Passive backlash.

Well, this “Girls Love Pink Cos They Pick Fruit, Fuck, and Have Babies!” study would be a prime example of Why We Need Blogs.

I see a lot of whining about bloggers being mere parasites on the underbelly of the mainstream media, whose journalists do real research dontcha know. Yet, the MSM has taken the press release of this paper and lapped it up, uncritically, in the smug way they lap up any other succulent morsel of women-should-be-in-the-kitchen news. I’m yet to find a shred of evidence that any of the “journalists” who have reported this: CNN, the Australia, the Washington Post, Time – have so much as eyed the actual report, let alone thought critically about the assumptions, evidence or analysis. No ideas, no questions; the heftiest competition amongst them seems to be who can make the prattiest joke about women and shopping.

Even the science “news” – SciAm, Science Daily, CogNews – have done no more than regurgitate the press release, and it’s no tastier coming back up. Scientific American‘s take?

Boys like blue, girls like pink and there isn’t much anybody can do about it
[…]
As for Eve, Hurlbert added, maybe there was a different reason she picked that apple.

Blogs are where the real to-and-fro is happening. Quite a few feminist blogs are taking a good hard look at the study, and the scrutiny isn’t confined to the femisphere. We have a real, public “peer review” process going on, and a deeper level of examination that the paperworld eschews when the press release pings the trifecta of a PhD, a juicy hook, and a delicious serving of sexist stereotype.

What about you? Where have you seen actual analysis and critique of this “scientific” report, or any other? Have you found a MSM reporter who appears to have read the paper? Thought about it?

And as an aside, is anyone here associated with Current Biology and its review process? Because the gaping holes I found on my cursory look, in an area outside my main field, really make me wonder. Because I’m pretty sure I’d be called out at the senior undergrad tier about that level of lazy referencing or lack of rigorous thought about confounders and variables. Does CB usually publish hand-waving evpsych speculation? Because this stuff looks to me like it belongs in “Medical Hypotheses”.

The backlash, it is everywhere. And much of it is passive.



Categories: gender & feminism, Science

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11 replies

  1. The SciAm blogs blogs, in an attempt to be chatty or something, are exceptionally stupid, frequently offensive, and often just as flat-out wrong regarding the content and implications of science press releases as the average Yahoo article.

    However, the timing of this article on Science Daily (yesterday as well) was opportune:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070821163256.htm

  2. Science 24 August 2007:Vol. 317. no. 5841, pp. 1020 – 1021

    NEWS OF THE WEEK
    GENETICS:
    Epidemiologist Sees Flaws in Papers on Genes and Gender
    Jennifer Couzin
    An epidemiologist who for years has critiqued the veracity of published papers has now tackled a hot area in genomics, sex-based genetic differences. He argues that most reported findings are poorly documented and that about a sixth may actually be wrong.
    … The analysis was published in the 22/29 August issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
    Of the gene-gender findings, says Ioannidis, “there is a problem with just accepting them and believing that they’re true.” Proper documentation was found in only 55 claims, or 13% of the total.
    … “People make claims from their data that just are not there,” agrees Kathleen Merikangas of the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

  3. My partner taught 3rd year journalism students for a semester. He hasn’t recovered yet.
    They can’t write, and they can’t think critically. It concerns me that journalists are increasingly educated in ‘vocational’ courses, rather than doing generalist degrees where they might learn some real live information: some history, some biology, some economics. Because at the moment they aren’t learning much of anything, and they’re paying a lot of money for the privilege.

  4. I’m a biologist by training, and you’re right that this study is complete dreck. There has been a lot of crappy science reporting done in the past few months, but the crappy evolutionary psychology reporting is by far the worst. (It’s closely followed by the crappy reporting on obesity, which seems to be mostly about whipping the public into a panic.) Maybe it’s time I started a blog and started kicking asses.
    I mean, the study showed that both men and women prefer blue. Where the fuck did they get “girls just love pink”?

  5. As a scientist myself, I dismiss articles like this as “scientific fluff” – crap the media likes to parade around like it actually means something because its something their average lame-brained viewer can understand and get a kick out of.
    I looked over the submission and review process for Current Biology and it looks pretty standard. Here is a description of the journal printed on their own website:
    “Current Biology is widely valued among life scientists for its unique blend of important research papers and informed, lively commentary. Published every 2 weeks, the journal delivers exciting primary research from all areas of biology, from molecular biology to evolution. Current Biology also features timely Dispatches – commentary by leading experts on the latest advances – as well as valuable full-length reviews and a vibrant magazine section that includes news, analysis and opinion, profiles of leading scientists and institutions, and informative, accessible guides to notable topics in biology.”
    Maybe this stupid Girls Like Pink article was in the “vibrant magazine section”. Even if it was in the peer reviewed section, there’s nothing that says only the best and highest quality papers get published. Journals want to sell just like anything else, and I’m sure all this hype around this dumb article has done nothing but improve Current Biology’s impact factor – and you can be sure whoever let this drivel slide by knew exactly what they were doing!

  6. Oh, and by the way, here’s another “scientific fluff” article that I linked to via Feministing: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?xml=/earth/2007/08/22/eashopping122.xml
    Why is stuff like this news? Of course women’s minds are developed for gathering and remembering where food is. This is intuitive to anyone with an ounce of knowledge about evolution. However, I don’t appreciate how these articles are spun to support stereotypes and patriarchal gender roles.

  7. May blessings rain on the head of Ben Goldacre and his “Bad Science” column in the Guardian, which is always a pleasure to read. And this week he distinguishes himself as the only person in the MSM to point out what a crock the pink/blue study is:
    http://www.badscience.net/
    I think I’ll make him my Other Boyfriend (TM).

  8. Maybe this stupid Girls Like Pink article was in the “vibrant magazine section”.

    Bingo. The pdf has
    “Magazine
    R623″
    at the top.
    Current Biology already has a stratospheric IF – why do they need to publish crap to increase it further? Furrfu.

  9. There has been a lot of crappy science reporting done in the past few months, but the crappy evolutionary psychology reporting is by far the worst. (It’s closely followed by the crappy reporting on obesity, which seems to be mostly about whipping the public into a panic.) Maybe it’s time I started a blog and started kicking asses.

    PLEASE do! Drop me a line when you get started. Have you been reading Kate Harding?

  10. Ian: thanks for that – it’s good to see that there are some people in the journal world making a noise about this.
    The BMJ had a bit of a series on “imagined diseases” and overmedicalisation a while back. It was light on for actual sociological critique or deeper analysis, but it did draw attention to some of the issues.
    e.g.
    “Sexual behaviour and its medicalisation: in sickness and in health”

    The author relates outdated faux-diseases like “spermatorrhea”, and the demonisation of masturbation, to current-day pathologisation of sex drive fluctuations and the Western craze for aesthetic vulval surgeries and “vaginal rejuvenation”.
    ”The limits of psychiatry”
    and ”The making of a disease: female sexual dysfunction” (actually out of the Fin) – read all the Rapid Responses; this article drew a huge amount of attention.

  11. I’m gonna be very mean. Now that everyone can read and write and have access to the internet and publish what they write for free, the world is finding out that journalists aren’t that needed after all. That what journalists do, anyone can do. HA!

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