Monday, August 28, 2006

Not Goin’ to Take Your Pseudo-Science, Stereotyping, Stigmatizing, Aggravatin’ Talkin’ Blues

Ay, yay, yay. Where to begin. Leslie Stahl with that bogus gay gesture “study” again last night. Airing that piece of garbage once wasn’t enough, you’ve got to repeat it? If you didn’t see the crap, it was a “scientific study” that “proves” that gay men do act and sound “effeminate”. And Stahl went considerably past that.

Not science, not close to being tight enough to be science, using self-selected objects for starters. How do they know that those of us who can pass as straight would be willing to participate in this kind of stereotyping. I’m sure there are lots of other gay men who would refuse to participate in this kind of junk, having been the victims of stereotypes our entire lives. I wouldn’t anymore think of participating in that kind of “study” than an informed black person would for a study conducted under the auspices of Charles Murray. Self-selection and self-definition of the objects of observation does not science make.

Won’t continue on that except the speculation voiced that gay men result from some kind of toxic-allergic reaction to second and third pregnancies with a male fetus is no different than defining being gay as a birth defect. We are marked from and by the womb, and if we weren’t before, we will be if this kind of junk continues.

Why does Leslie Stahl do a piece like this? The “science” of it? I don’t think she’d know how to tell science from a handsaw when the wind blows North so I’ve got to believe it’s for some other reason. Why else would she cast her straight eye on the queer guy? How about it fits in with the Republican theme of winning the fall election through gay bashing. I don’t think that wouldn’t be realized at CBS if I realized it here in the hinterlands.

And since this is an angry stream of steaming consciousness piece, what next? How are similar ‘scientists’ going to study Black People, Jewish People? What nice trait from the rotten barrel of stereotypes are they going to pluck out and see if subjects can find it? Would Leslie Stahl be willing to be an object for a study? Can Jewish Women be picked out of a crowd? And to what end would someone do such a study? To see if there was some “genetic” aspect to behavior? I’m not going to go into the possible insulting stereotypes that they could impose, you know them much, much too well already. If you find this offensive, Les, well, how does it feel?

Want to take the guess work out of it? How about bottle blonds? Now, that’s a behavior about which everyone including your hairdresser knows for sure and it's your choice beyond a doubt. Is there a genetic predisposition to keep your hair an unnatural tint of yellow well into your very, very late middle age? Is there some self-delusion gene that keeps someone trying to pass themselves off as a very mature 29- year-old into their dotage? How about all the bottle blonds of TV be tested to see if there is some genetic predisposition for that particular look? Maybe it’s botox poisoning that could be treated with a good 12 step.

It’s time we all put our foot down. Stop doing studies that don’t have randomly selected participants, it doesn’t matter if your funding won’t allow it. Don't defraud the public with "studies" with an insufficient sample size. If you can’t do it right you shouldn’t be doing it at all. And there are a lot of “studies” that you shouldn’t be doing at all.

Stop “studying” people unless there is some purpose that will benefit them. There has to be a really good reason to consider people as things to study. This kind of thing can do untold harm in supporting negative stereotypes. Why, it could stigmatize some straight men who are percieved as feminine.

Making people into objects of study is always, to some extent, a violation of their dignity as individuals and had better only be done for a really serious reason. There is no reason to lump healthy people into a heap and assign them norms of behavior. If there is some real pathology, fine, as long as you define pathology as a health or behavior problem that really is a problem. Gay people are not a problem, lay off.

Note: Reading this over this morning I see I got it wrong. It would be a South and not North wind. But since Leslie Stahl, like just about any other media personality, is unable to tell science from fiction, it's all the same hot air.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. It's awfully close to anti-Semitism. I can see your point but it makes me uneasy.

Virginia, that was the point of the piece. Leslie Stahl is a member of two groups who have been the victims of negative stereotypes and pseudo-scientific stigmatization. Yet she reports this kind of pseudo-scientific stereotyping of another targeted group.

