Out Of Control

To a first approximation, science is about differences between groups: if death is a major motivator for human behavior, then we should expect people who have been reminded of their mortality to act differently than people who were not. Sometimes, a group is only conceptual: if the Higgs boson exists, then when slamming two protons together there should be more photons observed in the aftermath, compared to the amount we predicted. Sometimes, we generate groups after the fact: if we plot star colour and luminosity on a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, stars naturally settle into four major groups. Sometimes, the “difference” we care about is that there is no difference at all: if a cosmetic is safe to use, then if we compare a group of people who use it to people who don’t, we should observe no difference in health. These divisions are so common that we often neglect to clearly delineate our groups: “does a daily dose of Aspirin prevent strokes?” implies that people who take Aspirin are less likely to get a stroke than people who do not.

At some point these groups must be clearly delineated, however; when they are not, a common problem in epidemiology, we lose our ability to find differences between them. Worse, fuzzy groups allow us to manufacture differences that don’t exist, say by classifying legitimate data as illegitimate “outliers” to get the results we want. This “differences between groups” metaphor is surprisingly powerful, to the point that’s a good solution to the demarcation problem. A core claim of astrology is that people differ based on the day they were born; if we divide people into those groups, yet fail to find differences, then astrology cannot be true. The Myers-Briggs personality test claims that we can divide people into specific groups, yet studies that use difference to reconstruct groups have failed to see those groups materialize.

By convention, if we are testing whether or not some change leads to a difference, we call the group we don’t change the “control” group. This group is often conceptual, thanks to frequentist statistical techniques, but that only works if the tools we use to find difference are perfectly calibrated; if they are not, the data might be biased and you’d never know. As a result, lacking a control group is considered a reason to suspect your results.

I apologize if all that was painfully obvious; I grasped these concepts way back in Junior High, well before I was legally allowed to drive. Still, I needed to type it out to convey the pain of what comes next.

[Read more…]

If At First You Don’t Succeed

Beginning in August 2017, the trio wrote 20 hoax papers, submitting them to peer-reviewed journals under a variety of pseudonyms, as well as the name of their friend Richard Baldwin, a professor emeritus at Florida’s Gulf Coast State College. Mr. Baldwin confirms he gave them permission use his name. Journals accepted seven hoax papers. Four have been published.

Does that sound familiar? It should.

The three academics call themselves “left-leaning liberals.” Yet they’re dismayed by what they describe as a “grievance studies” takeover of academia, especially its encroachment into the sciences. “I think that certain aspects of knowledge production in the United States have been corrupted,” Mr. [Peter] Boghossian says. Anyone who questions research on identity, privilege and oppression risks accusations of bigotry.

Yep, after attempting to discredit all of gender studies by publishing a fake paper in a pay-to-publish journal, and being dismayed that no-one thought gender studies had been discredited, Boghossian and crew decided to repeat the experiment, only bigger. There is a unique spin on it this time, however.

While fat activism has disrupted many dominant discourses that causally contribute to negative judgments about fat bodies, it has not yet penetrated the realm of competitive bodybuilding. The author introduces fat bodybuilding as a means of challenging the prevailing assumptions of maximally fat-exclusionary (sports) cultures while raising fundamental ontological questions about what it means to “build a body.” Specifically, he advocates for imagining a new classification within bodybuilding, termed fat bodybuilding, as a fat-inclusive politicized performance and a new culture to be embedded within bodybuilding.

Baldwin, Richard. “Who are they to judge? Overcoming anthropometry through fat bodybuilding.” Fat Studies (2018): 1-13.

That’s one of their hoaxes. But if you read it carefully, you can see a legitimate point.

