Pinned in June: non-depressing edition

The first argument that made me feel at all warmly about warrantless genetic surveillance

The journal Science published a response to the Golden State Killer investigation, where a suspect was arrested after a relative was identified by comparing genetic evidence from crime scenes to a 23andMe-style commercial genealogy database.

Expanding law enforcement investigations to encompass genealogical databases may help to remedy the racial and ethnic disparities that plague traditional forensic searches. In accordance with state laws, official forensic databases are typically limited to individuals arrested or convicted of certain crimes. Racial and ethnic disparities throughout the criminal justice system are therefore reproduced in the racial and ethnic makeup of these forensic databases. Genealogical databases, by contrast, are biased toward different demographics. The 23andMe database, for instance, consists disproportionately of individuals of European descent. Including genealogical databases in forensic searches might thus begin to redress, in at least one respect, disparities in the criminal justice system.

Genealogy databases and the future of criminal investigation (Science)

A fun, counter-intuitive baby name trend

Baby name news covers a lot more ground than I would have expected. This post starts with a surprising baby name trend and ends with a fairly detailed analysis of the impact of maternal age on social and political issues.

A few years back, I started a project to track down the red-blue divide in name terms. Did blue (liberal) and red (conservative) America actually name their children differently? Yes, they surely did. But how they did was a stunner. The “bluest” names were traditional, Christian, and single-sex; the “reddest” were newly invented, non-religious and androgynous. (Try it on the NameMapper: select 2004 and type in Henry, then Rylee.) In other words, our choices of names — one of the most candid, heartfelt expressions of our values and dreams — ran precisely opposite to our supposed values divide.

Red and Blue Baby Naming: Inauguration 2009 Edition (Baby Names Blog)

An endearing, bumbling discussions of plant intelligence

I love the edges where people in one discipline need ideas from another discipline. This survey of some current thinking about whether plants are intelligent involves philosophers trying to apply botany and ecology, while biologists and ecologists try to apply philosophy.

[Plant biologist Devang] Mehta believes that plants deserve respect. He just thinks confusing their qualities and abilities with those of humans is unnecessary anthropomorphizing. Venturing into the territory of philosophers, he argues that in order to qualify as “conscious,” a thing must be aware of its self-awareness, or meta-aware….

[Philosopher Michael] Marder admits that we can’t know if plants are self-conscious, because we define both the self and consciousness based on our human selves and limitations. “Before dismissing the existence of this higher-level faculty in them outright, we should consider what a plant self might be,” he says.

Marder points out that plant cuttings can survive and grow independently. That suggests that if plants do have a self, it is likely dispersed and unconfined, unlike the human sense of self.

A debate over plant consciousness is forcing us to confront the limitations of the human mind (Quartz)

On space and science fiction in the Arab world

This is an ok article about a topic I found very interesting– how has science fiction influenced science and space projects in the Arab world? It left me curious to know much more about the impact of having your local landscapes used as filming locations for so much sci-fi, both as distant planets and as places where archeologists dig up monsters.

A great many decision-makers, extending into the numerous members of the royal families across the Gulf, have bought into this desire to revive the Islamic scientific heritage as well as building the infrastructure that will drive it; development is, after all, meaningless without ‘sustainable’ development. And science fiction is part of the futurist vision they have of themselves: “Michael Winterbottom shot his 2003 film Code 46 partly in Dubai… parts of The Force Awakens were shot in Abu Dhabi,” as Determann’s book notes. Note the transition eastwards, since the desert planet Tatooine in Star Wars is actually the desert town of the same name in Tunisia, where much of the filming was done. The UAE has, of late, provided financial incentives for Western movie producers, itself part of its wider diversification away from oil strategy too. The same goes for their Mission to Mars.

As one project manager explains, the mission, according to Omran Sharaf, speaking in Determann’s book, “is not about reaching Mars but about inspiring a whole new generation and transforming the way youth think within the region… The goal here is hope, for humanity, for the region, for youth in countries with lots of conflict.”

Review: The Intertwined Histories of Arab Science and Arabic SFF (ArabLit)

Pin collection for May: parenting and public services

Some things I read that I loved.

