Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tasting with your eyes: Black burgers and Fried Bugs.

Crispy caterpillars, fried crickets and butter tossed larvae. Doesn’t that sound appetizing? Okay, so maybe something more ‘common’? What about a black hamburger, made with black buns and black cheese?


Sunday, November 9, 2014

L'Odeur de la Suspicion: Pourquoi éviter les plats de poisson lors des dîners d’affaire

 Hamada Chimei – Suspicion (1957)

Un soir, vous vous rendez à un dîner d’affaires. C’est la première fois que vous rencontrez la personne avec laquelle vous avez rendez-vous et le but du dîner est de juger si vous souhaitez entamer une collaboration avec elle sur un projet qui vous tient à cœur. La personne en question arrive exactement à l’heure, échange quelques remarques spirituelles de bon ton, manifeste un intérêt mesuré pour le projet et se montre polie envers les serveurs. Pourtant, en rentrant chez vous, vous êtes en proie à un sentiment indéfinissable de malaise et pensez : « Quelque chose ne sent pas bon à propos de cette personne ». Non, il ne s’agit pas de remettre en cause son hygiène corporelle (ce qui serait d'ailleurs parfaitement légitime) : vous manifestez là simplement votre suspicion à l’égard de cette personne en termes métaphoriques.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The many faces of the Fat Tax

Source: National Cancer Institute

The world is getting too fat. In the United States obesity and overweight affect a shocking 68% of people, of which half meet the criteria to be labeled obese. In Belgium obesity levels are also becoming a problem, as both 41% of men and women are ranked as overweight and/or obese (Eurostat, 2011).

Friday, October 3, 2014

Le sexisme… responsable des inégalités femmes-hommes ?

Ces dernières décennies ont été marquées par de nombreux progrès pour les droits des femmes : en 1948, les femmes acquièrent le droit de vote, en 1978, les femmes peuvent ouvrir un compte en banque sans l’autorisation de leur conjoint, en 1990, l’IVG est partiellement dépénalisé, en 2002, l'égalité entre les femmes et les hommes est garantie de façon explicite par la Constitution… Malgré cela, les chiffres l’attestent (voir mon billet du 12 mai sur ce blog), l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes est encore loin d’être une réalité. Qu’est-ce qui pourrait expliquer ce paradoxe entre un principe acquis d’égalité et des inégalités dans la vie quotidienne ?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Swearing: a curse or a blessing?

Swearing: a curse or a blessing?

Have you ever thought why a tiny chain of sounds such as “ba***rd” can trigger a whole chain of events, which can even end to the hospital or to a police station?  Today I will tackle a “taboo topic”, namely taboo words or swearwords and the paradox they entail. This paradox is linked to the fact that swearing is a linguistic function, but at the same time differs in significant ways from the rest of our linguistic faculty. Like all other words, swearwords are conventional, that is their meaning results from a tacit agreement between members of the same lexical community. Yet, swearwords constitute a very specific word category and it is exactly this that in my view generates the paradox. Why although linguistic communication is generally thought to be highly cooperative (Grice, 1975), the swearwords largely irritate and offend people. The paradox, thus, consists in that we seem to have signed some sort of “social contract” dictating that instructing someone to get engaged in sexual intercourse (paraphrased in a two-word expression consisting of the f-word followed by the second person personal pronoun “you”) is something very negative and highly offensive. But isn’t it strange that people have agreed upon which words are to be used as shocking and offensive? Why don’t we rather agree to not use these words at all? I think that part of the answer lies in the fact that these words are connected to a primitive aspect of humanity: swearing seems to constitute a more primitive function than our more civilized capacity to engage in normal decent conversations.

If you think about it, swearwords are merely a combination of specific sounds
–which when combined to form other words  are totally innocent– and yet they are so powerful. They can end relationships of people that till the “fatal” moment of utterance have been very close to each other. Or they can strangely bound strangers by having them share the same bench in a police station. They can even provoke a whole public discussion if uttered by the mouth of a public figure, as was the case when Greece’s Prime Minister proclaimed himself “malaka” (i.e. “j**k) thinking being “off the record”, while all the country’s media were broadcasting a long awaited official statement concerning the country’s economical situation. But what is it that makes these words so powerful?

