Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

HONOR ROLL OF SCIENTIFIC TRUTHSEEKERS

Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.
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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

(Click for more Unusual Quotations on Science and Belief)

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Susan Boyle, Goddess of the Overlooked

Cheeky wallflower conquers world with chutzpah on behalf of all of “us”

Cynics struggle to find a flaw in vain, but now Cinderella gets a makeover

Susan, science and the missing gene

Susan Boyle wowed the worldWell, you have all heard of Susan Boyle, but just to recap: The viral sensation on YouTube for nearly two weeks has been Susan Boyle, the frumpy but friendly 47 year old Scottish woman who came onstage at Britain’s Got Talent to rolling eyes from Simon Cowell and the audience, and won their hearts a few seconds later.

She bowled over the judges and wowed the cheering, standing audience with a soaring rendition of the well chosen Les Miserables anthem, I Dreamed a Dream, and the main YouTube replay Susan Boyle – Singer – Britains Got Talent 2009 (With Lyrics) has now been seen 42,747,287 times so far. Actually, the best is the full 7.31 minutes one, a perfect short Full Version. Win Susan Win. Susan Boyle – Britains Got Talent. (5,516,633 views).

Needless to say, we can’t resist commenting on this as a political and social phenomenon of high significance, just like every other journalist and human being we know.

The not so hidden significance of Susan Boyle

For we believe that it was not just a moving validation of an otherwise obscure human being, with whom we can all identify (unless we are already famous). It was not just a hugely satisfying revelation of talent in what appeared to be an unlikely candidate, with which most of us can also identify. Or even that the brilliantly edited video of the incident makes such a perfect short story in itself. Or that the numbers have grown so huge that Susan Boyle at over 100 million YouTube views (this figure prematurely announced begins to seem accurate by now) and top of the Twitter topic pile may be the most talked about persona in the Western World, topping Obama.

It is that the Susan Boyle viral event serves as a litmus test for the sense or nonsense of all the professional and amateur commentary it evokes, including ours. How well did the mainstream print and TV media do in this respect, and what does it tell us about whether they deserve the prominence they are steadily losing to the Web?

Are we fed up with the culture of looks?

Susan Boyle belts it out, and who says she ain't pretty in her original state?Like it or not, the video and the hundreds of thousands of Comments on the web show how important good looks are in first impressions and in how people treat each other these days at least when they first meet. They also suggest that people chafe under this oppression, which is imposed and magnified by a mainstream media culture ever more infatuated with looks.

Obviously, on screen success goes with appearance, and with rare exceptions such as Tiny Tim this has always been so. Politicians have to be presentable to attract and please the cameras which mediate their influence on the audience. But the extent to which most senators now look as if they have just stepped down from the movie screen is astonishing, with women swooning over Obama a classic example on the Presidential level.

Hollywood, of course led this trend from the start in insisting that actors and actresses were good looking enough to stir audiences and encourage them to empathize with the on screen seduction. Likewise models have to have winning looks, and often sell the enhancement of appearance with cosmetics, dress or fine possessions, constantly implying success and looks go together. Nowadays it seems that even the rich have to be good looking to attract the attention of the media, and if they aren’t they are made up and dressed to be so.

The question that Susan Boyle raises in the face of all this is whether this has to be so in daily life. Is appearance now totally correlated to success off screen as well as on? Do we have any time or tolerance left for the plain, the ordinary, the everyday, the ugly, the shabby or the worn out, ie ourselves in the mirror? We are talking of strangers and friends here, not family, of course. Presumably nearly everybody lets their guard down at home unless they have company.

What the Boyle boom suggests to us is that millions are fed up with the disconnect between on screen beauty and off screen normal appearance. Perhaps Susan Boyle charms us with relief from this disconnect, as she trumps it with vivacity and high talent. From the ugly duckling emerged a swan of a voice. In this she was in line with the vast new tradition of the Web, where the balance between beauty and ordinary is the same numerically as on the planet, and in high contrast with the lovely faces and sexy bodies we see on the mainstream media.

This is not to say, of course, that one can’t find beauty and high chemistry all around in daily life if one goes to the right venue, for example, the campuses of NYU, Columbia or other institutions of higher learning in New York City where the young and often beautiful study (other places too, but we find intelligence and higher education add to appeal, as Gordon Lish implied in his famous Esquire piece).

