Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Dingbat Effect: What happens when twits use statistics they do not understand

Psychological research, like most social science research, is really difficult to conduct because what you are measuring, testing, and/or comparing doesn't really exist in an objective, material sense. I'm talking about thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. There are some things we can measure like behaviors, rates of stuff, and correlations between things. The reason why it is so difficult to get a PhD in the social sciences is that you really need to prove your ability to independently define, measure, and analyze abstract phenomena and know how to interpret numbers into meaningful bits information.

I'm proud of the work I do and I know that I have the skills to interpret statistics in substantive ways. The bad rap that social science research gets usually comes from those instances when people, who often do not have the training in statistical analysis, take pieces of data and interpret them however the hell they want to argue a point. Figure A: Ann Coulter—classic dingbat who doesn't know how to interpret data or statistical trends. She has been popping up across the media outlets lately to promote her latest hate-filled tome (I won’t say the name here so I can make it through this post without getting sick). She essentially blames the ills of society on single mothers because "forty years of social science research" has shown that the majority of individuals in jail, namely male inmates, come from single parent homes. There are so many things wrong with this interpretation, let me outline a few here: (ugh, where to start?)

1. Though the correlation may be true, that most inmates come from single parent homes, this remains a correlation. This does not mean, as Coulter likes to frame it, that single parent homes more often than not create criminals. Correlation does not mean causation.

2. Single parenthood is correlated with socioeconomic level. Coulter fails to acknowledge this HUGE detail. Socioeconomic barriers have been shown to be associated with crime rates. This is an issue of co-variability. Had Coulter not ignored this issue, she may have sung a different tune. You cannot just ignore the fact that financial hardship is a factor that is correlated with family structure.

3. Aren’t you forgetting a large segment of the population? What about individuals from single parent homes who are not in jail? What about the soldiers that bravely defend our nation? How many of them come from single parent homes?

4. Having two parents does not guarantee anything. Quality of family overrides quantity. Growing up with an abusive parent is associated with more negative psychosocial consequences than not having a parent around. Similarly, number of parents does not guarantee that parenting is actually going on. This is also a culturally biased view as many non--Euro/American individuals define their families as their nuclear unit plus the support of extended families. If your dad isn't around but you have 10 aunts, uncles, and cousins looking out for you, are you guaranteed a jail sentence?

5. Coulter assumes her moral perspective is the right one. This perspective, being the socially conservative anti-sex education, anti-social services, anti-choice, guarantees nothing when it comes to teen pregnancy and crime. Teen pregnancy is higher in politically and socially conservative communities than in liberal ones. Guess who's having babies without a partner, Ann? Do you social science homework. Telling kids to not have sex doesn't work.

6. What is her analysis of two-parent homes and success in child rearing? How would she define successful childrearing? Given the numbers she alludes to, it would seem that any trends she notes wash out when we take socioeconomic level into consideration, not just race. If she thinks that just taking into account race is rigorous analysis, than she is racist. No surprise there.

7. What do you know of the fathers that don't hold up their end of things? Perhaps she should look into why single mothers are single. Are they widowed? Were they abused? Is the father of their child in jail? Hmmm.

8. Using the jail system as a basis for identifying what's wrong with our country is biased and unsound. Due to the unfortunately realities of racial profiling, which is alive and well today, you can't really generalize anything from the prison population. How was the data that Coulter so eagerly references collected? Did it only include inmates who speak English and can read? Did it include female inmates? There are too many questions to list that would undermine Coulter's sad little point.

One of the worst crimes you commit in research is failing to consider the other side—the people who you aren't examining. Even worse is acknowledging contrary evidence to your point and simply ignoring it, instead of addressing it with thoughtful discourse. Coulter is not only stupid, she's rude and doesn't know how to debate.

The saddest part of Coulter's pathetic diagnosis of our nation's presenting problems is that she and the majority of political conservatives have been against the very programs that could help single parents level the playing field. They need support, yet the conservatives would rather punish these families by abandoning them under a perverse application of evolutionary survival of the fittest. If a woman can raise kids on her own, I would say that is pretty damn fit!

