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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wrestling, but with my own worldview or with questionable science?

I followed a link to this article on religion and suicide bombings. It is an interesting article, but I find myself waffling on my thoughts. I suppose that is a good thing, as it is clearly challenging some of my notions, but it is still a difficult thing. Basically, the study which the article is about investigated the link between religion and suicide bombings and found the following general trends:
  • Prayer correlated more strongly with religious devotion than attendance of church/temple/mosque/synagogue (and any other place of worship I happened to miss).
  • Approval of and predisposition to perform suicide bombings was more strongly related to attendance of religious services than religious devotion.
The study therefore drew the conclusion that it was actually the social aspect of religion that led to suicide bombings rather than religious fervour and belief in rewards of the afterlife. Now, before I continue, I think I should air some of my own thoughts on religion. I hold no religious beliefs and attend no religious services (I think most of my readers are aware of this). I also have a number of qualms with religion, perhaps most importantly being what I see as a disastrous emphasis on orthodoxy over evidence and faith over reason. The trouble with making these statements is it not only strikes some people too close to home for them to continue rationally listening to what you are saying, but it also often leads to the retort "I don't know what religion you're talking about, but that's not my religion." And, to a certain extent, that is sometimes true. The deism of men like Thomas Jefferson is a pretty benign form of religious belief which I have a hard time finding a quarrel with. Likewise, in terms of organized religion, I do not find that I have the same quarrel with an organization like the United Church of Canada as I do with the Catholic church or, to an even greater extent, fundamentalist mega-churches in the United States. While I am a supporter of the idea of freedom of religion, as I have discussed elsewhere the idea of freedom of religion becomes fundamentally untenable when no limits are placed upon what protected religious belief entails. It should not be possible to justify any action as an expression of religious belief if it infringes upon the fundamental rights of others, but that is exactly what happens with honour killings and other forms of religious subjugation. The extraordinary difficulty that results in attempting to correct such gross violations of human rights, either due to the blanket cover of the argument for religious expression used to counter an external dialogue or the resistance to internal reform stemming from the elevation of unquestioning deference to religious teachings, is central to my antipathy toward organized religion. What hostility I have toward religion, therefore, does not rest upon the social aspects of support and community (I had actually generally regarded these as somewhat positive side effects). Of course, the social aspects of religion can easily be manipulated to help produce in-group/out-group animosity, but I still concluded that its edge in this matter fundamentally rested upon its profound advantage in producing dogmatic and unquestioning zealots.

I wanted to explain my outlook, because I am not sure if it is the reason (combined with my general wariness for the conclusions of psychology studies) I seemed to be looking for holes in the study's conclusions, or if the study itself rests upon shaky ground. One of the things which perked my ears up was the following paragraph:
This effect remained even after accounting for the different demographics and economics of the six countries, but it did vary from group to group. It was only statistically significant (unlikely to be a fluke result) for Indian Hindus, Russian Orthodox Christians and Israeli Jews. However, Ginges warns against overinterpreting these differences - obviously the six samples differed in many ways. The important point was that all of them showed a similar trend.
It is quite misleading to say that the effect remained when it did not remain in a statistically significant manner in 3/6 of the groups investigated (this is one of those things which seems to happen far too often in psychology. I don't understand why it is not stressed more that psychology is a statistical science. If I had control over the psychology curriculum, I would cram it so full of statistics courses that it was second only to actuarial science and statistics specialists). To then warn against over interpreting the differences due to the many obvious ways in which the samples themselves differed is clearly a line thrown in to mollify those who would use this study to justify varying value judgements on the religions involved in the study. In making such a blanket statement, however, one also skips over the determination of what those differences might be which led to some groups expressing the expected trend and others not (well, not statistically at least, which is what really matters).

