Time Trauma Truth and Other Matters

First of all, I want you to know that I’ve devoted my life to this blog post so now you have every reason to love it more than any other blog post. Sniff sniff.

Or, could it be that I’ve been watching too much America’s Got Talent (which, clearly, it does not, except that yo-yo guy was pretty good). I mean, seriously, if America’s Got Talent then why is there Country Western Music? Anyway, I have noticed this trend of the argument for Not Being Voted Off The Island being that I’ve Invested Myself Emotionally Beyond Belief and I think that’s a bad trend.

Speaking of time, this was one of those days when it got to 3:30 in the afternoon when I decided I should get a second cup of coffee and have some breakfast. In the end, combining breakfast with dinner is more efficient, but I probably would have been less edgy, oversensitive and easily traumatized earlier in the day had I eaten properly in the morning. (For which I apologize. To “you know who you are.” Not that you read my blog or anything, but in case you do… :)

There are several items I do wish to point out to you today. First, don’t forget to listen in to the upcoming podcast of Skeptically Speaking, which features the insectiphilia of Bug Girl herself as well as a side trip through the anthropology of Arthropodiphagia by yours truly. And while we are on the subject of me, if you’ve not see them yet, please check out this blog post about birds — What happened with Archaeopteryx? as well as this blog post also about birdsThe Dove of Peace Has Not Always Been Safe. Also, although I have a long list of birdy topics I plan to address at 10,000 Birds, I’d be happy to take your suggestions as well. Are there topics concerning bird evolutionary biology that you’d like to see addressed? Let me know in the comments or via email.

Enough about me. There are also some things I’d like to point out happening out there on the intertubes. Speaking of Trauma, please have a look at This Blog Post at Traumatized By Truth, in which DuWayne Brayton makes a small request for help. I sent a chemistry book. If you are a FOD, please go help him out.

And I want to spend a moment discussing This Post about scientific literacy and sex by Sheril Kirshenbaum over at her new blog (which is great fun, add it to your RSS reader). Sheril shows a bunch of graphs from a study comparing males and females in the degree to which they are smart about science. Or not.

55% of males know that it takes one year for the Earth to go around the Sun, while a mere 42 percent of females know this. A similar result is found for knowing the relative size of atoms and electrons. A sex reversed result obtains regarding the idea that it is the father’s gene that decides whether the baby is a boy or a girl: More females get that right than males.

Interestingly, all three assumptions can be questioned. The Earth does not go around the sun in one year. It takes longer (thus leap year and the occasionally leap second). Electrons might be small, but they take up more space than the nuclei of atoms. It is not universally true in mammals that the male’s “gene” determines sex of offspring. Yes, sex of zygote, but to get an offspring you must not selectively abort it. In Red Deer, females determine the sex of their offspring using some sort of biological magic, and this is true in many other mammals. Prolly not in humans, though.

But seriously, these data obviously reflect two things: 1) Everybody is poorly educated in science but to varying degrees and 2) how bad this is may be sex-biased in the expected ways, with males being less misinformed about the physical sciences and females being less misinformed about the life sciences. Why that sex bias exists is, of course interesting and important.

Which brings us full circle (back to me!) When I was working as an administrative assistant (putting myself through graduate school) at the Kennedy School of government, this thing went around that was rather annoying and related to this. This was male economists (faculty and graduate students, and yes, if I listed the names you’d have heard of some of them). It’s a small experiment you can carry out on your own. You ask a person a question and see what the answer is, and each of the economists claimed that when they asked their female significant other, she did not know the answer, but if they asked a randomly chosen male, he did.

Here’s the question. The speed of light is 186 thousand miles a second, and the speed of sound is a slow 700 feet a second. When I sit in my home in Cambridge and turn on WGBH, and that tower is across the Charles River, I get the sound and video at the same time, synced. If I drive north several hundred miles to Concord New Hampshire, and turn on WGBH I get the same thing… sound and light are synced. If sound and light travel at different speeds, how can this be????

