Monday Miscellany: Chronic Pain, Brains, & Beauty

My partner graduated yesterday! I was in a different state! I might be a bad girlfriend!

I use exclamation points a lot!

But it’s Monday, so I’m a little more caffeinated and a little less exclamatory…so click some links!

Can we diagnose mood disorders via brain scans?
Man, I wish we could. Luckily, it looks like my wishes could be granted.

Sidenote: I’m getting my brain scanned (structural and functional MRI’s) sometime soon and I get to keep copies of all the images. My feelings.

GUYS. What if we could tell you what treatment would work best for your depression by LOOKING AT YOUR BRAIN?

Note for people trying to figure out what meds they’re talking about: escitalopram is known by the brand name Lexapro and is an SSRI.

People think secret information is better information:

Our studies imply that, among average U.S. citizens, secret information is used as a cue to infer informational quality. This suggests that when government leaders claim, for example, that secret information indicates that enemy nations are building weapons of mass destruction—and that military intervention is therefore warranted—citizens may be more likely to endorse their government’s position even though there is no opportunity for public vetting of that information.

Welp. That’s not a great heuristic. Can anyone give me a reason this is a good thought process to have? I’m coming up short.

Two post about chronic pain: one on the awful redundancy and one about skeptics with chronic pain.

Are women their own worst beauty critics?

Many people do lack self-confidence, and there is certainly more pressure on women to be conscious of their own appearance than men, but is it really the case that women are more criticalof that appearance than everyone else?

First of all, the whole entire world is critical of the way women look. Whether you are asupermodel, a teenager or even Secretary of State, if you’re a female, there are people all around you ready to tell you how bad your body looks. Secondly, the idea that women are valuableonly for their beauty permeates nearly every facet of modern society, from the billboards we walk past to the social media we use daily. And this idea that women should be reduced to their appearance originated almost entirely in the minds and actions of men. And it is still largely perpetuated today by men – who run over 90% of our media.

So to say women are their own “worst critics” when it comes to beauty puts the blame on women for a beauty-obsessed, body-shaming and misogynistic world created and maintained largely by dudes.

School of Doubt wrote about the Secular Student Alliance. It’s pretty great.

Happy Monday, m’dears! In honor of things that begin with M, here’s a map of Mercury:



Monday Miscellany: Chronic Pain, Brains, & Beauty

Monday Miscellany

Morning! Pour yourself some coffee and click these links.

This week in really cool science: People with anorexia move as if they’re their perceived size. While it’s obviously just one study, could a test like this be used as a screening tool? It gets at the cognitive side, rather than relying on the (mostly behavioral) side of determination we use now.
Scientific American article and podcast
Actual research article

Speaking of science, let’s talk about false positives and unreproducible results.

Also, anti-obesity campaigns and people with disordered eating. Not always a great combination.

People who need certainty are contributing to the RUIN OF SOCIETY. Basically.

Here’s a reason the world’s tumbling into ruin: if you want to be a popular pundit, it’s far better to be certain than accurate.  That’s right; more people will listen to a person who is factually wrong but confident over a guy who’s accurate but honest.

There are days I despair for the world, because our tiny monkey brains are forever seeking out shit that’s bad for them: sugar. Sex.  And certainty.  Basically, it’s a terrifying thing to think that this universe is full of so many factors that no one, literally no one, can predict what’s going to happen next with any confidence, and so we’ll happily listen to awful pundits who fill us up with the lie that yeah, someone knows, and it’s me.

Should we seculars have man-free events? My friend Robby mulls it over.
(Embarrassing fact: The first time I read this I, admittedly, scanned it before work. Which meant that I read the intro and the bolded topics. Which meant that I concluded that Robby must be anti-women’s-spaces. Which means that it was a very good thing that Chana sent me back to read it again. I’ve packed humble pie for lunch today.)

I’m updating my reader today–post below if you have a blog 🙂

Monday Miscellany

[Monday Miscellany] Accessibility, Mental Health, and Atheist Churches?

It’s Monday, and I don’t have work! I’m celebrating by refusing to get out of bed.

Chris Hofstader wrote about his experience as a blind man at Women in Secularism. This community has quite a ways to go in providing accessibility for all.

I cannot blame the conference coordinators for the behavior of the attendees but this was also a downright surreal experience for both me and my blind friend. Lots of people approached us but, with very few exceptions, they talked to our dogs and not to us humans. A lot of people asked our dog’s names but not ours. Those who actually engaged us in conversation talked only about dogs. I don’t like telling people that I’m smart or whatever but my friend graduated from Princeton, works for the government in software accessibility, has been involved in feminism for a long time, is a humanist/atheist and would have all sorts of interesting things to talk to people at a secularism conference about if they showed any curiosity. This did not happen with anyone at the QED conference in the UK. Maybe the british public education system does a better job of teaching people about diversity in general or disability in specific, I don’t know but I felt like a dog walking bot and not a human at WiS.

