Shockingly bad science journalism in the Guardian

Content note: this post discusses mental illness, mentions self harm, suicide and sexual violence

It’s been a while since I’ve considered the Guardian a decent source of news, but sometimes things get egregious. Yesterday, an article entitled “Mental illness soars among young women in England – survey” was put out, and their reporting… wasn’t very good.

A study was released finding that young women aged 16-24 are at very high risk for mental illness, with more than a quarter of the group experiencing a condition, and almost 20% screening positive for PTSD symptoms. This has all risen since 2007: not just for young women, but across genders and age groups. What, according to the Guardian’s heavy focus of the article, is to blame?

Social media, apparently.

The Guardian’s reporting focuses heavily on how social media is to blame, selectively quoting researchers mentioning social media to the extent that I would love to see what questions they were asked (my personal favourite: “There are some studies that have found those who spend time on the internet or using social media are more likely to [experience] depression, but correlation doesn’t imply causality.”)

Then there’s the case study telling her story of her experience with PTSD and triggers. She talks a lot about film and TV, and the stress of university, and yet somehow her case study is titled “Social media makes it harder to tune out things that are traumatic”. She mentions it briefly in the last paragraph–while still mostly focusing on film and TV!

Now, the reason the Guardian’s twisting of this survey for their own ends is so particularly problematic is the importance of the research. You can download the whole report here, or read a summary here.

It’s quite a well-done survey, a very robust look at mental illness in England, and laying groups who are most at risk. You know me, and how quibbly I can get about published research. This one is actually good. However, it’s worth noting something they didn’t measure in the survey: social media use. This means, of course, it’s absolutely impossible to draw conclusions from the data about social media and mental illness from this research. The survey authors mention that their young cohort is the first to come of age in the social media age, which is true to a certain extent, although I am in an older cohort and came of age in a world where I constantly chatted to friends online, whether I knew them in the meatspace or not. Again, it would be nice if they’d consistently measured online behaviour across studies.

I’ll quote one of the other key research findings here, because again it’s crucial and if you read the Guardian you’d never know about them.

Most mental disorders were more common in people living alone, in poor physical health, and not employed. Claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit aimed at those unable to work due to poor health or disability, experienced particularly high rates of all the disorders assessed.

So. Let’s speculate with the results then. What else happened between 2007 and 2014 that might have had a negative impact on people, especially those who are on disability benefits.

I’ll give you a clue. It happened quite soon after 2007, and the young cohort would have come of age into this, as well as more people using Facebook.

One more clue: it rhymes with wobal winancial wisis wand wausterity.

These are young people who have grown into a world with no prospects, with a hugely gendered impact. Of course, once again, it’s just speculation, but it’s slightly more robust speculation than the Guardian’s because they measured benefit receipt and employment status.

As women, a lot of us would have chorused “no shit, Sherlock” upon seeing the results, and seeing how gendered the results are. We deal with more, and it’s even worse if we’re poor.

The Guardian has a bit of a hateboner for social media, and, unfortunately, this has completely blurred its analysis and reporting of what is an important survey that actually found some interesting trends over time, as well as a bleak snapshot of the current realities.

A twitter rant about sleep, capitalism and Jeremy Corbyn

Today, I am mostly furious about a particular capitalist value: lack of sleep. So I made some twitter threads.

Firstly, about Jeremy Corbyn and leaders. Worth noting, as an addendum, that Margaret Thatcher bragged about sleeping 4 hours a night and Definitely Never Made A Bad Decision Ever. Also, Hitler, who used stimulants to stay awake.

Secondly, about disability and accessibility.

The public health double standard: smoking, drinking, eating sugar, etc are frowned upon, and people who do some of these things are deprived medical treatment. Why is it, then, that an equally dangerous health behaviour–willing sleep deprivation–is considered all right… if not actively valued and encouraged? (and, certainly, medical professionals are subjected to hugely dangerous sleep disruption)

Gender and getting up early

What do I envisage? As a transitional demand, I’d like “That’s too early for me” to be a valid and accepted reason not to attend work engagements. I’d like for homeworking and flexible hours to be the norm, and if sleep disruption is necessary for a job, for “danger money” to be paid: we are, after all, ruining our health. And, ultimately, I’d like for work as we understand it under capitalism to be abolished, but I get that that one’s a big ask, and I’d be all right with the other two demands being implemented within my lifetime.

