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Jan 03 2012

So this is what skepticism has come to?

Jebus. After reading Ben Radford’s reply to the criticisms of his awful article denying sexism in the toy store, I feel even more repelled. It was ludicrous. It was ridiculous. It was pretentious.

Here’s Radford claiming the high ground.

So when I insisted that Riley was wrong in her claim that girls are forced or “tricked” into buying or liking pink items or princesses, my purpose was not to be pedantic, but instead to keep the discussion grounded and rooted in objective evidence.

No, Radford does not get to claim to be “grounded and rooted in objective evidence”, not after that nonsense aout women evolving to pick berries and nurture sick kids (I notice he doesn’t even try to defend that crap this time around). But worse, what he does immediately after piously declaring his skeptical sobriety, is to defend his freakishly stupid argument that girls like pink because it is the color of their doll’s skin.

“One obvious reason is that dolls are by far the most popular toys for girls. What color are most dolls? Pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-toned. There are, of course, dolls of varying skin tones and ethnicities (the popular Bratz dolls, for example, have a range of skin tones). But since most girls play with dolls, and most dolls are pink (a green- or blue-skinned doll would look creepy), it makes perfect sense that most girls’ toys are pink.”

Rebecca apparently believes that most dolls do not have “pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones.” To Rebecca, the claim that most dolls have “pink, or roughly Caucasian skin-tones” is a “ridiculous fantasy story.” What’s her evidence for this? Did she do any research? Nope, she zoomed in on a screen capture of Riley taken with a cell phone and concluded that few if any of the dolls are pinkish. (Watch the first ten seconds of the video and see how the background colors change every few seconds; this is pretty much the definition of a flawed experiment, as she’ll get different tones depending on when she freezes the picture.)

Who’s right, me or Rebecca? I could cite studies about the dearth of minority skin tones in children’s dolls, but there’s a much easier way to do it. Decide for yourself: the next time you’re in a toy store, craft store, or anywhere else where dolls are sold, look at the skin tones on the majority of the dolls. Are they roughly pink tones, or are they another color? Or do a simple Google image search for “dolls” and see what skin color most of them show up as; according to Rebecca, it will be anything but pink.

OK, Mr Objective Evidence, please ground this exceedingly peculiar claim, which I have never seen made before, in some of that real evidence. I tried that google search thing he recommended, and yeah, Rebecca was right: most of them weren’t that unholy bright shade of pink associated with girly toys. Here, for example, is a nice representative image that turned up, with lots of dolls:

All different shades turn up from off-white to brown, but none are actually pink. Lots of the dolls are dressed in a nice pastel pink; compare their dresses to their skin tones.

I can’t believe I have to explain this. It is simply and obviously not true that the packaging of girls’ toys is designed to blend in with their skin, or their doll’s skin. I’d like to see some of that evidence that toy manufacturers sample nice Caucasian girls’ skin color and use that as a key for choosing the color of their toy washing machine and its cardboard box. I’d like to see some evidence that girls want toys that, chameleon-like, they can blend in against when playing with them naked. I would like to see evidence that somehow girls desire toys painted in skin tones while boys are looking for something that reminds them of cyanotic corpses. I would like to see some measurements in which Radford pulls out a colorimeter, aims it at some little girls face, then aims it at the garish bright pink of a toy box, and shows me that they are even close to the same color.

You don’t get to claim to be the one true objective skeptic while spouting such ad hoc bullshit.

Then he makes it worse. Rebecca Watson pointed out another major flaw in his arguments:

Here’s another reason Ben made up for why girl toys are pink: Pink is also the most popular color for girls’ items for the same reason that white is the most popular color for new cars: that’s what most people prefer. Get it? Popular things are popular because they’re popular. Pink things are popular because people prefer them.

Radford’s rebuttal is to repeat the same argument with added condescension!

I’m not sure what Rebecca doesn’t understand about this, but I’ve spelled out the logic below, maybe this will help:
1) Most girls play with dolls
2) Most toys that girls play with are dolls (i.e. they are by far the most common girls’ toy)
3) Most dolls are pink
4) Therefore most girls’ toys are pink.

I can do a Venn diagram for her, but it’s valid.

