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

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.

 

Books and Reading, Life Stuff

Reading taste update

Reading has always been like eating and sleeping to me. For as long as I can remember I’ve devoured books. I’m honestly not sure what I started with. The Hardy Boys? But I know at some point I started devouring Nancy Drew novels. I don’t even know if it was because I loved them or if it was because everyone my parents knew could count on that being a well-received gift. And there were lots of them. I kept reading. Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction, trashy novels I’d sneak up in the middle of the night and borrow from my parents’ bookshelves, classics, Norwegian books, English books. I just READ.

And then I read for my degree. I have a Cand. Philol. (Master’s – M.A.) in English. I read literature out the wazoo. Loved it. Read Shakespeare. Read Beckett. Read Romantics, read 20th Century, read Chaucer. I read read read read. Now, I don’t necessarily go so ‘literary’ or classical. Here are the last 15 books I’ve read – I’ll discuss below.

When I finished my degree, I guess I had gotten a real taste for modern literature, and I tried to find everything I’d missed and everything still coming out in that vein. I read every Man Booker finalist, all the literary review books, and anything that smelled a LITTLE of ‘quality’ literary fiction. This way, I discovered Dancer by Colum McCann, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, and many other gems. Good friends all those books.

Then for a few years here at the start of this decade, I read very little on a regular basis. My reading was limited to beach reading. That reading continued to be eclectic. But I’d read a book or two at the beach. Sometimes long ones.

I’ve always loved fantasy, but I stopped reading fantasy about 20 years ago. Nothing felt fresh anymore I guess. And, admittedly, I had my reading hands full with all my required course reading. During those years my ‘offtime’ reading moved from fantasy to legal thrillers, Stephen King, and what I think is loosely labeled ‘Women’s Fiction’ … Not  full on romance, I have yet to hit that treasure trove, but things like Danielle Steele, Maeve Binchy … that sort of thing.

At some point, I discovered audio books. I started looking for Norwegian books, in particular on Audio books, to help keep up my mother tongue, even when I didn’t speak Norwegian to anyone for a year at a time. I also drove around the United States showing my cats (another story), and audio books kept me awake. ‘Read’ all the Harry Potter novels that way.  I discovered that I loved especially mystery/thriller/crime fiction on audio. And that led to actually reading crime fiction.

These days, I am VERY critical of any ‘literary’ fiction I pick up. Maybe I’m getting cranky in my old age. Or maybe the popularity of book clubs and ‘Book Club Discussion Guides’ has created a market for B-grade literary fiction that the Oprahs and publishers and Amazons of the world throw at us and tell us is very high brow. I find so much of it labored, inelegant and pompous. Hemingway would certainly not approve of much of it, I feel.   Funnily enough, I didn’t like Hemingway 30 years ago. Couldn’t stand him. Now I love his writing.

A couple of years ago, I trained myself to get back into reading every day. It didn’t take long, and now I’m right back into it. But I have less patience with books that irritate me, don’t grab me, or are just plain boring or not my style. I have no problem stopping at 30% and picking up something else. After all, it’s not my JOB anymore, I might as well like it!

Do you feel you ‘should’ be reading different material? Do your tastes change? Do you long to read more or less?