 Britain's Got Talent star Susan Boyle, sporting a new look after undergoing a makeover, outside her home in Blackburn, West Lothian.     PA Photos /LandovActually we would be the first to point out that Susan Boyle is certainly not ugly, in fact she is characterful and quite pleasing with her snub nose and cheerfully rounded cheeks, and her jolly friendliness, despite her double chin and stocky body. OK, she is no swan, but with a bit of attention she can be made highly presentable for the international stage. In fact she has now been made over, as per the photo left. Is it an improvement, or does she lose in natural appeal what she gains by artifice? We would have to see her in action, but we wonder.

“She looks 10 years younger,” said Toni Jones, assistant fashion editor at The Sun tabloid newspaper, which featured the new look Boyle on its cover Friday.

“Compared to what she had, it’s a 200 percent improvement. But our readers think this is as far as she should go. We want her to stay one of us.””She looks 10 years younger,” said Toni Jones, assistant fashion editor at The Sun tabloid newspaper, which featured the new look Boyle on its cover Friday.

“Compared to what she had, it’s a 200 percent improvement. But our readers think this is as far as she should go. We want her to stay one of us.”

“One of us”, the phrase tells it all. Glamor pusses are goddesses, not us.

Meanwhile, Susan has admitted that her “Never been kissed” was just her “wicked sense of humor”, so that unlikely claim has been scotched by the source herself.

Press silliness emerges

Meanwhile, what has been most enjoyable about Susan’s burst onto the world scene is the silly commentary she provoked among otherwise serious and sensible talking heads, especially on a certain Sunday morning talk show.

After George Stephanopolos ran the video last Sunday, Peggy Noonan came out with “I think it was Noel Coward who said Funny how potent cheap music is!” Huh? Many would say that the Les Miserables anthem is one of the finest in musical theater, ma’am. But Peggy, it wasn’t the music that moved us as such, it was the moving way Susan trumped the initial scorn and derision of those who judged her by her appearance.

Reagan’s brilliant speechwriter (the Challenger “touched the face of God”) continued with her philosophical musings thus: “Sometimes you watch and you know you are being manipulated and you still burst into tears!”

Manipulated? Emotionally, this was not manipulation so much as a genuine triumph, sentimental though it may have been. Frizzy haired stocky frump appears to general scorn unbowed, her cheerful confidence in her own worth plain for all to see, and proceeded to wow an audience now over 100 million with her talent. How is this manipulation? Any skepticism we and Peggy may have felt over Boyle’s frumpiness was purely self-induced, not manipulated, surely. The basic facts we were presented with were true. Susan looked like a cheerful frog, sang like a princess. Any joy we felt identifying with a scorned human being’s victory over unbelievers was fully justified.

Of course, there was the issue of whether the surprise itself was genuine as far as the judges went. Were they really kept in the dark by the producers, and the bookers who carried out the initial filtering? Judging from their faces, we are sure they were. They are not professional actors.

But was the event staged, for all that? Well, now we do learn that the bookers heard about and sought out Susan Boyle, she didn’t appear for audition on her own. Also, in a very tiny way she has recorded before, a CD for a charity that pressed only 1000 copies in 1999. She sang beautifully there too. In fact, she sang beautifully twenty years ago, at a family gathering. Is this surprising? She was born with talent, practiced it, and it emerged where she lived. It was just national recognition that she lacked.

The problem of cynicism

The problem with the group think of journalists and critics we find, particularly in movie reviewing, is that they may rush to compete in sophistication and cynically discount anything which is genuinely moving as manipulation. Perhaps this is due to fear of being exposed as naive, or it may be just the natural product of overexposure to an art and too many of its failures, resulting in a thick skinned perception of universal themes as cliches, and seeing artifice in sincerity. But sometimes cynicism is misplaced. Sometimes it isn’t an emotional button being pressed by a cliche. Sometimes a story is simply genuine and moving for a good reason, even amid trashy framing. Susan Boyle is one such case.

