On Skeptical Sexism and Comfort Levels
Earlier this week, Penn Jillette posted a link to this essay by Mallorie Nasrallah on his Twitter account, concerning her experience as a woman in the skeptical community. To sum it up, she's never felt mistreated because of her gender, and she doesn't see what all the fuss over sexism is about.
So, let me say one thing right away: If she hasn't experienced sexism, that's great! We need more women who can say the same. And if she'd left it at that, I'd have no complaint. Unfortunately, she follows it up with an absurd overgeneralization: because she's never experienced sexist treatment, that must mean that no one else has either. Observe:
As I've gotten older these subcultures have become more vocal about wanting to include more women, the discussion has become "how can we make the community more welcoming to women". As a woman who has been here all along this is distressing to me, I love you guys for who you are... You have never been anything but awesome and welcoming. Who made you think you weren't?
Well, that would be the women who haven't had "awesome and welcoming" experiences from the skeptical community. The most unfortunate recent example was this story of a 15-year-old girl who posted a picture of herself on Reddit proudly holding a book she got for Christmas, and received a deluge of vulgar sexual comments and rape threats that left her shaken and frightened. (Although, as Azkyroth pointed out, Nasrallah was one of the commenters saying that by making a mildly risque comment herself, the girl invited everything that followed - which gives you a good idea of the perspective she's coming from.)
More recently I have noticed a trend among men in my communities, you seem to have been told that you're awful and need to change. Again, apparently because your genitals imbues you with an inescapable assholism...
I have no idea who she thinks is saying this. Despite being a man myself, I've never gotten the impression that anyone thinks I'm an awful person just because of my genitals. I have heard plenty of justified criticism not of people's gender, but of their behavior: the attitude of sexist entitlement some men have which presumes that they have the absolute right to approach, speak to, and hit on women in any time, place or manner they choose. There are too many misogynists who take the stance that any criticism of a man's behavior equates to hatred of all men; it's disappointing to see a woman buying in to the same flawed and sexist logic.
Nasrallah's focus on "filthy jokes" makes it seem as if the worst thing women in the skeptical community ever experience is a bit of crude language. In fact, it's women being pestered by strangers, subjected to sexual attention even after they've made it clear that it's unwelcome. It's women being repeatedly left out of most-influential lists, or when they do appear, being praised only for their attractiveness. It's men who ignore, dismiss, or shout down women on panels and other public events. It's pseudoscientific defenses of how men are "naturally" skeptical and logical and women are "naturally" emotional and credulous. It's online communities where women can't mention their gender without being subject to leering, harassment, and sexual threats. Much progress has been made on all these fronts, but all these things have happened and are still happening, and Nasrallah doesn't appear to be aware of that. Is it possible that because she personally hasn't experienced sexism, she's unaware of what forms it usually takes?
Keep joking with me, keeping being open and awesome and curious and funny, keep trying to fuck me, because I cant think of any reason why I would rather fuck someone else, we are after all human.
I said that Nasrallah doesn't seem to understand what the issues facing women are, but I take that back; she clearly does understand at least some of them, as evidenced by this statement. And that, in turn, makes it seem as if her focus on dirty jokes was a deliberate effort to diminish the more serious concerns. In effect, she's saying that only her comfort level matters, not anyone else's: that she's OK with receiving sexual propositions, and therefore all women should expect to get them, whether they welcome them or not. Far worse, she urges men who act in this way to "don't change" and "don't ever stop", which presumably applies even if those women ask them to.
What it really comes down to is this: Mallorie Nasrallah feels welcome in the skeptical community, but she doesn't care whether the same is true for other women. She's not concerned about people whose beliefs or desires differ from her own, as evidenced by her flippant statement, "If your jokes or teasing manner offend some people, so the fuck what?"
That's the root of the argument here. It's not between men on one side and women on the other; it's between people who want every skeptic to feel welcome in the skeptical community, and people who don't care about that.
This isn't about "respecting" everyone's beliefs or giving them a pass from criticism. We skeptics are a noisy and contentious lot, and whenever we get together, there's bound to be vigorous debate amongst us. If anyone expects their ideas to go unchallenged, then this isn't the place for them. But people should have a reasonable expectation that they'll be taken seriously and be valued for their contributions, not just treated as eye candy or potential sex partners. One particular woman may not have any problems with this, but she doesn't speak for all women, and given the gender disparities within skepticism, the larger community of women is clearly voting with their feet. We'd be wise to listen to the concerns of the majority, rather than an unrepresentative few who insist that everything is just fine.
