An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

July 30, 2010

Recreational Sex is a Survival Strategy

Filed under: gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Ethan @ 7:00 pm

There are plenty of studies out there on human sexuality that seem to assume that evolution hasn’t quite caught up with all our modern sexual tinkering, seeing as how they start off assuming all sex, and all our sex drives, stem only from a fundamentally a reproductive urge (this one, which that claims that women who are approaching menopause become “more willing to engage in a variety of sexual activities to capitalize on their remaining childbearing years”  is what spurred my thoughts today) There are points where this makes sense–genetically-driven instinct won’t catch on to the advent of The Pill for a few millenia to come. But other purposes for sex, and forms of non-reproductively oriented sex, have been around for more than enough time.

Queer sex, oral, manual and anal sex are OLD. Judging from our closest living relatives, all those ways of fucking are older than we are as a species. Our hind brains may not have picked up on condoms yet, but ‘I don’t want to get pregnant, so how about you go down on me instead?’ is older than time.

And why should all sex be driven by reproduction? Humans do, and probably always have, used sex for lots of other things–for fun, to strengthen relationships, to ease tensions (and did I mention for fun?). We’re social creatures, and our gene’s survival depends not only on our ability to churn out babies, but on our ability to gain the love and support of others. With fucking. Or sharing food or whatever. But fucking is free.

I’m not an expert in human sexuality, so I’m curious: is there any evidence that having more not-PIV-sex is strongly correlated to having more PIV sex and higher pregnancy rates? If there’s not, wouldn’t it be important to distinguish between sex-in-general, which may or mat not include PIV sex, and sex that’s actually able to lead to pregnancy, when you’re doing research on sexuality and reproduction? Because it’s not a good idea to assume that when you ask someone about how often they have sex, or how intense their sexual fantasies are, that their personal definition of sex is all missionary, all the time.

Share

July 15, 2010

Trans Job Discrimination: Now With Numbers!

Two trans members of Make the Road/New York’s LGBTQ Justice Program were turned down for fast-food jobs in 2008, six years after the city banned gender identity based job discrimination. Which is hardly news, in and of itself–job discrimination against transgender, transsexual and gender-nonconforming people is tremendously common, and looking at the statistics for POC or women, it’s not hard to figure out that simply outlawing employment discrimination doesn’t end it.

But anything resembling hard facts about anti-trans discrimination are hard to come by. When their members got passed over for jobs, Make the Road decided to work on that. The end result is this recent 22 page report, aptly titled Transgender Need Not Apply, which details their DIY trial of a sociological technique–matched pair studies–to get some numbers to show the rational-fetishist crowd. You can guess how that turned out.

How it Worked

They picked two pairs of their members who were similar in as many ways as they could control for–one team was composed of Asian-American women in their late 20′s, the other of white men in their mid 20′s. The experimental difference was that one member of each pair was cis and the other was trans, and the the trans applicants disclosed their status on applications and in interviews.  They were outfitted with made-up resumes that gave them similar backgrounds and experience, with a slight advantage to the trans team members. And they underwent serious training to match their demeanors and interview behavior as much as possible.

The pairs then set out to apply for jobs at high-end retail stores–J. Crew, Trader Joe’s, Starbucks, Brookstone, etc. 24 different stores in all, for a total of 42 applications for each experimental group.* The cis testers got 14 job offers. The trans testers got 2. The way the numbers shake out, that totals to a discrimination rate of 42% against trans applicants, which is, well, pretty freaking high as discrimination stats go. How does 14:2 equal only 42%? The employers were saved some by that fact that many stores didn’t offer anyone a job, and a single store (the Virgin Megastore) picked the trans applicant over their cis counterpart. Once.

What Does it All Mean?

