Maximizing alarm and minimizing information

Extra Calcium and Vitamin D Aren’t Necessary, Report Says

On health issues the following has got to be a close contender for first place in infuriating:

The very high levels of vitamin D that are often recommended by doctors and testing laboratories — and can be achieved only by taking supplements — are unnecessary and could be harmful, an expert committee says. It also concludes that calcium supplements are not needed…The group said most people have adequate amounts of vitamin D in their blood supplied by their diets and natural sources like sunshine, the committee says in a report that is to be released on Tuesday.

And that’s it, except for details about sources and lists of dire things that can happen if you take too much.

So, most people?  Who are these most?  And is there any age group – ahem! – that might not be included in the most?  For example, like presumably millions of women across American, I’ve been told recently to take calcium-D supplements by two different doctors.  No one said anything about amounts.  So maybe that’s not good advice, but what would good advice look like if you are at the age where women start  to lose bone mass?

So I went to the report itself.  That was not fun.  It is not written for people who do not know the relevant medical terminology.  What I did find out  is that bone health for post-menopausal women and elderly men is about the same.  After that, I couldn’t understand it, but I did conclude that I should get my level of vitamin D checked.  If you do try to search the report, “elderly men” will uncover information for post-menopausal women.  And I’m sure that in the approximate 2,000 hits for you to look at, there’s something there.  And it does all look believable.

There was also a revised guideline for amounts to take:

And that looks useful, except if like me you live in the southern USA you may have a lot of D already from the sun.  So these can’t be good guidelines for avoiding taking too much, I surmise.

I would consider phoning one of the doctors who recommended I take the supplements, but in my experience the chances are very high that that would end up in an insulting conversation that started with their observation that I shouldn’t believe everything I read.  And as it ended I would see that yet again here are people who are not going to accept any suggestion from a patient that they may not know it all.  Arrrrggghh!!

Not that this is irritating or anything.


We should note that much of the emphasis of the report is that the use of vitamin D for something other than bone health is unjustified.  Also, people of color probably do know that they will get less vitamin D from the sun.

Plea for advice

from a reader of my other blog, actually. But that one doesn’t allow comments, so I’m cross-posting here in hopes of getting some good advice for him:

This is not a story, but a plea for advice. So maybe it is a story, but not in the usual, straightforward way.

I’m a young junior academic. I’m male. A new female PhD student just joined our department. She’s four or five years my junior. I’m not involved in her doctoral supervision, so I have no direct professional relationship with her. Now my problem (is it a problem?) is that I rather like her — let’s call her Jane. I rather like Jane, and I would certainly want to get to know her better. I may wish for this to develop into something romantic, or not. I don’t know whether that’s desirable or even possible (I just know that she is straight and single, and I have an inkling that she may be vaguely interested too). But after reading this blog I’ve become even more conscious of the fact that even creating the occasion to explore that possibility (asking for a date, that is) may be inappropriate, for lack of a better word. What should I do?

“I like to see the ladies”

The Gendered Conference Campaign has a theme song, written by the wonderful 21st Century Monads!! It can be found here. We are, obviously, very excited by this. Kris McDaniel agreed to answer some questions about it by email…

Jender: Why did you write this song?

Kris: As you know, we mainly write songs about philosophers, philosophical positions, or philosophical arguments. But in addition to writing songs about philosophers and philosophy, every album we’ve done a song addressing what we regard as a problem within the profession. The first song we released off of our first album (“New Monadology”) was “My Paper Was Rejected Again”, which discussed some of the frustrations of the anonymous-review process. In our second album, “Total Monadic Domination”, we released a song titled “Don’t Get Smoked at the Smoker”, which was directed at what I regard as the horror show of Eastern APA interviews.

For this album, I wanted to write a song in support of the “Gendered Conference Campaign” started by you folks at the feminist philosopher’s blog. You (= the people who run the blog) have done a great job at raising awareness of the importance of making women in the profession more visible through a combination of consciousness raising and naming and shaming. As someone who recently co-organized a large conference in metaphysics, I can testify that having this issue made salient in our minds was motivationally effective. We (= the 21st Century Monads) wanted to help spread the message in some way.

Jender: What are you hoping achieve by releasing this song?

Kris: We hope to provide another venue to get the message out. We have a surprisingly decent-sized audience given who we are and what our music is about. Some of our fans are undergraduates and graduate students at the start of their careers who might not otherwise be thinking about the issues the song raises. (Most undergraduates and newly minted graduate students aren’t organizing conferences or editing anthologies.) It seems to me that it’s a good thing if we can get them involved in the conversation early on. And in general, since we don’t know the extent to which people listening to our music are regular readers of your blog or vice-versa, the song might reach some new people. I think (I hope) the song is catchy, enjoyable to listen to, and funny, and maybe that will help make people receptive to the message.

I’m also hoping that people like yourself and your fellow bloggers – people who’ve been actively transmitting the message – will take some pleasure in the fact that we are saying with this song “message received”.

Jender: Are there any misinterpretations you worry about?

We did have some concerns. First, that some people might be put off by the term “lady”. Second, that the song itself might come across as slightly prurient or salacious. But I thought that this actually works to the advantage of the song though: the first two lines in the song set up expectations that something unsavory is intended (“why does he want to see the ladies??!”), but then the rest of the lyrics defuse the implication, and hence the song is funny without coming across as being excessively preachy. That is my hope anyways. I also was a little concerned that releasing a jokey song about a topic that a lot of people care about might leave the impression that we aren’t taking the issues seriously, when in fact the exact opposite is true.

Jender: Why doesn’t Carrie sing on it?