Although we cannot go back to the first swearword on earth to see how and why it emerged, we can tell from our everyday experience that swearwords are very strongly connected to emotion. The prototypical situation where a swearword will be used is one where the speaker undergoes a strong emotional experience. Traditionally, swearwords are uttered when the speaker is angry with another person (or in the case of the Greek prime minster with oneself), a situation or even an object. How many times haven’t you sworn –even if only mentally– your own destiny while an unexpected traffic jam makes you run late for a very important meeting; or an innocent hammer because you accidentally hit your finger with it instead of the nail? On the opposite side of the communicative channel, one can be really offended and, as noted above proceed to extreme reactions, if he or any of his beloved ones is the recipient of the characterization “as**ole”. It seems, thus, that what makes swearwords so powerful compared to the rest of our vocabulary is the fact that they are intrinsically arousing and linked to an extreme negative valence.                                           
As a matter of fact, along with this theoretical observation, evidence from how our brain processes swearwords consents to their “high emotionality”. First of all, contrary to our general linguistic faculty and our mental lexicon that is mainly controlled by our left hemisphere, it seems to be the right hemisphere that is mostly responsible for the processing of swearwords. Although we should be really careful when we make claims of brain lateralization (i.e. claims that the right or the left hemisphere of our brain is exclusively responsible for different cognitive functions), there is a general consensus that the right hemisphere is somewhat more implicated in emotional reactions. With this in mind, it is worth noting that aphasic patients, people who after an accident or stroke have lesions on their left hemisphere and have, thus, lost their capacity to speak, still preserve their ability to swear (Landis, 2006; Pinker, 2008; Van Lancker & Cummings, 1999). This fact highly suggests that it is the right hemisphere to control our capacity to swear, and, thus partly provides evidence for their emotional nature.
Another line of research also reflects the high emotionality of swearwords as compared to other word categories. A study by Bowers & Pleydell-Pearce (2011) showed that our body itself reacts differently to swearwords as compared to other word categories. These researchers measured people’s electrodermal activity, that is the electrical conductance of their skin, while they were reading aloud swearwords (e.g. “f**k”), euphemisms of swearwords (e.g. “f-word”) neutral words (e.g. “glue”) and euphemisms of the neutral words (e.g. “g-word”). What they found is that people’s skin conductance was higher when they uttered the swearwords as compared to all three other word categories. Previous research has shown that electrodermal activity increases with activation of the amygdala, a part of the brain shown to be particularly implicated in emotional reactions. This finding is, thus, interesting for two reasons: on the one hand it corroborates the view that swearwords are especially emotional; on the other hand, it suggests that it’s not the concept denoted by swearwords that is responsible for their special affective value. The researchers rather suggest that our affective reactions linked to swearwords result from a process of verbal conditioning. In their view, our reaction to swearwords is developed in an analogous way that salivation of Pavlov’s dogs increased upon hearing of a specific sound, because the dogs had previously associated this sound with eating (as Pavlov had made sure that they had had many previous experiences where food was presented together with this specific sound). Similarly, we have learned to automatically react emotionally to the hearing of swearwords, merely due to their sound, and without really thinking of the concept their acoustic form redirects us to. But if in the case of Pavlov’s dogs it was Pavlov himself who was responsible for the association the dogs had made between the sound and the food, in our case how are the associations between swearwords and specific emotional reactions made? In other words, how come these words are set apart from the rest of our vocabulary and stored and processed alone in our right hemisphere?
Evolution and societal factors seem to interact once more in an interesting way. Generally, there seems to be a cross-linguistic compatibility as to the semantic categories from which languages take their “dirty” vocabulary. Researchers working on swearwords agree that there are roughly five conceptual categories swearwords refer to: bodily effluvia, sexuality, disease, religion, and disfavored social groups (Pinker, 2008; Jay, 2009). The universality of the first two categories can be easily explained in evolutionary terms, as the unease such topics can provoke can be seen as evolutionarily adaptive. People from every country, religion or social group are quite likely to feel disgusted when obliged to listen to a word referring to excrements. According to Pinker (2008) this linguistic disgust might originate from an instinctual attitude towards things that might jeopardize our health. Again, swearwords referring to disease (not so common in English but common in other languages, e.g. Dutch) are also easy to analyze as even in western societies so advanced in terms of life expectancy, citizens are still faced with the ultimate disaster expecting every human being: death. Finally, the unease related to sex seems to be partially connected to biology, partially determined by social factors. Roughly speaking we can say that sex implicates high medical stakes along with socially undesired results, ranging from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, to unpredicted reactions on behalf of cheated partners, puritan relatives etc. (Pinker, 2008). But the strongly affective character of those swearwords referring to religion or social classes seem to be socially determined rather than in terms of evolution. For example, cursing a divine entity might be perceived as more or less offensive, and thus trigger a higher or lower affective reaction, according to how religious or irreverent someone is. The same goes for swearwords drawing their power merely by denoting someone as part of a specific social or racial category: it is clearly historical and social factors that will determine whether it is offensive or not to refer to someone as part of a specific social group, factors lost somewhere in historical anecdotes. So some swearwords seem to accomplish their role for evolutionary reasons while others due to social factors.  
But coming back to our initial question, namely why we agree upon which words should be highly taboo, instead of agreeing to eliminate such words from our vocabulary altogether, we can say that it’s partly because swearwords seem to be somewhat useful both from an individual and from a societal perspective. Departing from the observation that people swear when they feel pain, Stephens, Atkins, and Kingston (2009) conducted an experiment in order to study tolerance to pain as a function of swearing. Two groups of participants recited a word, while immersing their hands in cold water. In the first group the word was a swearword, while in the second a neutral word. The researchers compared participants’ pain resistance, heart rate and pain perception and they found that “swearing participants” withstood pain significantly longer than participants of the control group, while they perceived pain to a lesser degree. But apart from the fact that swearing seems to produce a hypoalgesic effect, thus being somehow useful at the individual level, one could even think that, despite its aggressive nature, it is useful for society as well.  If we take Damasio’s (2009) observation that although incapable of controlling emotions themselves, people are still able to control their emotional reactions, it could be hypothesized that, in the course of evolution, the physically aggressive behavior which in primates appears as a result of a painful stimulus, in humans it has been transformed into linguistically aggressive behavior, for preserving the social order. Long story short, better swear than hit…

