Pretty pretty bar graphs.

Check out this article that summarizes a (very long) paper published in Social Psychology Quarterly designed to test the hypothesis that liberals are smarter then conservatives.

Oh wait.  That isn't the hypothesis.  The hypothesis as described by the author himself, is:

the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis (hereafter “The Hypothesis” in this blog) suggests that less intelligent individuals have greater difficulty than more intelligent people with comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment.  "
Apparently since liberals are supposedly more willing to give money to support other humans* to whom they are not related,  then liberals are more evolutionarily advanced and also more intelligent.  (I wonder what Darwin would say about this?)

Unfortunately, the actual hypothesis has been lost in all the media hype, which I can only assume was intended.  Who doesn't expect a lot of attention when publishing a paper explaining "Why liberals and atheists are more intelligent"?

I will confess that I have not read the original research article.  I am not a psychologist and I am not familiar with the theories and data presented within the paper.  However, a person doesn't have to know much about anything to see a bar graph like this one and not get a little bit concerned.  I have done enough of my own research and tried to crunch my own data to know that things rarely, if ever, look this neat.

So a little searching led to this article, in which the methods used by the original author are examined and found to be seriously lacking.

As much as this whole topic gets my blood boiling, the idea that someone thinks they can prove that liberals or conservatives are really genetically or intellectually superior is not what upsets me the most. The most glaring issue is that the bar graph which seems to so convincingly support the apparent (if not actual) hypothesis is completely made up!  The bar graph shows Mean adolescent intelligence (IQ) versus Adult Political Ideology, but the author never actually measured IQ!

If any of my students ever tried to present their data by claiming it represented some value that it didn't represent, I would give them an F or make them rewrite it.  This highlights in the best possible way the importance of presenting your data clearly and being completely transparent about the methods.  No matter how much you believe your own hypothesis, you have to represent the data with as little 'spin' as possible. Yes, I know, we all try to make the data support our hypothesis.  Of course we do.  But we all know that we all do it, and that is why as a graduate student we spend so much time learning how to read other research papers, examining the data and drawing our own conclusions.

Figure 1:  Here is a graph representing data I wish were true.  Nom nom nom, I'll go buy stock in Reese's!
In all fairness, if I had read the whole paper and if I understood these kinds of analysis and if I knew all the jargon and if I was familiar with current research on social evolution and/or the Savannah Principle, perhaps I would have concluded myself that this data was flawed and moved on.  However, I, like many of us I suspect, am not informed on any of the above topics, but I do like to be able to look at a nice pretty graph and see the data and make my own interpretation. So I guess that is what the author gave me.

*and that isn't even true, either. Although I'm sure the data in this study is also flawed in some way.  Which just proves the point, which is, you cannot take these things too seriously!

PS: If you would like to look at some completely fabricated data, and also get a very good laugh, check out the pie charts presented here.

One more reason we need open access.

I needed to get some information about methods from one of my older papers.  I was at SLU, which has limited journal access.

I couldn't get the full print version of my own article.

Where I jump right in to the middle of it all.

Apparently there is a shoe war going on.  I feel compelled to put my two cents in since I love shoes.  I love shoes so much that I refuse to pick a side, mostly because I actually like all of the shoes of the week, yes, even Dr. Isis's teal plaid pump.  Heels are all well and good, but sometimes I need speed and maneuverability. Flats are good, but there are those occasions when I really need a sneaker.  But who wants to wear a plain old running shoe?  Not me. God knows I don't need them for running, since I avoid doing that.  I need to keep up with a four and a six year old who might be fast, relatively speaking, but since their stride length is so much shorter then mine I don't need any real physical ability to keep up with them.

Since I spent a little while the other day designing my own shoe,  I thought I'd share my creation.  It's simple with just a bit of flash; and so what if it is a zebra print?  Is there something wrong with that?  Plus, I love the white racing stripe down the sidewall. And then there is this: remember back in junior high when you wore your shoes without laces?  Well, these shoes are meant to be worn that way.  Plus, it is just too darn cool that you can design your own.  So without any further preamble, here it is:

Chuck Taylor all star slip on canvas shoe.  Custom designed at  $62.00

I don't really care if you like it, because I think it is absolutely awesome. These are mine. If you want em, go make your own.

Update:  We are all getting sucked in to this debate.  Who knew we had so much to say about shoes (or socks)?

Office etiquette

As I mentioned recently, I now have an office at work. I was debating how much time I would spend there, instead of at home in my more convenient home office. I do have to show up occasionally at work, so in the last few days I have begun to personalize my work space. As a result, I have realized that I enjoy being at "the office". However, in this short amount of time, I have already noticed a few things about sharing an office space.

