Self, society, and the science of skinny jeans

bullet-LeafThis past weekend, for the umpteenth time, I cracked open Matthew Lieberman’s book Social: why our brains are wired to connect (2013). I skimmed through it like I normally do with non-fiction books. I picked out bits and pieces – like an uncle foraging through a Sunday smorgasbord – finding things that I find intellectually appetizing (AKA things that confirm my bias).

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Credit: author

Among the many gems outlined in this marvelous book, one passage in particular stood out to me. The author refers to Neitzsche, who argued that:

“…our sense of self is typically something constructed, primarily by the people in our lives, and that the self is actually a secret agent working for them more than for us.”

We humans are herd animals. We respond to signals from those around us; the world around us. We see this behavior play out, for example, in how we respond to cultural trends. Here’s an example.

SKINNY JEANS

skinnyjeans

Source: Pixabay

Remember when skinny jeans first emerged on the fashion scene? 

I said, “Yuck. No damn way.” A few months later, I was… “Well, maybe…” 

Now I have three pair. For some reason, skinny jeans became a palatable fashion choice for me.

So, what’s that all about? 

We are influenced by those in our close personal networks. Our nature is to elevate and preserve the status we have (or aspire to have) within our social ‘herd’. This means that we need to abide by the collective rules of that social network.  If necessary, we will go to great lengths to protect a position. This is reflected in our “conforming” behaviors  (see Christakis and Fowler 2009). We pick up on social cues (behaviors) of others to know if and when we have “fallen out of favor” or crossed the boundaries of social norms. When it appears that we have broken away from “what is acceptable”, we risk being penalized by our network. Whether we care to admit it or not, we are highly influenced by the people around us, our environment (work, etc). This influence frames our behaviors, thoughts, perceptions, and opinions. And even what we choose to wear.

When it comes to fashion, I have always been “fashionably late”; slow to respond to changing trends. I eventually get there (well, somewhere in the vicinity anyway). As for skinny jeans, I’m not going to die on that fashion sword. But knowing me, it will take a while to move onto the next trend. And the ‘nudge’ will inevitably come from the people around me.

Suggested things to read, see, and listen to:

*This blog post is an updated excerpt from a post Ready, Set, Shame! (April 2016). 

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My Science Love Story

SAIFood Blog recently allowed me to take up a bit of their ‘online real estate’ to share my thoughts on storytelling and science communication. An excerpt:

“…the art and science of storytelling is evolving. And storytelling today requires a whole new level of agility and ingenuity than it ever has before. It is one part engagement and two parts personal branding. It also requires an aptitude for self-reflection.”

“Sure, Cami. You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk? What’s your story?”

I’m glad you asked. This short, animated video documents my evolving ‘love story’ with science. And you might be in for a surprise. How that love affair started had very little to do with the science that was being done.

(story by me; illustrations by me; narration by me)

What’s your story? How are you going to tell it?

story of science

From ‘I smell a rat’ to ‘when pigs fly’, bad science makes its rounds

pigs flyFrom ‘I smell a rat‘ to ‘when pigs fly’, bad science has been making the rounds of late. The multi-authored article A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet” reports that pigs fed a diet of only genetically modified grain show a markedly higher incidence of stomach inflammation than pigs that ate conventional feed.

This paper is fresh off the press and ready for ravenous consumption by anti-GMO enthusiasts. However, it seems that – post-publication – the paper and its evidence fail the independent peer-review process on many fronts:

The Evidence: David Tribe reviews the paper here: He says, “It’s what some call a fishing expedition in search of a finding, and a known pitfall of animal feeding trials on whole foods…” Tribe points out (among other things) that some of the study’s observations might be attributed to compositional differences in the variety of soybeans or corn fed to the pigs “..there is relatively little information in the paper about nutritional formulation, methods used for producing the pig diets, storage time for the grain and which particular varieties of grain were used in the diets.”

Update – June 14th – – – Anastasia Bodnar expands upon this further in her post in Biofortified Lack of care when choosing grains invalidates pig feeding study: “The authors aimed to do a real world study, with pig feed that can be found in real life. It intuitively seems right to just go get some grain from some farms. After all, that is what pigs eat, right? Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple…To hone in on any differences that may be caused by the GM traits, they would have to use feed with one or more GM traits and feed that doesn’t have the GM traits but that is otherwise as similar as possible. If the feeds aren’t very similar, then we can’t know if any differences in the animals is due to the GM traits or due to something else.”

