The Pincer Attack

One of the mostly commonly utilized conceptual weapons in the rhetorical attack on being a normal person is ‘sexual fluidity.’

In a nutshell: “Sexual fluidity is one or more changes in sexuality or sexual identity (sometimes known as sexual orientation identity).”  It’s a favorite concept among third wave feminists, especially those who argue against hetero-normativity (which is another way of saying, ‘reproductively viable intercourse’). It is especially important to these theorizers because sexual fluidity is allegedly very common among women and therefore central to female experience. I suspect it’s actually common due to the difficulty some feminist theorists have finding partners of the opposite sex. 

Anyway, recent findings contradict this notion. One finding inverts a major feminist theory, the other is more sobering.

In the first instance, it turns out that sexual fluidity, if it exists at all, may have evolved due to polygynous household arrangements. The idea is that sexually fluid women were less likely to be competitive if they found one another sexually attractive: 

“…women may have been evolutionarily designed to be sexually fluid in order to allow them to have sex with their cowives in polygynous marriage and thus reduce conflict and tension inherent in such marriage.”

And so women with such propensities supposedly remained in polygynous households longer (see Genesis 16:6), they had more children, and their children survived. Incidentally, unrestrained sexual behavior favors a small number of men in the modern world. So, on college campuses, a much smaller percentage of male students is sexually active with multiple partners from a significantly larger pool of female students who are active with multiple partners. And while this isn’t a polygnous marriage, it would be analogous to the circumstances under which alleged sexual fluidity evolved (multiple female cooperating for the opportunity to have children with resource/charisma rich males). In other words, sexual fluidity is just a way for the patriarchy to have multiple women and for women to have more children. It’s not actually a radical idea against the sexual order. 

In the second place, it appears to be much more rare than previously believed. “The present paper reviews longitudinal studies on sexual attraction which indicate that the great majority of women do not have a fluid sexuality, but have instead stable attractions over time.”

Haha, #science. And etc. 

Science Fact of the Day #2: Teacher Somatotype

As in all cases “science fact” is used loosely.

The Main Claim About Teacher Somatotypes

In Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations the authors observed that:

“Teachers who are ectomorphic are usually perceived by students as anxious and less composed but perhaps intelligent. The endomorphic teacher is generally perceived by students as slow, lazy, under-prepared, and not dynamic in the classroom. The mesomorphic teacher is perceived as credible, depedable, likable, and competent but possibly tough and dominant.” Virginia P Richmond and James C McCroskey, Nonverbal Behavior in Interpersonal Relations (Boston: Pearson/A and B, 2004), 269

For those who don’t know:

  1. Ectomorphs are lanky body types
  2. Endomorphs are dad-bod types
  3. Mesomorphs are beefy (muscly) types

teppelin: “ Three common male body types: Endomorph (often “chubbier” men) • Soft and round body • Gains muscle and fat very easily • Is generally short and “stocky” • Round physique • Finds it hard to lose fat • Slow metabolism Mesomorph (the...

Is that a reasonable claim? What is the evidence?

Now, here’s where things might get interesting. In this social-psychology text, several paragraphs per page will be riddled with citations. But this particular paragraph cites no studies. Is this just a personal observation? Is it an impression?

I don’t know.

I think that it’s probably partly true. There is some research that shows similar stereotypes in the broader population toward the somatotypes (which, since they’re based on eye-balling, are basically observational, not genetic categories).

I did find a study from the eighties showing that one class of students rated, based on photographs, attractive teachers and female teachers higher on scales of competence, organization, and imagination.* Of course, to extend this finding further seems like a hasty generalization. But that’s the only one I could find about teacher somatotypes and it wasn’t referenced in the textbook.

