Articles to 2015-04-30

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First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

So much for the ongoing and unfinished fight for female equality say Williams & Ceci. Interestingly it is just the one group most strongly stereotyped as male chauvinists, who have retained a sensible degree of objectivity.

What Bohannon reports is a very disturbing state of affairs if true. For a human reader of reports trying to weed out factual and methodological nonsense it is the easiest thing in the world also to notice linguistic gibberish at no extra effort at all. So if Springer spends money on automatic detection of the latter it can only mean they have not the slightest intention of doing anything about the obvious shortcomings in the former. They are unperturbed about scientific misconduct, only about being shown up and ridiculed for it.

Three related articles by Paul Sullins pose a bit of a conundrum. Sullins is a genuine associate professor at the prestigious Catholic University of America. The articles themselves seem to be of above average standard for sociology, as far as I can tell, but all three are published with the same predatory, disreputable and unrecognized publisher. Their subject is same sex parenthood but the results, well hidden and mentioned in passing, show that same sex has little to do with it and the most important parameter is biological vs. foster parenting.
    “Consideration of biological parentage, as Model 5.3 shows, renders null all same-sex parent risk ratios, fully accounting for differences between same-sex and opposite-sex parents in child emotional problems.” Br.J.Ed.Soc.&Beh.Sci., 107
    “Keyes et al., examining emotional problems among children adopted in infancy, found that ‘being adopted approximately doubled the odds of having contact with a mental health professional and of having a disruptive behavior disorder’ ” Br.J.Ed.Soc.&Beh.Sci., 102
    So on the one hand in genuine cases of adoption it seems that same sex parentage is as good as heterosexual, on the other it places a big question mark on planned parenthood via surrogate mothers.

Widom is the first prospective study of generational transmission of child abuse. Its main result is, that contrary to popular belief child victims of physical abuse do not have a higher rate of becoming abusive parents themselves. There may be a doubling of sexual abuse and of neglect, but trying to estimate the detection rates, it is quite plausible that this is a pure artefact from children of parents already on the books being under tighter supervision than others. So a highly gratifying result where I can’t fault the methodology.
    The same can’t be said for the ancillary results. Taking the numbers from the control group it seems that in every school class sized group in America one child is physically abused, slightly less than one sexually, two are neglected, one is not provided for, and two are unsupervised. Abuse seems to be a normal part of growing up in America. (The control group was socio-economically matched to that of known abusers. But even if not representative, this still represents quite a large part of society as a whole.) The flagged lack of supervision especially rings a bell. An educated, responsible family somewhere in Maryland allowed their children, aged 10 and 6, to walk home from the park only a few hundred yards distant not alone but together. They were picked up by the police and the parents reprimanded and harassed for weeks afterwards. Months later the same thing happened again but worse. So completely normal behaviour seems to be criminalized in the US.
    In fact the children were abused. After being enticed into the police car with the promise of being driven home they were detained in that car for hours and then transported to the youth welfare department, where they were confined for further hours until after dark in the evening. They were not allowed to telephone their parents nor were the parents called by the police or anyone else. By the time they were finally informed the parents and all the neighbourhood were out on search for them all over the area. If that’s not abduction and abuse, then what is?
    Furthermore no human rights organisation would stand for half the amount of permanent solitary confinement and constant surveillance, much of it by electronic means, American children are constantly subjected to, were it not directed against children but against convicted criminals in gaol. Something is wrong here and against that background the whole premise of the study becomes questionable.
    There is by the way one criticism in the newspaper articles cited above, that I can’t agree with. It is the one about people calling the police rather than speaking to the children first. Would you, as a man in the currant paranoid climate, dare to approach a strange child in the street? When I was a child myself it was quite normal but I for one would think twice about it nowadays and probably refrain.

At first glance Stahl & Feigenson contains nothing new or surprising, but their result leads to a very important corollary. It is absolutely essential for infants to play with simple and physical things like blocks and balls, or if you’re inclined the Waldorf way conkers, pebbles and napkins. What children of that age absolutely must not have is magical stuff like Ipads or plastic toys emitting long and complicated sequences of noise and motion on pressing or turning just the right place in just the right way, unless you actually want to imbue a conception of the world as magic and unknowable coupled to the necessity to follow rules exactly without ever being able to understand or question them.

If the value of 100 $ per avoided ton of CO2 as in Burtt & Dargusch is correct – and offhand I can’t find any mistake – than that equals 36 cents per kg of carbon, which seems a lot.

My decades old knowledge of physics is far too limited for me to grasp the details in Harvey et al., but I can’t fail to notice one point. On the one hand they accept a σDM/m = –0.25±0.42 cm2/g as distinctly non-zero – or they would not have any effect to write about – on the other a β = –0.06±0.07 as compatible with zero – or their theory would break down. Besides that I don’t quite understand what to make of a negative cross section and a negative distance (or negative ratio of two distances). Interestingly this article comes right next to a surprisingly successful validation of the standard model by Borsanyi et al.. My essentially unsubstantiated gut feeling continues to be, neither dark matter nor energy are real and will turn out to be artefacts of incomplete models or misinterpreted observations.

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