Hayley Stevens, though not at WiS, also has some thoughts.

Want to make your event more accessible? Cornell University has a handy checklist.
You can also listen to SB Morgaine’s talk from SSACon 2012 about making your events better.
Want your website to be less suck? Check to make sure that it is compatible with screen readers. I use this open source one. Download the reader, open your page, and see if it can read the text. Also, commenter chippanfire has this excellent remark. 

This is a new periodic table song. It’s stuck in my head. Send help.

Old, but sadly necessary:  stop hitting on the waitress.

See that cute person behind the counter who smiles at you every day as you buy your (lottery ticket/breakfast/liquor/condoms/razors/newspaper/coffee)?

That person HAS to be there and HAS to be nice to you.  It doesn’t mean anything.  You don’t have a deeper connection.  Your daily transactions are not meaningful.

Fortunately, there is a way to show your appreciation for the person who brings you your meal or fixes your drink.  It’s called tipping.  And there is a word for entitled customers who try to use the inherent power imbalance to bully customer service people into unwanted personal interactions, and that word is “douchebag.”

Ally writes about church.

A few people have asked for my feels about the very existence of an atheist church, whether it’s viable, valuable, or even possible. But despite my skepticism, there is a piece of me that really wants this to catch on, and it doesn’t have much basis in rationality or cost-benefit analysis. Granted, I have a problem with the kind of logic that argues that emotion necessarily negates rational thought. I won’t go there now, but I know the desire to cheer them on is coming from a part of me that only seems to show its face when I drink.

For anyone who doesn’t know me outside the skeptic blogosphere, I’m a social dancer, mostly swing and blues. This hobby/sport/art form attracts every brand of human being, from well-mannered seminarians to radical secular humanists like me. There are dancers who claim that you don’t need to drink to enjoy it, but I’m here to tell you that that’s only half true. Sometimes, after a night of dance scene drama, beer has a way of holding the community together.

So after a long night of dance, my good dance friends and I end up at a little local place, and one of my secular dance friends mentioned the Sunday Assembly. We discussed our respective religious backgrounds, casually and anecdotally at first, but I felt a familiar emptiness that usually accompanies stories about my seven years as a wannabe Presbyterian. Before I could stop myself, I said it.

“I miss church, too.”

Wait. Shit. What?

Small things you can do to improve mental health in your community. I’d also add respecting any and all boundaries. If someone tells you they can’t go out tonight, or that they just really don’t like hugs or loud noises or spontaneous activities, respect that. Do not push, do not force.  Treat them as normal people who’ve done the equivalent of ask for chocolate instead of vanilla ice cream, not four headed monsters who DON’T LIKE PARTIES HOW COULD YOU NOT LIKE GOING TO A PARTY.

[Monday Miscellany] Accessibility, Mental Health, and Atheist Churches?

Monday Miscellany

Bitchtopia has a story you’ve heard before, written beautifully.
[Content note: suicide, self-harm, abuse]

Just because a story is difficult to tell, does not mean it should not be heard. Unfortunately, this story is neither unique nor rare. The odds of you having heard it before are high, perhaps you’ve even heard this one. But I want to tell it because I want everyone to know how proud I am of the girl in this tale. Because she did beat the odds. She did eventually “win”. And her side of the story deserves to be heard.

Chana would like you to stop FAPing, please. It’s [not] exactly what it sounds like.

Because I’m not heading into grad school right now, I get this less than Miri does, but seriously, stop telling me that social work pays badly.

Intent is, in fact, fucking magic. An argument against a phrase I see floating around the FtB commentariat.

Guys. Stop with the “chemical free” junk. That is not A Thing.

