Sunday, July 22, 2018

Maternal Brain Changes

I read a fascinating article the other day.  Apparently, women's brains change so much after childbirth that researchers are able to distinguish between women who had given birth and a control group of women who hadn't just by looking at brain scans, and the changes were persistent enough that they could still distinguish between mothers and non-mothers two years later, from brain scans alone. 

Also, "the more brain change the mothers experienced, the higher they scored on measures of emotional attachment to their babies, a finding that echoed past studies. And the changes in most brain regions remained two years later.

The researchers also scanned men, those who became fathers during the study period and those who did not have a child, and found no comparable change in gray matter volume. (Other studies have found that fathers, including gay fathers raising children without maternal involvement, experience significant changes in brain activity, but those changes depend on exposure to the child. The more time a man spends as primary caregiver, the more activated the parental network in his brain becomes, and researchers suspect a similar effect may be present for others in a parental role.)

The brain scans seemed to validate the rapid, pronounced, long-lasting change in mothers that a much bigger body of animal research has found. Reviewing a range of studies, Pawluski and her coauthors wrote in a 2016 paper that as a developmental period, pregnancy is as formative as puberty.  “Under healthy conditions, the female brain transforms into a motivated, maternal mechanism,” they wrote."

I'm convinced that females evolved not to optimize female performance alone but the mother-infant duality.  Connections like this pop up all the time, and we ignore them at our peril.  I'd be very curious to see the nature of the changes in gay men who are full time caregivers compared to new moms.  I'd bet $1000 that they aren't as widespread or persistent.  That's just now how primates evolved.  Mothers really are irreplaceable.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Social Progress

“There were a lot of tears when it came time to put my 3 month old daughter in daycare,” my old coworker told me.  “But I told my wife that she’s the one with the title ‘Dr.’ in front of her name.  If anyone is going to be staying home with the baby, it is me.”

I shut my mouth and tried to keep a straight face as I turned back to my monitor to check on the test data.  It was a professional environment, and I didn’t want to come off as judgmental toward people I’m working with on an important job, but my gut clenched up, and I died a little inside after hearing him say that.

Does my old coworker really think that men and women are interchangeable to the extent that it doesn’t matter who stays home with the infant?  Doesn’t he see that a woman who wants to stay home so badly that she is crying is actually more suited to do so?  Doesn’t he understand that a woman’s body is flooded with ocytocin bonding hormones as she breastfeeds that baby, creating a bond so tight that it would provoke this reaction, and that, no, it isn’t the same to just place the infant in the hands of another adult, even the father?  Doesn’t he see that the personality differences that we can measure between men and women are in large there because of the mother-infant duality, and that they are often most pronounced in such settings?  Are the cars and fabulous house really worth more than his wife’s and infant’s happiness?  Couldn’t he have suggested instead that if she really wanted to stay home with the baby, then they could think about how to reprioritize their lives?  He makes more money than me.  Together, they are a power couple.  But no, he didn’t think it was a viable option. 

In an age of modern day feminism and empowered womanhood, this is what we get.  Women doctors who return to work full-time instead of part-time or taking an extended leave of absence because the men in their lives expect them to be providers.

I can’t help but think that we are putting a woke feminist label on the age-old barbarous practice of ripping infants from the arms of their crying mothers.

Friday, June 08, 2018

FB and Silicon Valley vs. Privacy

The NYT has a great piece on privacy and social networks/phone manufacturers.  I've been thinking a lot about this, but I'm not sure which way to go.  There don't seem to be very good replacements for social media apps.  Blogging was clearly a better way to disseminate and discuss information than FB.  However, part of its usefulness was that people actually used it.  Will people return if they abandon FB.  I'm doubtful, but I honestly think something has to change.  The manipulation of people through artificial newsfeed sorting and the blacklisting of "fake news" stories which are actually true (e.g., the suppression of Live Action undercover videos of PP employees discussing the sale of baby body parts) is also very problematic on social media sites run by far left silicon valley liberals.

When You Ignore Biological Differences, Women and Children Lose

Two biological males placed first and second in the Connecticut state open track meet 100 meter dash running as girls (and setting a meet record). At what point do we admit as a society that it is freaking crazy to allow them to compete? Bone structure matters. Going through puberty as a male matters. Science and biology matter, and frankly the feelings of the biological girls who can never win no matter how much they train matter, too. The arrogance of our media and political elites who have decided that science, biology and the feelings of biological females don't matter in transgender issues can really rub average folks the wrong way. It is emblematic of their arrogance in so many other areas.

Terry Miller setting a girl's CT state open meet record in the 100 meter dash with another biological male (Andraya Yearwood) coming in 2nd.

Terry Miller setting a girl's Ct state open meet record in the 200 meter dash.

