Saturday, November 29, 2014

Global Warming Denial: What Does it Take? A Case Study of Climate Change Denialists


In the mid-1970s after the consensus dismissed the bullshit idea of "global cooling," serious concerns were raised about global climate change: its impact on the earth, and how we were (and still are) contributing to it. Vast research efforts were put into this issue, and now the international community is on board to combat the effects of global warming. The official consensus is now that global climate change is real, it's happening, and we're responsible for it.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently reported that this past October was the fifth month this year to reach record temperatures; and that unless we find some drastic decline in the temperature in November and December, 2014 will mark the hottest year on record. The effects will be catastrophic if global temperature means continue to increase as they have been. Some infectious diseases and parasitic insects will likely multiply at alarming rates from increasing heat, the sea levels will rise from the melting of the ice caps, and of course it will be very, very hot. The effects of global warming are numerous, and we're all ready to jump on board to help remove our carbon footprints and mitigate the effects of this dramatic rise on global temperatures. Or are we?

This blog has covered global warming denial in the past, and the results have been quite hilarious. Some denialists dispute the consensus over global warming, which has been addressed here. To summarize, there are numerous studies which all suggest that at least 90% of scientists agree that global warming is happening and that we're responsible for it. These studies all had different methodologies, but came to concordance on the conclusion. Denialists dispute the validity of these studies, but when the results have been replicated by multiple different methods, it's hard to argue that they're all wrong. Some also dispute based on the wording of the questions asked, suggesting that they're ambiguous and that even 'climate realists' would respond "yes" to most of the questions. This is, of course, a major semantics debate; and in the face of a semantics debate, it's helpful to apply Occam's razor and take the more parsimonious conclusion. The result is simple: the consensus on global climate change is solid.

Others will outright ignore the consensus and try to argue based on their knowledge, or what they've read online, that global warming isn't happening. Many of these arguments, as well, have been addressed on this blog. I won't go through a summary of those talking points, but I would highly recommend reading the linked post. Basically, scientific evidence is also not on the side of denialists (no surprise there).

Given the evidence, it's fairly obvious that denialists of Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) don't have a leg to stand on. Why, then, do they persist? What does it take to convince a denialist?

Extreme Weather

Many scientists up until now have believed that with enough droughts, floods, heat waves and other examples of extreme weather, climate change "skeptics" (quotes because I don't like this warm, fuzzy term being used for such persistent denialists) will come to terms with reality and start addressing it appropriately. This isn't without evidence [Hamilton & Keim, 2007; Egan & Mullan, 2012], and seems reasonable enough - both studies have displayed that there is a correlation between regional weather experiences and political orientation concerning global climate change. It makes sense that if someone is getting the worst of something, they are more likely to support a theory which addresses their concerns.

As recent research shows, however, this hypothesis is not very robust and has mixed support. Moreover, it is only one piece of the puzzle. The winter of 2012 was the fourth warmest winter on record going back to 1895; and yet when asked whether or not they attribute this to climate change, only 35% of respondents said yes [McCright et al., 2014]. Granted, the study does find that individual experiences with weather anomalies has a significant effect on perceived warming; however, it still shows that even direct consequences of global warming aren't enough to convince some people. How about that? Climate change denialists are Monty Python's Black Knights.

Political Party

Although intuitive, the study by McCright et al. clarifies that there is an association between political party identification and climate change denial. This is not the first time the lead study author has established said association [McCright et al., 2011], but it raises an important question of politicization of climate change and how it affects people's perceptions of the issue.

We should all be familiar with the efforts by Bush aides to quash research and publication thereof concerning climate change. This was a major strike for party politics in science - governmental influence can be non-transparent in some scenarios, and the officials we have in government may be influencing the publication of important scientific research. Publication bias is definitely not an unheard of phenomenon, but I believe most Americans like to think that "the system" is not so corrupt. Perhaps it is. Certainly McCright thinks so: his research and examination of conservative anti-reflexivity and its impact on climate science and policy speaks for itself [McCright & Dunlap, 2010].

Don't think that conservatives are exclusive in science denialism, however. While conservatives are more likely to take a stance against global warming, liberals are more traditionally associated with anti-GMO sentiments [Lewandowsky et al., 2013], although this connection is not too strong. I can support that conclusion, however. Regardless, it stands to be said that conservativism and free-market ideology serve as good predictors for rejection of science.

Denialism can come from within the scientific community as well. Naomi Oreskes, who is well known for her study which contributed to the establishment of public knowledge of a scientific consensus on climate change [Oreskes, 2004], wrote a book, one that I would highly recommend, with Erik Conway on the political underpinnings and implications of research on several key and contentious issues in historic scientific discourse entitled Merchants of Doubt. The authors draw attention to seven issues - acid rain, smoking, secondhand smoking, the ozone hole, global warming, the Strategic Defensive Initiative, and the banning of DDT - and clarifies the scientific consensus on all of them, as well as pinpointing which small groups of scientists have been largely responsible for the unfounded charges against the consensus, which science reporters and internet bloggers had uncritically repeated.