Of course there was knowledge and anticipation among some people in advance as to what would happen, including Boyle herself. After her filtering audition, some knew she was a good singer. She didn’t spring fully grown into existence, after all. She has been a fixture in Blackburn all her life, keeping house for herself, her late mother and her 10 year old cat Pebbles in the rented cottage she was born in – slightly brain damaged, they say – singing in the choir and gaining respect in many karayoke performances in the local pub. She has a voice teacher, who told the Times of London that she had been a contestant before in similar events, and she had vowed this was to be her last try at being discovered.

Does that amount to a fraud and a manipulation? Surely not. The woman has tried repeatedly to be a singer in public and always failed, probably because of her unglamorous looks, and now has finally received the credit she deserves. All she really needed for the world stage was a new haircut, a better wardrobe and recognition of her quality. Many would rather she stayed in her original state, that of a splendidly natural and perky Scottish village lass.

Meanwhile the self protectively cynical journalistic reflex to try and find a flaw in a sentimental triumph is unstoppable, and almost funny in how unsuccessful it is. For example, at the Vancouver Sun:

Susan Boyle: Has the world been conned?

BY BART JACKSONAPRIL 21, 2009 12:02 PM

VANCOUVER – Whaddaya mean there’s no Santa Claus?!

It’s worse than that. Internet sensation Susan Boyle, who garnered at least 30 million YouTube views with her Cinderella performance on Britain’s Got Talent, is a player in a giant fraud.

Or is she? She can surely sing, as evidenced by the tears that flooded the world as the plain Scottish lass sang the Les Miz hit I Dreamed a Dream.

Suddenly, the 47-year-old virgin became everybody’s sweetheart; the kind that brings warmth in the middle of a frosty recession. Broke and jobless? “I know, Andy, we’ll put on a show!”

And a show did talent curmudgeon Simon Cowell surely put on. Or was it crusty Cowell’s put-on?

If the Boyle tour de force was a publicity ploy, it rocked. From nowhere, she was everywhere: Oprah, Larry King, newscasts around the globe. Billions of hearts warmed.

Then, out of New York City, among others, a giant wet blanket was thrown to cool the planet’s ardour. Maureen Callahan in the New York Post noted that the Boyle event was too perfect: “A dowdy, 47-year-old virgin named Susan Boyle takes the stage, wearing her low heels and her Sunday best. The crowd laughs at her, and Boyle – how devastating – laughs along. She says she wants to be a professional singer; people laugh harder and louder. They point. It’s grammar school and the Roman coliseum combined. Simon Cowell – panelist and show creator – rolls his eyes. And then Susan Boyle sings.”

The same cynicism rumbled online. Notes “Rick” on Yahoo:

1) All of these shows have try-outs for filter out thousands of aspiring hacks before going on international television. Simon and the other judges were listening to her for the first time. This is not normal.

2) The next sign to look for is the clumsy humpty-dumpty music played in the background at the beginning while she eats a donut. The idea is to give the audience the perception of a frumpy donut eating middle aged unemployed woman. This is important to aid in her “rags to riches” story. The audience must have the perception of her being totally hopeless before she sings for maximum affect.

3) The orchestra’s music continues to play in the background even while the judges give their verdicts. As far as I know, this is the ONLY time this has ever happened in the history of this show. Simon’s vote is saved for last and suspiciously timed out perfectly before the crescendo of the orchestra. This is exactly how a movie would plan the same effect to help jerk a few extra tears from the audience.

Meanwhile, reports arise that Cowell has arranged a recording contract for the frumpy phenom, and he has a piece of what will undoubtedly be lucrative action.

Still if it wasn’t the spontaneous “reality” it pretended to be, the show was staged to perfection.

And in these parlous times, give a fairy tale its due.

The fact is that poor wonderful Susan is or was a bit of a frump, who revealed a magical talent which she had always wanted to use on stage if she could find recognition. Now she has it. Doesn’t matter if she already has been filtered once, or had recorded one little song on one little charity CD before, or practiced all her life. She was obscure, and now in deserved limelight. and will get some grooming!

Carping is a journalistic reflex and it is funny how unsuccessful it is in this case. Long live Susan!

Frog into prince

Meanwhile, in case you didn’t know, this is not the first time this has happened. Paul Potts, an English carphone salesman turned from a bull frog into a prince when he opened his mouth on the same stage two years ago and sang Nessun Dorma or “No one shall sleep” from Puccini’s Turandot, landing a CD which sold 2 million and so far 47 million views of his audition on YouTube.