Myrto Pantazi is a Ph.D. student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Bowers, J. & Pleydell-Pearce, C. (2011). Swearing, Euphemisms, and Linguistic Relativity. PLOS ONE, 6 (7).
doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022341
Damasio, A. (2009). This Time With Feeling. Talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Aspen Institute, 07/04/2009.
Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. L. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics, Vol. 3: Speech acts (pp. 41–58). New York, NY: Academic Press.
Jay, T. (2009). The Utility and Ubiquity of Taboo Words. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4 (2), 153-161.
Landis, T. (2006). Emotional Words: What’s So Different From Just Words? Cortex, 42 (6), 823-830.
Pinker, S. (2008). The stuff of thought. London: Penguin Books.
Stephens, R., Atkins, J. & Kingston, A. (2009). Swearing as a Response to Pain. Neuroreport, 20 (12), 1056-1060.
Van Lancker, D. & Cummings, J.L. (1999). Expletives: neurolinguistic and neurobehavioral perspectives on swearing. Brain Research Reviews, 31, 83-104.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Madame LA ministre" moins compétente que "Madame LE ministre"?

La ministre française des droits des femmes, Najat Vallaut-Belkacem, appellée à plusieurs reprises Madame "le" Ministre par certains de ses collègues de l'assemblée nationale 

L'usage du langage est un des combats les plus visibles du féminisme. Les noms de métiers en sont un des enjeux. Une annonce d'emploi qui ferait appel à UN électricien ou à UN ingénieur pourrait, par exemple, donner l'impression que l'emploi en question est nécessairement masculin (et dès lors décourager les femmes d'y postuler). Le souci de l'égalité entre les sexes pousse donc à inclure le féminin dans la formulation des noms de métiers, voire à les féminiser lorsqu'ils sont occupés par une femme. Ainsi dira-t-on "Madame la Ministre" plutôt que "Madame le Ministre" (même si l'Académie française n'est pas nécessairement d'accord).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Superstitions: quels effets sur la vie quotidienne?

Laura De Guissmé est aspirante FRS-FNRS. Ses travaux portent sur les aspects psychosociaux du sentiment de victimisation collective. 

          En tombant sur la citation « Je ne suis pas superstitieux, ça porte malheur » (souvent attribuée à Jean-Paul Sartre, Jeanson ou encore Coluche), je me suis interrogée : La superstition serait-elle effectivement néfaste dans la vie de tous les jours ?