In their report, MtR were careful to point out that their study is too small to tease out intersectional discriminations, which they assure us they’ d like to do in a larger study that could measure the degree to which race and class factors interact with transphobic discrimination (I’d put my money on ‘multiplicatively’ or ‘exponentially,’ if anyone at the Radical Scientist Gambling Parlor were dumb enough to take the other side of that bet)

Personally, I’d be curious to see how trans men fare vs trans women, as there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that transmisogyny (that is, the particular cocktail of misogyny and transphobia aimed at trans women & other male-assigned trans people) is a huge, huge magnet for job discrimination, even compared to the transphobia-served-neat (and often with a chaser of male passing privilege)** faced by trans men. Unfortunately, with only 2 freaking job offers going to the trans testers, this particular study isn’t going to help there. You can’t study intra-community differences in hiring until someone hires some more freaking trans people. Like, a statistically significant number of trans people. Sheesh. We may be waiting a while for that one.

Thanks to Questioning Transphobia for picking up this story before me.

*Note that an experimental group is made up of the all subjects sharing a variable. So, the two cis testers are one experimental group and the trans testers are the other. Meanwhile, we also have two teams, one of a trans woman and a cis woman, and another with a trans guy and a cis guy. I know it’s a mess, but obviously, it matters how you divvy up the data.

**No more liquor metaphors, I promise. Not till we get farther into the weekend, at least.

Share

June 14, 2010

Not just a favor post

Have I mentioned my friend Samia is awesome this week? Yes? Tought shit, I’m doing it again.

She has a new post up about broadening the whole women-in-science ‘debate.’ Moving past single lens approach, especially when that one perspective is white, straight, cis and married. She points out that the problem may not be getting a new generation of girls ‘interested’ in math or science so much as changing the atmosphere of those fields to welcome and respect women. I’m not gonna run the whole thing down, you should just read it.

Share

June 4, 2010

Propaganda for your Pants

Filed under: feminism,gender,media and pop culture — Tags: , , , , , — Ethan @ 7:31 pm

A little while ago, I got the chance to tour parts of the CDC. While waiting for our contact to come and lead us through the impressive maze of the place, we killed a few moments wandering around the main attraction of the Visitor’s Center: the CDC’s museum to itself.

At the time, their temporary exhibit was a retrospective of STI public health campaigns. It was fascinating stuff, from the now-quaint syphilis scares to the deep, deep disgust with women’s sexuality.  (Note: all these images are from Mother Jones recent retrospective of military propaganda The Enemy in Our Pants, which inspired this post. Check it out)

Yeeeeah. I love a good pun, but seriously. Booby Trap? Are you fucking kidding me? There are pulp novels from the same time period with classier covers. This is a hairs breadth away from suggesting that woman’s vagina is a spear-lined pit covered in palm fronds. And they go on like that, one after another, warning innocent men of the horrible, horrible things that could befall their precious wieners, should they get too close to any of the local ladies.

Well, except maybe for this one. Made for the British public just before the US sent a massive wave of troops in to prepare for D-Day, it puts the blame squarely on the hoards of apple-cheeked, sex crazed GI’s.

The other thing that really caught my attention was the  stark difference between a lot of the first-generation PSA’s and the ones that came later–the first syphillis treatment ads basically just said “Hey, did you know you could stop having syphillis? Ask your doctor!” Which, given all the havoc untreated syphilis can cause, was probably all they needed to say.

Similarly, the posters from the pan-African smallpox eradication campaign all translated to variations on “If you go to your local clinic and get vaccinated, you won’t ever get smallpox. Bring the kids!” with matching illustrations of a friendly-looking man in a lab coat holding a minimally intimidating vaccine gun, followed by happy families celebrating their smallpoxlessness. I mean, that shit pretty much sells itself, right?

But by the 60′s, one US ad for the oral polio vaccine mentioned its ‘great taste.’ Which is nice and all (I’m guessing it was for the polio vaccine carried on sugarcubes ) but seriously? Even if it tasted like rotting shark asshole, it keeps you from getting polio. There’s no question about whether it’s worth it.

