Search the literature!

Every once in a while, I neglect to remember my favourite quote:

Six months of research can save you an afternoon in the library.

This is from a plaque in the library at work. The original quote is by American chemist Frank Westheimer. The longer I have been doing research, the more I am seeing just how true this statement is.

How to use this insight in day-to-day life:

  1. Realise that an afternoon is both really short compared to six months, and really long compared to how long you typically browse the web looking for an answer.
  2. Be aware that, in an everyday question, you don’t know the right words to query the search engine. After your first couple tries in web search and scholarly search (the results of Google and of Google Scholar seem almost disjoint so do try both), try to acquire the right keywords through figuring out what field your question is in, or to generalize your question.
  3. Google Scholar has interesting results even on page 10. Results are not ordered in relevance as well as web search does.

Rules for writing this blog

Dear future me,

In this post, I will state some ground rules that you have to follow for blogging. Your sense of self-commitment should be enough to stick to those rules, but in case it is not, I will try to give reasons that should convince you.

Purpose

The primary purpose of this blog is to get better at writing. You have to write things that are challenging to write. Here are some different suggestions:

  1. Commentary: write an opinion piece, review a book or movie, criticise a policy or organisation. The challenge in these is to achieve multiple ends simultaneously: get your opinion across, be fair and intellectually honest, and be nice.
  2. Things you don’t understand: try to see how smart you can sound while talking about things you have little clue about. Be willing to put your understanding of a topic in words, even if you feel like you don’t understand it very well.
  3. Different writing formats: look around for fun writing formats and try to emulate them. In particular, you should try Buzzfeed, Vice, Math with Bad Drawings and Slate Star Codex.
  4. Bridge a gap in knowledge and caring: communicating is hard when people don’t know of each other how much they know of a topic, and when you know a lot about something, it is easy to overestimate how anyone else knows. Find topics where you can practice this.

I know you like writing about your favourite science experiments and you want to share your favourite tofu recipe, but you should wait a bit for that, gain some more writing experience. Critically review your earlier writing on that [not on this blog], then you can write it anew. No sharing of content for the sake of sharing content, only write the stuff you feel you would learn a lot from. This blog is for you to write, not for visitors to read.

A secondary purpose of this blog is to get more insight into the things you read. How much does someone need to know to seem knowledgeable? Are articles typically too long or too short to really make their point? Does having to produce a lot of content negatively impact how interesting it is?

The Rules

    • Every post should satisfy at least one of the following:
      • have a topic different from all previous things you have read in your life
      • be about your personal feelings,
      • have content that people can disagree with. Be provocative. Does your desired topic not satisfy this rule? Push it further and further until it does. This criterium should overrule your desire for global consistency, though local consistency within a single post should still be aimed for.
  • At least one blog post should go up every weekend. Try to write it in that same weekend, though allowance is made for when you are abroad for work.
  • Every once in a while, take a critical look at some earlier posts and see where you can improve. There are probably online communities of people who do this for each other. Consider joining one of those.

Just in case you do get readers at some point, it might be good to preface some posts with a short note about the intended audience? Think about this for a bit.

Silent edits are allowed up to 7 days after posting, as is adding links to the new article in old articles. After these 7 days, edits are only allowed to be of the following form. Inconsiderate viewpoint. [edit: past me held problematic opinions, sorry for that.]

Closing

You should stick to these rules for at least one year. After that, I invite you to evaluate the results, change some of the rules where necessary, and keep to them for another year. Good luck.

Forever yours,

Past me

Is TERF ideology taking over EA?

TERF stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism. TERFS are a hate group that views trans rights as a threat to women’s rights.

“Trans women are pervert men that prey on women in women’s bathrooms and trans men are confused lesbians. Medical transition is a patriarchal notion to keep gender roles intact and is antithetical to any body-positivity movement. Bleh bleh bleh.” – TERFs

So, suppose you are a transphobe and want an air of scientific legitimacy for your views. Enter the two-type taxonomy of Blanchard. It proposes trans women come in two separate varieties: effeminate homosexual men who think they would have an easier time by pretending to be a woman and straight men with the paraphilia of being sexually attracted to the idea of themselves having female bodies. The latter are called autogynephilic transsexuals.

Where does this divide come from? Julia Serano summarizes that, after noting that not all trans woman seemed to fit the picture that gatekeeping therapist had of trans women (outwardly feminine from early childhood, transition early in life, attracted to men),

Blanchard subdivided MtF transsexuals by sexual orientation into four groups—androphilic, gynephilic, bisexual, and asexual. He found that a majority of the gynephilic (87.5%, n = 16), asexual (75%, n = 12) and bisexual (65.7%, n = 35) groups reported having experienced cross-gender arousal in response to wearing women’s clothing on at least one occasion in their lives, while only 15% (n = 100) of the androphilic group responded similarly (Blanchard, 1985). He also found that the gynephilic, bisexual, and asexual groups, on average, reported less recalled childhood feminine gender expression and presented for sex reassignment later in life than the androphilic group (Blanchard, 1988). Based on these results, Blanchard argued that there are two fundamentally different types of MtF transsexuals—androphilic and nonandrophilic (where nonandrophilic includes the gynephilic, bisexual, and asexual groups).

Furthermore, statistically, it seems that trans women from the second group are more likely to have STEM jobs, pass less well and share some other traits. So I mean, sure, there might really be an axis of correlated traits, though the theory does not manage to pass some basic sanity checks.

