13 Notes About #GamerGate


1) Gamergate started out with a huge misogynist outburst against (female and feminist) game developer Zoe Quinn. The term “gamergate” itself was coined by right-wing actor Adam Baldwin (of Firefly fame), endorsing a Youtube video which falsely accused Quinn of sleeping with a male journalist in exchange for a good write-up of her game. The misogyny was not subtle.

2) On the other hand, it seems likely that Zoe Quinn was, in fact, emotionally abusing her boyfriend Eron Gjoni.1

3) But that in no way excuses Gjoni’s abusive acts against his ex-girlfriend (publishing tons of private correspondence and encouraging gamergate), or the huge misogynist flood against Quinn, which Gjoni encouraged while maintaining a very thin shell of deniability.2

4) I don’t see how it’s possible to look at something like the wildly disproportionate, almost incomprehensibly numerous, violent,3 misogynistic overreaction to Anita Sarkeesian criticizing sexism in games, and not conclude that there’s a misogyny problem in the gaming community. And yet, many gamergaters deny that there’s a misogyny problem there at all. To me, this saps them of credibility.


5) Gamergate got huge – too huge to be any one thing. I think there genuinely are gamergaters who aren’t misogynists, don’t participate in abuse, report abuse when they see it, etc.. I’ve met some Gamergaters who seem to be not at all woman-hating (although imo they are making the wrong call by associating themselves with GG). There are tens of thousands of gamergaters, and I’m not comfortable with painting them all with a single brush.

6) But on the other hand, it’s not like Gamergaters couldn’t simply choose another label. They could very easily disassociate themselves from their misogynistic beginnings, if they wanted to, just by creating a new name for “anti-corruption-in-gaming-journalism-but-not-rooted-in-misogyny.” Instead, they choose to associate themselves with a name that is obviously rooted in large-scale misogyny.4

7) There’s abuse from both sides. The death threats referred to in my previous post almost certainly came from anti-gamergaters. Less seriously (because not threats) but more seriously (because thousands of times more common), I’ve seen a huge amount of mean and dehumanizing tweets from both sides.

8) But it’s my strong impression (albeit one I cannot prove) that the abuse and death threats are more extreme for female, feminist developers in gaming than for anyone else involved in gaming.5

9) But after a certain point of mindless and mean tweets becoming commonplace on both sides, as well as death threats and the like being used repeatedly by the outliers on both sides, I no longer want to associate myself with either side, even if one side is worse.

10) On the substantive issues that they claim to be concerned about, Gamergaters are, imo, mostly wrong. It is not corrupt for critics to discuss sexism in their written criticism of a game. It is not corrupt for an award for indy game design to go to a game that most gamergaters don’t like. Etc, etc.

10½ ) I think gamergaters are also wrong to say that it’s corrupt for a critic or reporter to write about work by someone whose patreon or kickstarter they’ve supported. Supporting a patreon is not a friendship relationship, or an investor relationship; it’s more like supporting someone’s zine by subscribing to it. There is nothing corrupt about critics writing about work that they passionately support. However, this is a somewhat grayer area, and what gamergaters are asking for here – disclosure – seems harmless.

11) The gamergaters I’ve spoken to have a truly terrifying lack of depth in how they view art and art criticism.

12) Some Gamergate actions are – although not literally censorship – doing pragmatic harm to freedom of speech. Gamergaters attempt to use economic coercion to shut up reporters and publications with opposing views. This is contemptible. I have not seen a single gamergater disagree with this common and much-publicized gamergate tactic.6

13) I think gamergate has vastly increased the number of feminists and nerds who parse these issues as “feminists vs nerds” conflicts. Unfortunately, this parsing erases the existence of feminist nerds, who comprise approximately 99% of everyone I’m friends with ever, so I’m really annoyed by this.

