Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Wonder of the Tundra #2 -- On the Permafrost

Eye-colour-based discrimination has a long and lamentable history in the US, but we thought that people had finally moved on to a general acceptance of equality. So it is SHOCKING to see a pair of Australian academics rarking up the old hatreds and prejudices. It is yet another sign of scruples being kicked to the curb in the course of increasingly cut-throat academic competition to win an IgNobel Award.
Of course there is some anecdotal evidence to support a link between blue eyes and disagreeable character.
On the other hand, here are some blue-eyed people who are so agreeable and cooperative with science-fiction illustrators that they have posed TWICE -- in the IDENTICAL POSE -- for two different books.

Disappointingly, Gardiner and Jackson have nothing to say about the personality correlates of metal-grey facetted artificial Tleilaxu eyes.
A pile of cobblers
Reading the small print of the paper, it emerges that the 'personality' side of the correlation consists of self-assessments on the five scales of the Five Factory personality model, i.e. it is a pile of cobblers. The Five-Factor model -- mentioned in previous issues of the Riddled Encyclopædia of All World Knowledge -- is a fine example of the 'looking under the streetlamp where there's more light' approach to psych research; the quantities it provides are numbers! which is more important than the fact that they mean two-thirds of SFA. There is a large investment of time, money, egos and people's careers in the FFM so it's not going to go away any time soon.

It also emerges that the authors were only able to obtain their significant association between eye-colour and personality by dividing their class sample of convenience into 'students with UK ancestry' and 'students with broader European ancestry', and leaving the latter third of the class out of the analysis. The argument went like this:

1. Blue eyes are common among Northern Europeans whose ancestors were Tundra-dwelling snowbacks and steppe-hoppers who lived up by the glaciers during the last ice age. In Frost's (2006) theory, these conditions predisposed the ladies of the day to select partners with a novel feature like blue eyes, novelty in a mate being HAWT.*

2. That inhospitable environment also selected for uncooperative personalities and selfish genes (as it were).** In Gardiner & Jackson's words,
-- though Magazine expressed it better.

3. The English population preserves that Mesolithic combination of genes, their racial purity unsullied by subsequent migrations and genetic influxes from more happy-go-lucky brown-eyed Mediterranean types. Yes, really.

A blue-eyed disagreeable reviewer might point out that this line of argument fails to link the purported genes of personality directly with those of eye colour, so the two traits might both be elevated in some population by dint of its pristine bloodline but they will vary independently... the covariance can only show up in a comparison with a different population. The theory does not predict the observations and the entire study falls apart as quickly under examination as my excuses for arriving home last night late and tired and emotional.

But the paper did introduce us to Frost (2006) as a theorist on tundra-dwelling mating strategies, and another example of Nominal Determinism in scientific career choice is always welcome.
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* Here Frost was attempting to explain the diversity of eye colours among Europeans, as compared to other ethnic populations, including populations in Asia and Siberia whose ancestors survived a sojourn in equally extreme Arctic conditions and by his theory should have equally diverse eye colours.

** My first thought here was that competition and antagonism are not really survival traits in barely-habitable conditions, where cultures survive because people cooperate; they are luxuries that are only affordable in temperate resource-rich environments. A blogger over at Sciblogs thought the same way. There is probably an evo-psych explanation for why we leaped to the same response; we must be related or something.

11 comments:

M. Bouffant said...

No one's more blue-eyed (or naturally blonde) than I, & I'm very agreeable.

Except maybe w/ this:
The English population preserves that Mesolithic combination of genes, their racial purity unsullied by subsequent migrations and genetic influxes from more happy-go-lucky brown-eyed Mediterranean types. Yes, really.

No, really.
Jeffries had also advanced a theory that whites are "ice people" who are violent and cruel, while blacks are "sun people" who are compassionate and peaceful.
This part we hadn't heard. Very quantum.
He is a proponent of melanin theory and claims that melanin levels affect the psyche of people, and that melanin allows black people to "…negotiate the vibrations of the universe and to deal with the ultraviolet rays of the sun."
Negotiating the vibrations.

vacuumslayer said...

I did my own study. It went like this: I looked in the mirror. I noticed that I have eyes the color of ocean on a stormy day...wait, what was I saying?...oh yeah. Anyway, I also noticed that I'm delightful. So according to my study, this study is shit.

SCIENCE, BITCHES!

Doktor, you need to do a study on enticingly high foreheads.

vacuumslayer said...

Although, let's face it: white people do kinda suck. Come on, let's be honest. We're amongst friends.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

This cat was very agreeable, so there.

Coming soon to a blooger post near you, if I ever stop beaching about formatting.
~

tigris said...

novelty in a mate being HAWT.

My vaj plays Reveille, but since I have blue eyes I have to punch anyone who responds. Alas, the tyranny of DNA.

mikey said...

A HA! Correlation.

I have brown eyes, although they sometimes look sorta yellow - probably my diet or uncle beelzebub or sumpin - and sure enough, you don't find 'em more friendly, compassionate, happy and go-lucky than me.

Right?

Substance McGravitas said...

Pfft. Need controls in the studies for liars who are so full of shit their eyes are brown.

Another Kiwi said...

Mrs Kiwi and Daughter Kiwi have blue eyes and are wonderfully agreeable and nice people.
(HELP, I am being held against my will and forced to write things!)

Smut Clyde said...

Doktor, you need to do a study on enticingly high foreheads.

All my attention is focused on testing the claim in the Gardiner-Jackson paper that "Eye color has been shown to be related to alcohol use".

mikey said...

"Eye color has been shown to be related to alcohol use".

What?

HAVING eye color?

Smut Clyde said...

I think the idea is that they will turn green if you drink enough chartreuse.

No doubt everyone will share my satisfaction that the Stroma Laboratories cosmetic iris-bleaching treatment to turn your brown eyes blue (blasting the eyeball with a laser beam to burn out the melanin in the iris) is not yet commercially available, on account of the antiquated US laws about "patient safety".
Anything that would involve C-&-W songs as part of the advertising is an ABOMINATION.