Conceptually, fat bodybuilding emerged from applying that lens to a prototype: a disruptive “fathletic” event, the “Fattylympics.” The Fattylympics was an act of cultural disruption undertaken as a nonprofit community event in East London in 2012 to satirize the Olympics and offer a different take on “sport, bodies, community, [and] protest” (…). The Fattylympics ultimately relies on (Judith) Butlerian parodic performance, which has been effectively utilized as a culturally disruptive tool, especially with regard to gender/queer activism (…). Here, as Monaghan, Colls, and Evans (2015) explained, “Fattylympics illustrated the possibility of claiming a public space for resisting the dominant anti-fat ethic of sport and physical activity, constructing an alternative value set for active bodies and critically understanding the relationship between fat and health” (117).

“Baldwin” (2018), pg. 3-4

The bit about Judith Butler is pure nonsense that should have been caught during peer review, but their overall proposal is rooted in legitimate body-positive activism. Look at pictures of female weight lifters, and you’ll find two basic body types. The first has a “conventional” body type with minimal fat, not too dissimilar from Michelle Rodriguez or Ronda Rousey.

Type-1 Weightlifters, via Google Image Search.

Type-2 Weightlifters, via Google Image Search.

But there’s a second type, with the stocky barrel-chest that’s more typical of “World’s Strongest Man” events. Women like this are incredibly rare in pop culture; the only example I can think of is Zarya, and she’s a fictional videogame character. The net result is that we’re discouraging or minimizing an entire class of women because they don’t look the way we expect them to. At the same time, it’s clear body fat is not much of a factor in weight-lifting performance. So if we wanted to break body stereotypes, “fat bodybuilding” is a great choice.

“We understood ourselves to be going in to study it as it is, to try to participate in it,” Ms. [Helen] Pluckrose says. “The name for this is ethnography. We’re looking at a particular culture.”

Each paper “combined an effort to better understand the field itself with an attempt to get absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research,” Mr. Lindsay wrote in a project summary. Their elaborate submissions cited and quoted dozens of real papers and studies to bolster the hoax arguments. […]

The trio say they’ve proved that higher ed’s fixation on identity politics enables “absurd and horrific” scholarship. Their submissions were outlandish—but no more so, they insist, than others written in earnest and published by these journals.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is when you are so ignorant of what you’re ignorant of that you think you’re knowledgeable. But if you don’t know anything about gender studies, how can you tell a legitimate paper from a hoax? By doing extensive research to write a hoax paper, yet nonetheless accidentally creating a legitimate one, Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt they know jack-shit about gender studies. You will not find a better example of the Dunning-Kruger effect than that trio!

Mr. Boghossian doesn’t have tenure and expects the university will fire or otherwise punish him. Ms. Pluckrose predicts she’ll have a hard time getting accepted to a doctoral program. Mr. Lindsay said he expects to become “an academic pariah,” barred from professorships or publications.

Yet Mr. Lindsay says the project is worth it: “For us, the risk of letting biased research continue to influence education, media, policy and culture is far greater than anything that will happen to us for having done this.”

Oh, I sincerely hope the trio are made academic pariahs. I also hope they achieve enough self-awareness to realize the true reason why.


[HJH 2018-10-03]: I had plans to revise to tack on an addendum. After all, the original paper was about bodybuilding, not weight-lifting, and there’s still the obvious retort “but their goal was to fool you into making a legitimate paper, so aren’t you admitting they succeeded?”

And then I read their methodology, and I realized I didn’t have to.

Specifically, over the course of a year we wrote twenty academic papers and submitted them to significant peer-reviewed academic journals in these fields with the hopes of getting them published. Every paper combined an effort to better understand the field itself with an attempt to get absurdities and morally fashionable political ideas published as legitimate academic research. Some papers took bigger risks in this regard than others. […]

We wrote academic papers targeting (mostly) highly ranked, peer-reviewed journals in fields we are concerned might be corrupted by scholarship biased by “grievance studies.” These papers were submitted to the best journals we could find, given constraints of the journals’ aims and scopes, and then we used the feedback we received about them from editors and peer reviewers to improve them and our future papers. […]

Each paper was submitted to higher-ranked journals first and then down a line of suitable alternatives until one of the following occurred: it was accepted; it was deemed too unlikely to succeed for reasons we came to understand to continue with it; or we ran out of time.