The misogyny present in modern day liberalism frightens me, to be honest. A year ago I was writing about how James Damore's acknowledgement of gender differences in how men and women prioritize and balance work/family life was viewed as a "weakness" for women by liberals. Today, we are told that it is fair for men to compete with women in events like the 100 meter dash, so apparently we aren't allowed to acknowledge that women really are physically weaker than men and that biology plays a role in that.  This is exactly backwards.  Yes, women are physically weaker than men.  However, condemning people as weak for choosing family life over work is really messed up, and a moral judgment with no basis in science, but it's OK for the mainstream press to say that.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Women Weaker than Men?

By now, probably everybody has heard of James Damore.  If you haven't, here's an article he wrote that basically got him fired from Google. (source, full pdf).  What I find curious are how the news articles I read contrast  with his actual writing: either by misrepresenting what he said or by pushing views that are actually more biased than anything Damore wrote.  Take this article, for instance.  The author states clearly that he thinks traditional female preferences are indicative of "weakness."

"at 4 pm PT, the tech giant will hold an all-hands meeting to discuss the firing of James Damore and the controversial internal memo he wrote about women and their biological weaknesses related to tech that got him canned from the company." (source)

Note again that word "weakness."  James Damore never wrote about biological weaknesses.  He wrote about statistical preferences and choices that men and women make.  I would be surprised if he did consider the various preferences of men and women a sign of "weakness."

This bothers me because it denigrates the choices women make more often than men.  Are only the choices which more men make than women indicative of strength?  Are women weak if they want to drop out of the workforce to raise their children?  Studies say a majority of women with children under 18 would prefer to be a homemaker.  The number of men who prefer to do so is much, much smaller.  Does this make women weaker than men?
Then there are the routine misrepresentations of the Damore article.  Here's one misrepresentation by the Google CEO, "To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."

Damore never did that.  He clearly stated that googlers were different than average people.  He also clearly stated that one could never assume things about individuals based on group averages.  I'm pretty sure that applies to small, non-representative subsets of women, such as one finds at Google.  He was simply making the argument that individual choices driven in part by biology would make absolute equality of numbers impossible in the workplace without coercive efforts that ignore women's preferences and are unresponsive to their needs.  He also suggested some ways to increase workforce participation that would be non-coercive in nature.

Here's another misrepresentation, "
The 10-page treatise also claims that biological difference between men and women are responsible for the underrepresentation of women in the tech industry."

Again, not what he said.  He said it was partly responsible.  He readily admitted that sexism exists and should be rooted out.  He just didn't think it was the whole story and thought that assuming it was the whole story misdiagnosed the problem and would have negative consequences.

Damore's firing and the misrepresentation of his viewpoints to justify that firing do not bode well for free speech in this country.  It also points to the fact that the greatest danger to free speech right now is not government but the business community.  Heck, even when the government does come down against free speech, it is often at the behest of powerful business interests (e.g., religious freedom protection acts being struck down).

I care about this issue because I have a daughter and am trying to figure out how to raise her in such a way that her choices, options, and happiness in life are maximized/optimized.  I've actively encouraged her to pursue STEM fields, even though she has said she wants to be a teacher, because I think STEM subjects are the least likely to be tainted with ideological biases that corrupt students and ultimately make them unhappy.  For a long time, I've been keeping my eyes out for female STEM mentors and have actively reached out to them in preparation for her getting older.  However, I know that in doing so, I'm encouraging her to take a longer route to getting a degree in her primary interest (MS in education) and wonder if her choice to change fields will be viewed by feminists and their ideological supporters as a sign of "weakness."

I hope not.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cartel Violence

Someone recently equated  cartel violence with people on the border tracking down illegal immigrants and holding them until the authorities arrive.  I don't hold to that view, given that no violence is being committed by the people assisting ICE.  I may not agree with their methods, but compared to what I'm posting below, there is no comparison. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Does Child Sponsorship Work?

Normally, I really like the Freakanomics podcast and think they provide many thought-provoking and educational articles/podcasts.  However, a quote from a recent blog got my ire up a bit.  The question was raised as to whether child sponsorship can improve the lot of girls in India, and here is what NYU economist  and  development scholar  William Easterly had to say.
"Stephen and Steve, can I volunteer my services to save you from embarrassment on the blog post today on sponsoring infant girls?  It’s been known in aid and development for decades that child sponsorship does not work (unless you by “work” you mean attract donations). The NGOs that originally did it (most notoriously Save the Children) have been forced by critics to abandon it, and no reputable NGO promotes child sponsorship today.  The reason it never worked (and in fact Save the Children was also forced to admit that they really never even actually did it) is simple: the administrative costs of tracking small donations from an individual donor to an individual recipient child are enormous, so that the administrative costs would eat up all of the donation and then some. So there’s no need to crowdsource this question: just ask any development economist or NGO veteran.

