Geek Girl Con was a blast

This is only the second year for the completely volunteer-run Geek Girl Con, and I had a great time. There’s something liberating about going to a geeky con that recognizes your existence in its programming and its demographics. It actually feels strange for me to walk around a geeky con being part of the majority gender – a strange sense of security knowing that my odds of being randomly harassed or creeped on are greatly decreased. The most interesting part was probably listening to Anita Sarkeesian talk about the awful flood of harassment, rape threats, and death threats she has received…all because she made a Kickstarter to examine gender stereotypes in video games. I loved meeting random blog readers – thanks for saying hi!

I bought this delightfully geeky skirt from a blog reader, Tea Time Inc.

Pixel approves. I think.

I also bought some artwork from The Gorgonist Illustration:

 I ran into Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones:

And this little girl’s costume had to be my favorite:

Microbiology haikus

Commenter VeritasKnight requested a post full of haikus; Joe McKen asked for them to be microbiology themed.

damn you, I am positive
You blue my cover

It was chilling there
Before genomes went mainstream
The retrovirus

S. cerevisiae
The brewer, not the screwer
Fuck C. albicans

Ten percent human
The rest, essential strangers
Am I really me?

And for those who are curious, the themes (in order) are gram staining, endogenous retroviruses, baker’s yeast versus the species that causes vaginal yeast infections, and the human microbiome.

This is post 34 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Nerds go waaaaaay back

Sometimes I wonder what ancient people used for birth control. I have my answer now that I’ve put two pieces of evidence together. This SMBC comic:

And this auction for a Roman 20-sided gaming die from 2nd century AD:

This is post 31 of 49 of Blogathon. Donate to the Secular Student Alliance here.

A lesson in botany

Friend: “Flowers are basically a place where insects go to masturbate.”

Typical Thursday night.

Do this now, OkCupid

One of my favorite blogs is OkTrends (even if they haven’t updated since April, sadface). What’s better than combing dating site data for statistical trends an oddities? All of their articles are super interesting.

I was having lunch with some of my fellow graduate students, when the conversation turned geeky (as it tends to do). I mentioned how it would be great to have some sort of measure of sexual compatibility on OkCupid other than skimming through the various questions people have answered (which, don’t lie, is the first thing everyone does). Though the questions are very telling – just from reading other’s answers to the sex questions, I can tell if we’d be compatible or not. But there’s no good metric for it.

The solution to us was obvious to us: Principal Component Analysis.

“Principal component analysis (PCA) involves a mathematical procedure that transforms a number of (possibly) correlated variables into a (smaller) number of uncorrelated variables called principal components. The first principal component accounts for as much of the variability in the data as possible, and each succeeding component accounts for as much of the remaining variability as possible.”

You could do a PCA on people with all of their sex answers being their data. The magic of PCA (please don’t make me describe the math) would then decide what the proper variables are to measure. If I had to guess, kinkiness and experience would probably be the two main variables in someone’s sexual preferences. I would guess you’d get a chart looking something like this:

Chart of kinkiness vs. experience with clustered data points

With each dot representing a person, and people potentially forming clusters. You could look and see if you easily fall into the kinky cluster, or whatever. And PCA can have more than two variables, though that’s a little trickier to graph. I can imagine the 3rd being something like desire. Do you want lots of sex, or are you happy with not that much? That’s a major point of conflict in relationships, so it would be great to have that sorted out by the power of statistics.

Thinking this was pretty much the best idea ever, we emailed OkCupid, highlighting our accolades as computational geniuses and internet nerds. This was the response:

“Hi Jennifer – Thanks for writing. We only share our data with third parties when they have a budget to license the data…


I think that “…” implies “You don’t have the money to do it yourself.”

So, fine, fine. But in the name of science, I want to see it done. Come on, OkCupid. You know you want to reach a new level of geekery in your statistical analysis. Make it so.

Answers to the critical thinking puzzles

Many of you took a shot at answering the critical thinking puzzles I posted during Blogathon. Now it’s time for the answers! And because I’m lazy, I’m just going to copy and paste the explanations given by some of you guys!

Question 1: In front of you are four cards. You know that each card has a photo of a famous person on one side, and a photo of an animal on the other. The four sides that are visible to you are as follows: Ken Ham, Richard Dawkins, a narwhal, and a T-Rex. I let you know that all of these cards follow the same rule – that if a card has a religious person on it’s famous person side, it has a dinosaur on its animal side. What’s the lowest number of cards you’d need to flip to determine if this rule is true or false for these cards, and which cards would you flip?

Answer from UrsaMinor: “You would have to flip two cards to test the rule. If it is true, Ken Ham will have a dinosaur on the reverse, and the narwhal will have a non-religious person on the reverse. Since there is no rule stating that non-religious people must have any particular theme on the reverse, it is not necessary to turn over the Richard Dawkins and T-Rex cards, because no matter what they have on the reverse sides, they cannot not break the rule.”