I and my coauthor share the concerns raised by Oreskes and Conway regarding science reporting and internet blogging of scientific research, which has become very weak and uncritical in recent years; though I can't argue from experience that it has ever been too strong. Needless to say, the internet may play an even more crucial role in the public's perception of climate change that one may think.

This gets into a research topic that is of personal interest to me. I've always been interested in the ideological implications of internet filter bubbles and how web pandering to people of specific interests serves to uphold the biases and preconceptions they may have on an issue. Not everyone is familiar with filter bubbles, so let me provide two examples of how a filter bubble works: both of which are very real.

Let's use the example of hypothetical person A (HPA) and hypothetical person B (HPB). HPA (who I have modeled after myself) is very fascinated with international politics and loves to look at the historical context which led up to certain key events in American history, such as 9/11. Perhaps he has read a few books on the issue, such as The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. When he looks up "9/11" on Google, then, his first results will most likely be the Wikipedia page and a few books and articles on the situation, or maybe recent news articles regarding the issue.

HPB (who I have modeled over an old administrator of mine) is a libertarian, possibly a conspiracy nut, and despises the American government. He likes to look for all the disgusting things America has done - some of them being true, such as the atrocities at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. He's also interested in the evidence that the planes which crashed into the Twin Towers could not have caused the destruction they did, or at least in the same manner. There had to be bombs, and someone had to plant those bombs. Thus when he searches "9/11" on Google, his first result may be from Loose Change.

Let me give the other example: very recently, I wanted to look up my internet download/upload rate and see if it's comparable, or at least adequate, to modern standards. I typed into Google "is X mbps a good download rate," expecting a solid response from someone on a torrent website I've visited before. To my incredible surprise, the very first result was a thread in Stormfront. Why? Because I've also been involved in the debates over race that Lex has gotten herself into, and so despite absolutely clearing all of my search history and browser cookies/preferences, that was the result I got. When I used a web proxy, however, and searched the same thing, the Stormfront thread did not appear.

This is how filter bubbles can affect the results of your research, where you may think you're looking into something objectively, but in reality your search engine is pandering to your interests and giving you things it thinks you will like. While there is little research in this arena as far as I'm aware of, I think this is a very real cause of concern for scientific research and public engagement in the scientific discourse. The internet may be playing a dangerous role in inhibiting discussion and polarizing political and social players - or at least, a more dangerous role than we already know to be the case. While not covered heavily, I believe this can also explain part of the reason individuals persist in climate change denial, and many other types of pseudoscience, such as water fluoridation.

I gave a lot of attention to this section, but it's important to mention and make people aware of what they're potentially subjecting themselves to when they research things online. It's not very often you can extend topics of such specification beyond their initial scope like this.


This is perhaps the biggest issue regarding climate change denial. One cornerstone paper in Nature displayed that conservatives who are more scientifically or mathematically literate are even less likely than their liberal counterparts to accept global warming [Kahan et al., 2011]. This suggests that education cannot, by itself, mitigate climate change denial when political polarization is an overwhelming variable in the mixture. That being said, new research does have some interesting statements to make, both about ideology and about education.

Since it seems to be the case that science literacy can intensify polarization, as shown by the Kahan study, a better case may be to examine adolescents, perceived as a more receptive audience. Testing the level of climate literacy in teenagers, it was found that individuals with more individualistic worldviews were 16.1% less likely than communitarians to accept global warming at initial stages [Stevenson et al., 2014]. At low levels of literacy, individualists were even less likely to accept global warming - 24.1% less likely than communitarians; however, at high levels of literacy, the gap essentially closes, and the effect of climate literacy and education has a much more positive effect on individualists than communitarians. These results seem to suggest that while polarization may be an overwhelming factor in adults, early intervention and science education for adolescents and younger, equally receptive audiences can mitigate climate change denial.

Of course, it seems intuitive that educating people would help, right? Then there are those who would call it "indoctrination," but...


The "while male" effect describes how men tend to judge risks lower than women, and whites judge risks lower than blacks [Finucane et al., 2010]. I'm not too well read on this particular aspect and its contributions to climate change denial, but the evidence seems to suggest there is some association. The aforementioned study by Stevenson et al. did find a significant difference in global warming acceptance between males and females, whites and non-whites; non-whites and females were more likely to accept global warming than whites and males, thus invoking the "white male" effect. There is no solid explanation for these things - Finucane et al. suggests a complex interaction between the two factors. At an initial glance, I could say that one confounding variable would be (of course) political ideology, since non-whites and females are more likely to be liberal than whites and males. The answer, however, is not clear.


