Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Around the web: sex, birth, brainz

This semester I have decided not to do weekly roundups of links useful to the courses I teach, because last semester it was exhausting to me, and as it turns out only minimally read by my students. However, I continue to bookmark stuff I find interesting, and I have reached such a critical mass that I've decided to share it. Some of what I want to share is focused on the ladybusiness, but I also want to share some links on brainz, and for students.

Let's talk about sex

A few posts have come out recently on sex: who wants it, who gets it, and the sexual health of adolescents. Mark Regnerus writes "Sex is Cheap: Why young men have the upper hand, even when they're failing at life," which I thought was reductive and pretty disparaging to both young men and women. I was surprised at how the author talked only about heterosexual sex (why is this ok? why is this interesting?), and how he shared a single quote for each woman he interviewed, and magically it fit nicely into his own narrative. It seems like the story here is in the choices young women and men are making... so it would make sense to share the more nuanced results of the interviews Regnerus says he conducted. That said, I did learn a few things, the most disheartening related to unwanted sex:
"Finally, as my colleagues and I discovered in our interviews, striking numbers of young women are participating in unwanted sex—either particular acts they dislike or more frequent intercourse than they'd prefer or mimicking porn (being in a dating relationship is correlated to greater acceptance of and use of porn among women)."
Unwanted sex is one of those gray areas where the sex is technically consensual... but one partner doesn't really want to do it. How have we gotten to the point that more young women don't feel it's ok to say no to their partners? I don't think it's because of a poor dating pool as seems to be the working hypothesis of the author, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

To contrast, Yes Means Yes is an anthology edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti that became a blog to continue the conversation on rape culture and female sexual empowerment. In a post on said blog, Gender Differences and Casual Sex: The New Research they look at some of the same material as the post above, as well as a new paper by Terri Conley showing that men and women aren't that different in their perspectives on casual sex as was once thought. The blog contributor, named Thomas, does a great rundown of the study's findings and explains how earlier studies of casual sex -- like the study many of you have likely heard of, where men and women are randomly propositioned in public -- is both unlikely and particularly repulsive to women given rape culture, and therefore sets up a sex difference that a more nuanced study easily demolishes.

Birth and babies

Randi Hutter Epstein, author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, wrote a short but sweet piece on labor inductions in Psychology Today. She shares some of the shortcomings of a medical model that thinks that any labor over thirty seven weeks can be safely induced. This relates to a recent story about a March of Dimes initiative to reduce early inductions, and some hospitals in the Chicago area are taking part.

And, while I wrote this a little while ago, it seems important to link the above to the kerfuffle that arose when a study came out last year claiming that home births were far more dangerous than hospital births, and the editors of the Lancet used the study as a chance to jump up and down on home birth. Given that only half of a percent of women in the US do home births, it makes more sense to use this as an opportunity not to bash home births but have a frank conversation about whether the cascade of interventions guaranteed by stepping into a hospital to give birth leads to a safer delivery for mom and baby.

Next, Scicurious of tag-team blogging fame and general awesomeness, has a real winner. Today, she reviewed cool research on sex roles from the seventies. She shows how our perception of the gender of a baby impacts how we treat it (and how dolls might make better toys than footballs for babies, no matter what).

And then, for your dose of cute (well, cute if you don't mind amniotic sacs and vaginas, which I don't), here are Five Miraculous Animal Births (don't know why they are miraculous, but they are certainly cool).


First, Sci has another great post, this time on research on exercise, hippocampus size and memory in the elderly that made me vow to play derby until I need a cane to skate.

You might have seen the recent buzz about PKMZeta, a protein that may aid in strengthening old memories. Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science (check out the spiffy new banner!) has a three-part series on it. I also loved David Dobbs's piece exploring problems in cognitive science: Is Cognitive Science Full of Crap? (Yes. Well, sometimes. Maybe. Except sometimes not and then it's really very cool.) John Hawks also has an interesting piece called Numbers as Cognitive Technology: this post explores how we understand numbers, at a population variation (regarding language), developmental (regarding John's twins, who I imagine to be very cute, with thought bubbles of fingers and toes above their heads) and even comparative (Alex the Parrot!) level.

Then, a more devastating piece that, to me, highlights some of the problems with the medical metaphor of humans as machines: Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology writes about a New York Times piece about how the field of psychiatry has changed with time.