  1. I’m a little bothered by the conflation of “cheating on your lover and lying about it” with “abuse.” There is a big difference between what a cheating liar does and what someone who beats up their lover does, even though both of them are doing great harm. There is a good reason only one of these two things is a crime. But probably I’m trying to stop a train that actually left the station years ago. []
  2. I’m in agreement with people who say “Quinn was emotionally abusive and grossly unethical and we shouldn’t make her a hero.” I’m not in agreement with people who deny that Gjoni was also emotionally abusive and grossly unethical, or who say that what happened to Quinn is in any way justified by what she did to Gjoni. []
  3. If you don’t think that counts as violent, there’s also this. []
  4. It is true, as I’ve seen some pro-GG folks argue, that the Democrats began as a racist party and we’re mostly willing to overlook that now. But there’s a difference between overlooking a group’s origins in 1782, versus overlooking a group’s origins this past August. []
  5. Adam Baldwin will not be forced to cancel any public appearances by threats of a repeat of the Montreal Massacre. []
  6. And yes, I have looked. I’m sure there are some out there – there are, after all, so many thousands of gamergaters – but any gamergater who questions these economic-strongarm tactics must be an extreme outlier. []
Posted in Civility & norms of discourse, Feminism, sexism, etc, Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc., norms of discourse | 63 Comments  

Rachel Swirsky’s 2014 Publications & Award Reading

This was two separate posts on my own blog, but condensed here for convenience.

First, my 2014 work:

Grand Jete (or “The Great Leap”) came out in the last issue of Subterranean Online. I am honored to have been part of the magazine and saddened to lose it. “Grand Jete” is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written, and among the longest, at novella length. I started it during the first February when I was living in Iowa, when it felt like the snow had been there forever, and would always be there, and that didn’t feel so much oppressive as just… like stasis.

I wanted to write about the ways that love can cause pain. It became a story about the ballet Coppelia, Judaism, and Winter. “Grand Jete” is being reprinted in year’s best anthologies from Jonathan Strahan and Gardner Dozois.

“Endless” came out in the British anthology SOLARIS RISING 3. The extremely patient editor Ian Whates was more than generous in dealing with my (seemingly also endless) writer’s block. I wrote a short draft of this story several years ago with the vague aim of selling it to Nature’s Futures, but it didn’t really work at that length; it was just a dry sort of letter thing without any background or character. The published version is five times the length of the original, and I think it really needed the extra word count. It’s about a post-singularity world and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

“Tender” came out in Neil Clarke’s anthology UPGRADED which is about the physical merging of humans with robotic technology. For months, I was working on a story for this about a kidnapped battle robot, but I was just never able to make anything happen. Then, one morning when I couldn’t sleep, I wrote this piece more or less entire (I did revise, later, but the whole structure was there). I love it when that happens; I wish it could happen more. The story is told from the perspective of a mad scientist’s wife whose husband is deploying increasingly desperate mechanical interventions to keep her alive.

If anyone would like to get access to one of these stories, please let me know, and I’ll send you a copy. (This offer is intended for Hugo and Nebula voters, but if someone else who isn’t either wants a copy anyway, do ping–within reason, I’ll try to accommodate.)

And a brief note on my 2014 award reading (slightly modified for clarity to an audience of people who aren’t necessarily immersed in science fiction and fantasy publishing):

Most years, I try to read as widely as possible before award nominations. I like to be an informed nominator, but more than that, I like being an informed reader of the genre; I like knowing what’s going on. I love discovering writers who are new to me which I almost always do, and I love being able to recommend and talk about fiction.

This year, I’m on the jury for an award given to young adult novels. This means I need to read many, many young adult novels. On the one hand–yay! Young adult novels! On the other hand, ouch. Less time for reading anything else.

I will try to blitz-read some short fiction. But it won’t be as much, and it won’t be drawn from as widely, and I’m sorry for that.

However, if you have a piece of fiction that you think I should read, or that you’d like me to read, please link me, or (for attachments) contact me so that we can set it up by email. Recommend me your fiction, or someone else’s. I can’t guarantee what I’ll be able to read, but I’ll try. (This offer is meant to cover fiction published in 2014 that’s eligible for the Nebulas or the Hugos, but I’m always happy to read other good fiction, too. Just please note if you’re recommending ineligible stuff so I know I’m not on a deadline to read it.)

Posted in Mandolin's fiction & poems | 3 Comments  

Proportions and Death Threats, and Blockbots, and Men Policing Women’s Responses


I think this is a good argument, and a good thing for both sides of any large internet dispute to keep in mind. (And something that I have sometimes failed to keep in mind.) The writer is Chris, who is (if I’m following this correctly) an expert on statistics.

