Saturday, February 17, 2007

Why I Never Reach on Time and Cannot Face Objects Being Thrown At Me

You know how this particular category of "best-sellers" have this way of taking a certain cliché like "Why women can't drive" or "Why men can't distinguish between certain colours" and mapping it to some previously unknown statistical data, and coming to a conclusion as to how all this is entirely genetic and is in fact truer than you think! I'm sure that most of you have read at least one such book. What makes it worse is that I am also sure that most of you, while you read it, agreed with, or at least believed in, albeit resentfully, what the author was saying.

To give you an example, there is Freakonomics, where the authors make some rather controversial claims. I do not debate the authenticity of the data that the authors have collected and analyzed... not at all! What I disagree with is the manner in which they draw (or make you draw) the bridge between facts and conclusion. Almost all their work can be included in the "argument" section of the Graduate Record Examination. As the authors have said themselves, correlation is only a means of saying that one thing goes with another. What you draw out of this data depends largely on the mindset of the person who is analyzing it.

There is a part in the book, for instance, that says that a child's success in school has nothing to do with whether or not he/she is raised by a single parent. What I want to know is, how many cases have been studied, where the same child, once living with both his parents, and later living with just one, has retained his performance in school. I am sure that most of you would have, at some point of time in your childhood seen your parents fight. I remember feeling highly insecure whenever that happened. Imagine then, the insecurities of a child whose parents are divorced. I am not saying that couples should not separate. It's so much better choosing to live separate lives than fighting night and day. But that particular paragraph reeks of a certain sentiment that the authors have. In a country where the number of single parents is phenomenal, it is reassuring for such a reader to come across something that says that his child's future is as bright as anyone else's. However, at no point do the authors actually prove this by considering the same child in both circumstances. I do not completely disagree with their claim. There are a whole lot of reasons why a child may perform equally well or better. One of them may well be that he wants to prove a point, prove that he is no less than anyone else. But it would certainly be that much easier, or that less stressful, for a child to do that when he isn't insecure.

Another interesting mapping, and one I find rather strange is from "Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps". They start explaining how women not being able to drive is a result of the way they have evolved over millions of years. Men were hunters and women were gatherers. As a result of this, some senses of men grew sharper than those of women. But the basic premise is questionable. How can women be "bad drivers" when the majority of accidents on the road are caused by men; and I don't need complicated analysis of data to prove that. Notice, I am not arguing with the fact that men actually do have a sharper (whatever it's called) sense, and use their brain cells differently than women.

And so I went on arguing with people who actually believed these rather specious claims, telling them that anyone who blames their genes for tasks that can be mastered by practice (such as driving and reading maps) is just lazy and is finding an easy way out for not doing things right. But I was wrong. After careful re-examination of my habits and of those around me, I have some of my own research to put forth. I do believe that not being able to keep appointments is hereditary. It must have something to do with a malformed genetic structure, since 87.36% of the people who are not punctual have at least one parent who is not punctual. Also, being scared of objects being thrown at your face is dependent on having over-protective parents, on the basis of similar research; and since I am sure that this trait of being over-protective
must depend on your parents' genes (it must be proved in some best-seller by now), I conclude that being scared of objects being thrown at your face is a genetic phenomenon. Also the fact that I can't seem to be able to overcome these two problems however much I try, must prove irrefutably that they are congenital disorders.


Anonymous said...

-wtf ! kuch-bhi

Renuka Apte said...

@anon: I wish you'd elaborate. And I am not going to eat you up if you disagree, you can put your name there. :)

Kunal said...

>>How can women be "bad drivers" when the majority of accidents on the road are caused by men

A huge majority of crashes of IAF planes involve male pilots. Does this indicate that women are better pilots than men?

Renuka Apte said...

@kunal: I knew someone would comment on that... the point I am trying to make is that when someone says "bad", it is a very relative term. As is being able to distinguish between colours "well". I may not be half as exciting a driver as many of my male friends might be, nor half as fast. But I am very safe, and so are most women, and that can be called "good". Put in other words, women who drive meet with fewer accidents on an average while they are driving as compared to their male counterparts. In any case, if you notice carefully, the claim is very loosely defined, and very much based on prejudices.

siddharth said...

Women are known to be able to sustain more G-forces than men. So yeah, they will make pilots who will pass out later than men for sure :). I don't know if they will make better pilots as such because that involves a lot of instrument reading and I don't really want to argue on the issue of womens' map reading skills. Women do make great racing drivers though. A local girl had once beaten both ayrton senna and alain prost in a go-kart race. There also is the great:

Nan said...

Keep up the good work.