  • Can we trust numbers consisting of self-reports to gatekeepers?
  • Axis of correlated traits, sure, but are these really two clusters?
  • How is this narrative possibly the best explanation of the observations?
  • Why do >99% of trans women say this does not describe their experience, instead describing the feeling of gender dysphoria?
  • How does this theory relate to the observations surrounding phantom limbs in transgender people?
  • Why are both groups of trans women at such risk for suicide, in contrast to other paraphilic populations?
  • What about trans men? Non-binary peoples?
  • Are cis women autogynephiles?
  • Sex and sexuality are disgusting and nobody would let those guide their actions. [Never mind, we will fix that later.]

For more about the theory and why it is unscientific bullshit, see Contrapoints for hilarious jokes, woke feminist theory and personal experience or Julia Serano for a more scientific treatment. Mind that the prevailing gender identity theory has its own problems, but probably the least of any theory that treats gender in essentialist terms.

But this post is not about the theory, but about the fact that people in my favourite community are taking it seriously. Among those are major EA feminist blog Thing of Things, aspiring Less Wrong Gender Czar and self-identified autogynephilic The Scintillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought and even the otherwise amazing Putanumonit. Putanumonit seems to forget his usual sceptic view of things presented as evidence, Scintillating claims without further exposition that Blanchard’s theory has more explanatory power and that introspection never gives scientifically valid information, and Thing of Things expresses disagreement with Blanchard’s theory but does treat it as a valid theory and gives it a podium.

Belief in Blanchard’s theory is leaking into the EA community, against the mainstream scientific view. I find this scary and I don’t know what to do about it. But at the very least, I think we should make it clear that Blanchard’s model is an unnecessarily stigmatizing fringe theory on shaky evidential ground. It is more like hate group ideology than good science.

Uncommon(?) reasons for veganism

Most people’s reasons for veganism fall into three categories: animal ethics, environmentalism and personal health. I will consider the basics known, and look at some more exciting ideas. They’re all minor reasons, but each of these has been my proclaimed reason for veganism at some point in time.

To annoy other people

There, I said it. I became vegan to annoy people. Some of my friends thought veganism was ridiculous, so this was the perfect reason to become vegan. 10/10 would recommend.

Not being able to argue why we eat animals but not people

Once I was eating vegan, I felt like I should only go back to eating animal product if I could convincingly argue why it is morally permissible to eat animals but not humans from the out-group. Moreover, the argument should not sound like it was made up after the fact. A reason that would convince somebody who had only 5 minutes earlier learned about the existence of the practice of eating animals.

[edit: I am aware of issues surrounding comparisons of human versus non-human slavery and oppression. Check back later for a post in which I attempt to responsibly summarize and review Aph and Syl Ko’s book Aphro-ism. Though if you are actually interested in this discourse, don’t take my white opinion on the book and read it yourself instead. The book is not very long and filled to the brim with perspectives you have never heard before.]

Moral gift economy

This is so much better than moral trade. You know that some people consider eating meat to be morally wrong, even if you don’t know anyone personally. As a gift to them, be vegan. Hopefully, this is a first step in establishing a moral gift economy, and people will at some point reciprocate by doing something you think is morally good but that they see no reason for.

Glowing brain meme. 'Doing good', 'Doing non-good in exchange for others doing good', 'Doing non-good hoping to establish a moral gift economy', 'the same but calling it "acausal moral trade"'

 

Clean meat is coming soon

Veganism is low-hanging fruit for moral superiority, but clean meat will make this choice obsolete. For <10 years of effort, you can forever identify as morally superior. Take this last chance to score easy Virtue Points!

Modelling future you

In 30 years everybody has stopped eating slaughtered meat, and the first adults have grown up without ever eating a dead animal. Will people then consider eating meat to be as ghastly as we now think of slavery? I think they might. But then, will I be one of those people? In that case, it is smart to start being vegan right now.  If you already know what you will think in the future, better start acting on it right now.

Choice under uncertainty

I am 98% sure that farm animals can’t suffer. But, supposing that they can, their lives would inevitably contain much more than 50 times as much suffering per pound of meat than how much enjoyment I get from eating meat per pound. In expectation, I consider eating animals to be a shitty thing to do.

Veganism as a computationally viable Schelling point

Is eating meat wrong even if the animals lived happy lives? Is it wrong to eat dairy and eggs? Even in small amounts? What about honey? What about animal byproducts?

You can put thought into each of these questions, and separately consider every bit of animal-derived food you might eat. But is that worth your precious thoughts, of which you have only 80 years of thinking to spend? I don’t think so. Veganism is easy to implement and communicate.

Archiving the Trans Girl Diaries

Between standing on the shoulders of giants and picking through my own old files, I compiled the most complete archive of the Trans Girl Diaries gag comics so far. Check it out, this stuff is amazing.

Where do these things come from?

Turns out I used wget’s mirror function on the website once. The most bulletproof setting for this command is

wget -mkE http://example.com

This stuff is so great. It makes a copy of an entire website, including all pages, images, CSS and Javascript. Use it to grab a blog for reading on the plane, to make a static WordPress site if you are worried about security exploits but dislike updating, or to save your favourite webcomic for posterity.

Trigger warnings

Suicide, gender dysphoria, violence, external transphobia, internalized transphobia, Bailey-Blanchard-Lawrence two-type transwomen classification, transphobia, really intense descriptions of gender dysphoria, TERFism, sexism, homophobia, womyn-born-womyn-ism, Harry Benjamin syndrome and an altogether too realistic view of transgenderism.

If you like r/tgcj you’ll probably like the Trans Girl Diaries.

Review

I love this stuff. The comics meant a lot to me when I was younger. They are relatable and funny and give insight into all the disturbing thoughts that are part of the Trans Woman Experience. Whether you are trans or not, it is worth checking out.