Derbyshire on Obama, race and science

In The National Review, John Derbyshire is arguing that Barack Obama is bad for science because:

Barack Obama was raised in an atmosphere of “cultural Marxism. His mind was set that way, and he retained the essential precepts of the creed into adult life, as his close association with somewhat-more-than-cultural Marxist Bill Ayers illustrates (as of course do Obama’s remarks quoted above). Obama would fill his administration with cultural Marxists like himself, whose attitude to human-sciences research is the one spelled out by Edward O. Wilson in his book On Human Nature.

Derbyshire’s argument in a nutshell is that science is increasingly giving us hard evidence that variations among humans is genetically determined, meaning that systematic differences we perceive between sexes or races are probably not from “nurture” but “nature.” Since Obama is a “cultural Marxist”, he wouldn’t be willing to fund the good science that supports these “metaphysical implications more disturbing than..those of quantum mechanics.”

The article is hard to read, for me at least, because of its a) misrepresentation of established science, b) racist undertones and c) sexist overtones (see his definition of geneticist v genomicist). However, the vast majority of people in this country still view race as a biological entity, a natural kind. Further, scare tactics appear to be successful in many arenas, including arguments about conspiracies in the scientific community (e.g., that creationism is being methodically suppressed). Derbyshire may be wacky, but his views resonate with people. It’s worth watching how these threads: anti-intellectualism, racism and sexism interrelate.

See PZ Myers for just a few rebuttals to Derbyshire’s claims. Readers, add your own analysis in the comments. And please, so we can all follow along, if you make a claim about a scientific fact, please provide a citation, either via web link or journal article. Thanks!

Do you order like a woman? Or a man?

Are upscale restaurants the last refuge for highly gendered, binary behavior?  The NY Times seems to think so, and they’ve got some reasons.

Their reasons go way beyond who servers think should order the wine or get the check, which can still be a struggle for a woman.  And it’s interesting that restaurants can be thinking about all this.  Whether a woman’s plate is put down before a man’s may be a matter of the ordering software the restaurant uses, which can track a customer’s gender. 

A lot of the specifics involve how a person behaves, and though the differences among genders is apparently less  marked, it’s still there.  Some examples:

–  Certain musty rites — chivalrous from one perspective, chauvinistic from another — have faded or disappeared… most restaurants no longer steer the “ladies” toward the banquette, assuming they want to face out toward the room.  But most restaurateurs concede that women disproportionately end up there, whether by request or reflex.

–  “Women are looking for somewhere comfortable,” … “Men are looking for somewhere to show off.”

–  A man is more likely to care about being greeted rapturously and treated like an insider, according to the restaurateurs and servers … interviewed.

–  A woman is more likely to take offense if the restrooms are cramped, ugly and messy. She’s also more likely to appreciate color and playfulness in a restaurant’s design, while there’s more risk that a man will be cool to that.

–  Stephen Starr, who owns Buddakan and Morimoto, said that women more often hesitate if the name or look of a dish is too blunt a reminder that they’re biting into an animal.  “If it’s something that says chorizo with some sort of egg, they’ll eat it,” Mr. Starr said. “If it’s a suckling pig, they’re not going near it.”

– Women have less expensive meals and can spend hours at the table talking, thus taking up places for other dinners and tippers.

There’s a theme through the comments that suggests the evolutionary psychologists’ man as the competitive hunter.  But  then this is NY City upscale restaurants.

‘Elderspeak’ as harm to elderly

From the New York Times:

Professionals call it elderspeak, the sweetly belittling form of address that has always rankled older people: the doctor who talks to their child rather than to them about their health; the store clerk who assumes that an older person does not know how to work a computer, or needs to be addressed slowly or in a loud voice. Then there are those who address any elderly person as “dear.”…

Now studies are finding that the insults can have health consequences, especially if people mutely accept the attitudes behind them, said Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at Yale University, who studies the health effects of such messages on elderly people.

“Those little insults can lead to more negative images of aging,” Dr. Levy said. “And those who have more negative images of aging have worse functional health over time, including lower rates of survival.”