Another aspect that also strikes me as somewhat misleading is the fact that frequency of prayer is used as a surrogate for religious devotion throughout the article, though the applicability of such a conflation is unlikely to be the same across religious and cultural groups. I would think that the efficacy of prayer as a measure of devotion, rather, is highly dependent upon the belief structure of the given religion.

Using my arm-chair psychology, I am tempted to reinterpret the results. To me, the evidence which ties religious attendance to approval of suicide bombings is not independent of the belief structure or level of devotion, but rather is evidence of the vulnerability of religious belief to manipulation. Suicide bombers are rarely religious officials, instead usually being trained and pushed into action by those who have no intention of blowing themselves up (the aforementioned religious officials). Likewise, most people have both a strong empathic streak for others as well as a survival instinct in themselves, and it would be very unusual for an individual on his own to devise and enact a suicide bombing (of course, when I say it is unusual, I don't mean impossible. There are all sorts of mentally unbalanced people out there). Thus, the role of religious service would seem, to me, to serve primarily to prevent individual senses of spirituality from straying too far from the collective path. High frequency of attendance, therefore, would indicate greater influence from the religious officials and other well-regarded members of the congregation who are most likely to put someone up to the act of performing a suicide bombing, but the act itself still depends upon a measure of devotion, if not to the religion itself but to the word of the person organizing the attack. This appears most readily achievable with the aid of unquestioning credulity from a religious follower (but is not limited to that, as political suicide bombers have historically shown).

In a sense, I suppose, this is a social aspect of religion, but not in the way I interpreted the study to mean. I am not entirely sure if I have made the distinction clear, but I hope I have (essentially, I see it as not being a result of the sense of community created but rather a result of the inordinate level of power and trust given to the religious officials). However, I, of course, do not have any experimental evidence (or even an experiment design) to back up my argument, so I open the discussion up to my readers. Do my qualms with the study make sense, or is it just my antipathy for organized religion rearing its ugly head?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Puzzle Number One

While I have received some helpful suggestions by email for puzzles which I will likely use in the future, I am going to start the puzzles off with a simple exercise in mental mathematics (I actually invented it one night when I was having a hard timing falling asleep... as a kid I never understood what people were talking about with counting sheep, but I did find doing arithmetic in my head helped. My default exercise was to simply multiply numbers continuously by two and see how large I could get them, but every so often I would try something else too). The exercise goes like so:
Let x and y be two integers from 0 to 9. Iterate x and y in the following manner: Let z = x*y. Then the tens digit of z becomes the new x and the ones digit becomes the new y (note, if the numbers multiply to equal a single digit number, the new x becomes 0). What starting values of x and y allow one to achieve the highest number of iterations before both x and y become 0?
Just to clarify, I will do an example: x = 2, y = 6. 2*6 = 12, so the new x = 1 and y = 2. 1*2 = 2, so the new x = 0 and the new y = 2. 0*2 = 0, so you are finished after 3 iterations.

Note: Please remember to jot a few notes about your reasoning or methods along with any solution you send me, as I am curious what people will come up with. Seeing as how I completely made this exercise up as an aid to fall asleep, I have no idea what the optimal approach would be.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Arrogant or not, I'm still an idiot

For those of you who sent me email at my new-fangled blog-specific email address and got responses, you may have noticed that my email address wasn't quite so anonymous as it was designed to be... I didn't notice that because Google knew who the account belonged to, they made my name the default "who it's from". So, rather than showing up as from "Mozglubov", it showed up as from me... that should now be rectified, but there are nevertheless a few more people who know my (not so secret) identity. Congratulations! Considering the proportion of family and friends who comprise my readership, though, I'm not really sure why I try to cling to the veil of anonymity anyway. At this point, I suppose it's just habit. Plus, I kind of like the name Mozglubov.

