Friday, 9 April 2010

People are odd

I wonder about people sometimes; apparently the English Defence League (like the BNP but less subtle) has an LGBT section.

I would have thought being part of a discriminated-against minority might make you more likely to sympathise with other such groups, but apparently not.

Argos sucks: sexism in everyday life

Argos has annoyed me. I know, there are probably more important things to get annoyed at, but there you go. Anyway, I recently picked up a copy of their Spring/Summer catalogue, and in glancing through it I noticed the headings for the "Toys and Gaming" section:
  • Infant and preschool toys
  • Girls' toys
  • Boys' toys
  • Outdoor toys
  • Gaming
Oh dear. Look, I'm not naive enough to think that we're not going to get girls' and boys' sections, with dolls and cars respectively, although it would be nice if that weren't the case. But here, all toys appear to be either for boys, or for girls, and only outdoor toys can be for both. This is not a good start.

So, let's have a look at what's actually in those sections. Well, for a start, when you actually get to the pages, they don't appear to be labelled as "Girls' toys" or "Boys' toys" anymore. Instead we get more precise labels, such as "Dress up" or "construction". They are, however, still fairly obviously divided, especially in the middle of the sections.

In the girls' pages, we have dressing up (boys' dressing up, with superheroes and the like, is on the last page of preschool; girls get to be fairies and nurses and princesses), toy food and cookers (and, unusually, a workbench, probably because the toys are also divided by maker, and Chad valley don't seem to do much aimed at school-aged boys), lots of dolls, cute animals, Sylvanian families and a few music items. There are quite a few craft sets; either art supplies, or sets to make jewellery, sweets, or shampoos and perfumes. The colour pink features prominently.

The boys' section starts with Playmobil and lego. This is really not good; these are some of the most unisex toys possible, both with a huge variety of sets and scope for imagination. Even when I was a kid, these wouldn't have counted as boys only, and I'd hoped things had improved since then. Oh, and the playmobil page, featuring police, ambulance and fire engine, is labeled as "boys' adventure". We then have lots of toy cars and other vehicles, various TV figurines, and toy weapons. Then, oh joys, we have the science toys. Yes, apparently microscopes and telescopes and crystal growing kits are for boys only.

Finally, we have a couple of pages that probably worry me the most. So far we've had some fairly standard stereotypes, but the last couple of pages of what the index calls "Boys' toys" we have... board games! Yes, apparently Connect-4 and Monopoly are for boys. This may not be what was intended, but it's certainly pretty easy to make that interpretation from the way things are laid out.

So basically, boys get all the stuff that's imaginative or educational, while girls get to eat sweets, look pretty, and practice being a mother. But of course there's no sexism anymore, the feminists are just making that up. Sure.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Homeopathy, animals and hypochondria

One of the claims for the effectiveness of various alternative medicines, especially homeopathy, is that they work in animals. In humans, the usual explanation for any benefits is the placebo effect: you get better because you think you're going to. This is why double-blind testing is so important in drug trials. However, surely the placebo effect shouldn't work in animals?
First of all, Homeopathy cannot work. It really is just water. If you have to start rewriting the laws of physics to explain how your treatment works, that's a pretty good clue that maybe it doesn't. This makes me instantly suspicious about claims that it is effective in animals.
It actually appears that animals aren't as immune to psychological effects on their health as one might first think. For a start, dogs can fake illnesses. Faking a limp is quite common, and dogs can also manage nausea or diarrhea with no physical reasons. The reason is simple: when they are ill, they get special treatment, nicer food and more fuss. Being ill clearly pays. So if an animals psychology can cause physical symptoms, it's quite likely that they are amenable to the placebo effect. Claims for homeopathy certainly all seem to be in the more intelligent animals, such as dogs and horses, rather than, say, in mice.
In fact, the main way homeopathy would work in animals is placebo by proxy. The owner expects the animal to recover, and treats it as such. Animals are very good at picking up on such cues, and the effect would be much the same as in humans. Only a proper, double-blind trial would show the effectiveness or otherwise, and I know which way I'd vote.


Hello and welcome to Jefrir's Random Ramblings. This is my place to post my thoughts on the world, especially about food, education, science and stupidity. Particularly stupidity - there's such a lot of it. Comments are welcome, including ones telling me I'm going to burn in hell or giving idiotic, bigoted opinions. Life's so much easier when the stupid comes to me.
I am a student, currently between a degree in French and Russian and a PGCE - so in three months time I get to start teaching other people what I've learned - a mildly terrifying thought.
I am a definite atheist. My political views are mildly liberal by British standards, and practically communist by American standards.