On talking:

  • Some chatter is OK, but when people are obviously trying to get work done, please stop talking at them.
  • When I am grading papers and things are not looking good, I get grumpy and complain and make other noises; grunts, sighs of despair, curses, and the like. I have to tone this down when surrounded by other people who might be trying to focus instead of listen to me complain.
  • It is not appropriate to start commiserating about the general laziness and poor concentration of your students when a third person is trying to counsel… a student. We do not need witnesses to our bad mouthing.
On food and drink:

  • Hey, I have no problem with people eating and drinking in the office. I do it too. But when random people from within the building come to use our microwave, disrupting our work and leaving behind the fragrance of whatever lunch they were warming up, it is annoying.
  • Please do not steal my coke. I have put my name on it, because it belongs to me. I might need that caffeine soon.
  • Would it be inappropriate to bring in some wine, to help get me through this pile of papers I am grading? I'll share, if you'd like…
On environment:

  • We have absolutely no control over the climate. It was 40 degrees today, and raining, and we had no heat. My fingers were like little blocks of ice by the time I finally gave up and left. Please don't look at me funny if I am sitting at my desk with my jacket and ski hat on.
  • Please be considerate when decorating your space. The posters on the wall are behind you; I am the one facing them all the time.
  • Ask if you want to play music. I usually don't mind, but some people do. Plus, just because country music helps you think, doesn't mean it does good things for my thought process- it is either depressing or makes me want to get up and line dance. And forget about trying to discuss technical protocols with my students- who barely talk above a whisper to begin with- if loud music is playing in the background.
One thing I have noticed is that somehow everyone else scored a computer. My next project- now that I have an office- is to get it equipped. I have sent an email out to determine the probabilities of rating a computer. Yes, I have my laptop, but it is the point. I shouldn't have to provide my own computer, should I?

The scientific legacy.

Last night, I had to sit in a crowded chapel, surrounded by friends, colleagues, and teachers, and listen as my PhD advisor gave a eulogy about one of his current graduate students.

I have listened to him speak at many occasions.  There are the professional events, of course:  meetings, seminars, dissertation defenses and the like.  There are the social events:  he has seen many of his lab through weddings and births.  I just never imagined him presiding over a memorial.  As I listened to him speak in such glowing terms about this student I was touched by how much of a measure of a persons character it is to be able to rise to such an occasion and meet it with such dignity and courage.  As he shared some thoughtful stories about his student, I remembered back to my years in his lab.  The traditions that have become established started with the first of us, and I was happy to know that they continue.  The spaces that I walked are now occupied by a new group, yet I was among the first. The experiments that are being done now developed out of work that started when I was one of just a few in a new, small but growing research lab. For a little while last night I once again felt myself to be part of this growing yet close knit community. 

When I moved on to my post doc lab, I didn't move far:  across the street and up a floor.  Yet, in an effort to look forward, I tried to distance myself a little from my graduate lab, and over the years that distance has seemed to grow.  As I reconnected with everyone I realized that my 'distance' is only imaginary and that you never really leave. I realized that I may have moved on, but I left behind a part of me; a small legacy.  I was humbled.  I was proud.  I was filled with nostalgia, and I was filled with a desire to work harder; to strive for greater successes. 

Perhaps that is the measure of a good advisor.  Even in the face of tragedy he has made me feel welcome, he has made me feel worthy, and he has motivated me to move forward. And I am reminded of why I 'do' science:  to find something new, yes; to 'make the world better', yes; and to leave a little of myself behind. 
Every time someone references one my publications, I know I have succeeded. And so, every time I author a paper, I will do so in honor of those who taught me.  I will do do in honor of those who follow me. I will do so in memory of those who are now silent, but always present.

Home Office/ Work Office

It's a room slightly larger then my home office. It is equipped with 7 desks, 14 chairs, a single file cabinet, dorm size fridge, and microwave. One of the 7 desks is fully occupied by a busy 'part' time professor; two of the others have lonely "In" boxes and one of them has an empty vase sitting depressingly right in the middle of it. Despite the air of neglect, the desks have been claimed; I didn't hasten to claim mine and ended up with one of the less desirable: right near the door. The door has various notes with "Prof. so and so's Office hours" taped to it, and supposedly can be opened with my new key- although I haven't yet tried.

I have always wanted one, and now I have it: my own office. Quite clearly, it is not my OWN office, because I have to share; but it is MY office in the sense that no one uses that desk but me.

Yes, no one uses that desk but me: and now that I have one, I have to use it. I was instructed to start holding regular office hours. The downfall of getting what you wished for, is all the string that are attached.

I have a very nice home office. The question becomes: do I really want to spend all my time in my work office? A few hours here and there are required; probably will be useful, my students do need me. But how much effort should I invest in setting up a comfortable work space?

Yesterday was my first official Office Hours. I did get visits from three of my students, and got a stack of papers graded. Even more importantly, though, I met a few faculty that I had heard of by name only, before; one of them seems like she will be a good friend; I conferenced with another regarding my difficulties with my current class. She apparently had the same problems in previous years- (phew, it isn't me after all). And I met a few other part timers from other departments. What this means is that I am no longer on the fringe; I am taking my first baby steps right into the middle of it all.

For that reason, I think I should utilize the work office more. Put up a photo; get my own "In" box, and put something in it; perhaps get a desk lamp. But… like Dorothy said, "There's no place like home." Where am I now? My home office. Where will I be most of the time? My home office. The cat is on my lap, my coffee is hot, and I can fold laundry in between grading papers and putting together lectures.

The information age?

I gave two extra credit questions on my 15 point quiz yesterday:

  1. (2 pts) Who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine this year?
  2. (2 pts) Why did they win?
I got only two responses. Neither were correct.