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Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Credit: Gunawan/Nature magazine
Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.
- Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
- The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
- The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
The world is just? That’s news to a lot of people.<p>The study is the most recent addition to a long line of work focusing on the belief in justice, our behavior, and our reactions to evidence that might suggest injustice occasionally occurs. This study focuses on a personal belief in a just world, (PBJW) rather than a general belief in a just world (GBJW). The difference between them must be highlighted.</p><p>GBJW is the stance that justice prevails all over the world and that people tend to get what they deserve. PBJW is more focused on the individual's social environment and their belief that they tend to be treated justly. While several studies show PBJW correlates with a higher sense of well-being and a variety of other positive effects, a high GBJW is associated with less life satisfaction, negative behavior, and callousness towards the suffering of <a href="https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-3216-0" target="_blank">others</a>. This study controlled for GBJW, and focused on PBJW as much as possible. </p><p>To assure that culture was not a factor, the study included students at universities in both Germany and Turkey. </p><p>The researchers gave students at the four participating universities a series of questionnaires that asked if they ever cheated in class, if they perceived the world to be just, if they though that justice always prevailed everywhere, their tendencies towards socially appropriate behavior, their life satisfaction, and if they felt like they were treated justly by their teachers and fellow students. </p><p>The answers were statistically analyzed for relationships. While some of the connections seem trivially true, others were surprising. <strong></strong></p><p>PBJW turned out to only be an indirect predictor of if a student was likely to cheat. Both a belief in a just world and a lower likelihood of cheating were mediated by the justice experiences of the students, with more of these positive experiences lowering the rate of cheating and improving their belief in justice. This was also associated with higher levels of life satisfaction. </p><p>These effects existed across all demographics in both countries. </p>
What does this mean? Is a belief in justice a self-fulfilling prophecy?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6oMv-azHNCA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>In a way, it seems to be. People who have reason to think the world is just to them tend to interpret events in a way to sustain that belief and behave in a just manner. In a larger sense, the take away from this study is that experiences of justice, both from peers and instructors, is vital to student's wellbeing and understanding that the rules that exist about cheating are part of a larger, legitimate, system. </p><p>The researchers, citing previous studies on the perception of justice, note that "justice experiences (1) signal that university students are esteemed members of their social group, which in turn conveys feelings of belonging and social inclusion and (2) motivate them to accept and observe university rules and norms. These cognitive processes may thus strengthen their well-being and decrease the likelihood that they cheat."</p><p>The authors also suggest that if you want people (not only students) to act justly; consider treating them with "civility, respect, and dignity."</p><p>Sometimes, all it can take to help somebody act virtuously is to treat them well. Likewise, people treated harshly can rarely find reason to play by rules that don't protect them. The findings of this study will certainly add to the literature on how we perceive justice in the world around us, but might also help us remember that there are real consequences to our actions which can be much larger than we imagine. <strong></strong></p>
This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
- The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
- Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
- This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
A member of staff wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) takes a child's temperature at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England.
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images<p>Experts don't want to place kids at the back of the line, regardless of how strong their immune systems appear. At least one company, Moderna, <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-vaccine-for-kids-moderna-plans-pediatric-trial-2020-9" target="_blank">hopes to begin testing</a> vaccines in pediatric volunteers by year's end.</p><p>Innate immune response is especially high during childhood (compared to adaptive immunity). This makes evolutionary sense: nature wants an animal to survive until its ready to procreate. Turns out the children in the study possessed high levels of cytokines that boost their immune response. The biggest impact is made by IL-17A, which appears to protect the youngest cohort from the ravages of the coronavirus. </p><p>While both age groups produced antibodies to fight off the infamous spike protein, adults that produce neutralizing antibodies actually suffer a <em>worse</em> fate. Herold says this "over-vigorous adaptive immune response" might promote inflammation, triggering acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). </p><p>This matters for vaccine development. As Herold says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Our adult COVID-19 patients who fared poorly had high levels of neutralizing antibodies, suggesting that convalescent plasma—which is rich in neutralizing antibodies—may not help adults who have already developed signs of ARDS. By contrast, therapies that boost innate immune responses early in the course of the disease may be especially beneficial."</p><p>Herold says current vaccine trials are focused on boosting neutralizing-antibody levels. With this new information, researchers may want to work on vaccines that boost the innate immune response instead. </p><p>With <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/science/coronavirus-vaccine-tracker.html" target="_blank">at least 55 vaccine trials</a> underway, every piece of data matters. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Researchers from the University of Toronto published a new map of cancer cells' genetic defenses against treatment.