Research Studies


[This will be brief and sloppy, since I should be packing, not blogging. With luck, there will be an update later this month/year/decade, but don’t hold your breath.]

Today went like this:

5:00 a.m. Wake up a good four hours before my usual wakey-uppy time, because in order to get to the Marvin Hamlisch Memorial Choir rehearsal, I had to catch the 6:21 train.

7:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Rehearse for and sing at Marvin’s funeral. While it isn’t the subject of this post, highlights of the event were a) President Bill Clinton, b) John Updike’s Perfection Wasted, a sucker punch if there ever was one, and c) Terre Blair Hamlisch’s heartbreakingly stunning eulogy to her late husband.

12:45 – 2:30 p.m. Lunch at Serafina on 61st (a martini and a plate of paglia e fieno) with fellow singers Andy, Darcy, and the just-married Baninos. Disappointingly, although we were all dressed in black, no one asked “Who died?” Only in New York.

3:45 – 8:03 p.m. Procrastinate.

8:04 p.m. See Dr. Rubidium’s provocative and pithy tweet,

People, eggs are bad for you AGAIN. jezebel.com/5934776/your-b… … via @Jezebel #untiltheyrenot

PithyTweet

“Your Breakfast Is Trying to Murder You: Eggs Are Almost as Bad for You as Cigarettes,” Jezebel crowed.

Well, I love me my eggs, and egg slander is up there with salt slander and sugar slander as a high crime against food. Eggs give Cheez-Its a run for the money as the perfect food, and this had to be wrong.

Here’s the hard-boiled truth. The latest research on eggs and heart disease is flawed. Eggs are not going to kill you.

Jezebel and other news outlets have jumped on Egg yolk consumption and carotid plaque, a paper recently published in the journal Atherosclerosis, which claims that a person’s carotid plaque increases exponentially with their egg yolk consumption. (This paper is referred to below as EWKY, for Eggs Will Kill You.)

Most likely there is no exponential relationship at all. But if you believe the authors’ statistics, perhaps you will believe what I can prove by an identical analysis:

The length of objects, measured in centimeters, grows exponentially with length measured in inches.

Of course, this is ridiculous. The length of an object in centimeters is exactly 2.54 times its length in inches. The relationship is linear, not exponential. After you finish reading this post, I hope you’ll realize that the egg slander in Atherosclerosis is also ridiculous.

The “exponential” dependence of plaque on egg yolk consumption is an artifact of skewed data.

I created a data set with the same distribution as the EWKY data to investigate a hypothetical relationship between inches and centimeters, using the same flawed way the authors of EWKY analyzed the relationship between egg yolk consumption and plaque.

Briefly, the authors of EWKY treated “quintile”  as a scale variable, which it is not.

Here are the histograms of my data and the EWKY data. Pretty much the same.

MyHistogramEWKYhistogram

And here are error bar charts of my data and the EWKY data. Both appear to show a clearly non-linear relationship.

The error bar chart from EWKY is the sole justification for the claim of an exponential cigarette-like relationship to plaque:

MyExponentialEWKYexponential

(My error bars are much shorter because the correlation between inches and centimeters is perfect. While the relationship between egg-yolk years and plaque is not, it’s nevertheless not exponential.)

There are other statistical gaffes in EWKY, but I don’t have time to delve into them. I’ll mention the worst very quickly.

First, most of the EWKY analysis compares lifetime egg yolk consumption to plaque. Lifetime anything consumption is a proxy for age, and atherosclerosis is strongly age-dependent. Nowhere do the authors of EWKY provide convincing evidence that the relationship between egg yolk consumption and plaque is anything but an artifact of the proxy for age.

Furthermore, the authors pay no heed to the always-important question of effect size. They provide a single analysis that shows a statistically significant relationship between the non-age-proxy measurement of egg yolk consumption per week (as opposed to over a lifetime) and plaque that’s independent of age:

Screen shot 2012-08-15 at 0.02.39

The difference in plaque area between the <2 eggs/week group and the 3 or more eggs group (an arbitrary split, and ignoring the several hundred subjects who ate from 2 to 2.99 eggs/week) is about 1/20 of a standard deviation, otherwise known as squat. The fact that p < 0.0001 after adjustment for age is irrelevant, because with such a large sample, significance might appear for an even smaller effect (micro-squat).

