The battle over birth control

Interesting piece in the Daily Beast by Dana Goldstein about how conservatives are gearing up to try and prevent health care reform from covering birth control.  Matt Yglesias basically says “bring it on” as this is clearly a fight that does not work politically for conservatives.  Goldstein’s article clearly shows why:

Unlike on abortion rights, where opinion polling demonstrates a notoriously conflicted public, birth control is wildly popular. Eighty percent of Americans say pharmacists should be required to dispense birth control regardless of their own opinions on the morality of premarital or non-reproductive sex. Three-quarters of American Catholicsdisagree with their Church’s anti-contraception policy. A recent survey of evangelical leaders—the family values crowd—found that 90 percent of them consider hormonal birth control and condoms “morally acceptable.”

The business community, too, is enthusiastic. A new report from the National Business Group on Health found that most companies would save money in the long run by providing their employees with co-pay-free birth control.

There’s also massive demand for these drugs: According to the Guttmacher Institute, seven out of every 10 American women over the age are 15 are currently sexually active and don’t want to become pregnant. Eighty-nine percent of them are using some form of contraception; 15.3 million Americans use prescription hormonal birth control.

Much like their general silence on IVF, I find the Catholic Church’s relative quiet on this issue quite telling.  They are willing to fight for their positions when they’ve got reasonably strong public support (e.g., opposition to legal abortion and gay marriage), but when they’re out their on a limb, such as opposition to contraception or assisted reproduction, not so much.  I’m with Yglesias– bring it on.

Chart(s) of the day

From successive posts from Ezra Klein.  Both make quite interesting points:


Does the bad economy make people stupid?  So, the Democrats are better on things but you’re going to vote Republican anyway?  Sadly, for these results that must be the position of a not insubstantial number of Americans.

And this:

‘A Chart That Screams, “Extend Unemployment Benefits!” ‘

You’ll have to excuse me for simply stealing Daniel Indiviglio’s headlinefor this chart, but it’s really the right way to introduce it:

job openings vs jobless 2010-05-thumb-570x326-29516.png

“That giant gap consists of Americans who are unemployed, and couldn’t get a job even if they wanted to,” Indiviglio writes. “This emphasizes the need for Congress to extend unemployment benefits. It’s pretty clear that millions of Americans remain unemployed because the jobs aren’t there — not because they aren’t trying hard enough to find them. In fact, it’s not even close.”

Of course, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice a fair number of conservatives saying that they cannot extend unemployment benefits because it’s just encouraging people not to work.

Yes, it is the racism

I love finding articles I never would have otherwise via facebook friends.  This essay is basically a compendium of all the academic studies demonstrating just how real and pervasive racism still is.  Here’s a sampling:

What is it that woke them up finally, after all these years of denial, during which they insisted that racism was a thing of the past?

Was it the research indicating that job applicants with white sounding names have a 50 percent better chance of being called back for an interview than their counterparts with black-sounding names, even when all qualifications are the same?


Was it the study that found white job applicants with criminal records have a better chance of being called back for an interview than black applicants without one, even when all the qualifications are the same?


Perhaps they finally stumbled upon the evidence suggesting millions of cases of race-based housing discrimination against people of color each year, and this is what has them so incensed?


Or maybe their anger is due to the reports of blatant racism practiced by Wells Fargo, which was deliberately roping black borrowers (to whom they referred as “mud people”) into high-cost loans, targeting them for these instruments, and even falsifying credit histories to make black applicants look like greater risks than they were, so as to justify the scam?


Good stuff.

The power of Scooby-doo

Came across this interesting item on NPR the other day.  Not all that surprising, given all that I just learned in The End of Overeating, but certainly really demonstrates the power of our brains to shape how we experience food.

Some researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policty and Obesity took that everyday cereal experiment a step further by exploring whether the appearance of a cartoon character on food packaging affects how kids perceive the way the stuff tastes.

Their findings? Most of the time — try 85 percent — the children chose the packages decorated with cartoon.

And, yep, kids say carrots, graham crackers and gummy fruit snacks with a picture of either Dora, Shrek or Scooby Doo on its packaging was yummier. They had tastes of identical foods wrapped in plain, cartoonless packages for comparison.

Got that?  The exact same food tastes better once the cartoon character is on it.  So much of how we experience and enjoy food is beyond the actual food itself (also demonstrated to amazing effect by Dan Ariely doing an experiment with beer and balsamic vinegar).

