Never trust a science article with lists

They’re everywhere. I hate them. There are entire networks dedicated to creating goddamned lists, trusting in the human compulsion to go through each entry in the list…which are usually on separate pages, with separate ads, all calculated to increase advertising clicks. And at the end, they’ll present you with a list of more lists, with provocative titles, and they try to get you on the obsessive mindless click trail. They’re evil, manipulative, and almost always vapid. They’re the slot machines of the web. I’m looking at you, AlterNet, Salon, Huffpo, Gawker, whatever — you’re all padding miniscule content and increasing the noise level on the internet.

Even sites that are fun play the devious SEO game. The Oatmeal is one of the worst. I’m not talking about the content, I’m condemning the psychological trickery of the presentation.

The latest example that got me was on Salon: it’s an article titled “9 scientific facts about breasts”; it was originally on AlterNet as “The 9 weirdest facts about boobs”. Notice the linkbait title? (Linkbait that worked, by the way.) And as usual, when you actually read the article, it’s nonsense through and through.

Here are the 9 “facts”.

  1. Poor men like big breasts while financially secure men prefer smaller breasts.

    Simplistic reductionist drivel which regards people by a single parameter and draws decisive conclusions from it. Source: Psychology Today. Anytime you see “science” presented in Psychology Today, just ignore it and throw the magazine in the trash. It’s a garbage source, a kind of pseudoscientific Daily Mail.

  2. Hungry men desire big breasts while satiated men prefer a smaller chest.

    More of the same. Source: Psychology Today.

    Fuck you, Psychology Today.

  3. Men not interested in fatherhood find large breasts less attractive.

    An evolutionary psychology study based on asking 67 college men about their preferences. In Psychology Today. Goddamn, Psychology Today, but you suck.

  4. Squeezing breasts may prevent cancer.

    Not from Psychology Today! An actual scientific source! COMPLETELY MISINTERPRETED AND MISREPRESENTED. There’s this thing called contact inhibition, and cells also respond to distortion with changes in their cytoskeleton that can cause changes in activity. This study was done on cultured cells, confining them tightly with an artificial matrix. It has no relationship at all to the mechanical factors in squeezing breasts.

  5. Women who get breast implants are three times more likely to commit suicide.

    OK, this is one I can believe. It’s based on a statistical analysis of women who’ve undergone plastic surgery and committed suicide.

    What it means, though, is the question. Women with self-esteem problems that try to solve them with surgery are more prone to suicidal thoughts? Women compelled by financial burdens to acquire more appeal by breast augmentation are more prone to suicide than economically secure women? Who knows. You’re not going to find out on a blitz through a link farm!

  6. Sexist men preferlarge breasts.

    British white men showed cartoons of breasts have a preference. Whoa, I never saw that one coming.

    Reported in the Huffington Post. Fuck you too.

  7. Bras accelerate sagging.

    Based on one 15-year old study that has not, as far as I can discover, been replicated, women who stopped wearing bras saw “their nipples lifted on average seven millimetres in one year in relation to the shoulders”. Strangely, while I was easily able to find 23 papers in the databases which had Jean-Denis Rouillon as an author, none of them say anything about bras or breasts. Exercise physiology, yes; massive studies applying calipers to hundreds of women’s breasts, no.

  8. Men who like small breasts prefer a submissive partner.

    “You may get the psychological hint that she’s not trying to compete with other women who have larger breasts, and therefore she’ll be loyal to you. Or maybe the very first girl you had a crush on had small breasts, and if she constructed your earliest example of what’s sexy, her memory may still lead you to find small-breasted women exciting.” Barf.

    Published in Men’s Health. There’s another one to toss on the fire.

  9. Staring at boobs extends a man’s life by five years.

    A discredited urban legend, and the article admits it. They knew the story was garbage, but hell, no one will care…throw it in the list.

    “Clearly, not all online “scientific studies” are authentic or even convincing, for that matter,” they say.

    Well, duh. And this article is an example.

Join me in vowing to never again follow a listy link trail. Just say “no”. Recognize that they’re very, very bad and represent the worst of manipulative SEO tricks.

Also, unsubscribe from Psychology Today, Men’s Health or any of these ghastly pop psych and trendy “health” magazines. They’re lying to you.

Comments

  1. says

    Interesting how an article about breasts is all about the menz. And by interesting, I mean predictably heterosexist and sexist. Just one more reason for the bonfire. I’m gonna need bigger marshmallows.

  2. says

    Join me in vowing to never again follow a listy link trail. Just say “no”. Recognize that they’re very, very bad and represent the worst of manipulative SEO tricks.

    I don’t follow link trails anyway, so I’ll happily vow not to do so.

    Also, unsubscribe from Psychology Today, Men’s Health or any of these ghastly pop psych and trendy “health” magazines. They’re lying to you.