Gotta run, gotta pack. Thanks for listening.

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News this week of an Adderall shortage, and this report, which draws into question the widely-held belief that methamphetamines cause brain damage and cognitive impairment, prompt me to rescue an old statistical parody I wrote (and posted on my now-moribund Drew web page) in 2003, a few years before I had this soapbox. The news links above are also well worth visiting.

Cocaine’s brain effects might be long term [“news”]

Insulin’s metabolic effects might be long term [parody]

BOSTON, March 10, 2003 (UPI) — Cocaine and amphetamines
might cause slight mental impairments in abusers that
persist for at least one year after discontinuing the
drugs, research released Monday reveals.

MADISON (NJ), March 16, 2003 — Insulin might cause metabolic
disorders in abusers that persist for at least one year after
discontinuing the drug, research released Monday reveals.

However, experts outside the study said the findings were inconclusive
and pointed out although cocaine has been widely abused for decades,
impaired cognitive function is not seen routinely or even known to exist in
former abusers.

"Overall, the abusers were impaired compared to non-abusers on the function of attention and motor skills," Rosemary Toomey, a psychologist at Harvard
Medical School and the study’s lead investigator, told United Press International.

“Overall, the abusers were impaired compared to non-abusers
on tests of sugar metabolism,” Rosemary Toomey, a psychologist
at Harvard Medical School and the study’s lead investigator,
told United Press International.

Previous studies have yielded inconsistent findings on whether
cocaine abuse led to long-term mental deficits. Some studies found
deficits in attention, concentration, learning and memory six months
after quitting. But a study of former abusers who were now in prison
and had abstained from cocaine for three years found no deficit.

Few studies have looked at the long term effects of insulin
abuse, although doctors and scientists generally believe
the drug is harmful. One study of former abusers who
were now in prison and had abstained from insulin for
three years found a higher than normal death rate.

To help clarify these seemingly conflicting results, Toomey’s team,
in a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, identified
50 sets of male twins, in which only one had abused cocaine or
amphetamines for at least one year. Amphetamine abusers were
included because the drug is similar to cocaine and could have the
same long-term effects on the body.

To address the lack of careful studies, Toomey’s team, funded by
the National Institute on Drug Abuse, identified 50 sets of male
twins, in which only one had abused insulin for at least one year.

Most of the pairs were identical twins, meaning they share the exact
same genetic pattern. This helps minimize the role biological
differences could play in the findings and gives stronger support to the
mental impairments being due to drug abuse.

Most of the pairs were identical twins, meaning they
share the exact same genetic pattern. This helps minimize
the role genetic differences could play in the findings and gives
stronger support to the impairments being due to insulin abuse.

The abusers, who averaged age 46 and had not used drugs for at least
one year, scored significantly worse on tests of motor skills and
attention, Toomey’s team reports in the March issue of The Archives
of General Psychiatry.

The abusers, who averaged age 46 and had not used
insulin for at least one year, scored significantly worse
on tests of sugar metabolism, Toomey’s team reports in
the March issue of The Archives of General Metabolism.

The tests all were timed, which indicates the abusers have
"a motor slowing, which is consistent with what other investigators
have found in other studies," Toomey said.

The tests all were performed after fasting, which indicates the abusers
have “an impaired metabolism unrelated to diet, which is consistent
with the consensus in the medical community,” Toomey said.

Still, the abusers’ scores were within normal limits and they actually
performed better on one cognitive test, called visual vigilance, which
is an indication of the ability to sustain attention over time. This
indicates the mental impairment is minor, Toomey said. "In real life,
it wouldn’t be a big impact on (the abusers’) day-to-day functioning
but there is a difference between them and their brothers," she said.

The finding is significant, she added, because given that the study subjects
are twins and share the same biological make-up, they would be expected
to have about the same mental status. This implicates the drug abuse
as the cause of the mental impairment.

The finding is significant, she added, because given that the study
subjects are twins and share the same biological make-up, they would
be expected to have about the same metabolic status. This
implicates the drug abuse as the cause of the impairment.

