Your personal opinion does not trump scientific studies

As a scientist, one of my big pet peeves is when someone tries to use a personal anecdote to disprove a scientific study. “Cigarette are bad for you?! But my grandpa chain smoked until he was 96, and he was healthy as an ox!”

Great for your grandpa! …But that’s irrelevant.

The whole purpose of science is to reduce our biases. Looking at your sample size of one (Grandpa) is going to lead you to the wrong conclusion about what’s going on with smoking. Your grandpa was an outlier – and while that is interesting, the vast majority of people suffer harmful effects from smoking.

But my bigger pet peeve is when someone’s culture, personal opinion, or political belief stands in the way of them accepting science.

For example, during our unit on aggression in my Social Psychology class, we talked about cultural causes for aggression. One example was the Southern Culture of Honor. People who grow up in this culture see a perceived insult as a threat to their ego, which increases testosterone levels* and violent cognitions, and can lead to acts of violence. Southern cities and states have much higher White homicide rates than those populated by northerners**, and in Southern states homicides exceed suicides.

Effects of Insults on Testosterone levels in Southerner and Northerner Participants
When I mentioned this in a tweet, some of my Southern followers got angry and said it wasn’t true, and tried to provide anecdotal evidence about how kind and helpful Southerners are. Your neighbors may be sweet, but that doesn’t negate an overall trend. Scientific studies aren’t saying that all southerners are homicidal maniacs. Though you know, getting angry at a perceived insult doesn’t exactly help your cause…

Another topic within aggression that really riles people up is spanking. Numerous studies have been done showing that spanking children increases antisocial*** and aggressive**** behavior. But when people who have been spanked or spank their children hear about this, they get very defensive. I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard “Well I was spanked, and I turned out fine!” or “I spanked my kids and now they’re little angels!”

I’m sorry, but 1) Your specific experience does not negate the average response seen in hundreds of families, and 2) Your evaluation isn’t necessarily correct. You could very well have had an increase in antisocial or aggressive behavior, but you didn’t have a psychologist assessing your behavior, did you? I’d really like to see a psychological study on why people like to defend spanking. Do they hate thinking that their parents did something wrong? Do they hate having to come up with a better (and possibly less easy) disciplinary action?

And last, but not least: political beliefs that get in the way of accepting science. The one that bugs me the most are feminists who are such huge supporters of female equality that they simply cannot accept that males and females do differ in certain ways. For one, you kind of can’t ignore that (biologically typical) males and females differ physically – we kind of have different reproductive organs and chromosomes. We also have different secondary sex characteristics – males are going to be slightly stronger and larger on average.

And because our biology differs, it’s not insane to suggest our psychology differs. Saying men are better in some areas and women are better in others does not mean one is superior to another. Saying men may have certain mating strategies and females may have different ones does not mean one is morally superior, or that either are things we should actually do – humans are not simply slaves to their biology, after all. There are differences between the sexes in almost every species where there are two different sexes – humans aren’t exempt. To deny these differences because they don’t jibe with your political beliefs is simply unscientific.

Now, I know I’m not perfect. There have definitely been times where I’ve been skeptical of a study when I personally didn’t like the results – it’s human nature (especially when the study is saying something delicious is bad for your health). But the thing about being a scientist is reducing our biases as much as possible. So next time you find yourself giving anecdotal evidence, remember: Your personal opinion may be an interesting new hypothesis, but until you do a study of your own, it does not trump previous scientific research.

* Cohen et al (1996) Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South
**Myers (2008) Social Psychology
*** Strauss et al (1997)
**** Taylor (2010) in Pediatrics


  1. says

    “For one, you kind of can’t ignore that (biologically typical) males and females differ physically – we kind of have different reproductive organs and chromosomes.”Well, not exactly. I’m not sure why Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body is not a required biology text, but there you go. Sex is not as binarized as we like to think. Not even scientifically. (All your qualifiers suggest that you know that, so I’m not sure what’s up with your acceptance of sexist bias in scientific practice.) It is still the responsibility of scientists to realize that their studies and interpretations of data are necessarily biased (which is not to say that I don’t agree with your larger premise; anecdotal evidence is not statistically relevant). Scientists are not immune to invisible cultural assumptions. As far as we know, genitals and sex characteristics exist more on a continuum than in a binary, and “men” and “women” have more overlap than divergence. So when an individual woman gets upset by a science article that talks about how women are better at housework, or men are wired to cheat, or women aren’t as good at match, she still has a point.

  2. says

    Honestly I’m not sure why other southerners got offended. I completely agree with the assessment of attitudes. Being a southern female, even, I am far more aggressive at a perceived insult than my fiance who is from New York. I am learning that that sort of aggression and ego-flaring may not get me far in the long run, especially if I ever come up against someone who is willing to meet me head-on. I’m trying to curb it, but it is quite difficult.

  3. Mike Hare says

    Surprised you did not cite religious belief. So many are anti-science and are so much harder to refute because of the whole “faith” component that makes any reasonable discussion impossible.

  4. says

    Interesting.Consider the folk conceptions of ‘male’ and ‘female’ biological gender. Anything that doesn’t fall into either category would come under ‘other’ or – given this is the folk we’re talking about, probably (and unfortunately) ‘freak’. Given these are folk conceptions, they will of course be fuzzily defined.1) Are you saying that the folk conceptions of ‘male’ or ‘female’ should be scientifically regarded as arbitrary and meaningless?2) Or are you arguing that, even if we grant these folk conceptions, there is no discernible difference between a folk ‘male’ or a folk ‘female’?Your post sounds to me like 2), but that strikes me as insane. 1) is my attempt to apply a generous reading – and even there I would have an objection or two.Could you clarify your meaning?

  5. says

    I wonder if this is because yankees are allowed to be rude, so they get it all out, but southerners have to be polite, so it’s all bottled up. And yankees are also therefore more exposed to rudeness, so it’s less offensive.

  6. says

    I don’t think they should be considered meaningless, but that gender conceptions should become plural. There should be room in-between, and not just room for one category (intersex, or, as you put it, pretty accurately in scientific terms, “freak”). The scientific community should acknowledge that human bodies come in a continuum, not a binary, and begin to deconstruct the concept of physical gender in a way that makes sense with the research and acknowledges that we assume gender categories before we even look at bodies. (This is a project Fausto-Sterling has already begun, but until other scientists get on board, it won’t make an impact.)The sex binary system harms, and something has to change. The medical community’s treatment of intersexed individuals makes that painfully clear.

  7. says

    Well, Jen, that certainly explains a few things about my southern-bred spanking-condoning mother. But let’s not go there right now, we’ll get lost and run out of food and die of exposure.…As much as I hate to cite, here’s an article about differences between the sexes – some are explained better than others. I know I’ve read a few more overtly (hurr) scientific articles about the differences in regards to navigation and seeing colors. (I personally am an anomaly as regards spatial reasoning and vector-based navigation, it’s pretty awesome).

  8. says

    (Yeah okay comment machine, eat the rest of my comment, see if I care!)As always, Jen, you rule, thank you for saying the things that I have rolling around in my head but can never manage to translate into English.

  9. says

    Just a note on the “child spanking” thing. It has not been shown that spanking increases antisocial behavior: one is merely correlated with the other. One: the article linked was based on self-reported data, which is always a huge red flag. Two: There is a strong possibility that “misbehaving” kids probably get spanked more in the first place. I am not ruling out the possibility that spanking causes later problems, but the no one has proven a causal link between the two. Don’t let your own biases tell you otherwise.

  10. John Small Berries says

    I’d really like to see a psychological study on why people like to defend spanking.Well, in lieu of that scientific study, my own personal opinion is that I would love to smack the misbehaving monsters into shutting up and letting me enjoy a meal out or a movie in peace; but since that would be wrong, a good close substitute would be to see their parents do so instead.

  11. says

    Tom: Not true about the antisocial behavior study. They looked at kids before spanking, and then two years later. The more they were spanked, the more their antisocial behavior INCREASED from what it originally was.