I'll be hopping off my soapbox now. I just needed some healthy venting. Ahh.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Vacation from a vacation: Palm Springs

Do you ever feel like you need another vacation right after you've come home from one? Despite loving the holidays, I came back to LA feeling a little frazzled and stressed as I thought about the coming "back to work" days. Why can't we be on vacation for-ev-er? Thankfully, after completing a little over a week of reality, hubs and I took off for a mini-getaway to reward ourselves. I had a positive meeting with my advisor and he had been rather productive. Both excellent reasons to head out east to the desert.

Palm Springs is one of my favorite places to hide. It's gone through many phases from swinging hotspot in the 50s and 60s to kind of passe retirement community in the 80s. Now, it's getting rather caliente again. The best part is that there's so little going on in the "downtown" that you can lay by a pool all day, indulging in the lastest trashy mag, completely guiltlessly. Every once in a while, someone brings you a drink or sprays a mist of cool water upon your warm skin. It's heaven. Especially when it's on someone else's dime.

We're out here now, doing just that, lounging by a pool and sipping on I blog, of course. The Palm Springs International Film Festival is in full swing, which is nice because it adds just a little bit of excitement to the atmosphere. Or so I thought. Our hotel is actually hosting a "private event" this the pool...where I am supposed to lounge and relax. Incredibly annoying "lounge" music, which can be more accurately defined as sad euro-pop easy listening is playing over and over but unsuccessfully covering up the din from the "private event". As I sit here in the sun watching the schmoozfest, I am coming up with my own super cool indie flick that will be the talk of the festival circuit next year. It's about a demure intellectual writer-type woman who escapes to Palm Springs to relax and perhaps get inspired. But there's this convention in town, the International Narcissists Annual Meeting. They take over the town and the demure woman has no where to go, to respite from the constant drone of self aggrandizement. The story leads up to her losing her mind and going postal on the party being hosted at her hotel. And by postal, I mean literally postal. She runs around sticking stamps on everyone's foreheads and has a US postal service truck pull up to pick up all of the annoying people and ship them to Naples...because Naples is hell on earth. Hee, hee.

Actually, hubs and I read a hilarious article this morning about this infamous gangster that was fugitive for some time. He apparent got so much sick joy out of killing people that a judge sentenced him to death. The best part was that he was a member of the Toonville gang of....the greater Burbank/Glendale area! We're going to write "The Glendale Gansta" together. (Called it!! ) Who needs another Mojito?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Breaking up is hard to do: The fight over a kidney

I'm sick today. Just a nasty little cold, nothing too drastic, but enough to stay home. While I was falling asleep on a sweet Nyquil high, I thought I saw something on the news about a man who is in a messy divorce, mostly because his wife cheated on him and he now wants his kidney back. What the? I chocked it up to my compromised cognitive state and rolled over to commence the deepest sleep ever. This morning, I've come to realize that I was not drunk on cold meds at all when I read about this story on the Huffington's true!

Love scorned is a dangerous thing, especially when an organ is at stake! So, it turns out that this Long Island surgeon, frustrated with how the divorce proceedings were going, particularly that he is being kept from seeing his children, is requesting monetary compensation for the kidney he gave his wife to save her life in 2001. Allegedly, she began having an affair about 18 months after the transplant. Call me crazy but aren't gifts, as in the "gift of life", off limits in divorce...I could be totally wrong.

There are so many issues involved in this hot crazy mess. For starters, how can you cheat on the guy who gave you his save your life?! Marriage, and any romantic relationship, is complicated. We obviously don't know the whole story. It may very well be that the marriage wasn't working to begin with. Should you stay married to someone just because they gave you a life-saving organ? I actually don't think so. That's manipulative. Relationships are what they are. Shouldn't she have had a heart and broken this off before the affair? Maybe she doesn't have a heart...calling all donors! (Sorry, sad organ donor joke).