Paul Potts’ jumbly teeth advertised the parlous state of British dentistry all over the world, a relative lack of dental care for the man in the street which is part of the reason probably why Sun readers don’t feel that the world of media stars is full of “us”. Martin Amis, one of Britain’s most brilliant literary celebrities, aroused considerable resentment for having his teeth cosmetically fixed a number of years ago.

So what?

So is there any serious point to be made of all this? Perhaps one could say one thing. If journalists have a built in gene for cynical assessment of events that look like staged fairy tales and other self serving entertainments for the populace, how come that gene is blocked when it comes to the fairy tales concocted by self serving scientists?

Could it be that scientists enjoy a priestly immunity to questioning because their stock in trade is as secret and off limits as the expertise of lawyers, bankers and others whose specialty is a monopoly over arcane matters beyond the reach of reporters?

Updates and added science:

Sun April 26: While Boyle continues at the top of twitter, second only to swine flu today, the bloom is off the Scottish rose for us, we are sad to find, and the fundamental truth is becoming ever more powerful in our mind as we sort through photos of the not so wee lass. And what is that fundamental truth, easy to overlook or set aside in the excitement of the underdog’s sudden triumph? It is that Susan is simply not a face that one wants to gaze at too long. Not, anyway, when one has Mariel Hemingway to look at, see below.

The fundamental question is, then, how long will the victory of this oddity last? How long will her transcendent voice allow us to set aside her somewhat uninspiring looks? In the age of video, perhaps not very long, in the end. Let’s see. Fair or not, it seems likely that despite her excellent voice her blatant lack of sex appeal will cripple her career after the initial tsunami of attention is over, and reduce her to a brilliant flash in the pan, a golden talent unfortunately set in too plain a frame for permanent center stage in live performance or video.

Or will her lively common sense friendliness make up for the deficit in the looks department, and maintain the acceptability quotient needed to enjoy her performance with the eyes as well as ears?

More silly commentary from the press:

Here’s a piece in the Times today which surely misses the point completely. Many found Susan’s shimmy (after she told the judges her age, 47, she did a little hip shake, and said “But that’s only half of me!”) amusing, laughing with her not at her. We did. And the issue was not whether Susan was threatening or unthreatening, but whether she was attractive or off putting, and whether her deserved status could be misread in her clothing, looks and behavior.

Surely the fundamental useful point to be made about the whole affair is not just that stereotypes are superficial and misleading, that we should not assume too readily that the cover accurately reflects the content of the book, or that dress and sexual attractiveness tell us everything about what talent hides within.

It is the truth that the longer we know someone, the more we uncover about their abilities and everything else they have to offer. Finding out about the talents and unique qualities of a human being is a life long process, and the treasures that one discovers in even the plainest wrapping can be priceless, surpassing anything we imagined when we first encounter a new friend.
Yes, Looks Do Matter by Pam Belluck, New York Times, Sun April 26.

Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton, said that traditionally, most stereotypes break down into two broad dimensions: whether a person appears to have malignant or benign intent and whether a person appears dangerous. “In ancestral times, it was important to stay away from people who looked angry and dominant,” she said.

Women are also subdivided into “traditionally attractive” women, who “don’t look dominant, have baby-faced features,” Professor Fiske said. “They’re not threatening.”

Indeed, attractiveness is one thing that can make stereotypes self-fulfilling and reinforcing. Attractive people are “credited with being socially skilled,” Professor Fiske said, and maybe they are, because “if you’re beautiful or handsome, people laugh at your jokes and interact with you in such a way that it’s easy to be socially skilled.”

The Untold Susan Boyle Story by Steve Rosenbaum, Huffington Post:

For some, the music is what it’s all about. For others, it’s the ugly duckling who spreads her wings. And then, it may just be given the economy, with people feeling so beaten up, that watching an underdog totally triumph was just too hard to resist.

It hardly matters. She totally owned the gig – and now she’s a rocket. And the best part? This isn’t some contrived media event from the pop-culture factory. This is real.

Susan-Boyle.com has created a pop-up destination where people can connect, share stories, record videos, and watch Susan Boyle’s video experience. It is a feel good site with most comments gushing with enthusiasm and support. There is something that feels good about watching a community grow organically around such a positive media moment and personality. We just don’t have enough of this stuff these days.