It’s circular. It’s built on a false premise and it says nothing at all. The question is why, in our particular culture, do we have a specific set of gender roles, why do we apply pressure to children to conform to those roles, and as a very secondary question, why are girls’ roles so brightly flagged with pink?

Radford is begging the question. Of course little girls like Riley are urged to conform, and of course it’s all tied up in societal rewards for fitting in to a particular pattern of behavior; Riley can recognize that, why can’t Radford? In this case, our social norms erect great big unmistakeable flags to tell little girls that one specific set of objects are explicitly tied to their identity as girls. They defy them at their peril, and sometimes even four-year-olds can tell when they’re being fitted for a straitjacket.

Radford is supposed to be a fairly widely-known and respectable member of the skeptic community. I am appalled and disappointed that these babblings are how he responds to criticism, and that further he has the gall to pretend he’s the one with the “objective evidence”.

541 comments

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  1. 501
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    doktorzoom:

    Sorry I forgot I was talking to philistines…not that Avatar

    Grin…And as someone who initially thought Ridley Scott was going to bastardize a pretty good animated series, I should have figured that out.

    No, no, Scott is innocent of this one. Smurfahontas is the brainchild of James Cameron.

  2. 502
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    We Are Ing #484:

    The problem seems to be that they are under the notion that social sciences or well…politics… is in the Magisterium of ‘opinion’. It’s a common idea that “decreasing taxation on the wealthiest will create jobs” is somehow an opinion rather than a empirical claim.

    Combine that with evopsyche and the bell curve propping up prejudice and you get even some well meaning otherwise liberal and nice people agreeing to sex and gender esesentialism and fucked up bigotry.

    Agreed, 100%. I’ve noticed that one common tactic of gender essentialists, when confronted with counter-arguments from social sciences, is to point at a few flaky studies (often well-known of specialists and already debunked) and conclude that the whole field is therefore unreliable.

    Which is of course a bit rich, coming from people who quote half-baked evo-psych nonsense.

  3. 503
    'Tis Himself

    half-baked evo-psych nonsense.

    This assumes there is fully-baked evo-psych nonsense, which is nonsensical.

  4. 504
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Pterryx at 453 quoted for MF truth:

    I don’t agree that someone being willfully obtuse, arrogant, or bigoted about X should be irrelevant just because that person’s willing to be rational about Y, when Y is not personal to them but X is. I don’t trust someone who only applies reason when it’s comfortable to do so. Refusing to be self-critical on issues that matter outside one’s own life IS a major personal failing, and I will discount the opinions of a person who displays that flaw.

    Jadzia626 @466, I’d missed Argumentum ad Feminam! Thanks@! And thank you for the confirmation about the Smithsonian link.

    Debbie Goddard, thanks for actually addressing some of the concerns about Ben Radford’s actions vs. blog policy. Some people have suggested restoring deleted comments–but once they’re deleted, I think they are gone forever without any evidence or electronic trail. I’d like it if everyone who has posted a comment at CFI that never appeared would pipe up here with the date, approximate time, and gist of that comment.

  5. 505
    ChasCPeterson

    ‘Tis @#503: I suppose the point of comments like that one is to build in-group cohesion? It’s the kind of shit I’d expect from Ing or Walton. If you don’t know what you’re talking about–and I’m quite sure you don’t–why offer ignorant sweeping generalizations like that? Never mind, I answered that already.

    While I’m at it, I’ll assert that anybody still using the term ‘gender essentialism’ unironically is disqualified from being taken seriously on the subject.

    meh, brick wall. Never mind.

  6. 506
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    While I’m at it, I’ll assert that anybody still using the term ‘gender essentialism’ unironically is disqualified from being taken seriously on the subject.

    Given that you long ago lost any claim to credibility on the subject, your assertions are of solely humorous interest.

  7. 507
    Ing

    ‘Tis @#503: I suppose the point of comments like that one is to build in-group cohesion? It’s the kind of shit I’d expect from Ing or Walton. If you don’t know what you’re talking about–and I’m quite sure you don’t–why offer ignorant sweeping generalizations like that? Never mind, I answered that already.

    While I’m at it, I’ll assert that anybody still using the term ‘gender essentialism’ unironically is disqualified from being taken seriously on the subject.

    meh, brick wall. Never mind.

