SocraticGadfly: 2/21/10 - 2/28/10

February 27, 2010

Ev Psych goes off rails on depression

The idea that clinical depression was evolutionarily selected for is why many real evolutionary biologists laugh at something like this as a classical "Just So Story."

It's caveated, has little real explanatory power, doesn't allow for alternative explanations, doesn't well explain away counterexamples and is generally weak.

Beyond that, Andy Thomson and Paul Andrews undercut their own theory, and at a grade-school level.

In response to criticism, they admit that, in essence, "We don't know what depression is."

Well, if you don't know what a trait is, how can you even claim it's selected for, in the first place? You've just said you don't know what it is, so you don't know what is being selected for.


And, of course, given the present (but growing) state of cognitive science and neuroscience, this is the case about ev psych, or rather, Pop Ev Psych, claims about just about any mental or emotional state.

Also, the end-of-story study said people focused only when **DISTRACTED** from their depressive thinking. Doesn't that hugely undercut the adaptationist idea?

Meanwhile, on his blog, Jonah Lerner, the author of the NYT Mag story, actually defends the general line of thinking of Thomson/Andrews, though in the story, he was good enough to marshal plenty of opponents of their claims.

More thoughts for Jonah:

Few more comments:

1. Jonah, when you caveat your own lede with "may," shouldn't you be a bit less bold in your claims?

2. Related to that, I had expected you to be less credulous here than in the "balanced" story, and not more so. Pop Ev Psych of the Thomson/Andrews nature doesn't even look at epigenetics on mental states issues, it would seem. We know that with things such as anxiety, the brain can literally be "reset," in a sense. Ditto, it would seem, with depression. And, with no adaptationist benefit, it would seem.

3. Self-loathing does not necessarily induce depression. Nor is it necessarily part of depression. I know one can self-loathe without being depressed, and think that to some degree the opposite is true, too. Kind of a false Zen diagram.

4. Lerner, as well as Thomson/Andrews, also has another "whiff," or semi-whiff, at least. Rumination, or a certain level of rumination, to the best of my knowledge, has never been causally correlated with depression. It seems like a pretty facile assumption was made here.

White anti-abortionists lie to blacks

Yes, Margaret Sanger was involved in eugenics. No, she was NOT part of a conspiracy to exterminate blacks. Shock me that thug pseudo-journalist and alleged Senate office break-in artist James Keefe is one of the people trying to spread this conspiracy. It's enough to make me, contra to them trying to "convert" any blacks, do something I thought I'd never do and give to Planned Parenthood.

February 26, 2010

SCATter the West Virginia coyotes

Coyotes have only been in West Virginia about 30 years, but are already expanding their numbers quite nicely. Now, the state is studying their scat to try to figure out how to control them.

Dear Obama – stop droning on

Especially in Pakistan. I agree with Ed Cohen that if we're going to have, in essence, an undeclared quasi-war against the Taliban there, at least make the case to the American people.

David Brooks is still a healthcare #fail

Anybody who thinks Mike Enzi made a rational contribution to the healthcare summit while Mitch McConnell rationally stood back is a winger indeed, no matter how much he may try to sound like a rational conservative.

February 25, 2010

Is Turkey headed for a showdown?

The Turkish government has charged several admirals and generals from Turkey's military, the traditional guarantor against Islamism, of plotting a coup.

But is the Justice and Development party, an Islamic-based political party, playing politics?

Stay tuned. This has several angles, and possible fallout well beyond Turkey's borders.

Big Mac, steroids truth still not near each other

Now, I don't blame Mark McGwire for being so mad over his brother's tell-all book that he never wants to see him again. But, continuing to claim he only 'roided to rehab from injury? Uh...

February 24, 2010

Senate Dems sell out civil liberties again

The Patriot Act got renewed by the Senate with NO civil liberties protections added.

Tom Ricks, clueless about Iraq — or lying

And, still, too much of a warmonger about Iraq, as I noted when I two-starred "Fiasco" on Amazon and got flamed for it.

But, he's now calling for Obama to slow down the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq.

As background for that, he first misrepresents the "surge," including ignoring the Anbar Awakening Bribery, which, as much as an troop increase, was key to the surge's success.

Next, he doesn't ask if Iraqi leaders will simply putter on in a semi-dysfunctional fashion if we keep troops there, rather than forcing them to address Sunni/Shi'a/Kurd issues themselves.

And, that's not all he gets wrong. Read the whole column.

February 23, 2010

Bjorn Lomborg, serial confabulator

How bad is it? A whole book is coming out just about all the misattributions and mis-claims in his footnotes.

Yet more bad news for newspapers

Among the findings of an exhaustive Nielson survey about readers' attitudes toward paying for online media (exhaustive enough to interview 52,000 people in 27 countries!) nearly two-thirds said, in essence, that if they pay for the content, that gives them the copyright to the material, as well.

Sam Zell was sooo dumb when he kept the Chicago Trib and sold the Cubs.

What's in your household cleaners?

Most manufacturers don't want to tell; maybe we should buy Simple Green because it complied with the law (PDF).

February 22, 2010

The new poor and a slow recession recovery

For people who believe economic recovery is "just around the corner," an in-depth piece by the New York Times says, "think again."

Various reasons mentioned include institutional investors short-term profits focus:
“The pace of job growth has been getting weaker in each expansion,” Lakhshman Achuthan said. “There is no indication that this pattern is about to change.”