Four days later he has a website that is getting close to a million page views a day and has over 12,000 registered members.

RESEARCH: Proving the sun rises in the East: Studies on whether people think less of the plain or ugly in appearance, and how many of us worry about it:

“61% – 82% of adults (Harris & Carr, 2001; Liossi, 2003) have significant appearance concerns which result in distress and affect a variety of health behaviours.”

Interpersonal effects of Appearance-based Rejection Sensitivity Journal of Research in Personality, Lora E. Park and Rebecca T. Pinkusa, Feb 2009 (in press). Appearance-based Rejection Sensitivity (Appearance-RS) is the tendency to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to rejection based on one’s physical attractiveness.

A Self Study of the Link Between Appearance and Self Esteem by Charlie Bradley, Associated Content Open Content Network, Oct 5 2007.

…Prior to the beginning of my self-study into how one’s appearance affects his or her self-esteem, I generally didn’t put too much thought into the way I dressed. I would just put on a shirt, socks, a belt, jeans, and shoes, and go on about my day doing what I needed to do. One day I took a look in the mirror and the reflection actually made my skin crawl. I thought ‘I look dumpy. How can I expect someone to take an interest in me when I look like absolute hell?’ …

A collection of loveliesThe effects of women’s age and physical appearance on evaluations of attractiveness and social desirability. Perlini, Arthur H. ; Bertolissi, Susan ; Lind, David L.,The Journal of Social Psychology, June 1, 1999.

In a landmark study, Dion, Bersheid, and Walster (1972) showed participants photographs of attractive and unattractive individuals and asked them to rate these target people on a series of personality traits. They found that attractive individuals are perceived as more sensitive, kind, sociable, interesting, outgoing, strong, poised, and exciting than less attractive people. These findings stimulated 25 years of research into the physical attractiveness stereotype.

In a recent meta-analytic review of this research, Feingold (1992) concluded that there are few dispositional differences between physically attractive and physically unattractive people; nonetheless, physically attractive men and women are perceived as more sociable, dominant, sexually warm, mentally healthy, and socially skilled than physically unattractive people. Dion and Dion (1987) have called on researchers to identify moderators of this physical attractiveness stereotype.

The present study was designed to evaluate the role of one such variable, namely age, in understanding this halo effect of attractiveness. The literature and previous research relevant to our study have used North American samples; thus the issues relevant to the present study may not be generalizable to other cultures….

Our findings demonstrate that both younger and older judges exhibited an attractiveness bias: Attractive female photo targets, whether younger or older, were rated as higher in social desirability than matched unattractive targets. These findings confirmed those of Johnson and Pittenger (1984) who found evidence of an attractiveness bias toward older targets by both younger and older judges. Additionally, our findings extended theirs by demonstrating that this attractiveness bias also existed in both younger and older judges evaluating younger female target photos.

The present findings also indicated that the impact of target age on social desirability ratings appeared to have been moderated by both target attractiveness and participant age. Among younger judges, being older and attractive was declared equal in social desirability as being younger and attractive. On the other hand, among older male judges, being older and attractive was regarded as lower in social desirability compared with being younger and attractive.

This was the case even though these same older male judges rated the older attractive targets as similar in physical attractiveness to the younger attractive targets. All other things being equal, the prevailing attractiveness stereotype suggests that to be attractive is to be youthful in appearance.

Age, like attractiveness, may connote differences in status and competence to observers, which in turn may affect their perceptions of others. It has been suggested (Berger, Rosenholtz, & Zelditch, 1980) that when several status characteristics are present (i.e., age and attractiveness), this information is aggregated together in the process of forming expectations. People who are consistent with these expectations are rated positively; hence, although “what is beautiful is good,” among older male judges, “what is beautiful and younger is better”

Although the previous finding highlighted the impact of target age for impressions of attractive target females, target age also played a role in social desirability ratings of unattractive targets: It was less socially desirable to be younger and unattractive than to be older and unattractive. This was the case even though there were no differences in the ratings of physical attractiveness of the younger and older unattractive targets.