Among the abusers, the mental test scores largely did not vary in
relation to the amount of cocaine or amphetamine used. However,
on a few tests the abusers did score better with more stimulant use.

Among the abusers, poorer test scores were consistently associated
with increased levels of insulin abuse. Among the heaviest abusers,
not one scored better than his non-abusing twin.

"The results seem to me to be inconclusive," Greg Thompson,
a pharmacist at the University of Southern California’s
School of Pharmacy in Los Angeles, told UPI.

“The results seem to me to be conclusive,” Greg Thompson,
a pharmacist at the University of Southern California’s
School of Pharmacy in Los Angeles, told UPI.

This is "because both twins are within a normal range
(and) sometimes the cocaine-abusing twin did better than the
non-abusing twin and sometimes not," Thompson said.

This is “because almost without exception, only the non-abusing
twin is within a normal range (and) the insulin-abusing twin did
worse than the non-abusing twin,” Thompson said.

In addition, cocaine has been abused by millions of people, going
back as far as the 1930s and before, he said. "You’d think you’d be
seeing this as a significant clinical problem and we are not," he said.

In addition, insulin has been abused by millions of people,
and poor sugar metabolism among former insulin abusers
has been reported by physicians going back as far as the 1930s
and before, he said. “This is a significant clinical problem,” he said.

Of more concern to Thompson is the effect stimulants such as Ritalin,
which are used to treat attention deficit disorder, are having on
children. "This would be a much bigger problem I would think if
it’s true stimulants impair cognitive function," he said.

Of more concern to Thompson is the effect daily insulin injections
are having on children. Insulin is commonly prescribed to control
diabetes (frequent urination, weight gain, and fatigue syndrome).
“Many of these children will become former insulin abusers, and
poor sugar metabolism will be a major healthcare issue for
them in the years to come,” he said.

"Before I’d worry about the 46 year-old abuser, I’d want to know about the
3 year old being treated for ADD (attention-deficit disorder)," Thompson said.

“Before I’d worry about the 46 year-old abuser, I’d want to
know about the 3 year old being treated for diabetes,” Thompson said.

One Response to “Maybe That Wasn’t Your Brain on Meth”

  1. Terri Says:

    Yea I just realized I can read your blog in 75 degree sunshine! Happy me thanks you!

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The Soda Police are getting noisier lately, but their concern for public health is a subterfuge. When it comes down to brass tacks (and I doubt brass’s slight lead content is going to kill you when used judiciously in plumbing, by the way), the S.P. don’t care most about the public health or about overweight kids at risk for diabetes and heart disease. They’re hell-bent on demonizing soda, especially soda made by Big Food and sold by the Big Chain Store and Restaurant Corporation.

Demon or not, it probably won’t hurt Americans to drink less soda on average than we do now. It will definitely help the environment if we drink less of anything that comes in individual single-use containers — even water — if there’s an environmentally friendly alternative already in place.

Here’s a simple two-part proposal to bring back running water.

BBRW Part 1. Require public water fountains everywhere.

Schools, parks, subway stations, airports, shopping centers, offices, stores, and more. We already require a lot of things, sensible and otherwise, so the means is in place. Require enough of them so no one has to wait in line. These water fountains (bubblers in Wisconsin and parts of New England) should have good water pressure, and they should be designed so they can fill up a bottle, too — or there should be some faucets for that. Simply making it possible to fill a personal water bottle in an airport — and yes, you can carry one through security so long as it’s empty — will reduce heart disease.

No flow restrictors, either; use spring-loaded knobs to conserve. (I’m not going to say a word about those infrared hand-wavy travesties.) Restrictors belong in kitchens and showers, if anywhere. It doesn’t need to take ten minutes to deliver half a cup of water. ADA compliant, but otherwise basic and solid. Call me nostalgic, but I like porcelain-coated cast iron.

Room-temperature, pure water is already available from every municipal water system. Only a little effort makes it ubiquitous. (If you’re afraid it will give you cancer, carry your own personal PET-free container full of home-purified water.)

BBRW Part 2. Require water to be available everywhere soda is available, for less.