I hope I’m not being a bossy condescending whatever. I’m really sorry if I am, but I find the demonizing of chemicals deeply disturbing. When all chemicals are lumped into the same category, the world becomes an unnecessarily scary place. I’m not saying that none of them are scary. I’ve inhaled thionyl chloride and I thought my lungs were going to crawl out of my burning nose. It was a yet another case of “You know better, asshole” but I only needed 10 mL, so I thought I could just pour it really quickly outside of the fume hood and everything would be fiiiiiine. Thionyl chloride is used in nerve gas so everything was not fine.
“Chemical free” is a term made up by some marketing person to scare you.
Implicit Association Tests and Suicidality. Like the author, I’m a little skeptical, but happy that research into predicting suicide is being funded.
This is the ethos behind Sandberg (and Anne Marie Slaughter’s “Having it all”) kind of feminism: women should be able to chose a career and have the very same options as men. Here’s where I was wrong: this is not merely capitalist feminism. This is a neoliberal, libertarian articulation of feminism. It was John Stuart Mill who stated “that no one should be forcibly prevented from acting in any way he chooses provided his acts are not invasive of the free acts of others“. Or, should I say, it was Stuart Mill who set the foundations of contemporary libertarian politics. This idea of personal freedom is then presented to us as “neutral and universal”. We all have the same choices (or so we are told). However, I want to challenge this idea of freedom just by bringing out the fact that slavery was abolished in the US only 148 years ago; in the colonial territories of The Netherlands, it was abolished 150 years ago; France abolished slavery in its former colony of Anjouan in 1899 (to give a perspective of how contemporary this event is, there is a man in Japan who was already alive when this abolition took place). So, our ideas of freedom are not only not universal but they haven’t been universally granted and, moreover, the choices available to us as a result of this freedom (or lack of it) are not universally equal either. These choices come with a heavy legacy of racial, class, ability and gender normativity histories, both personal and affecting our families, communities and heritages.
I’m in need of more blogs to read–ideally with daily or semi-daily content. What do you like?
Monday Miscellany

Monday Miscellany

Oh hai. It’s a new week! I’m back at work at the Unspecified Internship at a Neat Place. But, I can tell you what I’m doing this summer–working at the SSA!

This post by Yvain/Scott Alexander is so good it gets TWO pull quotes:

I can’t even get angry with people who say polyamory is incompatible with true love. They’re just empirically wrong, like someone who remarks confidently that hippos have six legs. They’re not evil or even deluded. They just obviously haven’t seen any hippos. You don’t really want to argue with them so much as take them to a zoo, after which you are confident they will realize their mistake.

I don’t drink much, not because I’m especially virtuous but because I hate the taste of alcohol and the atmosphere of bars and parties. In the same way, I’m not promiscuous, not because I’m especially virtuous but because I’m sort of borderline asexual. I like cuddling people, kissing people, falling in love with people, petting people’s hair, writing sonnets about people, and a few things less blogaboutable, but having sex isn’t an especially interesting experience for me. I treat it kind of like watching a chick flick – something one might do to get the nice warm feeling of doing romantic things and bonding as a couple, but wait a second why the heck is she kissing him now and that scene made no sense and THIS MOVIE HAS NO PLOT HOW DID IT MAKE $100 MILLION AT THE BOX OFFICE?”

Ahaha, oh look, it’s my feelings exactly.

“Because you don’t have to wait for a revolution to be a person, and neither does anyone else.” Real Social Skills on the importance of separating your legitimacy from your ideology.

In news that certainly didn’t surprise anyone who’s recently been in public school, the ‘obesity prevention’ programs many schools offer can be the start of eating disorders, disordered eating*, and really unhealthy habits. Shockingly, when you treat being fat as objectively bad and being thin as objectively good, problems abound.

In horrifying news, we have this: Nevada has been bussing the mentally ill to other states

In recent years, as Nevada has slashed funding for mental health services, the number of mentally ill patients being bused out of southern Nevada has steadily risen, growing 66 percent from 2009 to 2012. During that same period, the hospital has dispersed those patients to an ever-increasing number of states.

By last year, Rawson-Neal bused out patients at a pace of well over one per day, shipping nearly 400 patients to a total of 176 cities and 45 states across the nation.

Lessons learned from a decade of depression.

Cranberries: still not going to cure your urinary tract infection.

If you’re in the Chicago area, I’m giving a talk about schizophrenia this weekend.


*Where eating disorders are clinical patterns of eating, and disordered eating is subclinical behavior, like skipping a few meals to feel better about getting dessert or somesuch.

Monday Miscellany

Monday Miscellany

SkepTech was glorious! (Summary incoming this evening). The anonymity panel was just plain fun, Stephanie gave an amazing talk about psychometrics, and I was happy to be around such enthusiastic, brilliant people.

Also, after one week of interning, I’ve mostly figured out how blogging fits in; expect one or more smallish posts each day during the week. I don’t have time to fully develop and publish post by a reasonable time on weekday evenings, so those will be for weekends.

Until then, links!

Ozy on medicalizing mental variation. Go read all of it.

Heina on fauxminism.