There are a multitude of reasons behind climate change denial and why it persists against the scientific consensus. Political party and the internet, in my opinion, play the biggest roles in the issue. As far as "what does it take," I think the most prospective mitigation effort would have to be science education at an early age. I recall very limited environmental science education from my early years in public primary school, and even more limited in parochial secondary school, and so am fortunate that I was not convinced at my younger ages that ACC was a hoax. I know others, however, who were not so fortunate.

There was a book I used to read a lot when I was very little, If You Give a Pig a Pancake. I think the action-consequences relationship between pigs and pancakes, and all of the related stories I read of the same syntax, describes the associations I reviewed in this article fairly well. I would have entitled this post If You Give a Denialist an Evidence, but the flow wouldn't have been good (not just because of the horrible grammar), and it also wouldn't have fit into the "Global Warming Denial" series, nor would it have revealed what I would be covering in the post itself. All my readers who got through this post in its entirety, however, may call it whatever they please.

Thank you all for reading, and I'll see you all next time!


Egan, P., & Mullin, M. (2012). Turning Personal Experience into Political Attitudes: The Effect of Local Weather on Americans’ Perceptions about Global Warming. The Journal of Politics, 74 (03), 796-809 DOI: 10.1017/S0022381612000448

Finucane, M., Slovic, P., Mertz, C., Flynn, J., & Satterfield, T. (2000). Gender, race, and perceived risk: The 'white male' effect. Health, Risk & Society, 2 (2), 159-172 DOI: 10.1080/713670162

Hamilton, L., & Keim, B. (2009). Regional variation in perceptions about climate change. International Journal of Climatology, 29 (15), 2348-2352 DOI: 10.1002/joc.1930

Kahan, D., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks. Nature Climate Change, 2 (10), 732-735 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1547

Lewandowsky, S., Gignac, G., & Oberauer, K. (2013). The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science. PLoS ONE, 8 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075637

McCright, A., & Dunlap, R. (2010). Anti-reflexivity: The American Conservative Movement's Success in Undermining Climate Science and Policy. Theory, Culture & Society, 27 (2-3), 100-133 DOI: 10.1177/0263276409356001

McCright, A., & Dunlap, R. (2011). The Politicization of Climate Change And Polarization in The American Public's Views of Global Warming, 2001-2010. Sociological Quarterly, 52 (2), 155-194 DOI: 10.1111/j.1533-8525.2011.01198.x

McCright, A., Dunlap, R., & Xiao, C. (2014). The impacts of temperature anomalies and political orientation on perceived winter warming. Nature Climate Change, 4 (12), 1077-1081 DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2443

Oreskes, N. (2004). Beyond The Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science, 306 (5702), 1686-1686 DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618

Stevenson, K., Peterson, M., Bondell, H., Moore, S., & Carrier, S. (2014). Overcoming skepticism with education: interacting influences of worldview and climate change knowledge on perceived climate change risk among adolescents. Climatic Change, 126 (3-4), 293-304 DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1228-7

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Masculinity/Femininity And The "Return Of Kings" (ROK) Complex: An Anthropological Perspective

I know, I'm sorry, I'll get to some topics that people are asking for eventually. I have several in my queue that I want to get published some time soon, but the large majority of them are going to be covered by Nick who, as I'm sure many of you have noticed, is MIA. I promise to keep things interesting, though, until that time comes; that is, I'm going to try (at least in this post) to give the attitude he may have, had he done this himself.

This is actually on behalf of a new friend of mine who will go unnamed for personal reasons. He's unfamiliar with typical Western culture and is confused easily by the way we approach issues, topics and ideas in general. Not so recently, he dug through my search history (I know, right?) and found a website that I'm pretty sure is going to inadvertently mentally scar him. This website is none other than Return Of Kings.

I have more game than Roosh V.
Return Of Kings (ROK), in my own words, is a misogynistic website filled with misogynistic people who have fringe, uninformed ideas of the way society (and people) operate. I'm fairly certain most of the stories told on that website are made up, or at least exaggerated, but that's beside the point. Its central focus rests on the concepts of masculinity and femininity, which they use as universal terms which only have one meaning. It's run by a guy who goes by the moniker "Roosh V," who has been dubbed the internet's most infamous misogynist. When I say misogynist, I mean the traditional definition of the word (not the meaningless semantics that surround its modern use): woman-hater.

Nothing particularly new or interesting here, so let's get to the point: what did my friend see that confused him so much? Well, it was this:
"Return Of Kings is a blog for heterosexual, masculine men. It’s meant for a small but vocal collection of men in America today who believe men should be masculine and women should be feminine."
He didn't understand what it meant for men to be masculine or women to be feminine; that is, he didn't realize that men could be anything but masculine, or women to be anything but feminine. I knew instantly what he was confused about: the difference between "sex" and "gender" in our culture (and all others), and how those roles can sometimes not be coincident with one another. For those of you unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, it's easily summed up in this way: sex refers to the biological differences between males and females, while gender refers to the interpretations and expectations of them prescribed by society. What ROK means by "men should be masculine" or "women should be feminine" is that the sexes of humans should maintain their "traditional" gender roles, which have been prescribed to them by their biological predispositions (or so ROK says). This is an issue that has been addressed exhaustively by people from many disciplines, but most recognizably by feminists.