If a restaurant offers a meal that includes soda, require it to offer the same meal with the same size tap water for less money. Less by at least half the restaurant’s own à la carte price for the included soda. Except during water emergencies, require restaurants to offer tap water when patrons are seated.

 

Stop the endless debates over soda vs. fruit juice, sugar versus high-fructose corn syrup, artificially-sweetened beverages vs. sugary ones, and aspartame vs. stevia extract. Bring back running water.

One Response to “Bring Back Running Water”

  1. Jenne Says:

    Right on, Dr. Kass! as a mommy (read: permanent entourage) of a 2 year old, I’m astonished how many public-funded places either don’t have water fountains, or have faulty ones. And getting a cup of water from a retail establishment often involves complicated gyrations, as the standard is selling you a bottle of water.
    Bring back the water fountain, and have a tap on it for cups/bottles! Yes!

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The American Stroke Association is having a conference in Los Angeles (near Hollywood) this week. The disease-ridden news coming out of that conference is full of numbers, so reporters are cooking up bigger-than-usual batches of scare.

Yesterday’s stroke news was an unjustified scare about stroke and younger people.

Today’s stroke news: “Is The Oscar Ticket to Heart Attack, Stroke?

Public domain image (Source: Wikimedia Commons)Public domain image (Source: Wikimedia Commons)Public domain image (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

According to a recent study by UCLA researchers, 7.3% of 409 Oscar nominees for best actor or actress since 1927 had strokes, according to public records, a number senior study author cautions is “sure to be an underestimate.” Scary?

ABC News wants their article to be scary, so they imply a wrong answer to the questioning headline with this wrong statistic: “The lifetime risk of stroke in the United States is roughly 2.9 percent, according to a 2010 report from the American Heart Association.” Oscar nominees’ higher-than-7.3% stroke rate is now officially scary. It’s several times the average!

Except that it’s not. The 2.9% figure ABC quotes is wrong. The number 2.9% does appear in the American Heart Association report, but it’s not the lifetime risk of stroke among Americans. It’s the prevalence of (having had a) stroke among American adults, young and old combined — the percentage of Americans who had had a stroke before the data-gathering took place, not who will have a stroke before they die. Many of the 97.1 percent who hadn’t had a stroke when surveyed will have a stroke later in their lives.

According to the same AHA report, stroke accounted for about 137,000 deaths in 2006, or one of every 18 deaths in the United States in 2006. One out of 18 is more than 5%, and that’s just the stroke deaths. The lifetime risk of stroke must then be at least 5%, and it’s probably a lot higher. Only about 1 in 6 strokes is fatal, so the lifetime incidence of stroke could be as high as 30%. In any case, it’s considerably higher than 2.9%, the figure ABC gives.

So. The real news is “Like Other People, Actors Sometimes Have Strokes.” In fact, that’s more or less what the authors of the study set out to say. They wanted to increase public awareness about stroke prevention. When famous people get this or that disease, the general public’s awareness of the disease increases (at least for a while), and those who go to big disease conferences may want more visibility for the specific disease they study.

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In scary news today: Stroke Patients Getting Younger, Stroke Rising Among Young People, and so on.

Apparently some researchers reported that some number went up recently, and the number that went up had something to do with stroke and something to do with 15-44 year-olds.

Sounds like a good excuse for a rousing chorus or two of Fire in the Theater! Obesity! Diet Soda! You’re Gonna Die!, no?

No.

The number reported to have gone up recently is not the total number of strokes among 15-44 year-olds, nor is it the rate (per 10,000 people, for example) of strokes among people that age.

The number that went up recently is the rate of strokes in 15-44 year-olds as a fraction of all hospitalizations for that age group. Not an easy quantity to conceptualize. But when a quantity is hard to conceptualize, you aren’t automatically allowed to grab a “you may pretend it’s something else.” pass and lie with impunity. (Do these same journalists give up and write “Boxer” if they can’t spell “Feinstein”?)

Maybe the stroke rate among 15-44 year-olds is not going up.

It could be that hospitalizations of 15-44 year-olds for reasons other than stroke are going down. Maybe hospitals are more and more likely to list multiple reasons for hospitalization than in the past. Maybe many former headaches are now deemed strokes (thanks to the proliferation of imaging tests). Either of these trends would make the numerical rate of stroke diagnoses per 10,000 hospitalizations go up without reflecting an increase in stroke.

