January 16, 2007

Cautious reporting

The trail of reporting on Louann Brizendine's assertion that women talk (much) more than men has now led to Harper's Magazine, where the "Findings" page for February 2007 mentions it.  ("Findings" is a string of very brief summaries -- usually just single sentences -- of research reports.)  For a change, the version in Harper's is suitably cautious.

From "Findings":

A giant tsunami was observed passing across the face of the sun.  Yet another black hole was observed eating a star.  New studies found that the brains of psychopaths are abnormal; that new mothers are more likely to go crazy; that left-handed people are better at multitasking.  A female psychiatrist claimed that women talk more than men.  Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory taught bees to sniff out explosives, and computer scientists claimed to have developed a self-aware, curious robot that can diagnose its own problems and take concrete steps to heal itself.

Note that "Findings" reports some items as observations or results, but others as claims: the LANL folks taught bees to sniff out explosives, while the computer scientists claimed to have developed a self-aware robot.  Brizendine gets the more cautious treatment.  And her claim that women talk three times as much as men has been toned down to merely "more than".

Probably Harper's found the item worth reporting because the claim came from a woman; "A psychiatrist claimed that women talk more than men" wouldn't have been nearly as newsworthy.

Annoyingly, Harper's doesn't provide sources for the items in "Findings", though some of them are easy to search for.  Googling on {self-aware robot} gets you to news reports on the Cornell research.  And {"female psychiatrist" "women talk more than men"} gets you to stories about Brizendine.

By the way, Brizendine's web site now subjects you to a welcome message from Brizendine herself.  If you go there, be prepared to turn off the sound file.  Then you can, among other things, read comments (all very positive, of course) from readers of The Female Brain, order a copy of the book, and sign in to receive a "FREE Gift!"

[Addendum: Bob Hay notes that this is not the first time that Language Log fodder has appeared in "Findings".  From the November 2006 column: "Scientists concluded that teenagers are physically incapable of being considerate, British cattle have regional accents, elephants mourn their dead, and nicotine sobers drunk rats."  Hey, they just report what they find in the media.  Still, they deserve a hearty chorus of moos (boos in Cattlese).]

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at January 16, 2007 10:47 AM