Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A feminist take on the MOAB

The largest study to look at sex differences in brain anatomy found that women tend to have thicker cortices, whereas men had higher brain volume

Do the anatomical differences between men and women—sex organs, facial hair, and the like—extend to our brains? The question has been as difficult to answer as it has been controversial. Now, the largest brain-imaging study of its kind indeed finds some sex-specific patterns, but overall more similarities than differences. The work raises new questions about how brain differences between the sexes may influence intelligence and behavior.

For decades, brain scientists have noticed that on average, male brains tend to have slightly higher total brain volume than female ones, even when corrected for males’ larger average body size. But it has proved notoriously tricky to pin down exactly which substructures within the brain are more or less voluminous. Most studies have looked at relatively small sample sizes—typically fewer than 100 brains—making large-scale conclusions impossible.

In the new study, a team of researchers led by psychologist Stuart Ritchie, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh, turned to data from UK Biobank, an ongoing, long-term biomedical study of people living in the United Kingdom with 500,000 enrollees. A subset of those enrolled in the study underwent brain scans using MRI. In 2750 women and 2466 men aged 44–77, Ritchie and his colleagues examined the volumes of 68 regions within the brain, as well as the thickness of the cerebral cortex, the brain’s wrinkly outer layer thought to be important in consciousness, language, memory, perception, and other functions.

Adjusting for age, on average, they found that women tended to have significantly thicker cortices than men. Thicker cortices have been associated with higher scores on a variety of cognitive and general intelligence tests. Meanwhile, men had higher brain volumes than women in every subcortical region they looked at, including the hippocampus (which plays broad roles in memory and spatial awareness), the amygdala (emotions, memory, and decision-making), striatum (learning, inhibition, and reward-processing), and thalamus (processing and relaying sensory information to other parts of the brain).

When the researchers adjusted the numbers to look at the subcortical regions relative to overall brain size, the comparisons became much closer: There were only 14 regions where men had higher brain volume and 10 regions where women did.

Volumes and cortical thickness between men also tended to vary much more than they did between women, the researchers report this month in a paper posted to the bioRxiv server, which makes articles available before they have been peer reviewed.

That’s intriguing because it lines up with previous work looking at sex and IQ tests. “[That previous study] finds no average difference in intelligence, but males were more variable than females,” Ritchie says. “This is why our finding that male participants’ brains were, in most measures, more variable than female participants’ brains is so interesting. It fits with a lot of other evidence that seems to point toward males being more variable physically and mentally.”

Despite the study’s consistent sex-linked patterns, the researchers also found considerable overlap between men and women in brain volume and cortical thickness, just as you might find in height. In other words, just by looking at the brain scan, or height, of someone plucked at random from the study, researchers would be hard pressed to say whether it came from a man or woman. That suggests both sexes’ brains are far more similar than they are different.

The study didn’t account for whether participants’ gender matched their biological designation as male or female.

The study’s sheer size makes the results convincing, writes Amber Ruigrok, a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom who has studied sex differences in the brain, in an email to Science. “Larger overall volumes in males and higher cortical thickness in females fits with findings from previous research. But since previous research mostly used relatively small sample sizes, this study confirms these predictions.”

Ruigrok notes one factor that should be addressed in future studies: menopause. Many of the women in the study were in the age range of the stages of menopause, and hormonal fluctuations have been shown to influence brain structures. That may have played some role in the sex differences noted in the study, she says.

The controversial—and still unsettled—question is whether these patterns mean anything to intelligence or behavior. Though popular culture is replete with supposed examples of intellectual and behavioral differences between the sexes, only a few, like higher physical aggression in men, have been borne out by scientific research.

For the moment, Ritchie says his work isn’t equipped to answer such heady questions: He is focused on accurately describing the differences in the male and female brain, not speculating on what they could mean.


Georgetown's Jonathan Brown Kicks Out Critic, Again


Jonathan Brown, director of Georgetown University's Saudi-funded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU), brooks no disagreement. Having expelled this writer from a February 7 apologist lecture on Islamic slavery that provoked nationwide outrage, Brown ejected me from another Georgetown event on March 16.

I achieved infamy as a "Jihad Watch correspondent who had written sensationalist pieces about Georgetown events" according to Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian of the über-establishmentarian Foreign Policy in her March 16 online article, "Islamophobia Inc." Jihad Watch publisher Robert Spencer comprehensively rebutted this "lurid fantasy." (For the record, I also report regularly for Campus Watch.)

Brown was visibly surprised when I entered Georgetown's Alumni House for the opening dinner of the Peace Requires Encounter Summit. The summit ostensibly sought to "build relationships" - apparently only with those approved by Islamic supremacists - co-sponsors included the Muslim Brotherhood-derived Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Franciscan Action Network (FAN), and Unity Productions Foundation (UPF), a producer of pro-Islam films.

