Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The reason why the five factors are no more than five is a pretty reason.
Because they are not six?
Yes, indeed: thou wouldst make a good fool

Here at the Riddled Blogging and Combine-Harvester Racing Club we pay little heed to requests from the readership or suggestions of targets for satire, for readers are known to be fickle and feckless and even vice versa, easily distracted by the news cycle and its ephemeral celebrities. In the particular case of Jordan Peterson, it is hard to make him look any more ridiculous or intellectually squalid than he has already managed by himself by talking to journalists.
Several years ago, Jordan Peterson told me he wanted to buy a church. This was long before he became known as “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world,” as he was described in the pages of the New York Times a few months ago. It was before he was fancied to be a truth-telling sage who inspired legions, and the author of one of the bestselling books in the world this year. He was just my colleague and friend.
I assumed that it was for a new home — there was a trend in Toronto of converting religious spaces, vacant because of their dwindling congregations, into stylish lofts — but he corrected me. He wanted to establish a church, he said, in which he would deliver sermons every Sunday.
86% of ill-equipped deep-sea divers prefer OCEAN scales
In contrast, I am always willing to rant about the Five Factor approach to psychology, often at excessive length, which is why I am seldom invited to parties. The Five Factor Model or FFM is one of several forms of 'trait personology' allowing persons to portray their image of themselves by endorsing or rejecting a series of descriptors from a questionnaire [descriptors = adjectives or self-descriptive phrases]; their responses are variously combined to score the subject on five broad scales. Their names are sometimes abbreviated to OCEAN, because NEOCA sounds like it could be a cellphone manufacturer. You might encounter the system in Vocational Astrology, used to determine your shape as a peg, in order to drive you into the appropriately-shaped hole... in this context, scores on Conscientiousness and Openness (say) are found to be more rigorous and plausible than the language of "Venus in trine, Moon in the Fourth House, Jupiter in Opposition". The big question is how much you can predict about someone if you know their score on (for instance) Neuroticism (other than their score on some future Neuroticism test), and the answer is "two-thirds of sweet fuck-all".
A non-trivial model of Trait personology
The general rule with trait psychology is that its insights can be right, or non-trivial, but not both, and the FFM is not glaringly wrong. It is not as fraudulent as some rival tools for psychometric astrology, for it is distantly related to observations and supported by a fragile scaffolding of circular reasoning and evidence collection; as opposed to (for instance) the Myers-Briggs system, which is rectally-sourced in its entirety.

Much of that fragile scaffolding involves Factor Analysis in some way. FA is well-favoured in numerically-inclined schools of psychology, and when I get around to writing my long-promised textbook on "Artefacts and flaws of different numerical methods: Choosing the one that matches the desired results", it will be the first chapter. When you have taken some devoutly-wished-for conclusion and built it into the design of some questionnaire or inventory, FA is the instrument of choice for discovering that easter-egg within the test responses, while you feign an expression of gratified surprise that Objective Reality has hewed so closely to your theory. There was going to be a metaphor here about the rabbits so often discovered within top-hats, and how Objective Reality must have placed them there, but let's go with Thomas Mann instead:
A tradition, or an old charter or something

It pleases me to imagine that Mann intended Pharoah's Daughter and her attendants to be an allegory on the banks of the Nile of Factor Analysis.

But this brings us back to Jordan Peterson. Peterson is in demand because he burdened himself with the demanding though well-remunerated role of Socially-Conservative Intellectual -- making garbage people comfortable in their bigotry and reassuring them that their predigested opinionations are simply recognitions of Objective Reality -- but he also has a day-job as an employment psycholomogist.* With the FFM as his specialty, which is enough to bring him into the Riddled wheelhouse after all, assuming that he can find room there among all the wheels.

