Sunday, August 31, 2008

Are Women Just Stupid?

A friend of mine posted the following on a policy blog, and as I was meeting his request for a response by email I realized I was basically just writing my next entry for my own blog. So why not just post it all here?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Men or Women: Who’s More Intelligent?

The other day, having my evening tea with friends in the university’s fast food restaurant, one of my well-read friends claimed women to be intellectually inferior to men. Though calling himself a feminist, he went on to assert that women were simply unable to create good literature or make some groundbreaking scientific or intellectual achievement. ‘Why’, said he, ‘are there so few women’s names on the historical records of human intellect? They were, in the 20th century, given complete freedom to pursue education and have other rights.’ I readily came to the defense of the opposite sex by mentioning names of great women writers and scientists, reminding him that a mere half-century of freedom (if really given) should be considered as a factor in contrast to thousands of years of slavery and confinement of women in all human societies.

However, my friend weaseled himself out of the discussion by claiming that the brain characteristics of men have evolved for more intelligent and creative thinking. After the session, I searched the internet and failed to find any study that would definitely prove my friend’s claims. However, I thought of this issue as interesting and important enough to be brought to contemporary writers/readers’ attention. I would love to get everyone’s opinion on it. Please send your brief opinion (up to 300 words) via e-mail (to me at on the question: Are Men more Intelligent than Women?
I’ll include the responses in our next issue of The Audience Review. Please include the following information with your opinion: Name, Age, Sex, Profession, Location (City and Country)
Looking forward,

At his request, here is my own reply:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ancient Science Podcast

The San Francisco Exploratorium has launched a new website on "Evidence: How We Know What We Know." I was interviewed some time ago for this new launch, and elements of that interview are now available on their site as a podcast. Go to their new project page (above), click "Enter the Site" and select the Podcasts option down on the right side. I'm the second guest. It's about eleven minutes on "Why do Nutcrackers Work? (and other historical questions of science)," where I talk about the ancient origins of modern scientific values and the meaning of this for today.

There was perhaps an hour of Q&A recorded, but only ten minutes were used. Though I understand the need of that, this did create some problems. The editor stitched together elements of my answers into a continuous lecture. So you don't hear the questions I'm answering, or the entirety of my answers, so it sounds like I'm just rambling from topic to topic. Hearing it back I found it a little confusing at times. For example, in the full discourse I would quicken my pace at points to emphasize certain things before and after, but if you just keep the middle bit it sounds like I'm just arbitrarily talking too fast. And the change of topics can seem odd this way, there being no context or explanation of why suddenly I'm talking about something else. For example, my explanation of who Ptolemy was and when he lived wasn't included, until later on in the podcast, so at first it sounds like I just out of the blue start talking about this Ptolemy guy.

But otherwise there are some gems in there, and in the other podcasts. There are also other cool things on that site that are great, though it's all mainly for kids and teens. Currently the site is about the introductory basics of evolution science, but emphasizing the neat cutting-edge stuff scientists are now doing in the field, and how they learn from it, rather than just giving you a class on evolution. The aim of the Exploratorium is to get people excited about science. So it tries to spy out what's exciting, rather than merely lecturing at you. And the How Do You Know? project is about how we know things, the basic underlying methodology and way of looking at data. Its inaugural test case is evolution (though my podcast isn't about that, just science in general). But cases from other sciences will be added over time.

Monday, August 11, 2008

And So the Lying Begins

Right wing pundits have begun the game of shamelessly lying about Barack Obama. The story they want you to believe (by repeating it over and over again and assuming you won't check the facts--and be honest, bow your head in shame: you weren't going to) is that Barack Obama is a "flip flopper" who is abandoning his principles to appear centrist. In actual fact Obama has always been centrist and has never espoused the radically liberal views he is supposed to be abandoning. However, unlike John McCain, whose reversals of course are so public and undeniable that we even have them on video (and any further fact checking in news archives would confirm them, and more), Obama actually hasn't done what he is accused of, hence there are no records or video to back up what the right is claiming about him.

Of course, they also attack principled reversals as flip flopping, an equally despicable tactic I already denounced (later in my post on McCain's YouTube Problem). For example, Obama has explained quite well why he has reconsidered the offshore drilling problem and is willing to make some compromises on it, just as he has been willing to do on other issues (an example of the very bipartisan compromising we have always been asking for, so it would be rather lame to complain about it). But today I'm talking about flops that in fact were never even flipped (something I mentioned in comments on my previous post on Obama's New Solution, where I also discussed the very similar compromise Obama worked out on FISA, when he once again explained to the public calmly and reasonably why he did that and how he felt about it).

A good general example of this dishonest tactic in full force is in the Washington Post, where right-wing editorialist Charles Krauthammer claims the following (in "A Man of Seasonal Principles" and "The Ever-Malleable Mr. Obama"), which I've broken down item-by-item: