Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Food and the holidays

It's an unavoidable topic when this time of year rolls around, food. Christmas, especially for those of us who are secular, has one hell of a lot to do with the food. It's not just the christmas dinner, that feast of over-indulgence, it's the entire season. As soon as christmas starts rolling around, the shops start filling up with delights of every kind. There are tins of special biscuits, there are jars and boxes of sweets, there are the delicacies you don't get any other time of the year, christmas cakes and mince pies and things like that. You can't go to a christmas fair without noticing the food. where I lived as an undergrad there was an international christmas fair every year with Kangaroo burgers and crepes and mulled wine and hot dogs and chocolates. In this new town there are new crepes and there's fudge and chocolates still. So many good things to put in your mouth.

Then there's the judging. How do you pick which bits to eat. Surely you can't try it all, that's just indulgent, isn't it?

Then there are the christmas parties. I don't know what it is about christmas parties that means you have to feed other people, but you do. Cheese and biscuits, a gingerbread house, mince pies and nibbles. All that food.

And you feel judged.

Nobody needs to say anything, other people probably don't notice, but part of being fat is feeling constantly judged for what you eat. Did you take the last mince pie? Was your piece of gingerbread house too big? Did you put too many roasties on your plate on christmas day? Should you have not bought those chocolates as well as the fudge at the christmas market? It's the feeling of eyes on you. It's the feeling that, whatever you do, it's too much. You're embarasing yourself and not just yourself but all the other fat people in the world. You're letting them down, living up to the stereotype.

Nobody needs to say anything, to even hint, the shame is innate. It's taught to us with every implication that things that taste good are bad for you, that you are fat because you're weak, because you're stupid. If you would just take one less roast potato, you'd be thin! If you'd just forgo desert, nobody would judge you. If you'd just eat one elss mince pie you could be loved.

But it's a lie, and I'm not buying it this year.

I'm not going to condem myself for food this year, I'm goin to enjoy it. After all, what is life if you can't enjoy a second trip to the buffet table? What's the point of christmas dinner if, afterwards, you're still nervous and hungry?

Not this year. This year I'm going to eat what I want when I want and I'm not going to say sorry to anyone.

Monday, 15 December 2008

And so it begins...

For weeks I've been reading. I've been sat here on my hands reading papers and making notes and reading more papers and making more notes. Nothing to do, waiting for sequence, waiting for sectioning. Then, suddenly, at my last supervisory meeting before christmas? The one where I only have two and a half more days to work (and am going to spend half of one at the christmas party and was hoping to find a little time to nip into town because my parents are requesting things at the last minute). Suddenly there's a whole list of new things for me to do before I go away for christmas. I've got reading, bioinformatics, some plant measuring and spraying. Why couldn't I have had all this last week when I was bored, not this week when I just want to go home?

Oh well, at least things are moving forward. That's always a good thing.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Why do some dads get more involved than others? Evidence from a large British cohort

Why do some dads get more involved than others? Evidence from a large British cohort

Daniel Nettle

At sciencedirect or New Scientist reports. (I found this article through new scientist but the below is based on what I found from reading the full text via sciencedirect.

Let's start with the data-set. Parental involvement is related by the mother, so relies on her accurate reporting. It is rated on a three point scale, from no involvement to an involvement equal to the mother, with an option to say that the question is non-applicable. The question is taken at one time point, when the offspring in question are 11. They noted that 1 often correlated to a non-resident father and 3 to a father who lived with the family. By referencing this scale against other variables they found.
1. Fathers rated as highly invested in their children were more likely to have skilled jobs whereas fathers rated at less likely to be involved were more likely to have an unskilled job.
2. Men were more likely to be reported as investing more time in sons then daughters.
3. Children with heavily involved fathers have a higher intelligence score in all social classes.
4. Children with fathers in skilled employment who spent a lot of time with them had a greater improvement in 'intelligence' then any other group.
5. Those offspring with high parental investment were more likely to be upwardly mobile through life, the class effect disappeared in this measure.

This is then discussed as evolutionary adaptive.

I have two big issues with this.

The first issue is how I see studies like this being used. This study states that paternal involvement improves outcomes, but it misses a hell of a lot of other variable. It does not take into account any non-traditional family structure. It just presumes a woman's involvement but doesn't measure it. Surely the children in more 'highly invested' groups are getting twice the parental input of the other children, so this could be causing the effect. There's also nothing to show it has to be a father, that it isn't just having significant time invested by two parents as opposed to one. We all know which crowd argues that children need a parent of each gender, don't we?

The second issue I have is the complete failure to consider other variables. There is some suggestion that potential IQ has a genetic component, couldn't this have a role? More intelligent parents having more intelligent children. How does that mother's socioeconomic status play in?

They also attempt to explain why higher socioeconomic class fathers put in more childcare time in evolutionary terms. How about this, these men have more money to spend on their children (buying them books and taking them out, for example), they probably have higher job satisfaction and more control over their own working conditions, so instead of stumbling in at 6, exhausted from hauling crates all day they come in buzzing from settling that deal in Japan and have much more energy to invest in their children. Then, of course, there's the possibility for biased recording. Anyone check if these fathers actually spent more time of if it was just perceived that they spent more time. The authors compare the results to older statistics that show this measure seems to correlate with earlier measures like the amount of time spent reading (again, reported by mother) or amount of time spent on outings (guess who reported it?). It doesn't seem to account for that fact that men of lower socioeconomic class might not read to their kids, but might watch TV with them. They might not take their kids to the zoo but they might take them round to relatives or to friends, particularly children of the same gender.

Then there's the social pressure to have a child who's successful. This pressure doesn't really exist in working class families, in my experience. A child who gets a job on the shop floor at Tesco is seen as a success in the same way one with a degree is whereas in higher status families there is the expectation that the child will enter the same socioeconomic class, so will have a degree. They're also more likely to go to a school which prepares them for university and more likely to have peers who aspire to high things. That HAS to have an effect.

Then there's the casual writing off of the female children, of course he wouldn't invest so much time in a girl. Evolutionarily speaking, males are more likely to give you lots of children. They do, to be fair, give a passing nod to the fact that society values male children more, but does put a lot more emphasis on an evolutionary explanation.

All in all, I remain unconvinced that a person with a penis is needed or even preferential in raising a child. I'll accept that this implies that bi-parental care may have an effect, particularly in large families, but I certainly don't think we can draw any evolutionary conclusions from this and I'd prefer to hold off on drawing any conclusions at all until I see something that accounts for the contribution of the female parent.

Friday, 5 December 2008

A friday roundup

An interesting article on the pro-choice movement and disability. Not sure what I think of it. I think abortion in the case of discovery of disability is still valid but I think any reason a woman feels she needs to abort is a valid reason and it's not our place to question her motives. I think saying abortions of disabled fetus are somehow more valid then abortions of able-bodied fetus is wrong, I certainly think encouraging any woman to abort for any reason, even the 'health of the baby' is wrong. I think the problem isn't that we allow women to abort disabled children but the way society treats disability, the way we think about disabled people as inferior, talk about them and treat them like children.

The problem is the presumption that disabled people are somehow living inferior lives that makes the woman want to abort, and I remain unconvinced that forcing the woman to have the fetus against her will is the way to confront this predjudice. It's like the mass female infanticide that goes on with abortion of female fetus in china. It's obviously horrific, like the mass erasure of disabled people in uterus, but stopping the pregnant women aborting isn't going to improve the situation. You've got to change society so they see value in a female child not just a male child, and we have to change society to see people with disabilities are useful, happy, important people and not problems and burdens who'll only suffer.

Caroline Rothstein performs her poem "Fat" at SUNY New Paltz. A poem about eating disorders. May be triggering to some. Very powerful.

And this is just cool. Movement of cells in a fruit fly embryo.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


So sick of reading papers, short break.

The thing is, at the moment, my project is all waiting for other people to be ready to teach me to do things or to sequence for I'm reading. Lots and lots of reading. I'm so sick of it. There are so many papers, I swear I'm dying XD My plants are looking good though. That's good at least. Need to go do some more crossing later this week.

The office is now festive. There's tinsel around the door, it's nice. I think that means that this weekend I'm going to have to go into town and not come back until I've got cards for people. Which reminds me, via phyrangula, these are amazing. If I hadn't already spent money on expensive cards I'd buy some...also they probably won't be here in time for chritmas if I order them now. If I run out of the nice ones I bought I might make me some like that.