  12. DJ says

    While appreciating the myriad phenotypic expressions of humans is a good thing, unless men start having babies, you can deconstruct all you want but there is still a fundamental difference between the majority of men and women. The binary system is not a construct, sometimes things are as they seem.

  13. Martinelli says

    If you think it is okay to spank, would you let a total stranger spank your children if they misbehaved in their presence? I saw a mother in a supermarket smacking her child shouting at him “This is for hitting your brother” nuff said

  14. says

    Again, that shows nothing. One, it’s still all mother-supplied info. Two: The criteria are very subjective:”The researchers also asked moms questions about their child’s aggressive behavior, such as whether they were bullies, cruel, mean, destructive, and/or prone to getting into fights with others at age 3 and again at age 5.”I have never met a 3 year old I would describe using any of those terms, because we have different criteria for three year olds than we have for five year olds. The 3 year old “misbehaves”. The 5 year is “antisocial” or a “bully”. What mother thinks their 3-year-old is a “bully”, or is “aggressive”, or is “cruel”? Do I know this is correct? No, but the researchers did nothing to rule it (or many other possibilities) outOnce more, I am not saying it is wrong, just that the study shows only a correlation, not a causation. I would accept a study in which properly-blinded, impartial, qualified, third-party observers were to observe the children at 3 and 5, if they had a non-subjective checklist of things to look for.

  15. says

    A fairly good book on sex differences and mating systems is “The Myth of Monogamy”, written by a husband and wife team. One of them is an MD of some kind, the other is an ornithologist. It’s mostly about birds and marmosets, but does a good job of putting human mating systems in context without doing any of the ridiculous jumping to social conclusions that work of this kind tends to lend itself too.Monogamy is not “natural” for humans: if the only fact you told a biologist about a species was that males were 1.2 times the size of females, they’d tell you, “Huh, they’re engaged in some serious mate competition… I bet they’re mildly polygamous.” Furthermore, genetic studies indicate that the male breeding population was about half the total male population throughout most of pre-history. And even today, between 2 and 25% of children are fathered by someone other than their mother’s socially pair-bonded partner.Tell people these relatively uncontroversial biological facts and they tend to get upset, mostly because they’re logically disabled and think that “humans have tended toward polygamy in the past” for some reason means “human society ought to be polygamous today”, the hidden premise being “whatever humans did in the past is the best way to do things today”, which is an idiotic claim on the face of it, unless you really want to die by violence at the age of 20, which I personally don’t (that is, however, a very common mode and age of death in cultures that are somewhat closer to “nature” than our own…)

  16. says

    I can’t provide a citation offhand, but if you dig into the literature you’ll find that the primary motivation for hitting your kids is that it makes you feel better. It doesn’t do anything much to alleviate the child’s problematic behaviour–it just changes perceptions and makes the parent feel better about it, powerful and in control of things. Pretty much the same reason humans engage in any kind of ineffective violence, up to and including warfare, which as any economist will tell you is always the least efficient and effective means of resolving disputes, albeit one that sometimes seems extremely difficult to avoid.

  17. says

    I’d just like to point out that I’ve met some pretty douchey 3-year-olds. At the risk of offering anecdotal evidence, my older brother had sent me to the hospital twice by the time he turned 4. Furthermore, though I myself do not have the study in-hand, I’m fairly certain they would have put precautions in place to prevent distortion of the data by “noise” such as the biases of the researchers and the mothers. Further interesting reading both on differences between the sexes as well as judicious use of data, see:…Sez Randall: “The role of gender in society is the most complicated thing I’ve ever spent a lot of time learning about, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about quantum mechanics.”

  18. DJ says

    Actually polygamy, specifically polygyny, is the most commonly accepted form of marriage in the world today. That being said, most people are in monogamous relationships in societies that accept polygamy because of the high cost of maintaining a polygamous household.

  19. says

    I prefer to have the bar send the tot a complementary Toddlerita or, in case the kid can’t stomach tequila, a Poquito Mojito. These are usually served free of charge to the loudest child in a Mexican restaurant.

  20. says

    I’m behind DJ on this one.At times it is appropriate that a member of the scientific community should express a nuanced view of human sexuality – both in terms of biology as well as personal identity, which are of course two different things. I can remember a blog post by Steven Novella that did this – I can’t find in under thirty seconds, and I’m very lazy. If you want, I’ll search properly to back this claim up.The key term in the last paragraph was: At times.The whole point of language is to achieve a consensus on vocabulary. When the context demands a precise definition of terms, one should be given. The rest of the time we’re at the mercy of common usage. It sucks, but it’s true. Common usage just isn’t subject to authority – not yours, mine, or anyone else’s.In my reading (and given your clarification) it would seem Jen has used the terms fairly given this context. The kind of finely-grained distinction that you’re requesting/demanding is appropriate in many contexts – but not this one.

  21. guest says

    your last sentence and thesis is wrong. accepting a “scientific study” without scrutinizing the methodology, interpretation, etc. is the same as accepting anecdotal evidence. you are worshiping science the same way christians worship the bible. “it is true because the bible said so,” taking the preacher’s word for it without having cracked open the bible yourself. there is so much flawed in your arguments on this particular post that it is laughable. does testosterone equal violence, for instance? i’ll take your word for it because you are a scientist and you took your professor’s word for it and he/she is presumably smarter than you, and your prof took Cohen’s word who must be the favorite part is the part where a person with no kids presumes to know what is better for raising children than parents do because the smarty pants cites that infallible science of “psychology.” hahaaahahahaaa. you still have a lot of learning to do, child.sure, in a perfect world, science would be reliable most of the time. but in the real world most so-called “science” is shit. so in many more instances than you might be willing to accept, anecdotal evidence is just as valid as “science.”

  22. says

    Yay, one of your best, I think. Great stuff also from Tom. Your opening reminds me of a joke about a BBC guy sent to the sticks to interview a centenarian, back in the days when they were less common. “Tell me, sir, to what do you attribute your remarkable longevity?””Ar, well, Oi doesn’t drink, and Oi doesn’t smoke, and Oi doesn’t run after wimmin.””But sir, my father did just the same and he died when he was 45.””Ar, well, he never kept it up long enough, did he?”

  23. BrianSchaan says

    I participated in a “Mr/Miss. University” competition a few years ago (not the sort of thing I’d normally do, by a very good friend of mine was running it and short of competitors) and we had to do a speech on gender equality. My position pretty much agrees exactly with yours and the way I explained it is that instead of pushing for gender equality we should be looking for equivalence. For example, I happen to be really good at math and clearly Jen is a remarkable biologist (whereas I have never in my life taken a bio course). We also have different genitalia and probably different hobbies, interests etc. so we’re clearly not equal. That having been said, neither of us is better than the other, just better at certain things.

  24. BrianSchaan says

    Something to add: I remember hearing something about possible health benefits of smoking casually — I have no scientific studies nor articles on hand to support this claim, but the reasoning was along the lines of: smoking reduces appetite, over-eating can cause numerous health problems, ergo the benefits from smoking in moderation caused as a result of decreased appetite may outweigh the health risks of smoking too much. I also believe that it was suggested that this might help explain the French Paradox (with language that ambiguous, I could be a news anchor!)

  25. says

    @Brian: We have certainly all heard women say that they smoke so as not to gain weight, but there again, people say stupid things to justify their addiction. I’ve heard a woman claim that smoking represented female emancipation. She clearly hadn’t heard how Edward Bernays invented the meme of the liberated woman smoker in the service of his client, the ATC, which was owned by men. Re the French Paradox: I would counter-propose another aetiology. I think that the obesity epidemic is a function not only of what we eat but how fast we eat. The body takes time to signal repleteness, and if we shovel it in, we don’t give it a chance to do so. If we had eaten the SuperMegaBigMac very slowly, we might have stopped half-way through. The other day I took a doctor friend for her first Japanese meal, and she commented that she felt full after about a fifth of the quantity of rice she would normally eat (in her culture you eat with your fingers) and concurred with my analysis. The French traditionally went for family meals with much sipping of wine and conversation, or else ate out, which means waiting half an hour for the next course. The Paradox, then, may have been powered by snooty French waiters. I remember when I first travelled to the Continent as a child, dinner in a restaurant was not doable in under three hours. Now, of course, the French are learning to gobble on the run like everyone else, and will no doubt get obese. Anyway, the underclasstypically is both obese and smokes.

