Evolutionary Psychologist Geoffrey Miller Has His Own Grad Student Criteria - Weight
    By Hank Campbell | June 4th 2013 05:03 PM | 30 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    I'm the founder of Science 2.0® and co-author of "Science Left Behind".

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    University of New Mexico professor Geoffrey Miller is a social/evolutionary psychologist so it's no surprise he is clueless about people - like what it takes to have the willpower to get a Ph.D, beyond his own subjective opinion. And it's even less of a surprise he made an unscientific conjecture. He may have been surprised anyone noticed. If social and evolutionary psychologists aren't finding racism in office clutter or in eating meat or telling us we evolved to like a car grill they don't get much attention. Unless it matches a confirmation bias, no one believes that surveys of psychology undergraduates are meaningful, much less scientific, after all.

    When he Tweeted that an obese person wouldn't have the willpower to finish a doctoral program, even the wagon-circling world of psychology turned on him. That had to be a surprise too.

    Miller knows that there are almost no standards for what counts as research so he can say anything to justify his social media crackpottery and his department has no way to know if it's real. The University of New Mexico dutifully noted that he told them his Tweet was part of an experiment and he has been doing it for months. He isn't being an asshole, he is a social scientist. He is on leave while being a visiting scholar at NYU.  Sorry, UNM, if you were looking to offload his tenure job on someone else, that will be difficult now.

    Link: XOJane

    Psychology is 70% women so maybe he is just saying what everyone in the field thinks - it's better to have hot women to look at than non-hot. It's hard to be sure what the truth is, he deleted the Tweet and made his account private so I bet he won't respond to me or anyone else until he has thought up some clever way to not look like an even bigger jerk.

    If only all evolutionary and/or social psychologists (Miller calls himself both, meaning twice as many opportunities to ridicule him) would stay so hush-hush.

    UNM Psychology Chair Jane Ellen Smith, who can be happy she is thin enough to get into Miller's "lab", addressed the topic, saying they don't discriminate based on weight. Ironically, her research is on body weight issues. Who knew she could just look at her own department?

    While UNM is at least making a pretense of saying they don't roll that way, and are going to look into whether or not this is really research, NYU doesn't care what obese people think about the intolerance at their school. 

    “Professors have said things before that are controversial,” Philip Lentz of NYU's Public Affairs office told The Observer. "Professor Miller apologized for the Tweet and deleted it. NYU considers the matter closed.”

    Fat girls, consider going into physics or engineering instead. Men only care about the size of your intellect there.


    Here's a quotation I borrowed from Jerry Coyne:

    "In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics. For evolutionary biology is a historical science, laden with history's inevitable imponderables. We evolutionary biologists cannot generate a Cretaceous Park to observe exactly what killed the dinosaurs; and, unlike "harder" scientists, we usually cannot resolve issues with a simple experiment, such as adding tube A to tube B and noting the color of the mixture.

    The latest deadweight dragging us closer to phrenology is "evolutionary psychology," or the science formerly known as sociobiology, which studies the evolutionary roots of human behavior. There is nothing inherently wrong with this enterprise, and it has proposed some intriguing theories, particularly about the evolution of language. The problem is that evolutionary psychology suffers from the scientific equivalent of megalomania. Most of its adherents are convinced that virtually every human action or feeling, including depression, homosexuality, religion, and consciousness, was put directly into our brains by natural selection. In this view, evolution becomes the key--the only key--that can unlock our humanity.

    Unfortunately, evolutionary psychologists routinely confuse theory and speculation. Unlike bones, behavior does not fossilize, and understanding its evolution often involves concocting stories that sound plausible but are hard to test. Depression, for example, is seen as a trait favored by natural selection to enable us to solve our problems by withdrawing, reflecting, and hence enhancing our future reproduction. Plausible? Maybe. Scientifically testable? Absolutely not. If evolutionary biology is a soft science, then evolutionary psychology is its flabby underbelly."


    Hi Hank. Yeah, pretty egregious tweeting from Miller. However, what are your thoughts on this paper? It's a study on "Personality and Obesity Across the Adult Life Span" showing that, essentially, obesity is strongly correlated with more impulsiveness and less conscientiousness.