Peterson has his own proprietorial variant, the "Unfakeable Five Factor" test: marketed as spoof-proof and resistant to subjects using their responses to paint a false personality picture. You can hire him as an Expert Witness, to testify to the undistorted validity of profiles thereby obtained (and in child-custody cases, to the custodial superiority and non-violence of the father). Alas, his ill-prepared forays into the realms of jurisprudence were not a great success, unless by "success" you mean "inspiring judges to criticise junk-science and unfounded self-estimation in creatively pungent phrases", and his testimony was ruled inadmissible on account of being abject bafflegab. Do read those Rulings: the judges do not hold back on Peterson's arrogance and lack of preparation.
[19] This is perhaps the most interesting of all of the reports that counsel for the respondent wishes the court to consider.  It comes as close to “junk science” as anything that I have ever been asked to consider. 
Now I have exhausted my knowledge of the Peterson oeuvre so I shall continue by mining the comments for clever aperçus and pretending to be their author:
It was like Joseph Campbell got hit by a bus and no one noticed, and he staggered across the street to the public library with blood running down his head, and he read nineteen pages of The White Goddess, and three chapters of The Golden Bough, and then the last two-thirds of Émile Durkheim's Wikipedia page, and suddenly he understood the shape of the world beneath its shroud of falsehoods and deceits. And also he lost about 50 I.Q. points. And Peterson's fans are all so dumb they're unable to notice that not only is their Emperor naked, he's actually a horse. I don't know how that anthropomorphized clownshoe has been able to pass himself off as an intellectual for all these years.
In my day we used to study the mind properly
But what I really want to say about this FFM approach is how unambitious it is. We no longer hear depth-psychology talk of mapping the mechanisms of the mind in order to predict cognition and behaviour [this paragraph sounds better if you imagine Vincent Price reading it out in his most sententious tones]. Instead we have learned a lot about the folk-psychology narratives and conventions and expectations that we use to make sense of people's behaviour, for now that psychology is all about measuring impressions of personality -- outsourcing the work to untrained observers and tabulating their responses, though without any diminution of professional prestige or remuneration -- it has become a study of the limitations of observers. Depth psychology has drained out to the approximate superficiality of an oil-slick on a wet road. It is like when you lose your keys in a territory so you search for it on a map because there is more light there.

That analogy needs work, so here is another one. We see three dimensions of colour. This is a perceptual limitation rather than a feature of the ambient environment -- evolution has no time for the full complexity of spectral variations among different light sources, and our eyes and brains are designed to throw most of the information away (colour space is only two-dimensional for most mammals; birds routinely have four or five dimensions of colour experience). Were someone to conclude from our perceptual incapacity that the manifold of spectral variation is only three-dimensional in physical reality, we would view that person as very silly indeed, or else a Five-Factor theorist.

A closing paragraph should go here but I can't be arsed writing one right now. Maybe tomorrow.

* What is it with Occupational Psychologists? That was originally Dr Linda Gottfredson's area... though rather than using the FFM to measure pegs and match them to vocational holes, she specialised in Holland's aptitude schema, which has six factors rather than five, arranged in a hexagonal circumplex (in turn, Holland's RIASEC scheme should not be confused with the Hogan Personality Inventory, which has six or possibly seven factors, and is popular in executive-headhunting circles). The whole field is roughly on a par with phrenology in terms of intellectual rigour, but at least it helps the practitioners find gainful employment, if no-one else. At some point, though, Gottfredson took a sharp turn into white-supremacy thinking, swallowed 'The Bell Curve' holus-bolus, and was the main instigator (along with fellow-sewer-rat David Brooks) of an Open Letter / full-page advertisement in the WSJ, supporting its message of 'race realism'.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


This Coda was earlier cross-posted at Leonid Schneider's site, as part of an Update or continuation of an earlier post on hearts and shenanigans. The version there is improved by Leonid's editing and frame-story. The fragmentary reference list, and the allusions to red-string crime walls, make slightly more sense in the context of that previous installment.
"Only the exhaustive can be truly interesting", according to Thomas Mann. Our journey so far, extensive though it has been, fails Mann's test for "Interesting", as it barely touched on a whole series of studies on the extra-corporeal performance of rat hearts. An omission I shall now redress.

These studies (and plots) involved the removal of still-beating hearts from rats, partly to propitiate Wobbly John the Harvest God, and partly to keep them beating in a nutrient solution, there subjecting them to an interruption and restoration of the oxygen supply. The ischemic hearts may have been subsequently calcined and mingled with wine in an alchemical decoction which grants immortality to the partaker, but some information I cannot share. We have already met Refs. 3 and 5, in which the hearts were perfused beforehand or afterwards with minocycline and urocortin to reduce the damage, encouraging them to recover their function faster and more completely. Recall that the illustrations of ischemic damage in those papers all resolved on close inspection to a single image of a heart, variously retouched to show larger or smaller infarcts. A skeptical approach to the data is justified.

For the Figures of interest, the plots do not just illustrate the data, they are the data (averaged over a number of animals). Here are plots of "post-ischemic release of creatine phosphokinase (CPK)" from Figure 3 of Ref. 3, and also from Figure 2 of Scarabelli et al (2002) - a previously-unmentioned Ref. 24. The presence of CPK is a Bad Thing, and from superimposing the graphs it seems to be reduced equally by reperfusion-only urocortin and by ex-vivo minocycline. What are the odds?