I should be honest here: I'm not a feminist. I think that the goals of feminism, as it was originally intended, have long been achieved. I believe that the prejudices and discriminatory institutions/practices which may disenfranchise underprivileged groups are contingent upon complex social structures which hardly anyone actually understands (if you even understood that sentence, you're on the right track), and thus the remaining facets of the social movement are just about politics and shouting (or "critical analysis," cue laugh track). These kinds of topics normally aren't a huge focus of mine, because I'm not interested in them; quite frankly, I agree with the rest of the world that ROK should continue to be ignored, and that their idiocy is recognized by the majority of sensible people. It should really end at that.

Paraphrase: "Men should be masculine." - Cher
Someone accused me on my last post of writing specifically to apply social constructionism and "cultural determinism" to these topics; so I've figured out a way to tie this into my anthropological/psychological interests, namely by just examining their About page. Not only do I get the satisfaction of knowing that they're idiots, but I also get the joy of being able to incorporate an otherwise uninteresting topic (for me, personally) into something unique and cool. I don't think anyone else has taken the approach I'm about to take, and so this should be pretty exciting for some of you. For the rest of you, well... try anyway.

So here's what I actually figured out: the About page is, no duh, a representation of the premises the website is founded on. Rebut their premises, and you have dismissed their conclusions and insulted their ideas of masculinity and being douchebags. I don't feel like just saying that they're dumb -- I feel like explaining why they're dumb, rationally, so that other people can recognize their idiocy as well without sharing the kind of innate reactions I have to individuals/groups with behaviour similar to that of ROK. I'm going to do a point-by-point refutation of the seven premises that ROK is founded upon, and hopefully make a few people angry. Most importantly for me, however, I'm going to explain to my friend (who will, hopefully, read this post in its entirety) why none of what ROK says makes any sense given the knowledge we have, and why he may have been confused in the first place.

With that, let's begin.

1. Men and women are genetically different, both physically and mentally. Sex roles evolved in all mammals. Humans are not exempt.

This is not wrong at its face: the sexes naturally have their own physical/mental differences due to the fact that, as the nature of being male or female demands, they differ genetically. The error is in omission, or at the very least implication. Presumably, what they mean is that the sex roles found in humans (I will warn now that this is dependent on cultural context) are a result of genetic differences, and the physical/mental differences in males and females are genetic in origin. This is not the case. We hardly understand the nature of sex differences in many areas (as my last post shows), and so don't understand the origin of those differences, whether they be environmental, genetic, or a complex combination of the two. What's even more interesting is their admission that sex roles evolve in mammals. In fact they do, but these roles are not consistent with each other, and we often find "role reversal" among many species of mammals that is counter intuitive to what most people think, as many people believe that sex roles are the result of just having a sex chromosome.

Nobody denies sexual dimorphism.
Usually, one replies to these arguments by arguing Bateman's principle, which has generally been accepted as being true. It's important to note that Bateman's original experiment was flawed methodologically, although his conclusion appears to be true for most mammals, and the traditional argument that when sex roles are reversed in a species, so are other factors like reproductive success (RS) variance is not always the case. But is it true for humans? Not entirely sure, as reliable information is limited and human populations are quite diverse; however, analysis of what data is available brings some questions to Bateman's principles as applied to humans. This study has been batted around as both supporting and opposing Bateman's conclusions, but such debates should be suspect to scrutiny due to the fact that there were only 18 populations examined in the study. At present, as stated, we're not sure what the nature is of many complexities in the human species in terms of sex/gender differences. It is vital to remember, though, that the extent that culture plays a role in our species is unprecedented in any other species of mammal, and so the consequences are very possibly not what we'd expect.

2. Men will opt out of monogamy and reproduction if there are no incentives to engage in them.

This is a peculiar claim. I'd venture to guess that the reason they included "if there are no incentives to engage in them" is that the people at ROK see monogamous marriage (i.e. to them, dedication to a woman) as a sign of weakness or inferiority in men, and so if they find themselves in this position, they can say "I had a logical reason to do this for my own benefit."

The reason it's peculiar, however, is that it's at odds with reality. While the majority of societies in the world do practice polygamy (about 83% of sampled societies), most people practice monogamy due to increasing industrialization and the fact that industrialized cultures have greater populations than pre-industrialized cultures. What I find funny about the argument, however, is that if we're speaking in terms of RS variance or just evolution, what incentive could be greater than having more children? Then I get confused, because it says they'll opt out of reproduction as well, which is antithetical to Bateman's principles and, well, evolution, which is (according to them) the cause of the differences between men and women that they so desperately want to preserve and declare. Maybe this is bad writing on the owner's part, but I think it's more likely that this is a result of stupidity.