    I hadn't read it before and he was not a co-author but they debunk their own hypothesis in the first sentence, noting that obesity used to be a sign of wealth. Now they say it is a factor of neuroticism, excitement-seeking and conscientiousness? Are wealthy people some combination of those also? Of course they are, everyone is, just like they could have created categories for Id, Ego and Super-Ego and said we are all a combination. Basically, anything can be anything with subjective knobs to turn.

    Heck, I don't even think their use of HLM stands up. They did a numerical model to determine if personality had changed? The variance in the assessments is so high that doesn't work. In science there are checks and balances to make sure you aren't getting a high degree of confidence about something wrong. In these kinds of studies, there is no null hypothesis. Nothing can be wrong.

    It isn't good or bad, it seems to be just contrived.  I think the premise has value (that fat people lack impulse control is not exactly new - my great-grandmother said it) but the execution is lacking. How do you control for a bunch of college-educated white people in the first 20 years they used and compare them to female minorities? 
    Geoffrey Miller did a very stupid thing. But so did the author of this post. Or do you think that all your prejudice against Psychology (and Psychology students, professionals and researchers) is any better than is the biases of Miller? There are many serious people involved in the Psychology field doing serious work and helping lots of people.

    Who ever said there weren't? The error you are making is lumping social and evolutionary psychology together with all psychology.  It would be the same as a parapsychologist who believes in alien abductions saying they are the same as all psychiatrists. Social and evolutionary psychology have very little credibility but they earned that blemish. The good news for those fields is they will get better - because a lot of the frauds are getting busted. 

    Lumping me in with Miller is the same as a paranormal investigator claiming they are an experimental psychologist - it's false equivalence. I'm not the one saying fat people couldn't get a psychology PhD.  Maybe fat people (well, women, 70% of the time in psychology) don't get PhDs because they don't get into grad school due to people like Miller, who want to over-pathologize everything - but his correlation/causation arrows are all wrong in that case. If he understood science and reason, he would not make that mistake.

    Your answer just adds to my point...

    Nooooo, you insist it is equivalent. Obviously it is not. Saying 'your answer just adds to my point', when you made no point, is not helping the audience understand why you think Miller is a legitimate researcher, when he clearly can't even form a valid hypothesis.
    It's unfortunate that these discussions get mired in hasty generalisations.

    OP, it is true that you are making blanket statements about EP and social psychology that dismiss many of the insights those fields have generated, though it's also true that many noisy EP folk like Kanazawa have tainted the field. You are lumping it all together and making biased hasty statements, the very faults you're accusing others of committing. The other poster was right to call you on this.

    Regarding the obesity paper, I haven't read it yet, and I'm trying to find objective data and analysis on this topic; I'm interested in the intersection of nutrition and psychology. The politicisation of the topic makes finding unbiased sources difficult. My contention with the paper at first glance would be that a lack of "willpower" may not be a good measure of whether someone will become obese or not, so even if obese people score higher on impulsiveness, and so on, the suggested causality may be wrong or only minimally involved.

    Regarding the null hypothesis, could it not be something akin to "obese people and normal weight people will exhibit no difference in their rates of [conscientiousness"? Presumably non-obese controls were used. I can't yet make any comment about the statistical models used.

    You are lumping it all together and making biased hasty statements, the very faults you're accusing others of committing. 
    If we don't lump data together, create a statistic, and make a generalization, virtually every evolutionary and social psychology paper is invalidated, right?  The statistics show that those two fields account for much of the disbelief by the public in all psychology, because the field is littered with false positives and unreproducible results.

    To say that no one should mention that Big Elephant In The Room would be a huge disservice to the public. I liken it to not debunking astrology if I am told I shouldn't lump them together and make a generalization.  And that's a good analogy, because a double-blind test of psychologists doing assessments had no more success than astrologers - the psychologists couldn't even pick their own assessments that they had filled out about themselves correctly.

