Saturday, September 8, 2007

Real Reporting and Other Myths

Since I've been keeping the SI blog, I've been surprised at just how much space is taken up in the main-stream media by poorly researched articles that essentially just promote gender stereotypes. The Reuters Science page, for example, routinely runs articles like this week's Men Chase Beauty, Women Money when Picking a Mate - an article that once again cites evolutionary causes for perceived gender differences but only gives evidence gathered from a survey of 46 people from the same community: German speed-daters. Reuters does not link to the actual research, of course, making them less likely to be held accountable for the tripe they publish. If they were to link to the actual research, they would risk readers complaining that the Reuters science writers either misrepresented the findings, or that the study is a shabby as it looks from their summary and that they should not be reporting on pseudoscience as though it were legitimate. So, established publications, which are supposed to be better than blogs because they are held accountable when they print mistakes or fail to do their research, are instead taking the easy road - who will complain about misrepresented facts if the facts can't be checked? How can the legitimacy of a source be challenged if there are no sources? Convenient, no? Now all publications can fearlessly publish whatever they want - without fear of recourse.

That is why I am so impressed with the tactics used by Jessica over at Feministing when she came across an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer entitled "Stripper poles: New Feminism?" The article cites "post feminists" who "argue that the pole is empowering," without interviewing or citing any such women. The author then the laments that:

There was a time when feminism was about women being smart and assertive, and building inner strength.

Somewhere along the line, though, it morphed into slut culture. Girls tell themselves they're in charge. But they're still just strutting it for the boys.

Great reporting, that. Terms left undefined, sweeping generalizations, no sources, and invented conclusions. So Jessica says we write the paper. Not only about the blatant misogyny, but about the crappy reporting too. That is what readers need to be doing - holding supposedly reputable publications accountable not just for their mistakes (although we should be doing that as well), but also for their laziness. I love editorials, don't get me wrong, but I miss real news and I'm ready to do something to get it back.


Casmall said...
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Mächtige Maus said...

Get out...the PNAS is publishing this study? That saddens me even more than Reuters commenting on it ahead of post.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Quite frankly, this is the sort of study that I always approach with skepticism, regardless of how highly I usually esteem the journal in which it is published. I have a hard time believing that it is appropriate to claim that evolutionary causes are responsible for some modern difference of preference, social role, or opinion between two groups of modern people unless there is some genetic evidence. It seems to me that the conclusions in studies where opinion poles are the primary source of data are generally over-stated. I sometimes wonder if these types of studies are just published to sell more magazines to conservatives who want to say - "see, my sexist / racist / bigoted view has scientific value. This study involving 20 people proves that I'm hard-wired to be a sexist / racist / bigot and so I shouldn't have to try to change."