Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, February 8th, 2011.


Short Takes

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abortion, American History, Health Care

Another good explanation of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, this time from Lawrence Tribe. Tribe thinks that if the issue is decided by the Supreme Court, a majority of the justices will find the Act constitutional.

John Paul Getty III has died. Remember when he was a young man and was kidnapped and held for ransom? I had forgotten what colossal assholes his grandfather and father, Sr. and Jr., were. Sr. and Jr. refused to pay the ransom, so after about three months the kidnappers hacked off III’s ear and mailed it to an Italian newspaper, with the threat of mailing more pieces of III every few days until the ransom of $2.8 million was paid.

The threat led Getty Sr. to pay $2.2 million, which, according to The New York Times, his accountants said was the maximum that would be tax deductible. Getty Jr. coughed up the rest but had to borrow it from his billionaire father, repayable at 4 percent annual interest.

Kind of takes your breath away, huh?

Some troglodyte in the Ohio Legislature has introduced a “heartbeat bill” (warning: do not read comments to the article; they are beyond twisted) that would ban most abortions after the point at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which is about six weeks’ gestation. Lots of women don’t even know they’re pregnant at six weeks gestation.

According to 2009 data from the Ohio Department of Health, 56.6 percent of abortions in that state occur in the first nine weeks of pregnancy. And since the fetal heartbeat appears on monitors by six weeks into gestation in most cases, supporters of the bill believe that it could prevent thousands of abortions.

Correction — it would prevent thousands of medically safe abortions. However, the coat hanger industry would thrive.

Thinking about this got me thinking about the old brain wave question, which seems to me a lot more relevant than heartbeat as to when there’s a “person” there. There are tons of articles on the Web that say fetal brain waves can be detected as six weeks’ gestation, also, which is obviously wrong. I found a good article debunking the claim that says,

Remember, an EEG involves measuring varying electrical potential across a dipole, or separated charges. To get scalp or surface potentials from the cortex requires three things: neurons, dendrites, and axons, with synapses between them. Since these requirements are not present in the human cortex before 20-24 weeks of gestation, it is not possible to record “brain waves” prior to 20-24 weeks. Period. End of story.

There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the bottom line.

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Affirmative Action for Righties

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science, Social Issues

An article in the New York Times about the dearth of conservatives in the field of social psychology has triggered the usual self-pitying whining from the usual suspects. More proof, they complain, that they are discriminated against by the evil liberal elite!

But the article itself is frustrating. It doesn’t define “conservative,” for one thing. There are, or there used to be, self-defined conservatives who are intelligent and rational people who might make fine social psychologists. However, such conservatives are rare specimens who must keep their heads down and their opinions to themselves among conservatives and liberals alike.

To liberals, especially the young folks, “rational conservative” is an oxymoron. Yet, children, there used to be such people. And I suspect there are a few such people out there. But rational conservatives are an entirely different species from contemporary conservatives, of all stripes — social, neo-, and paleo- — and contemporary conservatism has pretty effectively hunted them all down and driven them out of their company.

Considering that much contemporary conservatism is hostile to science — especially the humanities, biology and earth science — well, OK, any science except engineering, although they sometimes try to fake being economists — it makes sense that the dearth of conservatives in social psychology is the result of self-selection, not discrimination.

This is not to say that social psychologists don’t have sacred cows that get in the way of objectivity, particularly where race and gender issues are concerned. But you don’t eliminate bias by artificially insisting that other biases must be equally valid. Only the science itself should matter.

This is amusing:

Can social scientists open up to outsiders’ ideas? Dr. Haidt was optimistic enough to title his speech “The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology,” urging his colleagues to focus on shared science rather than shared moral values. To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s “A Conflict of Visions.”

Well, yes, I suppose reading Sowell could teach them that African American men can be pig-headed bigots, too.

Anyway — the Society for Personality and Social Psychology is considering adding conservatives to the category of underrepresented groups, along with racial minorities, the disabled, and lesbians/gays and the bisexual and transgendered. Students who fit into these categories can get subsidies to help them travel to the annual meeting. Yes, amusing.

Update: Paul Krugman

It’s particularly troubling to apply some test of equal representation when you’re looking at academics who do research on the very subjects that define the political divide. Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?

Again, it seems obvious to me that any group of people who would choose to become social psychologists would be predominately liberal, not because of academic bias but because social psychology is inherently something that would appeal to liberals more than conservatives. It’s self-selection, not bias.

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