Yeesh. Americans.

Share

April 25, 2010

Ummm, what’s wrong with this picture?

Filed under: DIY,gender — Tags: , , , , — Ethan @ 10:10 pm

I knit. A lot. I make gifts for people I care about, but mostly I knit for myself. Finding patterns I like, that will fit me well, is always a challenge. So I was excited to see Man Made DIY review Knits Men Want,  a whole book full of patterns I might potentially want, photographed by knitting heartthrob Jared Flood. To be clear, I haven’t read it yet; I’m about to go off on a tear on general principle, because the thing that bothers me about this is something that has happened over and over again: a perfectly good, useful craft book tries to sell itself with some gender-retrograde, Men-Are-From-Mars bullshit.

It is surprisingly hard to find good collection of knitting patterns for guy’s clothes– most general-purpose knitting books will be 3/4 to 7/8 women’s clothes, with a sweater or two and some sock recommendations tucked in for the dudes. I’m not very gender-policy about my clothes, but I find that patterns aimed more at women can’t be made to fit me well. So, another halfway-decent collection on patterns for guys clothes is a good thing; I don’t want to have to buy 10 books to get 10 patterns I’d want to make for myself.  Judging this book solely on it’s cover and the short review I linked, the technical content looks pretty great. The piece featured on the cover looks like something I’d wear, and the review suggest the patterns come with plenty of detail for adjusting them to fit across a broad range of sizes and style preferences. And anything Jared Flood does is probably pretty great.

But the book isn’t aimed at men. It’s aimed at women, with the subtitle “The Ten Rules Every Woman Should Know Before Knitting for a Man.” I can’t stand the weird sexism & heterosexism here. Why should women be doing all the manly-sweater-making? I resent the implication that women should be hand-knitting sweaters for me. The women in my life have better things to do with their time, like having a life, being more successful than me, and making sweaters for themselves. Shouldn’t dudes make their own damn sweaters?

Like I said, I wouldn’t be so pissed if this were a one-off oddity, a book aimed at a specific niche, but it’s not. Based on my extensive survey of bookstores and  knitting specialty stores across the southeast, (ahem) there are only maybe 6 or so books in print that focus on knitting menswear. One is composed entirely of men’s sweaters with matching dog sweaters, so we’ll rule it right out. Out of the remaining 5-ish, at least one other (the otherwise handy Son of Stitch N’ Bitch) assumes a female reader, looking to make something nice for her husband/boyfriend. That book does a fair amount of what I’m accusing this of sight-unseen–gender-policing (don’t make your boyfriend something brightly colored, even if he goes to the store with you and picks out a multicolor Noro yarn!),disguising naratives that push women to cater to men as empowering ( like ‘those silly boys, if you don’t hand-knit them camelhair socks, they’ll never get themselves nice things’), and disguising  general-purpose, gender-neutral good advice as some deep insight into the mysteries of the Opposite Sex (for anyone wanting a big squishy sweater they can wear over other layers, it’s a good idea to measure a sweater they already like than to measure their body and guess where to add room)

To be clear, knitting is mostly a women’s hobby. I’m not arguing to the contrary; I get annoyed pretty quickly with guys who want the whole subculture to butch up just so they can feel comfortable. But most of the people I’ve met who really want whole books full of quality men’s patterns are queer men–we’re more likely to need the quantity of options, to have lots to chose from to make things for ourselves and still have new styles to use for the odd gift to partners, friends and family.  Given that audience, why posit such a Good Housekeeping-esque world where highly skilled crafters* need extra special help to make a series of tubes, just so they don’t injure their husband’s delicate masculinity with their lady-hobbies?

* I don’t know how difficult the patterns are in this book, but it does take much more skill and experience in general to take on a fitted women’s sweater than the looser, squarer cuts and simpler textures usually aimed at men.