Maybe a lot of things. Maybe the rate of stroke is going up among young people. Which might be scary. Or not. It’s possible more and more diagnoses of stroke are insignificant — no worse than a bad headache. Just because “stroke” sounds scary doesn’t mean there can’t be innocuous kinds of stroke.

Unfortunately we don’t know from today’s irresponsible scramble to turn numbers into fear.

One Response to “Hey, Let’s Scare People with Numbers!”

  1. Steve Kass » Diseases, and Numbers, and Bears! Oh, My! Says:

    [...] stroke news was an unjustified scare about stroke and younger [...]

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Last night, as a few of us not backing up Ray Davies in Philadelphia gathered for dinner in Hoboken, I spotted this holiday mispostrophe (ssp. dyspostrophe).

TraderJoeAdvent2

It probably wasn’t intentional on Trader Joe’s’s part, but the mispostrophe distracted me from the numbers on the box — especially 24 and 50. But only briefly; the pressing question quickly loomed.

If 24 Milk Chocolates weigh 50 grams altogether, aren’t they too small?

The appropriate comparison was obvious: M&M’s®. Little did I suspect it would be something of a challenge to find out the true weight of one regular M&M.

Disregarding outliers like “I think it is about 15g; 15 grams is perhaps the answer,” answers on the web (to the question of an M&M’s weight) generally fell into two camps. There was a handful of a-bit-less-than-a-gram answers, like “There are about 500 Plain M&M’s per pound,” and there was also a handful of around-2-grams answers, like “After an experiment, of weighing M&M’s, here were the results. 1) 2.208 g 2) 1.882 g 3) 1.904 g 4) 2.438 g.”

After considerable “research,” but no direct measurement, I’m swayed, not by any attestations of milligram precision, but by the preponderance of evidence [and 1] that one regular M&M weighs a bit less than a gram. Which conclusion is consistent with my personal experiences as a candy sorter (when I can find an uncluttered flat surface, which isn’t very often).

From the web’s many M&M Q&A (or should I say Q&“A”?) a few examples:

  • Q: What is the weight of one M-and-M candy? [link]
    A: I think it is about 15g; 15 grams is perhaps the answer
     
  • Q: How much does an M and M weigh? [link]
    A: When we counted the number of M&M’s in a 12.6oz bag, we got 404, which means there are 32.06 M&M’s/oz, which means that each M&M weighs 1.13 grams. [SK: If you divide backwardsly, perhaps. Otherwise, each M&M weighs (on average) about 0.88 grams.]
     
  • Q: How many m&m’s do you reckon are in 7oz? I’m ordering custom m&ms, and they come in 7oz bags. I need about 1000 m&ms, total. how many bags should I order? [link]
    A1: [Best Answer] 10 bags, maybe around 75 or 100 in each bag. [SK: Better safe than sorry.]
    A2: 2 or 3.
     
  • Q: How much does a single plain m&m weigh? [link]
    A: After an experiment, of weighing M&M’s, here were the results. 1) 2.208 g 2) 1.882 g 3) 1.904 g 4) 2.438 g.

As for the pressing question, I’ll cautiously answer it “No” and hope Toby and Theo agree. Two or three M&M’s-worth of chocolate every day for most of a month — for those endless days, those sacred days, believe me — is not so bad. Despite anyone’s opinion that one serving of M&Ms comprises 208 grams (and 1023 calories).

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There is still no good answer to the question “Why can’t we walk straight?”, observed Robert Krulwich’s recorded voice at a recent live taping for Radiolab at The Greene Space. Robert’s observation ressounded¹ today on the “NPR sciencey blog” Krulwich Wonders.

For 80 years, scientists have been trying to explain this tendency to turn when you think you are going straight. … Try as they might, and they’re still trying these experiments, nobody has figured out why we can’t go straight.

When I was a kid, Someone thought they’d figured it out. One’s dominant leg took longer strides, They taught me. I also learned, or maybe inferred, that I should find a leftie to walk with me should I ever need to cross a desert in the fog, at night, or while blindfolded.

