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.


You’re clever. How’s that working out for you?

Cleverness, sarcasm, and smug retorts are the order of the day. But what if you want more out of life? The title is a quote from Fight Club, but it’s an important question. How is it working out for you?

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Self-Experimentation and Peer-Reviewed Evidence

I’ve mentioned before that I have a genetic bone disorder and have utilized my interpretation of scientific publications to self-experiment. At least once, this self-experimentation has had positive health results. Other times I have merely yielded knowledge about what does not help. For instance, I’ve had pretty bad acid reflux for the past few years. I recently discovered from my mother that I also had terrible reflux as a baby. I might even have a weak LES muscle. I don’t know, I haven’t been to the doctor for it for years because they just prescribe proton pump inhibitors or histamine blockers. I can buy those and as far as I can tell, they have long term deleterious effects on the human body. 

Any how, I recently came across this article by Seth Roberts about self-experimentation (h/t Bruce Charlton). Roberts essentially argues that self-experimentation based on a frame of reference in a field can allow one to test assumptions within the field or to move forward toward different conclusions prior to determining the mechanisms of those changes. He likens the process to foraging and or have a hobby. Back to GERD-like symptoms:

Gregory L Austin et al., “A Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet Improves Gastroesophageal Reflux and Its Symptoms,” Digestive Diseases and Sciences 51, no. 8 (August 2006): 1307–12, doi:10.1007/s10620-005-9027-7.
In this study, a very low carbohydrate diet (consuming less than 20 grams a day) led to improved symptoms in all eight participants. The metric was a probe utilized to determine acid exposure time in the esophagus. There was no blind in this particular study, but the objective measurement is interesting. The measurements were taken before the diet was initiated and then six days later.

WS Yancy Jr., D Provenzale, and Ec Westman, “Case Reports. Improvement of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease after Initiation of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet: Five Brief Case Reports,” Alternative Therapies in Health & Medicine 7, no. 6 (November 2001): 120.

In this article records the case of five individuals who self-initiated a low-carb diet found themselves without frequent symptoms of heart-burn and indigestion. It is published in an alternative therapy journal, but it’s still peer reviewed.

The Pay Off

So, I started an extremely low carbohydrate diet about two weeks ago. The main purpose was precisely to decrease symptoms of heartburn that had become more frequent that non-heartburn. My existence had become somewhat miserable because if I happened to even eat a small snack, within minutes I would feel very full and bloated. I would have heartburn (even if I took medicine prior to eating) and the full feeling would last for several hours. If I ate lunch at work, I usually was not able to eat dinner or go to the gym at night. The only way to get food in prior to the gym was to eat around 10am, then just be full and miserable all day at work. This started around March, but the heart burn goes back to my early twenties.

Anyhow, I started the diet, eschewing the conventional wisdom that fatty foods lead to heartburn. I For the first two days I ate less than 20 grams of carbohydrates, continued drinking coffee, and obtained most of my carbohydrates from sauerkraut, spinach, and mushrooms. My protein and fat came from butter and meat. I expected my digestion to remain slow, but to at least experience less heartburn. Within two days, I had my first day with no heartburn and no medication. Upon increasing my carbs to about 50 grams per day, and allowing myself one “cheat day a week,” I have had only one serious experience of heartburn and 7 light flare-ups that went away as soon as I took an antacid or dissipated by the time I walked to the medicine cabinet. My digestion has sped up as well. Just Tuesday I ate a rather large lunch and was able to hit the gym by 3:45 without losing my food after dead lift.

So, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, a high-fat, low-carb diet may assist with relief of symptoms related to GERD and indigestion.



The Middle Ages, Theology, and Science.

Several months ago I wrote a review of the book Superstition. Thinking back to numerous of its claims one in particular came back to mind. Park stated often that when Christians believe in God in prevents them from doing science because they already know that God made it, therefore nobody has to ask any questions. I rarely make claims to know what people believe without asking them, I also rarely make attempts to clarify physics for physicists (though I’ve discovered that with a bit of reading I can do a lot of physics). But I am trained to study ancient texts and history, something Park couldn’t do. 
Christians today may really think that science is dangerous to Christianity. But in the medieval era (an era you’ll recall was not really the Dark Ages) science was considered a gold mine of important data about the world. Etienne Gilson note in The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy:

In every one of his actions man is a living witness to finality in the universe, and if it would be a very naive piece of anthropomorphism to regard all natural events as the work of a hidden supermen, it would be no less naive to hold itself to take no notice of it [finality] even where it exists. The discovery of the why does not absolve us from looking for the how, but, if anyone looks only for the how can he be surprised if he fails to find the why?…on this point Christian thought has never wavered [during the Medieval era]. pp 105

In other word, man makes decisions with goals in mind. The universe seems to have an aim too. It was this aim-ed-ness that led the Medievals to pursue questions of about “how things came to be in the first place.” They did this because, believing God made it for a purpose, the steps backward and forward, in fits and starts, could be discerned. The universe, ultimately, was a communication of God’s “beatitude along with His intelligibility.” 

Because humans were a part of nature and they had aims and experienced causality, the rest of nature could be perceived the same way. This Greco-Roman belief along with the belief in God’s intelligibility impelled people to pursue scientific questions. Modern Christians may not see it that way and that is sad, but it is wrong to say that Christianity, in general, makes people averse to science. In my experience university politics sometimes makes scientists averse to science but few scientists call for an exodus from the universities. 

Anyhow, in the medieval era theology and science were, at least conceptually, sort of like a joint endeavor not a battle. How this worked in practice varied as other medievalists will tell you, but the general stance of the day was that studying the physical world for answers to how questions was a good thing.