I’m fortunate, however, because I’ve been blessed with a pretty good grasp of numbers. I know, for instance, that while a hundred or so threatening messages are a lot, they came from a dozen or so different persons at most. I know that a dozen is, really, an insignificant fraction of people in the context of this debate. There were almost 150,000 distinct tweeters discussing #Gamergate, and almost as many discussing opposition thereto. I am not going to go out and tar such a huge group of people with the brush that would at best fit a handful.

When you get 150,000 people together, it’s impossible to do so without having a handful of people who are very enthusiastic, very passionate and very much lacking the ability to express themselves without being offensive. Equally, there will be some who join in just so they can let their primal desires out. Proportions matter. They matter even where a single instance of something is unforgivable, such as in the case of harassment.

Of course, while Chris received “a hundred or so” threats, there are other people who receive thousands. There are people for whom the harassment drags on for years. And presumably Chris’ “hundred or so” doesn’t count messages that aren’t actual threats but are still abusive, which I suspect are much more numerous than threats. I’m glad those who make literal threats are only a tiny portion of the whole, but I want to be able to keep that in mind without forgetting that abusive harassment, including but not limited to threats, is a real problem. (I don’t mean to imply that Chris would disagree with me about any of this.)


Unfortunately, Chris’ clear head is lost when his post moves on to an over-the-top rant about a program some Twitter users made to block pro-gamergate people from their twitter feeds (so if I used this bot, I would not see any tweets from anyone on the blocked list), which according to Chris is “a McCarthyesque blacklist.” (McCarthyesque? Seriously? If police gave out tickets for historically ignorant hyperbole, Chris would owe a fine.)

In the comments of Ozy’s blog, Veronica writes a good response:

Do I need an open channel to literally every person on Earth? I follow hundreds on Twitter. Hundreds follow me. I see good variety of interesting stuff from interesting people. I do not need to see *everything* from *everyone*.

I lock my door. I wear headphones on the train. I don’t display my phone number emblazoned on my shirt. I get to have some control of who I interact with.

And honestly, unless someone offers some better way to avoid the Twitter mobs, I don’t really care if they like the bot. They aren’t going to maintain my Twitter account for me.

You use the term “guilt by association,” but that is a loaded phrase. To block someone on Twitter says nothing more than you don’t want to see their tweets nor have them see yours, nor do you want to receive notifications from them. This does not prevent them from tweeting to others. It is nothing more than a boundary. I can build any boundary I want on social networks and no one else gets to say boo.

Well, they can, but I will not hear them. Which is a lovely thing.

Indeed, both philosophically and legally, Veronica has a free speech right to choose not to listen.

I have no idea what Chris’ politics are, but I’ve seen similar frenzied overreactions to the blockbot coming from anti-feminists and MRAs.

Some anti-feminists and MRAs act as if their job is to police how women respond to abuse and harassment.1 Thus we are told that if a man is harassing a woman at a bar, she is a terrible person if she calls him creepy;2 and we are told that twitter users like Veronica are wrong to use whatever tools they want to block users they don’t want to read; and Lena Dunham is called a liar when she wrote about having been raped, even though she made it clear the event was a little ambiguous and changed the name and identifying details of the man.

Obviously, the very minor abuse of an annoying tweet is in no way equivalent to a rape. But these very disparate things form a pattern of anti-feminists (mostly men) thinking it’s their business to police how women respond to harassment and abuse.

If someone is being harassed, she doesn’t have to put her harasser’s feelings above her own safety and comfort. And if someone doesn’t want to read tweets, they don’t have to. It’s that simple.

  1. I don’t know the demographics of the blockbot user base, but I suspect that blockbot users are disproportionately female, and those blocked, disproportionately male. []
  2. Calling someone a creep who has in fact not done anything offensive, or gotten in someone else’s space, could be a different matter. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. []
Posted in Civility & norms of discourse | 62 Comments  

Red Pills and Ants

Recent events at a blog that rhymes with Shmetal-Moptimized reminded me of the existence of sociobiology and of people who imagine that human beings – and ants and bonobos and every other species — are driven primarily by biological imperatives, meaning the things you have to do to stay alive and shove your genes down the road a piece. As you might expect, the “staying alive” part gets short shrift (which is too bad, really) and the “my genes!” part gets rather long shrift (also too bad). The people who discuss these things are busy swapping propositions like “women are irrational because they don’t need to use their brains for anything but mate selection” and “men are better at spatial reasoning because they stalked gazelles through gazelle-mazes in ancient forests, even before the creation of dodecahedral dice” and “unattended male horniness leads to suicidality at the prospect of gene extinction, so the empathetic liberal, if rational, would vote for sex stamps as well as food stamps (both to be humane in the face of sex-having inequality and to cut down on hypothetical lifesaving rape).” Continue reading