Consistent with the explanation of why younger attractive women are conferred an advantage in terms of social desirability, younger unattractive women may have been conferred a similar disadvantage for the same reasons; more specifically, observable cues such as age and attractiveness, when consistent (e.g., younger and attractive), conferred high status and positive expectations. In contrast, when these observable cues were inconsistent (e.g., younger and unattractive), the resultant status and expectations may have been compromised. In line with research that demonstrates that violations of expectations often induce negative affect (Butler & Geis, 1990), it is conceivable that those women who violated this expectation (i.e., unattractive younger women) were perceived as less socially desirable than those who were not expected to be attractive (i.e., older women).

This explanation adds age to physical attractiveness as an additional status characteristic underlying personality inferences (Dion & Dion, 1987).

One word of caution is needed about the generalizability of the present findings. The targets were restricted to women, and the variations in attractiveness were arrived at by artificially, but realistically, manipulating several facial features. Moreover, the respondents were Canadians, and thus part of a Western culture in which older people may be perceived of as part of a lower status group than are older people in other cultures.

Cultural differences in the status of older people or the moderating effects of a target’s gender on perceptions of older people are two key issues on which future research should focus. Ultimately, a coherent understanding of the effects of age and attractiveness on social perceptions demands a more comprehensive approach that includes both male targets and a more cross-culturally representative sample of respondents.

In conclusion, the present findings supported those of Johnson and Pittenger (1984), confirming that the attractiveness stereotype has life-span generality; moreover, the findings of the latter investigators have been extended by demonstrating that both younger and older judges tend to hold this stereotype, regardless of the age of the stimulus woman.

To be sure, the age of the woman evaluated did play a key role in the manner in which this stereotype was instituted; specifically, being younger appeared to be a disadvantage to a physically unattractive woman but an advantage to a physically attractive woman. With respect to ratings of physical attractiveness, the findings suggested a slight leniency bias of older judges rating targets within their age group. Taken together, these findings suggest that age is an important moderating variable in physical attractiveness stereotyping.

The psychology of appearance: Why health psychologists should “do looks” Nichola Rumsey, University of West England Bristol, The European Health Psychologist, Vol. 10, September 2008.

“Societal interest in appearance has a long history, but has never been more prevalent than now. Messages associating physical attractiveness with success and happiness are unremitting; researchers and commentators consider that extensive, and for a proportion of the population, debilitating levels of appearance concerns are considered normative. In this article I will offer a brief history of appearance research as a context for the current state of play in this area, explore reasons why the topic of appearance remains
peripheral at best for most health psychologists, and offer arguments for why it should become more central.

A brief history of appearance research

As early as 1921, Perrin stated in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that ‘just why the physical characteristics of individuals should exert so profound an influence over their associates furnishes an interesting topic of speculation’. A few pockets of work on self-perceptions of appearance emerged in the 1940s and 50s – the first self-rating scales to measure subjective ratings of appearance were designed by Secord and Jourard in 1953.

However, these forays were the exception rather than the rule, and Perrin would have been disappointed that so few researchers felt compelled to take up the challenge until later in the century. Walster et al (1966) found that in a study of 752 students during Freshers Week, the only predictor of an individual’s liking for and desire to subsequently date a potential partner was physical attractiveness. However, Walster was discouraged by her colleagues from publishing the findings, as appearance was almost universally regarded as a frivolous and superficial attribute for psychologists to research.

Kleinke (1974) suggested that by avoiding the study of facial appearance, psychologists could refrain from supporting the unpalatable view that looks really are important in how a person is judged, but in the 1970s the climate was beginning to change. Society was becoming more preoccupied with the body beautiful and first impressions were more important. People were becoming more geographically mobile and were coming into contact with larger numbers of unknown others for the first time (Bull & Rumsey, 1988).

The legal profession became interested in the potential of building cases around the detrimental impact of impaired physical appearance on social and economic opportunities and on self-esteem, and were eager for evidence to support these cases. Most of the research at this time claimed pronounced and positive effects played by facial attractiveness in liking, dating and in longer-term relationships and in the educational and criminal justice systems.

