December 23, 2006

Originality, expertise and seriousness in action

In a striking demonstration of what Joseph Rago has called the "institutional culture that screens editorially for originality, expertise and seriousness", the Voice of America has now joined a long list of other traditional media organizations in publicizing Louann Brizendine's scientific proof that women talk a lot more than men do. A story by Ted Landphair, under the headline "Now There's Proof: Women are the Gabby Sex", ran on the VOA wire yesterday, Dec. 22, 2006.

In The Female Brain, Dr. Brizendine reports that the average woman utters 20,000 words each day. Men, two-thirds fewer: just 7,000. Of course, some men ... would argue that they also have plenty to say but cannot get a word in edgewise!

This is not just a stereotype, Mr. Landphair hastens to tell us -- it's science, based "[Brizendine's] own study, and more than 1000 others she's examined".

Landphair's article is dated is roughly five months after Dr. Brizendine's book was published, and three months after I called the 20,000/,7000 claim into question in the Boston Globe, and almost a month after her retraction of the claim was published in the Guardian, and about two weeks after her semi-retraction in the NYT Magazine. I won't mention any of the discussion in the blogosphere.

Just for the record, one more time:

  • Dr. Brizendine has never done any research on this topic, and none of the references cited in her book deal with any relevant research either.
  • There are many studies that compare how much talking men and women do -- they find small differences, often in the direction of more talk from men.
  • The fall-back position that "communication events" rather than words were counted does not appear to be based on any empirical research either. Published counts of gestures and facial expression produce essentially the same results that word counts do.

For details, if you want them, consult the links collected here.

I have to agree with Rago that "[p]eople ... like validation of what they already believe", so that traditional media tend to engage in "endless rehearsings of arguments put forward elsewhere" and have "a tendency to substitute ideology for cognition". Oh wait, that's weblogs. Never mind.

All the same, it's a shame that American taxpayers are footing the bill to distribute pseudoscientific urban legends around the world. I suppose it's not our fault, though, since there's no word in English for accountability. Oops, I got it wrong again, that's those other languages like French and Spanish and Hebrew and Japanese. That's blogospheric instantaneity for you -- just one mistaken cliché after another.

For another recent comment on gendered talk -- perhaps lacking Landphair's "originality, expertise and seriousness", but more to the point -- here's Chris Muir's Day by Day for 12/23/2006:

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 23, 2006 06:15 PM