Update June 14th – – – Dr. Robert Friendship (via Terry Daynard) – swine expert from the University of Guelph – points to methodological problems with “visual scoring” and assessment of ‘inflammation’: “…it was incorrect for the researchers to conclude that one group had more stomach inflammation than the other group because the researchers did not examine stomach inflammation. They did a visual scoring of the colour of the lining of the stomach of pigs at the abattoir and misinterpreted redness to indicate evidence of inflammation. It does not. They would have had to take a tissue sample and prepare histological slides and examine these samples for evidence of inflammatory response such as white blood cell infiltration and other changes to determine if there was inflammation.”

Andrew Kniss clearly demonstrates the failings of the statistical analysis, poking holes in the study’s evidence. He states, “If I were to have analyzed these data, using the statistical techniques that I was taught were appropriate for the type of data, I would have concluded there was no statistical difference in stomach inflammation between the pigs fed the two different diets. To analyze these data the way the authors did makes it seem like they’re trying to find a difference, where none really exist.”

Another matter worth mentioning: in the experiment, half of the pigs died of pneumonia. [update: 50% of the pigs did NOT die but, rather, were ‘sick’ with pneumonia – my error] This is an indication of bad stewardship. In events such as this, it is only appropriate to throw away the results – maybe a ‘do-over’ (next time using a better methodological approach (and take better care of the pigs)).

Credibility: This was the first time I had ever heard of The Journal of Organic Systems. As Mark Lynas observes (in GMO pigs study: more junk science), “The journal does not appear in PubMed, suggesting it is not taken very seriously in the scientific community.” In the world of science, publishing a good, sound piece of science in a good journal is an indicator of quality and credibility. I mean, think about it… if this study was a ground-breaking piece of ‘all that,’ wouldn’t it have been published by Nature or Science? At the very least, the paper would have been picked up by a journal within the study’s subject area.

Bias: You only need glance at the acknowledgement list at the end of the paper to see that it is a ‘who’s who’ of the anti-GMO world.  This kind of makes the statement “The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest” pretty much ‘moot.’  One author – Howard Vlieger – is the President of Verity Farms, Iowa, an organization that markets itself as non-GM.  Judy Carman (lead author) is widely known as a long-time anti-biotech campaigner. She even has a website called ‘GMOJudyCarman‘ (launched in late May – timely, no?)

Other interesting bits? In an April 2008 interview, Dr. Carman stated that her work received funding from Jeffrey Smith and the Institute for Responsible Technology. Jon Fagan, listed in the acknowledgements, is the head of Genetic-ID. Genetic-ID is the company that conducted the DNA analysis for the study confirming that the GM corn used contained a combination of NK603, MON863 and MON810 genes (page 40). Genetic-ID is based in Fairfield, Iowa and has satellites the world over. Genetic-ID is a GMO testing company and part of a convoluted network of actors with vested anti-GM interests, weird politics and Vedic-scienc-y stuff, and a long list of celebrities (see here).

It would seem that Carman et al have taken some pages from Seralini’s ‘playbook’ – but there are no ‘silver linings’ here.  This is just another exercise to “prove” that GMOs are dangerous rather than to objectively investigate them. Given the conflict of interests of the authors and affiliates involved, what other conclusion could they come to? The science, however, doesn’t pass the sniff-test. It’s a case of faulty methodology and poorly interpreted data magically making it through the peer review process.  Throw in some colorful (scary) pictures of pig uteri for good measure, add to that a bit of bias and credibility issues and you have the makings for some really ‘shoddy science’.

– – –

  • Check out Fourat Janabi’s post @Fouratj: “Pigs, GMOs and Bullshit Fourat provides a point by point critique of the Carman et al article – Easy-to-consume with none of the BS. :O)
  • Then there is this post from Julee @sleuth4health who quips, “At this point, anybody who’s ever judged a High School Science Fair has got to be thinking “F.”” 
  • Catalyzing Illinois writes Something Smells and its not the Pigs“We are not dealing with “disinterested and objective science” here.”
  • Contrary to Popular Belief: Latest anti-GMO study: more bullshit

Faith on the plate: …hype around science of ag and food

“Faith on the plate: a skeptic’s guide to the hype around the science of agriculture and food

A presentation by Dr. Cami Ryan / hosted by the Calgary Centre for Inquiry.