They had twenty papers going at once, yet by their own admission they made 48 “new submissions.” It’s not clear if “new submissions” includes the original submission, so let’s be charitable and say it does. That means that, on average, each paper went through one and a half rounds of peer review. Peer review is probabilistic: reviewers can vary substantially in terms of how much effort and scrutiny they put in, so if you keep submitting a paper over and over you might get lucky and get lazy reviewers. When you’re submitting twenty papers, you make that much more likely for one of them. When you’re editing your papers according to reviewer feedback to make them better fakes, you raise the odds of that even higher. On top of that, after those edits they’d take the paper to another journal with less prestige, and presumably lower standards for peer review.

It’s like watching evolution in action. The authors kick out what they think are nonsensical ideas; since they know jack-shit about the field they’re trying to discredit, some of those turn out to be legitimate by accident, or nearly so. These do well in peer review, though from the looks of it even their best work needed a second round; it took five months to get their first acceptance, yet the median review time is about three months. Either way, the best of the bunch get edited, accepted, and then published. The failures die out or get edited until they join these “successes.”

In reality, the methodology is heavily rigged to generate “success.”

Speaking of which, let’s look at what counts as a success. Here are the articles they got published:

Wilson, Helen. “Human reactions to rape culture and queer performativity at urban dog parks in Portland, Oregon.” Gender, Place & Culture (2018): 1-20.

Smith, M. “Going in Through the Back Door: Challenging Straight Male Homohysteria, Transhysteria, and Transphobia Through Receptive Penetrative Sex Toy Use.” Sexuality & Culture (2018): 1-19.

Richard Baldwin, “Who are they to judge? Overcoming anthropometry through fat bodybuilding”, Fat Studies, DOI: 10.1080/21604851.2018.1453622, published online on 10 April 2018.

Baldwin, Richard. “An Ethnography of Breastaurant Masculinity: Themes of Objectification, Sexual Conquest, Male Control, and Masculine Toughness in a Sexually Objectifying Restaurant.” Sex Roles (2018): 1-16.

Of those four, two were retracted within days of the news coming out. That’s a damn quick turnaround! Say what you will of the peer review process, but quickly scrubbing nonsense from the scientific record isn’t what you’d expect if the field of gender studies was lax about rigor.

Er, sorry, I mean “grievance studies,” the term Boghossian et al. use. What does that term mean, anyway? Emphasis mine:

The specific problem we targeted has various names in various quarters and is difficult to pin down. Careful academics would refer to it as “critical constructivism” and/or “blank slatism” and its scholars as “radical constructivists.” (In this sense, it is the descendants of postmodernist and poststructuralist thought from the mid 20th century.) Pundits have termed it “academic leftism” or “cultural studies” and identify it with the term “political correctness.”

We prefer to call it “grievance studies” because many of these fields refer to themselves as “[something] studies” and because they operate primarily by focusing upon and inflaming the grievances of certain identity groups.

Uh, “critical constrictivism” and “blank slatism” have nothing in common with each other, and the latter doesn’t exist except as a straw. “Academic leftism” is bad, according to three self-proclaimed “left-leaning liberals?” “Political correctness” has no academic meaning at all. “Grievance studies” has as much coherence as ghosts!

Even if we steel-person the argument and go with “grievance studies” as “focusing upon and inflaming the grievances of certain identity groups,” how does promoting increased acceptance of overweight people fit under that banner? How does making men less homo- and trans-phobic via anal sex toys “focus” and “inflame grievances” in certain groups? How about observing a unique pattern of sexism in “breastaurants?” None of their published papers qualify as “grievance studies” papers, for the most charitable definition of “grievance studies,” so they cannot draw any conclusions about the rigor of that field. Even if their methodology was absolutely perfect, these three still cannot prove what they claim to.

Shit, I’ve seen ghost hunters with a more coherent world view. Is this what organized skepticism has been reduced to?!