In 1981 Berscheid claimed that levels of physical attractiveness had been shown in numerous investigations to be an ‘extraordinary important psychological variable’ with pervasive and strong effects resulting in numerous preferential social treatments. However in a comprehensive review Bull and Rumsey (1988) felt Berscheid’s claim was overstated and the conclusions misleading. The majority of studies were methodologically weak and conceptually naïve. Most involved undergraduate students rating head and shoulder photographs, and almost all lacked ecological validity”.

The early 1990s saw the publication of two metaanalyses, both of which went some way to
acknowledging the complexity of the processes involved in interpersonal perception. Eagly et al (1991) found evidence for correlations between physical attractiveness and various positive traits, but concluded the average magnitude of the beauty-is-good effect was
moderate at best. Feingold (1992) concluded that physically attractive people were viewed by others as having more positive personality and social traits; however there were ‘generally trivial relationships’ between physical attractiveness and measures of ability.

Throughout the 1990s debates concerning the social currency of physical attractiveness continues to rage among social psychologists, sociologists and social commentators. In parallel an emerging body of literature on body image (self perceptions of physical appearance) was dominated by the interests of clinical psychology and psychiatry, and was fuelled by the rising rates of eating disorders in young women.

Although this research focused largely on issues of weight and shape, the more general applicability of body image research was highlighted by Cash et al (1986) who reported that in a nationwide study in the US, only 7% of women expressed little or no concern with their appearance. Rodin et al (1985) coined the term ‘normative discontent’ at this time. In their landmark texts, (1990; 2002) Cash and Pruzinsky summarised evidence that from early childhood onwards, body image plays an integral role in understanding many aspects of human experience.

During this time, a third area of research gradually gathered momentum, and a small number of health and clinical psychologists had began to engage with the task of understanding the psychosocial effects of living with disfigurement. A range of challenges were identified, relating in the main to self perceptions and difficulties in social encounters (Rumsey & Harcourt, 2005).

By 2000 there was a coherent body of research highlighting individual variation in adjustment, and confirming the lack of a relationship between the extent and severity of a disfigurement and levels of distress (Lansdown et al, 1997). The effect of type of condition, and demographic variables such as gender and age had less impact than many had expected, and a number of psychological factors began to emerge with increasing regularity as contenders for the most influential variables in the multifactorial process of adjustment.

However, care provision remained focused around medical and surgical interventions to ‘improve’ appearance. A major sea-change in the provision of care in the UK was heralded in 1998 with a government circular outlining recommendations for the reorganisation of care for those affected by cleft lip and/or palate. This circular stated that all cleft teams should include an ‘appropriately trained’ full time psychologist as a core member of the multidisciplinary care team.

Similar moves are currently being pursued in burn care. Despite increasing evidence of the widespread impact of appearance concerns, there still seems to be a reluctance amongst health psychologists to engage with the pervasive nature of the psychological ramifications of appearance concerns. In 2004, Natty Leitner (now Triskel) trawled abstracts from 6 of most prominent health and clinical psychology research journals from the previous 3 years.

Appearance issues were central in only 2% of articles – even when participants had appearance altering conditions (arthritis, MS, Parkinsons, self injury, exercise dependence). Triskel joined Cash and Pruzinsky (2002) in concluding that appearance is a highly pertinent and usually overlooked aspect of research in health and clinical psychology.

Why should health psychologists take appearance concerns more seriously?
People’s feelings about their appearance can have significant effects on their self perceptions, wellbeing, their health behaviours and their adherence to treatment.

The psychology of appearance

61% – 82% of adults (Harris & Carr, 2001; Liossi, 2003) have significant appearance concerns which result in distress and affect a variety of health behaviours. The increase in financial outlay on beauty products, gym memberships, exercise equipment, dietary supplements, weight loss programmes and cosmetic surgery is exponential. In the U.S., there are currently unprecedented levels of debt related to appearance enhancement – with the majority of those affected drawn from lower income groups. There are signs that spending patterns in the UK and Europe are heading the same way.

Appearance concerns and health related behaviours

There is now a body of evidence to suggest that dissatisfaction with appearance impacts on a range of health behaviours, including smoking, eating and exercise.

In relation to smoking, Garner’s report on a body image study conducted by Psychology Today in the US (1997) found that 50% of female respondents smoked to control their weight. Stice and Shaw (2003) reported that adolescent girls with body image disturbances were significantly more likely to initiate smoking and Amos and Bostock (2007) found that teenage boys and girls commonly use smoking as an appetite suppressant. Smoking cessation attempts may also be hampered by appearance concerns, particularly in relation to weight gain (King et al, 2005).