ABSTRACT: What does “organic” mean? Are GM foods “dangerous”? What are the facts of agriculture and food production? In this talk, we will explore a number of issues around the science (and politics) of agriculture and food: food production systems, markets, regulations, and the debates around labeling. We will also look at how science and evidence are portrayed in the media and how they are perceived in the public sphere. Pushing past all the rhetoric, this talk discusses how we can channel our inner “scientist” and think more critically about how food makes it to our plate.

Join us at the University of Calgary; MacEwan Hall; Escala Room on Saturday, January 26th at 3:30 in the afternoon.

TICKET PRICES
General Public: $10
Students: $5
Friends of the Centre: FREE

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Poster pdf: Faith on the Plate-c

Bored?! Random information on ME.

January 21, 2012

1. For the past 13 years, I have been diligently researching my families’ histories (maternal and paternal). I have gone back seven generations on both sides. 
2. I always wanted to the play the piano. I used to bang away on my stepsister’s piano when I visited my dad during the summer. It would drive everyone crazy. 
3. My first career choice was to be a nurse. Until I discovered that the sight of blood made me puke. 
4. Over the past 25 years, my hair has been a range of colours from platinum blonde to black (including orange, plum, pink). I have now settled on chestnut with the odd streak of grey. 
5. I won a commercial acting award at an International Model and Talent Competition in New York in 1985. 
6. I modeled for a few years in the 80s… made some good spending money and had a bit of fun in the meantime! 
7. My feet grew two sizes after high school. My butt has since followed suit. 
8. After my parents broke up in 1971, I lived with my maternal grandmother in a small Saskatchewan town near the Mistawasis Reserve.  
9. When I was young, my nostrils would wiggle when I laughed. Kids would tease me about it. So, I worked really, really hard to control it and I did! I think it only happens now when I have a little too much to drink. ;o) 
10. I had lived in 5 different towns in Saskatchewan by the time I was 5 years old. Up until 2006 – when I moved to Alberta – I had ALWAYS lived in Saskatchewan. 
11. After high school (in 1983), I went to University for six weeks and then dropped out. I only made it to one class. 
12. I love creative writing; fiction and poetry in particular. I have had a few poems published in literary journals in the past few years. I finished a manuscript for a cheezy novel that has been rejected by every romance publisher in the Universe. #epicfail 
13. I am obsessed with Jack the Ripper. I have read almost every book about the Ripper and when I was in London in 2009, I walked around the streets and followed in the Ripper’s footsteps… at night. Spooky! 
14. In spite of the fact that I have experienced and done many, many things, what I am most proud of is being a mom… it is the thing that I do best… and I have never doubted it. I have two GREAT kids! Tanya (24) and Hayden (19).
15. We lost a son in a car accident in 1986. His name was Abraham. 
16. I had a book published in 2008 on evaluating networks of researchers involved in federally funded research projects. Currently working on another one on innovation in oilseeds research due out in the fall.
17. I love doing crossword puzzles. Online interactive ones. The Readers Digest ones are particularly good. 
18. I can cross one eye while keeping the other eye straight. My dad taught me how to do that! 
19. I am moderately gluten intolerant
20. I was Miss Teen Prince Albert. I went to Toronto and competed in the National Pageant in 1983. 
21. My first car was a 1976 Honda Civic (blue). I paid $400 for it. It would start in the dead of a -40 Canadian winter. Very reliable. 
22. I cried when I first saw Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 1998. Not sure why. The scale… the lighting… it was just so fantastic! 
23. While attempting to dive in the Great Barrier Reef in 2002, it took me 20 minutes to descend 50 feet… I had difficulty equalizing the pressure in my ears. They almost had to cancel my dive. But I made it and even took ANOTHER dive! It was a truly a magical experience! 
24. Some weird things that I have eaten: raw octopus (Costa Rica), snake & alligator & ants (Australia), rabbit & bear (Canada). 
25. My second cousin shot me with a bb gun when I was nine. I still have a scar on my upper lip.