Archive for December 27th, 2011

Lust and greed are more gullible than innocence.  –  Mason Cooley

I’ve written often about what the Village Voice’s Pete Kotz referred to as “stenographic journalism”, the tendency for fourth-rate reporters to take down everything a source says and simply accept it without question.  Hacks like Torsten Ove, Amber Lyon and the unnamed multitudes for whom “research” is anathema and “critical thinking” might as well be some obscure principle of Hindu metaphysics, are the greatest enemies of truth and reason in the world today.  The principle of the Fourth Estate is to stand against the forces of authority by giving the public facts those “authorities” might find inconvenient; it’s why the Founding Fathers considered the First Amendment so important.  But the modern mainstream media is driven by ratings, and at some point in the last few decades the accountants decided that a “Question Authority” message doesn’t pay as well as parroting the latest lies about domestic violence, Emo, “Grog X D”, “human trafficking”, “iDosing”, “jenkem”, pedophilia, rainbow parties, rape, “sex addiction”, “sex buyers”, “sexting”, smoking Smarties, strawberry-flavored methamphetamine, violent video games, vodka-soaked tampons or gummy bears, or any number of other myths three minutes on the internet would be sufficient to disprove.

You may have noticed that every single one of these ludicrous stories is about a behavior (mostly vices, usually sexual or drug-related) that other people (usually teenagers or “perverts”) other than the reporter is said to indulge in, and that said behavior is always both “dangerous” and “epidemic”.  And as Andrew Ferguson points out in this article from the December 5th Weekly Standard, so-called “social scientists” are among the worst offenders:

Lots of cultural writing these days…relies on the…eagerness of laymen and journalists to swallow whole the claims made by social scientists.  Entire journalistic enterprises, whole books from cover to cover, would simply collapse into dust if even a smidgen of skepticism were summoned whenever we read that “scientists say” or “a new study finds” or “research shows” or “data suggest.”  Most such claims of social science, we would soon find, fall into one of three categories:  the trivial, the dubious, or the flatly untrue.

A rather extreme example of this third option emerged last month when an internationally renowned social psychologist, Diederik Stapel of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, was proved to be a fraud…in the literal, perhaps criminal…sense.  An investigative committee concluded that Stapel had falsified data in at least “several dozen” of the nearly 150 papers he had published in his extremely prolific career…[and he] didn’t just tweak and twist numbers, he made stuff up…Science Insider reported, “he would discuss in detail experimental designs…and would then claim to conduct the experiments at high schools and universities with which he had special arrangements.  The experiments, however, never took place.”  Questionnaires are the mother’s milk of social science, given (most often) to collections of students who are easily accessible to the scientist…the students…serve as proxies for humanity in general…

…One thing [Stapel] liked to demonstrate in his studies was the exploitive nature of democratic capitalism.  Last year, the New York Times reported on a typical Stapel study…[which purported to prove] that advertising for cosmetics and fancy shoes “makes women feel worse about themselves”…another of Stapel’s favorite themes [was] white racism…[in a recent study] Stapel discovered—scientifically, of course—that white heterosexuals used racism and homophobia as defense mechanisms.  Confronted with disorder in their “social environment”…they quickly reverted to their natural inclination to stereotype “the other” and draw comfort from their prejudice.  At this writing, investigators are not yet clear to what extent the results of these particular studies are discredited by Stapel’s fakery.  And nobody knows how extreme an anomaly Stapel’s behavior will prove to be.  Leslie John of Harvard Business School recently surveyed more than 2,000 social psychologists about their research methods.  She found a rash of research practices she deemed “questionable.”  Indeed, she wrote, in social psychology, “some questionable practices may constitute the prevailing research norm.”

But…the silliness of social psychology doesn’t lie in its questionable research practices but in the research practices that no one thinks to question.  The most common working premise of social-psychology research is far-fetched all by itself:  The behavior of a statistically insignificant, self-selected number of college students or high schoolers filling out questionnaires and role-playing in a psych lab can reveal scientifically valid truths about human behavior.  And when the research reaches beyond the classroom, it becomes sillier still.  [Stapel’s “disorder promotes racism”]…study…began after janitors at the Utrecht railroad station went on strike…as the garbage in the station piled up, [Stapel and his assistants] cornered 40 white passengers…[whom they] asked to take a seat in a row of folding chairs…[to take] a questionnaire…[in exchange for] a piece of chocolate or an apple…the questionnaire asked to what degree the travelers agreed with stereotypes about certain types of people…Stapel had planted a person at the end of the row of chairs—sometimes a black person, sometimes a white.  Researchers measured how far away from the person each respondent chose to sit…On average, the travelers sat 25 percent closer to the white…[after] the janitors came back to work…Stapel… returned and performed the experiment again…their questionnaires showed they were less racist and homophobic than their counterparts from the earlier experiment.  And on average, they sat the same distance from the white person as the black person.  Hence, as the headline read:  “Messy surroundings make people stereotype others.”

…Did Stapel fake his research?  Did he and his students really make all those people fill out forms for an apple?  Did Stapel really cross-tabulate the data?…Who cares?  The experiments are preposterous.  You’d have to be a highly trained social psychologist, or a journalist, to think otherwise.  Just for starters, the experiments can never be repeated or their results tested under controlled conditions.  The influence of a hundred different variables is impossible to record.  The first group of passengers may have little in common with the second group.  The groups were too small to yield statistically significant results.  The questionnaire is hopelessly imprecise, and so are the measures of racism and homophobia.  The notions of “disorder” and “stereotype” are arbitrary—and so on and so on.  Yet the allure of “science” is too strong for our journalists to resist:  all those numbers, those equations, those fancy names…To their credit, the Stapel scandal has moved a few social psychologists to self-reflection.  They note the unhealthy relationship between social psychologists and the journalists who bring them attention—each using the other to fill a professional need.  “Psychology,” one methodologist told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “has become addicted to surprising, counter-intuitive findings that catch the news media’s eye.”  That’s a scandal, all right.  Stapel’s professional treachery is a scandal, too.  But the biggest scandal is that the chumps took him seriously in the first place.

I’m sure most of my readers recognize this sort of “methodology”; it’s the same type used by Melissa Farley and her cronies.  Start with the “theory”, pick a tiny, unrepresentative (but convenient and preferably captive) group you think will confirm it, give them a short, vague questionnaire from which you then infer all sorts of complex things, generalize a lot and make up what you can’t “demonstrate”.  Perhaps the Stapel scandal will have a domino effect, with a number of other con artists like him and Farley exposed, and though most journalists will keep doing exactly what they do now, maybe a few – especially in the alternative media – will begin to follow Village Voice’s lead in questioning the neofeminist “all whores are defective victims” narrative.

One Year Ago Today

Criticism and Response” is my reply to a fairly well-known activist who insisted that I’m not allowed to speak up for whores’ rights unless I turn off my brain and just read from his approved script.

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