Getting back to the argument, it could be countered that the "incentive" (or rather, the pressure) for more people to practice monogamy is industrialization; that is, to keep up with the status quo, men are practicing monogamy at "unnatural" levels. But societies change -- if we go back far enough, all of our ancestors were hunter-gatherers (H/G). These changes don't just occur as preemptive self-pressures from the future status quo, but as responses to many different pressures as a result of cultural adaptation, a unique phenomenon mostly exclusive to humans. It could be argued that this is "bad," but to what standard do we hold this to be true? Because it's assumed to be biological? This is an appeal to nature, as what's "natural" isn't always the best, and what's biological isn't necessarily the prevailing pressure on how we behave and think.

What's even more interesting about this is that our origins aren't even polygamous. Many H/G cultures did and do exhibit monogamy. This is because marriage systems only make sense in the context of culture, not as part of some evolutionary preference in our species.

3. Past traditions and rituals that evolved alongside humanity served a net benefit to the family unit.

Of course, but this is a universal statement for a multifaceted phenomenon. The structure of a family unit changes from culture to culture, from consanguineous to nuclear to polygamous to extended families dominating whatever given society, and so "traditions and rituals" (as vague as that is, but I'll go with it) "evolved" alongside human cultures in a way that these complex social systems make sense when combined together. Here, it's assumed that "traditions and rituals" holds no ambiguity and makes sense even when not given a particular time or space in which those traditions and rituals were found, but this is consistent with the assumed universality of all of the claims made on ROK as the basis for their beliefs. This one isn't too interesting, so let's move on.

4. Testosterone is the biological cause for masculinity. Environmental changes that reduce the hormone’s concentration in men will cause them to be weaker and more feminine.

Here we get into the definition of masculinity. I can't make any assumptions based just on what I see here, but what I can say for sure is that "masculinity" changes, again, from culture to culture and has no set definition. Presumably what they mean is that their definition of "masculine" is the right one, and so that is the basis for their claims. Circulating testosterone levels are higher in males than in females and do result in the enhancement of sex traits, and to this extent I might agree with this premise. The difficulty to be found here, however, is the burning question: what is masculinity?

Notice how most of these effects are non-behavioural.
Testosterone can be linked to a suite of traits, including muscle growth and efficiency, alcoholism and aggression (although the evidence for the latter is up for scrutiny); yet I wouldn't start calling a man less "masculine" for not being an alcoholic or being able to control his temper. This is because masculinity is up for interpretation, and testosterone is not the only thing which influences this trait. For example, one might consider it gay for men to be hugging and kissing in a bar, yet this is quite common in Spain and Italy after a celebration or a winning football game. It might be considered feminine for men to be shy and timid, avoiding direct eye contact in America, but this is the norm in Japan. Gender roles are culturally constructed, and so to say that hormones cause men to be "masculine" is only one perspective. It would be more accurate to say "testosterone is important in the expression of sex traits in males and females, and some attributes of those traits, such as increased muscle or more hair, are considered 'masculine' in American society." There are no universal claims to be made here, however.

5. A woman’s value significantly depends on her fertility and beauty. A man’s value significantly depends on his resources, intellect, and character.

This seems contradictory to the "men will opt out of reproduction" claim, unless of course "beauty" is the incentive to marry and reproduce... but then what is beauty? There are different standards of beauty around the world, again: probably the most well known example of this is the 'peculiar' tradition of women of the Kayan tribe in Thailand to add gold rings to their neck when they're young and keep adding to stretch out their necks. Another example might be self-scarring in the Karo tribe of Ethiopia, which is seen as a beautiful trait for women. This same habit of self-scarring is seen among the Nuer of southern Sudan, only it is also seen as a sign of maturity and masculinity among the men (the boys receive gaar on their foreheads to enter manhood, while the women have their skin plucked to create bumps on their skin).

So we see that beauty has different definitions; but whatever the case may be, is it true that fertility and beauty are what women are valued for universally? This is not so. Women in many horticultural societies with bride-wealth systems of marriage exchange are seen as valuable purely for the fact that once they are married off, they receive wealth from the groom, and this wealth is shared with their brothers so that they are able to marry. A woman's value in these cultures, then, is dependent on their ability to get their brothers married as well. A woman's wealth is her value in systems where the marriage exchange is through a dowry, as (although this is unintended) her wealth is then transferred to the husband's possession (unless the woman is smart enough to bury it, or something).

So, a woman's beauty is subjective, her fertility should be irrelevant according to ROK, and neither of these are necessary/sufficient conditions for her to be seen as valuable. What of men? Is their value dependent on their resources, intellect and character?

