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Were These Well-Known Gender Studies Just Made Up?
The researcher behind some well-known gender studies is accused of making them all up.
Nicolas Guéguen is a psychologist who publishes lots of gender studies that seem uniquely appropriate to the internet era. They traffic in catchy, off-kilter social psychology subject matter that practically begs for a click, such as Time's “Science Proves It: Men Really Do Find High Heels Sexier." (Did you just click that headline? Lord knows a lot of people did.)
We're talking about studies like:
Now, apart from Guéguen's tone-deaf “how men like their women" focus, looks a lot like he just made up a lot of this stuff. Scientists Nick Brown and James Heathers have been looking into his studies and finding little but red flags. The two have contacted the French Psychological Society (SFP) regarding their concerns, which they eventually narrowed down to 10 Guéguen papers in particular.
Their interest began after Brown encountered one Guéguen study, “Study finds that men are less likely to help a woman with a ponytail." Brown tells Ars Technica, “That evening, I was talking to James about [something else entirely] and mentioned the paper in passing. And he kind of fell about laughing."
A little too tidy?
A closer look at study's supporting data revealed a highly suspicious statistical oddity. Each of the study's participants had been numerically scored for the help they offered a woman who dropped her glove on a busy street.
The woman, according to the study, was a “19 year-old Caucasian woman (height 1.68 cm, weight 52 kg)" whose “hair was dark and roughly 70 centimeters long." There were 90 male participants and 90 female participants, chosen at random. If a subject picked up the glove and returned it to the woman, they got three points, and if they told her she'd dropped it, they got two. If they did nothing at all, they got one.
The study grouped its stats into six combinations (three hair styles times two genders), and the results somehow all came out to weirdly regular, with averages requiring only one digit after their decimal point (though the report uses two with a 0 in the second place). Researching for Big Think, this is something we don't see.
Brown and Heathers: “The chance of all six means ending in zero this way is 0.0014." Even weirder, by crunching hypothetical data in Excel, the duo found they could only arrive at Guéguen's two-place numbers one way, and it's pretty specific: When 6, 12, 18, or 24 subjects in a test combination all got the same individual score. “The chances of this happening randomly for all six combinations of participant sex and hairstyle are [one in 170 million]," Brown and Heathers tell Ars.
Who actually did the research?
A suspicious number of the studies Brown and Heathers perused were purportedly written by Guéguen himself as the sole author, with no credited collaborators. Given the man's sheer number of studies, this would be pretty much impossible, with him personally interviewing hundreds of subjects in addition to processing the data and writing it up. If he does have assistants or helpers, why were they so rarely credited? It might just be a lack of consideration for their CVs, or it might be because it makes it impossible to contact them and verify their contributions and Guéguen's methodology.
Differences between two groups of test subjects are generally pretty limited, especially so in social psychology. In Guéguen's work, though, there are eye-poppingly spectacular differences. Brown and Heathers cite the expectable statistical gaps one might expect between two groups of test subjects:
The difference between men and women in the glove-dropping study? A remarkably capacious 2.88. That's beyond huge. Hm.
In one study aimed at finding out if women are more likely to give out their phone numbers when it's sunny, women from 18 to 25 years old were interviewed. No reason was given for why the sample was limited to this age bracket. And Brown and Heather are skeptical about the whole thing, telling Ars, “This implies that not one woman, when approached by the confederate who asked for her number, decided to walk away and ignore him. Our own experience in this area is somewhat limited, and we are surely less attractive (and young) than Guéguen's carefully selected physical specimens, but we find the idea that every woman in a sample of 500 would reveal her age to a stranger, especially immediately after rebuffing his romantic advances, to be completely unrealistic."
(CONNEL via SHUTTERSTOCK)
The Ars article also includes this creepy summary of other studies:
One study, for example, had research assistants lying on a beach in bikinis; another involved women sitting in a bar waiting to be approached by men. In one case, female participants who thought they were participating in a totally different experiment were filmed walking from behind without their knowledge, only later being told about the footage and asked for consent to it being used to judge the “sexiness" of their gait.
The only ethical approval cited in these studies was awarded by Guéguen's own lab, not an outside authority, meaning essentially, “if we say it's okay, it's okay."
What does Guéguen say?
After being contacted by Brown and Heathers about all this in 2015, the FSP reached out unsuccessfully to Guéguen multiple times for his response to Brown's and Heather's charges. By 2016 the FSP brought up the possibility of escalating Guéguen's case to the National Council of Universities (CNU), which would be more capable of taking serious action against the researcher.
By September 2016, Guéguen finally responded to the FSP with stacks of paperwork that answered few of the organization's questions, a seeming attempt to overwhelm the FSP with documentation that had nothing to do with anything, though he did say, “In many psychology departments in France and elsewhere, students are the subjects of the experiments of the researchers… we have adopted another approach where students become the testers and people outside become the subjects." Otherwise, say Brown and Heathers, “Neither the letter nor the reports provide any scientific answer to the questions we have asked. The reports focus on experiments totally different from those in the articles in question."
In November 2016, the duo submitted to Guéguen a set of specific questions related to the 10 studies on which they focused, and he got back to them nearly a year later in September 2017 with disappointingly unhelpful responses. Guéguen did find a couple of specific concerns flawed, and Brown and Heathers now agree about those two points.
“I'm not advocating the creation of a science police," Brown tells Ars. Still, it can be difficult to separate real science from the junk, especially given the prevalence of predatory scientific journals who regularly traffic in the stuff. The ease with which unscrupulous authors can reach millions of people thanks to the internet is sobering, and requires more vigilance from all of us interested in the sciences, whether we wear our hair loose, in a ponytail, or in a bun.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.