The Incredible Sloppiness of Intelligence reporting:

So Alternet released another screed about how Americans are getting dumber.  It is flattering a particular “liberal” conscience, I suppose, to believe that everyone around them is a fundamentalist moron.  Does Alternet have new numbers?  No, its numbers are from 2008 and 2010 when the trends of secularization actually started changing and showing up in the data in an acceleration of secularization started to be visible. 

It may be true that those who remained strongly religious where attached to more “marginal” or “rigorous” (depending on your point of view) belief systems, but even that is declining.

That does not explain anything, but what is you control for other variables.  Looking at PISA scores by race and income.   We are going to use disaggregation to make some talking points.  Let us look at race data first as it is provided by NCES.  We are going to look at reading:


OECD average              496

White 519 * 4.1
Black 443 * 8.3
Hispanic 478 * 4.5
Asian 550 * 8.1
Multiracial 517 * 7.6

Now what is going on here?  You will see that students identifying as “white” are doing above OECD average and on par with Northern Europe.  Asian students in the US are doing extremely well and are on par with Korea and Shanghai.  Now, the cross-cultural comparisons can be tricky since all languages are not equal in difficulty in learning or in structure.  There may be other factors at play as well.

Now, the racialist sees this and goes to talk about genetic determinism, but I should remind that person that Hispanic is not a race.

So what is going on–it is hard to tell, but looking at another data set makes it even more stark:  It gets more extreme when you disaggregated by class, and as we know class and race in the states are intimately tied:

Here’s what the mainstream media will NOT tell you about 2012 PISA. When comparing U.S. schools with less than 10% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, here’s how U.S. students (of which almost 25% are considered poor by OECD standards and of which nationally on average about 50% qualify for free/reduced lunch) rank compared to all other countries including one I chose to purposely compare – Finland (of which about 5% are considered poor by OECD standards):

*Shanghai is disqualified for obvious reasons.

Science literacy

U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=556 [1st in the world]

Finland – ranked 4th in the world

Reading literacy

U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=559 [1st in the world]

Finland – ranked 5th in the world

This is an ugly truth you can’t blame on fundies. Or lack of belief in evolution, which as I have written about before, does not strongly correlate with understanding of evolution.    The same is probably true for climate change.  The issue is not understanding, but accepting scientific consensus.  Understanding, sadly, is illusive everywhere.

So why is alternet whining about fundies and calling the US dumb while not looking at the class and race implications?   Why are left-liberal blog/magazine avoiding what should be a left-liberal social justice issue and pretending that fundamentalists somehow explain this decline?

In the entire article, Alternet mentions in one paragraph the way district funding makes inequitable outcomes worse in the US across both racial and class lines.  One paragraph. The rest is about fundamentalists and the regional ignorance, which usurps the funding issue.  Yet even beyond funding, as throwing money at a problem does not fix it, the larger structural and cultural issues around student success are explained how?

“Increased fundamentalism in the past 40 years.” 

Sorry, the data for that conclusion is not there.

Indeed, if the US– and the world–is getting dumber is because places like Alternet are not even trying to report facts anymore, or engage in meaningful social justice.  The narratives they spew are cliches that people already believe in and suave worldviews. If this article is evidence at hand, it seems more about stroking a certain demographics ego.

Thought of the day

Of course, most people will tell you they believe in the “hard truth,” over some fantasy. The issue is not that simple. Everyone wants to believe that they are not escapists or ideologues or fanatics, etc. Yet even in the case of the “skeptic’s community,” it is the criterion of judgment where someone’s ideological disposition lies. The vulgar pick on obvious fallacies, but the subtle lies we tell ourselves are much more numerous and insidious. One of the first of those lies is the possibility of an completely objective theory of values to which everyone could agree.  It is in our rationalization that makes our ideological commitments function like a fish in water–water just seems like the default.

The Spectre of the Bro: On Male Entitlement, Geeks, Creeps, and Sex

Sitting in one of those generic Americana eateries at the bar in LAX, I started to talk to a youngish Persian woman reading something in Farsi.  I, of course, am unsure if it is Farsi or Arabic at first, staring at her book and glancing somewhat longingly at her.   I had been separated from my former wife and had moved to Asia.  I was flying to DC to see my best friend, a woman which I love dearly, and I was ghostly pale from 20 hours on a plane out of China.  The budget flights from Seoul redirecting through Guangzhou into a somewhat empty airport left me extremely lonely.

So there is the context:  I was unsure if I was hitting on the woman next to me as there was not much of a way consummating that urge.  She said a few words, and subtly let me know she was reading.  I turned away, ordered a beer, and wondered if I had come off as creepy.

A thousand more words in cheap-ink should be spilled on the concept of “male creepiness” than currently exists.  That whiff of desperation, compassion, and entitlement that makes women uncomfortable and attentive, but generally without tripping the “dangerous” man alarm bells. The fact that both privilege and its lack play into tone of “creepy”–the thin line between loneliness and out-and-out misogyny.

