Tag Archives: Tatu Westling

Dick Size Wars in a New Context?

Debbie says:

Laurie and I are contemplating a serious post on masculinity within the next week, but meanwhile, I found

this completely irresistible:

A researcher in Finland has uncovered a strong negative correlation between average penis size of the men in a country and that country’s economic growth between 1960 and 1985. Yes, that’s right: if the men have smaller dicks, the country is doing better.

chart of penis sizes and economic growth measures

If you don’t know how to read charts like this one (called “scatterplots”), the dots represent average penis sizes in various countries (we’ll get to what data he used) and the line represents an average for all the dots on one vertical line. So as the penis sizes go up from left to right, the economic growth measures go down, which is why the line moves downward from left to right. If the correlation was “positive,” meaning that larger penis sizes linked to greater economic growth, the line would move up from left to right.

The first thing any statistics course will teach you is that correlation is not causation. I might be able to draw a correlation between number of households in my city (Oakland) who have chickens in their back yard and number of rainstorms this year, and even if I got a clearcut measure like this one, it wouldn’t mean that chickens cause or prevent rain. So the whole thing is pretty silly from the start. This is how the Freakonomics guys do their work, and why it doesn’t mean much.

That being said, it isn’t quite junk science. The research was done by Tatu Westling at the University of Helsinki. My first concern was that the whole thing was just a joke, which it doesn’t appear to be. My second concern was that he had measurements on two or three penises per country (each dot on the chart is a country, so I could see that he was claiming to represent a lot of countries). It turns out that he used a well-known and reputable data set (though I have no idea why that data set includes penis size) that covers 121 countries. His economic data also looks respectable to me.

Westling obviously has a sense of humor. The paper is worth reading for lines like “”the statistical endurance of the male organ is also found very formidable” and “Taken at face value the findings suggest that the “male organ hypothesis” presented here is quite penetrating an argument.” Not to mention the paper’s last line: “It does seem like the ‘private sector’ deserves more credit for economic development than is typically acknowledged.” He makes some not-very-convincing attempts to come up with potential reasons for his findings–but since it’s almost certainly a coincidental correlation, they feel like window-dressing, not a serious attempt to draw conclusions.

For myself, I’m just charmed by the idea of men all over the world whipping out their dicks and worrying about whether or not they’re too big. It would certainly be more amusing (and possibly more fruitful) than the dick-size wars going on in Washington and Brussels right now.