls. But the horse is a powerful, muscular and dominant animal and is therefore more suited to the male role. Viewed objectively, the act of horse-riding consists of a long series of rhythmic movements with the legs wide apart and in close contact with the body of the animal. Its appeal for girls appears to result from the combination of its masculinity and the nature of the posture and actions performed on its back. It must be stressed here that we are dealing with the child population as a whole. One child in every eleven preferred the horse to all other animals. Only a small fraction of this percentage would ever actually own a pony or a horse. Those that do, quickly learn the many more, varied rewards that go with this activity. If, as a result, they become addicted to horse-riding, this is not, of course, necessarily significant in the context we have been discussing.)

It remains to explain the fall in popularity of the horse following puberty. With increasing sexual development, it might be expected to show further increases in popularity, rather than a decrease. The answer can be found by comparing the graph for horse love with the curve for sex play in children. They match one another remarkably well. It would seem that, with the growth of sexual awareness, and the characteristic sense of privacy that comes to surround teenage sexual feelings, the response to the horse declines along with the decline in overt sex-play 'romping'. It is significant here that the appeal of monkeys also suffers a decline at this point. Many monkeys have particularly obtrusive sexual organs, including large, pink, sexual swellings. For the younger child these have no significance and the monkeys' other powerful anthropomorphic features can operate unhindered. But for older children the conspicuous genitals become a source of embarrassment and the popularity of these animals suffers as a consequence."

--- The Naked Ape / Desmond Morris

This doesn't seem very convincing, but it's amusing anyway.

Another theory put forward to me today was that girls like ponies, while boys want to be knights.

But since the weapons are taken away, horses lose their appeal to boys.

Is Homophobia The Same As Racism-Sexism?

"No man ever listened himself out of a job." - Calvin Coolidge


Is Homophobia The Same As Racism-Sexism By George Yancey

"In the world of academia there is a big push to see all discrimination problems as exactly the same. Intellectually that does not make sense...

There is a church in Chicago that is 40% white, 30% black, and 30% Hispanic... One day a group of protesters appeared, because they were going to have a speaker who was going to talk about homosexuality as being sinful. The protesters chanted, “Racist, Sexist, Anti-Gay, Born-again Bigots go away.” I wonder how many of those protesters have organizations that are 40% white, 30% black and 30% Hispanic...

How many of you know that if you are walking down the street and a car is driving past you at 30 miles per hour, as the people in the car lock their door you can hear the doors locking? I know that because I hear it all the time...

I do not think that white women really understand this. I love my wife, Sherelyn. We have been together almost six years. I have heard from her some of her issues of gender. None of them make me think that any of her issues include people fearing her. People fear me. They fear me without even knowing me. That is something I have to overcome. Just because you understand sexism does not mean that you understand racism. Women and people of color have different issues...

Now I can choose to hide things from you that might devalue your opinion of me. I am a fan of the San Diego Chargers. I don’t have to share that with you. I can simply watch them lose again and no one has to know that I support a team that went 1-15 last year! This is much different from being devalued because you are black. If I do not want to be teased for being a fan of the worst football team in America I can hide that fact. But there is no hiding my heritage—it is in my skin...

People do stereotype gays and lesbians, but they have the freedom to hide that fact...

On the average, homosexual persons make more money than heterosexuals do. Most, if not all, of the studies on this topic confirm that fact.

When the first movement toward gay rights developed, one issue talked about was whether there should be affirmative action for gays and lesbians. The homosexual lobby has pulled back from this issue because how can you argue for affirmative action when your group is making more money than the average?...

Race and gender are innate, while homosexuality has some degree of volition involved...

I see homosexual acts as sins just as anger is sin. Some people will never lose their temper. Others often blow up in anger. They likely have a stronger genetic predisposition to anger than others do. Does this relieve them of the responsibility of controlling their temper? No, but we cannot expect them to act like those without this predisposition...

One of the problems I have with the argument that homosexuality is determined by genetics is this: I know that as a sociologist sexual attraction is to some degree shaped by society...

Is it a big a leap to think that if we are influenced by social norms as to who heterosexuals find physically attractive, we are also led to believe that some people of the same sex are also attractive. It amazes me that some of the same sociologists who rightly point out how society influences our desires for the opposite sex, also argue that biology completely determines whether we are attracted to the same sex...

I have yet to hear a good genetic determinist argument explaining how people can be bisexual...

Unfortunately much of the scientific work in “gay studies” is not open to divergent views. Arguments like mine do not often get published"
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