The University of Toronto Effect

When I first started university I was far too cocky for my own good. I was entering the Engineering Science program at the University of Toronto (hereafter referred to as U of T), which was apparently the best engineering program at the top university in the country. Therefore, I must be, apparently, awesomely smart. I tried to remain humble, but more in a polite rather than actual manner. Reality started to set in about two-thirds of the way through my first semester when we had our second calculus midterm. I skated by the first midterm on latent high school knowledge, pulling off an 85% with minimal studying. I was therefore entirely unprepared for the second midterm and it showed with a 45%. The first thing I had ever failed was a music test in grade 5 when visiting a friend in New Zealand (a test which I maintain was the height of cruelty for someone who is utterly and completely tone deaf, but that is a story for another day). However, my second calculus midterm was the first thing that I can remember failing that actually mattered. Unfortunately, it didn't phase me as much as it should have, something which is reflected in my first year marks. I idled through first year roughly around the middle of the pack. Though I made an attempt at reform by the second semester, it was poorly executed as I didn't actually know how to study, and, aside from an A- in my computer science course based on the fact that it was something I was actually and genuinely good at and an A that I somehow pulled out of nowhere in physical chemistry, my grades remained at the mediocre level of the previous semester. It was a humbling experience. Part of how I rationalized my mediocrity was to completely buy into what my peers and the faculty were selling us. I wasn't truly mediocre, it was just I was middle of the road in a group of three hundred and fifty (two hundred and fifty by second year) of the best and brightest students in the country. We were told we were in the hardest, most challenging program in the university, and I bought it completely. Part of it was my naive acquiescence to scholastic authority, but, to be honest, part of it was also to validate my own self-image.

With my ragged confidence somewhat mollified but not wholly repaired, I went into second year with something to prove. It didn't help that second year we were saddled with a ridiculously time consuming design project on top of the normal course load, but that didn't matter. I became so sleep deprived I exhibited narcolepsy more blatantly than at any other point in my life (I even fell asleep mid-conversation a couple of times. My experiences second year were primarily what led me to eventually go to a neurologist and get diagnosed in third year), but it paid off scholastically. My grade point average and class rank rose significantly, and my clueless cockiness of first year was reformed as grim arrogance.

Of course, my world underwent further convolusions when I hit third year and met my girlfriend. However, this trip down memory lane and how I became the person I am today is already getting longer than it was intended. Perhaps I will elaborate on this story in a future post, but suffice it for now to say that my girlfriend helped me to realise that my education was my own and I should stop simply taking other peoples' (even professors) word without further reflection. Just because a professor tells his class they are the best of the best doesn't mean there are not others doing far more complicated things than you. Eventually I stopped really caring about the reputation of the program I was in and my standing within it, and started caring only about what I was learning. My grim arrogance was once again reformed into the wry but confident trepidation of today (of course, when future me is looking back at how young and stupid current me used to be, my rather positive characterization 'wry but confident trepidation' will instead likely be something like 'unacknowledged hubris covered in a deceptive blanket of false humility'. But, that is future me's problem).

Despite my reformation into what I hope is a moderately wise and decent person, the flames of my past arrogance can still sometimes be stoked, which is what this post originally set out to relate without realising just how much rambling background I was going to give. You see, a small part of my arrogant pride over being a student at the U of T sustains itself off of little confirmational anecdotes like the one that happened today. My neuroanatomy professor has taught neuroanatomy for a fair number of years, but I believe this is her first year teaching it to U of T undergraduates in neuroscience. Over this past week I was fairly proud of the fact that I had earned an 86% on our midterm, only to discover this afternoon that apparently the average was 86%. That is an inordinately high average for a midterm, which is something that invariably seems to happen on the first test given by instructors who are not used to teaching at U of T (I have had a couple professors in the past who were experienced lecturers but new to teaching at U of T). Noticing things like that is what keeps the tiny little worm of arrogance still squirming within my brain.

Reading over this post, the story about my midterm mark sounded much more amusing in my head. I am still going to publish this, but I apologize for that rather anticlimactic ending.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A New Feature!