  26. says

    While there is a many-dimensioned continuum of sexual characteristics (both primary and secondary), the clustering of them around two point (‘typical’ male and female) is most likely *incredibly* strong. I’ve unfortunately not seen many studies that attempt to analyse this, but the low incidence of pronounced intersex characteristics would lead to a reasonable supposition of clustering.The more important point is that the two clusters overlap hugely in several (but nowhere near all) dimensions, and significantly (in the statistical sense) in many others. So yes, there’s scientific value in assessing the statistically significant differences between the sexes. Of course it’s reasonable that people who read pop science articles that say men are wired to cheat get upset. The problem comes from miscommunication, or misunderstanding, of the scientific results. Not many pop science writers will say “there is a statistically significant trend that men are more likely to cheat, with r-squared at 0.015 and p=0.whatever” – they’ll put it in terms that everyone can understand. The problem is that there’s no way of saying that in a way that everyone will understand, so they simplify. That is something that’s irresponsible, to my mind.

  27. cb4321 says

    Courtney, I just wanted to counter the asshats and point out that you are absolutely right. The scientific community carries biases that mirror the rest of the culture and those biases get enshrined as ‘common sense’ ways to deny the humanity, rights, and experiences of marginalized groups. My brother in law is XXY, has male genetalia, and is fertile. There are people with XXY who have fertile uteri as well, and there are XXY people with ambiguous genetalia. Pretending that chromosomes, hormones, gentalia, etc. all match up into two discrete categories is to flat out ignore the reality of human diversity in this area. Also, you know what us formal logic people call an example which contradicts the theory? A counterexample. Annecdotal evidence is valid as a counterexample if it proves that the premises must be false (for example finding an X that is not a Y proves that ‘all X are Y’ is false). The danger that annecdotal evidence runs is assuming the case is typical and problems with correlation/causation connections. It should be pointed out that statistics is really just a massive collection of annecdotes trying to correct for atypical cases and that it does not solve the issue of mistaking causation.Science also has methodological pitfalls, one of the biggest being that the scientific method sets out wiht a hypothesis and trys to prove it, rather than setting out with a question and trying to observe. This methodology causes people to be more likely to focus on data points that match their pre-existing beliefs and to dismiss those that do not. This is how we end up with a long history of scientific racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Scientific inquiry is never value neutral, the motivations and positions of the researchers affect the credibility and interpretation of the data.This is not to say that scientific methodology does not have its place, but it is to say that the notion that it may not be criticized using actual human experience is a hugely problematic one. I am reminded of how Kraft-Ebbing, who published one of the most influential works pathologizing gays in the 1860’s had his opinions changed near the end of his life when he started to meet gay men who had adopted the theories of activist lawyer Karl Heinrich Ulrich who were living counterexamples to his theory. Ulrich had been saying for decades that gay men knew the agony that a hateful culture could cause because they had lived in it and that psyciatrists like Kraft-Ebbing who minimized this were doing so from their own ignorant inability to comprehend that their subjects were real people living in real societies.

  28. says

    Well, the Southern Code of Honor may describe why so many fundamentalists are in the South (as well as minor historical movements likes secession). What is more more intimate and tied to your egeo than one’s personal relationship to Jesus? The feedback loop is clear: a belief in Jesus, a perveived slight against Jesus, an emotional response, a reinforcement of the belief in Jesus.I would like to call this Culturally-Induced Personality Disorder.http://laughinginpurgatory.blo

  29. says

    Not sure if I’m included in “the asshats” here, but I should say that I in no way disagreed with the idea that scientists should be aware of their biases, or at least that they have them. I’m in the process of training to be an educational researcher, and that’s a big thing the teaching staff press on us. While it is arguably of more importance in social science, it’s also important in ‘hard’ sciences, especially when they intersect the social sphere.On that note, another point applicable to the specific case (gender analysis, for want of a better term) is the fact that the ‘hard’ scientists involved often seem to ignore, or be ignorant of, the social impact of their results. It could just be the media reporting it who cause that effect, though; there’s less social impact in a journal article, and the person who reports those findings in a more popular source ought to be cognisant of such issues.

  30. jimmyboy99 says

    As a devout christian, I once got pretty out of hand with an atheist who said god did not exist – because…how could she know what my experiences were? And I ‘knew’ I’d ‘met’ god.Easy bit of logic. Till I opened my eyes just a squidgen.

  31. says

    I already mentioned my country’s first-ever sociobiology debate, which happened this year. A lady published a letter criticising the evolutionists for suggesting that men are and/or desire to be more promiscuous, whereas, she said, human biology points to a greater female capacity for multiple partners. So it does, indeed, although this is only politically correct here if pointed out by a woman. As an amateur evolutionist I have never thought otherwise for a moment; Tom touched on this too. The populariser who said that evolutionary psychology points to female fidelity contra male opportunism therefore wants a good kicking.

  32. says

    I just finished reading Outliers where Gladwell discussed an insult study [I think at Michigan, but I’m too lazy to check] and was not surprised to find that there are cultures that are insult prone. I come from one and I often find that I go from zero to RAGE when I perceive an insult [and then have to talk myself down to reality] although I am generally a very nice person. Or at least not homicidal. In that, and with spanking [a practice I ABHORRED as a child and now as a parent and am still stunned that people use on their children], it seems as if it is difficult to move from the personal to general. I know it is true for me.

  33. Pablo says

    Jen – whenever I hear the “Oh I did X and it turned out ok” justification for something, I ask, “I know people who drove drunk and survived, too. Does that mean drunk driving is ok?”The worst example I ever encountered of this issue was on a forum for expecting parents, where one of the moms lamented that she was having trouble quitting smoking. Another mom pipes in, “That’s ok, I smoked all the way through my first pregnancy and everything turned out just fine.”Yes, someone actually seriously defended smoking during pregnancy.It’s a misunderstanding of statistics, for the most part (statistics are a bulk phenomenon, and an individual result is only one part of a sample)

  34. John Small Berries says

    While my comment was intended in jest (a huge clue would have been the opening, in which I indicated – in Jen’s own words – that I was engaging in just the very sort of behavior she was complaining about), and while I personally deplore violence, I do feel obliged to point out that violence is not necessarily always ineffective.Regarding your fallacy of argument from authority, there are quite a few economists who are strongly in favor of war: Milton Friedman (deceased), Bruce Bartlett, Thomas Sowell… the editorial staff of The Economist magazine… and sometimes not even as a last resort, but in lieu of diplomacy. So asking “any” economist might not provide the support for your claim that you seem to be expecting.That aside, from a non-economist’s point of view, the fairly egregious example of the unspeakable violence done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki would seem to have been an extremely efficient and effective means of resolving the conflict with Japan.Again, I find violence distasteful, but I don’t let my personal aversion to it blind me to the fact that it can sometimes be very brutally effective.

  35. John Small Berries says

    but in the real world most so-called “science” is shit.Indeed? Please name three such examples and explain the in many more instances than you might be willing to accept, anecdotal evidence is just as valid as “science.”Again, please name three such instances, and explain why in each case the uncorroborated anecdotal evidence should be given more weight than a controlled, reproducible scientific study.

  36. Ada Bjorns says

    You make one assumption that is ill advised and that is regarding reproduction. By stating that women have babies you are inferring that women who can’t have babies(due to various circumstances. Accidents, birth defects, and so on) aren’t women. If they are not women, and I would take a gander you wouldn’t say that they are men, would you then call them all freaks?Even chromosomes aren’t the absolute rule of what sex you are as scientists have found genes that try to regulate sex, but can be switched causing the body to actually switch sex(which apparently it does in a rather disturbing manner in the animals tested, the ovaries inside the animals started forming into testicular tissue).What does control the human being(mentally and physically) is in many ways how the hormones interact with us. A man devoid of testosterone would actually have more in common with a woman, even more so if he were to take estrogen. Even muscle size and fat placements would be controlled by the lack of testosterone. Increase estrogen and the man would have the fat distribute to female centric areas(hips and breasts).

