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It's not okay to threaten to rape people you don't like: Why I stand with Rebecca Watson

Every now and then, I am reminded of how lucky I am. I'm lucky that none of my readers has ever responded to a comment I made, which they didn't like, by calling me ugly. I'm lucky that they've never called me a cunt or a whore. I'm lucky that they've never threatened to rape me and then called me a humorless bitch when I pointed out how messed up that was. In general, the worst comments I've ever had directed to me, here, were from people accusing me of being a paid shill for Big Conspiracy, which is just funny.

But that shouldn't be luck, guys. My experience should not represent a minority experience among the female science bloggers I know. (And it is.) I shouldn't have to feel like thanking you, the BoingBoing readers, for being kind enough to not treat me like shit just because I'm a lady person.

Treating people with respect should not be a controversial position. It should not be a mindblowingly crazy idea to point out the fact that women are quite often treated as objects and, thus, have to deal with a lot more potentially threatening situations than men do. It shouldn't be offensive to say, hey, because of that fact, it's generally not a good idea to follow a woman you've never spoken to into an elevator late at night and ask her to come to your hotel room. Chances are good that you will make her feel threatened, rather than complimented.

And, even if you disagree, it's still totally not okay to threaten to rape people you disagree with. Seriously. Other than the specific bit about rape, we should have all learned this in preschool. And the fact that so many of the people engaging in this behavior claim to be rational thinkers and members of a community I strongly identify with ... well, that just makes me want to vomit. I honestly don't know what else to say.

Read Rebecca Watson's full article, Sexism in the Skeptic Community

Cow Week: Angry cows vs. angry mothers

Editorial note — Cow Week is a tongue-in-cheek look at risk analysis and why we fear the things we fear. It is inspired by the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, the popularity of which is largely driven by the public's fascination with and fear of sharks. Turns out, cows kill more people every year than sharks do. Each day, I will post about a cow-related death, and add to it some information about the bigger picture.

Now that we have three entries behind us, Cow Week is starting to fulfill its intended function—a format in which to talk about what we do and don't know about why we consider some things risky and some things safe.

Today, we're going to look at the way different emotions have different effects on how we perceive risk. But first, the cow-related violence:

In 2011, a British teenager named Emma Gregory was attacked by cows. Like yesterday's victim, Gregory was crossing a cow pasture with a dog in tow. (Bear in mind here, crossing cow-occupied pastures as part of moving around your community is a more normal thing in the United Kingdom than it is in the United States.) Gregory survived and her furious mother launched a campaign to change signage around the field and generally make sure that people are familiar with the fact that cows are not always docile, friendly, and adorable.

Mrs Gregory also wonders whether or not it would be “reasonably practicable” to install temporary fencing alongside the public right of way to keep ramblers and cattle separate.

“Yes, I accept cows are extremely protective about their calves, but people need to be warned about the dangers through signs, [she said]. “There was no indication this sort of thing can happen and I know it is not unusual for cows to go after dogs, but there should be more warnings.”

This angry mom who took a chance and tried to convince her community to change its norms reminded me of a 2001 research paper by scientists at Carnegie Mellon and University of California, Berkeley. In the paper, the researchers documented four different studies that lead them to a single conclusion: Fear and anger affect our judgement, decision-making, and perception of risk in different ways. Specifically, the researchers found that people who self-reported as carrying around a lot of feelings of fear thought about the world in a more pessimistic way, and were liable to make the choices they thought would help them to avoid risk. The problem: The "safest" option wasn't always as safe as it seemed. It just looked that way to people who felt like failure, or doom, was imminent.

Meanwhile, people who told the researchers they were angry a lot of the time had responses that were more like those of happy people—they were more optimistic; and they were more liable to take risks and try something new.

The catch is that this distinction was strongest when the subjects were dealing with ambiguous events—situations where it wasn't clear whether there was actually a risk or how big the risk was, and where it wasn't clear how much control the subject had over the situation. In those circumstances, fearful people basically clammed up and tried to avoid doing anything new. In contrast, happy people and angry people didn't assume that the worst was going to happen, so they were more willing to try a different approach to solving the problem—a "risk" that, ironically, might make them more safe.

Read the rest of the story about the attack on Emma Gregory at Get Surrey

Read the study on fear, anger, and risk

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Cow kills Irish pensioner
Bull gores man, follows him until certain he is dead
Welsh cattle hate dog walkers

Image: cows, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from emmett_ns_tullos's photostream

Canadian politician gives rival the finger, offers to "go outside" with the entire legislature if they don't like it

Abel LeBlanc, a Liberal member of the New Brunswick legislative assembly, was thrown out of the room yesterday after he gave a rival politician the finger, called her a liar, and then asked the entire parliament to "go outside" (presumably for some sort of fisticuffs).

The quote below gives you a taste of the outburst, but you owe it to yourself to download the audio, which I've edited out of the CBC As it Happens Podcast and uploaded to the Internet Archive for your enjoyment. Remix gold. Ringtone city. Listen to this rage. Just listen to it.

Robichaud complained again, but LeBlanc refused to apologize.

"I'll not apologize in this house for that young lady over there," he said, before accusing Blaney of telling lies about Saint John-Fundy MLA Stuart Jamieson.

Jamieson was asked to step down as tourism minister on Friday for suggesting the controversial deal between NB Power and Hydro-Québec should go to a referendum.

LeBlanc did not elaborate on the alleged lies before extending his middle finger again at another Tory MLA and shaking his fist.

"I'm gonna tell you, Dale [Graham, Tory MLA for Carleton], I'll walk outside with any one of yas here," LeBlanc said. "Don't ever laugh at me. Yes, I gave you that. And I'll give you that again. And I'll give you this if you want to go outside. You're a punk!"

N.B. MLA expelled for rude gesture

MP3 link