While taking a break from my work tonight, I was struck with inspiration. Though perhaps it is the misguided and poorly thought out inspiration of the caffeine-addled mind, I nevertheless decided I would pursue it. In another attempt to increase the interactivity of this blog, I am creating another semi-regular feature: puzzles! I will post a puzzle of some sort (either one I made up or a clever one I had heard) and then in a few weeks I will post a solution. Given that I now have an email address for this blog (, people can send me solutions (or attempts at solutions) there, and when I post the solution I will also post who solved the puzzle (I may also post peoples' incorrect solutions, although I will keep those anonymous). To make things more interesting and in keeping with the ostensible nature of this blog, if people could also send me their reasoning (or at least a brief outline of their reasoning), that would be great. If people have clarifying questions about the puzzle, those can either be emailed to me or left in the comments. In terms of the puzzles themselves, I will try to offer a mixture of subject matters, though the majority are likely to involve mathematics and logic.

Note: Like with my title references, I am going to request people don't cheat and look answers up on the internet. Of course, there is no way for me to enforce my no cheating policy, but once again there is no actual prize (other than pride) for solving these puzzles anyway.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Email Address

I just wanted to point out that I have now created an email address for this blog. If you want to get in touch with me, you can send email to For those who happen to know me in real life, you can still send me email at my other accounts or use the blog account. Feel free to send me comments, suggestions, or criticism.

Just a note: since it is a new email address, I might not check it that regularly at first. I've set up email forwarding, but it didn't work on my test email, so I'm not sure whether I made a mistake in setting it up. Hopefully that will be fixed soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

That which is written but not meant to be read

One of the enjoyable aspects of travelling is getting to find ridiculously poor translations. This most often occurs in restaurant menus, but that might just be because those are frequently encountered during travels. In fact, there are entire websites devoted to the documentation of failed attempts at English translations. What often go unnoticed, however, are domestic examples of the utter failure of thought. While these are usually not grammatical mistakes or embarrassing uses of an incorrect word, they still echo with non-thinking ignorance wrapped in a coating of "sciency" sounding words. I can only imagine the job of writing product descriptions for boring and everyday objects is an immensely unfulfilling job, so to a certain extent I can understand giving up and thinking no one will possibly ever read what you are writing, so why bother? There are people like me, however, who compulsively read things (I think I was probably the only student in my residence who read the bulletin boards in the hallway). That is how I discovered this utter failure of basic chemistry on the back of a package of Grand & Toy lead refills:
Leads are a unique compound of graphite and carbon bound together with a special synthetic resin. This creates an extremely strong lead and a smooth, dense black line.
For those who haven't done any (basic) chemistry in a while, graphite is carbon. Specifically, it is the most common carbon allotrope (others being diamond and fullerenes like Buckyballs and carbon nanotubes). There are plenty of other examples of scientific illiteracy or unnecessary flamboyancy on all sorts of products, like the claim I noticed a while ago on some hair conditioner (I forget the brand) that it contained "amino proteins". Since proteins are formed by amino acids, I suppose they can be referred to as "amino proteins", but what is the point? People give science fiction shows a hard time for using jargon innapropriately and poorly, but the sad fact is that it is a much more widespread problem.

Note: As you can see, I seem to have recovered my composure rather quickly and embraced triviality once more. In fact, I think my return to posting actually rests in the fact that I sat down tonight to work on my remaining graduate school applications, an activity that combines immense stress with immense boredom to create what is possibly the most exquisitely unpleasant experience one can have while sitting comfortably at home.


Since I'm feeling a little down on my own thoughts lately, how about a few snippets of thought from other, more famous people?

