Monthly Archives: March 2007

Junk Science Causes Indigestion

Debbie says:

Via Zuzu at Feministe, I find Echidne of the Snakes, the blogger I have clearly been looking for for a long time without knowing it.

Echidne is on a crusade against junk science, and she’s really good at it. The linked posts above, both from Echidne and from Zuzu, discuss the media attention to a thoroughly minor Swedish study.

According to this study, “Our main finding is that gender equality was generally correlated with poorer health for both men and women.” Echidne not only reviews the study’s methodology, she also links to several studies with dissimilar findings.

However, just as when Steven J. Gould wrote about race and skull size, the details of this particular study are not the central point. Gould wanted to show how scientists’ preconceptions affect their results (and, by way of example, that race has nothing to do with skull size). Echidne, Zuzu, and I all want to show that media folk pick studies for reasons other than scientific quality (and, by way of example, it’s highly likely that gender equality is not bad for your health).

Consider this: Hundreds of studies are published each month in the social science literature, and only a very few of these are ever publicized extensively. How do those lucky studies get picked? Some of them are obviously important in their findings, but many are selected because they might sell more newspapers or get more television watchers glued to their sets. And I’m beginning to suspect (heh) that there is an ideological point to deciding which studies are to be given more advertising. It will not be studies which suggest that feminism is a good thing.

This has two important consequences. The first one is that the general audience obtains a biased understanding of what the studies show in general. The second one is that people like me have to spend an awful lot of time criticizing and analyzing the mispopularization of studies. It doesn’t matter how well I do that, because it LOOKS like all the studies out there are proving points for the anti-feminist side. What is urgently needed is some sort of a way of getting a more representative sample of studies into the popular debate. But this is not something the anti-feminists want to do.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden is oft-quoted for saying, “I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.” Writing this, I’m deeply resenting the way the media makes me sympathize with the people who feel that “science can’t be trusted.”

The key scientific issues of our time–such as climate change and stem cell research–and the issues of our First World daily lives–such as appropriate nutrition and effective medication–take the brunt of this idiocy. Even with clear-cut rules like those Echidne provides in another post, these things are complex and scary.

Make sure that you ignore the overall statements at the beginning of the story initially. Read down to find which measures the study actually used and how those measures correlated with each other. Think about what this might mean. Then go back and read the overall arguments and assertions and see if they actually follow from the study’s mechanical findings.

We damn well don’t need all this junk science clogging up the headlines, the news shows, and the blogosphere to confuse us further.

science, junk science, feminism, gender equality, Steven Jay Gould, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Body Impolitic

Conversation with the Comments:Is PTSD Sexy?

Laurie say

The varied comments on the photographs we discussed in Is PTSD Sexy? got me thinking about the viewers’ eyes. No matter how successful the photographer is in portraying the model or in strongly imposing their point of view, people still come to the photographs with all their history in their eyes. And that is not only their personal history but the echoes of the thousands of photographs and images they’ve seen.

Here are some of the comments:

Lynn Kendall
Of course women with PTSD are sexy.[1] They’re damsels in distress. The classic damsel in distress is being held prisoner by a monster (usually male, but sometimes an older, sexually rapacious/repressive female), and the first thing the rescuer does is take the monster’s place in her affections, then in her bed. Stockholm Syndrome in action.

I thought Lindsay made a good point in her original post: the gaze could be ironic.

Maybe (hopefully) this isn’t just lazy stereotype reinforcement but rather exploiting and exploding the stereotypes because the women themselves are contrary to our stereotypes (being combat soldiers and being female sufferers of PTSD, which I’d say we associate mostly with male Vietnam vets).

When I saw these photographs I was struck by the pain in these women’s faces. I had a very strong reaction. It so reminded me of how I felt during a prolonged period of depression and minimal self-esteem in my twenties.

I have to say it – these women’s faces look exactly how I felt during this period. I felt strong empathy and at the same time, respect. I had the unexpected feeling of acceptance of this period of my life..

If you look at the paper magazine, there’s another picture on the cover, which I found disturbing. It’s a woman wearing light-colored camouflage fatigues, backed into a corner and looking anxious. This would be a great image showing PTSD…except that she’s barefoot, and holding a dress uniform on a hanger. It looked wrong to me.

I’ve worked as a news photographer. It was a great job, but I eventually had to leave because I developed TRS (Testosterone Revulsion Syndrome). I was the only woman in the photo department.

Those shots are not ironic. They are pure misogyny.

Lynn Kendall
But there’s another thing that nagged me about that picture. She’s in uniform, yet looking lost and sad in the empty white spaces of that room. She’s in uniform — and she’s fat. The picture emphasizes her weight, makes her look uncomfortable in her body (which at this point she may be). There’s an implied narrative there:” Once she was proud, strong, and slender enough to be in the military. Now she’s broken and fat. See how horrible PTSD is! It makes women gain weight. Nothing could be worse.”

This is a comment on Women En Large from Melting Mama who is post-op gastric bypass and blogs about it. She was really impressed by Heather McAllister’s comments about the surgery in Loving Our Bodies From the Inside Out. Her reaction seems to fit with this conversation

Melting Mama said: “When I opened the first page, I was immediately saddened. I really shouldn’t – this is someone’s art, her photography, but I couldn’t help it. I immediately saw myself and many of my peers, there, in her photos. The photographer says, ‘I show the disappeared, I make the invisible visible’.”

photography, women, feminism, body image, PTSD, Iraq war, women soldiers, media, Body Impolitic