Other graphs showed left-ventricular systolic and diastolic pressure in the autonomous hearts (sP and dP), where a large difference between the two is desirable, and recovery from ischemia is all about the sP returning to its previous high while dP drops back to its previous low. These are some examples of partial recoveries - Figure 2D from Ref. 3, 1(b) from Ref. 24, 5B from Townsend et al. (2004) (Ref. 25) and 2B from Scarabelli et al. (2009) (Ref. 26).

The different treatments have impressively similar results; in fact the first two dP functions are identical. What are the odds? In case you were wondering, Ref. 25 looked at the cardioprotective possibilities of green-tea extracts, while Ref. 26 turned to 'myricetin' and 'delphinidin', which I assume (on the basis of the names) to be extracted from whales and dolphins respectively.

In Figure 2(g) of Ref. 5, the treatment was bromoenol lactone... this produced a different dP function, but the rebound of sP is hard to distinguish from the others.

There appear to be only a few ways that drug treatments can affect the performance of rats’ hearts in a jar. There is the good recovery profile (overlaying urocortin and minocycline to show the nigh-identical sP graphs):

The two extreme cases (almost no recovery; total recovery) result from the control treatment, i.e. none at all; and from saturation in urocortin before as well as after ischemia. These feature as Figures 1(a) and (c) of Ref. 24 and again as Figures 7(a) and (c) of Lawrence et al. (2002) (Ref. 27). After the Aerobic phase, the corresponding graphs are identical so it may be that both papers plotted the same data.

The situation is confused by the discovery that the panels of Figure 7 also repeat four of the panels from Figure 6 of the same paper, with different labels. An innocent mistake on the authors' part, which went unnoticed by editors, reviewers and the journal's readership... thus missing the chance to correct it when the paper was amended in the first wave of errata, to replace a disguised recycled actin blot in Figure 3a.

So we do get "one of those crime-investigation scenes of snapshots pinned to a corkboard and linked together with red string", after all!

Ref. 3. Scarabelli TM, Stephanou A, Pasini E, Gitti G, Townsend P, Lawrence K, Chen-Scarabelli C, Saravolatz L, Latchman D, Knight R, Gardin J (2004b). "Minocycline inhibits caspase activation and reactivation, increases the ratio of XIAP to smac/DIABLO, and reduces the mitochondrial leakage of cytochrome C and smac/DIABLO".

Ref. 5. Lawrence KM, Scarabelli TM, Turtle L, Chanalaris A, Townsend PA, Carroll CJ, Hubank M, Stephanou A, Knight RA, Latchman DS (2003). "Urocortin protects cardiac myocytes from ischemia/reperfusion injury by attenuating calcium-insensitive phospholipase A2 gene expression".

Ref. 24 Scarabelli TM, Evasio Pasini, Anastasis Stephanou, Laura Comini, Salvatore Curello, Riccardo Raddino, Roberto Ferrari, Richard Knight, David S Latchman (2002). "Urocortin promotes hemodynamic and bioenergetic recovery and improves cell survival in the isolated rat heart exposed to ischemia/reperfusion".

Ref. 25. Townsend PA, Scarabelli TM, Pasini E, Gitti G, Menegazzi M, Suzuki H, Knight RA, Latchman DS, Stephanou A (2004). "Epigallocatechin-3-gallate inhibits STAT-1 activation and protects cardiac myocytes from ischemia/reperfusion-induced apoptosis".

Ref. 26. Scarabelli TM, Mariotto S, Abdel-Azeim S, Shoji K, Darra E, Stephanou A, Chen-Scarabelli C, Marechal JD, Knight R, Ciampa A, Saravolatz L, de Prati AC, Yuan Z, Cavalieri E, Menegazzi M, Latchman D, Pizza C, Perahia D, Suzuki H (2009). "Targeting STAT1 by myricetin and delphinidin provides efficient protection of the heart from ischemia/reperfusion-induced injury".

Ref. 27. Lawrence KM, Chanalaris A, Scarabelli T, Hubank M, Pasini E, Townsend PA, Comini L, Ferrari R, Tinker A, Stephanou A, Knight RA, Latchman DS (2002). "K(ATP) channel gene expression is induced by urocortin and mediates its cardioprotective effect".

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Post-Publication Expression of Concern

It appears that the Western Island is so benighted that academics there are unfamiliar with "Killed By Death":

#1 Peer 1 

Bryan R. Coad 
I suppose "OD'd on Life Itself" would have been inappropriate.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Friday, July 6, 2018

I've the whitish blue eye of my Gallic ancestors, the narrow skull, and the awkwardness in combat...The Gauls were the most inept flayers of cattle and burners of grass of their age

This post was earlier cross-posted at Leonid Schneider's site. The version there is improved by Leonid's editing, frame-story, and additional background about Neandertal mini-brains.

