Science

Conservative Deviance Detection, CRISPR Cures Muscular Dystrophy, and Virtual Reality Ethics

A scitech research and policy roundup

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Do misshapen or imperfect geometric figures seem deviant to you? If so, you may be a political conservative. This is the finding of psychologists from the University of Queensland published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. From the abstract:

We propose that political differences in social policy support may be partly driven by the tendency for conservatives to show greater sensitivity to deviance than liberals, even among targets lacking social or functional relevance. In 3 studies, participants were shown geometric figures and were asked to identify the extent to which they were "triangles" (or circles, squares, etc.). More conservative participants reported greater differentiation between perfect and imperfect shapes than more liberal participants, indicating greater sensitivity to deviance. Moreover, shape differentiation partly accounted for the relationship between political ideology and social policy, partially mediating the link between conservatism and harsher punishment of wrongdoers (Studies 1 and 4), less support for public aid for disadvantaged groups (Study 2), and less financial backing for policies that benefit marginalized groups in society (Study 3). This effect was specific to policies that targeted deviant groups (Study 3) and who were not too highly deviant (Study 4). Results suggest that, in addition to commonly cited affective and motivational reactions to deviant actors, political differences in social policy may also be driven by conservatives' greater cognitive propensity to distinguish deviance.

So stare at the shapes below for a while. Do the imperfections make you want to marginalize some group or other? Keep in mind that research last summer reported that more than half of psychological studies could not be replicated.

Imperfect Shapes
Okimoto

On the biomedical front, researchers at Duke University have used the fantastic new gene-editing technique CRISPR to successfully treat a genetic disease in adult mammals. In this case the mammals were mice who had the genetic defect that causes the murine equivalent of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The reseachers used a viral vector to deliver the CRISPR gene-editing package to muscles to repair the defective gene. As Medical News Today reports:

The team worked with a mouse model that has a particularly debilitating mutation in the gene that codes for dystrophin. They programmed the new CRISPR/Cas9 system to snip out the dysfunctional part of the gene, leaving the body's natural DNA repair system to stitch the gene back together again.

The new gene was shorter, but functional, note the researchers, who suggest that because the method they used simply removes the dysfunctional part of the gene rather than replacing it, this strategy could be effective in a larger proportion of Duchenne patients.

As a first step, the team delivered the therapy directly to the leg muscle of an adult mouse. This restored production of functional dystrophin and increased muscle strength.

They then injected the CRISPR/Cas9 and AAV combination into a mouse's bloodstream to reach every muscle. This restored muscle function throughout the body—including the heart—an important result since heart failure is often what kills people with Duchenne.

The researchers will test the new CRISPR enabled technique in larger mammals with the goal of getting treatments to human patients. I predict that CRISPR treatments will succeed faster and make to patients much sooner than many now think.

In an article in today's Wall Street Journal, researchers are considering the physical and ethical side effects of virtual reality on users. One issue is that there could be mismatch between on what the user is seeing and their bodily sensations—a car chase scene—so that they experience nausea. But another concern is just how frighteningly realistic can scenes be before they cross an ethical line? The article opens with this anecdote:

Software worker Erin Bell inched across a wooden plank suspended over a deep, rusted pit. When a Stanford University researcher asked her to step off, she wouldn't do it.

In reality Ms. Bell was walking on a carpet with a virtual-reality headset strapped to her face. "I knew I was in a virtual environment," she said later, "but I was still afraid."

The psychological impact of lifelike virtual experiences is just one of the challenges for virtual reality, a technology that might finally have its commercial moment in 2016—after decades of hype. …

"We shouldn't fathom this as a media experience; we should fathom it as an experience," said Prof. Bailenson, who also co-founded Strivr Labs Inc., which helps football players relive practice in virtual reality. …

"We do have to have ethics conversations," but "the technology will be successful no matter what," said Mike Rothenberg, head of Rothenberg Ventures, which has invested in more than 30 virtual-reality startups. "Every technology has downsides; the only question is how do we handle it as a society."

Of course, the right way to deal with uncomfortable VR experiences is for users to take responsibility for avoiding them. Since I sometimes tear up at sentimental automobile commercials and would never consider seeing the Hateful 8, that would include me.

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  1. participants were shown geometric figures and were asked to identify the extent to which they were “triangles” (or circles, squares, etc.).

    Euclidean or hyperbolic?

    1. Spherical or Euclidian, I’d say.

    2. Would it be “conservative” to abhor something abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours?

    3. Euclidean or hyperbolic?

      Somebody bust out the tensors, stat.

  2. I guess it makes sense that sensitivity to certain things has something to do with people’s political orientations. But these studies always just seem ridiculous.