[HJH 2018-10-04]: Looks like someone else came to the same conclusion as I did, only on a different paper:

I read the article that Hypatia accepted, “When the Joke Is on You: a Feminist Perspective on how Positionality Influences Satire.” In my opinion, if the citations are legitimate and the descriptions of others’ views are accurate (something which I am not in a position to determine at this time), the editors of Hypatia have nothing to be particularly ashamed of. Most of the twenty-page paper is a reasonable synthesis of others’ ideas about oppression and humor. It may not be groundbreaking (as one of the reviewers points out), but it is not ridiculous. It seems to me that only on the last page of the paper are there certain statements that could be interpreted as outrageous, but they are so vague that a much more charitable alternative interpretation would be reasonable. In short, assuming accurate representations of others’ views and legitimate citations, one’s opinion of Hypatia should not be affected by its publication of this paper.

Now I know some of you won’t believe me. So please, read the paper for yourself. It’s right here (look for the document titled “HOH2 Typeset”). You can also read the referee reports and editors comments here (look for the document titled “HOH2 ReviewerComments”). Let me know what you think.

As that last paragraph implies, Boghossian and friends have released their manuscripts to the public. Now you don’t have to take my word for it.

Just Checking In

As I’ve mentioned, the last month has been rough on me. The part of it all that would have had the greatest emotional impact has come and went quickly, fortunately… and surprisingly, didn’t land with a heavy blow. Part of that comes from seeing it as a possibility for months, but part of it comes from relying heavily on my favourite coping mechanism: work. More specifically, absorb myself in rich, intellectually-challenging work with a difficulty level slightly higher than I’m used to.

And hooooo boy, is that coping mechanism handy when I’m facing an unusually heavy workload. I just spent a good hour or so laying out the messages passed between a complex distributed system, and I feel like most people do after a day at the spa. Maybe better, in fact, as the glow isn’t coming from tired muscles but from an inner peace and contentment. I’m back to running on a sleep deficit, but even though I’ve barely imbibed any tea my mind feels perfectly caffeinated. All may not be right in the world, but my little slice of it is slowly being righted.

This has an unfortunate side-effect, alas. I don’t blog like most people, in fact I pretty much do the opposite of how a blog is best run. I don’t build readership by posting small little updates or links on a regular schedule, while carefully pruning my comment section; no, I tend to go for big stories on an irregular schedule, and don’t actively engage in my comment section. Unfortunately, the bits of my brain best suited for those big stories are currently swimming in proofs and system design, and loving every moment of it. Blogging the way I want to means unplugging from something I love, something keeping me sane, and even though I also love writing blog posts it’s tough to switch.

Ordinarily, I’d just put the blog in park and repost old writing and blogging. I’m just over half-way through Proof of God, and I have a few other long philosophic works on atheism that I’d love to get out there. I’ve also got a decent back-catalogue of work to shift over from Sinmantyx. But there’s also old business that I don’t want to drop on the floor: I want to weigh in on the CFI Calgary controversy, I haven’t finished with that Google memo, I have a great Boghossian post rattling in my head, and there’s still this mess to deal with. So given the choice, I’d rather devote my time to getting those written up than repackaging existing work. It means more delays, but such is life.

Besides, a hard drive died on the computer storing my main copy of Proof of God. Time for one of my patented once-a-decade OS reinstalls.

And Now For Something Completely Different

I’ve been a negative Nelly lately, haven’t I? How hate feeds into itself, why Boghossian is wrong, OMG TRUMP… I think it’s time for something more uplifting. Ever since including this link on one of the Boghossian articles, I’ve wanted to promote it to a full post. It’s Michael Kimmel talking about gender equality, and how it benefits men as well as everyone else.

Gender equality is good for countries. It turns out, according to most studies, that those countries that are the most gender equal are also the countries that score highest on the happiness scale. And that’s not just because they’re all in Europe. Even within Europe, those countries that are more gender equal also have the highest levels of happiness.

