Books and Reading, Education, Language and Linguistics, Life Stuff, Politics

The power of research and knowing your sources

The power of research and knowing your sources

Today I want to think and write about this: one specific example of bad journalism/research/fact checking in ONE Cosmo online article I read today. If you don’t want to read my tirade at the state of today’s teens and 20 or 30 somethings, jump to the fun and skip all the stuff between the lines.


This is one example and therefore I probably am not justified in making my next statement. But I am going to anyway:

Rigorous research, healthy skepticism of sweeping generalisations, adherence to questioning your source and ITS methods of data collection and analysis are either 1) Not being taught in schools, or 2) we are allowing people who end up as journalists, social ‘scientists’ and commentators, to graduate from our schools without mastering the process.

In addition, the vast majority of my political, social or philosophical discussions in the last ten years lack NUANCE and an ability to agree on the topic of discussion. If I say, for example, that I believe Hemingway is a better author than Maya Angelou, the conversation changes to my racist white privileged self who needs to check it. No. Argue the merits with me. I’m capable. Trust me. Are you? There seems to be a real inability to actually argue or listen to a finer point that someone is making. They might actually be largely agreeing with you but you are too busy hearing how they are not just saying that the ACA was the best thing EVER.

Yes, I sound like I don’t want you on my lawn. And I really don’t. Especially if you’re going to be so immune to critical thinking and unable to argue a nuanced concept. The problem with that, of course, is that I am acquiescent. And I kind of refuse to silently sit and watch it all go to hell anymore.giphy.gif


So, onto my concrete example from this morning. I chose to speak about this one specific thing because it covers so many of the bases. It is all based around the following sentence in the article linked below. Please don’t get hung up on where I found it. It has plenty to discuss, but I’d like to focus on the ‘fact’ that’s thrown out here:

Blue used to be the color most associated with little girls, due to its association with the Virgin Mary. But Hitler—yes, Hitler—feminized the color pink by forcing gays to wear triangles in that shade during World War II.) – http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a10280732/gender-reveal-parties/?src=socialflowTW

Now, boys and girls, from reading comprehension lessons in English class, you should have acquired the skill to find the fact I focused on. If we strip away the adverbs and adjectives and other words that set the sentence’s tone we find this assertion:

“Hitler … feminized the color pink … during World War II.”

I have purposefully left out the judgmental “yes Hitler”  and the “and we know he is evil because he hated gays” part. I REALLY just want to focus on the factual statement made by Diane Stopyra in the above article.

tyra-bad.gifI went:  REALLY? We didn’t do pink before?

So, I did a FIFTEEN minute research stint from the comfort of my home desk. It was not exhaustive and did not involve my own gathering of evidence. But I believe I found solid scholarly publication that at the very least put her factual statement in question, and, I would argue, makes it sound simplistic and frankly untrue.

I tried two or three search terms before finding an article on gender and infant clothing colors that had an extensive list of cited sources that I could access quickly.

That article’s citations led me here: Pink and Blue  NOTE: I’m taking a moment to provide the credentials for the article, the publication, and the author between the next two lines.


The article is by Marco Del Giudice, PhD of the University of New Mexico. It was published this year (2017) as a Letter to the Editor in Archives of Sexual Behavior – the official publication of the International Academy of Sex Research, – a journal which has been in publication since 1971 and describes itself as “dedicated to the dissemination of information in the field of sexual science, broadly defined.” I think it seems a legitimate scholarly publication, although I have little knowledge of psychological journals specifically. My own academic expertise lies in legal research, textual analysis and manuscript research. 

I landed on this article in particular because it had more than a handful of citations to support of its sweeping statements about pink and blue clad human infants and toddlers. The majority of the other (admittedly quickly found) articles I saw all relied on one or two quotes and citations that supported their theory.