Life is a lot about christmas at the moment. I have more christmas parties coming up then I can think about, and three secret santa's! My department (someone I've never met), my house (someone who already owns everything in the world) and my society (someone I don't like very much). So I'll be going into town on the weekend XD

So, that's my life. Back to papers.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Those fat people just won't stop eating

New scientist reports on an 'anti-fat' pill

This study highilights a compound that tells the body it's full. Appart from the implications of tricking your body into believeing you've had enough food to satisfy your hunger when you haven't and the potential for misuse to prevent hunger pangs when starvation dieting, it just plays into the entire idea that fat people are fat because we can't help scarfing down food every ten seconds. (Note, I don't actually have access to the full paper, aparently, so we're going on what New Scientist has to say, that's the article linked).

To start with, this isn't the case. I'm not going to play the comparison game, but many fat people simply don't eat that much more or food that is less healthy then their thin counterparts. Of course, some do, but most fat people eat a diet that, in another person, wouldn't produce obesity. Saying that fat is all about fod intake simplifies the matter beyond belief and ignores the reality of a lot of healthy, active fat people who enjoy normal diets and normal exercise.

Next, eating isn't purely a biological phenomena. We don't gorge ourselves on christmas bay because of biological triggers and starve ourselves in the spring because of hormines, we binge becasue of christmas and we starve for a 'beach body'. Eating is very much a social phenonema. We don't just eat when we're hungry. Sometimes we eat when we're not hungry, sometimes we don't eat when are bodies are desperate for food. In humans, eating is much more tied up in a social activity then as something triggered by biology. Feeding my a drug to stop me feeling hungry won't stop me eating, even when I'm not hungry I eat because I enjoy food, I enjoy the social aspect of eating, and I have habits where I'm not able to concentrate if I don't have meals at certain times. Eating isn't about hunger, it's a social thing.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Anyone else sick of this story?

Some crazy people force women to be fat!

I've read this story before. I think we all have. It works it's way to the top of the BBC 'most read' or 'most e-mailed' list every so often and we get to learn how disghusting it is that sometimes instead of forcing people to be unhealthily thin to meet a beauty ideal we force them to be unhealthily fat to meet a beauty ideal.

I mean, just take this paragraph -
She argued that in the end the girls were grateful.

"When they are small they don't understand, but when they grow up they are fat and beautiful," she said.

Now, let's reverse it

"When they are fat they don't understand, but when they grow up they are slamm and beautiful," she said.

Don't tell me you couldn't see someone saying something like that in the west.

Forcing anyone to be any weight that isn't natural for them is bad, that's what size acceptance is all about. However, our culture difeinetley has no right to talk when it comes to forcing women to change their bodies to suit men.

Hope it's a long time before I see this article circulating up again.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Fat Bitch

The other day, a group of my friends were talking about the worst name you could use on a dating website, as a woman looking to attract men. The first thing that popped out of their mouths, "Fat bitch".

Well, I'm a fat bitch. I'm proud to be a fat bitch.

I'm fat. I have the kind of body that, when I go to a doctor, they immediatley start looking shifty and plotting a way to get me on the scales. Even if I was weighed on my last visit just a couple of weeks or even days ago. I get on the scale, they put their number in their magical NHS computer and add my height, then we get the look of doom. Oh no, you're going to die. They look at me, wondering how to tell me. Sorry mame, it's obesity!

In fact, the scenario above has happened so often that it's stopped making me uncomfortable. I've got to the point where I just look at them like they're idiots. Well, no shit. You know, I hadn't noticed. But now, now you say it, it's so obvious! That's why I've been having trouble fitting into my size 10's lately!

I am fat.

But, you know what, I like being fat. I am fat possitive. I love my fat body, I love it exactly as much as I would love a thin body or a 'normal' body or, hell, a body twice as big as the one I've got. This fat body of mine lets me walk and run. My fat body can dance like nobody's watching. My fat body can cycle to work. My fat body can do science and part of this fat body of mine is my fat brain which I like to think is a pretty intelligent little organ. My fat body lets me hug my best friends. My fat body lets me hit things when I get angry. My fat body lets me cry at soppy movies. My fat body gives me orgasms. My fat body looks good and feels good and there's nothing wrong with it.

I'm a bitch too. I'm a bitch because I'm tired of taking shit. I'm only 23 and I've already taken so much shit that I'm past it. I'm sick of casual racism, casual sexism, casual ablism, casual transphobia, casual hatred of all kinds. I'm sick of being told it's funny and it's a joke. I'm not standing for it any more and, if you do, I'm going to call you on it. I'm going to ask why it is you think implying all homosexual men are effeminet is funny. I'm going to ask you what funny about rape or about having a non-standard body or about having skin that's not white.