"Beauty" to the Nuer.
Notice how these three traits enable the man much more leniency than the woman. ROK sets strict standards for beauty and denounces many things which may be seen as beautiful to other people from other cultures or backgrounds, such as piercings or tattoos. Their fertility is not up for interpretation. A man's character, intellect and resources, however, are all up for interpretation, with the former probably having the strictest conditions of the three. What makes a man intelligent? I doubt they ask for a man's IQ upon meeting him, or expect women to do so. I also doubt that their only condition for intellect is "think like us" (though this wouldn't surprise me). What is "character," too? Confidence? Is that it? Who knows? I certainly don't, but I can say quite easily that a man's value can be dependent on other things as well.

Consider the Nuer again. A man's value in their culture is the beauty, strength and health of his cattle, which he worships as being his connection to God. Could this be considered a resource? Perhaps, but you could say then that everything is a resource: beauty is a resource if used correctly, as are power tools. Resource is a vague term, and so if this is the standard of value for men, men have a lot of leeway; and coming from ROK, it's not hard to see why this may be the case.

6. Elimination of traditional sex roles and the promotion of unlimited mating choice in women unleashes their promiscuity and other negative behaviors that block family formation.

We've already discussed how the family unit is also a cultural construct, but what of this claim that if "traditional sex roles" are eliminated, and unlimited mating choice is promoted, that women will become promiscuous? This is also not so, but this is by their own admission. As we've seen, a woman's value is dependent on her beauty and her fertility. If, then, a woman is "ugly" and infertile, she can try to be as promiscuous as she wants and violate all the traditional sex roles that they want her to have; her desires will not come to fruition, and "true men" will shun her as being low in worth and not appropriate for marriage. Also, what family formation do they see as being desirable? Presumably not one contingent on monogamy, but then what is their standard for the family unit? Polygamous marriage and subsequent creation of an "odd" family unit in America, for example, would be antithetical to personal liberties and individualization which marks industrialized societies.

Let's get past that, though. Do women become promiscuous if sex roles are destroyed and unlimited mating choices are granted to them? Apparently not, as the fertility rate (according to them) drops when these things occur, as we will see in their final premise. In addition, as one of the articles reveal, they find this perfectly acceptable and go out of their way to benefit from such behaviour.

So their arguments are contradictory, we get that, but I know that someone is going to say "contraception!" So, assuming contraception is available to all women, and they meet the qualifications again, does their promiscuity increase? Again, it is not so. If this were the case, we should expect that women who are more promiscuous would use more contraceptives to counter their behaviour, but this isn't the case. Women who use contraceptives are no more likely to engage in promiscuous behaviour than their counterparts. At every facet of this argument, it falls apart. Now, for the final point.

7. Socialism, feminism, cultural Marxism, and social justice warriorism aim to destroy the family unit, decrease the fertility rate, and impoverish the state through large welfare entitlements.

I wanted to make a post about this in the past, but since it has come up here, I'll just state the facts. First off, the concept of "cultural Marxism" is a joke. Secondly, there's no connection between socialism and fertility (otherwise the United States TFR would be skyrocketing, and Sweden's TFR would be plummeting, but they're comparable). There's also no connection between feminism and fertility (otherwise Japan's TFR would be skyrocketing, and America's TFR would be plummeting, but America's TFR is higher than Japan's). We've already gone over the family unit, and socialist nations are by far not the most impoverished states in the world. Fertility rates are dropping because of economic downfall, higher rates of education, government policy actions (i.e. China, India), etc. This is not too interesting to talk about since the data is out there and readily available. It's just wrong.

Fertility rate by country. No signs of socialist interference here.
We're finally done. For those of you who kept up with all of this, good job. Now it's time to talk about the Return Of Kings Complex. As we've observed ROK seems to set standards that are much more lenient on men than on women, and do so without any backing. They are also contradictory in their stances, and so will say that one thing (feminism) causes fertility rates to fall, but will also cause promiscuity to rise. We know this to not be the case. Another example was that they claim promiscuous behaviour is bad and destroys the family unit, and yet they indulge in it.

So what are their motivations? Why is it that they make so many contradictory claims, and are so strong about how they think men and women should behave, when they have little-to-no support for their views? Let's consider a combination of things they believe:

1: Women will be promiscuous if given certain pressures, and this is bad; however, they're okay with it.
2: Men will not engage in monogamy unless given incentive to, yet the family unit (presumably the nuclear one) needs to be preserved.
3: Feminism is causing the destruction of the family unit and the fertility rate.
4: Women are only valuable because of their fertility and beauty, nothing else.

What can be inferred from each of these beliefs?

1: Women shouldn't be promiscuous, but men should be promiscuous and thus it's okay to be promiscuous with women who are promiscuous, so long as they're beautiful.
2: Men will naturally want more than one wife, but the family unit is being destroyed by women.
3: Empowering women and bringing them up in society causes the destruction of fertility rates and the family unit.
4: Women are not valued for anything besides how useful and appealing they are to men.