One study checked for stereotypes on the three body types and differences between the sexes both in stereotype attributed and in stereotype attribution. In this particular study, ectomorphs were perceived favorably despite historically negative stereotypes.** But over all mesomorphs were still perceived most favorably except in terms of intelligence and meanness. Big muscles can make you look stupid and mean. In this particular study, there were some gender differences: female mesomorphs didn’t suffer on the perceived intelligence or kindness rating. And female endomorphs weren’t perceived as more sloppy compared to male endomorphs. These generalized stereotypes could be applied to teacher somatotypes. 

It’s important to remember that none of the observations above are about stereotype accuracy. That’s a different cake to bake.

But I will make a suggestion here: If you are of a somatotype about whom certain stereotypes are made, it is important in a professional setting to put those stereotypes to rest if your workplace requires merit. If people assume you’re a stupid jerk because you lift, but your boss expects you to be kind as a part of your job, you have to break the stereotype. If you’re not in a merit based job, then those stereotypes may not matter to you. I would suspect that these stereotypes apply to all fields. 


*Stephen Buck and Drew Tiene, “The Impact of Physical Attractiveness, Gender, and Teaching Philosophy on Teacher Evaluations,” The Journal of Educational Research 82, no. 3 (January 1, 1989): 172–177.

**Richard M. Ryckman et al., “Male and Female Raters’ Stereotyping of Male and Female Physiques,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 15, no. 2 (June 1, 1989): 244–251.


#Science: Humor is sexy

The nerds at Live Science found a talk delivered to the APA which discovered the obvious:

Humor increases male attractiveness to women.

But they also found that the effect was not as significant when it came to female attractiveness being bolstered by humor. That’s another instance when Good Charlotte was right.

This provided the most food for thought:

In addition, people who were deemed less funny were also found to be less attractive than their ratings from the researchers.

“If you weren’t funny, you were definitely perceived as being less attractive, so that’s a word of warning,” Doerksen added.

I suspect that there’s a feedback loop here. Handsome men and beautiful women can get away with less funny jokes while still being perceived as funny. And ugly men can more effectively overcome their ugliness with humor than can unattractive women.

As a self-referencing aside, my wife found my sense of humor to be one of her favorite aspects of me when we were getting to know each other and appreciates it to this day. And when I was a barista in my early twenties I got a lot of tips from women in their thirties and forties, comparable to the tips that the prettier lady baristas got from older men trying to impress them.

Wait, tremendous government spending on contraceptive education doesn’t decrease risky teenage behaviour?

In an article published in 2015, David Paton and Sourafel Girma discovered that:

Our results have several policy implications. Our finding that promotion of LARCs is unable to explain much if any of the recent reduction in teenage pregnancy somewhat undermines the heavy emphasis on these forms of birth control by policy makers in recent years. In contrast, our results provide justification for policy approaches which seek to tackle underage pregnancy by focusing on more general issues such as deprivation and opportunity, particularly in regard to education. Our finding that demographic change may have played a role in reducing teenage pregnancy rates casts an interesting perspective on the immigration debate. Although rapid immigration may be associated with short term problems relating to integration and social change, our results are consistent with recent waves of immigrants providing an impetus for improvements in long term measures of deprivation.

As individuals from more conservative cultures move to England and enforce their “oppressive” understanding of sex as something not engage in, there is less teenage pregnancy. In other words, people who buy less into the stupid ideals of sexual liberation enjoy many of the protections those very traditions were developed to supply. Dalrymple wrote about this here:

And so if family life was less than blissful, with all its inevitable little prohibitions, frustrations, and hypocrisies, they called for the destruction of the family as an institution. The destigmatisation of illegitimacy went hand in hand with easy divorce, the extension of marital rights to other forms of association between adults, and the removal of all the fiscal advantages of marriage. Marriage melted as snow in sunshine. The destruction of the family was, of course, an important component and consequence of sexual liberation, whose utopian programme was to have increased the stock of innocent sensual pleasure, not least among the liberators themselves. It resulted instead in widespread violence consequent upon sexual insecurity and in the mass neglect of children, as people became ever more egotistical in their search for momentary pleasure.