Posted in Anti-feminists and their pals, Conservative zaniness, right-wingers, etc., Economics and the like, Feminism, sexism, etc, Fiction, Gender and the Body, Homophobic zaniness/more LGBTQ issues, literature, Men and masculinity, Popular (and unpopular) culture, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues, Sex | 14 Comments  

Don’t Call Trans Women “men who identify as women”

I’m sure that there are a few “Alas” readers who will leap on this to say “but, Amp! You call people racists! You’re such a hypocrite!”

Actually, I work to avoid calling people racists, just as I never called Yvonne transphobic. I do call certain policies and actions racists, but I almost never call a person racist. Please try and keep that distinction in mind when you comment. But otherwise, have at it. :-) I am large, I contain multitudes.

I would also ask you to “have at it,” on the specific subject of “Amp’s hypocrisy because he uses the word racist,” in the open thread, rather than discussing it in this thread (because I don’t want it taking over this thread).

You can also use this thread to discuss the Mt. Holyoke issue, if you want. You can get an idea of what happened at Mt. Holyoke from Yvonne’s article (warning for transphobic language, obviously), but I’d also recommend Carolyn Cox’s more positive take at The Mary Sue, and also this blog post for Eve Ensler’s very sensible take. (Ensler is the author of “The Vagina Monologues.”)

Posted in Transsexual and Transgender related issues | Comments Off  

The Politics of Being a Man Who Survived Childhood Sexual Violence

As I said in the blog post I wrote about the artist’s grant I received this year from the Queens Council on the Arts, I plan to use the blogging I do, as well as my newsletter (click to sign up), to share with you the process of preparing for publication my second book of poetry, Words for What Those Men Have Done, which continues my exploration of how being a survivor of childhood sexual violence has shaped my life. At the heart of the book, for me, is “For My Son, A Kind of Prayer,” which weaves together four different narratives: of my son’s birth, of my own sexual abuse, of the rape of a young girl in the Congo, and of a visit to the urologist. (The link will take you to a draft of the poem on my blog. It has also been published at The Good Men Project, in Voice Mail magazine, and is forthcoming in the anthology Veils, Halos and Shackles: International Poetry on the Abuse and Oppression of Women, which will be edited by Charles Fishman and Smita Sahay.)

One of the longest poems I’ve ever written, this piece presented some very specific challenges, not least of which was finding language that would work as poetry to describe precisely how the abuser I mention in the poem violated me. While this challenge raises the very interesting, and I think importan, question of what it means to make art out of such ugliness, it was not the most difficult challenge that I faced. Rather, the hardest part of writing “For My Son, A Kind of Prayer,” was resisting the temptation to wear my violation as an essentalizing badge of difference, as if the experience of being abused had emptied me of everything I might have in common with the man who assaulted me.

I’ve written elsewhere, and in some detail, about the paradox of being both a man who has been sexually violated by other men and a man socialized to embody, whether I choose to act on them or not, precisely the values of manhood and masculinity that legitimize that kind of violation. I plan to write more about this paradox as my work on Words for What Those Men Have Done progresses–especially, I think, as I prepare the public presentation I need to do in order to fulfill the terms of my grant. Here, for now, I will simply say that my understanding of this paradox first took root in me, as did the process of my own healing, when I was in my twenties and discovered in feminism a language that I could use to name what my abusers did to me as abuse.

For My Son, A Kind of Prayer” does not try to resolve this paradox, but rather to illuminate what if feels like to live within it, which is something poetry can do–that art can do; that I hope Words for What Those Men Have Done will do–that other forms of expression cannot. As I said, I’ll be writing more about this as my work on the book progresses. Meanwhile, I’d like to share with you links to two organizations that provide education, support, resources, and advocacy for men who have survived sexual violence: MaleSurvivor and 1in6. I hope you’ll check them out.

Cross-posted on my blog.

Posted in Men and masculinity, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 4 Comments  

Sexism Hurts Men

Kind of an extreme case:

“If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ‘em. Kill every male you see.”

–Chris Kyle, “the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history,” in his autobiography, describing the effective (although not official) rules of engagement for a US sniper in Iraq.

