Asides

Group Think: When Two Heads are Worse than One (Science and Sewing, in one post at last!)

It’s my untested belief that expertise in any technical field will result in a near-total loss of respect for journalism.

I know it did for me. The more I learned about climate change, the biodiversity crisis, environmental regulations, and renewable energy, the more I realized that newspaper articles reflected reality only by chance, in passing. More often, an ill-equipped person with good writing skills and no critical thinking ability would write a piece far outside of their education and background by interviewing a bunch of people who claimed to be experts, without evaluating their credentials. We get climate change pieces giving equal weight to well-respected international climate experts and oil-funded PR hacks, pieces on renewable energy with well-reasoned arguments by scientists quoting the best available information and fruit-loop arguments by naturopaths who wouldn’t recognize a herz if it came up and hit them on the head.

And you end up with a voting public almost completely muddled on key issues because they’ve come to the completely totally 100% incontrovertibly WRONG conclusion that there are two sides.

Of course people are entitled to their opinions. I am legally well within my rights to believe that Mars is peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen. But the legal right to hold an opinion is not the same, and can’t be the same, as the attitude that reality is then required to bend to accommodate that opinion. No matter what I believe, Mars is in fact NOT peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen, or by anything at all. The experts are right and I am just plain wrong. (Or I would be, if I held that opinion.)

This set of science experiments sheds some light on the psychology of our inherent tendency to give equal weight to two contrary opinions, even when one comes from an expert and the other does not. Fortunately, for those of you who have no intention of purchasing the article for the low-low price of $10, you can also read this fun summation in the Washington Post.

This went on for 256 intervals, so the two individuals got to know each other quite well — and to know one another’s accuracy and skill quite well. Thus, if one member of the group was better than the other, both would pretty clearly notice. And a rational decision, you might think, would be for the less accurate group member to begin to favor the views of the more accurate one — and for the accurate one to favor his or her own assessments.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, report the study authors, “the worse members of each dyad underweighted their partner’s opinion (i.e., assigned less weight to their partner’s opinion than recommended by the optimal model), whereas the better members of each dyad overweighted their partner’s opinion.” Or to put it more bluntly, individuals tended to act “as if they were as good or as bad as their partner” — even when they quite obviously weren’t.

The researchers tried several variations on the experiment, and this “equality bias” didn’t go away. In one case, a “running score” reminded both members of the pair who was faring better (and who worse) at identifying the target — just in case it wasn’t obvious enough already. In another case, the task became much more difficult for one group member than the other, leading to a bigger gap in scores — accentuating differences in performance. And finally, in a third variant, actual money was offered for getting it right.

None of this did away with the “equality bias.”

The research psychologists attribute this to our need to belong to groups and get along with people. It seems that need outweighs any practical consideration, a good deal of the time, including when money is on the line. Fascinating, right? People who are right and know they’re right defer to people they know are wrong in order to get along and maintain group dynamics, even when it costs them to do so.

When it comes to climate change, this is a serious problem.

Aside: Climate change is a real thing that is really happening and is a complete and total catastrophe. There is no debate on this point in any credible scientific circle. If you think that there is, I’m so sorry, but you’ve been had.

/aside

We end up not moving forward with policy solutions because we keep acting like the actual experts and the paid non-expert hacks share some kind of equivalence when they patently don’t.

But–and I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking this–it’s present in every community, including the SBC.

Ah! See? I told you I’d come around to it.

People act as if the opinions and contributions of experts and amateurs are equivalent when they are not.

Thankfully, the fates of human civilization and a minimum of 30% of animal and plant species do not rest on this fact. The worst that happens in most cases is that a person walks around for a good long time in a garment that looks like utter shit and feels really fabulous about it. On a scale of worldwide catastrophe, it doesn’t even rank.

On the other hand, as this science makes pretty clear, an entire generation of sewers are being educated largely by internet celebrities who are too incompetent even to understand how incompetent they are. It’s not a catastrophe, no, but it is a crying shame. And as predicted by the social psychologists, if anyone ever speaks up to point out that some of them are experts and other are, well … not …, they are pilloried as Mean Girls, jelluz haterz, and bullies.

