Category: Irish Examiner

If it smells right, do it/him/her

Smell anyone nice lately? Did it make you feel a little, you know, frisky? (That’s another word for romantic, kids.) Well, you are not alone. In fact, the entire rest of the human race is with you on that one. And what’s more, we have evolution to thank for it. Because according to some theories (and, in fairness, to some interesting research studies), natural selection has favoured the evolution of human mate selection through smell. Basically, we have evolved an “if-it-smells-right-do-it” kind of instinct.

This is because the person who smells nicest to you will likely have the best immune system for you. Not only will they live longer with you, but because you and he/she will be so compatible, your offspring will have super-duper-healthy immune systems as a result. Such is the power of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes. Or at least that’s the theory.

Journalists often like to write about these types of theories. In fact, if any theory involves evolution and sex (not an entirely unheard of combination, I grant you), then the media are likely to get interested sooner or later. And who can blame them? It is certainly intriguing. I think readers will genuinely be interested in explanations of their own sexual urges that somehow invoke our troglodyte ancestry. But given that most people’s understanding of cavemen and their sex lives owes no little debt to, well, the way Fred Flintstone used to look at Wilma, such theories (and associated research) can pose difficulties for reporters.

Today’s Irish Examiner did quite a good job of navigating these difficulties. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? After all, I myself was quoted at length throughout the piece. Ker-tish! You can read all about it here. Continue reading “If it smells right, do it/him/her”

One year in: The Science Bit’s greatest hits

I am generally nonplussed by birthdays. And I realise that blog posts about blog posts can sometimes be boring. However, as I’m an obsessive hoarder and a data geek, in this case I am going to make an exception. You see, The Science Bit is one year old today.

That’s right, it has reached the big ‘1’.

*Cue music* There have been highs, and there have been lows; vivid memories and lots of stuff that I’ve forgotten. Readership has waxed and waned, but gradually grown. Some people have been happy. Others have been bored. Millions of people have completely ignored me. But rather than dousing you with further personal reminiscences, I thought I would instead simply feed back to you a countdown of the five most read posts of the past twelve months.

A special item that I like to call…’REELING IN THE YEAR

Continue reading “One year in: The Science Bit’s greatest hits”

How to argue illogically: Tony’s ten top tips

Last Friday, the Irish Examiner published an opinion piece by pop psychologist Tony Humphreys, presenting a re-hash of the now anachronistic view that autism is caused by poor parenting (the so-called “refridgerator mom” theory). Oh, and despite claiming to explain the causes of autism, he simultaneously sought to argue that autism doesn’t exist.

Several authors have already described the various factual inaccuracies in the Humphreys article, the unwarranted distress it causes to parents of children with autism, its stigmatization of people based on their personality or occupation, its stigmatization of persons with needs for mental health and psychological services, its promotion of scientific myths, and its misrepresentation of the field of psychology (both professional and academic).

However, whatever about the errors in its subject matter (which are manifold), there is at least one sense in which the Humphreys article can be welcomed. For it gives us a wonderful opportunity to examine the various ways in which people in positions of professional authority can end up talking rubbish. In fact, seldom have I seen so many logical fallacies crammed into such a brief piece. It really is an excellent teaching tool, and I highly recommend it to teachers of critical reasoning, logic, epistemology, clinical decision-making, and scientific communication.

Therefore, I present to you: Tony’s Ten Top Tips for mounting illogical arguments…

Continue reading “How to argue illogically: Tony’s ten top tips”

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