Dalrymple, Theodore. Life At The Bottom (Kindle Locations 394-400). Monday Books. Kindle Edition.

And again:

The only criterion governing the acceptability of sexual relations was the mutual consent of those entering upon them: no thought of duty to others (one’s own children, for example) was to get in the way of the fulfilment of desire. Sexual frustration that resulted from artificial social obligations and restrictions was the enemy, and hypocrisy – the inevitable consequence of holding people to any standard of conduct whatsoever – was the worst sin. That the heart wants contradictory, incompatible things; that social conventions arose to resolve some of the conflicts of our own impulses; that eternal frustration is an inescapable concomitant of civilisation, as Freud had observed – all these recalcitrant truths fell beneath the notice of the proponents of sexual liberation, dooming their revolution to ultimate failure. The failure hit the underclass hardest. Not for a moment did the sexual liberators stop to consider the effects upon the poor of the destruction of the strong family ties that alone made emergence from poverty possible for large numbers of people. They were concerned only with the petty dramas of their own lives and dissatisfactions. But by obstinately overlooking the most obvious features of reality, as did my 17-year-old patient who thought that men’s superior physical strength was a socially constructed sexist myth, their efforts contributed in no small part to the intractability of poverty in modern cities, despite vast increases in the general wealth: for the sexual revolution has turned the poor from a class into a caste, from which escape is barred so long as that revolution continues.

Dalrymple, Theodore. Life At The Bottom (Kindle Locations 1023-1035). Monday Books. Kindle Edition.

Essentially, what sex education classes tend to do is to demoralize sex by disassociating it from any form of contractual agreement with society and with one another to become parents and net economic gains for civilization. In other words, be fruitful and multiply is replaced with, “have sex for fun, here’s some tools to decrease the chances for consequences.” The academic types who support the breaking of parental policing of child behavior and the liberation of sexual behavior from morality don’t tend to think of disassociating other elements of human endeavor from obligation: employment, education, and publishing. It’s a weird reality, people who felt left out in their youth use the academy to give an acid bath to the foundations of a happy life for the majority. Sad!

Also read:

School-based interventions for preventing HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy in adolescents

In which the authors conclude:

There is a continued need to provide health services that cater for the sexual and reproductive health needs of adolescents by providing a range of contraceptive choices and condoms and to include them in decision-making around services that can most fully meet their needs. Schools may be a good place in which to provide sexual and reproductive health services, but there is little evidence that curriculum-based educational programmes alone, as they are currently configured and without the provision of contraception and condoms, are effective in reducing risk behaviours for adolescents and improving their health outcomes. It is likely that the wider role of health service provision and availability, gender norms, sexual exploitation and intimate partner violence, poverty and inequality also need to be acknowledged and addressed and that programmes for girls and boys might need to be configured differently.

Of course, as is typical among researchers of this sort, there is nothing mentioned about parental involvement because, as far as I can tell, parental oversight is barely extant in the contemporary lifeworld of such researchers.

Parenting doesn’t matter?

Over at Quillette, Brian Boutwell has written an article on the unappreciated genetic factors in personality development and life outcomes. In it he claims:

Based on the results of classical twin studies, it just doesn’t appear that parenting—whether mom and dad are permissive or not, read to their kid or not, or whatever else—impacts development as much as we might like to think. Regarding the cross-validation that I mentioned, studies examining identical twins separated at birth and reared apart have repeatedly revealed (in shocking ways) the same thing: these individuals are remarkably similar when in fact they should be utterly different (they have completely different environments, but the same genes). Alternatively, non-biologically related adopted children (who have no genetic commonalities) raised together are utterly dissimilar to each other—despite in many cases having decades of exposure to the same parents and home environments.