    Ah yes, the hysterical male who declared me an enemy while (I can only presume) waving his fist impotently up in the air and hissing CUUUUUUUUUUUURSEEEEEEEEEEES, is declaring who is disqualified from being taken seriously.

    I have to ask.
    Do you always spell it that way on purpose as, like, some sort of a ‘comment’?
    Or is it just because you can’t spell?
    I must know.

    A) It’s on purpose because it’s a cute and accurate nickname

    B) I know you have seen me explain exactly why it’s so shitty of you to harp on any of my misspellings intentionally, so I can only assume you’ve given up any pretenses of decency and have just decided to embrace your full privilege to shit on others.

    For those who don’t know Sven/Chas here knows I’m dyslexic, because I ‘outed’ about it because he kept mocking me, and chooses to continue badgering me about it. Because it’s part of myself I can’t really readily change, though I make the best effort to compensate for it and he tries to exploit that because he’s a piece of shit.

  8. 508
    Thomathy, Such A 'Mo

    Umm …ChasCPeterson, you must mean that anyone using the term ‘gender essentialism’ unironically unless referring to those who can be described as gender essentialists, right?

    Or do you really think that no one exists who actually believes in gender essentialism? If so, you are unfortunately mistaken. Idiots and bad philosophy thrive still.

  9. 509
    Jadehawk

    Or do you really think that no one exists who actually believes in gender essentialism?

    of course not, seeing that he’s (sort of) one of them. he’s objecting to the label, not the content

  10. 510
    Ing

    @Jadehawk

    I’d be happy to give him a different label if that’s the objection.

  11. 511
    'Tis Himself

    Okay, I tried for a funny which didn’t work. Please don’t beat me too hard.

  12. 512
    carlie

    Why are boys’ dolls called “action figures”?

    There was an interesting interview I just heard awhile ago on Star Talk (the physics of superheros about how “dolls” are classified in such a way as to have a much higher tax than other toys are. Because of this, Mattel managed to get the X-men classified as “not humanoid”, because anything human-like gets classified as a doll, but monsters don’t. Neil was quite upset at the idea that the X-men of all people, whose entire story arc is trying to be treated like people, got legally classified as not human. Doesn’t explain the GI Joe business, but might explain some of them.

  13. 513
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    Barbie had pretty clothes to wear while GI Joe had “kung-fu grip”. Which one was made for action?

    *snark*

  14. 514
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    @ Jadzia626:

    http://www.purplenoize.com/2011/12/definition-ad-feminam.html

    I hadn’t encountered “argumentum ad feminam” yet, thanks a lot! Alas that the phrase is so useful online…

    @ ‘Tis Himself #503:

    This assumes there is fully-baked evo-psych nonsense, which is nonsensical.

    Even with a pretty pink Just-Like-Mommy™ oven? ;-)

    @ ChasCPeterson #505

    ‘Tis @#503: I suppose the point of comments like that one is to build in-group cohesion?

    Of course, silly. The FemiHorde needs to build up her FemiFlock HiveMind! Sheesh.

    @ We Are Ing #507:

    For those who don’t know Sven/Chas here knows I’m dyslexic, because I ‘outed’ about it because he kept mocking me, and chooses to continue badgering me about it.

    Ugh. That’s seriously fucked up :-(

  15. 515
    doktorzoom

    No, no, Scott is innocent of this one. Smurfahontas is the brainchild of James Cameron.

    Headdesk! Urk. I knew that, too, of course. I am apparently incapable of remembering anything right when mentioning that movie…which starred Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, and the always versatile Ralph the Wonder Llama. I can hardly wait until it’s released on LaserDisk!

  16. 516
    andyo

    because no one should want to have anything to do with the movie, stoopid racist POS

    Is there a website where I can find my local Avatar haters’ club? It seems most people are surprised when I say I not only didn’t like it, but hated it with a passion. I still haven’t encountered in meatspace anyone else who didn’t like it.

    And the fact that I only go to the movies for IMAX anymore, and paid like $18 for IMAX and 3D for that POS, and nonetheless I was ready to leave at the 20-minute mark, having predicted how it would end, but since I had booked a seat at the very center of a packed theater I just let a giant “MEH” out and sat there hating myself for 2 hours with the hope that it would maybe turn around…

  17. 517
    Ing

    @Andyo

    Are you talking about the racist Avatar noble savage white hope movie? or the racist “who cares if it makes sense” Airbender casting?