Share

December 18, 2008

Bloggers 1, Evolutionary Psycology 0

Filed under: feminism,gender — Tags: , — Ethan @ 12:32 am

Thomas at the Yes Means Yes blog has the tidiest take-down I’ve ever seen of human sexual selection psudoscientific fairytales, and mainstream media reposting thereon:

I give you this. Apparently, men are “hardwired” to spend to attract mates because, somehow, some pre-consumer society behavior that developed before agriculture magically transmogrified directly to behavior at the mall. And the scientists are in no way simply imposing a “just-so story” on their observations. At least not any more so than is standard in their field.

This is worthless in and of itself. People who don’t understand science tell us something about the findings of a discipline that is pseudoscience.

The intro, though, is what cracked me up:

We all know the stereotype: the “goldthrower.” The guy who spends profligately looking to attract female partners, whether he can afford it or not.

Wait … did you miss that one? Me too.

But we all know what a “golddigger” is.

But, while we’re neologizing, (look! I verbed!), I’d like to cast my vote for ‘goldflinger’ instead. I think it comes closer to matching the indignity implied by ‘golddigger.’

It’s not like there’s no value in trying to suss out how humans pick who we make babies with, or how that’s shaped human evolution. But there seem to be a couple big flaws in the reasoning the researchers (or the journalists reporting, to be fair, I can’t seem to find the original journal article anywhere handy) apply to modern dating, let alone the way they assume that human mating strategies have remained fixed, with only the tactics shifting to match current culture.

I mean, really, who believes that sleeping with more people equals having more babies these days? Shit, the more people I sleep with, the more careful I am to avoid makin’ the babies. And I’m sure lots of women and men are out there doing the same–using condoms like flac jackets when we’re single, letting the BC slip when having a kid would be more of a surprise than an accident. Second, assuming that today’s conspicuous consumerism is directly decended from cave men giving cave women cave jewlery to get in their cave pants is, well, fucking stupid. In a society where women gather the large bulk of everyone’s calories, gifts of food would be more of a gesture than a survival aid. Money didn’t exist for the bulk of human history. And today, men who get laid more buy what, supposedly? Doesn’t say. Gifts for women? Fancy status-symbol possessions for themselves? Paying off medical bills? Supporting their aging parents? Student loans? Supporting their meth habit? Don’t those things sound kinda…different to you, in terms of whether or not someone’s spending to get laid?

Share

June 6, 2008

Learn Calculus, Smash Patriarchy: Gender Equality Linked to Math Skills

Filed under: feminism,gender — Tags: , , , — Ethan @ 5:50 pm

Check out this Ars Technica post about a recent worldwide study on teenagers math and verbal skills:

It’s widely recognized that, in the US at least, there’s a gender gap in performance on tests of basic skills: boys tend to perform better at math, while girls get superior reading scores. It has been suggested that these gaps are the result of biological differences, as males tend to have better spatial reasoning skills and females better word recall. But a new study suggests that, when it comes to math, we can forget biology, as social equality seems to play a dominant role in test scores.

Students from 40 countries took the same math and reading test, and girls and boys average scores in each country were compared against an index of women’s social equality. On the whole, girls outscored boys on the reading test, and boys outscored girls on the math bits. But the difference in math scores was closely linked to women’s status within each country:

The researchers, noted, however, that the math gap wasn’t consistent between countries. For example, it was nearly twice as large as the average in Turkey, while Icelandic girls outscored males by roughly 2 percent. The general pattern of these differences suggested to the authors that the performance differences correlated with the status of women. The authors of the study built a composite score that reflected the gender equality of the countries based on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, data extracted from the World Values Surveys, measures of female political participation, and measures of the economic significance of females.

Go Iceland!* The article gets oddly bogged down worrying that further advances in women’s status will eventually render men illiterate (I exaggerate, but it was strange), as the margin by which girls outscored boys in reading comp. also widened with increased social equality. So maybe you should just grab a copy of the current issue of Science instead, and read about it for yourself.