    I don’t subscribe to any of them. Don’t even look at them in the bookstore. The last time I looked through a Psychology Today (decades ago), I suffered a very bad near-fatal eyeroll. That thing is bad for a person’s health.

  3. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    The last time I looked at Psychology Today was back during my undergraduate days. Less than impressed. I thought it couldn’t get lower, but evidently it has gone down hill from then, into the septic tank drainage field.

  4. blf says

    The local newsstand near where I live carries a French-language glossy whose title I forget, but which, loosely translated, is very similar to Psychology Today. You can just look at the covers (photograph(s) and article titles(?)) and come to a very plausible guess that it’s rubbish. (I don’t know that it is rubbish, but it sure fecking looks like psychoblather gibberishgook).

    My psychology instructor at University yonks ago described such magazines / articles as (paraphrasing) “Bad fiction for cyberchondriacs.”

    (He could not have used the term cyberchondriacs as the word and its connotation of Internet-based self-diagnosis did not exist at that time (feck, the Internet was still called ARPAnet!), but I now don’t recall the exact word(s?) he used.)

  5. JohnnieCanuck says

    I’ve always felt that boobs was more a description of the male aficionados than the objects themselves.

    I’ll never forget the time my pubescent younger sister referred to them as bosoms.

  6. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    Headdesk.

    Practical: Naked Bunny, if you have a browser that uses link and/or DNS prefetching by default, you can turn it off. (I believe in FF you still have to do this through about:config, other browsers make checkboxes available in settings somewhere.) It helps, you aren’t generating more pointless traffic, and perhaps reduces “click-through”/ hit count metrics.

    Such crap is a personal peeve of mine, so forgive me if I sound too advicey. I just want to make the information available.

  7. says

    I always figured Psychology Today was about psychology in the same way Architectural Digest is about architecture.
    Or People Magazine is biographical articles about noteworthy and interesting people.

  8. maudell says

    About #7, I research this allegation, and it is not based on any published study. Dr. Rouillon measured women’s breasts on his own, there were no controls as far as I can tell. The doctor himself confirmed this. However, a lot of newspapers and blogs published it as fact.

    As far as I can remember (I don’t have the info on hand), it was a 15 year study, but he did not follow women over a 15 year span. It was different women whom he followed for a few years each, mostly young and athletic.

  9. razzlefrog says

    Yes #5 punchdrunk! PZ blasphemes against Cracked..
    Oooooo, that’s a paddlin’! (In those famous Simpsons words…)

  10. M31 says


    melaniemallon

    I’m gonna need bigger marshmallows.

    But what size marshmallows do rich, heterosexual, hungry men prefer? That’s the essential question that journals with the quality of Psychology Today can answer!

  11. says

    M31:

    But what size marshmallows do rich, heterosexual, hungry men prefer? That’s the essential question that journals with the quality of Psychology Today can answer!

    Well, if these men believe Psychology Today’s facticles, then the bonfire won’t have any fuel, and therefore the marshmallows need only be the tiny ones that come in the cocoa packets.

    On the other hand, if these men know that Psychology Today and its ilk are rubbish, then we are probably in Ghostbusters Stay-Puft territory.

  12. Rich Woods says

    It’s a garbage source, a kind of pseudoscientific Daily Mail.

    PZ, are you implying that the Daily Mail might not actually be pseudoscientific?

    British white men showed cartoons of breasts have a preference.

    How come I wasn’t included in this survey? Do I have to read the Daily Mail to be invited to contribute my worthless, subjective opinion?

  13. ironflange says

    It may be an urban legend, that last one, but I’ll keep looking on the off chance that it’s true.

    PS. *minuscule. Sorry, it’s a peeve of mine.

  14. Rey Fox says

    I would just like to say that I hate animated gifs from TV shows with a burning passion.

  15. phere says

    Hrm, having been very well-endowed since I was 14 or so I have to say these “articles” hit a nerve. I don’t mention that because I’m bragging or want a pat on the back. At best, they embarrassed me, made me want to hunch my shoulders so as not to offend not only the guys – but the girls as well. At worst, they invoked a wide range of inappropriate and lewd comments and innuendos. Also, trying to find bras and dresses that don’t make you feel/look matronly is near impossible. Now at 41, I am so over this …affliction. My shoulders are deformed from my bra straps and my upper back frequently breaks out into spasms. Yeah..maybe a reduction someday..when I can afford it. I never understood what the draw is – they are just freaking lumps of flesh. They don’t and never have defined who I am, yet I feel that’s what most people will remember me by. Having never gone without support (I wear some type of bra almost 24/7 – only when showering am I unsupported and so I highly disagree with the article that stated breasts are firmer/shapelier WITHOUT support) they are still relatively youthful enough to garner rude comments. Unsolicited opinions such as “I prefer smaller boobs” are nearly as hurtful as “I didn’t even notice you had a head.”. So bah to bad science and bah to big boobs. I’m grumpeh now.