But hearing Robert talk about this twice in as many weeks, I realized that They’d been wrong, and that crossing a desert in the fog was not a challenge I’d be ready to meet. (Also, I only then realized that a leftie might not be handy when the challenge arose, anyway.)

Ignoring my sudden and deepening nonplus, I focused on the question. Analogy time.² Robert’s headlineworthy version of the question is an oversimplification of the quandary, but I’ll notwithstand that fact for now.

Why can’t we fly? (Some animals can.) Because we don’t have small bodies, hollow bones, and wings (like some flying-capable animals do); nor do we have really tiny invertebrate bodies and wings (like some other flying-capable animals do).

Why can’t we hear high-pitched sounds? (Some animals can.) Because human ears (unlike the ears of the animals that can) aren’t physically able to convert high-pitched sounds into nerve impulses.

Great_Barrier_Island_Pigeon-Gram_stamp_1899 So why can’t we maintain our direction over long distances without a visual point of reference? (Some animals, especially flying-capable ones, can.) Because (unlike those animals) humans never underwent any evolutionary pressure to develop a mechanism to do so?

Robert mentioned one of the trying scientists by name: Jan Sousman. Jan’s article, Walking Straight into Circles, recently appeared in the journal Current Biology (a cornucopia of articles at the titles of which biologists surely titter: Olfaction: When Nostrils Compete; Metastasis: Alone or Together?; Addiction: Flies Hit the Skids; Flagella and Cilia: The Long and the Short of It; and Melanocyte Production: Dark Side of the Schwann Cell).

Jan and his coauthors wrote a wonderful paper. Among many beautiful sentences and figures, they report that their subjects’ “walking trajectories show exactly the kind of behavior that would be expected if the subjective sense of straight ahead were to follow a correlated random walk.” They also mention J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to point out that the belief “that people who get lost end up walking in circles is widespread.”

So “because we can’t” isn’t really such a good answer. Our proprioception (that sixth sense that allows us to touch our noses in the dark when we haven’t had too much to drink) does provide a subjective sense of straight ahead. However, it isn’t very reliable for very far or for very long.`


¹ I initially wrote reappeared, which on rereading, sounded (or more sensibly, looked) wrong, because Robert’s voice never appeared (as in became visible to the eye) in the first place. Unable to solve the Miller Analogy SEE : REAPPEAR :: HEAR: with an existing word, I had to invent the perfect answer: res̈ound (which should appear as the word resound with an umlaut/trema/diaeresis over the s). This answer is in fact all the more perfect (not to mention very unique) for having been invented by a “greater New Yorker.” Unfortunately, as much as I like the idea of using ¨ to estop a preceding prefix from losing its strict meaning, it fails in practical terms. Very few consonants appear in Unicode preëquipped with the dots, and Unicode’s zero-width combining diaeresis, the solution in theory, is unworkably fussy.

² Yay!

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BabyCNN doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should, given that they’re easily as irresponsible as their buddies at [expletive deleted]. Today they’re fanning the fires about “illegal immigration,” the current euphemism for people we don’t like because they’re brownish and speak another language especially Spanish. Writer Arthur Brice devotes a big chunk of a 900-word article on CNN.com today to a discussion of “anchor babies,” the current not-so-euphemism for babies of people we don’t like because they’re brownish and speak another language especially Spanish. Here’s my brief rant on the article, “Report: 8 percent of U.S. newborns have undocumented parents.”

Before ranting, though, let me be one of the first to greet all these new and beautiful U.S. citizens: “¡Welcome, and bienvenidos!”

This rant has two parts. First, let’s see what “have undocumented parents” means, so we know more about this 8% on whom the goons will be spreading their invective. The phrase shouldn’t mean anything other than “have undocumented parents,” but somehow it does, and not just because of headlinic license. It means “has at least one undocumented parent.” Here’s the relevant wording (emphasis mine) from the Pew report Brice describes:

A child has unauthorized immigrant parents if either parent is unauthorized. A child has U.S.-born parents if all identified parents are U.S.-born.

Well, that’s stupid. The asymmetry reminds me of the definition of Colored, as in for the purpose of what school you can go to, what train car you can sit in, and what drinking fountain you can use, and, before the 14th amendment was ratified, as in whether you were a U.S. citizen, more or less.