We are a band of three: me, Carrie Jenkins, and Ben Bradley. On this song, I’m singing the lead vocals, with Ben singing the back up vocals. On some of our songs Carrie sings lead vocals, and on some of them I sing lead. Usually on the songs in which I sing lead vocals, Carrie contributes background vocals – I love singing with Carrie since she has such a fantastic voice – but for this song, we decided that it made sense for just the men to sing. We all think it is very important that men be at least as vocal as women about the problem of poor gender representation in things such as conferences or edited volumes. This was Ben and my way of literally being at least as vocal. And although Carrie doesn’t sing on this song, she did contribute to the music: she’s playing the electric organ on this piece. (On our main webpage, next to each song are tabs you click on to see the lyrics and the liner notes.)

We will be releasing along with “I Like to See the Ladies” a companion piece in which Carrie sings lead vocal, titled “Still Not Male”, on a different issue: the perils of presupposing the gender of authors of anonymous papers. This song was based on a post at What is it Like to be a Woman in Philosophy.

The songs, liner notes, and more information about the Monads can be found here.

The Leaks

What to see what decades of US diplomacy looks like?   It’s out and about now.  What appears to be a long summary in the NY Times is here.  All sorts of other articles can be found by going to their front pages. 

The Times tells us that someone who is unnamed made the documents available to the Times and to some other news organizations.  It will be interesting to see who prints them, and indeed who can print them.  Will we even know if the British government invokes the Official Secrets Act?  (I don’t know if invocations of the act are also secrets, or short-term secrets.)

Beating Implicit Bias

As a teacher of philosophy I’ve been eagerly awaiting some research on how to compensate for (or if possible eliminate) the negative effects of implicit gender and other biases in the classroom. I’ll be teaching introductory logic next semester, so the timing of this potentially exciting piece of research from University of Colorado at Boulder could hardly be better. The claim is bold and striking – that it is possible completely to close the gender gap in the physics classroom by setting simple 15-minute writing exercises. From Discover magazine’s helpful summary:

Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences aboutwhy they are important to you. You have fifteen minutes. It could change your life.

This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves. In a university physics class, Akira Miyake from the University of Colorado used it to close the gap between male and female performance. In the university’s physics course, men typically do better than women but Miyake’s study shows that this has nothing to do with innate ability. With nothing but his fifteen-minute exercise, performed twice at the beginning of the year, he virtually abolished the gender divide and allowed the female physicists to challenge their male peers.

In a piece on EurkAlert! the authors sound a slightly more cautious note:

Steven Pollock, professor of physics and a CU President’s Teaching Scholar, noted that the study funded by the National Science Foundation is a “small piece” of a large puzzle, and he and his colleagues stressed that the results are no silver bullet in STEM education.

While concurring, Noah Finkelstein, a co-author and associate professor in physics, added, “This is a really exciting finding. It bears further exploration. These results hold significant promise for addressing differential performance and the significant disparity of recruitment and retention of women in STEM disciplines.”

I’d love to hear what readers think of the research. Would an exercise like this be as effective in the philosophy classroom? Are people tempted to try it out? (Thanks to Rob)

UPDATE: Thanks also to Mark who sent a link to a podcast on the study from Scientific American.

What do Iran and the U.S. have in common?

If news reports are correct, two of the seven U.N. member states that have not ratified the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) are Iran and the United States.

Here are two pieces of writing on it that might be well worth your time (for various reasons):

first, Senate Revisits the ‘Women’s Treaty’, by Amy Lieberman

second, The Case against the U.N. Women’s Treaty by (turncoat?) Christina Hoff Sommers

Apart from the more obviously important issues, was/is it inappropriate for me to include a parenthetical “turncoat” before Christina Hoff Sommers’ name? Does justice/morality/ethics require me to list her name as author just as I list other names as authors? Whether justice/morality/ethics does so or not, what other words might readers use to describe her? Any thoughts to share on this or related matters?

U.N. Women, CEDAW, and Saudi Arabia

The U.N. Women statement (on “Facts & Figures”) linked below claims that, “[t]he work of UN Women will be framed by… the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW]…”

Update: the U.N. Women website now indicates that CEDAW is one of four or so documents guiding their work:

Apparently, Saudi Arabia ratified CEDAW with three or so reservations. Here is one of them:
1) “The Kingdom does not consider itself bound by paragraphe 2 of article 9 of the Convention…”

– *** Please note that paragraph 2 of article 9 states, “Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.”

What do readers make of this?

In case anyone is interested, here is a link to the 2009 Freedom House Ratings for Saudi Arabia – you can easily find ratings (or country reports) for different years and regions by changing the two drop down menus.

The Sunday Cat loves “kitty litter”


 “Rick Ordonez: Kitty Litter”, an exhibition at Mid-City Arts, a street-art gallery in Los Angeles, features the work of a graffiti artist whose tags of cats have appeared across Los Angeles. 


A work from the show (I think):

His art, unfortunately, earned him 90 days in jail and 300 hours of community work.

The long arm of the law intervened in July, when investigators with the Sheriff’s Transit Services Bureau caught up with Ordonez, 33, and busted him for creating cats on public property, especially on or near the Pasadena Freeway.

Apparently he was vigorously pursued, according to another article:

The Sheriff’s Transit Services Bureau, which specializes in pursuing high-profile taggers, arrested Ordonez based on tips and information gathered in the community.

Most of the infamous cat paintings were plastered on state and local transit properties… According to investigators, Ordonez has associations with a tagging crew and is a cat owner.

Quite an M.O. 

Though the cats are fairly new, Ordonez is a highly respected street artist who has been at it for 20 years.  He has no desire to be recognized.