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Sunday, October 10, 2004

I am for science--good science

As I figured would happen, someone managed to all but claim that I'm against psychology unless it confirms my prejudices instead of someone else's in my post below. While of course I am always delighted on that rare occasion that a study comes out that confirms my prejudices just as much as sexists are always delighted to see this week's study demonstrating that women are happier at home, better at changing diapers, inclined to stay at home rocking babies while their husbands are out making more babies, and better cooks, and that all this is a function of genetics and therefore there's nothing that those silly feminists say that will change things, well I look at the methodology either way. And usually what you'lll find is that psychologists discovered nothing more that under certain circumstances, you will get different answers out of men and women on certain quizzes.

This proves nothing about genes. All this proves is that women and men will generally answer a certain question in a certain way under certain circumstances. In Issue #24 of Bitch Magazine, there's an article by Keely Savoie about gender bias in science that deals with one study that was done showing that men have way more sex partners over a lifetime than women done by a Dr. David Schmitt, who passed out questionaires to a bunch of college students asking how many partners they had. Men claimed a lot more, and this was trumpeted as evidence that men have a genetic predisposition to sleep around more.

Get that? Because college boys claimed more partners on a questionaire than college girls, we have proof that men are genetically predisposed to sleep around (so when your husband does it, you have to accept it).

Luckily, a Dr. Terri Fisher decided to truth-check the study a little and pass out questionaires using control groups and all that other fancy-schmancy science stuff. Three groups of students were questioned about their sex lives--one group was given questionaires and assured they would be anonymous, one group had to hand the questionaires to a fellow student, and one groups was hooked up to what they thought was a lie detector. Fisher got vastly different answers from the three groups of students. The students who had to hand the questionaire over apparently were the closest in their answers to the original study--men claimed a huge number of sex partners and women very few.

When hooked up to a "lie detector" the stories changed. The men had afewer sex partners, and the women had a whole lot more. (Every woman reading this who's pushed her number down repeatedly is probably laughing.) Turned out that there wasn't a big gaping hole in the number of partners that men and women had--yep, it was roughly the same. As the writer Savoie points out, "....which is the only thing that really makes sense, since all those straight males ad to be finding their multiple female partners from somewhere."

Savoie goes on to point out that this story was spun to death in the media. Instead of headlines blaring, "Men and Women Have Same Amount of Sex", the headlines were mostly, "Women are Liars", because the media also reports these psychological studies with an eye towards reinforcing sexist stereotypes because that sells magazines. Which of course is why so many scientists are drawn to doing pointless studies using bad methodology "proving" that women are dumber, more compliant, less promiscious, bad at math, etc. Because if you publish such a study, no matter how flawed, you're getting in Newsweek and that can translate to fame and more cash. Hell, the Heritage Institute might hire you and give you a book deal, you know.

But what about studies that confirm my prejudices--do I look at them skeptically? Well, I try to. One example I can think of right off the top of my head is the studies done to demonstrate that it's women, not men, who are the hornier sex. The ones I've seen tend to emphasize biology over questionaires handed out to college kids, so at least they are measuring something directly instead of just measuring what people say, but I'm still skeptical.

The basic theory from what I've seen on TV and read in books like Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage is cobbled together from two easily observable facts--one is that women have greater sexual capacity and endurance than men (translation: multiple orgasms) and two is that when a man is separated from his mate for a time, his sperm count rises dramatically. From this, it's hypothesized that women must be the sex that wants to sleep around more, because as Savage points out, they are still hopping to go once a man has already rolled over and gone to sleep. (Not that any of us know what he's talking about, I'm sure.) As further evidence of this, men's sperm counts go up if they haven't seen their mates for awhile, which is taken to mean that their bodies are working doubletime to compensate for all the other sperm fighting theirs to impregnate their wives (all at once: Ew).

It's tempting to believe this theory, because if nothing else it explains millenia of male paranoia over female sexuality and the desire to keep women under lock and key. Still, I'm skeptical. It seems to me while the research is definitely more sound than just asking people what they think and do, it's still a lot of conjecture from not enough research. For one thing, women's greater sexual capacity and endurance might just be an accident of nature, or even the result of some inexplicable cultural training. Men's sperm counts might go up when they see their wives after an absence because their bodies might be a little eager. We're probably making something simple out to be more complex than it is.

There is one thing that scientists can point to that is easy to prove over and over and over and over again--the differences between men and women, whatever they might be, are miniscule in number compared to the similiarities. Therefore the basic default position should be that men and women are the same in area X until research proves otherwise. For instance, it seems to me that until research proves otherwise, it's safe to assume that men and women both struggle from competing desires to sleep around and to stay monogamous, and that both stifle the former to keep peace with the latter. I have never seen compelling evidence that one sex wants to sleep around more than the other--all evidence I've seen is incomplete, contaminated with cultural conditioning, and interpreted willy-nilly depending on the prejudices of the people who gathered it.

49 Comments:

Blogger Earnest said...

My girlfriend is in graduate school for Social Work at Columbia, and one of the most interesting things I've ever read is that someone attempted, in the late 1970's, to compile a survey of social research that was scientifically sound (in methodology), and there was next to nothing that could be used in the entire history of social research.

10/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took a class in evolutionary psychology back in college. On the gender topic, the professor explained that on the whole, men and women were pretty much the same. We then spent the next five weeks completely ignoring that and focused on that tiny sliver of (alleged) difference between the two.

I've found an awful lot of psychology to be pretty questionable.

Jake.

10/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems to me that it's impossible for mean men to have many more partners than mean women (or vice versa), so long as the sex balance is about 50/50 and most people are straight. It takes two to tango. Now, it's possible for the standard deviation to be higher for one sex than the other, but every time a straight man has sex, a straight woman also has sex. Same for having sexual partners.

But maybe I just don't get the arithmetic here, as it's not an obscure point and people nonetheless talk a fair bit about which sex is more promiscuous.

10/11/2004

 
Blogger Earnest said...

Consider a group of 10 women and 10 men. Suppose 7 of the men have sex with only 4 of the women. Then you have a scenario where 70% are having sex and only 40% of women. It's easy math.

10/11/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In that case, the mean number of sexual partners is the same for both. Say 3 of the women have sex with 2 men each, and one woman has sex with one man. Then the number of sexual partners that all 10 women have is (3*2 + 1), or seven. Now, none of the men who have sex have sex with more than one women, but seven of them have sex with one woman each. So, for both the men and the women, the mean number of sexual partners is the same: 0.7. Now, the women have a higher standard deviation than the men, at 2.85 for women vs. 1.45 for men, but I already said taht was a possibility above.

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A typical dictionary definition of hypnosis states that it is: a state that resembles sleep but that is induced by suggestion. However, anyone who has tried hypnosis (and any self respecting hypnotist) will tell you that this is a very simplistic view of the subject!
A much better description comes from the Free Online Dictionary which states that hypnosis is: an artificially induced state of consciousness, characterised by heightened suggestibility and receptivity to direction. So what does this mean and how can it be used to your advantage?
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