As well as a thinner social net, thanks to the Clinton era welfare "reforms."
“We have a work-based safety net without any work,” said Timothy M. Smeeding, director of the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “People with more education and skills will probably figure something out once the economy picks up. It’s the ones with less education and skills: that’s the new poor.”

Remember, at the time, many of us progressives said, let's see how this plays out in our first real recession, after late-'90s successes were touted? Well, we're now seeing.

Why media should investigate politicos' pecadillos

In what's definitely one of his better columns, Ross Douthat says National Enquirer deserves a Pulitzer for its John Edwards investigation.

But, if that's the case, shouldn't it get a second Pulitzer for its less heralded Palin investigation, about her own affair? C'mon, Ross, you can't write just half a loaf on this one.

Why we won't win Afghanistan

Juan Cole makes it pretty damned clear.

Highlights? The Afghan National Army, after a decade of training, is still about a decade away from being a real force.

Tajiks/Northern Alliance warlords do NOT want reconciliation with Pashtuns/Taliban.

NATO nations will continue to pull out.

Read the whole thing. Lots of links.

Newt Gingrich's laugh of the day

The old salamander, along with Bill Frist and others, tells us how to fix health care.

Maybe, doing just the opposite of what he says might work.

When "markets" is in the first graf, and after that, time after time, you know it's the same old tired dreck.

More cluelessness about journalism answered

Per a survey about how many online readers "expect" free content to stay free, and some comments about that on a LinkedIn journalism group, I offer my extended thoughts:

In my opinion, one key problem at newspapers is the AP has an inherent conflict of interest between its traditional customers and its new ones, the news aggregators. Member papers need to figure out a way to push AP to charge the Googles, MSNBCs, etc., more for content, and to figure out a way to involve Reuters et al in this without collusion.

In my opinion, also, beyond this issue, the AP has been pretty clueless in dealing with a lot of online issues, starting at the top with Dean Singleton.

As for charging for content affecting readership, other surveys show that:
A. Many online readers are "casual" ones;
B. A paywall can be combined with collection of user data, which then allows advertisers to target ads.
C. Apropos the old hardcopy pay model, and contra Fred above, I wouldn't call 20-25 percent of revenue (the tradition for newspapers) "almost free."

Besides paywalls, another solution is simply delayed posting of online content, for as much as, say, 24 hours.

Couple of other comments.

Howard (a blogger who used to be a reporter and is trying to get more paying freelance gigs, and talks about his blog as a "brand" builder): Of course you're not going to get more. The fragmentation of the Net, plus traditional dysfunctionality of the journalism profession salivating for any jobs, have mashed up to feed off each other. Keep giving stuff away, and keep being part of the problem.

Building "brand"? Isn't that about as much a myth as Reaganomics?

Bottom line is, if a newspaper ain't making money on the online portion of its business, priced out separately from its hardcopy business, then it needs to do something to change its business model. This isn't a supermarket able to offer an occasional "loss leader," if you're offering an **ongoing** loss leader. And, spending more on websites, and web editors, in hopes of getting more of those casual readers more involved, ain't the answer.

I don't know which is worse: clueless traditional newspaper management, or possible clueless online newspaper pundits/analysts.

Finally, no duh on the survey. If you asked, 85 percent of ppl getting anything free would want more.

February 21, 2010

Journalist naivete 101

I pity every under-35 journalist, even more, under-30 journalist, like this one, who thinks he, as compared to all the others now on his own, actually WILL "make it" as a-Net based freelancer.

Sheelah Kolhatkar tells a great story of the descent of all the Paul Smaleras:
You can tell when a print journalist has lost his full-time job because of the digital markings that suddenly appear, like the tail of a fading comet. First, he joins Facebook. A Gmail address is promptly obtained. The Twitter account comes next, followed by the inevitable blog. Throw in a LinkedIn profile for good measure. This online coming-out is the first step in a daunting, and economically discouraging,
transformation: from a member of a large institution to a would-be Internet “brand.”
Beyond that, writing a blog that amounts to little more than a search engine optimization tool?

Just as Google Ads is killing a lot of online advertising, the fragmentation of news/content/analysis and whatnot online is going to kill salaries, too.

Keep dreaming, Paul Smalera. Until you wake up. Or, until you OD on the Kool-Aid of the Jay Rosen types who keep hawking the Net, including the free-range, unpaywalled Net, as the salvation of media.

Read like this one to get more of a sense of how he's scraping and scrimping by. Paul, half the job dumps and revenue losses may be recession-related, but the other half? As long as print media keep repeating the same non-charging-for-online-content insanity, the other half is gone for good.

Of course, in partial degree, if not in kind or way at all, the Smalera attitude is part of journalism writing's bloodstream for decades. Which is why the increased codependency abetted by the Net smackdown is kind of predictable, actually.

If health care were like media

Go read Nick Kristof's Sunday column; you'll laugh and shake your head in agreement at the same time.

My opinion of Lincoln Chafee just went down

When Chafee left the Senate, after being the only Republican to vote against the Iraq war (yes, Hillary Clinton, that's what it was), I had a fair amount of respect for him.

Then, in this vomitorious blandness of a column calling for a new centrist party, he lost it.

First, while Rahm Emanuel may be hyperpartistan, he recruited all the Blue Dogs now in the House that have been a pain at times. So, it's not been ideological partisanship, to the degree there has been any partisanship; it's been gamesmanship-based only.

Second, Chafee knows how blatant GOP Senate filibustering is.