Full Disclosure: I have some family from Iceland, but I’d congratulate them anyway.

Share

May 18, 2008

The Moral Panic of BPA and the Feminized ‘Boy’

As a follow-up to yesterday’s rant post about the anti-feminine fear-mongering often present in media coverage of endocrine disruptors, Rebecca Hammond was kind enough to give me permission to republish the following essay. She says it far better than I could.

*****

I can see it now. 2008 will go down as the year that polycarbonate, the durable tough clear plastics we were all nursed on, the little plastic #7, takes the fall as the culprit responsible for emasculating our males for the past half century.

more specifically, it seems that everywhere – from blogs to the eco-media to the earnest conversations that happen on play dates around swingsets – talk is fixated on the horrors of BPA (biphesnol-a). BPA is found in polycarbonates as well as in the lining of canned foods (as well as in other non-food goods).

i’ve had this unease about the growing clamour around BPA. now, there are many stories within this story to catalyse unease: the discrepency between publicly and privately funded studies into the health effects of low-dose exposure to BPA; the nonaction by global and national bodies to stem the 7 billion pounds of BPA that’s created on an annual basis; the growing body of research highlighting potentially harmful effects on human health at exposure levels far below what’s considered ‘acceptable’.

yes, these are all troubling. i, however, am as much troubled by the panicked response to this chemical as i am by the chemical itself.

now, there is steadily mounting, and increasingly irrefutable, evidence linking BPA to breast, and possibly prostate cancer in adults. but a chemical linked to cancer, particularly one that is only marginally linked at the present time, has never been ganged up on like this. then *what*, i’ve wondered, is driving this unprecedented reaction? what has shifted in the eyes of moms across the continent to suddenly see the innocuous sippy cup as an object that incites panic about the health of their children?

i’ve come to conclude that such a sudden, complete reaction without a definitive health outcome means that concern is going beyond health concerns alone. sippy cups have become an object of moral panic, tweaking deep seated fears that our ‘boys’ are becoming weaker, more sensitive, and ultimately more feminine.

what is important to understand is that BPA is a chemical that mimics the effects of estrogen in the body. this estrogen masquerade it plays is why, in particular, concerns have been raised about long-term BPA exposure (as well as exposure at a young age) and the development of breast cancer – many forms of which are triggered by, and dependent upon, estrogen exposure.

BPA and cancer: here the link is inconclusive but strong enough to warrant serious attention. what has happened though is that BPAs estrogenic properties have triggered a fear that goes far beyond this. buoyed by studies in rats, such as this, many in both mainstream media, as well as in progressive ecological publications, are selling magazines and papers by stoking fears that BPA may be closing the gap between the genders by altering the gender-normative behaviour of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’.

now, before i go further, i want to say that I certainly would not dispute that limiting exposure to is a positive effort. we certainly should not wait for final and conclusive evidence linking BPA to breast cancer and other health outcomes, we should act now. what i worry about though is what fears are we reenforcing by playing up on enduring cultural fears of feminized boys (and, to a lesser degree masculanized girls)?

selling science stories is hard. and it appears that scientists have, perhaps unwittingly, found an effective route to catalyse change around BPA. media outlets are keenly are of this: mothers worry less about their own health and more about the health of their children; in particular, they worry about the social health and status their child will have. thus, even raising suspicions that they could be unwittingly poisoning their ‘boys’ by exposing them to estrogens has proven, in the case of BPA, to be the ‘story that sells’.

what is somewhat ironic is that mothers of appear to be *more* distraught about their ‘sons’ BPA exposure than their ‘daughters’. this is despite the much stronger evidence showing that BPA is going to affect the health and cancer risk of females more than males. this inversion of concern appears to be (yet another) irrational fear of the feminized male.