The motivation? No shit, they just really don't like women (but love them) and really love men (but they're not gay) and want men to be in charge (they like it like that). The conclusion?

The folks over at ROK are bisexual misanthropes who like to take it doggy style. This is the ROK Complex.

Thank you all very much for reading.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Evolutionary Sins: The Gender Gap In Spatial Cognition And Navigation

Layne Vashro and wife Chelsea with Chief Koyo and family.
Yesterday, Science Daily reported on a study conducted by anthropologists from University of Utah entitled Spatial cognition, mobility, and reproductive success in northwestern Namibia. The test subjects were dozens of members from indigenous tribes, the Twe (Twa) and Tjimba (Cimba) people of northwestern Namibia, whom lead study author Layne Vashro has researched extensively and produced a nice amount of literature therefrom. This is likely related to the Spatial Cognition and Navigation (SCAN) Project -- a project which I had the pleasure and benefit of analyzing for an essay in one of my anthropology courses. It's very prospective research, but this particular study is still in press corrected proof, and having read the study, I think there are a few hasty conclusions drawn from their findings, namely that spatial ability and navigation are a result of evolutionary selection, and that this difference explains the somewhat more ubiquitous phenomenon of greater spacial ability in men than women. In this post I'll be examining the data from this study, and then using the products of other ethnographic research to explain why Vashro & Cashdan's findings do not necessarily show that navigational ability is a product of evolution.

This study conducted several tests of spatial ability on the subjects, including pointing to different directions in the Kunene region and stating whether a rotated hand on a screen was a left or a right hand after 7.5 seconds. It was found on the tests, after excluding individuals who didn't understand them, that men did significantly better than women. These findings, the research authors suggest, support the hypothesis that spatial ability has evolved in men for reproductive success. The reason for this, they continue, is because men who were better able to navigate long distances were also better able to find several mates with whom they could have children with; and since marriage does not restrict a man's sexual behaviours in these tribes, they were best to be studied, as they were less likely to be constrained by their marriages.

"Some people think it is culturally constructed, but that doesn't explain why the pattern is shared so broadly across human societies and even in some other species," explained Elizabeth Cashdan. At an initial glance, this seems like a pretty rational conviction with a cultural hypothesis: if this is contingent upon culture, then why is it that multiple cultures, and even multiple species, have these same abilities?

The novel debate.
The problem with this conclusion, first of all is that it's an evolutionary misconception. This is something that I touched up on in my post of a similar title: the idea that because something is, it therefore evolved to be this way. This is fallacious -- traits which have evolved are not always used in ways they developed for, and just because something is the way it is now does not mean it was supposed to be this way. In that post, I used the example of bird feathers, where it was not developed for flight, but for temperature regulation. Similarly, we can say that spatial abilities evolved, but just because this trait is exhibited in certain ways and has certain benefits now does not mean it evolved for that reason.

Second of all, the hypothesis in question has little support from research which directly tests its viability. If spatial ability is a dimorphic trait which evolved in men over women to travel over wide ranges and navigate to find more mates and produce more offspring, then we should expect the differential to be constant across species with such wide ranges, and for the gap to decrease when ranges decrease. In fact, this is not the case. The comparative analysis by Clint et al. (2012) shows that across 35 studies of 11 species, while 8 out of 11 of the species do display this gap in spatial navigation, this tendency occurred regardless of the size of territories or the extent to which male ranges spanned further than female ranges. The authors suggest an alternative hypothesis, that perhaps the differential is a side effect of sex differences in testosterone, but there is little evidence to support this; certainly, however, there seems to not be much evidence, if any at all, for the evolutionary hypothesis.

Of course, I should be fair and state ahead of time that the authors do not suggest definitively that the gender gap in spatial ability has evolved for this reason, but merely that it's a hypothesis which is supported by the evidence. No, the idea that this is definitively the answer is more the fault of science reporting and the articles that have appeared in response to this article. Ignoring the reporting and prior studies, if we go by the authors' interpretations, they're not wrong: this could suggest that the spatial gap is a result of evolutionary differences, but it could also suggest cultural differences as well. But what reason do we have to believe one over the other?

Well, one reason which might suggest that spatial ability is the product of culture is that we know this to be the case based on already existing evidence; and in fact, the discrepancy between cultures (i.e. the lack of total universality) is what supports this.

To begin, consider the way direction is analyzed in the west; that is, in America, Canada, Europe, and so on -- English speaking countries. In common usage, direction is usually told respective to ourselves: left, right, front (or forward) and back (or behind). This is how we tell stories, how we give directions, and how we map the world around us, and in fact this has been fairly unproblematic in our daily lives. It's natural -- second nature to us, and because we can all understand it, we can all interact via these methods.