It is also good for companies. Research by Catalyst and others has shown conclusively that the more gender-equal companies are, the better it is for workers, the happier their labor force is. They have lower job turnover. They have lower levels of attrition. They have an easier time recruiting. They have higher rates of retention, higher job satisfaction, higher rates of productivity. So the question I’m often asked in companies is, “Boy, this gender equality thing, that’s really going to be expensive, huh?” And I say, “Oh no, in fact, what you have to start calculating is how much gender inequality is already costing you. It is extremely expensive.” So it is good for business.

When you know where to look, there’s actually quite a few videos in this genre. For instance, here’s Tony Porter (warning, he gets explicit about sexual assault)…

… we as men are taught to have less value in women, to view them as property and the objects of men. We see that as an equation that equals violence against women. We as men, good men, the large majority of men, we operate on the foundation of this whole collective socialization. We kind of see ourselves separate, but we’re very much a part of it. You see, we have to come to understand that less value, property and objectification is the foundation and the violence can’t happen without it. So we’re very much a part of the solution as well as the problem.

And Jackson Katz (double warning, he focuses on sexual assault)…

… there’s an awful lot of men who care deeply about these issues. I know this, I work with men, and I’ve been working with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of men for many decades now. It’s scary, when you think about it, how many years. But there’s so many men who care deeply about these issues, but caring deeply is not enough. We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women and not against them.

By the way, we owe it to women. There’s no question about it. But we also owe it to our sons. We also owe it to young men who are growing up all over the world in situations where they didn’t make the choice to be a man in a culture that tells them that manhood is a certain way. They didn’t make the choice. We that have a choice, have an opportunity and a responsibility to them as well.

But my favorite has to be Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“You should aim to be successful, but not too successful, otherwise you would threaten the man.” If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, you have to pretend that you’re not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.

But what if we question the premise itself? Why should a woman’s success be a threat to a man? What if we decide to simply dispose of that word, and I don’t think there’s an English word I dislike more than “emasculation.” A Nigerian acquaintance once asked me if I was worried that men would be intimidated by me. I was not worried at all. In fact, it had not occurred to me to be worried because a man who would be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in.

It’s easy to feel ground down by the endless parade of sexist bullshit in the news. Outrage and train wrecks tend to steal our gaze, but if you keep mindful and dig a little, you’ll find no shortage of people pushing back. Take inspiration from them, and if the time is right, join them.

He’s a Skeptic Thought Leader?

Peter Boghossian: "Why is it that nearly every male who’s a 3rd wave intersectional feminist is physically feeble & has terrible body habitus?"Some random facts about me:

  • I just measured my resting heart rate with my phone. The median value after three tries was 52 bpm. I’ve done better.
  • I checked the fitness app on my phone, and in the last week I’ve done six hours and forty-eight minutes of jogging, over 50km of distance. Some of that was in 30C heat.
  • During my fastest 10k race, my average pace was better than five minutes per kilometre. It wasn’t a chipped race, so my actual pace was better.
  • I don’t do nearly as many hikes as I used to, but back in the day I had no problem carrying more than 40 kilograms of weight over 16 km. I don’t know the exact weight, because my backpack broke my hiking partner’s scale.
  • I’m not sure of my maximum elevation gain; it was either the time I scrambled Mount Temple solo (1,600m gain over 16km distance) or during a backpack on the Rockwall (about the same gain over 29km, from the Floe Lake to Helmet Falls campgrounds). I can’t find the hiking maps I’d need to confirm the latter.
  • I learned that “argumentum ad body shaming” was a logical fallacy back in elementary school.

… Oh right, and I forgot about that solo snowshoe and x-country ski at Lake O’Hara, the one where I ran out of food and water. Some noodling with Google Earth suggests I did 30km that day. [Read more…]

Journal Club 1: Gender Studies

Last time, I pointed out that within the Boghossian/Lindsay kerfuffle no-one was explaining how you could falsify gender studies. As I’ve read more and more of those criticisms, I’ve noticed another omission: what the heck is in a gender studies journal? The original paper only makes sense if it closely mirrors what you’d find in a relevant journal.

So let’s abuse my academic access to pop open the cover of one such journal.