Previous generations didn't have the video games and social media and digital communication that they could conjure into dire warnings about mental deterioration and the reversion of the young peoples into Morlocks. Instead they made do with the unprecedented speed and easy availability of automotive transport, which would inevitably change the skulls of drivers into a more elongate shape, as a form of streamlining, with concomitant effects upon the mind, heralding a a future of brutish, degraded, degenerate mentalities when the asylums would overflow. ***

A natural train of thought - the local commuter train, not the fast express service - leads us to Tochiyama et al. (2018), who recently compared the Neandertal and the Anatomically Modern Skull, to delineate the differences in shape and infer how this must have impacted on Neanderthal cognition. By "the Neandertal Skull" we mean four individual crania, each reassembled from fragments with state-of-the-art 'guesswork' methods to interpolate the missing bits; and the same for the four representatives of Cro-Magnon. Later steps in the guesswork logic assume that the volumes of brain lobes are linked rigidly to the shape of the skull, and only radial deformations are possible: for instance, if someone's forehead is compressed, the frontal lobe behind it must be smaller.

This explains the absence of frontal-lobe functioning among Mayans, other pre-Columbian cultures, East Germanic tribes, French peasants, and umpteen other groups known to modify their infants' cranial profiles with head-binding for aesthetic purposes and status enhancement.

Anyway... Tochiyama et al. are described as pioneers in this burgeoning new field of Quantified Neanderthal Phrenology:
But as SR co-author Naomichi Ogihara told Scientific American, they are the first to actually digitally reconstruct Neanderthal brains.
“Our method allows estimation of the shape and volume of each brain region, which is quite impossible just by analyzing the endocranial surfaces.”
The claim to precedence is true as long as one ignores a slightly-earlier and less-well-publicised study (Neubauer, Hublin and Gunz, 2018). Isn't it always the same? You wait for ages for a paper on Neandertal Phrenology and then two come along at once.

Fig 1, Neubauer et al.
It is quite likely that the notion of extrapolating from skull shape to brain function had occurred to many people in the past, but had previously been rejected as patently daft. In the Golden Age of craniometry in the early 1900s, skull-caliper hobbyists and gentlemen dilettante-anthropologists liked to divide populations into those with bradycephalic and dolichocephalic heads... long narrow heads (the latter kind) were more common in Europe, and therefore superior. But no-one argued that the owners of wider, brachycephalic skulls also possessed larger temporal lobes and would be more skilled in language, memory and facial recognition.*

Now both studies fall within a recognised literary genre in which novelists and evolutionary psychologists and other authors of fiction speculate about the mental differences between Neanderthals and their anatomically-modern contemporaries, and about the racial-memory Original-Sin scars inflicted on the latter by the trauma of having to exterminate the former. Authors follow a roughly 30-year cycle, explaining the current revival of this literary tradition: see Wells 1921; Harness 1953; Golding 1955; Kurtén 1978; Auel 1980.**

It goes without saying that Neandertals must have differed in some respect, for they are no longer extant and there must be some reason for this. Also no-one wants to miss an opportunity to talk about ourselves and 'human nature' in the guise of talking about what we are not. If Neanderthals had not existed then it would be necessary to invent them.

Avid Riddled readers (is there any other kind?) will recall the beginning of this revival with the 'visual brain' theory from 2013. In this, evolution assigned so much of the Neandertal cortex to processing visual information (in compensation for the lower level of lighting in their Northern European habitat of icecaps and blizzards and cave-bears) that no brain-power was left for social-cognition skills and they could not cooperate in groups. Larger eye-sockets were adduced as evidence, and explained as an adaptation to capture more photons. This is SCIENCE so evidence is not merely 'provided' or 'tabled', it is adduced.

It is a very silly theory even by the relaxed standards of Riddled, and I can only suppose that it was accepted into Proc. Roy. Soc. B because the third author was Dunbar (of the eponymous Number). Some people might think that if Neanderthals had enlarged light-trap tarsier eyes, this would do away with the need for special night-sight neural processing requiring half their cortex... but those people are the same nay-saying skeptics and cavilling pedants who also point out that Neandertals lived all across the Levant and were not exclusively adapted to Northern Europe (that's just where a lot of caves are where their bones turned up), so their opinions can safely be ignored.

Press-release-regurging science churnalists at the time dwelt on the elongation of the Neanderthal side of the comparison:
And in fact, Neanderthal skulls suggest that the extinct hominids had elongated regions in the back of their brains, called the "Neanderthal bun," where the visual cortex lies.
"It looks like a Victorian lady's head," Dunbar told LiveScience.
Here at the Riddled Institute of Impure Science and Gratuitous Innuendo, we attribute this cerebral elongation to the extreme rapidity of the Paleolithic forms of transport favoured by Neandertals (or perhaps they practiced head-binding), but other scholars are slow to accept this explanation.