Aside 2: Yep, I count myself in the group of people sometimes wandering happily about in a garment that on later reflection was not up to snuff. It happens. We’re all human. I won’t melt if someone points it out, though tact is always preferred. It doesn’t count as “bravery” to “put yourself out there” if you feel entitled to nothing but praise; and if you’re going to present your work in public you need to be prepared for public criticism.

/aside

So it’s not the end of the world, no, but it’s a detriment to all of us. The people getting the money, in many cases, haven’t earned it; the people with valuable skills to share don’t have the platform to do so; we keep acting as if everyone’s equal when they’re not to be Nice and keep everyone happy, even though not everyone is happy; there are entire boiling lava rivers of resentment and bitterness flowing right under all the green meadows we’re so happily skipping over (in our badly-pressed culottes and boxy tops with peter pan collars, no less). It’s weird. Can’t we, as an online culture, agree that it’s not a violation of the Geneva Convention if someone points out that a hem is crooked or a print isn’t matched? Does it matter if it’s not “nice”? Don’t we all benefit from increased honesty and openness? Do any of us actually expect to be perfect, or need to be treated as if we are perfect in order to function day to day? If you really don’t want people to point out how you fucked up, is it so much to ask that you acknowledge it yourself, then? Hey look at this horrible side seam–I really fucked up!

That went off on a bit of a tangent. Pardon me. Let’s drag it back on track:

The Equality Bias! It makes everything worse while we smile and pretend nothing’s wrong. Fight it!

Review: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

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(sorry for that. i’m going through the tedious process of claiming my blog — yes, it took me forever — and apparently i have to include that in a new post. so)
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Naomi’s political lens is so focused that it’s blinding. This is less a book about climate change than it is about why climate change is now the perfect excuse to do everything she’s always wanted to do anyway (eg. scrap globalization, redistribute wealth), which is fine, but she ignores any contrary evidence. For example, she has a brief section on the brief flourishing and untimely death of Ontario’s green energy economy, which she blames 100% on the WTO’s decision on domestic content. The waffling and delays of government regulators on applications, the constant changes in direction, and the dead-set-contrarian politics of the mostly rural ridings where wind energy projects were to be sited were completely overlooked, but as anyone who actually went through the process can tell you, the domestic content reg change was the least of any developer’s worries, and came after years and years of frustrations brought about by the public sector.

She spends a great deal of time criticizing anyone else whose political perspectives change how they perceive climate science and solutions, but is much, much worse herself in this book. No information penetrates unless it conforms with her pre-existing beliefs. But the global carbon cycle is not sentient. It doesn’t care how carbon emissions are reduced; it doesn’t even care if they are reduced at all. It does not vote and has no political preferences. WE do; and so it’s up to us to make some decisions about if and how we’re going to turn things around. It should be a mark of deep shame to any thinking citizen in a democratic society that authoritarian China is pulling so far ahead in the transition to a renewable economy.

The flaws with This Changes Everything can be boiled down to two, major, fundamental issues:

1. She acts as if the private and public spheres were diametric and opposed, rather than almost entirely overlapping. A person who works all day in a corporation then goes home and becomes a voter and consumer. People move back and forth between the private and public sector in terms of employment all the time. We are not talking about two different species–the private, evil homo sapiens determined to ruin the earth at a profit and the loving, public homo sapiens trying desperately to save it. It’s all just people.

2. The public sphere is as complicit in this as the private sphere. The reason we do not have a healthy, thriving renewable energy sector in Ontario right now is because the people of Ontario didn’t want it. They had it, and then put the politicians of the province under so much pressure to gut it that eventually they did to save their mandate. The moratorium on offshore wind projects in Ontario is a perfect example: two (small) corporations were all set to do the assessment work necessary to figure out if their Lake Ontario projects would work or not, but the government made offshore projects in Ontario illegal because the voters in Scarborough demanded it.

This is a terrible book on climate change. You’d be better off reading almost anything else on the subject.

View all my reviews

Goddammit. The roof.

For recent folks, a short recap:

Mid 2012, I bought a house. And then got a lawnmower, bbq, etc., to go with the house. As one does.
End 2012, the old car fell apart on the highway and I had to buy a new one, and my bike was stolen.
In 2013, my cell phone, laptop, printer all died. A birch tree in the backyard died and had to be taken down. And I lost my job. I found a new one by the end of the year, but still.
And in 2014, my 60-foot retaining wall rotted apart after our very snowy winter and needed to be replaced.