Gender & Society, the official journal of Sociologists for Women in Society, is a top-ranked journal in sociology and women’s studies and publishes less than 10% of all papers submitted to it. Articles analyze gender and gendered processes in interactions, organizations, societies, and global and transnational spaces. The journal publishes empirical articles, along with reviews of books.

They also happened to be at the top of one list of gender studies journals. I’ll go with their latest edition as of this typing, volume 31 issue 3, which is dated June 2017.

[Read more…]

So You Wanna Falsify Gender Studies?

How would a skeptic determine whether or not an area of study was legit? The obvious route would be to study up on the core premises of that field, recording citations as you go; map out how they are connected to one another and supported by the evidence, looking for weak spots; then write a series of articles sharing those findings.

What they wouldn’t do is generate a fake paper purporting to be from that field of study but deliberately mangling the terminology, submit it to a low-ranked and obscure journal for peer review, have it rejected from that journal, based on feedback then submit it to an second journal that was semi-shady and even more obscure, have it published, then parade that around as if it meant something.

Alas, it seems the Skeptic movement has no idea how basic skepticism works. Self-proclaimed “skeptics” Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay took the second route, and were cheered on by Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Steven Pinker, and other people calling themselves skeptics. A million other people have pointed and laughed at them, so I won’t bother joining in.

But no-one seems to have brought up the first route. Let’s do a sketch of actual skepticism, then, and see how well gender studies holds up.

What’s Claimed?

Right off the bat, we hit a problem: most researchers or advocates in gender studies do not have a consensus sex or gender model.

The Genderbread Person, version 3.3. From http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2015/03/the-genderbread-person-v3/

This is one of the more popular explainers for gender floating out on the web. Rather than focus on the details, however, I’d like you to note this graphic is labeled “version 3.3”. In other words, Sam Killermann has tweaked and revised it three times over. It also conflicts with the Gender Unicorn, which has a categorical approach to “biological sex” and adds “other genders,” and it no longer embraces the idea of a spectrum thus contradicting a lot of other models. Confront Killermann on this, and I bet they’d shrug their shoulders and start crafting another model.

The model isn’t all that important. Instead, gender studies has reached a consensus on an axiom and a corollary: the two-sex, two-gender model is an oversimplification, and that sex/gender are complicated. Hence why models of sex or gender continually fail, the complexity almost guarantees exceptions to your rules.

There’s a strong parallel here to agnostic atheism’s “lack of belief” posture, as this flips the burden of proof. Critiquing the consensus of gender studies means asserting a positive statement, that the binarist model is correct, while the defense merely needs to swat down those arguments without advancing any of its own.

Nothing Fails Like Binarism

A single counter-example is sufficient to refute a universal rule. To take a classic example, I can show “all swans are white” is a false statement by finding a single black swan. If someone came along and said “well yeah, but most swans are white, so we can still say that all swans are white,” you’d think of them as delusional or in denial.

Well, I can point to four people who do not fit into the two-sex two-gender model. Ergo, that model cannot be true in all cases, and the critique of gender studies fails after a thirty second Google search.

When most people are confronted with this, they invoke a three-sex model (male, female, and “other/defective”) but call it two-sex in order to preserve their delusion. That so few people notice the contradiction is a testament to how hard the binary model is hammered into us.

But Where’s the SCIENCE?!

Another popular dodge is to argue that merely saying you don’t fit into the binary isn’t enough; if it wasn’t in peer-reviewed research, it can’t be true. This is no less silly. Do I need to publish a paper about the continent of Africa to say it exists? Or my computer? If you doubt me, browse Retraction Watch for a spell.

Once you’ve come back, go look at the peer-reviewed research which suggests gender is more complicated than a simple binary.

At times, the prevailing answers were almost as simple as Gray’s suggestion that the sexes come from different planets. At other times, and increasingly so today, the answers concerning the why of men’s and women’s experiences and actions have involved complex multifaceted frameworks.