    As I have said many times, there is good news: the frauds and hucksters are being tripped up by young people who expected to go into social science and instead got handed cultural determinism and fuzzy methodologies. That will be good for all of us.
    Your point would be sounder if EP and social psychology/SP were self-contained, unitary fields, but they are not. EP particularly is interdisciplinary. The terms have been bandied about and latched onto by a young wave of researchers, but if we look at the robustness of the research generated under the rubric of EP and SP rather than the worst research that goes under those names--and which gets the most press-- more precise language is needed and less blanket-statement condemnation, because we risk throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and that would a disservice to the public. As Steve Pinker (who prefers "cognitive scientist" to "evolutionary psychologist" as a title for himself, perhaps as a result of the context just described) notes,

    "In the study of humans, there are major spheres of human experience — beauty, motherhood, kinship, morality, cooperation, sexuality, violence — in which evolutionary psychology provides the only coherent theory and has spawned vibrant new areas of empirical research."

    Gerhard Adam
    "In the study of humans, there are major spheres of human experience — beauty, motherhood, kinship, morality, cooperation, sexuality, violence — in which evolutionary psychology provides the only coherent theory and has spawned vibrant new areas of empirical research."
    ... sorry, that statement almost made me spew my coffee all over my computer.  Not only is it wrong, but it dismisses decades of work by people that were definitely there before the "just so" stories of "evolutionary psychology; namely anthropologists.

    What coherent theory?  For that matter, what incoherent theory?  The only thing that has been explained regarding these human experiences would give Kipling a run for his money.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerard, that would have been a waste of coffee, since your statement is wearisome and trite boilerplate fallacy. It originates with Marxist-inflected writing from Gould, Lewontin, and Rose, and it's just tedious having to correct it ad nauseam.

    Relatively briefly: A just-so story is an explanation that one pulls out of one's ass, an essentially unfalsifiable idea; it's an ad hoc fallacy. Anyone can come up with an "explanation” to explain anything, but EP comes up with testable predictions that can be – and have been – clearly confirmed and clearly falsified. Some points on that: (Please don't do what I expect and read this like a coiled spring waiting to disagree, but with an open mind)

    We use adaptive analyses to discern the function of traits that are improbable given the various possible features of organisms in nature. Psychological adaptations are identified by the kinds of information they process.

    When trying to figure out the function of an adaptation, we must do an engineering analysis of the problem that it was putatively designed to solve, and set out the engineering specs of an optimal system that would solve that problem. You must get these specs from principles that are independent of the nature of the trait you are trying to explain--this is very important.

    1. As it stands, there's a good fit between the engineering demands of an adaptive problem and the facts of human psychology
    2. These engineering demands have been outlined in game theory, AI, genetics, physiology, optics, ecology; the matching facts of psychology have been outlined in converging evidence from experiments on humans (including children and neurological patients), and from the ethnographic data.
    3. A theory/explanation for a fact cannot be post-hoc if the fact was unknown until after the theory predicted it. The adaptationist approach has motivated thousands of predictions, spurs on new insights and areas of exploration that would otherwise be closed off to us.
    4. We come up with a theory based on observations, we apply our theoretical model and we make predictions, and then we check them against reality. So when you get these specs, compare them with the trait in question; ie. you then do the psychology – go out and test people etc – and see if the design specs of an optimal system correspond with the evidence for how humans are. The theories are testable and falsifiable

    The closer they match, the more confident we can be that the non-random organisation of the trait is the product of selection. An example: any engineer trying to design vision (in a robot, say) would hit on stereoscopic vision: two eyes which see the world slightly differently and with a little trigonometry you can use the disparity (and the angle in which they're pointing) to figure out how far away something is. You can make similar a priori predictions from, say, genetics – as to how our relationships should be, how we should behave towards kin, and so on.

    tl;dr: the just-so fallacy is idiotic.

    Gerhard Adam
    Great ... give me an example of where theory has predicted something that has been definitively shown to be other than speculative.

    Oh yeah, and now for the tedious excuse of how you won't do my research for me. 

    So, give me one example of anything that evolutionary psychology has contributed to the dialogue that (1) wasn't there already because of anthropology and (2) provided a prediction that was confirmed by an actual theory.