Alternative smartass answer from James F. McGrath: “Question 1 is a trick question to prevent banana-wielding creationists from winning. Anyone who embraces mainstream science will know that the categories “famous persons” and “animals” overlap. :)”

Question 2: Because I’m super nice, I give you a giant one hundred pound watermelon as a gift. You determine that this giant watermelon is ninety-nine percent water by weight. Unfortunately you let the watermelon sit out in the sun, and some water evaporates. Now the watermelon is only ninety-eight percent water by weight. To the nearest pound, what does the watermelon now weigh?

Answer from Gary Usleaman: “This one was fun! Since it started out at 100 lbs. and 99% water, then that means that 1% (or 1 lb) was Not Water (NW). After letting it rot in the sun for a bit (best thing for water mellon, if you ask me), you find that it is 98% water. [BTW, you had to weigh it to figure that out anyway, so why are you asking me how much it weighed?] Well, the 1 lb of NW didn’t change, so that means that 1 lb is 2% of the total weight. That makes the total weight 50 lbs.”

Question 3: While you were at TAM9, you decided to suspend skepticism and gamble – specifically, by playing roulette. But since you want to have some sort of strategy, you decide to flip a coin before each bet to decide whether to place a bet on red or on black (which should have a 50/50 chance of happening). Sadly, you lose sixty seven times in a row – that is, the ball always lands on the opposite color that you pick. If you turned your skepticism back on, it would be most rational to think:

A. You just have shitty luck
B. It’s terrible strategy to flip a coin to pick what color to bet on in roulette
C. You should keep up this strategy because you’ve really likely to win the next bet
D. The roulette table is obviously broken, but you can’t assume that’s intentional
E. The casino or the staff are dirty crooks who have rigged the game against you somehow. If this is the case, taking your services elsewhere would be the wisest move. Checking out a good review of Fabulous Bingo might just make you do this anyway.
F. You can’t reasonably decide which of the listed options are more likely

Answer from Jonathan: “Firstly, sounds like this person would benefit from learning how to play live casino roulette… The probability of losing 67 times in a row is one in 2^67, ie about 1 in 147 billion billion. So this is *extremely* unlikely to be bad luck. Maybe there were some unfair practices on show at this casino; perhaps trying something like bonusetu online will provide a fairer environment for gambling. If the game is fair, flipping a coin is no worse than any other strategy – there’s no pattern to pick up on. C is for idiots, D might make sense if you were always betting (say) red, but since your choice is random and there’s no sensible way your coin toss can directly affect the wheel, if must be E, and the casino is seeing your bet, then manipulating the wheel (or, at least, it’s far more likely that the casino is crooked than that you’ve lost fairly 67 times on the trot). This sort of suspicion is what is driving people away from physical casinos and towards ones operating in the online space – these finnish online casinos are where many are enjoying the same casino thrills (responsible, of course) from the comfort of their homes.”

Katie was nice enough to make up some graphs of your responses:

Most of you guessed I would fail at the door question, followed by the roulette question… But I actually got the watermelon question wrong. I know, I know. The answer is obvious now that I see it, but I’m rusty and wasn’t thinking. Alas.

Congrats to our winner, Jimmyrhoffa, who was the first to get all of these right! Katie should have your prize to you soon.

Why biologists shouldn’t be poets

Three Ninjas: what is it that proteins do?
Three Ninjas: they react w/ enzymes or something?
Three Ninjas: and proteins need to folded in a very specific way to interact with the right enzyme?
Three Ninjas: or…am i all mixed up?
Me: enzymes are proteins
Three Ninjas: oh
Me: Proteins do…everything
Three Ninjas: but if two people are an amazingly good fit for one another you could say they are like
Three Ninjas: proteins
Three Ninjas: folded just the right way
Three Ninjas: to
Three Ninjas: do something
Three Ninjas: ???
Me: there are enzymes that react with things, or structural things that hold the cell together, or things that act as signals, or things that regulate how other proteins are made or how much of them are made
Me: Well
Me: An enzyme binds a substrate
Me: Which is usually not a protein, but can be
Me: if you want to get really tecnical, an enzyme and a substrate that are an amazingly good fit would actually be really bad
Me: That’s what toxins are
Me: They bind to enzymes better than the right substrate
Me: So much better that they never unbind
Three Ninjas: i think that may not be the metaphor i’m looking for.
Me: So the enzyme is put out of commission
Me: Enzymes work in that they bind briefly, do something to the substrate, and then release it
Me: :P
Me: #overanalyzation
Three Ninjas: but proteins have to be folded into a very complex and specific shape to do their job though right?
Me: Yes
Jason J Brunet: GOOD ENOUGH
Me: rofl
Me: Goddamn musicians
Three Ninjas: :-)

And of course I think scientists can be equally good at creative pursuits (heck, I’m an artist too!). We just make very nerdy, scientifically accurate metaphors. Here, have a haiku:

Our love’s like poison

inhibiting an enzyme

I only want you.