Next thing you know, today’s goons who want to abridge the Fourteenth Amendment will find a way to damn not only these youngsters but sus hijos y nietos también, no matter what, probably because fuck the Constitution and Bill of Rights, God tells them to.

Not to mention that “[s]ome pregnant women from other countries are traveling to the United States to give birth and then taking their babies back home to raise them as terrorists that would return to attack America,” a concern raised by Texas state representative Debbie Riddle, “a Republican,” that Brice thought fit to pass on.

Tattooing the letter U on them to start, maybe? (You can bet they’d have no problem paying for that medical procedure with government dollars.)

Part 2: The word “anchor babies” doesn’t appear in the Pew report, but instead of leaving it out of the article entirely, Brice fills us in. He knows that more people will read an article if it’s about anchor babies.

“Babies born to illegal alien mothers within U.S. borders are called anchor babies because under the 1965 immigration Act, they act as an anchor that pulls the illegal alien mother and eventually a host of other relatives into permanent U.S. residency,” says an organization called The American Resistance, which has described itself as “a coalition of immigration crime fighters opposing illegal and undocumented immigration.”

Minor partial credit to Brice for using the past tense when mentioning The American Resistance, but he forgot to mention that they are “no longer an active – or updated – Website or effort,” and haven’t been since 2006, according to — well, themselves, in a message they left on the web four years ago. The fact that Brice names them at all is goofy, to put it kindly. There are dozens of non-moribund organizations he could have called up. A Youtube link to a [expletive deleted] broadcast from within the last week, maybe.

That’s all. Have a nice week.

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Internet news aggregator robots never leave me alone. Internet news aggregator robots, never leave me alone.

Every day or more, one of the news aggregator robots gets both my attention and my goat. Here’s one of today’s missiles: “CDC: Most Teens Choose to Abstain,” at cbn.com. The first paragraph:

A recent study shows that most teenagers are virgins, contradicting claims from family planning groups that most young people do not abstain from sex and more sex ed should be taught in schools.

YoungCoupleEmbracing-20070508Image by Kelley Boone, some rights reserved (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

This kind of blabbery drives me nuts. They might has well have said, “A recent study shows that the earth is flat, contradicting claims from Unitarians that the planets revolve around the sun and astronomy should be taught in schools instead of the Bible,” when in fact a recent study showed no such thing, and even if it had, it wouldn’t contradict what the Unitarians supposedly said. Maybe if I’d been on the debate team I’d know how to respond more effectively.

If I were a fundamentalist Christian who wanted to justify abstinence education, I wouldn’t quote or misquote studies, nor would I attempt to use logic. I’d be honest: “According to my church, the world is flat, most young people abstain from sex, and abstinence should be taught in schools right after study hall and before creationism. That’s what I believe, because faith in the church is my guiding light.”

Studies be damned, science be damned, the church is the ultimate authority. I might have more respect if they put it that way more often. (I would still object if it got to the point of the Constitution be damned and laws be damned.) Why should fundamentalists care a whit about the fact that science is consistent, well-founded, and predictive? Why should they care about evidence from studies and measurements, if faith, not intelligence, is their life’s compass? I can disagree, disapprove, and be dismayed, but I have no appeal. We live on different planets; we grew up in different universes.

Anyway, for readers who might appreciate facts and figures, let me explain the CBN’s vulpigeration.

What is “sex,” anyway? For its study, the CDC defined “sex” to be heterosexual vaginal sexual intercourse¹ only (though the boy need not stay on top). Many English speakers would call a bunch of other things people do naked with others sex, but the CDC’s restrictive definition should suit the Christian Broadcasting Network in two ways. First, this definition doesn’t infringe on the way CBN might define another word, “sodomy.” They might prefer it for that bunch of other things people do naked with each other. Second, it yields higher virgin percentages. As far as the CDC and CBN.com are concerned, you’re a virgin if you haven’t been part of any penis-in-vagina hanky-panky, even if you’ve gotten plenty naked and nasty with one or more hims or hers.