  37. says

    “Scientific studies aren’t saying that all southerners are homicidal maniacs. Though you know, getting angry at a perceived insult doesn’t exactly help your cause…”I respectfully disagree. All southerners are homicidal maniacs. If not because of Southern Honour, then because of having to deal with people daily who have Southern Honour.

  38. says

    Thanks. I was about to stop posting. Because each commenter quickly ignored that I actually cited a real scientist (Anne Fausto-Sterling), who has done an extraordinary amount of work in this area. As cb points out, even a small incidence of intersex folks like hir brother-in-law call into question that a sex binary is an appropriate way to evaluate human bodies. The problem is that there is actually a much larger incidence of intersexuality than the scientitific community is willing to admit, so they have (over the centuries) continued to limit what they’ll call “intersex” (or, in former years, “hermaphroditic,” not a term to be used here), artificially shrinking the numbers. (Btw, this is discussed in Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body.) From the Intersex Society of North America : “Here’s what we do know: If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.” The most telling statistics: Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female: one in 100 births. Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance: one or two in 1,000 births. Those are crazy large numbers to ignore.And cb is right; scientists do need to realize that when they study human bodies, those bodies are human beings, who live in a culture. And I would add another thing they should keep in mind: that they’re studies are not just always biased, but entirely EMBEDDED in a cultural context. Fausto-Sterling, in discussing the study of the corpus callosum, uses the metaphor of macrame knots, arguing that any scientific interpretation is dependent on and linked to knowledge already constructed: cultural, social, and scientific knowledge. Further, she argues that social decisions precede scientific ones: “If we were to reach social agreement on the politics of gender in education, however, what we believe about CC structure wouldn’t matter. […] Choosing a scientific path acceptable to most, and littering that path with agreed-upon facts, is only possible once we have achieved social and cultural peace about gender equity. Such a view of fact formation does not deny the existence of a material, verifiable nature; nor does it hold that the material—in this case the brain and its CC—has no say in the matter.” Science is interpretation. Further, I’m not talking *just* about junk science, here, and neither is F-S. All science is culturally embedded interpretation. Which is not to say it isn’t often useful (you won’t see me turning down vaccines or a Hawking book), but when we use it to genitally mutilate infant bodies for the sake of “correcting” them, or to suggest that women are not as smart as men, recognizing that these suggestions come from a culturally embedded interpretation, not HARD FACTS from OBJECTIVE OBSERVATION, can make it easier for us to move past those cultural downfalls.

  39. DJ says

    I specifically did not mention women in regards to reproduction for the very reason that you state, I assumed nothing and definitely made no statements about any one person in this world being a freak (we all are!). I only spoke of the male capacity for reproduction as an objective way of differentiating men from women to counter the argument that men and women are all on a continuum of sexuality with only culturally ‘constructed’ ideas about sexual differences separating them. If you have evidence that, in a naturally reproducing population, at least a small percentage of men (those with XY chromosomes) can conceive a child, then the idea that the distinction between men and women is a construct would hold water. I won’t hold my breath.The people who discriminate against individuals, for what ever reason, are the true ‘asshats,’ not those of us who offer another perspective to a comment made on a blog. Though I do enjoy wearing an ass as a hat sometimes :O

  40. Julie says

    Oooh! I love the, “I’m a parent so I know better than you” argument! Hey anony, ever considered the possibility that you’re just a bad parent?

  41. says

    Regarding spanking: several studies have actually shown that spanking, in some situations, doesn’t yield negative effects. Spanking also doesn’t yield particularly positive effects (although one recent study hints that it might in some circumstances), which is why the vast majority of psychologists recommend using other forms of discipline with a better track record. Still, a lot of the uproar over the evils of spanking have sprung from studies criticized for failing to control for different circumstances for spanking (yanking up a child and spanking them is different than calmly explaining to a child that they’ve exhausted their warnings and will now receive a spanking as punishment), for failing to control for personal factors in families that spank, and for implying causation where there is merely correlation. In other words, science is not conclusive on the subject of spanking–but errs, rightly, on the side of caution.I’m pointing this out because in a post about how important science is in reducing our biases, it’s also important to understand that science can just as easily be used to reinforce our biases. For one, scientific studies can be (and have been) conducted in such a way that the results are necessarily skewed because the methodology was biased. Calling it “science” doesn’t necessarily make it purely scientific or correct. After all, there is a field called “creation science” which most of us would consider an oxymoron. For another, selecting studies that reinforce your bias–while ignoring or failing to seek out studies that might contradict your opinions–can create further blind spots. Particularly in areas where the jury is still out, having a comprehensive understanding of the existing information on the subject is vital to further, and hopefully more conclusive, study.I’ve always liked this quote by physicist Richard Feynman: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” Science that fails first to be skeptical of one’s own biases is not very good science.

  42. says

    I’m a long way from Mexico, have never been there and didn’t know that. So an honestly innocent question: are you talking alcoholic drinks for toddlers? If so, what effect does alcoholic pacification of rowdy children have? Better than Ritalin or worse? Another one: how does the incentive structure work there? I mean, we all know lots of supposedly adult people who would be delighted to discover that being loud got them free drinks. In my country a barman who served a small child tequila would go to jail. Moreover, all corporal punishment of kids is a crime. It is my observation (as a non-parent) that the only sanction available to a harassed parent here is bribery: if you do X, or stop doing Y, you can have your Saturday treat today. Result is that kid fails to do X or continues to do Y in the blissful knowledge that he will get his Saturday treat today anyway, worst-case after a bit more acting out. In consequence they seem to get their Saturday treats every day, and we have probably the world’s highest chocolate consumption and USA-level figures for child obesity. How about a double-blind scientific study of kids brought up with no mode of parental influence other than the chocolate Danegeld? I submit that there’s no point comparing spanking with some hypothetical perfect parental sanctions, only with the other ones actually available. May not be around to see any replies, going on holiday tomorrow (Vulcan volente), so have fun with this and other things!

  43. mybabysweetness says

    all that said, there is no reason not to question a scientific argument because all evidence that you have personally seen to the contrary would suggest that it’s not correct (i.e. generally not a sample size of one). Like it was ok for Gallileo to say the world is probably not flat and the sun does not revolve around us. I know we’ve all believed that for a long time and it’s the accepted scientific theory, but I’m thinking it’s wrong…Or, considering there have been multiple studies on spanking which generally don’t tend to agree with each other (like any child rearing study – ask 4 people and get 5 answers), I can see how people would question the results – esp. if their personal experience does not agree with them. (That said… I tend to agree with the latest studies.)

  44. friendlytheist says

    I concur with your observation, and would like to throw in a few more element. First, in France, food is (or was) a social thing. This is getting lost, but until recently, meals were always taken in the context of a social interaction (in family, with friends etc). You were considered a very wretched person if you had to eat alone. It gives meaning and structure to the way you’re consuming it. Then, before the generalization of junk food, food itself was perceived as meaningful: due to France’s culinary tradition, many dishes are emotionally linked to a specific place and to a tradition that they’re meant to be eaten at a given time of the day or of the year or in a certain way etc. This again helps structure the meals and makes bingeing less likely. Then again, said secular culinary tradition ensures that traditional dishes won’t be likely to cause serious harm. If people have been thriving on the same few dishes for centuries, it’s not very likely that said dishes will cause serious harm. An example of that is the traditional extensive use of duck fat for cooking in the southwest of france. Nutritionists were of course crying fool, until it was ultimately discovered that duck fat actually has a protective effect on the heart.