La superstition est, selon le Larousse, une « forme élémentaire et particulière des sentiments religieux consistant dans la croyance à des présages tirés d’événements matériels fortuits ». Il s’agirait d’une croyance irrationnelle, inexplicable par une démarche scientifique. A l’inverse de cette démarche, la pensée primitive considère que lorsque deux événements se produisent en même temps, l’un des deux est la cause de l’autre. Certains parlent alors de « pensée magique ».

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tous des Mehdi Nemmouche ? Pistes de réflexion sur l’engagement au djihad.

source : Flickr Vayneh-Design

Selon Manuel Valls, ils sont « sans doute la plus grande menace ». La France « n’aurait jamais été confrontée à un tel défi » [1]. Chaque jour, 2 à 3 individus quitteraient le sol français pour aller combattre en Syrie. Ces djihadistes [2], ces « ennemis de l’intérieur » comme les nomme le premier ministre français, alimentent en Occident les pires fantasmes et réveillent les démons des mémoires collectives. Les attentats de ce 24 mai au musée juif de Bruxelles n’ont rien arrangé. Que va-t-il se passer quand ces djihadistes vont revenir sur le territoire français ? Ont-ils les mêmes intentions que Mohammed Merah et Mehdi Nemmouche ? Entre endoctrinement, radicalisme et courage, comment  comprendre et interpréter ces engagements djihadistes ?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Beware: conspiracy theories may be just around the corner!

What comes to your mind when you hear the term “conspiracy theory”? I bet that in many, probably most of you, when running into the term a feeling of contempt for such theories and their supporters is generated, and the firm assertion that you don’t believe “in these things”. At least I suppose so, judging from my every-day exchanges with friends and acquaintances.   

Monday, June 23, 2014

Humour et enseignement: une stratégie de communication

Dans une classe de cours, le silence et le calme sont traditionnellement considérés, tant par les élèves que par le professeur déstabilisé ou agacé par le brouhaha, comme témoignant de l’attention des élèves. Il s’agit pourtant d’un cliché, car rien ne permet de conclure du silence d’un élève que celui-ci n’est pas dissipé, qu’il ne pense pas à autre chose. Rien ne permet non plus d’en déduire qu’il comprend la matière que le professeur lui enseigne à ce moment. Pourtant cette illusion demeure. Ne dit-on pas d’un enfant studieux qu’il est sage ?  Et combien d’étudiants, après une première session difficile, ne prennent-ils pas la résolution d’assister désormais aux cours en évitant  d’entrer en discussion avec leurs camarades de classe ? Savoir rétablir le calme et le sérieux durant  les heures d’enseignement n’est-il pas considéré comme le gage d’un bon enseignant ?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Eurovision: Pop music vs. local culture and the power of network data visualisation

If you enjoy pop music, for real or satirically and live in Europe, chances are that you would have certainly come across the Eurovision Song Contest. During this TV show, the viewer is offered all sorts of songs and dances performed by emissaries of each European country. In general, although there are a few exceptions, artists perform a pop song in order to reach a wider and more universal audience than local musical styles would allow.
Or is it so really?

In this post, I examine through network visualisation a few of the potential drivers of the votes for this contest.

Voting in the Eurovision contest

Once every contestant has done their show, the audience as well as a panel of professional jury members selected in each country cast their votes for the best performance. Each of these voting entities accounts for half of the final score that is translated in a set of points (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 & 12 points) distributed to the performing countries. As there are more countries to whom points can be awarded than available votes (10) per countries. So, voting in and by itself may be viewed as an indicator of interest of one country for another regardless of the number of points awarded.

But what is actually rated? Is it really the performance of the artists or more some sort of cultural or political affinities?

Belgium 12 points!

The real fun begun when some researchers started to look at the meaning of those scores beyond the simple rating of performance they are supposed to reflect. As a matter of fact some brilliant minds claim to have evidenced odd patterns in the results showing that some nations where “exchanging” votes. For instance some have suggested the existence of "Regional Blocks" voting between countries holding strong political alliances. While others simply suggest that countries “exchange” points because they share the same musical culture and tastes.

Amongst all the methods available to approach this issue, I thought that network data visualisation could be particularly interesting to shed a different light on the problem. So, thanks to these guys and the Eurovision website I have compiled 16 years of European votes on pop music acts. (If you want to have some fun for yourself and run some analysis, here is the excel file.)


By using the magic of Gephi an opesource software and the compiled data of 16 years of Eurovision (in gephi format), here is the kind of visualisation you can create to understand what actually drives the votes in this competition.

What do you see here...

