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.