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Schools collecting immigration data is racist. Boycott this data collection.

This year’s schools census has sneakily added something in, something which may at first seem relatively innocuous, but on closer inspection is very frightening indeed. This year’s schools census is collecting data on children’s country of birth.

In an environment where racist violence is on the rise, it is not safe for such identifiable information about children as young as 2 to be accessible to anyone. Schools census data has already been given to the Home Office (who could gleefully enact state violence on children and their families), or to police (who gleefully help out)… or even to right-wing newspapers like the Daily Telegraph. This is not a safe use of the data of already-vulnerable children, and can only expose these kids to further harm.

Already, this vicious data collection exercise has led to schools enacting racism. Some schools have targeted non-white children, ordering them to provide passport information. Not only is this jawdroppingly racist, but it’s horribly unnecessary: passport information or birth certificates aren’t necessary.

In fact, none of this exercise is compulsory in the slightest.

Schools are not obliged to supply this information, simply attempt to collect it. And parents and students are in no way obliged to provide this data.

The Against Borders for Children campaign is calling for families and schools alike to refuse to provide this information, and therefore protect children.

If you are a parent, or a school-age student, you can refuse to supply the information. This is your right, and there will be no punishment. Parents have until 5th October to inform schools that they will not be supplying the information, and the ABC campaign has a template letter you can use.

Even if your family has been in the UK since before Stonehenge went up, refuse to supply this information: your refusal to comply protects children who need protecting.

If you teach, you can make sure your students are aware of their rights, and work within your school to suggest that collecting this data is not prioritised. You can also raise these talking points with your colleagues.

If you’re working in collecting the data–for example, doing IT at a school–you can enter all the data as “not known”.

All of this is perfectly legal, and will not in any way affect your school’s funding.

And even if you are entirely, personally unaffected by this–I know I don’t have my own horse in this race!–you can still help protect children by raising awareness of this issue. Talk about it. Share leaflets. Write to your MP.

Make this attempt to push boundaries in collecting data on children the complete failure and embarrassment it deserves to me. No child is illegal, and racist harassment must stay out of our schools.

Obligatory #BiVisibilityDay post

Hi, I’m still bi, even though the workings of fate seem determined to make me a lesbian.

I didn’t really have time to write a whole post today, but here are some of my past Bi Visibility Day posts:

Today’s word of the day is “sapphophobia”

Bisexual adventures with stavvers

In which I am visible and bi

 

Incidentally, here is a fact you probably didn’t know about bisexuals. As you must, surely, know by now (and if you don’t, you’re welcome), the “bi” in bisexual doesn’t mean “attracted to the two binary genders”. What “bi” actually refers to is that we exist in a quantum state, simultaneously existing and not existing until observed and either accepted, or  told that we’re just doing it for attention or whatever. Happy Bi Visibility Day, and may you be a Schoedinger’s cat that is alive and well.

Things I read recently that I found interesting

It’s link roundup time, once again!
‘We build a wall around our sanctuaries’: Queerness and Precarity– (Joni Pitt (Cohen) & Sophie Monk)- This article on queer lives under austerity is essential reading.

Occupy vs. Reclaim: what’s in a name? (Sisters Uncut)- Are these activists occupying or reclaiming spaces? They explain.

Looking at Paris Is Burning 25 years after its release (Shon Faye)- Examining the enormous cultural and personal impact of this documentary

On Outrage (Alison Phipps)- Reflecting on outrage and its function, and carceral solutions.

A relationship is not a skill (Lola Phoenix)- Dispelling the myth in poly/nonmonog communities that relationships are something you need to have your own skills to be “good at”.

