lengths of comfy verdure

i like to sit back, relax and opine.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

another study proves liberals smarter than conservatives

The LA times reported on a study:

"Participants['] ... politics ranged from 'very liberal' to 'very conservative.' [This was according to their own descriptions of themselves.] They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M."


Both liberals and conservatives have made the same mistake in interpreting the study, saying that this explains why conservatives want to maintain the status quo and why liberals want change. In addition some have argued that the study, rather than demonstrating an advantage that liberals have, shows that liberals are apt to be more rash than conservatives in decision-making. These misinterpretations demonstrate substantial ignorance of neuroscience (which happens to be a hobby of mine.) The study only examines a very specific neural pathway. It compares the recognition of new information, and has nothing to do with the kind of thinking that goes into, say, opinions about public policy. Abstract reasoning is done with the cerebral cortex, which was completely bypassed in the task the subjects were asked to do. What the study does show is liberals are more likely to notice a new datum, to go "hmmm", and then send the information to the cortex to analyse it. The conservative is more likely to ignore it.

Conservative William Saletan, in his four point essay in Slate, begins by correctly arguing that the idea that the study proves that conservatives "have more habitual ways of thinking" is wrong. He is right for the same reason I discussed above: the study does not study thinking. But his beef with the author of the study he cited is really just semantic. The author probably meant "thinking" as any activity that happens in the brain; he probably knows the difference between instinct and cognitive thought, being a neuroscientist and all.

Point Number Two: He asks if a W flashed for a millisecond is "information". Why, yes it is, actually.

Point Number Three: He responds to "Liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty" with, "Complexity and ambiguity weren't tested." "Participants were shown an M or a W. No complexity, no ambiguity." Does he know what "informational complexity and ambiguity" are to a neurobiologist (emphasis mine)?

Point Number Four: He thinks that the scientists designed the study on purpose to make conservatives look dumb (the essay is subtitled "Rigging a Study to Make Conservatives Look Stupid"--talk about a conspiracy theory!) He gets all confused when the scientists said that liberals were better at "detecting when a habitual response is not appropriate for a new situation" and "detecting conflict between an ongoing pattern of behavior and a signal that says that something's wrong with that behavior and you need to change it." He thinks that the scientists skewed the study on purpose, by inventing a study that "presume[d] that the habitual response was wrong," since conservatives, I guess he guesses one would guess, being more likely to stick to the stauts quo, would be more likely to do badly on a test designed to reward change. That's a whole lot of guessing. Isn't guessing precisely what we are trying to avoid by doing science? He goes on to make the mistake I discussed above. He asks what if the old way of doing things was better and the new information is irrelevant?

When the scientist say that liberals are better at detecting that "something's wrong with that behavior and you need to change it", they're not talking about, for example, the second ammendment or the secret bombing of Cambodia, they are talking about a specific, measurable behavior that the study defines as "wrong", here, pressing a key. The study shows that liberals are better at reacting to novel information, not by, for example, advocating gun control laws, but by not pressing the key. Being able to not press the key indicates that the subject is more capable of perceiving information and sending it on for further processing, as opposed to ignoring it.

Saletan asserts, "Maybe what you saw—what you think you saw—will turn out to require a different response from the one that has hitherto served you well. Maybe it won't. Maybe, on average, extra sensitivity to such conflicting cues will lead to better decisions. Maybe it won't. Extra CM sensitivity does make you more likely to depart from your habit. But that doesn't prove it's more adaptive." He is assuming that liberals will always opt for change, which is not what the study shows. The study shows that liberals are more likely to be able to change if change is needed.

The study does not show that liberals always do the right thing. It just shows a very specific thing that liberals are able to do better than conservatives. Period. That thing is very narrowly defined. Cuz that's what they do in science.

Saletan becomes unhinged toward the end of the essay, switching to second person, addressing the scientists, "You've manufactured a tiny world of letters, half-seconds, and button-pushing, so you can catch us in clear errors and keep out the part of life where our tendencies correct yours. And now you feel great about yourselves. Congratulations. You haven't told us much about our way of thinking. But you've told us a lot about yours." Ooohkay.... I'm going to guess that that's not his cerebral cortex speaking.

