Coalition Di Rupo I

by Ingrid Robeyns on December 7, 2011

That’s the name of the new government of Belgium, inaugurated yesterday, which got off the ground after fivehundredfourthyone (that is: 541) days of negotiations (mind you: that number is written in Globish, not Oxford English). Elio di Rupo, leader of the Francophone social-democrats, had been trying to form a coalition for quite some time, but whether by coincidence or not, soon after Belgium’s credit rating worsened about 10 days ago, the agreement between the 6 negotiating parties quickly emerged. For those of you thinking that 6 parties make a government unworkable: a 6-party coalition is not unusual for Belgium. In fact, until quite recently this would be better formulated as 3 ‘party-families’, since it was assumed that the ideological line (being green, liberal, Christian-democrat or social-democrat, for example), was overwhelmingly more important than the linguistic identity of a party. But those days are gone, which means that we now do have 6 parties, rather than 3 party-twins.

I haven’t been following the coalition negotiations in detail, so mainly want to open up space for those of you who want to discuss whatever you want to discuss regarding the new coalition. Just three brief observations below the fold.
[click to continue…]

Annals of Interesting Peer Review Decisions

by Henry Farrell on December 7, 2011

Tom Bartlett describes the efforts of two psychologists to publish replication results for an article, which had purported to show that people could use ESP to predict whether they would be shown erotic pictures in the future. The replication found no observable effect, but (according to the authors’ account of it)had a difficult time finding a publisher.

bq. Here’s the story: we sent the paper to the journal that Bem published his paper in, and they said ‘no, we don’t ever accept straight replication attempts’. We then tried another couple of journals, who said the same thing. We then sent it to the _British Journal of Psychology,_ who sent it out for review. For whatever reason (and they have apologised, to their credit), it was quite badly delayed in their review process, and they took many months to get back to us.

bq. When they did get back to us, there were two reviews, one very positive, urging publication, and one quite negative. This latter review didn’t find any problems in our methodology or writeup itself, but suggested that, since the three of us (Richard Wiseman, Chris French and I) are all skeptical of ESP, we might have unconsciously influenced the results using our own psychic powers. … Anyway, the BJP editor agreed with the second reviewer, and said that he’d only accept our paper if we ran a fourth experiment where we got a believer to run all the participants, to control for these experimenter effects. We thought that was a bit silly, and said that to the editor, but he didn’t change his mind. We don’t think doing another replication with a believer at the helm is the right thing to do … [the] experimental paradigms were designed so that most of the work is done by a computer and the experimenter has very little to do (this was explicitly because of his concerns about possible experimenter effects).

Although the Bartlett piece doesn’t make this suggestion, I can’t help wondering whether the reviewer was one of the authors of the original piece. Myself, I’ve had a couple of interesting interactions with editors over the years, but nothing that even comes close to matching this. I suppose you could make an argument that if you think that psychic powers are plausible subjects of investigation, you have to account for the possibility of compromising psychic effects, but the potential for abuse (e.g through claims about ever-more speculative ways in which the experiment could be compromised) is obvious.

1. Female Genital Mutilation, Everywhere, Ever.
2. Women Getting Raped in Far-Away Lands, like Afghanistan. AND YOU DON’T EVEN CARE!
3. Growing Gender Imbalances in China and India (Also known as “Where’s Your Precious Right to an Abortion Now, Missy?”)
4. Sexist Islamic Law Codes (“Wait, why just–” “Shut up.”)
5. World Hunger (But not through those programs where they only give micro-payments/loans to women on the basis of research that it is more effective.)
6. Lack of Access to Clean Drinking Water For The World’s Poorest Citizens, Because, Hey, While You’re There.
7. Africa. Is Some Shit Just Fucked up There, or What? Get On That.
8. Access to The Most Basic Knowledge About Human Reproduction and Assistance of Midwives Can Lower Peri-Natal Deaths Tremendously, But Please Don’t Tell Anyone About Contraception or Abortions.
9. Forced Prostitution, Sex Slavery, Human Trafficking.
10. Are We Seriously Just Not Even Trying to Go to Mars Anymore? Really, Though? We Made it to The Moon in Like 5 Years With Some Slide Rules and Horn-rimmed Glasses and Shit, and Now All We’ve Got is These Weaksauce Telescopes Peering Back in Time. What the Fuck? Mars, Bitches!

Now you know, ladies. Sorry any sexism in developed nations up to and including your own personal experiences of sexual assault didn’t even make it on the list, but better luck next time!

For the record, I’m just going to go out there and say the Siri thing was a conspiracy–of one. One pro-life programmer who cared about it a LOT, and 8,000 other programmers who let the error stay in through multiple testing of multiple versions due to (in this case) malign neglect; they just never looked. The claims that Siri is worse than Google only when and where it relies on Yelp seem to have been falsified; the program really looks to have something of a significant blind spot, too significant to be chalked up to error. I’m willing to give the Apple programmers the benefit of the doubt and say they are not juvenile frat-boy assholes. There’s just this one asshole, and then a large number of men and some women (some of both of whom are no doubt, living in this fallen world as we do, also assholes), who never tested the program along this particular axis. People have bitched about it; Apple will fix it; the next time someone will check first. This is often how you fight sexism in ordinary life. You don’t dive in front of that Afghani girl about to take a bottle of acid to the face and shoot the guy attacking her. You just influence the people around you by expression your opinions forcefully. Should we all donate money to the many thousands of feminist organizations working overseas to combat the life-threatening situations many of the world’s women face? Yes. Really. And you should take that fucking sandwich out of your mouth and give the money to OxFam. Pro Tip: “Afghanistan, infinite no backsies!” is not a valid argument to the effect that a given woman should shut up about some given topic.