Posted in Iraq, Sexism hurts men | 5 Comments  

Here’s to a New Beginning and a Renewed Purpose

35031As I have hinted at in some of the posts I’ve written over the past couple of years, my professional life has been difficult, not because of anything having to do with my job per se, but because the college where I teach has become, unsurprisingly, caught up in the national struggle over the purpose of education and the role of educators in our society. This is something I care deeply about and so I lent my voice to that struggle, serving for a time as my union’s communications coordinator—work that, while I do not regret it, nonetheless took me away from my own writing and forced me to pass up opportunities to get my work published, to apply for grants and residencies, that I otherwise would have taken.

Precisely because I did not want to keep my own work on the proverbial back burner anymore, I resigned as communications coordinator at the end of 2013. I had not anticipated, however, just how difficult it would be to clear my head of all that politics. Add to that the demands of my normal teaching workload and the fact that I continually felt myself pulled between and among my different writing interests—poetry, translations, essays—and you will understand why I found it increasingly difficult to keep myself focused and disciplined enough to get any substantive work done. Fortunately, I received word last month that the Queens Council on the Arts has awarded me an Individual Artist’s Grant to work on my second book of poems, which will be called Words For What Those Men Have Done. In accepting the grant, I have agreed as well to present my work in public. Since this second book will continue the exploration I began in The Silence of Men of how my experience as a survivor of child sexual abuse has shaped my life, personally, professionally, and politically, I plan to give that reading in April as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The dollar amount of the grant—which is significant, but not as large as some other awards that are out there—is less important to me than its symbolic value. Not only is it the first grant I have ever been awarded (and it is only the second one for which I have ever applied), but coming when it did, at the end of a year in which my search for a new beginning had not been as successful as I had hoped, it has focused my attention and my energies in a way I don’t think I could have done on my own. I have no choice. To fulfill the terms of the grant, I have both to produce and perform the poems that will make up Words For What Those Men Have Done. As I put it in my grant application:

The statistics speak for themselves. Depending on the measure used, studies show that as many as 20% of men will experience some form of sexual violence at some point in their lives. Yet we do not talk about it. That silence both hurts survivors and allows the violence to continue. This project will start, at least in my community, a conversation that is becoming more and more necessary.

I plan to use the blogging that I do to further this conversation, to talk not only about the issues and struggles I will face as I work on my book and prepare the poems for public presentation, but also to place my own work in the larger national and international context of the work to end sexual violence against boys and men and girls and women. That won’t be the only thing that I blog about, but it will become a primary focus of what I post. I am excited by this new beginning, and I am grateful to have you to share it with. I hope that 2015 is filled for you with light and love, with happiness and fulfillment, with contentment and success.

Cross-posted on my blog.

Posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Men and masculinity, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues, Writing | 6 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm: Invisible Giants Controlling Our Every Move Edition

    As usual, feel free to post what you want, when you want, in whatever state of undress you want, and accompanied by whatever music you like. (That link is to a youtube mix I played while putting this post together).

    Anyone got any plans for 2015? I plan to finish the third Hereville book in February, and it’ll be in stores in November. I’m thinking that maybe I’ll burn down my room and start anew, if I can figure out how to do that without catching the rest of the house on fire. Look for a LOT more political cartoons from me in 2015, as well, and also a new comic called “Superbutch,” which takes place in the 1940s and features a Lois-Lane-style reporter trying to uncover the secret identity of a lesbian superhero, to be drawn by Becky Hawkins. And more blogging, I hope.

  1. The Roast Duck Bureaucracy – Open City Local governments are often much more harmful to free enterprise than the national government. There’s also some ugly racial implications of having mostly-white Americans certifying the healthiness of immigrant cuisines that they may not understand at all.
  2. Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions – NYTimes.com
  3. Guest post: The moment he realized how horribly wrong he had been
  4. Study: White people see “black” Americans as less competent than “African Americans” – Vox
  5. A Free-Market Argument for the Social Safety Net | Thing of Things
  6. A lot of people are discussing Scott Aaronson’s comment 171, in which he argues that the acute pain he suffered as a male nerd means he doesn’t have male privilege.