Each country that has participated to the Eurovision in the last 16 years is represented on this wheel. The information displayed by this chart can be broken down in 3 categories.

Nodes: Each country is symbolised by a node (coloured circle). The size of the node is proportional to the number of votes (not points) this country has received from other nations. It shows its connectivity or popularity amongst the European countries.

Communities: Countries that have constantly voted for each other over the last 16 years, no matter the points they gave to each other, are represented in the same colour. They can be seen as community of voters (Louvain Modularity method, sensitivity set to .8). The countries are arranged clockwise in their colour group as a function of their centrality in the community. So the more central a country is in its community, the more votes this country has received from other members of the same community. For instance, Belgium and the Netherlands regularly vote for one another, though the Netherlands has overall received much more votes from Belgium than Belgium has from the Netherlands. 

Edges: Finally, the vectors and arrow, or edges represents votes that a country has casted for an other country. The arrows show the direction of the vote from the point giver to the receiver. However, in this case not every single vote is represented. As a matter of fact, 16 years of voting represents exactly 12892 votes or edges, number which would not be very helpful to represent. So in this graph, I only kept the edges that represent a statistically deviant voting pattern. Over 16 years each country has given a certain cumulated amount to an other. his amount is the weight of the edge that links a country to another. For instance, if Sweden has voted 3 times for Norway giving it 8, 10 and 12 points, the weight of the edge is 30. On average each nation award 17,9 points to each other. The vectors represented in this graph are those which weight is 3 standard deviation over the overall average and could be considered as statistical oddities.

This figure highlights several things. First, it seems to support the “Regional Blocks” hypothesis as it renders the existence of “gangs” of countries constantly voting for one another, independently of the amount of point they give. This is for instance the case of the “former Soviet union gang” (in red with: Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan), the partial “Benelux gang” (Belgium and the Netherlands), the “Baltic gang” (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Sweden) and the “Ionian gang” (Malta, Cyprus and Greece). Though, the type of grouping shown here is not incompatible with the geo-cultural hypothesis of vote exchange in the Eurovision contest. Viewers from countries that have cultural affinities may indeed be more sensitive to some types of musical styles. It is interesting to note however that some grouping seems less obvious like France and Israel.

Shooting arrows

When the wheel is “spatialised” in google maps, it gives a better view of this potential geo-cultural influence.

View Eurovision 1998-2014 outlier votes in a larger map

Second, it also show an other kind of tendency, particularly through the edges represented on the map. Again, for the sake of clarity, those edges or vectors show a statistically abnormal tendency of one nation to distribute a higher score (e.g., 12 points) to another nation. This behaviour can be observed on two different level. Either one country gives higher marks to another country that is part of the same colour group or to a country outside of its community.

The geo-cultural hypothesis still holds when this voting behaviour is observed within one group. For instance, one can easily understand why Greece gives more systematically higher points to Cyprus. It should be noted though, that this voting behaviour is not always observed between countries with a strong cultural overlap such as Belgium and the Netherlands or Germany and Austria, for instance. It should also be noted that this behaviour can be present when the cultural overlap is less obvious such as Israel favouring France.

However, the outlier votes seems to be motivated by other factors when they occur between communities. One interesting trend, for instance, is how Turkey frequently give more point to Germany, Belgium and France. How could it be that country remote from one another and that share some, but limited cultural influences show this type of link? The same question applies for Sweden giving higher points to Malta, though no cultural legacy of one over the other can be found in history. For those edges, it could be that preference transcend boundaries and geo-cultural regions and follows the flux of migrants. As a matter of fact, France, Germany and Belgium are known to host a considerable Turkish community. The same applies to Malta which host an increasing number of Swedes.

Above and beyond intrinsic quality, could it be that sympathy for the performing country plays a determinant role in the votes? Or is it that the community of migrant influenced their host music style to the point that it makes it more compatible with the taste of their peers at home? Interestingly, this is the kind of question that network data visualisation can help to answer.

Third, another finding illustrated by this representation is that some nations are much more consistent in their ranking than others, meaning that over 16 years, they tend to award the highest scores not to one but three or more countries. This is for instance the case for Sweden that constantly favours Denmark, Iceland and Finland (but not Norway) or Russia which gives more frequently higher points to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Moldova. While this could be taken as an other sing of geo-cultural voting, this tendency seems to be restrained to only an handful of countries. Interestingly, even nations that share strong cultural overlapping with more than one country, like Switzerland for instance, spread more equally their votes to other countries and not to prefer anyone in particular.