"If in other sciences we should arrive at certainty without doubt and truth without error, it behoves us to place the foundations of knowledge in mathematics." - Roger Bacon, English philosopher, scientist, and Franciscan friar, 1220-1292

"The mystic reverence, the religious allegiance, which are essential to a true monarchy, are imaginative sentiments that no legislature can manufacture in any people."
"It has been said, not truly, but with a possible approximation to truth, that in 1802 every hereditary monarch was insane."
"No real English gentleman, in his secret soul, was ever sorry for the death of a political economist."
- Walter Bagehot, English economist, 1826-77

Some quick comments on the above quotations:

Do any of my readers recognize that first quotation? I'm hoping some of you can tell me where it is from (I'm just curious about the activities of some of my readers).

This comment is directed at Cornucrapia - I threw in that last quotation by Walter Bagehot just so you know the ramifications of your chosen topics of study.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Vacuous Void of Internet Arguments

As some of you may have noticed, there has been a decided lack of posts recently. There really is no good excuse for such a lack of attention since I have been home and unfortunately unproductive with my schoolwork. As far as I can tell, it all boils down to a personal milestone: my first angry commenter. Being the kind of fellow who places far too much emphasis on his own cleverness, I am, as I have shown before, overly susceptible to SIWOTI Syndrome, and I therefore rose to the bait. Of course, internet arguments between strangers are usually vacuously useless things to begin with (much along the lines of theologian hair-splitting, as pointed out by my grandfather), and this one was even more so (if it is possible to be more useless than vacuously useless) since, as I pointed out in the initial post, it was an argument about comparing two utterly different things that are commonly conflated solely because of a trivial coincidence of shared birthdays. I do not mean to dwell, I simply wanted to point out that I have not forgotten about this site, I simply feel like my thoughts might be a little too trivial to get past even my own profundity filter (which, when the thoughts are mine, is a remarkably porous filter, as evidenced by these prior examples of staggeringly triviality ranging from thoughts on the metric system to geekdom). I'm sure this mental self-flagellation will fade shortly as my desire for public wordplay builds back up to sufficient levels, but in the meantime I am going to take a break and try to get more done in the real world. The vacuum tubes of the internet will have to suck on the minds of others for the next few days. I'm looking at you, Cornucrapia and Kari. You both have fertile young minds, so let's see some more stuff from the two of you.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Exploits of Lincoln and Darwin Are Not Comparable

I have complained about people conflating these two historical figures before due to the irrelevant coincidence that they were born on the same day, which is perhaps why it isn't surprising that on today, their birthdays, people continue to make stupid American-centric swipes at Darwin. I found that post kind of randomly, and it irked me. As I mentioned in the comment I left there, Google and Wikipedia are both internationally available websites with a vested interest in world-wide applicability. However, I suppose if you fail to realise (or willfully ignore) the profound effect evolutionary theory has had on our understanding of biology (and therefore medical science, agriculture, ecology, and many other areas which contribute to the welfare of humanity worldwide), then it might be possible to construe honouring the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth as somehow being an insult to the memory of Abraham Lincoln. Otherwise, I see no basis for such a conclusion.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quick Note - Post Update

It isn't that far down the page yet, but for those who simply put this blog on an RSS feed and don't go back, I thought I should mention that I have embedded the relevant video clip for my post on Ben Stein being an ass. Now you can view him saying that science leads to killing people. What a horrible and disingenuous man.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

It is unfortunate to "propulgate" ignorance

As I mentioned might happen in my previous post, the urge to procrastinate has gotten the better of me. That is not entirely my fault, as whatever sickness I have seems to have redoubled its efforts today and made today an unfortunate combination of non-productivity and unpleasantness. To pass the time and hopefully gear myself out of a television watching, herbal tea drinking, sniveling state of feeling sorry for myself, I have decided to write about one of the most persistent fallacies about the brain I encounter. Perhaps engaging my brain at least vaguely upon the topic of neuroscience will motivate me to study neuroanatomy. Before I get to that, however, I would like to note that the title of this post, while not all in quotation marks, includes the magical set of quotations around the fake word "propulgate", making it fair game for the reference game. So far, no one has made an attempt at the other most recent addition to the game, which should have been an easy one.