If, at that moment, there have been a #YesAllWoman, I would have wanted to avoid being someone’s anecdote about being the man you have to tell that you have a boyfriend.  I sincerely hope that in that moment I was just some dude in an airport bar.  Not a creeping bro.

Plenty has been written in history from the standpoint of men, although often from the standpoint of increasingly social competition between men.  One of the more interesting things to come out of the row around Eliot Rodger’s murderous breakdown is wanting some Geeky virgin men to talk about how their frustration could easily turn into misogyny as well as hate for other men.  While I do not know if it is true, I am guessing misandry in men and misogyny are often tied to the same frustration and status competition.

Now I was not one of those men:  I lost my virginity in somewhat questionable circumstances as a youngish teen.  I have never felt like I was entitled to a woman’s body or that I was a “nice guy” or that being “friendzoned” was the end of the world. I, however, did avoid status competition between men.  While I was not an affection-less Geek neither was I some football playing Adonis winking off pansies and objectifying women as par for the course.

In that the two types of Bro emerges: the geek bro and the dude bro.  Both can be extremely creepy.  I am sure I had moments of creepiness. I was an adolescent boy who enjoyed, and preferred, the company of women as friends, lovers, etc.  I am certain that perhaps I doubted a girlfriend’s affection or my best friend’s emotions in a way that reeked of desperation on one or two nights.  Sometimes I would be drunk and make-out with female friends–limiting myself to making out–but even with that was probably not being ethically advisable.  I know I sometimes lied about my sexual relationships with women.

Our two archetypical bros are easy to write off.  I am not that guy. Well, most of  us say we are not, and while the archetypical bros are undoubtedly real as characters in the world, the vast majority of us in our moments of creepiness are in the spectrum in-between.

It was in the moments during and after my divorce, when I felt more sexually vulnerable as a man when I deal most profoundly with the creep.  Going to bars and trying hook-up culture, sometimes just lingering at the bar until almost no one was left, and yet trying to avoid “taking advantage” of particularly drunk women.  It was one night one New Years, when I offered to sleep on a young woman’s floor that I had gone home with, when I realized that I had fallen in the creepiness and was dangerously close to a kind of “soft” misogyny.   The morning after, instead of the walk of shame, there was a day long conversation.

The month after I found myself at a bar in LAX, trying not to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

The subtle and implicit violence in creepiness is that it is a form of control based on entitlement.  It can be entitlement that is subtle and not even full-blown misogyny. A man may even think he is not acting entitled to a woman’s body, but his body language is different.  During those moments after my divorce, I was trying to learn to date like, well, everyone else.  I had been in long-term relationships which, while often polyamorous, were between friends and did not involve OKCupid, chatting, and watching women gauge their safety levels with me.

It is easy to blame women for that their guardedness.  This, again, is the spectre of the bro.  “Of course, I am safe.” “Of course, I am fine.”  Women in my life may even KNOW that I am safe but from necessity and habit know how complicated this is.   I have seen women situated in domestic violence, women torn on reporting attempted rape, and women who have been beaten by men in their life.   I always thought that I was not part of the problem. I had been subject to a lot of the violence as a child most men frankly do not know. I hoped that my sensitivity removed me.

Yet, I, in my vulnerability, was dangerously close to being a dude-bro after my divorce.  In learning how to date, I had fallen on PUA related material.  All of which  made me feel uncomfortable.   What was the point of trying to trick a woman into having sex with me?  The cynic in me said all relationships where like that, but my relationships with female friends and lovers that were emotionally close.  Thus this entire concept made me feel like it was just wrong. Yet, I have to admit, I ended up reading some of that material even if I never consciously set out to.  Hence, at some level, complicity.

In the end, I don’t know if I have overcome all creepiness.  I doubt it. I doubt it is entirely possible, but I owe it to the women in my life to be aware of it.  To understand why a woman may see me as possibly violent, or at the very least, creepy. A threat to her autonomy.  In understanding this, I feel like I understand a lot of the miscommunication between men and women, and how that miscommunication can be a mask for manifest violence.


You don’t love science, you love when science makes you feel good

Which is quite a bit like all the talk of how awesome oxytocin is. Case and point:



Found on the infamous “I Fucking Love Science” feed. I read because sometimes there is good scientific information on it, such as this about watching lots and lots of porn and strinking gray matter (the kind you see in drug and alcohol addiction). Still, the Best Page in the Universe has already done the rant I would do IFLS in abstract.

Oxytocin is a pair-bonding hormone. It occurs between friends, social groups that are intimate, and sexual partners. It lasts after the dopamine high of an early relationship wears off.  So far, so good:  however, it is not pretty nor linked to just “maternal behavior” unless you include in  maternal behavior apparently includes increased capacity for violence, willingness to lie for a friend or a group, and a tolerance for being domestically abused. Perhaps even it increases subconscious personal racism.

Sociologically this is consistent with in-group/out-group behavior before we understood hormone interactions.  The point is that it’s not all cuddles and rainbows.  IFLS is a lot like oxytocin itself in this regard, we only like it when it makes us feel good.   Science, like oxytocin, however, does not and should not always be so happy go-lucky.