Fauxminism is the curious phenomenon where people think that featuring, talking about, or even just being a woman is an inherently feminist act and thus renders the person and/or act(s) in question irreproachably progressive with regards to matters of gender. What makes someone a fauxminist is not any particular action or choice that they make or take, but their dogged insistence that anything they do must be feminist because they are a woman or have involved a woman without taking into account how those actions affect the lives of other women. They tend to say things like ”Criticizing another woman? Jeez, that isn’t very feminist of you” and “Support all ladies no matter what they do (even if that’s hindering other ladies)!” in response to feminist critiques of anything even marginally involving a woman.

Navigating masculinity as a black transman.


How was your weekend? Did you make it to any of the many conferences? Write anything good? Self-promote below!


Monday Miscellany

Link Miscellany: Unconvinced Edition

I’m back! And all of you who dropped off hugs on my last post are wonderful. It’s things like this that keep me convinced that everyone clamoring about how Teh Interwebs is ruining everything are entirely off base. I’ve got some posts planned and in the works, but for now, links and a brief rant! (Also, I’m still soliciting questions for a post on therapy–be sure to comment below).

Miri writes about exercise. I’m, unfortunately, not quite at the point she is in terms of attitude. But I’d like to be.

As an aside, I’d like to recommend an app/program called Fitocracy for low pressure exercising. Designed by two computer geeks (their own description!), it uses game mechanics (levels, quests, points) to track your exercise. I like it because the goal is doing a variety of activities, not losing weight. You can’t enter calories, which keeps me from getting obsessive, and you’re rewarded for doing a range of activities and building stamina, not for pounds lost. 

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

As many of my female peers are doing at the moment, I’m reading a book by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. The first chapter asks: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

My answer? I’d write this blog.

How not to be a dick to your anorexic friend. (My one qualm about this article is that it treats anorexia/starvation behaviors as only something thin people have. Otherwise it’s quite good.)

Well-intended remarks about how I look prettier with “some meat on my bones,” or even about how “healthy” I look, get twisted through my f’d up brain-synapses into a command to start restricting again. Yeah, I hate this too. Anorexia is like a cat-piss stain on my sofa of awesome-ness. (My original analogy involved weeds in a flower garden, but aren’t you glad I went this route instead?)

If you want to comment about my progress, mention that I seem to be flourishing, or tell me I seem to be returning to a person who is in love with the world vs. caught up in a battle with myself.

Confused about the Adria Richards kerfuffle? Ask an ethicist. Dr. Free-Ride has a fabulous examination of all points.

Recognize that the response that you expect will automatically follow from politely asking someone to stop engaging in a particular behavior may not be the response other people have gotten when they have tried the approach you take as obviously one that would work.

Recognize that, especially if you’re a man, you may not know the lived history women are using to update their Bayesian priors. Maybe also recognize, following up on #2 above, that you may not know that lived history on account of having told women who might otherwise have shared it with you that they were wrong to feel the way they told you they felt about particular situations, or that they couldn’t possibly feel that way because you never felt that way in analogous situations. In other words, you may have gappy information because of how your past behavior has influenced how the women you know update their priors about you.

Religious Trauma Syndrome–Is it real?
I am…unconvinced. Not unconvinced that there are mental health problems and suffering associated with leaving particularly harmful sects, but that this is a useful or accurate label.

Firstly, despite calling it “religious”, the article seems to only be specific to Christianity. This is cool if you’re talking about Christianity only, but then please don’t call it “religious” when you mean a specific kind of religion. If there’s research to suggest that this happens across religions in the most fundamental wings of each, isn’t it more likely the result of fundamentalist belief, rather than belief itself?

Jumping off of that, isn’t it far more likely that it’s more about a set of behaviors (external loci of control, infallibility of those in power, etc) that we already know cause mental health problems? Is it useful in any way to create a separate category of response to trauma, rather than just noting the ways in which this is a permutation of PTSD (and relatedly, acute stress disorder*)?

I’m not saying that specific branches and behaviors within religion can be bad (and sometimes very bad) for mental health, but it seems incredibly political to be naming a syndrome this way–and that’s a very bad habit.

Commenters! Please help me by posting your questions about therapy, mental illness, and/or psychology below. 

Link Miscellany: Unconvinced Edition

Monday Miscellany & Questions

This weekend was lovely (if blogging-less). Ashley was in Chicago! Along with her were Sikivu Hutchinson, Ian Cromwell, Stephanie Zvan, and Anthony Pinn for a panel on real world atheism. You might recognize some of those names. I think they…blog, or something? Who knows.

Speaking of blogs, Miri has the liveblog of the panel. Also, I quite like her post about blaming things on mental illness.

Do churches exclude introverts? Something I hadn’t thought about.

Dunno how I missed linking this previously: Northwestern man talks about his eating disorder.