Neubauer et al. (2018) went along with the elongation / globular narrative to account for Cro-Magnon ascendancy. In contrast, Tochiyama et al. (2018) (returning to them at last!) struck off in a new direction. Unable to find any convincing cerebral differences between their Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon reconstructions, they kept fishing, and eventually reported that modern brains have larger cerebellums. Or cerebella, as the case may be. This in turn led them to the startling conclusion that the cerebellum, previously regarded as responsible for 'muscle sequencing / coordination' computations for routine movements, must in fact be the centre of our highest cognitive qualities. I am not making this up:
A new scientific analysis shows that human skulls are shaped in a way that suggests they encased brains with slightly larger cerebellums than Neanderthals. The cerebellum is a brain region associated with activities like planning, adapting to new environments, switching between tasks, and building social relationships

And because cerebellar volume is linked to abilities like cognitive flexibility, language processing, and working memory capacity, the scientists argue larger cerebellar hemispheres may have helped humans survive and adapt to a dangerous world while Neanderthals could not.
This is the point where the usual pedants and critics object that the volume and neural density of the cerebellum also tend to be greater in men than in women. "Which probably means: Neanderthals were as unorganized, antisocial, unimaginative, multi-task failures as modern-day womenfolk!"

After all that, it is a relief to turn to a recent paper with a different approach to the question of Neandertal craniometry: Gregory et al. (2017) introduced the useful concept of the "NeanderScore" and reconstructed that prototypal skull shape by measuring living people and ranking them by their proportion of Neanderthal ancestry. High NeanderScorers tended to have bigger brains, especially at the back in an "occipito-parieto-temporal patch", and were especially endowed in the region of the intraparietal sulcus (perhaps best described as important for visual-motor skills).
Figure 2. NeanderScore related brain changes in the intraparietal sulcus. Structural variation of the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) related to percentage of Neanderthal-derived SNPs (NeanderScore). Left and middle show lateral and posterior views of the right IPS on the average brain surface, illustrating the anatomical convergence of the associations of NeanderScore with greater sulcal depth (orange; p < 0.05 FWE-corrected), gray matter volume (blue; p < 0.005), and white matter volume (yellow; p < 0.005).
There was no downside:
It should be noted that we did not find associations of NeanderScore with smaller frontotemporal volumes38 or shortened anterior extension of the temporal lobes13, as might have been hypothesized from previous cranial analyses of H. neanderthalensis
The most recent, best-founded reconstructions of Neandertal appearance have an uncanny resemblance to Paula Modersohn-Becker's portraits of herself and husband Otto. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Thanks to Tom Björklund for permission;
more of his work here

* Racial skull-shape differences had already entered popular culture when Rimbaud wrote 'Une Saison en Enfer' (1873). In 'The Anthropologist at Large' (1910), the globular, brachycephalic nature of a bowler hat was a crucial clue for identifying a burglar.

** There is also Vendramini's provocative idea that Neandertals were superior predators while their anatomically-normal contemporaries were merely prey to be stalked and consumed. This provides a possible explanation for the extinction of the Cro-Magnons. As for Kurup and Kurup's audacious but not particularly coherent notions about the autistic Neanderthal civilisation of Dravidian Lemuria, the less said the better.

*** Going back to the 'Automotive brain'... Oglaf's Dwarves demonstrated the effect of chariot speed on skull shape.

In our continuing experiments at Riddled, travel velocity has so far proved unpromising as a way of restructuring heads and brains, but that may simply reflect the fact that the fastest modes of transport accessible to the Riddled staff are the #23 bus, and Another Kiwi's pizza-delivery motortrike on days when he is not rostered on.

We are naturally interested in any technology that lends itself to cranial ductility and cortical remodelling... especially after that experiment with the Cosmic Ray Concentrator that was supposed to increase Space-Time Eddie's cerebral capacity (or at least to shrink his body).

Suffice to say that the side-effects were undesirable.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

What in the world is Smut Clyde eating now?

Deer Mushroom, Pluteus cervinus. The foraging websites cannot generate enthusiasm about its culinary qualities, talking of a 'radishy' flavour, which goes away if fried and leaves the 'earthy' flavour dominant. Which is why these specimens survived: Dimitri the professional forager (my main mushroom competitor) would have sold them to local restaurateurs, if he had managed to create a market.

Stewed, with caramelised onions and fine-chopped carrot, celery and daikon.