Archive for January 11th, 2012

I’ve got some news that maybe isn’t news. – Robert Frost, “The Housekeeper”

“When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often.  But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”  We’ve all heard this quote with which I opened my column of one year ago today, and though most people would agree on it many soi-disant “journalists” don’t any more.  As I said in that column,

…such things are presented as news every day.  Sometimes…[it’s] because of the unusual size of the dog or the sheer number of people bitten; sometimes it’s just a slow news day, and very often such stories are the equivalent of the patter, lovely assistant and other misdirection used by a conjurer to draw attention away from what he’s actually doing.  But in some cases “dog bites man” stories become newsworthy because the media have succeeded in convincing enough people that dogs actually don’t bite men, so when it happens in a public place silly people are either surprised or must at least pretend to be…[they] either don’t recognize [such stories] as examples of “dog bites man” or else believe that dogs do not in fact generally bite men;  they therefore react by feigning surprise, denying that the story actually describes an incident of canine aggression, or questioning the veracity of the report.

A perfect example of this appeared in Huffington Post on Monday and was called to my attention yesterday by the Human Scorch:

Men and women are more alike than different — that’s been the consensus view for many years among the researchers who study personality differences between the sexes.  But a new study claims this wisdom is wrong.  By correcting for measurement errors, three researchers put forth a study that was published on Wednesday on the Public Library of Science website saying they’ve found that men and women feel and behave in markedly different ways.  They’re almost like “different species,” [said] Paul Irwing, one of the researchers…The research, conducted by Marco Del Giudice of Italy’s University of Turin and Irwing and Tom Booth of the UK’s University of Manchester, involved getting 10,000 Americans to take a questionnaire that measured 15 different personality traits.  According to their analysis, men are far more dominant, reserved, utilitarian, vigilant, rule-conscious, and emotionally stable, while women are far more deferential, warm, trusting, sensitive, and emotionally “reactive.”  The two sexes were roughly the same when it came to perfectionism, liveliness, and abstract versus practical thinking.  “If you translate it into the simplest terms,” said Irwing, “only 18 percent of men and women match in terms of personality profiles, and that’s staggeringly different from the consensus view.”  [That] …view…[is championed by] Janet Shibley Hyde, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, [who in 2005] demonstrated through a meta-analysis of 46 other studies that men and women were actually very similar, not only in personality traits, but in other realms of supposed gender difference, like self-esteem, leadership, and math ability…

In past studies on this topic, researchers would simply add up all the survey responses, according to Del Giudice. This led to imperfect results because of careless responses and misreadings.  Through a sophisticated method called “structure equation modeling,” the researchers claim they were able to remove this random error.  When asked if he could translate this concept for a lay person, Irwing replied: “I teach courses on this and it takes me approximately 20 hours.”  Past research also usually compared one variable at a time, Del Giudice said.  He believes this method led to underestimations of the sex difference because when you actually combine all personality traits, with all their small discrepancies, the result is a much more significant difference.  For example, if you were to examine the difference between men and women’s body types using the traditional method, you would look at torso circumference and waist-hip ratios and torso-leg ratios, one by one.  In Del Giudice’s method, you would crunch all these figures into one much larger number. And that’s what he did with personality…Del Giudice contends that his team didn’t measure “a haphazard list of traits.” Rather, they considered 15 facets that could offer a reasonably complete picture of a person’s personality.

Irwing thinks that some researchers in the past may have been biased in their methods, in order to reduce any gender difference. “It’s for totally laudable reasons,” he said.  “People are very concerned, or were very concerned, that women didn’t get equal opportunities, and that there was a lot of bias in selection processes…[they] are afraid that studies like ours will turn the clock back,” Irwing added.  Hyde is one of those people.  “This huge difference is not only scientifically false,” she said, “it has unfortunate consequences for places like the workplace and education and heterosexual romantic relationships.”  But the authors stand by their results, and are currently drafting a lengthy response to Hyde’s objections.  “I think distorting science because of what you would like to believe, or because of what you think the political consequences are, is very dangerous,” said Irwing.

The study doesn’t speculate as to whether the alleged differences are due to nature or nurture, although Irwing points out the results are consistent with… evolutionary theory.  Even if these differences aren’t indelibly printed in our genes, Hyde believes there’s still cause for alarm.  If men and women have wildly different personalities, “then how can we do the same job men can, and deserve equal pay for equal work?” she asked.  “A married couple have marital difficulties, and they go to the therapist, who says ‘he’s from Mars, you’re from Venus, you’ll never be able to communicate.  It’s hopeless.’  If you have a gender similarities point of view, you just need to work on communicating.”

The reporter’s bias is as impossible to miss as Hyde’s; the doctrine of androgyny is referred to from the first line as “wisdom” and it was “demonstrated” by Hyde, while gender differences are only “supposed” and “alleged”.  But despite what the reporter would like to believe, the dogma that there are no important gender differences was only the “consensus” in certain schools of sociology and psychology; it is not and has never been accepted in neurology, sexology, biology, psychiatry or most schools of psychology, for the simple reason that the data don’t support it without considerable massaging of the sort practiced by Hyde (whom you will note is also a professor of “women’s studies”, a field with all the academic rigor of “scientific creationism” or “UFOlogy”).  No person who lives in the real world (or has ever had children of both sexes) can force himself to believe that men and women are largely the same physically, psychologically or in any other way; everyday experience that the sexes are extremely different can only be reconciled with the doctrine of asexuality by invoking “social construction of gender”, which is of course what agenda-driven people like Hyde promote.  The last two paragraphs reveal that agenda:  Faced with an inability to explain the facts which contradict her “theory”, Hyde falls back on political ideology and myopic nonsense.  The differences between men and women were recognized throughout human history, yet the rift between the sexes has never been greater than it has been since neofeminism and its denial of those differences appeared on the scene some 30 years ago.

Hyde’s claim that a belief in imaginary gender equivalence somehow helps marriages is an exact reversal of the truth:  denying sex differences means that there is only one standard of normal human behavior (in the minds of neofeminists, the female standard); normal male behavior is therefore pathologized, and Hyde’s “communication” invariably becomes one-way.  It’s the belief that men and women are the same which renders attempts to reconcile marital difficulties “hopeless”, because it proceeds from a faulty assumption; until the inhabitants of Mars and Venus know where each other are coming from, there is no way to navigate toward a mutually-acceptable meeting place.

Read Full Post »