UPF's Daniel Tutt, of Marymount University, invited me via email to the Friday-Sunday summit after I registered for the screening of UPF's latest production, The Sultan and the Saint. Upon spotting me at Friday evening's kick-off, an agitated Brown demanded that I leave the invitation-only event before summoning Tutt, who obsequiously acknowledged his mistake in having invited a "noted Islamophobe" who had "slandered" Brown. Tutt apologized to me before I left, but at Saturday's screening he asked if I would disrupt the showing, a paranoid inquiry I denied.

Tutt's previous writings demonstrate why he holds such a sinister perception of Islamic supremacism's critics or as he puts it, a "growing right-wing populist reactionary neo-Fascist network." He maintains that the current "intensification of Islamophobia must be understood and diagnosed primarily, but not exclusively, as the outcome of capitalist exploitation." This false view excuses Islamic supremacist behavior and blames "the system."

Alas, the feature film presented an equally whitewashed view of Islamic history with an examination of the 1219 meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and the Egyptian sultan al-Malik al-Kamil in Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. The film - as narrated by actor Jeremy Irons - falsely contrasts St. Francis "preaching about the Lord of love" while the "medieval Church still holds to the vision of a ferocious, vengeful God who summons believers to war." Various scenes show al-Kamil as a boy reciting Quran 2:256, a verse often misunderstood by non-Muslims as documenting Islamic tolerance, and Muslims praying the Fatiha (Quran 1:1-7) with the key omission of its last verse. According to numerous authoritative Islamic interpretations, its terms condemn Jews and Christians. Irons avoids any such disquieting analysis as he concludes the film, stating that "angry, dehumanizing words sparked violence today as before. Transcending differences, the road to peace runs through the common humanity that we all share."

This approach ignores facts documented by many historians, including Frank M. Rega. In his book on the St. Francis-al-Kamil meeting, Rega noted that St. Francis understood the Crusades as "part of an ongoing just war in response to Muslim invasions of Christian lands," including the 846 Muslim sack of Rome. University of Nantes historian John V. Tolan traces the historiography of this encounter over the centuries to show that twentieth century scholars "presented the two as men of peace far above the fray between fanatical crusader and jihadists." Francis becomes "a sort of spiritual forebear to...those who oppose colonial violence and war in the Middle East - up to and including the two Iraq Wars of George Bush father and son." These insights, coupled with UPF's past distortions about modern Muslims, Muslims fighting Nazism in World War II, and Muslims enslaved in America, place The Sultan and the Saint firmly within this politicized, apologetic historiography.

Following the Georgetown screening before an audience of around seventy, the panelists stressed interfaith relations, while avoiding disquieting inquiries into Islam. UPF co-founder and film director Alex Kronemer focused on the film's psychological analysis of violence and made evolutionary arguments about how humans "are wired to see differences and fear them." As he has previously written, he is the "product of a Jewish-Christian marriage" who, after a life of spiritual seeking, converted to Islam's "message of compassion and tolerance."

Marie Denis, the co-president of Pax Christi, a leftist, anti-Israel Catholic pacifist group, chided Catholics for "pointing to imagined violence in another community." Rather, they should reflect upon the film's depiction of well-known Crusader atrocities (e.g. the 1099 sack of Jerusalem) that ignored the brutality of Muslims like al-Kamil's uncle, the renowned Crusader opponent Saladin. Meanwhile, along with FAN Executive Director Patrick Carolan, Denis signed a 2014 letter opposing American military strikes against the all-too real violence of the Islamic State. 

Former UPF employee and Muslim writer Laila Alawa, a "huge fan of being politically correct," evoked her past radical tweets, including the illiberal admonition that "free speech has consequences." Ahmed Younis, former national director of the radical Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and current Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and Washington Post writer Elizabeth Bruenig completed the panel. Bruenig has written approvingly of President Barack Obama's 2015 politicized remarks concerning the Crusades and promoted the falsehood that Israel threatens Middle East Christians.

With prominent attendees enjoying catered buffets undisturbed in Georgetown's hallowed halls, the summit made a mockery of its "Islamophobia" hysteria. Meanwhile, Brown benefits from Saudi largesse, while promoting his views at events to which critics have no entrée. Clearly, those who feel besieged by nefarious "Islamophobes" are demonstrating a case of projection. Such behavior confirms Spencer's analysis of "Islamic culture" as "extremely brittle and insecure." Yet there will be no escaping this writer in the future


19-Foot High Cross Erected in Daley Plaza as ‘Constitutionally Protected Expression of Faith’

Thursday evening, a giant 19-foot high purple-draped cross was erected in Chicago’s Daley Plaza as the initial event of an Easter season observance that includes a nine-day prayer vigil, an Easter morning sunrise service and the display of an oversized image of the resurrected Jesus Christ (known as the Divine Mercy).