The rise in various patterns of disordered eating in attempts to match up to physical ideals (slim for females; slim and muscled for males) has been noted by many researchers. Girls from the age of 5 show a preference for thinner ideal body sizes than their own (Williamson & Delin, 2001), and are aware of calorie counting as a way to lose weight. Body dissatisfaction
is evident in boys from 8 years and may occur earlier. Neumark-Sztainer, et al (2006) have noted a steady increase in the proportion of teenagers using diet pills, laxatives and diuretics, and Pope et al (2002) have discussed the growing prevalence of teenage boys and
young men taking steroids and protein powders in attempts to gain muscle bulk. Only one in ten women profess to be free of concern about their weight and shape (Etcoff, et al, 2006) and Prynn (2004) has reported that 1:4 men are actively dieting at any one time.

Although on the face of it, increased exercise participation might be seen as an advantageous consequence of concern about appearance, there are increases in the numbers compulsively over-exercising. Research into the relationship between appearance concerns and the uptake and maintenance of exercise has generated conflicting findings, however, in a recent meta analysis, Hausenblas and Fallon (2006) concluded that exercisers have a more positive body image than non-exercisers, and also that exercise intervention participants have a significantly better body image post intervention than non exercising
controls. Moderating variables in these relationships (including motivation to exercise, body composition etc) need to be further researched.

Suntanning behaviour: One area in which appearance has been more salient in driving health promotion campaigns is sun tanning behaviour and the associated risks of skin cancer. Castle et al (1999) found the perceived benefits of having a sun tan (primarily the belief that tanned skin is more attractive) predicted the intention to suntan without protection. A tan remains a desirable commodity amongst teenagers (Livingston et al, 2007) and has been linked to both excessive exposure to sun and to the use of sun beds. The news is not all bad however. Mahler et al (2007) concluded that the depiction of faces with wrinkles and sun damaged skin was effective in motivating sun protection.

A neural basis for the effect of candidate appearance on election outcomes. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2008; Spezio et al. ; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsn040.

Negative Cues From Appearance Alone Matter For Real Elections

California Institute of Technology, October 31, 2008 — Brain-imaging studies reveal that voting decisions are more associated with the brain’s response to negative aspects of a politician’s appearance than to positive ones, says a team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Scripps College, Princeton University, and the University of Iowa. This appears to be particularly true when voters have little or no information about a politician aside from their physical appearance.

Deciding whom to trust, whom to fear, and indeed for whom to vote in an election depends, in part, on quick, implicit judgments about people’s faces. Although this general finding has been scientifically documented, the detailed mechanisms have remained obscure. To probe how a politician’s appearance might influence voting decisions, Michael Spezio, an assistant professor of psychology at Scripps College and visiting associate at Caltech, and Antonio Rangel, an associate professor of economics at Caltech, examined brain activation in subjects looking at the faces of real politicians….

One surprise in the study is that negative evaluations, such as the perception that a candidate is threatening, influence election loss significantly more than positive evaluations like attractiveness influence election success….

In particular, Adolphs says, the observed effects, while statistically significant, were rather small.

2 Responses to “Susan Boyle, Goddess of the Overlooked”

  1. jtdeshong Says:

    Oh, are you feeling overlooked? You satan, er, I mean goddess of the internet bullshit?
    You know I love you and your duplicitous self!
    JTD

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    Susan Boyle sold 701,000 CDs in the US her first week with “I Dreamed a Dream”: Susan Boyle, Top Seller, Shakes Up CD Trends – by Ben Sisario NY Times December 2, 2009, and is still riding high: Susan Boyle Still No. 1 – By Ben Sisario NYTImes December 16 2009

    With sales of her album, “I Dreamed a Dream” (Syco Music/Columbia), holding strong, Susan Boyle remained at No. 1 on Billboard’s chart for a third week. “I Dreamed a Dream” sold 582,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, a 10 percent increase from the previous week. So far it has racked up 1.8 million sales, and if it continues at this pace — as many retailers predict — it may overtake Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” (Big Machine) as the biggest title of the year.

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