    1. I’m curious as to how they define “liberal” and “conservative”, much less quantify them. The abstract states

      the link between conservatism and harsher punishment of wrongdoers (Studies 1 and 4), less support for public aid for disadvantaged groups (Study 2), and less financial backing for policies that benefit marginalized groups in society (Study 3). This effect was specific to policies that targeted deviant groups (Study 3) and who were not too highly deviant (Study 4).

      But in context, as we’ve seen from recent events those could apply to Progressives as well. Are you a “wrongdoer” occupying an empty park rangers’ station? The commenters at NPR’s website want to immolate you with Hellfire missiles delivered by drone.

      1. Progressives hate having the horseshoe theory pointed out to them. Once, one of them immediately lied about what I had just said in order to “disprove” it.

        1. “Horse shoe theory”?

      2. That is also always a good question. “Conservative” doesn’t mean much without context.

    2. It’s mostly because of the recent multiple attempts by psychologists, over 90% of whom describe themselves as very liberal, to pathologize conservatism. I’m convinced that within ten years the APA will have conservatism, and with it libertarianism, classified as a mental disease. In the mean time, they are attempting to redefine gender as an entirely socially-acquired construct that has zero foundation in biology. Psychology is not science in any meaningful sense of the word.

      1. “Psychology is not science in any meaningful sense of the word.”

        It may be an indefinite science, and there may be a lot of dishonest and biased practitioners, but I don’t think that means that the entire field of study is null and void. After all, when libertarians point out the axiom “people respond to incentives”, what is that but psychology?

        1. Psychology is a pretty broad field. I tend to agree that most of the stuff about mental illness and therapy and such is not very scientific. But I don’t think it is inherently a completely unscientific endeavor.

        2. Psychology, sociology, and economics are pretty much studies of the same thing, that thing being human nature. If money wasn’t directly involved to raise the stakes and give practitioners an empirical thing to count, economics would only be an intellectually fluffy academic corner-case like the other two.

      2. I started college as a psychology major. At the beginning of the second year of classes a Psych prof was explaining to my class how subjective all of the theories were and it hit me; It was a giant crock of shit. Total nonsense.

        I went immediately after the class and changed my major to chem/bio.

  3. The CRISPR research is awesome. I personally know a few people who could benefit.

  4. Do misshapen or imperfect geometric figures seem deviant to you? If so, you may be a political conservative.

    Well, since they actually do deviate from the shapes they are supposed to represent, this is simply being able to recognize reality. Which is supposed to be bad, somehow?

    1. Even the supposed “perfect shapes” aren’t what they purport to be, being drawn using pixels and not continuous curves.

    2. “Are you so prejudiced that you believe a triangle has three sides? Are you bigoted enough to believe that a square has four straight sides? Does your bigoted, racist, homophobic, sexist belief system lead you to believe that polygons can’t have open sides? If so you’re a conservative. *spits* “

      1. Plato was the most conservative of all.

    3. WTF nails it.

    4. I think it’s just part of the “no wrong answers” and “feelings over facts” mindsets that dominate gender studies and other leftist fields of “study”.

      Any engineer worth a damn knows that if a part is supposed to be circular, you must exclude parts that resemble those chipped and dented ones in the picture. (hell, any factory worker with two brain cells to rub together probably knows this)

    5. I only have feels for right triangles and “perfect” circles that deviate by less that one micron from actual radial distance when reproduced on screen or paper.

  5. I saw the hateful 8. I liked it overall but it needed a tighter script.

  6. Do misshapen or imperfect geometric figures seem deviant to you?

    Do questions like this seem deviant to you?

    1. Have you ever been to a Turkish prison, Richie?

  7. Chip Dentgap, Private Eye

    1. This made me laugh really hard for some stupid reason.

  8. And yet no one bats an eye at a study which correlates “imperfect” shapes with minorities.

    Jeebus, social science guys. Racist much?

    1. “Deviant” doesn’t necessarily equal “minority”. Isn’t a recurrent meme in Christianity an elect few of moral people standing against the tidal wave that is immorality of the secular world?

      1. I was looking at their label (“imperfect”) and how reactions to those shapes relates to reactions to minorities.

        1. With respect, I believe you’re making a leap in inference that isn’t justified, at least by the abstract. Again, the abstract states

          harsher punishment of wrongdoers (Studies 1 and 4), less support for public aid for disadvantaged groups (Study 2), and less financial backing for policies that benefit marginalized groups in society (Study 3)

          In Studies 1 and 4, “wrongdoers” doesn’t necessarily mean “minority”. Similarly, in Study 2, while it’s true that in the United States certain minority groups then to have a higher percentage of representation in economically disadvantaged groups, there is nothing in the abstract that states that the findings are only generalizable to the United States; indeed, the affiliation of the researchers is with an Australian university. Without reading the study, we don’t know the population the sample was gleaned from. As for Study 3, again women are considered a “marginalized” group, but in the United States, at least, the sex ratio is almost 1:1, so you can’t necessarily equate marginalization with minority status.

