Nel's New Day

September 28, 2017

Ask a Computer If You’re Gay

Can a computer determine whether a person is lesbian or gay by appearance? Stanford University researchers decided that they could do this and caused a firestorm in the media. Early in their announcements, the mainstream media accepted their research:

“Advanced computer analysis … found that gay men and women tended to have ‘gender-atypical’ features: fixed features such as the shape of one’s nose or jaw, and transient features such as hairstyle and facial hair…. ‘The results show that the faces of gay men were more feminine and the faces of lesbians were more masculine than those of their respective heterosexual counterparts. Among men, the data-driven measure of facial femininity positively correlated with the probability of being gay.’”

The study reported that gay men had narrower jaws and lesbians had larger jaws. The assumption is from the questionable theory that these characteristics come from levels of hormone exposure, in particular testosterone, in the uterus. The study used only white people, according to the researchers, because the source gave them insufficient numbers of people of color. The computer was programmed to focus on the nose, eyes, eyebrows, cheeks, hairline and chin of males and the nose, mouth corners, hair and neckline were more important for women. The abstract also stated that gay men and lesbians have “gender-atypical … expression and grooming styles.”

Researchers Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang wrote:

“We used deep neural networks to extract features from 35,326 facial images. These features were entered into a logistic regression aimed at classifying sexual orientation. Given a single facial image, a classifier could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81% of cases, and in 74% of cases for women. Human judges achieved much lower accuracy: 61% for men and 54% for women. The accuracy of the algorithm increased to 91% and 83%, respectively, given five facial images per person. Facial features employed by the classifier included both fixed (e.g., nose shape) and transient facial features (e.g., grooming style).”

Among their criteria is that “heterosexual men and lesbians tended to wear baseball caps” and that “gay men were less likely to wear a beard.” Lesbians don’t wear eye makeup, but straight women do. And lesbians wear “less revealing clothes,” have darker hair, and smile less than straight women,

Only after all the hype did the media start looking into the research methodology and results:

  • All photographs were taken from an online dating site.
  • The photographs of white people were based on researchers’ pre-conceived assumptions about ethnicity.
  • Only two sexual orientations—straight and lesbian/gay—were assumed for the study. No bisexuals, asexuals, questioning, etc.
  • All the subjects were under the age of 40.
  • Everyone lived in the United States.
  • They were all open about their sexual orientations on a website by identifying the gender—“men” or “women”—of  the subject for relationships. No closeted people.
  • The study addressed a rigid sexual and gender binary, ignoring people with non-binary gender identity or sexual orientation.

A response to an article about the research’s accuracy had valid points:

“My face would look different if I were single. If I were trying to attract a woman, I would go to the gym more, which would slim down my face. I would get haircuts more often. I would trim my beard more often, and shave more often. It’s intuitive to me that this would be common. Some people might put more effort into styling their hair, doing their makeup, treating their acne, wearing contacts instead of glasses, etc. (I’m not saying people who wear glasses are less attractive; I’m saying people who wear glasses might feel they’re less attractive than they would be without glasses.)”

Researchers said that the computer could select gay people with a 91-percent accuracy rate only applies when the computer program knew that one of two images belonged to a gay person. Selecting 1,000 men at random with at least five photographs, the ratio of success dropped to seven in every 100. When given 100 males that researchers through were most likely to be gay, only 47 of them self-identified as gay.

One person evaluating the research said that “it’s a description of beauty standards on dating sites that ignores huge segments of the LGBTQ community, including people of color, transgender people, older individuals, and other LGBTQ people who don’t want to post photos on dating sites.”

After greater scrutiny of the study, the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which had tentatively accepted it for publication, decided to take a “closer look.” An editor addressed the journal’s concerns:

“In the process of preparing the [manuscript] for publication, some concerns have been raised about the ethical status of your project. At issue is the use of facial images in both your research and the paper we accepted for publication. The acceptance was conditional on the ethical clearance of the work to be published. We typically do this by having authors state the [Institutional Review Board] status of their work. However, in this particular case, there turns out to be some idiosyncratic issues that must be cleared before your paper can be set ready for publication.”

The editor continued by stating that the images were copyrighted and that “the owners of the images posted them for different purposes. It may therefore be deemed unlikely that all of them would have granted consent for the use of their images in your research work.”

GLADD stated that technology can only “recognize … a pattern that found a small subset of out white gay and lesbian people on dating sites who look similar.” Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation said that the industry may want to “buy and sell this information with purposes of social control.” She pointed out that judging a person by appearance can increase institutional discrimination. Also frightening is extending the purported use to technology identify other characteristics such as those assumed to belong to Jewish people.