Ashmore, Richard D., and Andrea D. Sewell. “Sex/Gender and the Individual.” In Advanced Personality, edited by David F. Barone, Michel Hersen, and Vincent B. Van Hasselt, 377–408. The Plenum Series in Social/Clinical Psychology. Springer US, 1998. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-8580-4_16.

Correlational findings with the three scales (self-ratings) suggest that sex-specific behaviors tend to be mutually exclusive while male- and female-valued behaviors form a dualism and are actually positively rather than negatively correlated. Additional analyses showed that individuals with nontraditional sex role attitudes or personality trait organization (especially cross-sex typing) were somewhat less conventionally sex typed in their behaviors and interests than were those with traditional attitudes or sex-typed personality traits. However, these relationships tended to be small, suggesting a general independence of sex role traits, attitudes, and behaviors.

Orlofsky, Jacob L. “Relationship between Sex Role Attitudes and Personality Traits and the Sex Role Behavior Scale-1: A New Measure of Masculine and Feminine Role Behaviors and Interests.” Journal of Personality 40, no. 5 (May 1981): 927–40.

Women’s scores on the BSRI-M and PAQ-M (masculine) scales have increased steadily over time (r’s = .74 and .43, respectively). Women’s BSRI-F and PAQ-F (feminine) scale  scores do not correlate with year. Men’s BSRI-M scores show a weaker positive relationship with year of administration (r = .47). The effect size for sex differences on the BSRI-M has also changed over time, showing a significant decrease over the twenty-year period. The results suggest that cultural change and environment may affect individual personalities; these changes in BSRI and PAQ means demonstrate women’s increased endorsement of masculine-stereotyped traits and men’s continued nonendorsement of feminine-stereotyped traits.

Twenge, Jean M. “Changes in Masculine and Feminine Traits over Time: A Meta-Analysis.” Sex Roles 36, no. 5–6 (March 1, 1997): 305–25. doi:10.1007/BF02766650.

Male (n = 95) and female (n = 221) college students were given 2 measures of gender-related personality traits, the Bem Sex-Role Inventory (BSRI) and the Personal Attributes Questionnaire, and 3 measures of sex role attitudes. Correlations between the personality and the attitude measures were traced to responses to the pair of negatively correlated BSRI items, masculine and feminine, thus confirming a multifactorial approach to gender, as opposed to a unifactorial gender schema theory.

Spence, Janet T. “Gender-Related Traits and Gender Ideology: Evidence for a Multifactorial Theory.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64, no. 4 (1993): 624.

Oh sorry, you didn’t know that gender studies has been a science for over four decades? You thought it was just an invention of Tumblr, rather than a mad scramble by scientists to catch up with philosophers? Tsk, that’s what you get for pretending to be a skeptic instead of doing your homework.

I Hate Reading

One final objection is that field-specific jargon is hard to understand. Boghossian and Lindsay seem to think it follows that the jargon is therefore meaningless bafflegab. I’d hate to see what they’d think of a modern physics paper; jargon offers precise definitions and less typing to communicate your ideas, and while it can quickly become opaque to lay people jargon is a necessity for serious science.

But let’s roll with the punch, and look outside of journals for evidence that’s aimed at a lay reader.

In Sexing the Body, Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality Fausto-Sterling attempts to answer two questions: How is knowledge about the body gendered? And, how gender and sexuality become somatic facts? In other words, she passionately and with impressive intellectual clarity demonstrates how in regards to human sexuality the social becomes material. She takes a broad, interdisciplinary perspective in examining this process of gender embodiment. Her goal is to demonstrate not only how the categories (men/women) humans use to describe other humans become embodied in those to whom they refer, but also how these categories are not reflect ed in reality. She argues that labeling someone a man or a woman is solely a social decision. «We may use scientific knowledge to help us make the decision, but only our beliefs about gender – not science – can define our sex» (p. 3) and consistently throughout the book she shows how gender beliefs affect what kinds of knowledge are produced about sex, sexual behaviors, and ultimately gender.