Furthermore, I won't let you talk over me. If you're a man and you talk over me I'll tell you to shut the fuck up. When you tell me I can't do something because I'm a girl i'll tell you to shut the fuck up. When you try and tell me that rape scene in that manga wasn't a rape scene because the victim totally wanted it really I will tell you to SHUT THE FUCK UP. I will tell you that you are wrong and I will tell you why.

I will not accept that sometimes it's ok to spread hatred because you think it's funny, reguardless of if you're Jeremy Clarkson or my best friend.

So I'm a bitch.

And I'm fat.

I'm a fat bitch.

I'm damn proud of it, too. If that's the worst, least attractive thing you can think of for me to be then I guess I've got it made.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Trouble in the lab

Ok, I'm going foroward with all my strength with this new "show them your good face" thing. Right now I'm meant to be running a gel. I can run gels. I spent a year running gels. I can mix agarose, I can make a loading buffer, I can visualise my gel.

But I'm not psychic.

I don't know where things are without being told. Some things I can guess, but there are a lot of things in our fridge and I can't go through them all, I have oher things to do today too. The visualiser, it could be ANYWHERE. Seriously. I've done gels before, but I don't know this lab. Leaving me with a protocol and a note telling me I'll have to make up some loading buffer won't help me if I don't know where the bits to make the loading buffer are.

So now I'm sat here feeling useless and like a burden on everyone because I'm not psychic when it comes to the locations of lab equiptment.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Week 6, where does the time go?

It's now week 6 of this thing. I seem to have lost a week somewhere but, never mind.

Anyway, I'm back doing work in the lab now. My DNA extractions are sat in the freezer being extracted and my shelf on my bench is filling up nicely with neatly labeled bottles of stuff.

See, the big thing that's different between this lab and my old lab is that, in this lab, science doesn't come in a box. The lab I did my placement, we were very 'high tech'. You didn't mix up a extraction buffer, the extraction buffer came in a bottle in a box, you just mixed. It's kind of like ready made cake mix only ready made science. It's kind of nice doing it the 'old fashioned' way of making everything up myself. It's nice to actually do some science.

However, I'm not been having that good a time in the lab and I blame this on negative attitude. I'm not showing them my good face right now, and I've decided to change that. If I role out of bed every day convinced it's going to be a bad day becasue of silly little unrelated issues then it will be a bad day. If I get up every day with a smile and try my best then everything will be better. Half of the battle in ejoying a situation is to convince yourself to enjoy it. I've been so concerned with getting everything right and getting it right the first time that I haven't tried have to try it if you want to suceed at it!

Anyway, that's my new attitude. We'll see how it goes.

The other thing is, while I'm ejoying this student social life and all, you don't know how much I need to day to go into town and pick up essentials. I don't have any hair ties and it's getting to be a problem. It seems like every weekend I have a social event and every weekday I'm working and there's no time to take care of the basics.

Hopefully I'm going into town on Saturday to buy me some stuff...if I have time around my other commitments...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Supervisor meetings

How long does it take before routine supervisor meetings stop being scary? When I did my placement and my undergrad the PL's avoided me, I'm not used to having all this contact time XD I'm sure I'll get used to it soon, it's definetley a good move. I know for a fact that it's so easy to get lost in a lab, coming into this I knew one of the main things I wanted was a supervisor with time for me, and I've got it. I'm sure soon I'll get used to all of this people paying attention to what I'm doing buisness.

I really need to start commenting on blogs rather then just reading them.

Edit - Also, I'm finally going to do some lab work this week! Only took 5 weeks of being here. My little plants are all grown up and ready to go!

Friday, 31 October 2008


I've been ill for a week. It's quite annoying. See, I'm not ill enough to warrant curling up in bed under a duvet with a hot drink and giving up on the day, but I'm not well enough to be able to really concentrate on something as complex as a paper, so the result is that I've spent a good portion of the week sat staring at a paper reading the abstract over and over as if it might give up it's secrets if only I can read it often enough.

Needless to say, week 5 of the PhD thing hasn't been so productive. Will have to do better next week. I have the entire weekend to rest up, in theory. The problem with being a postgrad and hanging out with mostly undergrads is they don't have to get up every morning and you do. We're meant to be off to the pub again tonight, I might fall asleep in a corner if I go.

Anyway, just to prove I haven't been completely out of it this week, some relevant news.