“The Easter cross and the image of the risen Jesus Christ represent a constitutionally protected expression of faith - the observance of the resurrection - by private citizens in a public forum," explained Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society, which joined with private citizens to co-sponsor the “Jesus in Daley Plaza” display.

“These Easter displays are privately funded and sponsored, bereft of any government aid or endorsement, and therefore are clothed and armored with the full protection of the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution,” Brejcha says.

The event will run around the clock through Sunday, April 23. On Easter Sunday, an interdenominational music and prayer service will be held, during which the drapery on the cross will be changed to white, traditionally symbolizing renewed life.


Shark attack in Western Australia: conservation policies value sharks over human life

Our insane shark-conservation policies have cost another life, this time a 17-year-old girl who was attacked in front of her parents and siblings.

I would like to say that this incident will be the turning point in this debate, that our politicians will finally realise we need to reduce the increasing number of aggressive, lethal sharks in our waters, but this is unlikely.

The forces against such action are deeply entrenched in all our major organisations. For example, Surf Life Saving Western Australia, where yesterday’s attack occurred, recommends six responses to sharks: research, education, surveillance, communication, preventive action (“shark barriers”, which can be built only in placid waters) and emergency response. It does not recommend the reduction of sharks, despite many fishermen in the state saying the size and abundance of large sharks, especially great whites, off WA are alarmingly high.

Researchers and academics whose careers depend upon continued funding into the behaviour and fragility of these “apex predators” long ago convinced politicians and large sections of the community that to reduce the number of sharks in our waters would be an ecological disaster.

So a teenage kid, doing what Aussie teenagers have done for more than a century, has died instead. She won’t be the last.

The Senate’s environment committee, chaired by Green Tasmanian Peter Whish-Wilson, will coincidentally hold public hearings into shark mitigation strategies in Perth on Thursday. If, when the hearings begin, the committee expresses sympathy for the latest victim’s family, it will be an act of breathtaking hypocrisy.

As reported in The Australian this month, the committee has already reached a conclusion that its job is to help revive the number of sharks in our waters, downplay the dangers they pose, dismiss methods that have proven successful in Queensland and Sydney, and educate the public about these “wonderful” and “extraordinary” animals.

Its priority is the safety of sharks first, people second.

Of the six people invited to the Perth hearings, two are conservationist academics (UWA professors Shaun Collin and Rebecca Meeuwig); one is selling an unreliable personal electronic deterrent (Shark Shield); one advocates the immediate abandonment of drumlins and nets in Queensland, the presence of which has coincided with an almost complete absence of fatal attacks for 50 years (Sea Shepherd); and another is SLSWA, whose timid six-point plan is outlined above.

The committee’s hearing in Sydney last month repeatedly heard witnesses say that surfers and other ocean users must accept the risk of entering the water. Even surfers are spouting this line these days.

“Real surfers understand that sharks are extraordinary beasts and that we are in their environment,” Surfrider Foundation representative Brendan Donohoe, from Sydney’s North Narrabeen beach, told the committee during its Sydney hearings last month.

Whish-Wilson jokingly responded: “I would be more scared of the locals at North Narrabeen than I would be of sharks.”

Mr Donohoe also told the committee that “there are a lot of morons around”, by which he meant there were many people who blamed governments for the shark crisis currently affecting Australia. “The idea that it is someone else’s fault is astounding to me. Everyone knows the risk, and the risk is not statistically lessened by anything we do.”

Committee member Lee Rhiannon responded by saying: “Thanks very much. It is a really interesting discussion.”

Rhiannon’s concern was not reducing the increasing number of aggressive sharks in our waters, but making surfers “alert to the environment”.

This is another example of how dramatically this debate has shifted towards shark, not human, safety. Originally, the opposite was the case.

In 2000, the CSIRO’s chief great white researcher, Barry Bruce, told the ABC he was conducting research that hopefully would “predict the areas where encounters… are more common and understand more about their populations”.

He said something similar in 2006, that his research might predict “where sharks are likely to be” so resources for “looking after people” could be “better targeted”.

Researchers, including Bruce himself, last year conceded that such predictions are impossible. A report for the WA Department of Fisheries, co-authored by Bruce after conducting one of the biggest shark tagging and tracking projects in history, found that great white behaviour is “highly variable” and “not consistent”.

Similarly, Bruce’s counterpart in NSW, the Department of Primary Industries’ Vic Peddemors, compared shark movements to a dropped bag of marbles - “they go everywhere”.

The focus among researchers and politicians now is to find ways that minimise attacks without killing sharks or other marine creatures. Many of these methods are astonishingly expensive and mostly unproven.

All this research and inquiry has achieved little for beach safety. Meanwhile, Australia’s international reputation as a great coastal tourist destination is dying. So too are our formerly happy coastal surfing towns.

It would be encouraging if the Senate committee shifted its focus towards reducing the number of sharks off our waters, but the signs suggest this is extremely unlikely.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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