Now, back to the unfortunate neuroscience fallacy. For some reason (mostly when people are trying to justify the pseudoscientific concepts of telephathy or telekenisis in bad science fiction), the idea that we only use x% of our brain (where x usually equals somewhere from 5 to 15) continues to persist in modern culture. As far as I can tell, the idea originated from the realization in the early 1900s that large sections of a person's brain could be destroyed (or lobotomized, as the medical 'treatment' was called) without causing death. However, even given that line of evidence, I have no idea how this contributed to the notion that only x% of the brain was used by the average person. Lobotomy patients, though they usually survived the procedure, were still severely changed. Their personalities were irrevokably altered, which should indicate a profound change on a neurological level. Since I have such little understanding of where this claim has its grounding, I'm not even sure how to go about properly debunking it, other than saying there is pretty clear evidence for some use of every part of the brain along several different lines of reasoning. There is the loss of function experienced by stroke patients, functional imaging which allows one to view changes in metabolic rates throughout the brain, and the simple evolutionary question of why a brain would evolve that was only utilized to a small degree. While I am a big fan of trivia and the dissemination of knowledge, one should be careful what knowledge one chooses to propagate. I know that in my precocious youth I often repeated things from questionable sources (I believe that might even have included this very 'fact'), but I would like to think such a habit has reduced as I have (hopefully) matured.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Stupid Cold

I apologize for the lack of substantive posts lately. I have been working on the third part of my series on top-down visual processing and planned to post it yesterday, but instead I was in bed most of the day feeling sorry for myself with a headache and sore throat. More unfortunate (for me at least) than its interference with blog posting is the fact that being sick right now also interferes with the fact that our college formal is tonight (which is an awkward thing to attend while sick) and I have two midterms next week which I really need to study for (something made difficult by a throbbing head). Therefore, I just wanted to point out that things might be a bit slow around here until after this coming Wednesday (then again, my well-honed procrastination skills might kick in and produce a flurry of posts). One thing that I thought I would link to in the interim is a collection of Star Trek: The Next Generation edited videos my girlfriend told me about this morning. Apparently some of her friends from school showed them to her the other day (being in a physics specialist tends to have all sorts of geeky benefits) and so she relayed their existence to me. They are pretty weird and somewhat inappropriate, but whoever put them together has rather remarkable video editing skills and the occasional moment of comedic gold. Anyway, enough of my rambling, here is a link to the first one. It is rather uneventful, the second one is disturbing, but by the sixth one there have been some clever bits. As they go on the editing improves, and by far my favourite is the most recent fifteenth episode.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ben Stein is an Ass

Ben Stein last year publicly outed himself as a credulous and conceited jerk with his movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. He was recently invited to be the commencement speaker at the University of Vermont, but following an angry outpouring of emails expressing contempt at the invitation, he ended up withdrawing. Now he has decided to speak out. The thing is, he's blatantly lying or has a startlingly selective memory and shamefully distorted logic (although, one could have known that already from his movie). Where he gets it completely and terribly wrong is with the following two excerpts from the article:
“I am far more pro-science than the Darwinists,” Stein said later in an e-mail.
Stein said the Holocaust references probably resulted from “Expelled,” a film he worked on that came out about 10 months ago. “In the movie, we visited a Nazi killing center called Hadamar,” Stein said. The center’s victims had included people with developmental disabilities. “I asked the curator, ‘Why did they do this?’ and was told ‘Darwinism.’ That was in the film, and that’s what was said.” To portray Stein as “anti-scientific” on that basis is “a joke,” he said, “nonsense,” “just someone’s delusion.”
That is just a load of crap, particularly the second one. While it is true that Expelled should have been enough to label him as anti-science, he did that much more blatantly when he said in an interview:
"When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you."
Then, as if that weren't blatant enough, a few short seconds later in that same interview he rephrased it to really hammer the point home:
"…Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people."
I therefore think it was that interview which fully convinced people that Ben Stein was an anti-scientific lunatic with a very poor grasp of what it means to do science. I don't think it is delusional at all to draw such a conclusion from "science leads you to killing people". It might be a bit more of a stretch to reach my titular conclusion that Ben Stein is an ass, but combining his views on science with his most recent distortion of the truth and I think that conclusion is well within the range of justifiable.

