November 29, 2006

Censorship at the Daily Mail?

This is amusing. Apparently whoever moderates readers' comments over at the Daily Mail doesn't want Fiona Macrae's carelessness and credulousness to be exposed. She's the writer who basically copied out the press release for Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain, using as her lede a factoid (about women talking three times more than men) which has repeatedly been debunked, most recently the day before in the Guardian, and which Dr. Brizendine herself has withdrawn after I pointed out that no actual studies support any similar numbers. (See this Language Log post for a list of links that go into mind-numbing detail on the factual background -- which is that the numbers reproduced in the Daily Mail piece are a pseudo-scientific urban legend, unconnected to any actual study; and that the many studies that do correlate talkativeness and sex find only small differences, often in the direction of more words from men.)

As of this writing, there are some 20 comments on Macrae's Daily Mail article, generally along the lines of

Like we didn't know this already?
Only three times as much?
Why spend money on studying the obvious?
Someone had to do a study to figure this out?
You know... in the 90's they said that women spoke about 6000 words a day, while men spoke around 2000. It seems that the count is different, but the ratio stayed the same. Interesting.
I don't really think that it took several doctors doing a clinical study or writing a book to conclude that women talk more then men! Good Grief ask any husband or honest woman.

Several Language Log readers have sent me email to the effect that they attempted to submit a comment (using the facility at the bottom of the online Daily Mail article), referencing my Boston Globe article ("Sex on the brain, 9/24/2006), or the 11/27/2006 Guardian article, or some of the Language Log posts on the subject. Some have also attempted to correct Macrae's careless mis-copying of the book's name and author, which she renders as The Female Mind by Louan Brizendine instead of The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine -- but none of these comments have appeared on the Daily Mail's site, now nearly two days after the first of them was submitted. Perhaps the intern who moderates comments has gone on to other things.

The many unmoderated comments at Fark on Macrae's story are generally similar to those at the Daily Mail, though some of the farkers are even more straightforwardly misogynistic:

Nah, the male scientists just stopped paying attention at three.
The funny thing is, while women *TALK* three times as much as men, they don't really communicate three times as much information. Thus, a lot of what they say is either redundant or null data.
That is why our eyes glaze over, and we say "yes, dear".
Take all your clothes off and we will pay rapt attention to whatever you are saying.
I saw something about this on 20/20 weeks back - they said the female brain releases a chemical like endorphins when talking, so the vimens actually catch a buzz by yapping so much. Eventually they will evolve where their tongues are hung in the middle so they can flap on both ends...
I thought it just felt like three times as long. My wife's stories take longer for her to tell than the actual event being described.
Listening to women speak is like torture. It is the worst torture.
Its not the endless yapping that really gets to me, its the shrieking laughter that gets louder and more shrill the more women are in a group.
Just have her sit so there's a TV on behind her and over her shoulder, nod, smile, etc. Just try not to exclaim, "God, I'd like to fark that!" when a hottie appears on the TV and the GF is talking about her mother.
"There are, however, advantages to being the strong, silent type. Dr Brizendine explains that testosterone also reduces the size of the section of the brain involved in hearing - allowing men to become "deaf" to the most logical of arguments put forward by their wives and girlfriends."
I call shenanigans, This is feminist crap. I cannot become "deaf" when a harpy is around. "Logical". Ha. No doubt.
From observing my ex-girlfriends, it's like they just don't feel right if they aren't vomiting up an endless stream of words at all times. It's almost always due to expanding every posiible tangent in their "stories" into an avalanche of pointless detail.
STFU, women. Just STFU. The one-sided therapy sessions that you have the nerve to call "conversations" make your boyfriend/hubby fantasize about ditching your chatty ass.

I took the zipped-lip picture from a comment at fark, which was intended (I guess) as as an imaginary solution to the wish expressed in the last comment. But a couple of the fark commenters did link to a Language Log post debunking the factoid.

Somewhere, I expect, there is a web forum where the anti-male counterparts of these comments are on display, in reaction to the same story. The old-fashioned version is something along the lines of "that's because we have to repeat everything three times to get it through men's thick skulls", but there are many newer ones, spinning the "women talk three times more" factoid in terms of men's stereotypically lower verbal ability, men's stereotypical inability to create rapport through communication, men's stereotypical difficulty in expressing or even understanding their emotions, and men's brutish characteristics in general. In fact, come to think of it, that's pretty much the theme of the part of Dr. Brizendine's book that discusses men.

It's interesting how much people enjoy hearing about "scientific studies" that confirm their prejudices, and how easily this allows pseudo-scientific urban legends to be established. The public's appetite for stereotype-affirming bamboozlement explains a lot about science journalism -- and pop psychology books as well. What with population increases and all, there are now thousands of suckers born every minute.

[Update -- Looking around the rest of the Daily Mail's site, it seems that they routinely stop accepting comments after the first ten or twenty, thus maintaining the traditional one-way correction-free newspaper model, while giving the impression of reader participation without the expense and trouble of actually allowing it to take place.]

[Update #2: this issue was picked up by Carol Lloyd at Salon ("'The Female Brain": It's ba-ack!", 11/30/2006). Her conclusion:

Normally when I hear about the latest study confirming some female stereotype, I don't bat an eye. So, we talk more than men, whatever. Maybe it's true, maybe it will be debunked. But peeling back the onion of the book's press coverage gave me pause. At a moment, when enthusiastic publicity is given to studies concluding women spend eight and half years of their lives shopping and proponents of single-sex classrooms argue that boys should be allowed to roughhouse while girls should not, the tenacity of idiotic stereotypes is unsettling. No doubt the study of differences between women's and men's brains will unravel untold wonders, but it's hard to underestimate how rife with scientific imposters the path there will be.


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 29, 2006 06:01 AM