Monday, September 24, 2007

muh foot

i didn't my cast off today after all. they found 2 additional fractures on a whole nother bone. i have to stay completely off the foot for 3 more weeks.

pros: my biceps are getting enormous, and my triceps no longer waggle; tons of attention--i have a whole new understanding of munchausen syndrome.

cons: no cooking, shopping or dog walking.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


i just started a new job, and my cast will probably come off on monday. i'm getting kind of sick of not being able to do anything. good thing my job pretty much just entails watching tv. just eating at nomad* last night around the corner, which was delicious and therefore totally worth it, was exhausting because of the hobble home. i am developing pecs and one asscheek of steel. but worst of all is having to tell everyone "what happened".

*it's an egyptian restaurant. we had the crabcakes, foul, and couscous. they make the foul with fresh fava beans, which are the most luxurious thing ever since they have to be shelled twice, since each bean has a skin. i could not make out the ingredients of the sauce, which usually never happens. warren said, and i agreed, that it probably contained totally commonplace ingredients, but the technique was likely some ancient mysterious spell that rendered everything unrecognizable. the crabcakes were fantastic, albeit probably not traditional, served with a kind of pesto-y sauce and a cucumber salad, equally mysterious as the foul. the couscous was fluffy as all get out, and was served with a stew whose stock probably contained the flavor of ten whole chickens. the chicken was so juicy and tender that warren actually ate some breast meat which he had previously sworn off of because it doesn't have enough fat. all this to say: i highly recommend nomad on 2nd ave between 4th and 5th streets.

Monday, September 10, 2007


i am fine, though, surprisingly, to me, immobilized. i had no idea how heavy casts were and how difficult it is to get around on just one foot. industrious as i am, i have spent the past week lying around in bed, and lying around in bed. it's just too much effort to do pretty much anything. warren is going to wash my hair today, so i'm resting up for that. i guess i'm kind of getting used to doing nothing. i'm really ok with it. huh. so, strangely, this is the best vacation i could have had this summer. i haven't even taken any of my percocet yet.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

my foot broke

i was walking up second avenue with my dog, and all of a sudden, i felt a terrible pain. i looked down and realized that there was something on my foot. i started screaming because it hurt so much. the busboy, i'm assuming he was a busboy, picked the barrier off of my foot and continued to set the tables and put out chairs at the sidewalk cafe i had been passing by. apparently the barrier between the sidewalk tables and the sidewalk had fallen onto my foot. it was metal and probably very heavy. the busboy scolded me, i guess for walking by, as i cried immobilized by pain and frightened by the blood that had begun to ooze. i asked him for a napkin or paper towel. he yelled at me some more, and then i said maybe i should call the police and he took off running. i didn't get a good look at him because i was looking horrified at my foot which had developed bizarre purple streaks on it and was bleeding. a crowd formed and called the police and an ambulance. i screamed over and over that i didn't want the guy to get in trouble, that it was an accident. so the cops left. i also insisted that i did not want to go in the ambulance since i didn't have health insurance. i was just going to go in a cab to the hospital. i didn't think i would end up having an expensive hospital bill, so i didn't bother to gather any information. i heard one witness say to the police that he saw the guy run away, and he was wearing a white tank top. the ambulance ladies made me sit down in a chair and calm down because i was crying hysterically. they said it didn't look bad and that i probably didn't even need to go to the hospital. i started to try to walk home, which was just around the corner, but i couldn't walk on my foot. the ambulance gave me a ride home. i made it up the stairs to my apartment by using the railings and called my family. after a half hour, it still hadn't stopped bleeding, so i went to the hospital in a cab.

they said my foot was broken and put a cast on it. my husband had returned by then from CT, so i took the second half of my dose of oxycodone, learned how to use crutches, and we got a cab home.

i don't believe in god, but it is true that i am going to have to really take a break now and try not to do anything for a while. the doctors were going to put a splint on my foot at first, but i think i heard them say they wanted to put a cast on it instead to slow me down. the fucking thing is huge and heavy, and i am exhausted from washing myself in the tub with the hose we use for mimi.

i didn't even want to post this until i uploaded a picture of my cast, but since just getting across the room involves way too much effort unless it's to pee, i decided to just do this while i'm here at the desk getting the number for the hospital so i can find out how much this is going to cost. i had to have coffee delivered this morning! we have to hire a dog walker!