  45. friendlytheist says

    *personal anecdote mode* I’m a Christian myself, and the only time I got seriously riled by an atheist was when he insisted that “Jesus never existed”. My irritation wasn’t related to religious dogma but rather to historical accuracy: there is no serious dispute that some Jewish preacher and healer called Yeshua existed in the first century and that he was most probably crucified; I was mad that my atheist friend would not acknowledge this quasi-undisputed historical fact. I heard the same friend say repeatedly that God did not exist, but I honestly didn’t feel bad about it at all; I just thought he was entitled to have his own beliefs, just like I was entitled to mine. My limit would have been his being insulting, which wasn’t the case, he was merely stating an opinion.

  46. acce245 says

    Sure, women can have children, but they can not do so without men. Yes, women must carry the child, but typical women can by no means impregnate themselves. If you are unable to distinguish this point as making men and women fundamentally different, then you are supporting the point the blogger made that states that certain people have problems doing so.

  47. says

    Wow! I’ve been following your blog since the boobquake-thing, and I really enjoy every post, but this is by far the best!I love it!!!

  48. says

    Yeah, you have to love the defensive southern culture. I have family there, and they’re pretty much the exact stereotype.Anyway, love your blog! Reading it finally gave me the push I needed to start my own. You can check it out at [/shameless plug]~R~

  49. Momma Imp says

    Do you have children? If not, how can you really judge if they are a bad parent or not? And if you do. Would you really want someone saying the same of you? Because almost every parent thinks that they are the best parent in the world while others suck. As far as studies go the findings can always be skewed to support one side or another. One will always find studies to support their views. The problem with mass studies is they don’t really focus on the individual but a mass number. And it is the individual that really matters. I am a southern born and bred. I don’t get offended when such studies as mentioned above) come out. Because I know it is a mass generalization. If anything my time as a Biologist has taught me that. Meanwhile, what I do get upset about it people assuming something of a person when they do not know them personally or had the experiences that they have had or are having.I don’t consider myself a bad parent. I have had to spank my child before, it is not something I take glee in and it is not my first method of punishment. Now people may think what they like of me but that gives me just as much free rein to think my own foul thoughts of them. In my experience, people that say they will never or have never spanked their child either do not have children or they have the very rare completely easy going child, which is very rarely any child between the ages of 3 and 5. Most children between these ages are starting to explore their independence , have more energy than they possibly know what to do with and don’t tend to understand consequences, such as this action might cause me great bodily harm. And if people still think that I am a bad parent because of my disciplinary methods. Then they are more than welcome to my house and care for my 3 yr old for a week 24 hrs a day. I would personally like to see how long it would take before before they lost their tempers. It is quite different when it is your own and you can’t give it back to the parents at the end of the day.

  50. says

    Part of the problem is that people get confused between abusive and non-abusive smacking. The chain goes something like smack => violence => abuse. Sometimes this is true. Other times, it is false. It’s a bugger.Kids injure themselves. A lot. Usually with skinned knees or twisted ankles. Occasionally quite badly with broken bones. It’s part of growing up.Discounting exceptional and unambiguous examples of child abuse, your typical ‘smack’ won’t do nearly as much pain or tissue damage to a child as the child will do to themselves on a fairly regular basis. So the distinction between an abusive smack and a non-abusive smack can’t be do do with simple pain or tissue damage. It’s more to do with the emotional payload that comes with the smack.Even a light smack can be abusive if it is vindictive and the parent takes pleasure in it.A harder smack can be non-abusive if the parent is restrained and not lashing out.It’s a bugger of a distinction. I think the inclination to prohibit all smacking is incorrect in that it cannot take into account these distinctions in an objective way and still remain useful as a prohibition. But at the same time… With subjective hindsight, non-abusive smacking when justified would have been better than no smacking at all – but no smacking at all would have been better than a mixture of abusive and non-abusive smacking, which is what I actually got.So there is a legitimate point to be made in the condemnation of all smacking. Better is the enemy of best.

  51. says

    I think I love you. j/kAbsolutely spot on. If you haven’t, look into a book called Crimes Against Logic. Sounds like your cup of tea. (It was written by a brit too)

  52. user.php?id=56472 says

    Thank you for this article. Your blag is a diamond in the rough. I can’t believe it took me so long to stumble across it. I will be regularly reading here now.It is very refreshing to see cited sources and unbiased (at least, not noticably biased) opinions.

  53. Patrick says

    Many very good points, but you treat Science as totally infallible, which is a bit of a mistake – many of these sociological studies you have researched may have been based on insubstantial or outdated evidence, in that the sample population may have been numerically insufficient to accurately analyse the population as a whole (how many southerners were studied to create the ‘Southern Sense of Honour’) or that the social situation has changed significantly since the study took place.All the same, good post and a good read.

  54. brickhat says

    This is dumb and gay. I was unsympathetic from the first sentence. You sound like a really annoying. I’m going to go look at your other posts to see just how much I hate you.

  55. Nicole says

    While I appreciate the point you’re trying to make, the way you have tried to make it has you sounding like a total jackass. Get your head out of your ass, swallow your pride, and accept it when someone argues with you. You aren’t always right. In fact, I noticed a lot of really ignorant things said in this article based on really, really shallow research. Be more understanding, delve deeper with your research, take a “chill pill” and then rewrite this article.

  56. says

    An Iowan, an Oregonian, a New Yorker and an Atlantan are riding in a van. The Iowan looks under the seat, finds an ear of corn, and throws it out the door. “Why did you do that?” the others ask.”Oh, corn is everywhere you look in Iowa, no getting away from it. I even see it in my dreams. I can’t stand it!”Presently the Oregonian looks around and finds a potato. He cracks open the door and throws it out.”What was that for?” the others ask.”Man, in Oregon you can’t roll out of bed without stumbling over potatoes. Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, nothing but potatoes, potatoes, potatoes!”They ride on. Presently, the Atlantan opens the door and throws out the New Yorker.

  57. acce245 says

    While I appreciate the point you’re trying to make, the way you have tried to make it has you sounding like a total jackass. Get your head out of your ass, swallow your pride, and actually make a point. You aren’t always right. In fact, I noticed a lot of really ignorant things said in this reply based on absolutely nothing at all. Be more understanding, actually cite something, take a “chill pill” and then consider rescinding and apologizing for your post.

  58. Sam says

    While these findings are illuminating and convincing, you’re still basing these conclusions using faulty mechanics in evaluating statistical evidence.For example, the general population isn’t bifurcated into people under the auspices of corporal punishment and non-corporal punishment. There’s obviously going to be a difference between domestic violence and mild spanking, anyone can tell you that. The mere fact that these are being compared as absolutes is a faulty assumption and will affect any correlation that’s established between the two variables.And as a final thought, correlation DOES NOT indicate causation. This is a principle that’s illustrated best through corollaries which exist alongside the initial theory that are not provided for using statistical evidence. Most likely, the issue is one of other factors which are not considered, such as economic class or parental status.People that continue to establish that corporal punishment yields social delinquency need to proffer more substantial evidence than a simple correlation. Any monkey can tell you not to hit your kids.

  59. unbound says

    Sorry to burst your bubble. But statistical “evidence” is simply observation too. The statistical studies are very good types of observation, but they are still only observations. Although you are being rather smug in ignoring the actual evidence of someone that smoked regularly not getting cancer, you are actually guilty of acting in a very non-scientific manner.Go back to the basics of the scientific method. Postulate your theory, collect evidence that is *against* your theory, modify your theory and continue to test. Only in recent times (due largely to laziness of “scientists”) have theories that point to trends been accepted as science. If you have 60 people out of a hundred that exhibit a problem, you actually have 40 people that demonstrate your theory is *wrong*. You are *supposed* to refine your theory until the theory can be *consistently* observed to work *all of the time*.Take the studies you are so proud of in this post, scrub out references to the specifics, and take it to a statistics professor. The professor will laugh at you if you were to claim that it proves anything. You have a trend that demonstrates correlation…but you have a *lot* of work to demonstrate an actual working theory.And, for the record, I hold science in the highest regard. I just understand enough about statistics to know that the types of studies you are pointing to aren’t actually science.

