Now I know why I got such an unusual number of first-time commenters on my post about Shermer on subliminal influences yesterday, all of them wrong about what I’d said. It’s because Shermer did a Facebook post about it, in which he completely missed my point.
That’s partly my fault; I didn’t spell it out. As usual, I wrote for regular readers, who would get the implications. That saves a lot of tedium for the regular readers, but it can confuse others.
Nevertheless – I think Shermer’s response is a good deal nastier than it needed to be. (I note, again, that he didn’t email me to ask for clarification. I note, again, that he has never directly communicated with me in any way. I tried to communicate directly with him a few times via Twitter, but I got no response. I suspect he doesn’t lower himself to respond to nobodies, and that his rebuke of me for not emailing him about what he said on The Point was just noise. I suspect he would have ignored me if I had emailed him.) I especially think that in view of the torrent of nasty comments his eSkeptic post attracted last week. I think a more thoughtful or attentive person would have been disturbed by that torrent, and have decided not to add more fuel to the fire. He didn’t do that. Instead he got venomous.
The feminist witch hunt continues! Ophelia Benson and PZ Myers have caught me again being a sexist: Trolling through my Scientific American columns Ophelia discovered that in my October column I report on Leonard Mlodinow’s book Subliminal, in which he reports on studies that report on people’s report of how they feel about politicians based on various subliminal cues, one of which is the pitch of the voice, lower judged as more truthful than higher (although looks matter even more). Guess what? My reporting of Leonard’s reporting of the studies’ reporting of subjects’ reports makes ME a sexist! Wiiiiiiitch. Seriously. I couldn’t make this up (note PZ’s comment on my own voice!)
No. I didn’t say that, and it’s not what I meant. (Actually you could make it up, Dr Shermer, and in fact you just did.) It’s true though that I didn’t spell out what I did mean, so now I’ll spell it out.
From his SciAm column again –
WITH THE 2012 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION looming on the horizon in November, consider these two crucial questions: Who looks more competent, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney? Who has the deepest and most resonant voice? Maybe your answer is, “Who cares? I vote for candidates based on their policies and positions, not on how they look and sound!” If so, that very likely is your rational brain justifying an earlier choice that your emotional brain made based on these seemingly shallow criteria.
Before the election, I urge you to read Leonard Mlodinow’s new book, Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Pantheon). You will gain insights such as that higherpitched voices are judged by subjects as more nervous and less truthful and empathetic than speakers with lower-pitched voices, and that speaking a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume leads people to judge someone to be energetic, intelligent and knowledgeable.
What he’s describing there is a disadvantage for men with higher-pitched voices and men who look less competent. But what he’s also describing there is a much bigger disadvantage for nearly all women, period. And he’s describing it in terms of non-rational, buried influences, that we don’t even realize (unless we’re told, and not always even then) have that kind of influence on us.
Well that’s how it is with stereotypes. Stereotypes are what I was talking about in my Free Inquiry column. Stereotypes are why I objected to what he said on that video. Stereotypes are why it’s not helpful to say “it’s more of a guy thing.”
The fact that he had written that column showed me that he was familiar with the whole idea of implicit associations, and that made me think he really should have been able to understand that that was what I was getting at in the column. He should even have been able to think I had a point, despite his resentment at my criticism of what he said. He should even – I think – have been able to see what was wrong with what he said, instead of reacting with outraged vanity.
He certainly should have been able to refrain from accusing me of witch-hunting.
That’s all I was saying. I wasn’t saying “Shermer is a sexist because he reported this thing about authoritative voices.” Godalmighty. I am not that stupid.
But I’m beginning to think Shermer may be gullible enough – or maybe it’s simply vain enough – to take the torrent of slymer comments on his eSkeptic post about me as fully credible and indeed authoritative. Some skeptic.