If I could make her feel uncomfortable by asking embarassing questions it might do something her job obviously hasn't, make her think about the consequences of this kind of irresponsible reporting.
Can Jewish Women be picked out of a crowd?

As a straight, Jewish man (who knows some pretty effeminate hetero men and rather non-effeminate, but neither hyper-butch gay men), back in my single days, that was my dream ;)
Don't defraud the public with "studies" with an insufficient sample size. If you can’t do it right you shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Actually, it is often quite important to do pilot studies (e.g. to see whether the study is even feasible; to test the safety of a new drug), and sometimes even the pilot study is worthy of publication.

The problem often is not the study but the lack of caveats attached to the results. And often the issue is the news-media's hype rather than anything about the study per se (although sometimes the scientists involved get a little too carried away with the hype or even worse have agendas of their own).

But it's a little much to say that no pilot type studies should even be done (they are often an important step in knowing what "doing it right" will look like) and often the people doing the defrauding are not the people conducting the studies (often some schlub of a grad student) but rather the media reporting on the studies.
As a straight, Jewish man (who knows some pretty effeminate hetero men and rather non-effeminate, but neither hyper-butch gay men), back in my single days, that was my dream ;)

Ah, but did you ever perfect a method? Hum? I know gay men talk about gaydar but it's my observation that that is quite often the result of wishful thinking, often probably LESS successful than random chance.

I guess you might be correct about some studies with small sample sizes, especially pilot studies. This piece was definitely written in fury, having seen it the first time they broadcast it I couldn't stand that they were showing it again. A longer and more nuanced piece might be in order, eventually. But I'm guessing 60 Minutes wouldn't have reported on a more nuanced study.

The thing that enraged me the most was the speculation about gay men being the result of some entirely unsupported allergic reaction. That really made me mad.
alberich, thinking about your point about drug studies - and I do think about the comments people leave here- I should have pointed out that there is acutally something physical to study in them. The study discussed here was on the much less solid ground of judging peoples' non-pathological behavior by observation. Having always been skeptical about the ability of science to even come up with an method to distinguish between objective observation and subjective assignment of something like that I think my original point was valid.

But I'm always open to new information.
I would actually argue that, since these sorts of studies are more nebulous, pilot studies become doubly important to make sure you have some idea of what you are studying: e.g., to see whether you have a reasonable method for making objective observations (and you need some controls here as well -- e.g., similar observations of an established difference between populations ... to test the ability to make observations: although they may be using observational techniques already proven in a different context). OTOH, that also means that such pilot studies are perhaps less informative of anything besides whether or not the method itself is promising than pilot studies are in certain other cases -- i.e. pilot studies may make for interesting discussion among the experts, but to make any non-methodological conclusions from them is irresponsible science, if it's science at all.

And your point about "who benefits" is important as well. It strikes me as kind of odd (or maybe I'm just bitter 'cause I didn't get the fellowship for which I applied) that such a study would be funded ... from the point of view of the scientist, the study itself is bound to be interesting, but from the point of view of the people paying for it, they have to have a reason to pay for it, nu?

So, the question is: who is funding these studies that, as you point out, don't really benefit the presumed target population, and why?
Once again, you make a point that is reasonable about pilot studies. You also see the dangers of who and for what purpose they are funded and how they are used.

Given the track record of the media, if it can be misunderstood and reported in a way that will disadvantage target groups it will likely be done. Tiny differnces that show up in one study will be blown out of proportion and be presented as final proof that such and such is an established limit on a given groups abilities or achievement. Women, black people and others have been the traditional targets of this kind of pseudo-science in the past.

Maybe it isn't enough for a real scientist to do their research and publish their findings in a traditional format. Maybe they have to specifically anticipate the uses and abuses to which their paper will be put and try to fend of those.

This doesn't address bad science done by incompetent scientists or ones who do science to order. That is an issue for scientists and their journals to address. Maybe real scientists need to be more aggressive in combating media bias and incompetence.
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