…You should see the ode to fruit fly breeding I wrote for my creative writing class.

I know what I’m doing in 4.5 years

You and your committee may be the only people who read your PhD dissertation (well, if you’re lucky) – but you can still enjoy is aesthetically:From Street Anatomy:

A long-time Street Anatomy fan and soon-to-be doctor, Stephen, recently sent in this image of an anatomical heart made up entirely of the words from his dissertation. He put tons of effort into studying a particular cardiac arrhythmia, noted below the heart, and instead of hanging fancy diplomas on the wall, he chose to immortalize his time and efforts into a piece of anatomical art.

Someone please remind me of this awesome idea when I’m about to graduate.

Blag Hag 2011 Census Results Pt. 2

And now for the questions about atheism and blogging!

As always, click the images for bigger versions.Last year men used the terms “skeptic,” “freethinker,” and “anti-theist” more often than women. This year “anti-theist” is still used more, but “skeptic” and “freethinker” are not significantly different. However, “atheist” and “infidel” were used less by women now. There’s a general trend of women avoiding terms that tend to have negative associations.

I’m intrigued by the changes in term usage since last year. All of the labels except “freethinker” were selected by a smaller percentage of readers this year. “Atheist” was hit particularly hard, dropping from 82% to 42%. The next biggest change was for “agnostic,” dropping from 23% to a measly 3%. I think the most likely explanation is that I’m attracting a much broader readership, while I originally started out predominantly as an atheist blog.

Oh, and most people still hate the label “Bright.” Wah wah.

Favorite open responses:

  • Evil
  • Evil baby-eating atheist
  • Baby-eater (I’m seeing a trend)
  • Awesome
  • Badass
  • Cool
  • BAMF (Again, a trend…)
  • He Who Shall Not Be Named
  • Chaotic good
  • Bipedal furhead
  • Devoutly in the awe of the unknown
  • “Indifferent agnostic” – it’s not that I don’t know, it’s that I don’t really care
  • I’m not a pastafarian, but I do think they are sexy. Is that ok? (Yes)

I’m not sure what I was expecting to find here, but I was just curious. Unsurprisingly, people are more likely to do activism that requires the littlest amount of time and effort – being out, buying a book, commenting on a blog.

I was a little surprised that the only gender difference was in writing letters to the editor (anyone have an explanation for that?). I guess from personal experience I expected women to participate less. Of course, there are two potential problems here. One, this doesn’t look at the frequency of these events – maybe they showed up to a single event or wrote a single blog post. Two, we have a biased sample – these are women who are already reading at least one atheist blog (mine), not women in general.This one surprised me a bit. I thought everyone would keep updated about the blog using some sort of RSS reader, like Google Reader or Blogger Dashboard, mainly because that’s what I do. Apparently slightly more people manually check the blog through bookmarking or some other sort of link. I have 3,928 subscribers. Using this updating method data as an estimate, I probably have approximately 8,000 readers. Wow! Not to shabby for a 2 year old blog.

Twitter and Facebook are rarely used on their own, but rather in addition to another method. Though you can see a slight difference when seeing how much people comment:It seems that people who use Twitter and Facebook, either alone or in addition to bookmarks or RSS feeds, are more likely to comment. Maybe they use those things because they’re more socially interactive online in general?

But overall, a very small percentage of my readers make up the vast majority of the comments. Hello, all of you lurkers out there! Though an interesting trend is seen when you break it up by gender:Ladies! Why aren’t you commenting as much?! No wonder blogs can look so male dominated. Seriously though, why are women less likely to comment? Are we less inclined to speak up thanks to social conditioning? Is there something about the environment in the comments that make them seem unwelcoming? If you’re a lurker (lady or otherwise), please let me know. I’m generally curious, but I also want to make sure my blog is a place where you can feel comfortable.I guess a 5 point Likert scale wasn’t the best way to ask this question, since if you stick around to read Blag Hag, you probably like most of the topics. Although, after reading these practical tips for writing likert scale questions, I’m questioning if I just needed to use better questions. Oh well. I should check to see if non-US readers are the most apathetic about politics, and if everyone but graduate students are apathetic about my grad school posts, haha. Other than that, I didn’t get too much out of this question. Going to keep doin’ what I’ve been doing.