    I just re-read the list, and I stand by my original statement, since it almost made me spew coffee again.  However, just for grins ... let's hear the explanation for "cooperation" or "kinship".  The latter is especially prone to making my bullshit meter peg at the limit.
    Mundus vult decipi
    For example, we note that the metabolic cost of having children is relatively low for men and high for women, and so we should expect that males across cultures tend to desire more sex partners than females on average and to invest less in their offspring. We go out and check out the data: true. Our logic should predict that in cases where there's a species of mammals for whom this is flipped around – the metabolic cost for males is higher – we should expect males to be choosier. If this turns out wrong, we have falsified the theory. We go out and check the reality: it matches our prediction. In organisms in which the male carries the eggs/offspring until they are born, the males are choosier and invest more. e.g the mormon cricket, the poison-arrow frog, and pipeline seahorse, the katydids. Humans, in all their complexity and cultural glory, also follow predictable patterns of behavior we can predict from evolutionary theory.

    Gerhard Adam
    You're joking, right?  You drew evolutionary psychology conclusions about human behavior based on some nebulous unverified concept of "cost" and you justified by looking at insects?

    This is way better than Kipling.

    Of course, the first flaw is in presuming that metabolic cost is the only metric that matters.  What's the justification for such a conclusion?  What does "metabolic cost" include?  If it's only the tiny reproductive cost, then you're being myopic, because clearly humans do not live like grizzly bears and the total metabolic cost of rearing offspring counts for more than mere sperm production.
    Humans, in all their complexity and cultural glory, also follow predictable patterns of behavior we can predict from evolutionary theory.
    What predictable patterns of behavior?  Are you truly suggesting that human behavior is no different than insects and amphibians?  You completely ignore behavioral and cultural inheritance, but you claim the ability to predict?  I will admit that statement is pretty funny.  We can't even make many predictions about other animals based solely on what little we know about their evolutionary trajectories, but you would suggest that you can explain humans.

    The problem is that EP is so enamored with its stories that it simply makes up conclusions.  First, what is your basis for claiming that human males seek multiple females for mating purposes.  Where is your evidence that human males typically mate multiple times so that multiple women are normally pregnant by singular males?

    Then explain what investment a male does make and how that squares with the low metabolic investment that allows him to be so frisky.

    ... and better yet.  Explain why this rarely happens in real life among humans.  Serial monogamy ... no problem.  Multiple pregnant females ... bullshit.  Show me the data.
    Mundus vult decipi
    John Hasenkam
    The problem with this argument is that ignores the fact that human children require enormous investments in time to maximise their survival advantage to reproductive age. So when men do abandon children they are reducing the fitness of their children. Monogamy is the solution because the culture induces men to invest in their children. As one wit said: nature makes mothers and culture makes fathers. One big problem with EP is it gives precedence to biological imperatives over cultural ones, yet time and again we see examples of where men and women sacrifice themselves or their reproductive potential for the greater good or even their own good. As many Western countries are now finding men and women are deferring having children to such an extent that govts are inducing incentives to keep people breeding. The cultural context has transcended and overpowered the biological imperatives. What the sexual revolution has demonstrated is that people have sex because it is fun not because they are wishing to spread their genes. 
    Successful societies invest much more in their children. What often surprises me about Western culture is how we triumph our cultural structures(with good reason) but forget that we do something that is quite extraordinary from an historical perspective: we invest enormous resources into childhood development. So if the EP argument is to hold true it must also hold that the biological imperatives of men to spread their seed is a selection deficit. In that sense the male sex drive can be seen to be maladaptive. 
    It would please me no end to think that human behavior can be understood from a bottom up approach but it doesn't hold. It is much more complex than that. To ignore the cultural dynamics as drivers of behavior is to assume that these are secondary to biological imperatives. 

    Gerhard Adam
    One interesting point to speculate about is the degree to which humans control their reproduction.  As you said, the ability to defer having children, but it also suggests that this may be a bit of a biological liability [just speculating here].  What leads me to that conclusion is that most mammals openly broadcast their fertility whereas human biology is notoriously secretive about it, denying even the female an accurate sense of her own fertility.

    It strikes me as an interesting trait.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hi John. I have to correct you on a number of points. The argument does not ignore the fact that human children are altricial and require enormous investments of time and resources. Most likely you are imaging a caricatured version of EP--which no evolutionary psychologist espouses--that males shouldn't invest in their offspring and should just abandon their kids wholesale in the pursuit of fresh mates. It's about *relative* investment strategies.

    Humans cannot be neatly categorised as monogamous, polygamous, etc; the most accurate description in the absence of external (e.g. state) constrictions is moderate polygyny with pair-bond tendencies.