  60. gmr says

    i’m a scientist. i’d like to say that science is almost never the impersonal, infalliable, utterly non-human thing that you seem to perceive it to be. scientists are human, they have biases, and they have people who are paying them. the ideal is to be able to trust everything that comes out of the scientific establishment, but you’d be surprised to see what comes out of even strictly peer reviewed and refereed journals sometimes.

  61. drjayesh says

    Hi…. great post, and a great discussion illustrating all the grey areas between “hard science” and “opinions”. I am a surgeon, and an MBA, and the one thing common in studying both the fields was the widespread ambiguity and how to deal with it. Its surprisingly hard and unintuitive. Thus we have people who will not recognize any human body as anything other than a man or a woman (except freaks). And then there are those who claim the whole concept of Man and Woman is an artificial construct that society has imposed, thus proving the blog’s original point about the reluctance to accept reality.Great post, great discussion . Stumbled here per chance, but will read this page regularly from now on. Thanks

  62. Andy Anderson says

    Some day you will learn that scientist are paid by grants which expect a prescribed outcome. They are set on task to prove an opinion and handing over data contrary to the opinion of the granter, is a good way to be unemployed. Thus all those global warming scientist caught hiding contrary evidence of cyclical change cause by nature, the sudden fat studies released in droves now that liberal wish to tax people who are fat etc… Science is no longer science, it is no longer grounded in objective review of facts but biased by the money that pays for it’s existence.

  63. Terry says

    This whole post made a lot more sense when I read you’re taking a Social Psychology class. Keep on drinking the kool aid, honey; we’re not as interested in your regurgitated ideals as you seem to think.Applying the dubious label “science” to something doesn’t make it analogous with “fact”. Some of the examples you used referred to very subjective topics, and although I’m sure you felt some very science-y studies went on, statistics can easily be used to prove almost anything, and taking for granted that their conclusion is an undisputed truth is a very dangerous thing.

  64. says

    I really like statistics with just one or two examples. My 43 years of life experience with two heavy traffic accidents just showed me that I’m immortal.

  65. says

    I take it you’re aware that there are cycles to the climate record because of the published work of climate scientists, yes? Those pesky scientists, hiding away their dirty little secrets by publishing them in distributed science journals. So crafty.But I’m breaking the cardinal rule of DNFTT. Why do I bother?Did a few ‘alternative’ blogs link to this article or something? In the last day or so it seems like there’s been a plague of cranks flooding in. If plagues can flood. Perhaps they can’t. I’m just saying, there’s been a lot of them. It’s suspicious.

  66. Merdril says

    Well well well, what do we have here? This is rather a lengthy and unnecessary debate, in my opinion (I have a distaste for talking about subjects that have already been discussed and generally zero-sum arguments; I was also spanked as a child. I wonder if there’s a relation between those two?). Something that must be considered before engaging in a debate like this is: has this already been discussed at length before? And if so, how recently was it?Would it not be conceivable that such debates took place on multiple-levels when science began overtaking religion in explaining the natural world? Would it not be conceivable that upon the discovery of many basic scientific axioms (Newton’s Laws, Darwin’s Theories, Einstein’s Equations [thanks to the work of scientists like Snell, Maxwell, Kepler, and too numerous others that allowed the derivation of such basic laws], and possibly experiments at CERN and other LHCs) that such debate took place? Would it not be possible that society brought up this topic again on the advent of scientific debacle (look at the global warming letter scandal)?When something emerges as accepted in the scientific community, it does not come about simply because one study found a relationship, or one experiment proved a hypothesis. Many studies or experiments must be performed before anything is accepted in the scientific community. The proof of one scientist or the disproof of another scientist is not enough to say that some theory is right or wrong. Likewise, this article is perfectly correct in saying “Your Personal Opinion does not Trump Scientific Studies.” The reason is not because it is science and thus it is correct. The reason is that the theory or idea in question has gone through rigorous verification processes to ensure that it is correct (as correct as possible with the limitations of current science).As far as gender differences between man and woman and the spectrum of humans in between. Science is not ignoring the outliers (if you hold that belief, then you do not read enough scientific journals). Gender is simply a classification; it goes without saying that in any field of science there are ALWAYS exceptions. I do not know how much I can stress ALWAYS, because that seems to be where the root of the argument on this board began. Yes, there are humans with both and neither reproductive sets of organs, there are humans with partially developed sexual organs, there are humans with androgynous bodies which may lean more towards one gender than another (or just sit right in the middle), there are humans where hormones do not function as they do for the masses, and so on. Humans are diverse; the fact does not create the need to revamp the gender system.Gender is simply a convenient way to break-up that spectrum as best as possible. Substantial scientific research is being conducted to understand the humans in the middle of that spectrum, but I highly doubt that the gender system will be changed as a result of those investigations. Perhaps there will be a “middle” sex, as in Female, Middle, Male, but any further categorization will be playing into sentiments and needlessly disorganizing the system.This article also italicizes a very important phrase, “on average.” This is the same as saying “not everyone;” I have read countless exchanges on this thread as to why someone is wrong because a study says this, only to be rebutted by another comment which cites another study. There are ALWAYS exceptions, and statistically speaking, there exists a certain combination of samples which, when put through the scientific method (which itself was devised with the consensus of many soon-to-be scientists), will generate evidence that seems to disprove conventional scientific research and/or public belief. This is why the scientific community conducts myriad tests to determine whether some suggested evidence is accurate.In short; one, two, three, or maybe many more studies are not enough to prove or disprove an idea (that is if there is a proportionally larger amount of accepted research). Anecdotal evidence is NOT proof (and not counter-evidence), but like the article said, it introduces new hypotheses for study. If a person remarked that he (don’t do it grammar Nazis, it’s not my fault the English language does not have a gender neutral pronoun that refers to humans) witnessed the air right in front of him turned into gold, that does not mean that string theory is true. Likewise, personal experiences that contradict scientific truths (truths are not the same as laws in the scientific world. For example. If you have a bias against the Law of Conversation of Energy, I honestly do not know what to say to you. Until any breakthrough occurs in cross-universal energy exchanges, the Law is infallible for most scientific exploration (as string theory and molecular physics continues to evolve, I am more hesitant to use the word ALWAYS except to say that there are ALWAYS exceptions. ALWAYS) are not a counter-example, they are merely the proof that there are ALWAYS exceptions. ALWAYS.Summing up. Spanking your kids may or may not help them. Conventional wisdom varies from country to country (my country ON AVERAGE adopts a spare the rod, spoil the child approach) and scientific research is divergent. Gender differences are existent but there are exceptions as ALWAYS. Perhaps our gender system will be proven in the future as erroneous as the geocentric theory, but for now it “works.” I read science articles every day ranging from memristors to aerogel to more intelligent AI pathfinding algorithms to radio waves traveling faster than light to the first large scale experiment to test Darwin’s UCA theory and so on and so forth. I do not accept them with the enthusiasm of a 7 year old getting a box of Lego nor do I reject them with the finality of a catholic nun. I “cautiously accept” them, that is to say I believe the research to be plausible. But, as I have not the time nor the capability to experiment in all different fields of science (as humans, none of us have that ability) I must “cautiously accept” their work and wait to see what becomes of it. To finish, I will leave with a quote, “There is no such thing as ‘right,’ the very concept needs to be replaced with ‘progressively less wrong’.” – Paul GrobsteinWith this quote in mind and my comment, perhaps you will see why I think the comments to this article were pointless.

  67. Al says

    Although in many way I do agree with you basic idea that personal anecdotes don’t qualify as evidence, I find it hard to agree with your examples. Most them seem to come from what is often called “social science.” Social science doesn’t qualify as the same level of ‘proof’ of anything as does the so called ‘hard sciences.’ Just thought that distinction needed to be drawn. Overall a good article though!

  68. Guest says

    The funny thing is not that the comments to the article were pointless but that most of the comments (including Merdril’s bloviated response) missed Jen’s point of being frustrated with people refuting scientific studies with anecdotal stories or a biased opinion based solely on religious, provincial, or political beliefs.

