A Creepy Treehouse

You might want to avoid building one.

An interesting observation from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

A growing number of professors are experimenting with Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking tools for their courses, but some students greet an invitation to join professors’ personal networks with horror, seeing faculty members as intruders in their private online spaces. Recognizing that, some professors have coined the term “creepy treehouse” to describe technological innovations by faculty members that make students’ skin crawl.

Jared Stein, director of instructional-design services at Utah Valley University, offered a clear definition of the term on his blog earlier this year. “Though such systems may be seen as innovative or problem-solving to the institution, they may repulse some users who see them as infringement on the sanctity of their peer groups, or as having the potential for institutional violations of their privacy, liberty, ownership, or creativity,” Mr. Stein wrote.

Alec Couros, an assistant professor of education at the University of Regina, in Canada, is coordinator of the education school’s information and communication technologies program. He says that there are productive — and non-creepy — ways for professors to use social-networking technologies, but that the best approach is to create online forums that students want to join, rather than forcing participation. “There’s a middle space I think you can find with students,” he says. —Jeffrey R. Young

This strikes me as one of those interesting cases where one might not be able to anticipate the attitudes of those on the other side.

New paper: Gender and Philosophical Intuition

Wesley Buckwalter and Steve Stich’s new paper, “Gender and Philosophical Intuitions”, is out. I think it’s really interesting. Here’s the first paragraph:

In recent years, there has been much concern expressed about the underrepresentation of women in academic philosophy. A full explanation of this troubling phenomenon is likely to be quite complex since there are, almost certainly, many factors that contribute to the gender disparity. Our goal in this paper is to call attention to a cluster of phenomena that may be contributing to the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, though until now these phenomena have been largely invisible. The findings we review indicate that when women and men with little or no philosophical training are presented with standard philosophical thought experiments, in many cases their intuitions about these cases are significantly different. We suspect that these differences could be playing an important role in shaping the demography of the profession. But at present this is only an hypothesis, since we have no evidence that bears directly on the causal relation between the gender gap in academic philosophy and the facts about intuition that we will recount. In future work, we plan to focus on that causal link. However, we believe that thefacts we report about gender differences in philosophical intuitions are both important and disturbing, and that philosophers (and others) should begin thinking about their implications both for philosophical pedagogy and for the methods that philosophers standardly use to support their theories. It is our hope that this paper will help to launch conversations on these issues both within the philosophical community and beyond.

Thanks, A!

Abortion and Teenage Depression?

The first can cause the second, right?  Not exactly; in fact, that looks wrong:

 A press release for the study, which is published in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, explains, “The researchers found that young women in the study who had an abortion were no more likely to become depressed or have low self-esteem within the first year of pregnancy — or five years later — than their peers who were pregnant, but did not have an abortion.” The data was pulled from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which surveyed 289 girls between the ages of 13 and 18.

The possibility of psychological harm has been appealed to in arguments for parental notification and pre-abortion warnings.  But now it looks as though the harm may well not be there.

 The truth, according to science, is that “on average, abortion does not appear to have major psychological consequences — for adult women or for teens,” says [lead author Jocelyn] Warren. Marie Harvey, a public health professor at Oregon State University, which conducted the research with the University of California, San Francisco, said: “We have policies being made that are not evidence-based, and that have adverse consequences for women’s health.”

Gosh!  Not evidence-based?!?  Who would have guessed?  It makes it sound as though maybe there’s another agenda being acted on.

For GLBT teens

Dan Savage has launched the It Gets Better Project. It’s a growing collection of videos directed at isolated, despairing GLBT teenagers to let them know that it will really get better. Go add one if you like. Or pass it on to someone who might want to. Or who needs to see it. And remember its existence in case you meet someone who does.

Looking for some critical thinking exercises?

Try having your students spot the problems in this article by Christina Hoff-Summers. As Igor, who sent it to us notes:

Maybe the best point is when the author criticizes not taking variables like education into account when computing the gender gap, and then proceeds to cite a result that urban young women make slightly more dough than their counterpart men due to higher average education level [as evidence that women now have it better than men]

Obama and his pesky healthcare policies

US readers will probably be completely au fait with this, but UK folks like myself might be interested in hearing about some of the measures which have gotten people so hot under the collar of late. The full healthcare reform act comes into effect in 2014, but there are some interim bits taking effect now. These are:

  • Eliminating lifetime limits on how much insurers will pay to cover claims in a policy.
  • No more dropping of individuals, or “recision,” when an expensive illness results in big claims.
  • No co-pays or other cost-sharing for preventive care, such as immunization or mammograms.
  • Right to include children up to age 26 on family policies, whether they are dependent or not.
  • No more refusal of policies to children with pre-existing conditions.

You can read more from the Whitehouse on these measures here.

How have the insurance companies responded to these new measures? Well some of the biggest companies have decided that they’re not going to issue any more child-only policies, because they can no longer turn away children with ‘pre-existing conditions’ – i.e., sick children. Apparently, Republican MIck Huckabee had the following to say:

It sounds so good, and it’s such a warm message to say we’re not gonna deny anyone from a pre-existing condition. Look, I think that sounds terrific, but I want to ask you something from a common sense perspective. Suppose we applied that principle [to] our property insurance. And you can call your insurance agent and say, ‘I’d like to buy some insurance for my house.’ He’d say, ‘Tell me about your house.’ ‘Well sir, it burned down yesterday, but I’d like to insure it today.’ And he’ll say ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t insure it after it’s already burned.’ Well, no pre-existing conditions.

In a sense, one can’t entirely blame the insurers – the point of their existence is to make money. They don’t pay for healthcare out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it’s a profitable business. As businesses, they have to protect their interests, which means taking measures to ensure their profit isn’t reduced. But what this means is that there’s something deeply wrong with a system that provides healthcare as a way of making money. The whole rotten thing needs to come down. And for us over here, on the other side of the pond, we need to protect the NHS, because we don’t know what we’ve got until we lose it. There’s more on the insurers, Huckabee, etc. here.

Professor Sarah B. Hrdy

We’ve mentioned Profession Hrdy a few times on the blog – I know JJ has quoted her in some posts. But I’m just rereading Mother Nature in preparation for a class I’m teaching on evolutionary psychology, and I just thought I’d recommend it most highly to anyone who’s interested in biology and gender. Professor Hrdy is an anthropologist and primatologist who has made several major contributions in evolutionary psychology and sociobiology. A common theme in her work is the behaviour of female primates, particularly mothers. Her personal webpage can be accessed here. There is also a Wikipedia entry.