articles are promoting that BPA may not just alter behaviour but the bodies of ‘boys’. two days ago, the widely-read journal Discover chose to focus an article less on the links of BPA to cancer than on the effect that BPA and similar chemicals have on the size of baby ‘boys’ penises, on the distance between their anus and genitals (a sexually dimorphic trait, i.e. it’s longer in males than in females), and on suppression of testosterone within these ‘boys’. in its conclusions, the article *does* strongly highlight the mounting research linking BPA to cancer. but, by this point the reader has been whipped into a panic having images of micro-penises and fey little boys burned into their minds, the cancer data is icing on the cake.

scientists and media are thus seemingly eschewing evidence in favour of tapping into deep fears of femininity, specifically as its expressed in males, as a way to means to an end: to ban BPA. with sensationalist images like those in the Discover article, it’s not surprising mothers are tossing their lattes and reaching for protest signs in support of a ban on BPA.

and the results from this recent change of tactic are dramatic. the canadian government has recently (and the first country in the world) declared BPA as potentially harmful to human health. not waiting for government regulation, stores that sell themselves on being ecologically aware have pulled products with BPA off their shelves in many other Western countries. it seems that the fear of possibly emasculating the males of our nations overrides the drive for corporate profit. who knew?

the question that remains is ubiquitous: does the end (that being a partial or complete ban on BPA) justify the means we’ve used to get there?

the fear, perhaps even abject horror, affixed to feminization is a prevailing and shameful cultural cornerstone. it stands at the root of phobic outlashes against many queer men and trans women. trans men (and many cis men as well) who may not match up to external markers of masculinity can also experience bashing because of a perceived insufficiency of masculinity . ‘gender-variant’ ‘boys’ are referred at a rate of 20:1 to the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health’s Gender Identity Clinic – highlighting a broader cultural belief that being a feminine boy is *such* a problem that we have to treat it, nip it in the bud. and, of course, we all know the fate of a ‘boy’ choosing to wear a dress to school.

taken more broadly, our prioritization of masculine traits over feminine ones has helped to create a society where power, aggression, and authority are the currencies of power. women are perenially kept out of power and, like men who don’t match up to masculine norms, are subjected to violence and socio-economic penalties. being feminine is a handicap in the Western world, there is no disputing this.

the public reaction to BPA is a story about panic. and, while awakening to the health consequences of BPA are without-a-doubt important, it is also important to challenge our cultural prioritization of the masculine over the feminine and to address the panic that is instilled in us when our boys express femininity. the backlash against BPA has given strength and legitimacy to that panic. it may even catalyse a new wave of trying to (re)masculanize ‘boys’ that may have supposedly been ‘exposed’. this whole ordeal may *even* trigger the medicalization of femininity.

perhaps this is why i feel great unease.

*N.B. I have used quotes around ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ to call attention to the cisnormative way that male and female children are raised in our society. given that approximately 1 in 1000 of these boys will go on to be girls, and women, one day (and vice versa) i wish to stress that these labels are applied without first allowing the child to form and name their gender identity, and thus, these labels of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are both assumptive and transient.

Share

May 8, 2008

Cocktail Party Bibliography: The Homophobia Study

Filed under: feminism,funny,gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Ethan @ 7:53 pm

For years now,  the UGA homopobia study has been one of my favorite pieces of social science, but I’ve never bothered looking it up before. A friend of mine’s dad worked on it, so I first got the rundown from her. Now, I’d like to sum it up for you, and give y’all the citation for the original article in case you want to look it up. I think I’ll do this from time to time, post a review/summary of a study I love or hate.

Long story short, this study looked at homopohbia in men, and asked the question we’ve all been thinking: are homophobic guys secretly into men?

The short answer is yes.

The researchers took a number of men (all white; I assume they didn’t want to bother controlling for cultural differences) who described themselves as fully heterosexual in preference and experience. They had the subjects fill out a questionnaire which asked them how they’d feel if they found out various people around them were gay, if a guy were to hit on them, etc. Using the results of that questionnaire, they chose  2  study group:  35  men who  were  homophobic, and a control group of  29  who did not have negative  emotional responses to  homosexuality.