It’s like everything in my house is determined to break all at once. With the exception of the bike (I still haven’t replaced it), nothing could wait. The consequences of not replacing whatever it was was always more costly and difficult than going ahead with it. This is not to say that I could, by the time the retaining wall gave out, actually afford it. Single mom–one income–seriously depleted bank account thanks to house and car downpayment–ongoing mortgage and loan rendering it difficult to rebuild savings–all equals some debt for the retaining wall. Curses.

~~~~~

If you’ve known me for longer than fifteen minutes, you’ll likely have heard me compare the costs of climate change to a roof on your house. Yes, if the roof leaks, it is expensive and a total PITA to repair it. Maybe you can’t afford to fix it right now. You’re still better of fixing the roof, because if you don’t, you’ll end up losing your house to rot. Go into debt if you need to.

Well, guess who found shingles on her lawn this morning.

Yep. This person.

There was a massive windstorm Monday night this week, and it apparently did more damage than I was really, really, really hoping it would do. I was really, really, really hoping that the roof would last through one more winter, and I could replace it in the spring after paying down the retaining wall.

I so can’t afford to fix my roof right now. But I guess I’m going to have to.

If only I could sew a new roof … but no. What this does mean though is that my current super-strict sewing budget will need to be both stricter and in place for longer. Sigh.

I love it when I become the living embodiment of my own analogies.

Another thing to feel guilty about.

Via Treehugger: Say! Did you know that laundering your synthetic clothing may be contributing to ocean pollution?

Apparently studies have found that washing releases up to 1900 microfibres from each piece of synthetic clothing per wash. These bits of plastic are too small to be removed by conventional filtres and water treatment, so the plastic washes out to sea, where it (along with microbeads) contributes to a serious ocean pollution problem.

This strikes me as one of those rare pieces of environmental news that has direct relevance to home sewers. While I prefer natural fibres myself, sometimes they’re just not available locally at a price that is reasonable. And sometimes they’re plain not available locally. I searched high and low for stretch cotton twill for my recent Jasmine pants, but in the end the only stretch twill I could find had a substantial poly content.

I’m in general opposed to lifestyle-scale solutions for global-scale problems, so I’m not going to tell you what kind of fabric you should buy. As the article itself notes, given how much sheddable synthetic clothing is already in circulation, that likely wouldn’t address the problem anyway, and what we really need are better filtration systems (though this raises the question of what to do with all those bits of plastic that would be flushed out of our domestic sewage systems).

Still, as home sewers, we have managed to create (or at least increase) a reasonable supply or organic and local fabrics; maybe, if there were enough demand, less easily shed synthetics would be created and sold.

In the meantime, this may be another good argument for laundering clothing less frequently. In addition to the waste of water and electricity and the pollution of water from soaps and detergents, we’re plasticizing the oceans. Fantastic. So how about we only wash our clothes when they’re dirty?

Be Polarizing

For those of you who’ve read and loved Learning to Love Criticism (and for those of you who haven’t, until just now), here’s a related idea: learning to love being hated, by at least some people some of the time: The Curse of Meh.

It is a simple mathematical reality that there are two ways of getting an average rating — either most people give you an average rating, or some people rate you really high and others rate you really low, yielding a cumulative middle ground. In mathematics, this concept is known as variance — the more spread out a set of numbers, the greater the variance.

What Rudder and his team found was that not all averages are created equal in terms of actual romantic opportunities — greater variance means greater opportunity. Based on the data on heterosexual females, women who were rated average overall but arrived there via polarizing rankings — lots of 1’s, lots of 5’s — got exponentially more messages (“the precursor to outcomes like in-depth conversations, the exchange of contact information, and eventually in-person meetings”) than women whom most men rated a 3.

Cool, eh? But what about those of you who aren’t interested in dating sites?

Indeed, the implications extend far beyond online dating and touch on the broader trap of public opinion. To play to public opinion or seek to please everyone is to aim at precisely that uncontested average, the undisputed and indisputable 3, obtaining which is a matter of being extra-ordinary rather than extraordinary. As soon as you aspire to be truly extraordinary, you begin aiming for those extremes of opinion, the coveted 5’s, and implicitly invite the opposite extremes, the burning 1’s — you make a tacit contract to be polarizing and must bear that cross.