    The quote "EP gives precedence to biological imperatives over cultural ones" is not true, and such a crude dichotomy does not even exist. There is a large literature in EP on gene-culture co-evolution.

    "The cultural context has transcended and overpowered the biological imperatives". Again, this statement is inaccurate. You are operating under the much-debunked fallacy, which almost everyone believes, that EP posits that people are trying to spread their genes; for the most part, they aren't. Sexual pleasure is a proximate mechanism that natural selection wired because this promoted the ultimate goal of gene replication. In a culture with contraceptives, the link between sex and reproduction is decoupled.

    I could go on, but the main point is that you must take a leap of faith and trust me that the version of EP in your head--and the version most typically chewed up by over-confident detractors--is a thick, bushy, tenacious strawman (and it gets boring having to correct it at the expense of a proper, mutually-informed debate).

    Thor Russell
    "that EP posits that people are trying to spread their genes" - What does EP say people are trying to do then? If it is things that involve fitting in with their culture and being seen to be successful and important to their society/group then that sounds like "The cultural context has transcended and overpowered the biological imperatives" in terms of their desires. Are there some accessible good references on gene-culture co-evolution because excessively polarized opinions are what I find here.
    Thor Russell
    Thor, the idea is that trying to maximise the amount of sprogs we have isn't typically a life goal of any of us. The reward system of sex ensured that in an environment where sex and reproduction were linked (as was the case for 99.9% of our evolutionary history), gene replication was taken care of. Now that we've invented contraceptives we can use those, and our noggins, to take kids out of equation or delay having them; cf. the the demographic transition. The biological imperatives are still there--just like our tastes for sugar and fat, sexual emotions and the desire for sex are as powerful as ever.

    As for a good reference on gene-culture coevolution--you could start with Boyd & Richerson's work, though truth be told I think it's problematic, I'm not a fan of trying to squeeze culture into an natural selection-esque framework. Not all EP tries that. "The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture" is a rather tedious and bloated read, but it's lays out some good groundwork for this stuff.

    Lee Cronk has a good book called "That complex whole: Culture and the evolution of human behavior."

    In a book already mentioned somewhere in this thread, The Blank Slate, Pinker has a good commonsensical chapter on culture with plenty of references to follow up on. Enjoy

    Thor Russell
    Thanks, I'll add them to a list of books to read when I manage to find some spare time (and I don't even have sprogs yet ...)
    Thor Russell
    John Hasenkam
    And that's a good analogy, because a double-blind test of psychologists doing assessments had no more success than astrologers - the psychologists couldn't even pick their own assessments that they had filled out about themselves correctly.

    I'm not even sure that personality is a valid concept for analysis. Bugger it, it isn't, it is too broad and fuzzy. Psychologists keep seeking these "whole of person" types analyses and that is a big mistake. The challenge is immense and under appreciated by many. A couple nights ago I read a post by a psychotherapist who was arguing he thinks it is important for his clients to experience "negative emotions". He was challenged by CBTers who thought that was a dangerous idea. I think the very idea of labeling emotions as "positive" or "negative" is bloody ridiculous because context is important. Anger is very bloody useful especially when thinking about concepts like "The emotional freedom technique", "self-esteem", positive psychology, that "tapping" nonsense that Mercola promotes. 

    Depression, for example, is seen as a trait favored by natural selection to enable us to solve our problems by withdrawing, reflecting, and hence enhancing our future reproduction.
    Such ideas are sprouted by those who understand bugger all about the physiology of depression. It shrinks the hippocampus by up to 20% in some people and can take months if not years to recover from that post depression, reduces neurogenesis, induces wide ranging physiological changes that are damaging to the body and cognition. Clinical depression is a debilitating pathological response, it doesn't help you think, it impairs memory, working memory, and concentration so it hardly an adaptive response as defined above. It's not plausible it is borne out of ignorance about the etiology and consequences of depression. Suicide is one of the biggest killers of humans, go find a gene centric adaptive response for that. 

    Evolutionary Psychology is pseudoscience, like memetics or selfish gene theory.

    I think Hank posts these stories for laughs like Atheists And Liberals More Intelligent, Says Atheist, Liberal Psychologist. The story reads like standard science reporting, but, given the title, it's a tongue-in-cheek example of confirmation bias or experimenter's bias.