  69. brandon says

    i agree that science is a great tool to reduce biases and get straight to the facts. but alot of time experiments can skew data and in some cases show the exact opposite of reality. for example the famous double slit quantum experiment. just the mere act of observing an otherwise natural accurance completely changed not just numbers or data but an objects physical state. so if this is happening to the elementary particles that are responsible for literally everything then you cant deny the facts that it will happen in other “experiments.” so all im saying is dont instill complete faith in your surveys and psychoanalysis for the only true reality is experience.

  70. Introbulus says

    Hey Jen, I hate to say it, but that chart you’re using is not very good. I mean, it shows a definite change in behavior based on Insult in a single group, but the problem is we have no way of determining the scale of that change. All we have are even numbers, 2 through 14 (and zero), showing us an increase, but no explanation for what those numbers are. I’d like to know if its a percent, or the number of aggressive outbursts that took place. I know this isn’t a scientific paper, and you’re not trying to make it be one, but for backing up an argument, a greater level of detail is always appreciated. Not that I disagree with the overall article, mind you. I agree that anecdotal evidence is rarely a trump to real science. I think the reason people see it as such relates to how people interpret information. Most people, when being told a piece of information from word-of-mouth, would probably take all information on an equal basis-that is, they would take an anecdote on the same level as scientific data. In fact, they may actually attribute MORE validity to the anecdote because they were present for the event, and therefore have seen it happen, whereas they have no prior experience with your scientific explanation, and even though the evidence you present may be compelling, they might not measure it as such because they are unaware of this scientific backing. This can also hold true for news articles (not scientific articles usually) where information is distributed but rarely given any background, meaning that all information – verified or anecdotal – is treated the same.

  71. Introbulus says

    The only problem with this example is that it is a very, very specific example of science; in fact, it itself is anecdotal. The majority of scientific experiments usually go a long way towards verifying reality. The fact that experiments often lead us to observe something that we did not realize before doesn’t mean that they show the opposite of reality; if the experiment is well-designed, and not skewed on purpose, then it usually means that we simply are not perceiving reality in the right way. You refer to the more recent subatomic particle double-slit experiment. I refer you to the less-recent gold foil experiment. It was once believed that atoms existed as a a sort of shapeless mass, in which many small particles floated. This “Plum Pudding” model as it was called was tested by firing particles through a very, very thin strip of gold foil. It was expected, based on the atomic model at the time, that most of the particles would fly right through. Instead, there was a wide array of deflection; far more than had been expected. Based on that, we arrived at the model of the atom that we know today. You can read more about it here:…In the case of the quantum double-slit experiment, the fact that “Observing the particles changes the result” is not experimental skewing; it is, in fact, part of the result. It is as if you were to throw an apple over your shoulder, and if you kept walking forward, it would not splatter on the ground, but if you turned around, it would. The fact that it flies in the face of what we know as reality today does not mean it is invalid – it means we need to examine it further and figure out WHY that happens.

  72. Introbulus says

    It’s worth noting that while social science results tend to be more interpretive than solid, the fact that these experiments still yield predictable results, and the fact that she is trying to provide proof for arguments made in social situations, means that using social science experiments is probably far more appropriate than using more solid science results. And yes, I did use a solid science example below in my own argument. This was meant to set up an explanation for science in general, and to better relate it to the example given by the person whom I replied to. Like I said, it makes sense given the context of the subject.

  73. Introbulus says

    …I cannot even begin to imagine what sort of stereotype this is supposed to represent. A kool-aid drinking social psychologist? So like someone who’s into child psychology?

  74. Introbulus says

    If you suspend the plague in a liquid environment, it could flood. Though you’d need quite a lot of it, and at that point it would probably be easier to distribute in a semi-gaseous state.

  75. brandon says

    it probably was not the best example, however i was not referring to one incident the experiment has been done thousands of times with several particles

  76. Fellow Southener says

    Ha ha! You, sir, are correct. Try being an atheist liberal democrat science and evolution believing no spanking parent in the South! (whew)I expect to be dragged from my home one night to get tarred and feathered…

  77. Merdril says

    Thank you for summarizing the article in your comment. Despite the ability to analyze information on multiple levels that makes us human, I, and almost everyone else here on this thread, missed Jen’s point and you are one of the chosen few who were able to understand this straightforward article. I now see the folly in my comment.I appreciate your taking the time out of your busy day to read my boastful, windily, and pompous response that revealed my cynical bias towards science. My intention was to respond to a series of comments that obviously understood the article but I believed to have engaged in a zero-sum argument as to the true purpose of science. It was also my intention to remain objective and direct in my response, and I believed that my use of repetition and examples to support my opinion (as hypocritical as an objective opinion may seem) helped keep my entire response directed towards my goal, but clearly I failed at the attempt.Despite the fact that it should have been clear that I was not responding to the article, but to the comments in defense of the article (which must mean I understand, and the people I am responding to understand Jen’s point), I clearly did not succeed in this goal. I thank you for opening my eyes and making me realize that the only truly relevant comments are from trolls.

  78. Introbulus says

    And I suppose I should have been clearer in my reason for the reply. My point about the experiment is that the concept is not that observation changes the experiment because it is willfully being changed, but that looking at the particles, in itself, changes the way in which they behave drastically. This is more akin to throwing an apple over your shoulder, and whether it stays intact or breaks apart is determined by whether you look back to check. Using such an experiment, in this case, to devalue the scientific process, doesn’t work, because the nature of the experiment is so far-removed from standard science that it cannot be compared. This is why I gave a more standard example that better suits the situation.

  79. Diane says

    The same could be described for peope taking biomedical medications. They feel better after taking and therefore the drugs could not be a placebo. Most people do not drink enough water to dissolve any pill that they take whether wellness or biomedical.

  80. says

    Perhaps you’re right. I certainly haven’t researched the efficacy of combined codeine (30mg) and paracetamol (1000mg) as a treatment for pain relief.That aside, I shouldn’t have to point out that the rationally evaluated prior plausibility of combined codeine and paracetamol as an effective treatment for pain relief is much greater than that of sugar water for the same purpose.

  81. Fiona says

    “And because our biology differs, it’s not insane to suggest our psychology differs.” I find it somewhat ironic that after your (very well argued) statements about personal opinions not trumping science, you make this unsupported statement. While it is all well and good to use induction to formulate an hypothesis (there are physical differences therefore there are probably psychological differences), it is just that: an hypothesis. Until you support it with evidence it has the same credibility (and should be subject to the same skepticism) as any other statement, including “Southerners are friendly”, “High-Fat diets are good for you”, and “Dinosaurs and humans co-existed”. And while it’s certainly not wrong to state an hypothesis, stating it in the way you did — at the end of an article emphasising the importance of evidence in science — seems at the very least somewhat disingenuous.

  82. says

    When it comes to differences between men and women, the experts are always the last to know. Students of 19th Century French literature could count themselves better informed on that score than savoir-vivre-less modern academics.

  83. BillinDetroit says

    “I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard “Well I was spanked, and I turned out fine!” or “I spanked my kids and now they’re little angels!””THERE are your hundreds of contrary studies. The only times I’ve known my sons to be aggressive is in the defense of others. They got exactly as many swats as they needed and not a single one more (I raised two sons on three swats.) But the youngest defended a young woman from a sexual molestation and the elder pursued a mugger who had just assaulted an elderly woman. I contend that aggression is a good thing when coupled with good moral values … a quantity your studies likely did not consider.Moreover, I’d like to postulate that a certain level of aggression is more than simply acceptable; in any except a cradle to grave nanny state, it is desirable. It is how we get and keep employment, how we create businesses, how we (even females) compete for mates … and then retain them.

  84. Tyler says

    This is the only article I’ve seen that automatically proves trolls wrong. Excellent job.

  85. says

    Very well stated article. You have no doubt noticed that, in human behavior, especially on the internet, it doesn’t matter what position you take or how well it is presented. There are many who always rush to tell you why you are wrong and their position/ideas are so much better.To aid their rant, they will read into your statements things you never said or even implied. Perhaps this is because the most popular human activity is self-deception.