          All in all, a lot of words about a study that is, in my opinion, patent nonsense.

          1. All those loaded assumptions about policies that “benefit” marginalized groups tell you everything you need to know about the “researchers”.

            Why do those jerks hate the poor and marginalized so much? It couldn’t possibly be that they disagree with the efficacy of government programs, they’re just a bunch of bigots who don’t like things that are different than them!

          2. Wasted words.

            Because they represent the convolutions needed to rationalize that ‘minority’ wasn’t an intended meaning.

      2. I suppose it doesn’t necessarily mean “minority”, but since it is usually going to be based on a normative judgement, it probably usually does when you are talking about people.

      3. I thought a recurrent meme was that, aside from JC himself, every single human being, saints and patriarchs included, is fucked up and imperfect.

    2. Self awareness isnt their strong point RC.

  9. So a liberal had a square peg that was “deviated” to the point of being round, they would probably still try to fit it into the square hole because they are so tolerant of all the different shapes in the shape rainbow.

    1. That makes me picture the author of this study sitting in an apartment full of IKEA furniture that is put together completely wrong because he is tolerant enough to not recognize differences in geometric shapes.

    2. That’s what a cup drill is for. You just enlarge all the holes in the board so every one of the pieces will fit in all the holes.

  10. Keep in mind that research last summer reported that more than half of psychological studies could not be repicated.

    Things were so bad for the researchers that the word “replicated” could not be repicated.

    1. OM, how’d you miss: “I predict that CRISPR treatments will succeed faster and make to patients much sooner than many now think.”?
      make *a difference* to patients?

    2. OM: Yes. They are that bad – but fixed now. Thanks.

  11. “We do have to have ethics conversations,” but “the technology will be successful no matter what,” said Mike Rothenberg, head of Rothenberg Ventures,

    “We” don’t have to do anything, you collectivist twit. Maybe YOU want to have that discussion over dinner with your family and then see if they continue to invite you to family shindigs. Leave me the fuck alone.

  12. So stare at the shapes below for a while. Do the imperfections make you want to marginalize some group or other?

    Indeed, I want to. For starters, people with gaps between their teeth. They should be rounded up and shipped to the border in boxcars!

    Just by reading the description, the whole thing sounds to me like the kind of idea for a psychology thesis conjured up by a lazy graduate student.

  13. I believe in psychology, up to a point. I believe in evolution, up to a point. The irony, given the “completeness” urge and trying to define it, falls into these two notions. I believe that there’s been the slow grinding of a material world over billions of years, but discerning any real certainty out of it matters only to those for whom a “completeness” is necessary, so that they can say with priggish “certainty” the animal X walked on its hind legs and had wings and shit out its nose, from one fragmentary bone/rock. Just like psychology, in general, might discern patterns and behaviors, but to get to some certainty is impossible. Observation cannot discern that which is conscious, that which is sub-conscious, versus that which autonomic. Guesses can certainly be made based on brain function, but epistemologically it cannot be known.

    1. cont

      Even more generally, all of human struggle is between that which must be painfully certain versus that which must be variable. What for one is a bedrock necessity to be certain (and therefore controlled through Force) maybe a variable for another, and vice versa. It’s the battle between what must be preserved versus what must be allowed to change, and the infinite variations as determined by separate and finite value systems of 7 billion people. Is Conservative the desire to use Force to preserve? Is Progressive the desire to use Force to vary? So, the real issue is Force and the righteousness that one gets to use, or hire agents to use, broadcast Force to impose preservation of variation upon others whose own value systems conflict with the imposition, hence the necessity for Force. In the end, left/right, conservative/progressive, Dem/Repub, all comes down to Force and the particulars fade away.

      Just like the fact we all die of the same thing, lack of oxygen to the brain. The particulars of each individual event are just data. The use of Force, offensively against peaceful and productive people, all melts into the same thing, and the particulars don’t end up mattering. Living in tyrannical shit hole where everything that isn’t forbidden is compulsory makes matters little unless you happen to be the dictator, and all preservation and variation is to you liking.

      1. *Some people die from their brains being exposed to a 20% O2 environment and spread across an area larger than the inside of their skull.

        For completeness.

  14. I’m find with Chip and Dent but fuck those Gap shapes.

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