    That one wasn't me! That citation was Kanazawa. If I wrote a piece on him, the snark would be a lot more overt.
    I stand corrected. The uncredited writer (the byline of the article displays "By News Staff") seems to have a sense of humor.
    @ Gerard. Lets take the first part of your post before you edited it and bloated it out. Uncertified cost? Easy now, you're entering troll territory with that obtuseness. I'm trying to keep this basic to see how honest you are. There are *very* different metabolic costs--and we can measure them in terms of reproductive output-- between the sexes. In the case of a woman it's nine months of gestation and the expenditure of finite resources --blood, milk, comparatively transient fertility, and reproductive opportunity costs (each offspring a woman has represents a larger relative proportion of her finite fertility, and future reproductive opportunities are lost to parental investment). Men's input at a minimum is a squirt of sperm, though we invest in offspring far more than other male primates. These are big differences, not small differences. Are you with me so far? As a result, we can make predictions about, say, different average reproductive strategies of the sexes.

    I'll get to the rest of your post later. But thanks for the laugh with this gem! ;-) " what is your basis for claiming that human males seek multiple females for mating purpose"

    Btw I don't seem to be able to post from the laptop I was using, I'm getting "service unavailable", and even though I'm killing time I don't fancy writing back on my phone again

    Gerhard Adam
    First, I'd like to know what the evolutionary basis is for someone getting my name wrong despite seeing it written on a post.  Anyway ...

    I didn't say "uncertified", I said "unverified".

    Your concept of costs is unjustified.  There is nothing to suggest that there is any correlation to what you call "cost". 
    " what is your basis for claiming that human males seek multiple females for mating purpose"
    I want a serious answer.  Please don't be so silly as to assume that sex is a valid response.   I'm not talking about what you think male fantasies are.  I'm talking about how males actually live.

    In any case, I can see that you don't really have any answers, just a series of quaint assumptions that have no basis in fact.  The notion that because women get pregnant somehow conveys some disproportionate evolutionary cost explains nothing. 

    The fact is, that while not common, polyandry exists, but by your explanation it shouldn't.  Similarly, women should be significantly more choosy than they are. 

    Again, based on your "evolutionary explanation" why do males bond with females and raise families?  Moreover, what is the role, if any, if paternal uncertainty and the ramifications of that?

    In truth, infidelity is quite balanced between the sexes, which is another thing that shouldn't happen according to your claims. 

    In short, you got nothing.  You've got some silly college student notion that young guys wanting to get laid is based on some notion you have about male reproductive costs.  As I said ... it's bullshit.

    Yes, I know how popular it is to try to put these things into terms of biological "cost".  It sounds so ... well, scientific.  Yet, the reality is that a human female only has a tiny fraction of the number of children that she is biologically capable of and it is no different for men.  So, despite your claim of an evolutionary difference, men do not disproportionately father children.

    Actually if the confirmation bias intrinsic in EP were checked, it should become obvious as to why the male strategy you're describing would be selected against.  As a result, you're making an evolutionary prediction that isn't true, based on a flawed concept, that a little bit of examination would demonstrate couldn't work as a viable long-term male reproductive strategy.
    Mundus vult decipi
    My phone autocorrected your name and that word. Sadly, your whole post is mired in straw and false presumptions, it's very dull stuff. Unfortunately, too, you failed my leeetle intellectual honesty test --which I used to determine whether you were worth having a discussion with--by showing a cartoonish level of bias in refusing accept the most basic fact about reproductive costs, which is common parlance in biology and game theory. But stay slippery and keep that cognitive dissonance at bay and be sure not to concede an inch. Talk about confirmation bias. (Psychology has much to say about face saving; a good way to avoid this stuff in the future is to not be so rude in one's ignorance, it's a bad mix.) Your claims about infidelity debunking Ep and about fatherhood and polyandry are laughable. Straw beams, glittering in cyberspace. There are excellent criticisms of Ep out there; unfortunately nothing you've said is remotely interesting or informed. Yawn. ("See! See! Ya got nathin!") ;)

    Gerhard Adam failed my leeetle intellectual honesty test...
    Just another troll.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard, I think it's clear who the troll is here. Put that hefty ego aside, you might learn something.