I Am Losing My Patience

April 7, 2008 at 3:05 pm (anthropology)

With sloppy information presented as science. I spent most of the weekend reading the textbook that the college forces me to use in my class. (I am being observed today; usually I pull my lectures out of my, er, head). The slim chapter on parenting was rife with errors, inconsistencies, and outright lies. (For example, the authors write “approximately 2 million to 14 million children live with gay or lesbian parents.” What, a margin of error of 12 million?! Numbers are supposed to illustrate a point. If the point is, “We have no idea what we’re talking about,” numbers won’t help.)

In doing a little internet research for my class this evening, I came across this piece in the NYTimes health blog. This article is awful for so many reasons, most of which are identified in the comments. What’s particularly upsetting to me is that this non-science (or nonsense) is being conflated with the maternal instinct. I have been trying all semester to debunk this idea for my students, and still the best thing I’ve found is Scheper-Hughes’ Death without Weeping, which entails its own difficulties, because students are apt to Otherize the situation of poor Brazilian women living in a shantytown. (Bad mothering is something that those people over there do, etc.)

I smell another research project. That’s two now, waiting in the wings for me to finish my dissertation.



  1. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    I’m hard-wired to smack people who write articles like that one.

  2. ashyknees said,

    The results are based on studying a whopping great 13 people!

    I’d be willing to bet that at least 50 percent of the people holding bachelor’s degrees in the humanities and certain business-related majors have no clue how science works. How else could the website of one of America’s flagship newspapers allow such crap to be published in its name? Maybe the writer and editor made a conscious choice to feed into a bunch of stereotypes, but I think this is another case of “you never see the lies that you believe.” This science and math ignorance is at the root of many problems that we face.

    In my ideal world, every high school graduate would understand basic scientific methods and have enough understanding of statistics to know that you can’t conclude much of anything about billions of people based on a sample of 13. If you can follow professional sports or American Idol, you can understand these things. These subjects were covered in my communications classes. That’s right, in my communications classes, for the love of Darwin.

  3. GunMonkey said,

    See the movie “10,000 BC” (or better yet, check out my review of it). You’ll realize how much of what we consider “science” and “geography” are distortions and outright lies.

    Two to 14 million, huh? Yeah, that spread about covers it.

  4. yoko said,

    Completely unrelated to your post, I’m passing along this link solely for its title: http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2008/03/brown_people_have_no_taste_in.php

  5. La Belle Helene said,

    But here’s another thing: The babies in the study are 16 months old. That’s a long time to get attached to someone. Say they did the study with romantic partners who have been together for 16 months. Would they get the same responses?

  6. La Belle Helene said,

    Also, the name of the NY Times section should be “Well…?”

  7. Quiconque said,

    If scientists scanned my brain immediately after I dropped half my cheeseburger on the ground, I am sure they would get similar results. “Quiconque’s impulse to love and protect a tasty sandwich is hard-wired to the brain.” I do not eat 16 month old cheeseburgers, however.

  8. Ten Feet of Steel said,

    Shit, even I could get attached to someone after living with him or her for 16 months.

    Either that or want to kill them.

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