Real Social Skills: People are real all the time.

Some stuff on motivation plasticity and some of how CBT works.

Effective addiction treatment….is mostly not present. SMART Recovery, however, is very evidence based and non-religious and I really suggest it. I’m hoping to get certified as a facilitator myself.

And now, questions for you!

How many of you (lurkers and regular commenters!) are vegan or vegetarian? (This relates to a post, I promise)

What scripts in relation to psych would you like or questions about treatment/seeking treatment do you have? I’m thinking a listicle post answering common questions, but don’t want to miss any relevant ones. 


Monday Miscellany & Questions

Link Miscellany

Chana talks polyamorous marriage.

Ability status is important to talk about in relation to health services. (And the mental health community needs to do better.) If you’ve had experiences with ability status interfering with your ability to access care, tell me about it in the comments!

You’ve just been severely beaten by your partner, and you want to call the local crisis line for help; you’ve seen their number around town, so you dial it, only to discover that they don’t support TTY. Your caregiver has been subjecting you to recurrent sexual assaults, but when you roll up to the women’s centre to ask for counseling and help, their front door is up a flight of stairs, and the counselor who comes out to the sidewalk says they don’t have services for ‘people like you.’ Your partner, who is also your caregiver, is depriving you of medication and necessary care, but when you try to ask for help, people say they don’t know what to do. You want to learn more about your options for finding a shelter, but none of the materials are available in audio or Braille.

Welcome to the world of being disabled and in need.

Crommunist: Atheism is a social justice issue.

xkcd’s What If? tackles soul mates. This sort of thinking has always struck me as skeptic’s cotton candy–fun and pretty and good practice, but rarely life changing. That being said, it’s fun.

Ferrett talks about suicide.

Christina Stephens talks about phantom limb sensations.

Boggle has this for you and me:


Link Miscellany

Kate’s Travels and Other People’s Writing

I’m traveling a great deal in the coming months. With respect to conferences, this is where I’ll be. Please comment if we’ll overlap!

Skepticamp Chicago Website

Where: Fifth Province Pub at the Irish American Heritage Center
Address: 4626 North Knox Avenue, Chicago, IL

When: March 2nd, 11am-6pm

I’ll be talking about Myths & Misinformation in Mental Illness at 4pm. I’ve got my talk outlined, but if you have any myths you want to make sure I haven’t forgotten, comment below!

SkepTech Website

Where: University of Minnesota

When: April 5-7

I’m really excited for this one. It’s organized by many of my friends, and the lineup is wonderful. Especially exciting to me? Stephanie Zvan is talking about psychometrics–the ways we use statistics and measures in psychology. Going to be there? Comment! And come say hi 🙂

Women in SecularismWebsite

Along with Miri at Brute Reason and several other FtB frequenters, I’m the recipient of a grant from Marcus Ranum to go to Women in Secularism this May. I’m over the moon. I really don’t have words to explain how amazing this is. So, if you’re going…I can’t wait to see you there.

Now, links!

Digital Cuttlefish hates the brain (but not really, go read it):

The brain does not see patterns. The brain is a major part of how we see patterns. The brain does not do so without the eyes, and it does not do so without two very important sets of environmental histories–the individual’s interaction with the environment (literally beginning with the environment in the womb, in development), and the interaction with the environment over millennia that is reflected in the genes. The brain is not magic (which Descartes’s concept of “mind” was, technically); it is part of how we gather information from the environment and act upon that environment. Other parts include our eyes & ears, our bones and muscles, our teachers and histories, our communities and our cultures.

Stunning sun photography.

I got to see Cliff Pervocracy at UChicago’s Sex Week! This is the talk she gave.  It’s knee-slappingly funny. Like, really. Knees were slapped.

I really, really recommend every couple or group figure out a working definition of “cheating.” For my partner and me, that’s having sex without telling each other. He lets me know what he’s planning, he can have sex with the starting lineup of the Green Bay Packers, and I might have opinions about that (those opinions might be “fistbump,”) but that fundamental feeling of broken trust that comes with cheating won’t be there. Then again, for you, that might be a hard limit. You might be a Bears fan. Or you might feel like your partner kissing another person is too much and gives you that sad feeling in your stomach. Either way, if you both know where the line is—and you have enough fundamental trust that nobody’s going to rules-lawyer it with “we said hugging was okay, so I hugged his penis!” – it’s a lot easier to avoid accidentally hurting each other and a lot more clear what happened if someone does break that trust.

Alain de Botton is getting things dangerously wrong.

What could have decreased the pertussis epidemic.

As per usual, do add your own links and conferences you’re attending below!

Kate’s Travels and Other People’s Writing