Now, my first instinct is to think of the article as Theodore Dalrymple thinks of ideas held by academics who don’t spend time with those who absorb these ideas at fifth hand through public school teachers, poorly written periodicals, or bad entertainment. He explains some of the deleterious results of this process in his book Life at the Bottom: The Worldview of the Underclass:

The idea that one is not an agent but the helpless victim of circumstances, or of large occult sociological or economic forces, does not come naturally, as an inevitable concomitant of experience. On the contrary, only in extreme circumstances is helplessness directly experienced in the way the blueness of the sky is experienced. Agency, by contrast, is the common experience of us all. We know our will’s free, and there’s an end on’t….

In fact most of the social pathology exhibited by the underclass has its origin in ideas that have filtered down from the intelligentsia. Of nothing is this more true than the system of sexual relations that now prevails in the underclass, with the result that 70 percent of the births in my hospital are now illegitimate (a figure that would approach 100 percent if it were not for the presence in the area of a large number of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent).

Dalrymple, Theodore. Life At The Bottom (Kindle Locations 169-172). Monday Books. Kindle Edition.

When I read an article like Boutwell’s that answers the question, “So why mount a frontal assault on parenting?” without denying that this is his intention, I’m easily unimpressed.

He’s written two similar articles here and here.

What’s funny is that I don’t doubt the science of genetic influences on behavior. But there’s a role for some epistemic humility. One cannot simply say, “We have reason to doubt correlational studies due to the absence of controlling for genetics, therefore parenting effects (being observational) are to be doubted and as a corollary, parenting efforts beyond basic care are pointless.” Well, one can say it, but one cannot simply say it and be correct. Here is one basic point, acknowledged by Boutwell in the article:

To put a finer point on what Harris argued, children do not transport the effects of parenting (whatever they might be) outside the home. The socialization of children certainly matters (remember, neither personality nor temperament is 100 percent heritable), but it is not the parents who are the primary “socializers”, that honor goes to the child’s peer group (a fascinating topic, but one that merits its own separate discussion).

Parents can, with reason absolutely on their side, choose to be the primary socializers of their children. I would guess that these studies do very little to look at the potential effects made by radical parenting differences: home schooling, unschooling, limiting access to the infinite peer group of the internet (this only matters for recent studies), etc. I think that due to the almost universal similarity in parenting styles reflected by sending your children to a school in which their main influencers will be other adolescents and at which they will have very few in depth conversations with other adults is too large an environmental similarity of overlook.

Insofar as one might say that genetics determine a great deal or even most of what people do, it’s a mistake to say that at such a nascent stage in the science, we can dispense with parenting advice.

Any worldview that becomes deterministic tends toward metaphysical boredom and by necessity squelches aspirational values and encourages nihilism.


The Tao of Bro-Science

When the gym is your lab: Bro-Science

If you go to any gym, you’ll find a great deal of unusually specific information about strength training. Strangely, you’ll find very little in-depth knowledge of anatomy, physiology, or scientific literature appended to it.

This information is Bro-Science. The problem with Bro-Science is that it differs from gym to gym based on a combination of the shared experience present and the amount of time people spend on the Internet and what lifting forums they frequent.

I used to make fun of Bro-Science. Truth be told, some Bro-Science could kill you and certainly injure you. But some of it has proved remarkably prescient. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, occlusion training, increased protein for cutting fat, training to failure, and the rep-ranges for muscle growth all seem to have been discovered, not by bespectacled men in lab-coats but by oiled bros in sleeveless shirts!

Tradition is Antifragile

Nicholas Taleb describes systems in terms of three traits: fragility, robustness, and antifragility. Fragile systems break when they encounter chaos. Robust systems survive. Antifragile systems grow and adapt. He describes this process in connection with tradition here:

Consider the role of heuristic (rule-of-thumb) knowledge embedded in traditions. Simply, just as evolution operates on individuals, so does it act on these tacit, unexplainable rules of thumb transmitted through generations— what Karl Popper has called evolutionary epistemology. But let me change Popper’s idea ever so slightly (actually quite a bit): my take is that this evolution is not a competition between ideas, but between humans and systems based on such ideas. An idea does not survive because it is better than the competition, but rather because the person who holds it has survived! Accordingly, wisdom you learn from your grandmother should be vastly superior (empirically, hence scientifically) to what you get from a class in business school (and, of course, considerably cheaper). My sadness is that we have been moving farther and farther away from grandmothers.


Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2012-11-27). Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Kindle Locations 3841-3847). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

In other words, bro-science works because the people who practice bro-science and hold to the ideas are still in the gym. Sometimes this is because their genetics and luck helped them survive and thrive under dangerous training methodologies. Sometimes it’s precisely because the methods keep training interesting, help them get stronger, and keep them injury free.

Random thoughts and links 5-29-2017

  1. Does Capitalism Hurt Women?
    The article answers no. I think the abbreviated explanation is satisfactory.
  2. What might actually be leading to apparent increases in autism?
    I am aware of no scientific evidence for the connection between autism and vaccines, but all that bluster might be a bit of a distraction from several contributing factors that are less politically correct to mention:

    1. Maternal Age
      Women have children later and later in life. It’s not just that they’re continuing to have children, it’s that they’re having their first children much later (in the upper classes, anyway…women continue to have children prior to marriage in lower socio-economic rungs). But because careerism is pushed so hard, the biological realities are rarely explained to women who want a family and a career, but advancing maternal age predicts autism spectrum disorder
    2. Maternal Obesity
      We’re fatter than ever. There are several risks for this state of affairs to anybody residing in the womb of an obese person, but it is rarely hinted that autism is one of them.
    3. Maternal Antidepressant Use
      A few studies suggest a link between autism and maternal antidepressant use. While the link is small, the most recent look into the issue (2016) suggests that more research needs to be done. It does appear to be true that boys are more susceptible to ASD from in association with SSRIs. This particular issue is of some importance in light of the fairly recent revelation that 21% of American women are on psychiatric drugs.
    4. Paternal Age
      Because of several factors, ranging from delayed marriage, delayed reproduction, or the remarriage of older men to younger women (after men age physically, they’re typically more resource rich, so they seem to remain in the dating pool potential for younger women), men are fathering children at older ages than in the past. And the data on autism spectrum and paternal age is “robust.”
    5. Endocrine Disruptor Exposure
      While air pollution is verified to have neuro/psychological effects, another key environmental factor to consider is endocrine disruptor exposure. These chemicals are quite common in plastics. Based on Simon Baron-Cohen’s research on the connection between in-utero androgen exposure and autism, it’s worth a look. And as it turns out, some evidence is beginning to emerge.
  3. Yale University has awarded those who oppose free speech. There are several solutions to problems of this sort. My favorite is solution is that the universities should continue to cater to this small but noisy coterie of agitators while a group of smaller schools follow a market model designed around product quality and efficiency. People underestimate the possibility of this because they assume that sports or other interests will overtake a school if it becomes market oriented, but this is simply untrue. Most schools take donations and government money which determine the sort of product that can be offered. If a school taught specific skills at a high level, even the skills of the humanities, such a school could thrive if is was reasonably priced and owned/managed by the professors. Churches did this in the past.  Of course, that’s all idealistic, somebody has to build it.
  4. Jordan Peterson’s lectures on the Bible have started:
  5. Vicki Larson writes that marriage shouldn’t receive social benefits of privileges. The thesis is interesting. The argument is not only boring, but unconvincing. Insofar as a society exists in which parents prefer to take prime responsibility for their own children, marriage will continue to exist. And insofar as procreation is how society continues to exist, then marriage will be the prime theatre for social responsibility and therefore privilege. Why? Because privilege and responsibility usually go together.

