Presence” is the name of a relatively new MIT journal; it’s for “serious investigators of teleoperators and virtual reality.”  Think “Second life” and the like.  It covers topics from physics to philosophy, it says. 

The article in the free issue entitled, “Gender Differences in the Impact of Presentational Factors in Human Character Animation on Decisions in Ethical Dilemmas,” seemed as close to irresistible as they were likely to get.  And it is very interesting, for lots of reasons, including the impact of philosophical and psychological approaches to ethics.  But the paper itself draws one’s attention to one finding.  Here’s the abstract:

Simulated humans in computer interfaces are increasingly taking on roles that were once reserved for real humans. The presentation of simulated humans is affected by their appearance, motion quality, and interactivity. These presentational factors can influence the decisions of those who interact with them. This is of concern to interface designers and users alike, because these decisions often have moral and ethical consequences. However, the impact of presentational factors on decisions in ethical dilemmas has not been explored. This study is intended as a first effort toward filling this gap. In a between-groups experiment, a female character presented participants with an ethical dilemma. The character’s human photorealism and motion quality were varied to generate four stimulus conditions: real human versus computer-generated character × fluid versus jerky movement. The results indicate that the stimulus condition had no significant effect on female participants, while male participants were significantly more likely to rule against the character when her visual appearance was computer generated and her movements were jerky.

Roughly speaking, how human and “natural” you appear affects whether men will side with you in an ethical dilemma.  In fact, the problem was concerned with whether a young women should tell her husband that she has genital herpes.

Does this generalize to real life?  Are men more swayed than women by a woman’s looking whatever counts as proper?   What do you think?  Is it like, duh!?

Sexist expectations about men

and why feminists (and everyone else) should care about them:

So I’ve been looking more carefully at the specific ways sexism hurts men. In particular, I’ve been looking at our society’s expectations of men, our very definitions of maleness. I’ve been looking at how rigid and narrow many of these expectations are, creating a razor-thin window of acceptable manly behavior that you’d have to be a professional tightrope walker to navigate. (Which would be a problem, since “professional tightrope walker” is definitely outside the parameters of acceptable manliness.)

Thanks, Frog!

A success story

You have probably heard about Wenneras and Wold’s 1997 Nature article, which showed that women needed to be 2.5 times as productive as men to get grants. A dramatic result, especially since their study was in Sweden, often hailed as the leader in gender equality. The study got a lot of press. A LOT. More recently, however, it’s been getting some bad press, as in this article by John Tierney (discussed by us here). Tierney takes the Wenneras and Wold study to be an unrepresentative fluke, basing this view on recent studies which do in fact seem to show that there is no gender bias in grant-giving.

A few nights ago I was discussing this with Mr Jender, and he pointed out that 13 years is quite a long time, that the Wenneras and Wold study got an enormous amount of attention (he had heard of it independently, and he’s not in academia), and that perhaps procedures had changed. It turns out that Mr Jender was exactly right. What happened is now known as The Wold Effect: new procedures were put in place in response to the Wenneras and Wold results (first released in 1995), and the gender bias was eliminated.

So what is currently being billed as the failure of Wenneras and Wold’s results to hold up should instead be seen as a victory for gender equality and an illustration of the fact that change is possible.

(Many thanks to JJ, Mr Jender and VV.)

Milk indoctrination?

The NCT (that’s National Childbirth Trust, not Nottingham City Transport), has objected to questions appearing in science exams on the grounds that they present biased information about breastfeeding.

The GCSE question presents a label for a fictional packet of infant formula milk, called ‘My Baby Food’ as the basis for a question about calcium carbonate. It then goes on to other issues relating to formula milk. On several counts the information presented on this label is misleading, incorrect, and in contravention of UK regulations. For example, it claims the milk is ‘pure and natural’ and makes claims about the nutritional value of the product which are not permitted in UK advertising.

The question then goes on to put forward several biased arguments, presented as ‘information’, including a claim that without free formula milk babies in the developing world might die of malnutrition. This contradicts research estimating that around 1.45 million children die every year through lack of breastfeeding, mainly as a result of unsafe bottle feeding, as well as the UNICEF and WHO guidance on the risks of formula use in developing countries and in disasters.

Charities working to support mothers who want to breastfeed are also negatively caricatured in the question, in the guise of ‘Mrs I M Right’, founder of fictional organisation ‘Responsible Mothers Are Us’.

Her extreme views are framed by a reference to the fact that she has ‘made a career in ‘goodness’ and is paid from donations given to RMAU by members of the public’. The marking criteria for this paper only judges a student’s ability to interpret and accept the information presented, with no room to critique or dispute the claims.

In another example, an SAT paper used in Key Stage 3 again demonstrates bias towards formula milk over breastmilk, claiming fair comparisons between the two when in fact the information is presented without crucial context.

You can read more here.

David Mitchell on Burkas (and tattoos)

If Al Franken can become a senator, can’t David Mitchell become PM? Pleeeaase??

Governments and legislatures shouldn’t tell people what they can and can’t wear. By doing so, they would, in every sense, be taking a massive liberty. As long as people aren’t wearing crotchless jeans outside primary schools or deely boppers with attached sparklers on petrol station forecourts, we’ve all got the right to wear exactly what the hell we like and I can barely believe that we’re having this debate…

None of this means I think there’s anything good about wearing a burqa. I think it’s daft. I think any belief system that concludes that half the population should go around constantly covered from head to toe in black cloth, whether out of modesty, humility, tradition or stealth, has a massive flaw in it.

And, while I’m at it, I think that it’s ridiculous to believe in transubstantiation, that considering the Bible to be the literal word of God reduces that supposedly omnipotent being to a muddle-headed maniac and that the Hindu caste system and Roman Catholic rules against contraception could have been invented by Satan. There! Now no one will be able to guess who’s killed me….

There’s altogether too much harping on respect and banning these days. If you can’t respect something, you should ban it. If it’s not banned, you should respect it. Bullshit. There is a huge gulf of toleration between respect and banning. In a free society, people should be allowed to do what they want wherever possible. The loss of liberty incurred by any alternative principle is too high a price to pay to stop people making dicks of themselves. But, if people are using their freedoms to make dicks of themselves, other people should be able to say so.

Full article here.

UPDATE: you can support David Mitchell for PM here.