Oh, and this one was absolutely nothing to do with brainz, but it's written by Dr. Zen of NeuroDojo so I've shoehorned him in here :). Dr. Zen looks at the two peer-reviewed papers to come out after the #arseniclife fiasco and shows how one in particular intentionally miscategorizes the great post-peer review that happened on blogs as "anonymous electronic communications," since in fact the majority of the commenters were using their own names (and even if they weren't, again, there is a big difference between anonymous and pseudonymous). This sounds an awful lot like the response that came out after #aaafail, where, rather than addressing the many critical, thoughtful bloggers, it all got labeled as "outside commentary."

Learning links

First, for graduate students: Mamacademic: How I hack parenthood, grad school, etc. A nice piece on the perils of parenthood, because it is constructive. Then, a related post both on pregnancy style and how to deal with questions around parenting in graduate school. And while this next post isn't directly about grad students, GayProf discusses a disturbing panel he attended where faculty recommended having children in order to achieve work/life balance, a way that was clearly not situated in the context of whether one wants to have children, and who ends up doing most of the work of childrearing. Not to mention, you know, the rampant heterosexism.

But on to the links you actually expected under this heading. Dan Simons, fellow prof here at the University of Illinois and co-author of The Invisible Gorilla, wrote a great piece on study habits and what students think they know versus what they actually know. Read it, then study the way he tells you to! Hint: re-reading the text is not how you learn the material.

Then there is this perspective over at Observations, a Scientific American blog, that posits we should teach kids more about the process of science. How can this translate into better science ed in higher ed as well? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Most of what I do centers on having students do actual studies, or assist in research in my lab, or sometimes propose avenues of research as part of a project. But maybe there are more fun things we can be doing in a classroom setting that would lead to more students understanding the scientific method and the process of science.

I also want to share this great tutorial on how to choose a research project. This is useful for students at all levels... and post-docs and faculty, too.

Your dose of random

Steve Silberman interviews Seth Mnookin regarding his new book The Panic Virus. I've been avidly reading all of Mnookin's press materials and look forward to reading the book, but as always Silberman does an exceptional job so I particularly recommend his post.

This article made the rounds in the twittersphere on how to improve comment sections. I just liked it a lot and found it a great tutorial on fostering online communities.

Then, for my anthropology peeps, an important article on problematizing the thrifty gene, particularly around race and racism. Something to share with your students.

People have been rocking out in the SciAm Guest Blog. Check out this book review of Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used to Hijack Medical Science for Fear and Profit by Valerie Jones.

If you haven't had enough counter-evidence to the idea of science blogs as an echo chamber, check out Colin Schultz's treatment of a recent paper on linking patterns in science blogs versus traditional journalism.

Finally, check out this interactive map on well-being in the US in the New York Times. I found a lot of the patterns really interesting, in terms of what portions of the US lit up when.

[11:26am CST: Edited to add two links for Scicurious, because the links were on my list but then I forgot.]


  1. First of all, I love this round-up - I think I clicked on at least 5 links!
    Second, the article from Psych Today about due dates struck a chord with me today b/c I am in MX doing research and was sitting in prenatal appointments all day long. The doctor seeing new patients would give them a due date with the admonishment that the baby would most likely come within a two-week period around that time so not to worry. I thought that was fantastic. From my research however, Mexico has a high c-section rate rivaling that of the US. I will be interested to see how the 30 women I am currently interviewing end up having their babies.

  2. Hi Erica, thanks for commenting! I'm glad to hear the doc you're working with is saying this. I do think it's fairly common for doctors to give a due date, and then explain that a mother isn't "overdue" until two weeks have passed (though in the US this is slowly creeping to only one week).

    I wonder if the high c-section rate in Mexico and the US might actually be because of the window given? That is, if you hit that window around your due date, surely it's safe to give birth now, so if you want the baby out, you are tired or had a hard pregnancy, or the rotations are about to all change, or your doc is about to go on vacation... why not induct? And then, unfortunately, it's just a skip and a hope to c-sections, since inductions so often cause fetal distress that then causes a doc to want to do a c-section.

    So maybe it's important to not only explain that that window is normal, but that it could actually be harmful or increase one's risk of major surgery to try and get things started before the baby is ready. If the baby triggers things in that window, great! But unless there is some reason the baby will be safer out than in, leaving the kid alone is the best bet.

    Your research sounds interesting, I hope you share more at some point!