Gober, Greta. “Sexing the Body Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality.” Humana.Mente Journal of Philosophical Studies, 2012, Vol. 22, 175–187

Making Sex is an ambitious investigation of Western scientific conceptions of sexual difference. A historian by profession, Laqueur locates the major conceptual divide in the late eighteenth century when, as he puts it, “a biology of cosmic hierarchy gave way to a biology of incommensurability, anchored in the body, in which the relationship of men to women, like that of apples to oranges, was not given as one of equality or inequality but rather of difference” (207). He claims that the ancients and their immediate heirs—unlike us—saw sexual difference as a set of relatively unimportant differences of degree within “the one-sex body.” According to this model, female sexual organs were perfectly homologous to male ones, only inside out; and bodily fluids—semen, blood, milk—were mostly “fungible” and composed of the same basic matter. The model didn’t imply equality; woman was a lesser man, just not a thing wholly different in kind.

Altman, Meryl, and Keith Nightenhelser. “Making Sex (Review).” Postmodern Culture 2, no. 3 (January 5, 1992). doi:10.1353/pmc.1992.0027.

In Delusions of Gender the psychologist Cordelia Fine exposes the bad science, the ridiculous arguments and the persistent biases that blind us to the ways we ourselves enforce the gender stereotypes we think we are trying to overcome. […]

Most studies about people’s ways of thinking and behaving find no differences between men and women, but these fail to spark the interest of publishers and languish in the file drawer. The oversimplified models of gender and genes that then prevail allow gender culture to be passed down from generation to generation, as though it were all in the genes. Gender, however, is in the mind, fixed in place by the way we store information.

Mental schema organise complex experiences into types of things so that we can process data efficiently, allowing us, for example, to recognise something as a chair without having to notice every detail. This efficiency comes at a cost, because when we automatically categorise experience we fail to question our assumptions. Fine draws together research that shows people who pride themselves on their lack of bias persist in making stereotypical associations just below the threshold of consciousness.

Everyone works together to re-inforce social and cultural environments that soft-wire the circuits of the brain as male or female, so that we have no idea what men and women might become if we were truly free from bias.

Apter, Terri. “Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences by Cordelia Fine.” The Guardian, October 11, 2010, sec. Books.

Have At ‘r, “Skeptics”

You want to refute the field of gender studies? I’ve just sketched out the challenges you face on a philosophical level, and pointed you to the studies and books you need to refute. Have fun! If you need me I’ll be over here, laughing.

[HJH 2017-05-21: Added more links, minor grammar tweaks.]

[HJH 2017-05-22: Missed Steven Pinker’s Tweet. Also, this Skeptic fail may have gone mainstream:

Boghossian and Lindsay likely did damage to the cultural movements that they have helped to build, namely “new atheism” and the skeptic community. As far as I can tell, neither of them knows much about gender studies, despite their confident and even haughty claims about the deep theoretical flaws of that discipline. As a skeptic myself, I am cautious about the constellation of cognitive biases to which our evolved brains are perpetually susceptible, including motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, disconfirmation bias, overconfidence and belief perseverance. That is partly why, as a general rule, if one wants to criticize a topic X, one should at the very least know enough about X to convince true experts in the relevant field that one is competent about X. This gets at what Brian Caplan calls the “ideological Turing test.” If you can’t pass this test, there’s a good chance you don’t know enough about the topic to offer a serious, one might even say cogent, critique.

Boghossian and Lindsay pretty clearly don’t pass that test. Their main claim to relevant knowledge in gender studies seems to be citations from Wikipedia and mockingly retweeting abstracts that they, as non-experts, find funny — which is rather like Sarah Palin’s mocking of scientists for studying fruit flies or claiming that Obamacare would entail “death panels.” This kind of unscholarly engagement has rather predictably led to a sizable backlash from serious scholars on social media who have noted that the skeptic community can sometimes be anything but skeptical about its own ignorance and ideological commitments.

When the scientists you claim to worship are saying your behavior is unscientific, maaaaybe you should take a hard look at yourself.]