Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nurturing gender differences

Supposedly men are naturally better at spatial reasoning than women are.  However, someone recently conducted a study comparing the spatial reasoning skills of men and women raised in patrilineal vs. matrilineal societies, and found that women in the patrilineal society were less-good at solving a shape puzzle than men were.  The women raised and educated in a matrilineal society solved the puzzle at the same speed that men from their society did.

I have a few concerns about the experiment.   For example, the patrilineal* society compared against the matrilineal* society is described as simply educating their men for more years than they do their women.  I wonder how the results would shake out if the patriarchy's women benefitted from the same education as their men did.

There's a pretty good example of a patrilineal society where women are educated in roughly the same way men are: American/Western schools educate men and women in the same classrooms, and for the same number of years.  In some ways, American education benefits women more than men, yet we still see a differential between men and women in the spatial-reasoning skill.  What was that?  Did somebody say stereotype threat?

Taking all of this together, I think the conclusion is that living/being educated in a patrilineal society negatively affects the spatial reasoning skills of women.  Unfortunately, there are no matriarchies where we could test the effect of patriarchy itself, which I'd find a lot more interesting than the effect of lineage patterns.  The article linked above from The Scientist simply substitutes -lineal for -archal, which I think is rather dishonest (and not something I'd expect from the publication, which I like quite a lot).

*These terms refer to whether family relationships are defined through mothers or fathers.  If children are named with their father's names, it's a patrilineal society.  It may seem like a non-sequitur of a variable to test across, but whichever pattern of lineage a society follows can predict some things about power and family structure.  

Brave New Food

It seems obvious to me that in-vitro meat is a more-ethical way to build a burger.  Lots of people are working on making a commercially-viable system for in-vitro meat.  I have a really really hard time believing that the huge amount of resources needed to maintain tissue culture could ever compare favorably with cows cycling the energy from grass into meat that other animals can eat.  As it turns out, in-vitro muscle tissue needs to be "exercised" to avoid atrophy.  This presents a huge problem for those wishing to culture the tissue.  Instead of letting a cow's native metabolism exercise the muscle, we have to provide that energy.

I'm also perplexed by common attitudes toward cultured meat or protein products.  In fact, I would suggest you try Quorn, a mycoprotein chicken substitute, before it loses its commercial viability.  A few years ago, on  short-lived sitcom Better off Ted, the company that all the characters work for developed an in-vitro steak, which turned out not to be delicious and beefy, but to taste of "despair."  It was implied that such an artificial process for creating a steak would have to be depressing.  I would agree that it's "soulless," but here that's only a good thing.  There aren't any potential animal souls harmed in the making of this dinner.

But if the energy demands of the process can be surmounted, I'd really love to see something like this at my supermarket.  Also, I'm sure investigating the ins and outs of growing actual tissues in vitro will advance the technology for creating replacement organs or tissues for humans who need them.

And because I was apparently the only person who really dug Better off Ted, I'm going include a few of the awesome advertisements for the fictional corporation Veridian Dynamics.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our moral failure

You sometimes have to wonder what currently-accepted practice will be looked back on with horror by future generations.  I've read a lot of people who think it will be the way that we treat animals, but I think the more likely and obvious one is how we treat our prisoners.  We give their labor to giant corporations, keep them in unsafe conditions, and aren't selective enough about who ends up in the system.

  No one wants to extradite criminals to our courts because of our capital punishment habits.  Getting our criminals back after they flee is a lot harder than it needs to be, and I don't think our error-prone death penalty is worth that trouble.

It's almost impossible to envision the moral innovations of the future, and "how we treat our prisoners" may soon sound like, "how we treat our slaves."  To modern ears,  the "treatment" is trumped by the horror of "our slaves."  I'd like to believe that someone can come up with something more useful and less expensive, traumatic, or inhumane than prisons.  Imprisoning people for their crimes is hardly an ideal way of reacting to socially-maladaptive behavior.  But who knows, maybe there's no ideal way to deal with it.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scared of the Palouse

In the past decade or so, the Palouse has been host to some really terrifying violence against women.  Deadly domestic violence, and last weekend, a young woman was apparently murdered by a man who'd been stalking her. and we're just now finding out about WSU's lax response to sexual assault within its student body.

I don't really know what conclusion to draw from this information, but the pattern is striking and terrifying.