The second issue is the motive for his request. He deserves being paid for his kidney because she didn't hold up her end of the marriage. I'm not sure how I feel about this. He says he doesn't regret his donation and that it was the happiest moment in his life. So why drag this into the divorce just to get some financial leverage? It's low.

I think these two should get a diagnosis of "cuckcoo". I would give my husband an organ in a...ha ha..heartbeat. If he cheated on me, I think I would just use this fact as a way of making him hate himself...over and over again. I don't think I would ask for the monetary value of it, though. That way I could remind him of how awesome I am and what a jerk he is to have lost me. Then again, it doesn't look like the economy will be picking up anytime soon. Who knows. (Just kidding, hubs!)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Group Therapy: Proof of the Laughing Cure

Every other week I have the pleasure of leading a support group for adult offspring caring for a parent(s) with Alzheimer's (AD) or Dementia. If you've never been to a support group, I highly recommend attending because they can actually be helpful and surprisingly fun. Our (as in my co-therapist Emma and my) group, is hilarious. We go from discussing how watching a parent become almost completely on their adult child, essentially switching their child-parent roles, can be the hardest part of it all to finding the best fried chicken in L.A. How'd we get there? Well, one of the members discussed how her mother enjoyed getting up early and taking the bus to the 99 cents store. This wasn't the wandering-type of behavior that is characteristic of some dementias, especially AD. It was purposeful and she always returned.

One day, however, a woman was at her door with our group member's mother and said that she found her on by Slausson and Crenshaw, streets in a pretty rough area of L.A. At hearing this, the group started chiming in with oooos, ooohs, dangs, and shoots. One particularly charismatic fellow, the one male in the group who Emma and I know all the ladies have a major crush on, says, "Isn't that there that fry-chi place is?" "Mmmmhmm. That's it alright," chiming in another member. "Child, that might be the nastiest place downtown but, girl, that is some damn fine chicken!" Now, we're all cracking up. "Maybe mom was hungry!" Emma, who's a little more professional than I am in these settings smiles while I am cracking up with the rest of them. "I'm getting hungry now. Who wants to go wander?" I throw in. We all laugh. Ahhh, therapy is fun.

Aside from entertaining each other, this group truly cares for the wellbeing of its members. When a new member joins us, everyone starts asking him/her, usually her, questions about things they've struggled with, like getting their parent to eat (appetite can disappear with AD), dealing with temper tantrums (of their parent and those they want to throw but can't), and what to do when their parent wakes us and suddenly realizes they don't know where they are or what's going on. That's when we talk about the most pressing issue: guns. Every member of our group has had to either hide or take away a gun, sometimes guns, that their parent had for protection. In the wise words of Albert (what I'll call our sole dude of the bunch), "You have got to get that gun outta the house. One day, for protection, that gun will be pointed at you and your momma won't know who the hell you are. You can't be havin' that. Oh no." He's right. AD patients often forget who people are, even their own children. Imagine waking up in a strange place and someone comes into your room. If I knew I had a gun, I might just grad it, too. AD can be extremely frightening. The first question we ask each new member is if they know of any firearms in their parent's home. It never occurred to me that this would be such a popular issue that we'd need to raise it almost every meeting. It's likely a combination of a generation thing and a location/safety thing that these older folk are packing heat. It's sad, really. Pretty soon after the grim warnings, the group finds some humor in the topic, as usual. We were helping one member come up with a plan, or little white lie, to get her father's rifle. She said that if she came back to the next meeting with both eyes, we'd know she got the gun, safely.

P.S: This picture was taken of a group therapy session led by Carl Rogers, the famous humanist psychologist, in 1966. Cool, huh? PhDini=dork.

Picture uploading problems with Blogger...

We're having some technical difficulties today uploading's likely a Blogger problem, not a PhDini problem (Ha!). I didn't want to keep that from getting the previous and the next posts up. I will update them with pictures ASAP--especially the group therapy post as the picture is referenced in the text (grrr!).

Thank you for your patience!

Final Answer: Is chocolate addicting or not?