  18. 518
    Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

    Sven/Chas

    Omg. that’s the same person?

  19. 519
    andyo

    Oh, I know almost nothing about the Airbender thing. Besides, it got terrible reviews, so I had nothing to persuade me to see it, let alone pay $18 for it (Damn you, Ebert!). I am no Shyamalan fan either, and I thought The Others got screwed by Sixth Sense, in that is a much better movie, but superficially similar.

  20. 520
    debbiegoddard

    I guess I’ll post here as a follow-up, although it might only be seen by those who are subscribed to comments…

    CFI’s CEO/President Ronald Lindsay posted today on CFI’s blog (and therefore on CFI’s front page) about blog policy and Ben Radford’s posts. Here’s a snippet from the beginning of the last paragraph:

    Because of this recent controversy, CFIs Management Committee will discuss the future of Free Thinking this coming week. I have made plain my views, but we do have collective leadership at CFI, so it’s not inconceivable that the policies governing Free Thinking would change. I hope not, because I think any radical change would undercut what CFI stands for.

    Considering that, I suggest that may be a good place for leaving comments regarding the posting policies, etc.

  21. 521
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    Thanks a lot, Debbie.

    I just posted there to suggest that to avoid another PR disaster in the future, the CFI may want to think about ways to be more reactive. Because whether they like it or not, as long as members’s “personal views” are published on their website, it will impact the public’s perception of what the CFI stands for or against.

    BTW, here’s the direct link:

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/about_free_thinking/

  22. 522
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Also, Ron could have done better than characterizing Ben’s gullibility and basic scientific goofs as “may have” and “might have.” Jesus Christ. The man made blatantly irrational statements—doll skin is “pink”—and Ron can’t bring himself to say so without weaselly qualifiers. Yeah, yeah, I know. Gotta defend your own. But honestly.

    Poor showing.

  23. 523
    Weedless Monkey

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/about_free_thinking/ is quite hilarious. What it basically says is
    1) We’re not responsible for anything written on our frontpage
    2) You’re stupid.

  24. 524
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/about_free_thinking/ is quite hilarious.

    It is!

    The cornerstone of our mission is freedom of expression and critical inquiry.

    …We also fully expected that some of the blog posts might make claims that some in our audience would dispute. Great! Isn’t that how the advance of knowledge through free expression is supposed to work?

    Yes. But Radford’s was not how critical inquiry is supposed to work. That was the point.

    Obviously, there are limits to what we’d put up on our blog, not because we want any limits on free expression, but because we are a donor supported organization and we have an obligation to use that donor money prudently.

    Ah, so not because your mission is critical inquiry. Good to know!

    Our bloggers are all, broadly speaking, working from a nonreligious or skeptical perspective.

    Broadly speaking.

    The fact that a person may be on the “wrong” side of a particular issue is not a sufficient basis, absent exceptional circumstances, for CFI to stop working with that person—especially when it’s not always immediately apparent what the “wrong” side is. We’re supposed to be free thinkers, not dogmatists.

    I thought you were supposed to be committed to critical inquiry. Does that have any meaning to you at all?

    Ben’s posts may exhibit some mistakes in reasoning and may have used some research that was unreliable. I think I can make these statements with confidence because Ben has acknowledged these mistakes himself,

    So he may have done what he’s expressly admitted doing.

    OK. CFI denounces sexism.

    The hell you do.

  25. 525
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Just so, SC. I picked up on the same “may have” bullshit equivocation (see my comment on the “This is what skepticism has come to” thread that I’m too lazy to link).

  26. 526
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Oh good lord, this IS the “skepticism” thread. Dear me.

  27. 527
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    (see my comment on the “This is what skepticism has come to” thread

    Er,… :)

  28. 528
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Coincidentally, I have them both open as well.

  29. 529
    SallyStrange

    My response:

    So, next time a CFI poster uses The Bell Curve to dismiss a young black girl’s complaint that she’s always being directed away from advanced placement courses, I presume you will see no cause to take action either?

  30. 530
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    So, next time a CFI poster uses The Bell Curve to dismiss a young black girl’s complaint that she’s always being directed away from advanced placement courses, I presume you will see no cause to take action either?

    Freedumb, man!