Yes, I’ve taken you out from between the lines here because it’s important you understand the strength of this particular article’s research and why I chose to rely on it. The author did the following:

I searched theGoogle BooksNgram Vieweron June 7, 2017,
using the 2012 American English corpus (identifier: google-
books-eng-us-all-20120701) and the 2012 British English cor-
pus (identifier: googlebooks-eng-gb-all-20120701). The follow-
ing search phrases were used (case insensitive): ‘‘pink for a girl,’’
‘‘blue for a boy,’’‘‘blue for a girl,’’‘‘pink for a boy,’’‘‘pink for girls,’’
‘‘blue for boys,’’‘‘blue for girls,’’‘‘pink for boys,’’‘‘pink for the
girls,’’‘‘blue for the boys,’’‘‘blue for the girls,’’ and‘‘pink for the
boys’’ (see Del Giudice, 2012). The search was repeated on six
20-year intervals spanning the range 1881–2000, with smooth-
ing set to 20 years to obtain the mean percentage of occurrences
over each time interval. Percentages were summed across search
phrases corresponding to the present-day standard convention
(pink =F, blue =M) and phrases corresponding to the reverse
convention (pink =M, blue =F). Finally, total percentages
were multiplied by 10
7
for readability.

Pink, Blue, and Gender: An Update (PDF Download Available). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317832997_Pink_Blue_and_Gender_An_Update [accessed Jul 16, 2017].

In other words, it was reasonably comprehensive and analytical and open to a wide range of results.

The results are not as clear cut as Ms Stopyra (remember my original Cosmo writer and her “Hitler did it” assertion?) would have her readers believe. The following screengrab is just a small selection of cited references that Del Giudice found. There is also a beautiful graph that shows a distinct pink tone in both girls and boys and back and forth decades before Hitler decided it was feminine.

DExvyzlV0AAkrBZ.jpgAs an aside, I find it hilarious  that Miss Grey of the Tacoma Times changed her mind 100% from 1909 to 1910 – see the two bottom parargraphs of my picture.

It is my assertion that the idea of an almost universally hated figure like Hitler coming up with the ‘feminising of pink’ suited Ms Stopyra’s narrative perfectly. Therefore she did not question her cited source’s methods or motives of tracing our (apparently sexist and disturbing) association of pink with girls. It fits in with the rest of her article and main point perfectly. Hitler did it, we don’t want to be like Hitler, don’t be bad.  My husband believes these things are done on purpose. I don’t think so. I think it’s just lazy critical thinking and thought-police propaganda. Never underestimate the power of confirmation bias.

Reader beware. I decided that in order to be thorough I had to give Ms Stopyra some credit and check the source of her incorrect assertion. There was a link to her cited source provided.

The Luxury Economy and Intellectual Property: Critical Reflections The book she cites actually looks like it may have some interesting reading and insights.  I have to question though if she actually read the sentence where she saw the word Hitler and understood what the statement being made was. To me it looks like she did a cursory glance, found the two evil words roughly in the same paragraph, and ran with it.

And now, thousands of young girls will tell each other the fact they read.

I mean, we shouldn’t even like pink; Hitler made us think we did.

But we all know purple is the only colour anyway.

*Disturbingly, I’ve just run a search engine check on the author. She writes ‘science’ articles for Salon.com as well.

 

5 thoughts on “The power of research and knowing your sources

  1. Thank you. Over the past couple of years I have been flabbergasted at the frequency of, “I saw it on the internet, it must be true”. I have on a few occasions even been fooled by something plausible. Everyone is in such a rush to condemn, be the first to report, even in our little gaming world to get the exclusive, that people no longer care whether it’s factual. Only that they are getting more exposure. It’s one thing to write or express your feelings on a subject. Even I suppose when you mistaken something you read. But I wish more would “think” rather than just give things more merit by furthering its exposure.

  2. Pretty interesting. It is a rough world because in this super-fast world, a journalist often chooses speed over confirmation of facts for fear of losing a “scoop”. However, if one is being printed in a magazine, even more integrity is called for I think.
    Did you write her Editor and complain?

  3. I admire the effort put into your research and the critical eye you have on things;

    I really look forward to hear what the editor might respond to you, if you decide to share it with us.

    It’s a healhty lesson that needs to be taught over and over these days to children, I guess; that what is online/in newspapers, on television and around us is often not true… :/

Talk to me!