    “Hi there, shy, nerdy boys. Your suffering was and is real. I really fucking hope that it got better, or at least is getting better, At the same time, I want you to understand that that very real suffering does not cancel out male privilege…”

    Here’s another post on the same subject, from a different blog: Compassion, Men, and Me

    And here’s a third: Neither empathy nor trauma are zero sum | Inexorable Progress

  7. A cultural history of inflation in America – Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money “Overall prices in the American economy were about the same at the beginning of FDR’s presidency as they had been at the end of George Washington’s second term.”
  8. 6 Police Interactions That Were Different When They Were White | Scott Woods Makes Lists
  9. Ancient Trees: Beth Moon’s 14-Year Quest to Photograph the World’s Most Majestic Trees | Colossal
  10. Bizarro Back Issues: Batman’s Deadly New Year! (1972)
  11. The odds of Greece leaving the euro have never been higher – The Washington Post
  12. Want to reduce teen pregnancy and abortion? Start with long-term birth control. – The Washington Post
  13. “Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder.
  14. Obama is unpopular. He’s also accomplished an incredible amount. – Vox
  15. Michael Ramirez’s Pro-Torture Cartoon – The Atlantic
  16. How an embryo turns into a baby, in one hypnotic GIF – Vox
  17. Tamara Loertscher: Wisconsin mother is thrown in jail for refusing drug treatment she says she didn’t need.
  18. Forbidden Topic in Health Policy Debate: Cost Effectiveness | The Incidental Economist
  19. “The complaint claims that administrators read books written by sex-differentiated teaching specialists who believe that boys are better at math because their bodies receive daily jolts of testosterone, while girls have equal skills only “a few days per month” when they experience “increased estrogen during the menstrual cycle.”
  20. Rape apologists, in an attempt to silence victims, hurt an innocent man
  21. When Speaking to Men about False Accusations
  22. Rolling Stone didn’t just fail readers — it failed Jackie, too – Vox
  23. Rolling Stone and UVA: How sensationalism has betrayed survivors of sexual violence
  24. New Evidence Emerges of Wage-Fixing by DreamWorks, Pixar and Blue Sky | Cartoon Brew
  25. The Backlash Against Serial’s ‘White Privilege’—and Why It’s Wrong – The Atlantic
  26. Book Review: On The Road | Slate Star Codex “I too enjoy life. Yet somehow this has never led me to get my friend to marry a woman in order to take her life savings, then leave her stranded in a strange city five hundred miles from home after the money runs out.”
  27. Chris Rock is right: White Americans are a lot less racist than they used to be. – The Washington Post
  28. “Afterwards, poking around the corpse, it was discovered that it was 185 years old, and that it had survived the Civil War — its hide contained 9 musket balls that had been shot at it by Confederate troops. And the hunters are smiling, without a hint of shame or guilt or even doubt that it was appropriate to butcher such a magnificent beast.” Update: Hoax, hoax, hoax. Thanks to Doug S. for the correction.
  29. Why Orson Scott Card Should Keep His Job | Thing of Things A reprinted post on Ozy’s blog gives me and some other folks a chance to rehash some old arguments about free speech.
  30. “And if Rolling Stone was so eager to keep Jackie’s story in the piece that they were ready to run it against her will, that suggests their willingness to bend their fact-checking standards may have had less to do with some feminist “sensitivity” to a survivor’s request and more to do with not wanting to risk losing a particularly shocking tale of a gang rape that would help their article go viral in the way it ultimately did.”
  31. I love this wonderful 1904 comic strip by the immortal Windsor McCay. (Source)

McCay Winsor How He Escaped From His Border 1904

Posted in Link farms | 288 Comments  

Some Brain Teasers From Scientific American

This article in Scientific American, by Keith Stanovich, makes some solid points about the limits of IQ.

No doubt you know several folks with perfectly respectable IQs who repeatedly make poor decisions. The behavior of such people tells us that we are missing something important by treating intelligence as if it encompassed all cognitive abilities.

I highly recommend going over to SA and reading the whole article. But just for fun, here are some “brain teasers” that Mr. Stanovich included in his article, along with his answers, given in the footnotes.

1. Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married, but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

A) Yes
B) No
C) Cannot be determined


2. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?


3. I’m going to skip question three, because although it illustrates an interesting and important finding about how partisanship kills thoughtfulness, it’s not fun as a stand-alone brain-teaser. But you can read it at Scientific American.3

4. Imagine that XYZ viral syndrome is a serious condition that affects one person in 1,000. Imagine also that the test to diagnose the disease always indicates correctly that a person who has the XYZ virus actually has it. Finally, suppose that this test occasionally misidentifies a healthy individual as having XYZ. The test has a false-positive rate of 5 percent, meaning that the test wrongly indicates that the XYZ virus is present in 5 percent of the cases where the person does not have the virus.