All the best,
To which I say, "balderdash!"  Having seen the results of child sponsorship first-hand and even blogged about it a bit here and here and here, I just don't buy it.  For one thing, Dr. Easterly seems to be using an unnecessarily stringent and misleading description of child sponsorship.  Of course child sponsorship doesn't work exactly the way he defines it most of the time.  First world donors donate every month to cover the average cost of providing the NGO's services for an individual child (e.g., typically food assistance, basic health care and most importantly education).  No child sponsorship organization that I'm aware of tracks individual dollars from all donors to the particular child recipient.*  Christmas and birthday gifts are most often separate donations, but even those are averaged out so that no child is left out if a family can't make an extra donation to cover the gifts and parties.    Honestly, it sounds to me like the guy is basing his opinion on either weird definitions of child sponsorship or shoddy, 30 year old "research."  As someone in the comm boxes noted, the only scholarly work that I'm aware of to look at this question found demonstrative positive effects, and this was looking at Compassion International (an organization that IMO is the leader in sheer numbers but not in the effectiveness of their child sponsorship programs).

Also, critically, I think Dr. Easterly is missing the whole point of the child sponsorship program benefits vs. other models.  The core idea isn't to link individual donations to individual children.  It is to average out the donations across large pools of people and to make individual personal connections.  That is the key.  Child sponsorship organizations don't just provide the opportunity for a first world family to provide for the average cost of education, food, etc. for a child in the developing world: they provide an opportunity for people to get to know each other across cultures and become close friends through letters, pictures and even personal visits (if the first world family can afford it).  So many of our charitable donations go to faceless organizations to provide services to people whom we will never meet or get to know and understand.  One of the most valuable services child sponsorship organizations provide is cultural exchange.  The opportunity for people in the first and 3rd worlds to get to know one another and to share their joys and dreams.  This provides hope and encouragement to kids in the developing world and a dose of reality to us cosseted first worlders who forget that we are some of the luckiest people on the planet, resource-wise.  In a recent letter that we got from our oldest sponsored girl, she wrote that she was looking forward to graduating from college "so that my father will never have to work again."   Talk about culture shock: how many American's do we know who could/would ever say something like that?  We live in a country that spends relatively little on education and children relative to what we spend on the elderly.  Grandparents often live on their own and have more disposable income than their grown children and grandchildren.  It is easy to forget that the developing world isn't like that.  It is kid's who get more government spending in the form of school subsidies while the elderly are mostly ignored and left by governments' to their families' care.  My wife has sponsored this young lady for over thirteen years now (since the sponsored girl was in grade school and before my wife and I were even dating).  Looking at all this young lady has overcome and accomplished and at how grateful she is to her father and others who have helped her along her way is very humbling and awe-inspiring.  She truly is one of my greatest heroes and I hope (if we have another daughter) to name her after this young lady and to be able to point my daughter to the letters we have received if she ever asks how/shy she got that name.
How many NGOs can you point to that provide such inspiration and proof of the excellent work they do, and all for the cost of a few translators.  Far from not working, child sponsorship through groups like the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging provide some of the most demonstrably effective aid of any group, anywhere.    
I recognize that the folks at Freakanomics are bigshots who would probably never read a podunk blog like this.  I also realize that they were posting someone else's opinion about which they expressed their own doubts.  However, I really think they missed the boat on this topic and posted some very inaccurate claims.  It is my hope that they look into this topic further and either offer some evidence/clarification on how/why child sponsorship (as  implemented in the real world) doesn't work or a retraction.  Heck, I'd even settle for them offering an alternative point of view, perhaps from one of the U. of San Francisco folks who wrote the article countering the claim of Dr. Easterly.

*As a clarification, I'm not saying donations from particular individuals to particular recipients *never* happens, only that it is rare and the exception to the rule for efficiency reasons.  As an example of an exception to the rule, when one of our sponsored kids got to college, her educational costs increased dramatically to the point that our sponsorship amount was only covering fraction of her tuition, books, etc. and she had to make up the rest with scholarships, jobs and meager family contributions.  When the economic collapse hit in 2008, one of her primary scholarships was cut due to funding shortages, leading her to write that she would be dropping out of college one year shy of getting her degree and would not be able to continue correspondence after a few months.  After our sponsored girl got so close, my wife and I could see that she was heartbroken at not being able to finish college and provide a stable and reliable income for her family.  I made a call to CFCA and was able to inquire as to what it would take to cover for the cut scholarship, allowing her to graduate.  However, such circumstances are unusual and not the rule.  That said, how much tracking is really required to implement something like that.  It took two phone calls between myself and CFCA's front office and an inquiry between the CFCA's US office and their overseas office to make all the arrangements to cover the increased scholarship/sponsorship donations for the next year.  That hardly seems like a exorbitant overhead burden, especially considering CFCA didn't have to (and wouldn't have) pursued special fundraising to make up the difference for one individual.  When the costs rise significantly above the average that they quote to donors, they most often have to cut the kids from the program.  There are too many other kids waiting for help for whom the average cost is sufficient.  However, in staying true to their mission, if an individual donor steps up their donations, they make sure the child gets it.