Ashland Johnson, Director of Public Education and Research at the Human Rights Campaign, pointed out how the “dangerously bad” research was “likely to be taken out of context” and possibly “threaten the safety and privacy of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people alike.” He gave as an example “a brutal regime’s efforts to identify and/or persecute people they believed to be gay.”

In Wired, Sophia Chen drew attention to the researchers’ excuse for developing the program: “[Our] findings expose a threat to the privacy and safety of gay men and women.” Chen responded:

“They built the bomb so they could alert the public about its dangers.”

Ethicist Jake Metcalf of Data & Society social scientists lack clear ethical deadlines to keep from harming people. He explained that outdated and irrelevant guidelines for social experiment allow researchers to make up the rules themselves. Government-funded scientists must get the approval of an institutional review board that developed its rules 40 years ago for such human interactions as drawing blood or conducting interviews. In this study about identifying lesbians and gays, the researchers assumed they didn’t have to consult a review board because they didn’t interact with anyone; they just took their photos off an online dating site.

Last month, researchers released a free app to guess ethnicity and nationality from names for an 80 percent accuracy. A scientist at the affiliated Stony Brook University, Steven Skiena, said the purpose was to prevent discrimination. Yet no one has any way to control the use of the app. It’s the same problem with a possibly inaccurate method of identifying lesbians and gays.

December 14, 2015

GOP Killing People with Inaction

Filed under: Guns — trp2011 @ 8:43 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

“Liberty isn’t just about having any gun you want, any time you want it. Liberty has got to also be about the right to be free from indiscriminate violence.”

This statement is part of the first speech that Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) made on that chamber’s floor in April 2013. Three years ago today, Murphy was a newly-elected U.S. senator. Three years today, a young man killed his mother and then went to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he killed 26 more people—20 of them children—before he killed himself. The last thing he did was to kill himself. During that three years, one child has died from gun violence every other day.

Almost 20 years ago, a local scoutmaster in a small Scottish school killed 16 children and their teacher before killing himself. The government took swift action to stop more mass shootings. Since then, there has been one “mass shooting” in which a man killed 12 people in various locations. Since 1996, the UK has had no school shootings; the U.S. has had 142 school shootings in the three years since Sandy Hook.

homicide rate chart

Satirist Andy Borowitz wrote:

“In what has become a tradition in the nation’s capital, the United States Congress on Monday notched the third anniversary of doing nothing in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

“As on the first and second anniversaries of the tragedy, lawmakers took up no new measures to prevent future mass shootings in the United States, and instead chose to mark Newtown’s third anniversary with a day of inaction. In that respect, the third anniversary of Newtown resembles the thousand-plus days that came before it, during which Congress took no action on guns except to periodically vote down expanded background checks.”

Earlier this month, the NRA ordered the GOP senators to vote against an amendment to keep people on the no-fly list from buying guns. According to the FBI, 2,233 background checks for purchasing guns or explosives resulted in 190 denials. Attorney General John Ashcroft had ordered permission for people on the terrorist no-fly list to purchase guns after 9/11, and the order has not been repealed in the past 14 years, despite cries to stop foreign terrorists from killing.

The NRA ordered GOP senators to vote against closing loopholes in the federal background checks allowing unlicensed dealers to sell huge numbers of guns in private sales with no checks. An Al Qaeda video encourages jihadists to exploit these lax laws to attack people in the United States. The GOP senators voted according to the NRA orders, and suspected terrorists may buy as many guns as they wish.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) voted against the bills because people on the no-fly list might not be terrorists. That situation can be fixed; selling guns to terrorists can’t without a congressional vote.

Even with guns leaking over from states with more lax gun laws, states with background checks for all handgun sales have 52 percent fewer mass shootings than other states. There are “63 percent fewer mass shootings committed by people prohibited from possessing firearms in states that require background checks for all handgun sales than in those that do not,“ according to a study. In states with these background checks, 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are killed with handguns.

fewer mass shootings

Another “nothing” action from the GOP is their refusal to re-fund research on gun violence. Almost two decades ago, former Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR) introduced the NRA-authored legislation to ban the Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence and ways to prevent it. Since then, the United States has seen about 2 million dead and injured people from gun violence. The year before the massacres at Sandy Hook and Aurora (CO), Congress extended the ban to the National Institutes of Health to keep it from researching a serious health issue.

Dickey now regrets what he did, calling it one of the biggest mistakes of his political office that ended in 2000:

“Research could have been continued on gun violence without infringing on the rights of gun owners, in the same fashion that the highway industry continued its research without eliminating the automobile.”