It never ceases to amaze me how I develop so many unhealthy addictions over the holidays. This past holiday season was about loafing, T.V., wine, and, chocolate. I get totally addicted to chocolate every December--which, without fail, runs into January. I need a little each day...actually, every few hours if we're being completely honest here. I also get into this mode where each meal must be followed by something sweet, preferably brown and sweet, but not in a raisin kind of way. What is up with this? Check out Psychcentral's answer that suggests there may be more mind than matter to our chocolaty cravings.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New year, new beginings...

If you're reading this you probably survived the holidays. Good for you! I have to say, it's good to be back. Next to December (for Christmas), March (for my birthday), and November (for Thanksgiving which, when over, marks the start of the "Holiday Season"), January is my next favorite month. The whole new start, clean slate, unlimited possibilities stuff is very appealing to someone who's job it is to create change in the lives of others--mostly my own. Resolutions are particularly fun. A list of things that, if accomplished successfully, makes you the super you. Does anyone ever keep all of their resolutions? Honestly? Well, in the grand tradition of most publications, professional and/or amateur, here is my list of resolutions for oooh-nyene:

1. Do not make lofty resolutions like losing 40 pounds by only consuming the gases released by raw vegetables and running 20 miles daily, creating my own corporation that would be a direct Harpo competitor (watch out Oprah!), or completing my PhD in three months (talk about a pipe dream).

2. Change the world one blog entry at a time. To do this, I will need to blog more regularly. In the words of the genius 12-year-old, Tavi, "That's not a threat, that's a promise."

3. Find at least three creative outlets. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is big on defining things in lists and numbers. Three creative outlets is more concrete and goal-oriented than just "do more creative things." What are these outlets, you may be asking yourself. Good question. I'm asking that myself, too. I'd like these to be outside of blogging. So far I've come up with these three but this isn't in stone just yet: cooking, clothing, and cartooning. The three C's, naturally (another CBT classic: list things in threes that start with the same letter). Cooking= finding and making 1 new recipe a week. Clothing= developing my side gig clothing business...which is simply my selling clothes that don't fit me anymore because I bought them a size too small to begin with in hopes that it would inspire me to eventually fit into them. Translation: Selling clothes I've never worn that still have tags on them. Cartooning= drawing cartoons. A secret talent of mine is art and I used to cartoon just about everything: friends, work, name it.

4. Get outside more. Woops, too vague. CBT! CBT! Quantify, dammit! Uhhh, get outside at least three times a week. Ahh, much better. This can be combined with some form of physical activity (i.e. running...or walking fast, which is way more likely at this point, as in walking fast to get a cup of coffee) oooor not. After spending the over two weeks in the dreary, snowy, and freezing Long Island, I've discovered the wonders of Seasonal Affective Disorder. My very insightful mother shared with me, in her broken English, that she saw something on the news about people who get depressed in the winter and that "maybe that's what you are," as in me. That is what I am. "Do you mean S.A.D.?" I asked. "Yes! You are sad!" she exclaimed. "No! I meant Seasonal Affective Disorder!!!" I exclaimed back, now cracking up. She has a good sense of humor and cracked up, too. Oh, mom. You are adorable.

5. For this last one, I was going to say that I will have a better attitude toward graduate school, but why ruin a good comedic routine when you have one (or at least when you think you have one)? Instead, I will resolve to be healthier in mind, body, and spirit. I'm am so going be to Oprah's replacement when she stops running the universe to marry Gayle and open their own restaurant in New Orleans named after her dogs (Sorry, O, just too easy. Please don't let this keep me from being on your show as either an expert or sad personal story! Haha, love you!--she says nervously). Seriously, without getting all Biggest Loser on you, I have found that graduate school is bad for my health. The stress is toxic and leads to many unhealthy habits (i.e. emotional eating, working instead of exercising, secretary's ass--think manifest destiny applied to your tush). So, I will try to find a balance, set boundaries, and put my health first. So there.

What are your resolutions? Oh, our time's up. We'll touch base on that next time.