What’s so pop about pop?

As shown in this post, network analysis and visualisation can be quite compelling in the exploration of relationships in the data and crucially highlights what would have been easily missed otherwise. The analysis presented in this blog only describe a fraction of that information that is represented in those graphs. Feel free to use the provided fils and tell us what you’ve found in the comment section. 

To conclude, Andy Warhol may have been right by saying “Pop is for everyone”, but as far as competition goes, alliances and culture prevails.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Notre vision serait-elle façonnée par la morale ?

Il vous est peut-être déjà arrivé d’apercevoir et d’identifier des formes cohérentes sur des surfaces ou dans les nuages. Ces formes peuvent d’ailleurs être des symboles religieux. Comment se fait-il que des éléments dépendants du hasard donnent lieu à des figures identifiables ? S’agit-il de miracles ou simplement d’illusions optiques ?

                                    Source : ©Mark D Phillips

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Who is afraid of Twitter? or How can the Internet shape collective actions?

"There is now a scourge that is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society", claimed the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a response to weeks of anti-government protests in Turkey in the spring of 2013 (Letsch, 2013). Erdogan condemned social network, micro blogging, and content sharing platforms for inciting millions of citizens to join countrywide demonstrations and sit-ins; for “inciting the public to break the law” (Eissenstat, 2014, para. 7). Twenty-nine Twitter users were arrested and put on trial on these grounds (Gardner, 2014).

Thursday, May 15, 2014

De l’intérêt d’une approche scientifique « lente »

La carrière de chercheur scientifique est à la fois passionnante et stressante. Passionnante car elle confère une liberté de penser, de conceptualiser et d’expérimenter. Stressante car le développement et la pérennité d’une carrière repose principalement sur la productivité du chercheur (e.g., nombre de publications, de citations). Baignant dans cette culture du « publish or perish », il est bon, sinon crucial, de prendre le temps de s’interroger sur le fonctionnement et l’éthique de la recherche scientifique.

Monday, May 12, 2014

L’idéal de l’égalité et la lutte contre la discrimination

Source : Google Images

Grâce au combat des mouvements féministes, l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes est garantie, depuis février 2002 par la constitution belge. De plus, alors qu’à la fin des années soixante, les femmes consacraient en moyenne 4,3 fois plus de temps que les hommes aux soins et à l’éducation des enfants, selon une enquête réalisée par l’institut pour l’égalité des femmes et des hommes[1], en 2005, elles y consacraient encore 2,6 fois plus de temps.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Are women interested in taking apart desktop computers?

Source: Wikimedia

A very widespread summary of the literature on gender differences in interests (which purports to explain why there are more female nurses and male engineers than vice versa) is that "men are interested in things and women in people". This idea is conveyed in both very serious scientific publications and in the media. This maps well with the stereotype that "boys like to play with trucks and girls with dolls". 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Compte-rendu de "La démocratie des crédules" de Gérald Bronner

Michael Jackson est toujours vivant. Les tours jumelles ont été dynamitées par le gouvernement Bush. Diana a été tuée par les services secrets anglais. L'astrologie permet de prédire l'avenir. 

Dans "La Démocratie des crédules" (PUF, 2013), le sociologue Gérald Bronner cherche à identifier les fondements psychologiques et sociaux de la popularité de croyances (parmi lesquelles les théories du complot ont une place de choix) se démarquant des compte-rendus officiels ou de l'orthodoxie scientifique. Analyses quantitatives à l'appui, Bronner montre que ces informations "dissidentes" sont surreprésentées sur le net par rapport à la légitimité dont elles disposent parmi les experts reconnus. Par exemple, sur les 30 premiers sites référencés par Google à propos du monstre du Loch Ness, 78% défendent l'idée que le monstre existe bel et bien. L'ensemble d'informations disponibles aux internautes constitue pour Bronner un "marché cognitif" en pleine croissance, mais celui-ci est fortement biaisé. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Quelle vision de l’humain pour guider notre action?

Partons d’un postulat: tout discours sur l’humain suppose une conception particulière de celui-ci. Cette conception peut se révéler plus ou moins floue, elle est néanmoins toujours présente. Ainsi, lorsque nous parlons de nos semblables et évoquons leur existence, nous possédons, à tout le moins, une vision minimale de ceux-ci. Ce raisonnement peut être tenu à propos de la majorité des autres concepts que nous mobilisons au quotidien.