Now, you shouldn't have to take my word for it, but unfortunately the only known instance I know of for the interview in which he says "science leads you to killing people" seems to have been removed from youtube. My source on the wording of the quotations comes from here. I know the video existed at one point, however, because I watched it myself. If anyone knows of a still functioning link, please leave it in the comments and I will update this post accordingly.

Edit: Thanks to Wheatdogg, I have been pointed in the direction of the necessary video clip. It's actually quite hard to sit through, and the part I was referring to is in part 5. I had actually forgotten how much the ellipses skips over, but the relevant portion starts at approximately 1:20 and finishes at 2:20.

Monday, February 2, 2009

"Let's talk about sex"

I followed a link from a post over at PZ Myer's blog to an article on differences in male and female sexual arousal. While PZ Myers covered some of the main points (the article still doesn't really explain what it is that women want and it wanders down the shadowy and often unfortunate path of evolutionary psychology's just-so stories), I was rather amused to discover that the research the article was discussing had been conducted at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which is associated with the University of Toronto. This got me wondering just how they found research subjects for the test. You see a lot of rather strange flyers for psychology experiments around campus, but I have yet to see one for a sex study. I really hope they didn't just pull people off the street, though, because the College and Spadina intersection (where CAMH is located) is a really dirty and skeazy intersection. I'm not really sure why, but the brief intersection of the campus with China Town seems to have spawned a disturbing and highly unpleasant atmosphere. I think drawing in subjects from the vicinity of CAMH therefore might skew the results...

Anyway, I don't really have much to say on this subject. I know I usually try to keep this blog sex-free, but it was an amusing article made even more so by the fact that it took place on the sketchiest corner of the University of Toronto campus, and I therefore decided it was worth noting.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Horrendous Defacement

As a member of my generation, I hardly ever take books out of the library. Coddled by the internet, I tend to conduct research using online journals and other such resources conveniently accessed from my bed or desk. However, I was still raised under the influence of my grandfather, and thus I hold books in their physical manifestation with an odd sort of reverence. Books are great and wonderful things, and should be treated as such. I remember being a little horrified at the concept of marking one's page by folding it over when it was first shown to me, but that was nothing compared to the abject revulsion of seeing hordes of university students take pens, pencils, and highlighters to the pages of their textbooks. While I recognize some people have their own study system in which highlighter and pencil play an integral role, I have never learned to appreciate such a system and find the presence of externally imposed markings on the pages of a book to be extremely distracting to the point of detracting from the actual content of the text. Thus, I have taken a live and let live approach. When I see students highlighting the pages of their books, I do not run over and tear the markers out of their hand and scold them. It is their book. However, all of that changes when it is a library book. Damn it, if it is a library book, that means many more people expect to read this book when you are done with it! If you absolutely must mark up the pages, make a photocopy and highlight that.

As those reading this might have guessed, I picked up a book from the library the other day. After a mind numbing couple of hours solving linear algebra problems, I decided on a whim to grab a book on the Crimean War. So I found the section, spotted three copies of a book that looked interesting, and every single one of them was full of highlighter and scribbled notes in the margins. It was horrible. I took the one that looked the least abused, but I still haven't brought myself to read it. So my message is this: if you are one of those people who insists on marking the pages you read when studying or writing a paper, find some way around doing it to a library book. That library book is not yours, and someday some student who is obsessive-compulsive about books is going to come along and be driven insane by your handiwork. It's neither nice nor pleasant.