July 09, 2007

Brizendine turns myth slayer

The San Francisco Chronicle took the appearance of the new paper in Science about women's and men's chattiness as a prompt for a front-page story last Friday (July 6), and of course got some quotes from San Francisco resident and myth spreader Louann Brizendine. Quotes of astonishing disingenuousness, it turns out. Brizendine's newest story is this:

My book is really about hormones, and that one line [about women uttering three times as many words per day as men] has been taken out of context. It's fascinating, anytime you talk about sex differences, it's controversial. But the bottom line is, there are more similarities than differences between men and women.

So first she claims to be just an ordinary working endocrinologist. Then, like a politician caught on tape saying something derogatory about negroes, she plays the "I-was-taken-out-of-context" card. Next, she ruminates in wonderment at the controversiality of the whole topic (could it be the fault of the press, perhaps, pumping all this up?), and then, in a dramatic big-lie U-turn, she endorses the "more-similarities- than-differences" position that properly belongs to her critics. Words almost fail me. And yet they must not, for there is more.

The Chronicle quotes her indirectly as going on in this manner:

The important question now, she said, is how the stereotype started in the first place. Psychologists don't know exactly where the myth came from, but Brizendine speculates it probably took hold in the 1950s or so, when men worked the 9-to-5 jobs and women stayed home with the kids. At the end of the day, men would come home to wives who wanted to talk about the children the house and finances — basically, what felt like a lot of nagging, said Brizendine.

The empirical basis here is evaporating (did anyone count the words uttered in the 1950s by tired hubbies and home-maker wives, and does this have anything to do with hormones?); and it's Brizendine now who is the hunter of the origins of the myth — a myth that she now implies she has almost nothing to do with! Then what has Mark Liberman been doing lo these many posts? And why doesn't she mention him? (Rhetorical question. Don't bother to answer.)

Really, this is the weirdest turn yet in the long saga of Brizendine dishonesty. It's like finding Paris Hilton representing herself as a California Highway Patrol officer. It's like one of the vampires suddenly starting to talk like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at July 9, 2007 03:55 PM