Noticing different public treatment of parents of trans kids vs parents of “theybies”

The fact that reporting on trans children like Nicole has been far more sympathetic than reporting on Kathy Witterick and David Stocker’s decision not to gender their child Storm is itself very telling.  While it may be confusing and shocking for the general public to imagine raising a transgendered child, the story of trans children becomes relatable by making transgenderism analogous to medical disability.  It’s less than ideal, but no one can help it, and thankfully there is a course of treatment to be pursued.  But the idea that parents like Kathy and David would willfully choose to offer gender self-determination to their child is apparently an outrage.  Kathy and David’s parenting has been subject to pathologizing and hateful commentary from expert psychologists concerned about Storm’s development.  While Nicole’s parents are portrayed as compassionate and reasonable, Kathy and David have been depicted as selfish, deceitful, impulsive, and manipulative radicals using their child to enact a damaging social experiment. 

This post is from 2011, but I still see this split in 2018. The comparison to how disabilities are framed stuck out to me– somewhere I’m sure there is a parallel disability justice article that critiques pathologizing disabled kids rather than working to undermine narratives about which bodies are considered normal.

Get Your Gender Binary Off My Childhood!: Children’s Right to Gender Self-Determination | Feminist Pigs

Great kids books about disability

We are about to start collecting kids books at my house, and I have been deeply appreciating the detailed reviews and lists at Books for Littles. This entire four-part series about kids books dealing with disability is fantastic. It starts with a primer on disability justice and the social model of disability, and includes some handy lists of problematic tropes in kids books as well as better features to look for. After that, big lists of recommended books! There are similar posts dealing with race, gender, fatness, single parenting, emotions, and many other common areas of failure in kids books.

Empowering Kids Books About Disability: Stories About Inclusion & Disability Rights | Books for Littles

Delusions of Mommy Brain

Of course, parents who do not go through pregnancy — including fathers, adoptive parents and L.G.B.T.Q. parents whose partners give birth — also experience psychological and physiological attachment, which some researchers have studied. But “daddy brain” is rarely discussed in a cultural or scientific context in association with cognitive decline.

Meanwhile, the cultural belief in “mommy brain” is so powerful that some studies have shown that pregnant women who walked into an experiment describing themselves as cognitively fuzzy were found in the lab to perform at a much higher level than what they reported. Were the cognitive changes just in their heads, or are our medical formulations missing something? In addition to the unscientific myths about hormonal women being best suited for the home and hearth, what else has propelled this broader misinterpretation about what “mommy brain” is and isn’t?

Argh, this article hits all the usual points that come up when discussing brains and biological sex. It pains me that it took the NYT to alert me that birth-induced dementia was a sexist myth.

Reframing ‘Mommy Brain’ – The New York Times

Buses > ride shares

One of my favourite recurring themes is that Silicon Valley is not as smart as it thinks it is, it just picks easy problems. It is easy to provide luxury transit for a few rich people using a subsidy from venture capital, especially if you can temporarily get away with ignoring labour laws. It is much harder to provide economically sustainable transit for a lot of people, while following labour laws. When Uber and Lyft start trying to accomplish that much harder goal, it turns out they start to look like regular old public transit buses.

It’s telling that, even while transit agencies are being told to be more like Uber and Lyft, Uber and Lyft are increasingly mimicking buses. Both companies now have “shuttle” or “line” services that operate along preset routes with preset stops during peak commuter hours, just like a bus. It’s existential to the future of these start-ups that they stop subsidizing high-end solo rides and instead cram in the maximum number of riders per vehicle—in order words, that they reproduce a bus. The basic model—a big moving container of people on a fixed route—has never stopped working.

America’s Buses Need Your Love More Than Ever – The Atlantic

Have they always been displacegrounds?

Here in Victoria, playgrounds and their associated bylaws get used to displace homeless people. This article is about something else, but I snagged on this aside about the invention of playgrounds as a way to displace children from the public streets where they used to play.

The last great obstacle for those wanting to secure streetspace for cars were the angry mothers of America who saw their children killed or maimed by cars in the streets. Enter: the playground. That little zoological garden into which we still place our kids was an invention of the automobile industry as a way to appease mothers and get the little rascals out of the way.

Bicycle Urbanism by Design – Next City