Then, the hooked their volunteers up to a plethysmograph (a loop that fits around the penis and measures changes in its circumfrence, as a proxy for sexual arousal) and showed them porn. Both groups had similar responses to straight porn and lesbian porn, but there was a distinct gap in the way they responded to gay male porn.

The non-homophobic men were pretty bereft of hard-ons, with 66% having ‘insignificant’ arousal. Out of the remaining third, 10% were moderately aroused, and 24% had definite boners.

The homophobic men were much more into it. A mere 20% of them had insignificant changes in their penis metrics, while 26% were moderately aroused and a whopping 54% were definitely turned on. That’s some serious statistical significance.

What’s better, when the participants were asked later which videos had aroused them, all participants gave answers that matched the peter-meter measurements, with one major exception: the homophobic men consistently underestimated their response to the gay porn. Either they were lying, or they were in enough denial to not notice they  were turned on despite having their pants around their ankles and a bonerometer on their dicks. You be the judge.

Now, before the gloating goes too far, there’s a couple of points I want to cover. It’s possible, though less likely, that the homophobic guys got hard-ons because the gay porn made them nervous, or because a bunch of them were exhibitionists. Also, the study tells us noting about homophobic women. And lastly, I’d be interested in seeing a breakdown by religion–I want to know if people who are told by their clergy that gay folks are going to hell really internalize that message all the way to their crotches.

Anyway, I couldn’t find the article anywhere on the open web, so I’ll just give you the citation:

Henry Adams, Lester Wright Jr. & Bethany Lohr. “Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal?”, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105 (1996), P. 440-445

Next time you find yourself arguing with a homophobe, you’ll have a handy trump card.
You can thanks me later.

Share

May 4, 2008

Let’s Kick Things Off

Filed under: feminism,gender,media and pop culture,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 7:54 pm

The current issue of Bitch magazine has an article entitled Mad Science: Deconstructing Bunk Reporting in 5 Easy Steps that I just love. the author, Beth Skwarecki, lays out a great framework for spotting dubious science reporting in mainstream media. To pile on the awesome, she colors the whole deal with studies about gender, from whether male monkeys prefer trucks over dolls to the ‘housework prevents breast cancer’ debacle. It’s not the most fun part of the article, but this part pretty much sums up her thesis:

Ben Goldacre, who writes the “Bad Science” column for the UK’s Guardian, speculates that science stories come in three varieties: the wacky story, the breakthrough story, and the scare story. Most widely reported studies on gender seem to fall into the wacky category—the supposed innate preference for pink is one of them—and their media strength is that they tend to support existing stereotypes of women, reassuring readers that social stereotypes do, in fact, reflect reality.

We can’t put all the blame on mainstream media, of course. Scientists are part of the same culture as the rest of us, and they too have biases that shape their hypotheses and interpretations. The scientific community can also be as fad-driven as popular culture, creating a climate in which many researchers simultaneously geek out over one specific theory while competing ideas get lost or abandoned. So let’s learn how to read between the lines of these dubious articles. Next time you see an article reporting that women are happiest when they’re picking up their man’s dirty socks, try asking these questions:

1 Do the Conclusions Fit a Little Too Well With Cultural Stereotypes?
2 Does the Study Agree With the Headline?
3 Can You Spot the Double Standard?
4 Is There Another Conclusion That Would be Just as Valid?
5 Is the Study Even Science?

Each point gets  a little mini-essay of it’s own. Really, though, you should just go read the whole thing.I’ll be testing you on it later.

Share

Powered by WordPress

3 visitors online now
1 guests, 2 bots, 0 members
Max visitors today: 7 at 05:15 am UTC
This month: 7 at 03-05-2017 12:11 am UTC
This year: 13 at 01-09-2017 02:46 am UTC
All time: 66 at 08-17-2016 06:01 pm UTC