Confirmation Bias

Big Steve had a nice post on confirmation bias somewhat recently, and I’ve been a little slow to offer my own take on it.  He linked to this really nice post on it that you should read in full (though, I know you won’t):

If you are thinking about buying a new car, you suddenly see people driving them all over the roads. If you just ended a long-time relationship, every song you hear seems to be written about love. If you are having a baby, you start to see them everywhere.

Confirmation bias is seeing the world through a filter, thinking selectively.

The examples above are a sort of passive version of the phenomenon. The real trouble begins when confirmation bias distorts your active pursuit of facts.

Punditry is a whole industry built on confirmation bias.

Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck and Arianna Huffington, Rachel Maddow and Ann Coulter – these people provide fuel for beliefs, they pre-filter the world to match existing world-views.

If their filter is like your filter, you love them. If it isn’t, you hate them.

Whether or not pundits are telling the truth, or vetting their opinions, or thoroughly researching their topics is all beside the point. You watch them not for information, but for confirmation.

As a political psychologist, I’ve long been aware of this bias, but I actually found it to be most problematic in our criminal justice system when teaching my course on criminal justice this past spring.  So much of the flaws in our system– especially as manifested in wrongful convictions– come down to confirmation bias.  Once police and prosecutors suspect somebody, they keep looking for every piece of information and rarely, if ever, for information that might prove they are wrong.  If you only look for one type of information, of course, that is what you are most likely to find.

Though, I know I fall prey to this bias, I suspect it is not nearly as much as the proverbial next guy.  Actually, I think being a social scientist is great training to learn to counter-act this bias in one’s thinking.  In every single thing I research and publish, I have to consider the counter arguments to my hypothesis.  What evidence might actually prove what I’m doing is wrong, and then show that this is not the case.   That’s exactly how one gets past the confirmation bias.  I’m sure I don’t do this in my “ordinary life” as much as I should, but I do think that it develops as a habit of mind to a considerable degree.  So, the rest of you out there, :-), watch out for it.

“Cougars” on the prowl

Interesting article in Time on the “Cougar” phenonemon that tries to explain it through an evolutionary psychology perspective:

A new journal article suggests that evolutionary forces also push women to be more sexual, although in unexpected ways. University of Texas psychologist David Buss wrote the article, which appears in the July issue of Personality and Individual Differences, with the help of three graduate students, Judith Easton (who is listed as lead author), Jaime Confer and Cari Goetz. Buss, Easton and their colleagues found that women in their 30s and early 40s are significantly more sexual than younger women. Women ages 27 through 45 report not only having more sexual fantasies (and more intense sexual fantasies) than women ages 18 through 26 but also having more sex, period. And they are more willing than younger women to have casual sex, even one-night stands. In other words, despite the girls-gone-wild image of promiscuous college women, it is women in their middle years who are America’s most sexually industrious…

Here’s how their theory works:

Our female ancestors grew accustomed to watching many of their children — perhaps as many as half — die of various diseases, starvation, warfare and so on before being able to have kids of their own. This trauma left a psychological imprint to bear as many children as possible. Becoming pregnant is much easier for women and girls in their teens and early 20s — so much easier that they need not spend much time having sex.

However, after the mid-20s, the lizard-brain impulse to have more kids faces a stark reality: it’s harder and harder to get pregnant as a woman’s remaining eggs age. And so women in their middle years respond by seeking more and more sex.

Hmmm, sounds reasonable enough.  And then, it turns out that the study has a very serious flaw:

And yet there are a few flaws with the data in the new paper. Chiefly: some three-quarters of the participants in the study were recruited on Craigslist, a website where many go to seek hookups, meaning there was a self-selection problem with the sample. (The other participants were students at the University of Texas in Austin.) The authors also note that there are some alternative explanations for why women in their 30s and early 40s might be more sexual. Many of them may simply be more comfortable with sex than women in their teens and early 20s. Still, that raises the question of why they are more comfortable: perhaps evolution programmed that comfort.

Both the finding and theory are interesting, but as long as they are based on soliciting participants from Craigslist, I don’t really put a lot of stock in them.  I think it would also be very interesting to see the degree to which this holds up in different cultural contexts.  Simply showing something exists in 21st century middle-class America is most definitely not enough to base a theory as resulting from human evolutionary pressures.

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