Saturday, May 3rd, 2003

Fwd: Take the Test, sissy!

Filed under: Aspies,fallacies,psychology — alison @ 10:12

——Start of Forwarded Message ———
> From: WASSERMAN Adam <_______>
> Subject: RE: Take the Test, sissy!
> Well, I have to say, these results should not really
> surprise anyone who
> knows me…
> So as per the results, my brain-type is extreme
> Type-S (male brain). Now if you’ll excuse me, I
> need to go alphabetize my underwear drawer.
> Adam
——End of Forwarded Message ———

Now that you’ve taken the test and are wondering what it means…

I took the test: I’m Type-S, but not extreme. Very low end of average on empathy, very high end of average on systematising.

Now I have a quibble. Well, two.

One is calling Type-S and Type-E “male” and “female.” That’s like calling height “male” and fatness “female.” Yes, in a given genetically similar group with similar nutritional histories and activity profiles the averaged height of all the men is going to be greater than the averaged height of all the women, and the averaged percentage of body fat of all the women is going to be greater than the averaged percentage of body fat of all the men.

But it’s still more to the point to say someone is tall and fat than to say they have a gender-balanced physique.

Which brings me to my second quibble. What does “balanced” mean? In the body-type example, both tall fat people and short thin people would be “balanced” because they have equally lots or equally little of the qualities you’re measuring. So saying someone is “balanced” in fact gives you hardly any information at all about their bodies: are they tiny and frail? physically extremely imposing? or so ordinary you would never notice them?

Why would you even want to oppose the two categories? What if you put them together, so you add your Empathy score to your Systematising score. Somebody who scores near zero in this case would have very few tools of any kind for dealing with the world. Somebody who scores near 100 would have lots of tools for coping with a variety of situations. Someone who scores near the middle would have an average level of coping skills of one kind or another: perhaps lots of one kind that they use for compensating for a lack in another kind, or perhaps they have a little of everything.

I see the use of this kind of test when you’re evaluating someone who has come to you for help and you want to know what they’re good at. This is routinely done in psychological batteries. They want to know whether you can read, for instance; whether you have friends; whether you use a lot of drugs, eat well, pick fights, get your exercise, have a complicated living situation, an adequate income, an average IQ, health problems and so on. Someone with a low IQ who gets lots of exercise, has lots of friends but picks fights is going to benefit from different support than someone who reads all the time, has medical problems and weeps over the state of the world.

But even in this case you would want to say that someone has low/average/high Empathy and also low/average/high Systematising skills. Announcing that the individual is Balanced will not help you support them at all.

[originally transmitted by e-mail May 3, 2003]

Saturday, March 22nd, 2003

Getting specific.

Filed under: fallacies,naïveté,unwanted knowledge — alison @ 16:08

Smoking is bad for you. Saddam Hussein is a very bad man. These are statements we accept without thinking, though we don’t necessarily really believe or understand them.

Mona stopped smoking when her naturopath told her that the yellow streaks on her arms meant that she would develop emphysema if she didn’t quit. (Well, yes Mona: we’ll all get emphysema if we smoke long enough. That is, if we don’t get cancer first. What is it you didn’t understand about “smoking is bad for you”? Did you not think it referred to you?)

My mother, as Director of Information Services for the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, was recently required to obtain a document from a kurdish woman in england who hates Saddam Hussein and has dedicated her life to documenting bad things about him. The document detailed the bad things he does to kurds. My mother, being tender-hearted, carefully avoided reading the document but the man who ordered and read it offered the following tidbit: Saddam Hussein has a people-shredding machine. Thinking about the people-shredding machine puts a different colour on the war as we watch the video version on television… but what did we think that “Saddam Hussein is a very bad man” meant? That he didn’t call his mother on the weekends?

[originally transmitted by e-mail March 22 2003]

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