Fact: Most young people do not abstain from sex. (Or “sex.”) Not during their entire youth, which is what CBN.com suggested. According to the CDC study, most (65% of) boys aged 18-19 and most (60% of) girls in the same age group have had heterosexual vaginal sexual intercourse. The CDC numbers suggest that most young people do abstain from sex “sex” until about age 17 or 18, but abstaining until you stop abstaining is not the same thing as abstaining. Using the CBN.com logic, you could say that all people abstain from sex, ’cuz they all do — until they stop, and most stop, as we know from all the babies being born and abortions being performed. Few babies (or aborted fetuses) are incarnate nowadays.


¹ Additional information available on the internet.

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Image: Greg MaPublished research studies usually drive me nuts, but this one less than most. Social Psychological and Personality Science just published “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche: Regulation of Gender-Expressive Choices by Men,” by David Gal and James Wilkie, and it’s fabulous awesome.

According to the abstract,

Our findings suggest that men experience a conflict between their relatively intrinsic preferences and gender norms and that they tend to forgo their intrinsic preferences to conform to a masculine gender identity (when they have sufficient resources to incorporate gender norm information in their choices). Women, on the other hand, appear to be less concerned with making gender-congruent choices.

The authors found that men, when asked to choose between two foods, one with a straight macho masculine description corresponding to American societal “norms” for guy food and the other that was gay sissy feminine more what Americans might think of as girly food, they picked the guy item almost two-thirds of the time. If, that is, they had plenty of time to ponder their choice. If they were rushed to decide, though, they picked girl food choices more often — about 55% of the time, on average. Women, on the other hand, choose girl food about two-thirds of the time, regardless of whether they’re rushed to decide.

The authors conclude (in more precise language than my paraphrase) that men, unlike women, are cognitively self-regulating their decisions according to societal norms of gender expression. In other words, while men like girly food as much as girls, they’ll decide not to order it (forgoing food they like in order to look like “real men”) if they have time to think things through.

It doesn’t surprise me that men put energy into “behaving like men,” even when it sometimes conflicts with their intrinsic desire. (I’m not so convinced that men are as unlike women as the authors say.¹)

The authors describe the effect they saw as “making gender-congruent choices,” but I might envision it another way: men put a lot of energy into avoiding anything they think will make them look gay. How different is what the authors call “threats associated with gender-norm transgression” from fear of being labeled a fag?

In any case, special thanks to the authors for their menu of “feminine” and “masculine” menu items, which was half the fun of the paper. Here are a few selections. I want all of them, but hold the shredded American cheese.

  • Martha’s Vineyard Salad Mixed baby greens and fresh spinach with toasted pine nuts, dried cranberries, cucumber, red onion, and a warm Vermont goat cheese crouton with a balsamic vinaigrette
  • Chunky Fudge Cake Ice Cream Vanilla ice cream, smothered in hot fudge with chunks of chocolate fudge cake, whipped cream, and peanuts
  • Vitello Carciofi and Asparagus Beef medallions sautéed with asparagus and artichoke in a light demi-glace sauce
  • Damon’s Specialty Pizza Ground hamburger, red onions, roasted peppers, and mozzarella cheese
  • Western Salad Chunks of barbequed chicken with shredded American cheese served on greens with a side of Ranch dressing

¹ The authors’ findings suggest that men do this, but women don’t (or do to a much smaller extent). But the authors only studied university undergraduates at (I assume from their affiliation) a largish private Midwestern university. For that population, it’s fairly reasonable to generalize, and perhaps for that population this in fact is a guy-only thing. I’d speculate, but with no support from the study, that the effect is present among men across most segments of the U.S. population. But it wouldn’t surprise me to find the “I better order something gender-appropriate” effect in women, too, in some places (richer white populations in the South?). Studies in populations other than undergraduates would be nice to see.

The danger in generalizing from undergraduates, who are readily available to university researchers, to the general population, has fortunately been getting some press lately. It’s a real danger.

There are plenty of other interesting angles to explore. To what extent this effect is expressed ought to depend on the environment. Do men (with time to think) pick guy foods more frequently when they’re dining with several guys as opposed to when dining with a single woman? (I’d put money on yes.) Are there differences between straight men and gay men? (I’m not sure I’d bet on this one.)

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