On Scientific Journalism; or, How to Make Any Study Sound Like a Sexist Pile of Crap

Against my better judgement, I still occasionally read Digg. And in doing so, I sometimes come across stuff like this: Studies Suggest Males Have More Personality. Apparently, according to research conducted at the University of Exeter, “males have more pronounced personalities than females across a range of species”.

On Digg, of course, this was met with almost unanimous agreement (or, more specifically, 300 or so posts saying “Women are all the same!!! Their only personality trait is that they are bitches!!! They have no interests except shopping!!! My ex wife took the kids!!!”) and very attention paid to the fact that this isn’t what the study was actually about.

What it actually showed is that apparently “in most species males show more consistent, predictable behaviours, particularly in relation to parental care, aggression and risk-taking. Females, on the other hand, are more likely to vary their behaviour.” I don’t know if I buy it, but at least it sounds like the product of an actual scientific inquiry. On the other hand, I fail to see how that could possibly mean that males have “more” personality. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the two ideas are completely unrelated since, you know, personality isn’t exactly something that can be quantified anyway.

I guess my feeble lady mind is just unable to comprehend the complexity of this “less variation = more personality” equation. I guess I’d better go back to selecting my mate based on the consistency of their exploratory behavi-OH WAIT I FORGOT HUMANS ARE NOT ZEBRA FINCHES. Maybe we should start explaining our behaviour through a range of social and psychological factors instead of some essentialist misappropriation of Darwin?

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  • Gembird  On November 29, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    As a woman and a research technician, I find this sort of thing immensely irritating. As you noticed, it’s not the science- it’s the idiots who misrepresent it and think ‘this study found that women and men are different in some ways’ is the same as ‘men are better than women’.

    It’s just further proof that anti-intellectualism (since these people clearly don’t read the research) and sexism are still accepted, and it makes me want to smash things.

  • Alex Catgirl  On November 30, 2009 at 12:09 am

    What it actually showed is that apparently “in most species males show more consistent, predictable behaviours.

    That appears to be the case in many many studies, which is why researchers love using male test subjects…often leading to faulty results when extrapolating for females of the species.

    One of those quirky differences, females tend to be more random.

    the proper term would be “stronger” or “more defined” personalities, as in males tend to be more consistent to their “nature”

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