  31. 531
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Stereotyping based on gender is wrong and policies and practices that promote such stereotyping should be condemned….

    The problem is I doubt that Ben would disagree with anything in the above paragraph, nor did I see anything in his posts to suggest he would.

    Wait. What?

  32. 532
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    There are already an ample number of institutions that provide the comfort of orthodoxy for those want that sort of thing. They’re called churches.

    *seethe*

  33. 533
    SallyStrange

    Yes, apparently rational skeptical freethinkers see feminism for what it is: a religious orthodoxy.

    But they also condemn sexism.

    Uh huh.

  34. 534
    Inaji

    SC:

    Stereotyping based on gender is wrong and policies and practices that promote such stereotyping should be condemned….

    The problem is I doubt that Ben would disagree with anything in the above paragraph, nor did I see anything in his posts to suggest he would.

    No, no…seriously? What in the fuck? This is way beyond waffling, this is mind-boggling stupidity.

  35. 535
    chigau (違う)

    I wonder about his definition of “orthodoxy.

  36. 536
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Oh, talking about skepticism, I told my husband of the pink hypothesis, and I swear to all the gods I don’t believe in that he has never heard of RW, or the CFI.

    -Most girls play with dolls
    *Say who? I hardly see ours play with them.

    -Most toys that girls play with are dolls
    *What, that’s not logical. Even if most girls play with dolls it doesn’t mean they don’t play with a million other things that aren’t dolls.

    -Dolls’ skin is pink
    *What? Are you kidding me? I worked years in mixing dye. It isn’t.

    -Therefore, most things girls play with are pink
    *You completely lost me there.

  37. 537
    Jadehawk

    well, that was a really pathetic effort by the CFI. I have taken the time to take apart that bullshit, if anyone’s interested:

    http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/commenting-on-the-cfis-non-response/

  38. 538
    SC (Salty Current), OM

    Good post, Jadehawk.

    I’ve previously been told (in public fora) that I should fire John Shook, Michael DeDora, and Melody, that I should remove Chris Mooney as POI host, that I should never invite PZ Myers to a conference again, that I should not allow Paul Kurtz to post on our blog (back when he was still with CFI) and that CFI should forever cut any and all ties with Richard Dawkins and Rebecca Watson (this last suggestion usually being made by different people) [were any of those criticisms made because the people in question were failing at the basics of critical inquiry or skeptical thinking, or just because their opinions pissed someone off? Because there is a difference]

    Actually, the criticisms of Mooney’s appointment were. He had shown a complete and appalling failure at critical inquiry and skepticism in the TJ fiasco, which was plainly due to his strong personal bias against a group of atheists (CFI doesn’t value us much as potential donors, I guess). He ignored obvious signs that he was falling for a concocted story and that his blog was infested by sockpuppets, and banned Ophelia Benson and others for asking questions and for simple criticism while allowing a handful of fawning loons to continue posting.

    They brought him in and gave him a public forum right after this, and, if memory serves come to think of it, when people tried to discuss the matter and air their criticisms on the CFI forums the moderators posted in support of Mooney and then shut down the threads.

    The problem for Melody is that she’s forced to constantly do damage control because they keep doing damage by ignoring their own mission.

  39. 539
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    That was a great take-down, Jadehawk. I see there’s not many comments below Lindsay’s post. Of course, considering it’s basically a non-response, I’m not surprised that it doesn’t incite discussion.

  40. 540
    David Marjanović

    The problem seems to be that they are under the notion that social sciences or well…politics… is in the Magisterium of ‘opinion’. It’s a common idea that “decreasing taxation on the wealthiest will create jobs” is somehow an opinion rather than a empirical claim.

    QFFT!

    The NOMA version of extreme postmodernism: in some subjects, there is such a thing of reality; in others, there isn’t, and everyone’s own truth is true for them.

    Yes, apparently rational skeptical freethinkers see feminism for what it is: a religious orthodoxy.

    But they also condemn sexism.

    Uh huh.

    Have you forgotten? The truth must always lie exactly in the middle.

  41. 541
    JesseW, the Juggling Janitor

    Radford has made a further response, which, at least to me (who, note, have NOT been following the discussion closely at all), seems mostly reasonable. It’d be nice if PZ would add a note about this to the post, and/or make a new post pointing to it.

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