The bitter irony of the human experience is that while most of us celebrate nonconformity, we tend to conform even in our nonconformity. In order to succeed in a mass-market business — perhaps the ultimate enterprise of catering to popular opinion — we’re encouraged to be “ambiverts,” smack in the middle of the introversion-extraversion spectrum.

I’m just going to repeat my favourite bit, there:

As soon as you aspire to be truly extraordinary, you begin aiming for those extremes of opinion, the coveted 5’s, and implicitly invite the opposite extremes, the burning 1’s–you make a tacit contract to be polarizing and must bear that cross.

Wow. I love that. And if you take a moment to think about any business, organization, cause, or person who has sincered and insanely devoted fans, it’s true, isn’t it, that they all have troves of haters as well?

I like data, and most of the time I prefer to come to my conclusions after careful consideration of all the evidence, giving it plenty of time to percolate. This time, hats to the wind: after one read of a pop-psychology internet piece whose references I have not reviewed, I’ll aim to be polarizing. Because, what fun!

Not even a little bit sewing related

For a refreshing perspective on body image and strength training, and a quasi-related follow-up to my previous post on Vogue’s ridiculous anti-lifting article (completely unintentional on their part, but still), check out An Open Letter to Everyone Who Has Told Women “Don’t Get Too Muscular.”

When women strength train, it is an act of borderline social disobedience. “Don’t get too muscular” is the phrase of choice used by people who are threatened by strong women to put them “back in their place”.

And it’s working.

We have three generations & counting of women who have been brainwashed into voluntarily physically debilitating themselves.

The Sewing Blog Community reflects the biases of the larger culture (of course), so it exists here too. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s noticed sewing bloggers dieting or running themselves into bigger readership numbers and more prominence.

Failing Better is Still Failing

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner released the annual update report on provincial progress on greenhouse gas emissions.

The good news is, we are not failing as badly as we were. Our greenhouse gas emissions are falling provincially, largely due to decommissioning coal electricity plants.

GreenhouseGasEmissions_Prov_EN

The bad news is, we are still failing. We are still above our 2014 target of 166 Mt, and considerably above the 2020 target of 150 Mt, with no clear plan in place for how we intend to bridge that gap. In fact, the ECO is predicting that GHG emissions will rise as the nuclear plants are refurbished and the electricity demand gap is met by natural gas. As well, while we have done an excellent, back-patting-worthy job of reducing emissions over the past approximately 10 years, forecasts past 2020 predict a rise in GHG emissions to 190 Mt by 2030.

You can practically hear the poor guy banging his head on his desk in frustration in the report.

It’s brief and well-written, so I’d encourage everyone to take a look and see where we are, and where we’re headed. A few key points:

  • Road transportation, and particularly private vehicles, are the largest source of emissions in the province (58 & 45 Mt respectively). In order to meet GHG targets, we must fund public transit, including the Big Move proposed by Metrolinx. I’ll add this, though it shouldn’t need to be said: Nothing is free, and we’ll either pay for this now through increased transit funding or later through climate change adaptation costs, and any half-qualified economist will tell you that the future costs of dealing with climate change make that $470/household/year Big Move projection (already offset by congestion savings of $1600/household/year) look like a fruit fly on an elephant. Just get over it, and pay up.
  • Industry emits 49.6 Mt. Ontario has been putting out policy papers on establishing an Ontario cap-and-trade system to bring that number down and put a price on carbon for four years now. It is time to move beyond policy papers, and actually put something into action.
  • Buildings emit 31.7 Mt–a high number, but one that has remained about the same while the total number of buildings continues to rise. The ECO attributes this to the 2006 Ontario Building Code, which explicitly considers greenhouse gas emissions, making it one of “the most progressive in North America.”

To put it in context:

per_capita_emissions

Ontario produces fewer Mt/person than most Canadian provinces–which is good, but in a global context still makes this one of the most wasteful places to live. And our emissions are on the right track. We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

We are one of the few provinces who have had declining emissions, which is great. But boy, are we ever still producing a lot of greenhouse gases.

The atmosphere refuses to be pragmatic. It’s a geological and chemical process that will react to inputs, regardless of how desirable the outcomes are or how politically feasible the solutions may be. It will not negotiate with us. Or in other words, while we are improving, and that’s good, we are still failing by a wide margin. We can and we should do better.