Bad News for Weight Gain: There is a point of no return

In report published last July researchers concluded that under the typical conditions of care for obese and overweight individuals that:

“current nonsurgical obesity treatment strategies are failing to achieve sustained weight loss for the majority of obese patients. For patients with a BMI of 30 or greater kilograms per meters squared, maintaining weight loss was rare and the probability of achieving normal weight was extremely low. Research to develop new and more effective approaches to obesity management is urgently required.(58)”

Thankfully the article isn’t purely deterministic. It ends on a more positive note, I recommend reading it. But the point is that once a certain threshold of weight gain is reached, it can be very difficult to reverse the process. Also, the data reviewed was from the UK primary care database. In other words, it doesn’t include people who see dietitians, personal trainers, or who take personal ownership of their own well-being through research and hard work. My doctor friends tell me that it is rare for patients to respond positively to non-surgical and non-prescription intervention recommendations. And there is some evidence that doctors often don’t tell patients that they are over-weight. The same article linked in the previous sentence indicates that many doctors to not feel competent to help patients lose weight and keep it off.

I typically reject deterministic points of view because of their tendency to force people to give up. The more positive note the article ends on is this, “the greatest opportunity for tackling the current obesity epidemic may be found outside primary care (58).”


Alison Fildes et al., “Probability of an Obese Person Attaining Normal Body Weight: Cohort Study Using Electronic Health Records,” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 9 (July 16, 2015): 54–59.

Science fact of the day: No such thing as healthy obesity

While I have my questions about the BMI scale and its ability to predict health for those with low body-fat percentages, it has proven a remarkable predictor of health in the general population (low body-fat people are rare in the United States, after all).

Anyway, in a study published in 2016, the authors concluded that:

Low aerobic fitness in late adolescence is associated with an increased risk of early death. Furthermore, the risk of early death was higher in fit obese individuals than in unfit normal-weight individuals.

Now, this study doesn’t distinguish between “fit obese” individuals who are obese because of muscle mass above average and individuals with a high body fat percentage who happen to be good at aerobics.



Placebo and Intelligence

In a recent experiment, psychologists “designed a procedure to intentionally induce a placebo effect” in order to test the claims of intelligence increasing software.[1]

The study has a small sample size, but bear with me. 

In the control group (people who simply thought they were participating in an experiment) there was no difference in pre and post training intelligence. In the experimental group (who were told they were training to increase their intelligence) an increase in intelligence was measured (5-10 IQ points) after only one hour of training.

In general, exercises designed to improve intelligence take several hours of training over the course of several weeks to yield a measurable effect. So the researchers designed the experiment to remove training based improvement.

Why do this?

Several attempts to measure ‘cognitive improvement games’ advertise to participants in a way that may prime them for placebo improvements (or appeal to people for reasons related to their beliefs about intelligence thus creating a selection bias by recruiting people who really want the training to work). But, as I mentioned, people apparently improved. Now, I don’t care about brain training games. Just use Khan Academy, Duo Lingo, and learn to write software. Your brain will improve. 

What interests me is what this study might imply about beliefs and mindset. If people can be persuaded to improve at an intelligence test by being primed to believe they have engaged in an activity that made them smarter, how could teachers, counselors, parents, ministers, and others leverage such a finding? We know that the coaching effect is very powerful for athletes. Could it hold true for education? It certainly makes more sense than the self-esteem movement. Replacing: “You’re smart and you can do it,” with “this brain training will make you smarter if you do it” could be a useful mindset technique. 

Anyway, there are genetic limits to IQ. But within that set range, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and, perhaps, belief can yield minor improvements. I find Arthur Whimbey’s research on this compelling. Prior to computer games, like we have today, he found that teaching people to think sequentially (out loud or writing out their thought processes) led to increased IQ scores and performance in school. This accords with Ritche’s claim that education also increases IQ.

But again, this study is small potatoes in terms of evidence. Either way, fake it till you make it is the best strategy. 


[1] Cyrus K. Foroughi et al., “Placebo Effects in Cognitive Training,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (June 20, 2016), 1.