… No, I’m pretty sure that it means that you were in the wrong. If you apologise and you don’t think that you’re wrong then what you’re doing is lying, you still think that the other person isn’t right, you build up resentment towards them, and ruin your relationship anyway.
This week struck me as a particularly exhausting one when it came to that certain brand of provocatively-headlined-but-probably-not-what-you-think-it-is science news that we know and love hate.
As usual, it’s the science media click-machine that’s to blame, which is a polite way of saying that there exists a gaping void of careful, cautious, skeptical, dare I say scientific science writing out there amidst the great internet knowledge machine. It’s desperately hard to get people to read your articles or watch your videos, but that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to disengage the gravity of reason and drift off into the aether of just-so stories.
PHD Comics has summed up this vicious form of the science news cycle very well:
It’s not all bad, of course. There’s some real diamonds that we can regularly depend on to shine through amid the soiled throngs of pseudointellectual beggars out there, and I, along with others, try to highlight their work regularly. I shall do so again here.
Here, I present two cases of “science things that were badly reported” and some links to better explanations. As usual, the defendants come from that tenuous intersection of neuroscience and behavior, because studying the brain is hard stuff, folks.
1) Mice Can Inherit Memories: No they can’t. Well, maybe they can (although I doubt it), but that’s not at all what this widely-reported paper in Nature Neuroscience says. The poor authors of that study are probably at home, drinking, wondering how, after years of hard work, their paper about how mice may pass on sensitivity to smells got so twisted. Headlines ranged from declaring this the source of human phobias to saying that Assassin’s Creed is based in real science.
What the researchers did was to condition some male mice to associate a smell (cherry blossoms) with a mild electric shock, which is mean, because that’s a nice smell! Naturally, the mice began to avoid the odor. The weird part is that their offspring, even two generations down the line, also seemed to avoid that specific cherry blossom odor, without ever encountering it before (and without their dads showing them). The dads’ noses all had more of the cells that smell that odor, as did the noses of their offspring. This did not happen with female mice and their offspring.
These kind of things aren’t supposed to be possible in a single generation. A mouse dad shouldn’t smell something, become afraid of it, and then be able to pass on a change to his kids. That’s precisely the kind of thing that got Lamarck and his giraffe necks laughed at more than a century ago. But it is possible that these mice were transmitting some sort of epigenetic change.
It’s possible that there was an epigenetic change passed down. But it’s not for sure. Beyond that, the way that statistics are applied to mouse behavior studies make it possible that the differences they see are just due to sample sizes, or not including certain controls, or some other random factor like that the humidity on a particular day happened to make the mice very jumpy. There’s also the fact that there is no known way for nerve cell changes or chemical responses within the olfactory bulb to be communicated to the testes, where sperm are made (there’s literally a blood-testis barrier to prevent that kind of thing).
2) Men and women’s brains are wired differently, therefore men are better at reading maps. That’s almost a verbatim headline from this news outlet. It speaks of “hardwired differences” (our brains are not hardwired) and is loaded with brainsplaining and neurosexism. This story is frustrating notsomuch because of the science, which is so-so, but because it is being misapplied by the media to reinforce cutsie-pie stories about what men are good at and what women are good at and never the twain shall meet and boy is it funny how men and women argue over getting lost?! GUFFAW!
Read this instead: At Discover, Neuroskeptic explains why the spatial resolution of the techniques used are like making a road atlas, while on the moon, using a pair of binoculars, and how the only real difference here may be that men’s brains are just slightly bigger than women’s (which doesn’t account for any noticeable difference in abilities, but can mess with scans a lot). And if you’d like a nice introduction to the idea of neurosexism and pigeonholing gender-based brain research into outdated social molds, might I suggest you read this article at The Conversation?
The fact is that men and women are mostly the same when it comes to their brains, but “Everyone can probably become pretty good at reading maps whether or not they are male or female, suggests common sense, not needing to be backed up by neuroscience” doesn’t make a very catchy headline.
