Posts on Experimental Fallacies and Pics Proving Plasticity Project Progress (O RLY!)

I want to draw your attention—again—to some fabulous work of others: an incredibly cute owl I encountered on one of the books I’m reading for my summer project, and two remarkable recent weblog posts on experiments in the life sciences.

stacey ritzLet’s start with the latter: Stacey Ritz and her revealingly exaggerating piece “Men Sent to Mars and Women Sent to Venus: A Thought Experiment in Honor of the NIH’s Upcoming Policies on Incorporating Sex in Basic Research.” The plot is pretty simple: a man and a woman are taken to Mars and Venus respectively, where they successfully clone themselves. Fifty years later, the Earth sends some scientists to gather data on the clone populations, which are then interpreted by terrestrial standards some of us are all too familiar with. That is, SR points to several fallacies committed in the data analysis and interpretation: genetically-inherited tendencies aren’t investigated; socio-cultural factors aren’t taken into consideration; environmental influences as well as interactions between genetics and environment are ignored; and researcher bias and over-extrapolation are not addressed.

Similar to the concern I expressed with regard to a comparable initiative of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research a few posts ago, SR concludes: “I am far from convinced that simply requiring scientists to include male and female cells or animals in their work will be a significant advance in addressing sex and gender in medical research—in fact, I fear that a crude approach of this sort will not only fail to address concerns around equity, but it may in fact exacerbate them and serve to affirm our cultural bias that men are from Mars and women are from Venus.” Oh yeah. (Oh no, I mean.)

christian jarrettThe second noteworthy post is Christian Jarrett’s elaboration on: “Is It Really True That Watching Porn Will Shrink Your Brain?” After a functional connectivity study had revealed a negative correlation between watching porn and the amount of grey matter in the right striatum, CJ states: “One may be tempted [‘to assume that the frequent brain activation caused by pornography exposure might lead to wearing and down regulation of the underlying brain structure, as well as function’, as had been written in the publication], but one should really know better.” Cause and effect might have been conflated, personalities were not taken into consideration, and, most notably, all of the subjects were healthy. Thus, CJ provocatively suggests an alternative title for the study: “Watching moderate amounts of porn won’t hurt your brain.” Oh yeah. (This time for real.)

owl detailFinally: the owl. It’s literally an owl, which I just couldn’t withhold from you; in particular not because I promised to keep you updated on my progress regarding the plasticity / sex difference summer project. I will make sure to order more books from Bryn Mawr in the future, if only to find out whether they always put the cute stamp on the band or whether I witnessed some very special moment in the history of the E-ZBorrow network. For now, enjoy the pics and check out the books I went through today—what you see on the table is only a small fraction—, and I will write more later.books

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