  86. skeptic says

    Wait, let me get this straight. This article was written by a *feminist*. The biggest pseudo-science fraud ever purported on humanity.To be fair, you admit those flaws of feminism, mostly that they deny science where it suits them (basic facts about gender differences). But how can you still call yourself a feminist then?I’m confused? If you said libertarian-feminist, i-feminist… or some of the other branches that try to differentiate themselves from the core cooks… That would make more sense.But right now you have both scientist and feminist as your description. That’s like saying you’re a catholic priest and chief atheist author.

  87. vbux says

    Unbiased? She specifically describes herself in her “About Me” section as liberal, an atheist and feminist. Although I can appreciate her well written article, and references; it seems that her sources are very specifically chosen to support her statements. In a matter of 2 minutes, I found just as many “scientific” studies stating that “spanking” is beneficial to certain ages of children.I can appreciate the posts primary topic, specifically her reference to our need to disprove scientific studies with limited personal experiences, etc. Unfortunately, her scientific “proof” to support the claims, are tailored to fit her personal (biased) beliefs.

  88. jim sadler says

    I have a problem with this blog when psychology is considered a science. Psychology is an art and not a science. And as an art it lacks any real history of success. For example we saw many decades of people with brain disorders such as bi-polar disease treated as if they were a consequence of an emotional disorder. Sadly psychology as an art has about the same validity as judging the quality of a bongo drum concert.

  89. Bobbutts says

    Point well taken, but note that ‘scientific studies’ can’t always be taken at face value. In the real world the studies can be engineered so they return certain results to further some interest.

  90. Rootzach says

    Are you fucking retarded? Psychology is science and is a mixture of neurology and physiology.

  91. guest says

    True. More importantly, the failures of the dicks who invented all the messed up psych doesn’t invalidate the use of science in assessing the mind.

  92. another guest says

    Jim, you don’t really know what all of psychology involves, or what the difference between an art and a science are. Psychology can involve diagnoses, etc., but there is also a huge amount of research going on in the field of psychology, all of it (or at least all of it by reputable psychologists) being scientific.And may I point out that just because a science has failed in the past, it doesn’t mean it is wrong completely now. Have you any idea the amount of times all of the other sciences have failed int he past? You revamp the theory, if the evidence doesn’t support it, it doesn’t mean that the entire process wasn’t scientific.

  93. Kevin Meyer says

    I agree that personal anecdotes or histories can in no way refute experimentation and scientific study but at the same time you made a huge mistake that would bring most scientists to shame.In the “Southern Culture of Honor” segment, the rule of correlation does not imply causation was completely ignored. Scientific data shows that there is a correlation of white violent crime being higher in the North than the South but that most likely has nothing to do with some super-ego pride among the whites of the South. Jumping to conclusions that are likely faulty is just as bad to true scientists as ignoring the evidence and basing opinion on anecdotal evidence. An increase in crime rate cannot be applied as the cause of Southern white psychology without further experimentation with that exact variable in mind.

  94. Stanjam says

    What really annoys me is when people defend bad studies because they are “science” even though they are flawed. Or when people say that something is true based on a study. Really? That makes it 100% true? Could there have been a flaw? A variable you haven’t accounted for?Most of all, it annoys me when people defend science with personal anecdotes.

  95. Aegnor says

    If this would be true, than we’d still think the Earth was flat.Every great new idea starts with 1 guy’s opinion. And an opinion or hypothesis it is because there is no evidence for it. Only AFTER the study does it have evidence. You don’t research something unles you expect a certain result. “I think the earth is round…hmmm how to prove it””I think we turn around the sun…hmmm how to prove it”Opinions, personal…yet they were correct. The only thing we can be sure about, is that we’re wrong. It’s time that science understood this instead of taking itself so seriously.Just because 10 studies make an assumption appear logical, does not mean 1 person has to be wrong. Sure, the chances are that that person is, but not perse. Dear to have new ideas…Dear to dream…stop getting stuck in your own little world

  96. Nizzlethizzle says

    this was a fantastic read…. ive never read anything were all the arguments that were presented could be discredited by… reading the article…….good work

  97. says

    no cultural advancements have ever been made by someone who didn’t understand the concept of science. so even if the had ideals that were anti science. at the time they were still scientists.

  98. bored. says

    A nerdy penis comparison. That’s the only thing I’ve taken away from reading this article, and it’s comments.

  99. Dagny Taggart says

    Absolutely agreed. It’s not so much the proof of facts alone, it’s the strength of the logical conclusions drawn from the facts, and their impact on people. This seems to have neither. That aside, the south is hot. We tend to get crankier.

  100. slithersbest says

    Thanks, Courtney S.   Agreed on the sex front.  In a broader sense, the author’s statement that “the purpose of science is to reduce our biases” rings false to me.  I think the purpose of science, for the vast majority of people, is to “prove” something (including that the researcher’s unacknowledged bias is “true”).  Typically, a scientist (or a donor) has a premise that s/he/they would like to prove and they set up a test to prove it, scientifically.  Sometimes, their test (especially if peer-reviewed by other scientists who do not have the same premise & biases as the testing scientist) is bias-free and incredibly useful and accurate.  Other times, bias can affect the test scenario and/or the interpretation of results in such a way as to be misleading or inaccurate.  And so too can insufficient and ambiguous results.Several examples of the inaccuracy of science are highlighted  in the author’s post:  Why is the G-spot still such a mystery?…In summary, while I agree that science is often better than personal opinions, it is sometimes less accurate than personal experiences, which may contradict the results due to inherent testing bias / inaccuracy / insufficiency.  I’m not talking about outliers here, but for example an intersex person’s existence disproves the “science” that all human beings are either men or women, as defined by chromosome XX or XY.  Or, that the “G-spot is a myth” when one woman has it.Science is not god – scientists (and their studies) are fallible.  Generally accurate, maybe, but should not be accepted as “fact” or “bias-free” in all cases.   I can think of an easy way to skew the Northerners vs. Southerners test – what if we only asked Southerners who sported Confederate flags (on their person, vehicle or home) to participate, and Northerners who sport peace signs.  Not that the researchers did that, but without knowing more details about the study, it’s not necessarily safe to assume they didn’t.   If scientists want their studies to be understood and accepted by everyone (especially non-scientists), why don’t they clearly cite their sample size, margin of error and what they did to counteract potential biases in the study – up front?  And, perhaps most importantly, insist that reporters include these details.  “85% of all women agree with X” – no qualifications (an estimate cited as fact) – that’s what mainstream “science” reporting (especially TV/radio) is like. p.s. Cigarettes are bad for humans in a lot more ways than potentially causing lung cancer & premature death (e.g., collagen destruction = more advanced aging, reduced/impaired lung capacity = diminished endurance / ability to exercise/walk/run) – science is right on that!

  101. Eric_Rom says

    “we’re not as interested in your regurgitated ideals as you seem to think.”   And you’re reading this why??

  102. Eric_Rom says

    Indeed.  Not all studies are created equal.  Some are crap.It’s like when people justify things by saying “but it’s ART!”  Perhaps.  It can still be crap.  ‘Science’ can be crap too, until it’s repeated enough times.

  103. Eric_Rom says

    From your comment, you’re too stupid to have an opinion on this.  Go get some smarts and STFU.

  104. Rob_King says

    Firstly, you are confusing psychology and psychiatry–which is not a good start.Secondly–we have only been doing, or allowed to do, science on humans for a short while–a hundred years or so. We are not finished yet. If you are claiming we are not finished–sure, come along and help (rather than sneering). If you are saying that we cannot, in principle, do science on humans then you have to explain why we, of all the creatures, are made of magic. Good luck with that!As my gran used to say, “Children and idiots should not be allowed to see anything half finished.”

  105. Emily says

    I left this on the previous site, but I’ll leave it here unless the previous site’s been left behind: what do you, Jen, think of the findings in the spanking study in Pediatrics which show that children of mothers with no religious affiliation are more aggressive?

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