A coalition of over 2,000 physicians recently called on Congress to lift its ban on research, and nine medical associations urged Congress to overturn the Dickey Amendment. Dr. Alice Chen, executive director of Doctors for America, said, “Gun violence is a public health problem that kills 90 Americans a day.” Last month dozens of House Democrats called for renewal of federal research on gun violence, writing:

“We dedicate $240 million a year on traffic safety research, more than $233 million a year on food safety, and $331 million a year on the effects of tobacco, but almost nothing on firearms that kill 33,000 Americans annually.”

Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) has submitted a bill called the Gun Violence Research Act with the express purpose of “helping identify and treat those prone to committing mass shootings.” President Obama asked for $10 million for this research in each of his last two budgets. Both times, the GOP eliminated the request. The GOP Congress is also refusing to fund any research about gun violence that costs the United States a staggering $229 billion every year.

The GOP is actually taking some action regarding gun laws. Republicans have started a process to send more guns into Washington, DC, the only city that Congress completely controls. After the mass shootings in San Bernardino, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sped up a bill to repeal gun restrictions in the nation’s capital by skipping over the committee process. Gun violence has increased in the city because lax gun laws in the state of Virginia allow a glut of guns in DC.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has introduced a bill to repeal Washington’s ban on semiautomatic guns, remove criminal penalties for unregistered firearms, repeal a gun-offender registry, revoke the federal ban on interstate handgun transfers, restore the right of self-defense in the home, and require D.C. to issue and honor concealed carry firearms permits for residents and non-residents. In addition, he wants guns allowed in “public, non-sensitive areas of federal property”—in the nation’s capital. Earlier this year, Rubio raised his NRA rating from a B+ to an A with a similar bill.

Concealed carry of guns is allowed in bars in 16 states, in churches in 25 states, and schools in 28 states. States have prohibited authorities from seizing guns during emergencies, moved to ban the use of taxpayer funding for government gun buyback programs, and banned the destruction of firearms seized by law enforcement. Some states have pre-empted local governments’ ability to pass stricter firearms laws. The year following Sandy Hook, 26 states passed 63 laws allowing people to more easily carry guns in public.  For example:

  • Kansas: Gun owners don’t need a licensed for carrying concealed weapons.
  • Texas: Permits will allow open carry in holsters and concealed weapons in college classrooms.
  • Arkansas: People can carry guns into polling places.
  • Georgia: People can carry guns in bars and churches. 
  • Wisconsin: People no longer have a 48-hour waiting period to buy guns.

Every widely-publicized mass shooting brings GOP members to their knees. They pray for the victims and survivors while following the NRA directives. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote:

“Your ‘thoughts’ should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your ‘prayers’ should be for forgiveness if you do nothing–again.”

As NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said about guns, “I have no faith in the Congress of the United States.” The GOP goes farther than doing nothing: they kill people by their lack of action in a crisis of gun violence and proliferation of even more lax gun laws.

November 13, 2015

GOP: Women Too Stupid to Make Choices for Themselves

The recent National Religious Liberties Conference had three GOP presidential candates–Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal appeared on the stage demanding that LGBT people be rounded up and executed, much in the same way that ISIS does. Approached about his participation in this bath of hatred, Huckabee said he had no idea that Swanson had these views, despite an earlier call for him to not participate in the event. Religious right radio host Michael Brown tried to explain away the candidates’ appearance despite Jake Tapper’s telling Cruz about Swanson’s views before the conference.

With insistence on genocide, however, was the call to eliminate women’s rights.The theme of the conference was freedom, but Geoff Botkin delivered the message that the Disney movie Frozen is evidence of its “spirit of licentiousness.” Botkin compared Frozen’s song “Let It Go” to Eve’s temptation by the serpent in the Garden of Eden and called it “Satan’s rebellion anthem” corrupting children. The song is about a woman who decides to break away from the directive to treat her talents as a curse and make her own decisions. Botkin was not alone in his claims at the conference: Swanson has frequently declared that Frozen will cause little girls to become lesbians.

Several conference speakers have connections to the “biblical patriarchy” or Quiverfull movement, which fights to roll back women’s rights to use contraceptives. To them, birth control access is a threat to the family and liberty because Christian families must return to traditional gender roles in order to bear and raise as many children as possible. At one time, the move to deny birth control was considered a fringe movement, but the Supreme Court legitimized it in the Hobby Lobby case that recognized restriction of birth control as well as abortion. To many fundamentalist Christians, all birth control that stops pregnancy is considered murder. By recognizing Hobby Lobby’s misrepresentations of this position, the Supreme Court put into law the falsehoods about contraception leading to abortions.

Conservatives also use the myth of “abortion regret” to push a doctor’s claim that he can “reverse” abortion by injecting women with unnecessary shots. Women do not regret abortions. A recent study of women who got abortions shows that 95 percent of women who get abortions say, both right after the abortion and years after the fact, that it was the right decision for them. The political propaganda of “saving” the “baby” comes from the misguided theory that women are too stupid to be trusted with legal abortion. The state must make decisions for these women, because no woman really wants an abortion.