None of this is to say that any of the results presented in the scientific papers are patently or provably false. But as we communicate the vagaries of Science In Progress, we must include the Don’t Knows and the Possiblys and all the other fine (and frustrating) forms of cautious optimism. It doesn’t kill the excitement. It just comes with the territory. I read it on a map somewhere.
You know, I’d really like to know how people would react to that scene if it hadn’t been Scott and Derek, but maybe - say Scott and Lydia. with, for whatever reason, Lydia in Derek’s place.
Let’s just imagine that Lydia’s…
We don’t have to imagine anything. The comparison is already in the text. Derek said, “We need to kill the kanima and stop the murders.” And Scott said, “No, the ends don’t justify the means,” when it was one of his friends who was the “end” that justified the means. Scott stopped Derek, didn’t manage to stop the kanima, and many people died. Scott never did stop the kanima.
When it was Derek who had to suffer as the the means towards the end of stopping Gerard, Scott obviously thought it was different — now the ends justifying the means was a reasonable plan. It’s interesting that this was after Derek had conceded to Scott’s boycott on ends/means actions when offered another option.
This whole exploration of the theme is clearly on purpose, as both Scott and Derek flip sides. Derek changes his actions and stops seeking the expedient means to an end and puts his trust with Scott. This is after the pool scene and the trust conversation with Stiles, and after Deaton’s talk about trust, and after Scott finally agrees to join the pack, and so Derek has been primed to re-think trust, and he puts it with Scott and tries another method of solving the problem. Scott, meanwhile, goes on the opposite journey, without ever seeming to realise he has. On screen, he trusts no-one with the truth about Gerard’s threats, lies about Allison’s mom, reveals his plans to no-one, and decides to (ab)use people’s trust in him to fix things on his own, all the while pretending to be doing the opposite.
I find the complexity of Scott’s moral choices interesting and I wish they had more screen time. It seems that because Scott wasn’t planning to kill Derek, it didn’t ping his moral radar that using Derek’s body without consent was also wrong; but this was a textbook, premeditated ends-justify-the-means choice. It meant he could kill Gerard through Derek’s bite, and so keep the blood off his own hands, and keep it where it belonged — on Derek’s.
The perfect capstone to this thematic arc is that it didn’t even work — Gerard lived and is still spreading his evil, and Lydia solved the kanima situation. So Scott’s means weren’t even justified by the end, because the hoped-for end didn’t happen, and Scott is still seemingly oblivious about the ethical implications of his choices.
I understand why people read Scott as the hero — the text positions him that way really strongly, so it’s easy to accept what the text says instead of what it shows. I just can’t decide if Davis expects us to be smart enough to see Scott’s hypocrisy and flaws despite his position as hero, and so read them as a clever undermining of the classic hero tropes, or if we’re meant to think Scott’s privileged position makes these actions okay just because it’s the hero that does them (might is right). I am leaning more towards the latter, given the philosophy that seems to underpin most of the show. For instance, the Argents are also not as textually condemned as you would expect a racist murder cult to be, and the werewolf victims are canonically blamed for most of the problems in the Teen Wolf world (that is not said as apologism for their own bad choices — they are just as flawed as all the other characters, and do problematic things. I’m pointing out that the werewolves are systemically blamed for effects they did not cause).
That said, I will not be very surprised if this ends up being a Darth Vader narrative with Scott in the Anakin role, because it’s one of the few ways the thematic arcs of the show could come together to make logical sense. And Davis does love his clever reversals, so a long-con like that would be in keeping with many of his other narrative choices.
“A werewolf in Gauru form is ruled by instinct. She
feels irresistible urges that govern her actions, causing her
to take the most immediate and direct solutions to any
problem that presents itself. An enemy is to be destroyed
with application of force, a stuck door is to be destroyed
with application of force, an unsalvageable game of chess
is to be destroyed with application of force, a bad movie….”—Werewolf the Forsaken: Blood of the Wolf