Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Happened While I Was On The Beach

I understand some of you have been extremely disappointed in the recent dearth of postings. I have received several formal complaints. As this blog's senior management, official spokesperson, CIO, ombudswoman and Bwana-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for any lapses in content, and would like to issue a sincere apology--

Whoa. What's that? I'm not getting paid for this? In that case, Dear Reader, you can stuff it. I am currently on vacation, which differs from my usual pro bono activities in that my mom has been buying me lunch every day. Thanks Ma!

In the week or so since I last checked in with the world outside of Humboldt County, a lot has happened. We have a new President, and he's on the cover of Ms., which upset several people. Upon taking office, Mr. Obama immediately did away with his predecessor's loathsome abortion gag rule, prompting some 2,007 news articles; by comparison, Mrs. Obama's smashingly newsworthy yellow dress inspired 4,248.

I missed some alliterative nonsense from Natalie Angier, about how Obama's "geek chic" is going to be good for science-women in some unspecified way. (Memes? Really? How scientific, Natalie!) In addition to befuddling the brains of Ms. Angier, Science has also been hard at work on that age-old question, "How do we unify the three different quantum mechanical fundamental interactions of quantum field theory?" Oops, not that age-old question. "What Do Women Want?" Yep, that's the one. They're close to figuring it out, thanks to voodoo and mechanical fruit detectors.

Meanwhile, it seems not much has changed in Globe-land. The End Times are still upon us. Reporters still can't do math. And that prize-winning noodle kugel from September is still the most emailed story of the day. That one almost made me homesick.


  1. Ahh, but I love Natalie Angier! In fact I may re-read "Woman" soon - it's so beautifully written. (In this non-scientist's opinion, anyway.)

    I do love this bit: "Some have suggested that girls just can’t handle the advanced math of physics. Yet in an analysis of high school students’ performance on standardized math tests, published last summer in the journal Science, Janet Hyde and her colleagues found no gender differences in average performance, and even at the uppermost tails of achievement the discrepancies were minor and inconsistent... Besides, said Dr. Gates, female students earn half of the bachelor’s degrees in another math-heavy discipline called — mathematics."

    On the other hand, how can you get away with claiming that "Some have suggested that girls just can’t handle the advanced math of physics" without attributing that to anyone? Who the hell actually says that - especially on record?

  2. Really? Seriously? Ooooogh. I haven't read Woman, but Canon got flung across the room a lot of times before I finished it. It reminded me of a big box of shiny marbles without the box.

    I read that Obama/geekery/women/science story three times, and if there was a coherent point in there, it escaped me. I hoped for a minute it was all going to come together around that proposal to extend family leave to grant recipients, but no such luck.

    I think she uses the NYT as a sort of Girl Scout sash on which to pin puns.

  3. I loved that Times magazine piece, because now I know that while nobody can figure out just what women want, whatever it is, they all want it. Getting thrown against a wall by Denzel Washington may be part of it (strangely, though, my wife has never suggested an interest in this - oh, you women are just too complex!)

    Also, did you notice how the writer let us know right up front (second paragraph) that one of the researchers "favors high boots and fashionable rectangular glasses"? That really brought it home for me.

  4. Please, Adam, these are brilliant scientists you're trivializing. They have expensive instruments. They have fancy-sounding journals. They have been in groundbreaking films about bisexuality.

    I'm unsure which was better, the bit about the boots and glasses or the paragraph with eight questions in it.

  5. Well, to be fair, I read "Woman" when I was in high school, before my critical thinking skills were fully developed (as evidenced by my love, at the time, for jello shots and McDonalds ice cream). But I remember it being accessible and poetic, which is more than I can say for most tomes on science I had read at that point. I mean, she won the Pulitzer - she must have written something well at some point, right?

    But come to think of it, no, I don't really know what The Point was to this piece. There were a few good micro-points, but she didn't hammer them home. I wish she would have come out in favor of a particular policy change, rather than reporting on the various ideas being bandied about in a noncommittal fashion by a group of scientists whom she only intermittently identifies by name. As far as writers using the NYT as a sash go, I'll take Michael Pollan any day. At least he makes tangible recommendations for what we should do, even if we won't see those recommendations realized for a few more decades.

    Also, that What Women Want piece was bullshit. Even though I can't really get enough of this bonobos research. God bless those sex-positive primates.

  6. Just finding out that there's such a thing as "phallometrics" was worth the trip today.

  7. Haha.

    Thought you'd like this - the ladies of Slate's XX Factor are currently unpacking every aspect of the What Women Want article...

  8. Thanks Ryan!

    Whoa there, Slate. What a lot of wankery. It seems to me that everybody over at XX Factor, not to mention the hundreds of boors on the NYT comment boards, is starting from the basic assumption that Meredith Chivers et al are actually scientists.

    I can't get past the plethysmography stuff, personally. You study men with one instrument, and women with another? Of course you're going to get different results. It would be shocking if they didn't. Don't even get me started on the creepy, romantic passage about Chivers cleaning up her data alone in the dark.

    Also, way to hate on all science journalism, Susannah Breslin. "I tend to shy away from reports from the frontlines written by those who do their research talking to the scientists and not the monkeys..." We can't all be Oliver Sacks, yo.