The psychology behind the unfunny consequences of racist and sexist jokes (Thomas E. Ford)- A short introduction on what purpose such jokes serve.

Dear rapists, I don’t give a f*ck about your future (Chelsea Hensley)- V. V. cathartic

Are “faux-feminists” the new pick-up artists? (Roe McDermott)- Honestly, I related to this so much I wondered if Roe and I had dated the exact same awful men, until I remembered just how widespread their shit is.

POPsec Part 1: Security Lessons Learned from Harry Potter (Totally Not Malware)- A useful primer.

Caster Semenya won the gold medal in the 800m race. (Zoe Samudzi)- Examining the intersections of misogyny and racism and the nonsense of gender testing in sport.

I’m fat, and I have a restrictive eating disorder (Barbed Wire Wings)- A clear look at the experience and misconceptions faced.

The Internet Thinks I’m Still Pregnant (Amy Pittman)- The more absurd consequences of data sharing.

Worst of McMansions– This blog is fun, snarky, and tricks you into learning about architecture.

And finally, the story in this twitter thread is one of the cutest things I have ever read.

 

View story at Medium.com

Is Theresa May A Feminist Icon? Listen to KILLJOY FM for why she really, really isn’t

My friend, feminist extraordinaire Ray Filar, has started a really good radio show, and they were kind enough to invite me on the inaugural episode, where we discussed the question, is Theresa May a feminist icon? Me, Ray, and migrant rights activist Antonia Bright of Movement For Justice all agree that she isn’t, and frankly an hour wasn’t long enough to cover all the reasons why (although we made some headway). Take a bit of time to listen to our conversation, covering May’s violences against migrant women, complicity in austerity, why “blue feminism” is a shivering pile of turds, and what feminism needs to be doing instead of cheering on a monster.

Content note: the discussion covers detention, FGM, violence against women and domestic violence.

Listen to KILLJOY FM every Wednesday on Resonance FM, online or on 104.4 in London.

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Great Pussy Bake Off: the results

This post appeared last month on my Patreon, as a Patron-only post. Sometimes, I post patron-first content. If you’d like to read this work before anyone else, become a patron

Originally posted August 4th 2016.

Content note: this post discusses food

Tragically, my original, controversial sourdough starter passed away recently, due to me being such a good pet owner that I forgot to feed a bloody sourdough starter for over a fortnight. On the fortunate side, this presented me with an ideal opportunity to undertake the more-scientific approach I’d wanted to take since pretty much 24 hours after I first mixed flour, water and a vaginal sample.

So, this time round, I decided to do a head-to-head comparison. The question I wanted to address was:

Is the growth of my sourdough starter due to the vaginal yeast, or would it grow anyway with just wild yeast?

The tl;dr answer is…

The vaginal yeast seems to make a bit of a difference for the better and I have no fucking clue why.

The long answer:

Growing the starters

I started my cunt sourdough and my control sourdough on 30th July. The control starter consisted of 1 espresso cup of plain white flour and 1/2 espresso cup water. The cunt starter contained the same, plus a small sample of my own vaginal fluids, which were harvested by sticking my fingers inside myself and then rubbing them on the fork I used to stir the starter.

Cunt sourdough on the left, control on the right, just after mixing. 

Please note that this time there was an additional variable: I don’t have a yeast infection. So the sample would have contained vaginal yeast, along with everything else in my fanny, including the friendly bacteria that check yeast growth.

This might have affected the results somewhat, although if it did, it was in a completely unexpected way.

Each day, I added 1 espresso cup of flour and half an espresso cup of water to each starter.

To avoid cross-contamination, I always stirred the non-vag sourdough first, and the one with the vaginal yeast afterwards, using a different fork.

Even early on, I noticed differences between the cunt sample and the control. The cunt sample seemed to react slightly quicker, developing its first bubbles before the 24 hour mark.

By the third day, it was noticeably wetter and frothier than the control starter.

Cunt sourdough on the left, control on the right.