Forced pregnancy is a way to protect women, according to conservatives, because, deep down, all women really want to have those babies. Justice Anthony Kennedy enshrined this belief in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007) when he wrote that the right to choose should be narrowed because “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.” The opinion moved medical decisions for women from doctors to federal and state legislators. This ruling upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 by claiming that it did not impose an undue burden on the due process right of women to obtain an abortion.

Sheva Guy, 23, disagrees. She was forced to either drive 300 miles from Ohio to Chicago for an abortion or deliver a stillborn child. At 22 weeks, her ultrasound showed a fatal spinal abnormality in a female fetus preventing its survival. Under Gov. John Kasich, a GOP presidential candidate, Ohio dropped abortion clinics from 14 to nine with an abortion ban after 24 weeks. Guy wasn’t even allowed to take her fetus home to Ohio.

The late great journalist, author, and commentator Molly Ivins wrote in 1996:

“There’s something very wrong in our discussion of this. If there’s anything that late-term abortion is, it is not an easy call. And I just want to say, that perhaps, I almost get the impression that somebody thinks women don’t have no moral sense at all. No woman who is seven months pregnant, ever waddles past an abortion clinic and says, ‘Darn, I knew there was something I’ve been meaning to get around to.’ This is ridiculous.

“You have those late-term abortions, because either the mother is going to die, the child is going to die, or both are going to die. These procedures are incredibly rare. I only know of two in the state of Texas since Roe v. Wade was passed. They were both what they call cases of babies with no brain. The brain, the child’s brain stem had developed, but then something went horribly wrong and these children literally had no brains. Now, is that an easy call? Is that simple to you?”

Missouri Republicans are so afraid of abortion research that they are threatening to defund the University of Missouri if Lindsey Ruhr continues her doctoral dissertation on the effects of the 72-hour waiting period before women can have abortions. Despite a Missouri law banning universities from “encouraging” abortions, state senator Kurt Schaefer, chairman of the anti-abortion Committee on the Sanctity of Life, maintains that Ruhu is biased although he has not seen her methodology.

Republicans’  history of banning research includes funding about gun violence because “guns don’t kill people—people do,” according to former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last summer. He said that “a gun is not a disease,” and the topic outside of the CDC’s research domain. Scientists are also prevented from studying right-wing terrorism in the United States.

Even women conservatives want stupid women. According to Phyllis Schlafly, men are smarter than women. She suggests admissions quotas, eliminating student loans, and reinstating all men’s sports canceled by Title IX to prevent women from attending colleges and universities. Schlafly, a retired constitutional lawyer, believes that fewer women would be raped if they didn’t go to college.

Conservatives’ denigrating statements about women and rape accelerated during the 2012 election campaigns and have increased since then. George Will called being a rape victim a “coveted status,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), another GOP presidential candidate, minimized rape as a “definitional problem.” Many state legislators claim that women typically lie about being raped to avoid consequences of consensual sex. Former presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker, insinuated that rape victims who need abortions after 20 weeks are either lazy or stupid—certainly undeserving of compassion.

The police chief of Georgia’s Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Bryan Golden, told the school newspaper that “most” sexual assaults aren’t sexual assaults at all — women just feel “guilty” about their “consensual” actions. “That’s being stupid,” he added. Golden was briefly suspended without pay, but he’s back on the job, investigating sexual assaults.

During the present term, SCOTUS will hear a case that may bring back the theme of women’s stupidity. Whole Women’s Health v. Cole resulted from the Texas law that tried to shut down at least nine of the 19 remaining abortion clinics in the state with 27 million people, almost half of them women. The term “abortion clinics” is really a misnomer because these women’s clinics provide far more health services than abortions.

None of the legal requirements for these clinics protects women—although legislators claimed that it does—but has everything to do with restricting abortions. Then-governor Rick Perry said in 2012 that until the world is without abortions, “we will continue to pass laws to ensure that they are rare as possible.” The question in front of the Supreme Court is whether it will uphold 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Roe v. Wade, or decide that women are too stupid to make decisions about their own bodies.

In Casey, Justice Anthony Kennedy, most likely the swing decider on the court, wrote that a woman’s right to an abortion involves “the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the 14th Amendment.” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, said:

“Access to health care should not depend on a person’s income, where they live or their ability to travel to another state. It’s time for the Supreme Court to send a clear message that these dangerous laws create an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”

Quote from Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence:

jennifer Lawrence

Oral arguments on Women’s Heath v. Cole are scheduled for Spring 2017; a decision will probably not be handed down until the end of next June.

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