So, I took this question and asked my female wife. Then I asked five or six female colleagues over in the Anthro department. They all knew the answer. (“The question is absurd. The signal for both video and sound that is decoded in your TV is a radio signal, essentially light, and the sound is not transmitted from the tower to your house, duh.” … or words to that effect.)

So, while high profile economists who write books about human behavior, race, and sometimes get jobs in the White House were convincing themselves that males are smarter than females, I was busy discovering that high profile economists that write books about human behavior, race, and sometimes get jobs in the White House choose compliant girlfriends and spouses who tell them what they want to hear. Apparently.

Comments

  1. #1 Edward
    August 22, 2011

    Could I trouble you to participate in the Census of Science Bloggers (2011)? Thank you kind sir.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 22, 2011

    Edward: Done, and I’ve spread it around a bit too.

  3. #3 MikeMa
    August 23, 2011

    Harrruuummpphh. Cheap trick on the time for earth’s revolution, etc. You didn’t note the precision you were looking for but rather set the expectation that the answer you wee seeking was general. Point taken though in that most science questions and answers require caveats and thought and an appropriate audience.

    The male economist fail you noted also has an alternative possible mechanism for failure. The women asked were smart enough to know that they were expected to fail regardless of their actual knowledge and they played their part.

  4. #4 rob
    August 23, 2011

    except the nucleus of an atom is not the atom. you have to include electrons bound in shells around the nucleus. so the comparison should be between an electron and the whole atom(protons, neutrons and electrons) and not just the nucleus and an electron.

    anyway, sub-atomic particles are not really particles with size anyway. they are excitations of quantum fields, so comparing “size” is kinda murky.

    as for the earth/year question: an African year or European year?

  5. #5 Edward
    August 23, 2011

    Thanks Greg.

  6. #6 TheBrummell
    August 23, 2011

    The Earth does not go around the sun in one year. It takes longer (thus leap year and the occasionally leap second).

    The definition of “year” is the time it takes for the Earth to complete one revolution around the sun. So, it’s impossible for the Earth to take any longer or any less to get around the Sun; by definition, however long it takes is exactly one year. Yes, this is a boring and annoying Pedant’s answer.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    August 23, 2011

    The definition of “year” is the time it takes for the Earth to complete one revolution around the sun.

    “The” definition? Do you realize you are speaking to an anthropologist here? I’ve got a calendar on my wall that says one year = 365 days!

    And what about Stonehenge!!!

  8. #8 DuWayne
    August 23, 2011

    Thanks Greg – both for the book and the mention! I am rather excited, though not nearly as excited as Cay about the chemistry. We also got Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes. Of course I am now stuck with a child who wants to mix up a couple hundred pounds of starch with water, so as to dance upon it.

    I got off by promising I would email his teacher about it – it is possible we could get away with it there and without me actually having to buy the starch.

  9. #9 rob
    August 24, 2011

    stonehenge? bah.

    carhenge!!!!!!

    http://www.carhenge.com/

  10. #10 CherryBombSim
    August 27, 2011

    The question about television transmissions reminded me of something that happened when fax machines were new and wonderful innovations:

    One of the girls who worked in our office sending her very first fax fed the document in the top, and watched as it was scanned, and was absolutely crushed when it came back out the bottom of the machine. “Awww, it must not have gone through.”

  11. #11 Nick
    June 11, 2012

    “Electrons might be small, but they take up more space than the nuclei of atoms.”

    But the question was: “Electrons are smaller than atoms?” which is surely true?

  12. #12 Lepton T.
    United States
    July 6, 2012

    Funny thing how “constants” are so inconstant. Were I to hop into my time machine and go forward a couple years or backwards (I get them confused) my mass in kilograms will fluctuate because some bright folks decided they didn’t like the color of the old unit. And I live on Jupiter (with summer cottages on the Jovian moons; guess which one :D ), so a year is sort of meaningless without context. And it gets doubly difficult when I engage the hyper-light drives and come back scant Planck times later and my pet giant lizard made way to these hairless (well, mainly) bi-pedal things.