The HFEA bill has been passed. A nice step forward, I like to think. Particularly since most of the arguments against are petty scaremongering. Nobody likes scaremongering. Though I am disapointed on a feminist note that none of the liberalisations of the abortion law that were on the HFE bill were voted in. Asking women to get two doctors approval for abortion is demeaning at best. I wrote an impassioned letter to my MP about it and get a stock reply from his office manager so I'm feeling disilusioned at the moment.

Yeah, that's all I've got. Going to go back to staring at papers and hoping they start to make sense.

Edit - Forgot about this one - How Vampire's learnt to feed on blood alone. Quite interesting :) And, of course, date appropriate.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

sex-ed for the uninitiated.

Everyone heard the news about relationship classes for children from age 5?" Good news, yes? I think so.

Kids know a lot more then we like to think, and hiding things from them just makes those things taboo and shameful. People sit around wondering why teenagers, who spend so much time striving to be adults, end up pregnant when they learn at an early age that sex is this big, wonderful mysterious thing that only adults get to do and that you'll get to do too when you're GROWN UP and REALLY IN LOVE.

What we need is sex education that's honest, age appropriate and doesn't segregate or treat kids like idiots. Of course, we shouldn't be teaching five year olds that it's great to be penetrative sex, but what's wrong with teaching a five year old that sex is something that two grown ups who love each other a lot can do together which feels nice? Why can't we teach them that they're allowed to say no if anyone is touching them in a way they don't like? Why can't we teach them to respect each other.

I have a few hopes. The first, which I'm told I'm woefully behind on and basically happens already, is the hope that they stop segregating. My overriding memory of sex education was, at primary school, being taking into the teachers lounge with all the other girls and being explained to, in vague terms, about periods, then given a sanitary towl to hide from the boys. I also remember one of the boys turning around in calss after figuring out what we'd got and telling the teacher it was unfair and if the girls got towels, the boys should get condoms. I only wish I could remember the look on the teachers face.

Anyway, it sets up this entire mystery. This idea that women are ashamed and men are terrified of their periods. That we have to hide them in silly slang terms (it's that time of the month, I'm on, my stomach hurts, rather then just saying I'm having my period) or the men will get upset and offended. At the moment my favourite drunk question to ask when I'm in the presence of men is if it makes them uncomfortable for me to talk about my periods.

The second thing I hope will be different for kids under this system then the one I grew up with is that I hope they stop it being a damn biology lesson. Yes, I am a biologist, I love biology, but we all know the physical changes in puberty are secondary to the emotional upheaval of adolencence. Who cares about a patch of hair under your arms when suddenly every day is a fun emotional rollercoaster. You're coming into all these adult feelings, you've never felt like this before, what good is a video with a cartoon rabbit saying it's ok if you smell a little. How does it make sense that, at 13, I could draw you a disgram of my reproductive system but didn't know the word masturbate.

Kids don't need nuts and bolts education. A litle forwarning is ok but what they really need help with is working out all the psychological and emotional stuff. They can work out where a penis goes, people have been managing that for one hell of a long time, but some lessons in treating your partner like an equal, about respecting others, about dealing with your inexplicable anger towards everything, about being grown up and what it really means rather then what the TV says it means, some actual debate once they get old enough to sustain it about what adulthood is and how to cope with what they're feeling.

That's what I would have appreciated when I started hitting my teenage years, anyway.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Atheist busses!

The atheist bus campaign!

The campaign will feature adverts across London’s bendy buses with the slogan: “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Hanne Stinson, Chief Executive of the BHA, said: “We see so many posters advertising salvation through Jesus or threatening us with eternal damnation, that I feel sure that a bus advert like this will be welcomed as a breath of fresh air. If it raises a smile as well as making people think, so much the better.”

At the time I'm posting this donations have exceeded £25,000. I'll have to do my part too, I guess XD It is for a good cause, after all.

Why hello there...

I think it's time for an introductory post!

You may call me Lotus. I am a PhD student at a certain research institute in the UK.

At this point, I'm in the 4th week of my PhD and, so far, it seems to be mostly about induction sessions and meeting a stream of VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE who I will need to remember for the future, but who I have already forgotten.

As for my past, my legend began in the 12th century. All you need to know is that I recently came into possession of one undergraduate degree in applied genetics from a certain university. In the course of attaining that degree, I spent a year lost in the depths of an incredibly large lab, looking desperately for a gene...but it always evaded me.

Now I am back, in search of an exciting new gene in a much smaller and friendlier lab. This time, hopefully, I won't be lost!

And so, my quest begins...

((In summary, expect science, feminism, anime references and silliness. And it's a pleasure to meet you))