This isn’t to say the control starter did badly. It also came to life. On the third day, both starters began to smell, which is how you know they’re alive. I also had to move the control starter to a bigger container; I’d put it in a too-small pot because part of me hadn’t expected it to work.

By the fifth day, 4th August, both starters were ready to cook with. They had developed the characteristic mature sourdough smell (which smells a bit like yoghurt, a bit like nail polish remover and nothing at all like pussy). I had made 500ml of each starter.

The cunt sourdough starter, mature and ready.

 

The control starter, mature and ready.

For no goddamn reason whatsoever that I can discern, the cunt starter was still wetter than the control starter.

Even more peculiarly, at every step of the way, the control starter had behaved like the original cunt sourdough starter I made last November, while this new cunt sourdough starter was more liquid than either, and grew slightly faster.

The crumpet test

I am an impatient person, so rather than bake up bread, I decided to make crumpets, which are quicker and easier, and one can make a hilarious pun about crumpet here.

Recipe:

250ml sourdough starterHalf a teaspoon salt1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Whisk the salt and sourdough starter together.

Add the bicarbonate of soda. At this point, it will start fizzing like a salted slug.

 

Crumpet batter (cunt sourdough sample)

Grease a saucepan and crumpet rings (or metal biscuit cutters if, like me, you don’t own crumpet rings). Heat to a medium heat, and pour or spoon some crumpet batter into the bottom of the rings.

 

Crumpets heating in the pan

Heat gently until the crumpets slip out of the moulds, and continue heating. At this point, you can pop some more into the moulds and have two mini-batches on the go. Do not turn the crumpets over: they’ll lose their lovely bubbly tops. 

Cunt sourdough crumpets

Once the bottom is dark brown, remove from pan and place under the grill for 5-7 minutes, until fully cooked on top. Or, if like me you don’t have a grill, put in the oven at 180C for 7 minutes, and then toast in the toaster.

Which crumpet was nicer?

All the way along, the cunt crumpets were better. As you can see from the picture above, they were much bubblier.

The cunt starter also made more crumpets: I got five crumpets out of the control starter, and seven out of the cunt starter, so I suppose on average this recipe makes six crumpets.

 

Control crumpets, before toastingCunt crumpets, before toasting

You can probably see from my frankly terrible photos that the cunt crumpets were lighter and bubblier. This made a great impact on the experience of eating them.

Bluntly put, the control crumpets were fucking horrible. They were heavy and doughy and I couldn’t even finish one little one. Meanwhile, the cunt crumpets were nice. They tasted like and had the texture of crumpets.

Conclusion: I have more questions

I made two batches of sourdough with in the same kitchen, with the same bag of flour, so therefore any wild yeast would have been the same wild yeast. The starter to which I added some vaginal flora (including yeast) performed consistently better, and produced edible crumpets, while the other was too thick to make good crumpets. So what the fuck happened?

I don’t bloody know, but I have a theory.

I mentioned earlier that the control starter grew and behaved similarly to my original yeast infection starter. This suggests to me that the original yeast infection starter was always just wild yeast and nothing else. Meanwhile, this new starter would have also contained the other stuff that keeps the growth of yeast going at a healthy rate, and therefore helped make the starter a little healthier.

It’s also possible that perhaps I subconsciously made the cunt starter slightly better: the cup I use for feeding the starters isn’t exactly an accurate measure, and maybe I ended up adding a tiny bit more water to the cunt starter each time.

At any rate, the slightly more liquid consistency of the cunt starter helped make better crumpets: you need crumpet batter to be wet.

The control starter has now gone to live with my partner, who will keep it alive and see if it matures better over time, while I’ll look after the cunt starter and see what happens.

Please do try making crumpets yourself, if you keep a sourdough starter. When they come out nice, they’re really, really tasty!

Update: As of September 5th, I’ve baked three batches of bread with the winning starter, and they have all come out really well. My partner has also baked three batches of bread with the non-vag starter. It’s performed quite well, although their loaves seem to come out a bit flatter than mine. However, this might be due to them continually making their dough ever so slightly too wet.