The only topic that differed between the sexes was Feminism:Women readers really like when I talk about feminism. Shocking, I know. Thankfully my male readers still generally like it! …Of course, I’ve probably scared off all the dudes who can’t stand it. Hm.
A couple interesting things on how people found my blog:

  • If you want readers, get Pharyngulated. PZ has the power. Though he seems to send mostly guys over. I’d be really interested to see the gender makeup of his readership – is it really that male biased? I wonder what my gender ratio would look like if you took out the Pharyngulites…
  • Boobquake attracted equal numbers of male and female readers. Take that, haters who say it’s only guys sticking around for my boobs!
  • More women seem to find their way here after being referred by friends (or according to some comments, family). Maybe this is their first step into the atheist community? Regardless, thanks for recommending my blog to friends!
  • Of the “Other blogs” specified, the most common mentioned were Dan Savage (25), Skepchick (10), Greta Christina (2), Daylight Atheism (2), and Boing Boing (2), JT Eberhard (2), and “feminist blogs” (2).

Other interesting ways people found my blog:

  • Webcomics – Something Positive (5), Girls with Slingshots (2), Wapsi Square (1)
  • The Bloggies (5)
  • Flyers for my speaking events (3)
  • Met at convention or group (9)
  • “Your landlord” (…This is kind of scary)
  • OkCupid (Nope, this is scarier, haha)
  • “Jesus made it come to me in a dream” (Oddly less scary)

I still haven’t even attempted to look at how location or past religious beliefs correlates with anything… If you have something you’d like to investigate, let me know. But before that, I’ll look at some of the comments you guys left in the free response, since even I can get sick of making graphs.

Like always, feel free to discuss in the comments.

Blag Hag 2011 Census Results Pt. 1

A big thanks to everyone who participated in the Blag Hag 2011 Census – a whopping 2167 readers filled out the survey! That’s almost 5 times as much as last year, and means the data will be even more robust. But remember – this data doesn’t necessarily represent atheists as a whole, but rather people who like reading this particular blog and taking surveys.

Like last year, here’s how I indicated statistical significance on graphs:
* P-value less than 0.05
** P-value less than 0.01
*** P-value less than 0.001
**** P-value less than 0.0001

Part 1 will focus on demographics. As always, click the image for a bigger version:The following is the break down of how people identified:

  • 1309 Male
  • 822 Female
  • 9 Transgender
  • 8 Transgender Male
  • 10 Transgender Female
  • 2 Transgender Male & Female
  • 7 Female & Male

I was planning on having an “Other” option, but totally forgot to click the box allowing that – my apologies to everyone who felt pigeonholed into any of these options.

While my readership is still significantly male biased, there has been a huge improvement since last year (72% Male and 27% Female).

Last year I pondered why a blog by a woman that frequently talks about feminism would still be male biased. Did male atheists really outnumber women? Were the ladies just not into blogs? Had they not found mine yet since it was so new? Was I still doing better than other atheist blogs? I’m not sure if I can narrow it down yet, but I did see some interesting gender differences in my other questions, so maybe those will help guide us to an answer.The overall age distribution is very similar to last year, with the most common age group being the one I fall into (I’m 23). Though a new interesting trend emerged this year – there is a 1:1 ratio of men to women in all the age groups under 30. In the other age groups, men significantly outnumber women.

What does this mean? There are a couple potential explanations:

  • Older women don’t like my blog, for whatever reason
  • Older men really like my blog (I should check if they’re the same ones who asked for more photos in the comment section…)
  • Younger atheists and skeptics are doing a much better job at being inclusive toward women

I personally hope the last one is true. It’s certainly supported by my personal experience. Student groups seem to be much more diverse than older organizations. Maybe this is more evidence for a trend in the right direction?Again, sexual orientation is almost identical to last year, and not surprising. Women tend to have more bisexual tendencies, which holds for the general public. I’m disappointed, though. My readership hasn’t become any gayer than last year! I’m failing at spreading Teh Gay as per the Evil Homosexual Agenda. Sigh.

Well, maybe. When you break age down by sexual orientation, you get this nifty graph:
It’s busy, but the take away point is that the younger you are, the more likely you are to use gayer labels. This is obviously because of Goal 1 of the Gay Agenda: Corrupt the youth. Not because of cultural differences in the acceptance of various terminology. I mean, just look at the under 15 age bracket. They’re certainly not trying to figure out their sexualities still – no, they just haven’t been completely brainwashed yet. Onward, gay minions!

But honestly, the number one thing these responses confirmed? It’s really hard to squeeze sexuality into neat little categories, even if it makes the stats easier. Many people listed themselves as pansexuals, biromantics, and questioning individuals.

Favorite open responses:

  • “try” sexual
  • Probably hetero, but as I’m extra virgin olive oil I don’t think I can make a definitive statement
  • Pansexual, leaning more towards hetero for companionship and homo for OOHBOOBIES


Last bit of demographic information: Education level.Wow, my readers are really well educated compared to the general public. I know not all of my readers are from the US, but just for a general comparison:

Education: General Public , Blag Hag Readers
High school grad: 86.68% , 98.06%
Some college: 55.60% , 93.17%
Assoc’s and/or Ba