Next we choose a person at random and administer the test, and the person tests positive for XYZ syndrome. Assuming we know nothing else about that individual’s medical history, what is the probability (expressed as a percentage ranging from zero to 100) that the individual really has XYZ?


5. An experiment is conducted to test the efficacy of a new medical treatment. Picture a 2 x 2 matrix that summarizes the results as follows:

Improvement No Improvement
Treatment Given 200 75
No Treatment Given 50 15

As you can see, 200 patients were given the experimental treatment and improved; 75 were given the treatment and did not improve; 50 were not given the treatment and improved; and 15 were not given the treatment and did not improve. Answer this question with a yes or no: Was the treatment effective?



6. As seen in the diagram, four cards are sitting on a table. Each card has a letter on one side and a number on the other. Two cards are letter-side up, and two of the cards are number-side up. The rule to be tested is this: for these four cards, if a card has a vowel on its letter side, it has an even number on its number side. Your task is to decide which card or cards must be turned over to find out whether the rule is true or false. Indicate which cards must be turned over.


  1. More than 80 percent of people choose C. But the correct answer is A. Here is how to think it through logically: Anne is the only person whose marital status is unknown. You need to consider both possibilities, either married or unmarried, to determine whether you have enough information to draw a conclusion. If Anne is married, the answer is A: she would be the married person who is looking at an unmarried person (George). If Anne is not married, the answer is still A: in this case, Jack is the married person, and he is looking at Anne, the unmarried person. []
  2. Many people give the first response that comes to mind—10 cents. But if they thought a little harder, they would realize that this cannot be right: the bat would then have to cost $1.10, for a total of $1.20. []
  3. Filler footnote. []
  4. The most common answer is 95 percent. But that is wrong. People tend to ignore the first part of the setup, which states that only one person in 1,000 will actually have XYZ syndrome. If the other 999 (who do not have the disease) are tested, the 5 percent false-positive rate means that approximately 50 of them (0.05 times 999) will be told they have XYZ. Thus, for every 51 patients who test positive for XYZ, only one will actually have it. Because of the relatively low base rate of the disease and the relatively high false-positive rate, most people who test positive for XYZ syndrome will not have it. The answer to the question, then, is that the probability a person who tests positive for XYZ syndrome actually has it is one in 51, or approximately 2 percent. []
  5. Most people will say yes. They focus on the large number of patients (200) in whom treatment led to improvement and on the fact that of those who received treatment, more patients improved (200) than failed to improve (75). Because the probability of improvement (200 out of 275 treated, or 200/275 = 0.727) seems high, people tend to believe the treatment works. But this reflects an error in scientific thinking: an inability to consider the control group, something that (disturbingly) even physicians are often guilty of. In the control group, improvement occurred even when the treatment was not given. The probability of improvement with no treatment (50 out of 65 not treated, or 50/65 = 0.769) is even higher than the probability of improvement with treatment, meaning that the treatment being tested can be judged to be completely ineffective. []
  6. Most people get the answer wrong, and it has been devilishly hard to figure out why. About half of them say you should pick A and 8: a vowel to see if there is an even number on its reverse side and an even number to see if there is a vowel on its reverse. Another 20 percent choose to turn over the A card only, and another 20 percent turn over other incorrect combinations. That means that 90 percent of people get it wrong.

    Let’s see where people tend to run into trouble. They are okay with the letter cards: most people correctly choose A. The difficulty is in the number cards: most people mistakenly choose 8. Why is it wrong to choose 8? Read the rule again: it says that a vowel must have an even number on the back, but it says nothing about whether an even number must have a vowel on the back or what kind of number a consonant must have. (It is because the rule says nothing about consonants, by the way, that there is no need to see what is on the back of the K.) So finding a consonant on the back of the 8 would say nothing about whether the rule is true or false. In contrast, the 5 card, which most people do not choose, is essential. The 5 card might have a vowel on the back. And if it does, the rule would be shown to be false because that would mean that not all vowels have even numbers on the back. In short, to show that the rule is not false, the 5 card must be turned over. []

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