However, this method of navigation is not consistent between cultures. The most famous example of this is the Australian Aboriginal tribe, the Guugu Yimithirr. Their navigational abilities, unlike ours, are based on cardinal directions: North, South, East and West. Like us, this is also their practical use of direction, i.e. the one they use when speaking to other people, giving directions, telling stories, etc. When telling stories, for example, about when a fishing/hunting boat capsized, they would say the people jumped off the East side of the boat. When comparing the same story told by multiple individuals, this direction is remarkably consistent. This use of direction isn't biological, however, but is taught from a young age, as early as two.

Guugu Yimithirr warriors.
Yet, the Guugu Yimithirr have problems with their method. When introduced to a region they aren't familiar with, where they can't orient themselves to familiar landmarks, they can no longer tell directions. This is very different from the system used by English speakers, because we can use our methodology in almost all situations, so long as we can see. Thus we can see that while the Guugu Yimithirr have developed remarkable spatial ability compared to that of English speakers, it would only confer success in their specific region. This shows not only cultural boundaries, but evolutionary boundaries as well.

These are only two examples of how culture constructs our navigational abilities, and thus potentially explain the differences between cultures and even between sexes/genders in a particular culture. This analysis examines the differences between how cultures utilize direction without regarding gender. There is evidence, however, which examines the gender gap as well, and provides strong support for the cultural explanation, namely by displaying how difference in kinship and marriage systems might explain the discrepancy.

Consider the Khasi and Karbi tribes of northern India. The Karbi tribe practices a patrilineal kinship system, which (very briefly) means that inheritance and descent are passed down through men to their offspring. Characteristic of this type of kinship system is very strong, hard-to-break marriages as well as strict gender roles and restriction of women's sexuality. The Khasi tribe, on the other hand, is matrilineal, which means descent is passed down by women, by inheritance is passed by men -- but the assets which men own are often reliant on marrying women. Cultures which have this type of kinship system more often exhibit egalitarian characteristics, with women not being restricted in their sexuality, with relationships between siblings being strong, weaker marriages, etc.

The Khasi people at a dancing festival in 2005.
It should be no surprise, then, that despite these two tribes being very genetically and geographically similar to each other, they show differences in gendered spatial abilities. In the Karbi tribe, men completed spatial ability tasks 36% faster than women; but in the Khasi tribe, they showed no significant differences. Similarly, they controlled for socioeconomic status as well: since there are some women in the Karbi tribe who do own land and wealth when there are no sons, they tested individual households within the tribe. Then, they found that in households with higher status women, the gap in spatial ability closes by about a third. In addition, controlling for education shrank the gap by a third as well.

Admittedly, this doesn't explain why or how culture influences these factors, but lends very strong credence to the cultural hypothesis, and reconciles for factors which may not be accounted for by Vashro & Cashdan (2014). There are problems with the Hoffman study, however: their test of spatial abilities (an Object Assembly task) may or may not accurately represent the cognitive faculties in question. It should be noted however that their sample was a rare one, and was intended to promote future prospective research, but to my knowledge no such research has been conducted, likely due to the difficulties Hoffman et al. (2011) faced when attempting to teach their sample subjects how to conduct higher-level tasks of spatial abilities.

Nonetheless, this study remains significant for the subject at hand: whether or not Vashro & Cashdan's evolutionary hypothesis of sexually dimorphic expression for spatial cognition holds water. Likewise, the very fact that there exists such discrepancies in spatial abilities between cultures, and even within cultures, further supports the cultural hypothesis. Finally, while I won't discuss it in full detail here, we also have the pioneering work of anthropologist Dianna Shandy and economist Karine Moe to explain the cultural pressures which cause gender gaps in and different responses to certain tasks, including navigation.

It's honestly hard to believe that this recent research is being used to support the idea that spatial memory has evolved higher in men than women everywhere, even though there are clear cultural differences in this cognitive gap. To accept the evolutionary hypothesis, the trait should be much more universal than is the gap between genders in spatial abilities; nonetheless, this is a good example of western reductionism and how we find it very easy to find simple explanations for complex traits. This is much less a criticism of Vashro & Cashdan, but of the reports of their study. It's important to suggest alternatives in the scientific literature, as the two authors have done, but there are no definitive answers to be found here. We need to be careful that when we suggest an evolutionary explanation for observed traits, that the evidence is robust enough. While it's clear that there is cultural influence on spatial ability, there may be biological influences as well; however, the evidence at present, in my opinion, is not clear to support that suggestion.

Thank you all very much for reading.

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ResearchBlogging.orgHaviland, J. (1998). Guugu Yimithirr Cardinal Directions. Ethos, 26 (1), 25-47 DOI: 10.1525/eth.1998.26.1.25
Hoffman, M., Gneezy, U., & List, J. (2011). Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (36), 14786-14788 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1015182108

Vashro, L., & Cashdan, E. (2014). Spatial cognition, mobility, and reproductive success in northwestern Namibia. Evolution and Human Behavior, DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.09.009