  16. says

    Ironflange:

    It may be an urban legend, that last one, but I’ll keep looking on the off chance that it’s true.

    I’ll just bet women everywhere are real thrilled about that, because there just aren’t enough assholes on the planet.

  17. blf says

    miniscule and minuscule are both correct depending where you look.

    Indeed. As dictionary.com explains:

    Usage note
    Minuscule, from Latin minus meaning “less,” has frequently come to be spelled miniscule, perhaps under the influence of the prefix mini- in the sense “of a small size.” Although this newer spelling is criticized by many, it occurs with such frequency in edited writing that some consider it a variant spelling rather than a misspelling.

  18. madtom1999 says

    “Staring at boobs extends a man’s life by five years”
    no while bloody driving it doesnt!

  19. chrislawson says

    3 Incredible Signs That a Science Article is Full of BS…

    1. It is written as a numbered list
    2. It is in Psychology Today
    3. It is in Mens Health

  20. chrislawson says

    punchdrunk@5:

    Cracked is surprisingly reliable for a site that runs on hyperbole, lists and dick jokes. Not every article is a winner, but it’s amazing how often the writers have done great research on fascinating topics.

  21. says

    Wait, don’t do #6 and #8 contradict each other?
    Oh, and just for the record: Breast size does not correlate with milk production.
    And yeah, apparently tits just float in space around men. Women? Ehm, ehh…
    It’s naive to expect that research about breasts would focus on women…

  22. Louis says

    Brothers! Sisters! People of every gender, sex, colour, creed and variation possible! Can’t we all just get together and be happy about boobs?

    No?

    All righty then?!

    Louis

  23. lindsay says

    Oh, crap, did they have to include the bit about breast squeezing? It gave me flashbacks of guys doing that ‘HONK HONK!’ double-handed-boob-squish thing to me.

  24. jeffreylewis says

    Whatever happened to Woot? This seems to be the perfect article for that brand of humor.

    I agree with melaniemallon’s first comment about the headline not matching the article.

  25. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I seem to recall Psychology Today being somewhat respectable ~30 years ago.

    Makes me think of this.

  26. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    Dictionaries may list “miniscule” as a variant. The OED also acknowledges the use of “literally” to emphasise something meant figuratively. There may also, for all I know, be some proper source that allows the use of “beg the question” to mean “prompt/suggest the question” rather than to assume the conclusion.

    These things have no bearing on the mind of a proper pedant. Those of us who don’t live in a cave are well aware that we are fighting a losing battle against the tide of usage-driven linguistics. We still feel honour bound (or compelled by obsession, take your pick) to point out that people are being wrong on the internet.

    For me, that extends to the use of correct English. If English dictionaries give two spelling options, but American ones only one, the correct option is the one that is only correct in English.

    Disclaimer: I’m well aware that Muphry’s Law means that this post will inevitably contain numerous spelling and grammatical errors, and willingly submit myself to the lambasting that this entails.

  27. David Marjanović says

    For me, that extends to the use of correct English. If English dictionaries give two spelling options, but American ones only one, the correct option is the one that is only correct in English.

    Leads to very funny situations from an etymological point of view. Consider defense and defence. Guess how it’s spelled in the original French? Or the original Latin for that matter, where c was never pronounced s till the 5th century?

  28. Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority) says

    Ah, but in those cases the inherent wrongness of the Colonials trumps any etymological arguments.

  29. gussnarp says

    I’ve been trying to avoid going to HuffPo at all for some time now. First it was the pseudoscience, now it’s more the constant links to their own articles that actually use the word “sideboob”. I do not want anything to do with a media source that promotes articles about celebrity sideboob. That will be the last time I use that word. It should be banned.

    But sometimes HuffPo turns out to be the only place that an actually interesting piece is published. Used to be I just searched the title and author and went to the site that HuffPo ripped it off from, but now it’s often original. So I need help: content creators of the internet: do not create for HuffPo, I mean unless you’re cool with their grossly sexist celebrity appearance articles.

    Hell, just make a porn site with political and science news. Then at least you’re honest. And yeah, no more of this putting a seven item list into two pages crap. I will happily join this boycott. But then I’ve been trying to also boycott Gawker and all affiliated sites for reasons. Pretty soon I’ll have to find something other than the internet to procrastinate at work with since I’ll have no sites left… and of course, I am such a drop in the bucket that Gawker, HuffPo, Cracked, BuzzFeed, etc. will never know…

    Side note: Don’t know if any of you have followed Ze Frank, but I was very happy for him getting a paid gig as a video editor for BuzzFeed, but their lists and some of the videos they’ve had (not, as far as I can tell, ones created by Ze) have been so awful that now I feel really bad about it.