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So Michele Bachmann has signed a pledge to support families that’s got some very creepy stuff in it. In particular, there’s this:

“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.”

Others have noted just how brain-curdlingly offensive this is, and I agree 100% with what they’ve written. But I want to pause for a second and look at the numbers behind the claim.

The pledge cites an invalid source — the 1880 census doesn’t have great data on slave family structures, it turns out — but the standard estimate for the number of slave families broken up by the sale of children away from one or both parents is about one in three. With life expectancy so much lower in the 19th century than it is today, I’d guess that about half of all slave families in the antebellum US were ones in which children were living with both of their parents.

And yes, the percentage of two-parent households in the black community today is a little lower than that.

But again, let’s pause for a second. Contrary to stereotypes, most African American fathers who don’t live with their kids are involved with them on a regular basis. Almost half see their kids or speak to them by phone at least once a week, and fully two-thirds spend face-to-face time with them at least once a month. (This percentage, by the way, is significantly higher than the analogous stat for white fathers who don’t live with their kids: 67% vs 59%.)

So when you compare slave families to black families today and wring your hands about the decline in the two-parent household, you’re not just ignoring the fact that slave children lived in “households” where their white master, not their own parents, had final authority over them. You’re not just ignoring the fact that many of them saw their parents savagely beaten and their mothers repeatedly raped. You’re not just ignoring the fact that their parents were in many cases prohibited by law from reading them a bedtime story. You’re not just ignoring all that.

You’re also saying that a family destroyed by the sale of its children is functionally identical to one in which the kids sleep at their mom’s most nights but have a bedroom in their father’s place, cereal in his cupboard, and drawings taped to his walls.

You’re saying, not to put too fine a point on it, that my ex-wife and I, by amicably separating and choosing to raise our children together while living apart, behaved comparably to the slaveowner who tore a toddler screaming from her mother’s arms and sold her away forever, permanently severing the bond between parent and child.

That’s what you’re saying. And it’s an repulsive insult to every parent in America.

Update: Santorum signed the pledge too. And Pawlenty is apparently considering it.

When the brouhaha over the Psychology Today “Why Black Women Are Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women” article broke, I wrote a quick blogpost pointing out some of author Satoshi Kanazawa’s most ludicrous, obvious mistakes. But now someone with a bit more competency has gone back to look at the actual data Kanazawa used, and discovered that the problems with his “study” go much deeper.

Much, much deeper.

Basically, Kanazawa completely misrepresented the data. His source material just flatly doesn’t say what he says it says.

Here’s the deal. Kanazawa drew his conclusions on the relative attractiveness of black women from the “Add Health” study, a long-term survey of American adolescents. He claimed that the study showed — proved — that black women were less attractive than women of other races. But that’s not the case.

The attractiveness “data” is itself suspect, for one thing. It consists of the subjective judgments of interviewers who were asked to rate their interviewees’ appearance. There’s no effort in the numbers to control for the interviewers’ (unstated) ethnicity, no protocol for their judgments, no reason to believe that their conclusions are in any way representative. It’s just their opinion, and different interviewers reached dramatically different conclusions about the same interviewees’ attractiveness.

Let me underscore that last bit. According to a review of the original data, most of the difference in attractiveness between individuals in the study can be explained by different interviewers “grading” the same interviewee differently.

But it gets worse.

This study is, as I noted above, a study of American adolescents, tracked through early adulthood. And though Kanazawa portrayed his article as a study of the attractiveness of adults, the samples he used included children as young as twelve. He based the majority of his conclusions on data on the youngest two groups, who had an average age of just sixteen.

Still with me? It gets even worse.

Kanazawa admitted that the supposed difference in attractiveness was less in “Wave III” than in “Wave I” and “Wave II,” though he actively concealed the fact that Waves I and II weren’t adults at all. (He labeled the relevant charts “Wave I: Men,” “Wave II: Men,” “Wave I: Women,” and “Wave II: Women,” even though the vast majority of those subjects were teenagers and pre-teens.)

What he didn’t admit was that there’s a Wave IV.

Wave IV, it turns out, is the only wave composed entirely of adults. And an analysis of the Wave IV data shows that it doesn’t support Kanazawa’s thesis.

At all.

In Wave IV there is no difference between the perceived attractiveness of the black women and that of the other ethnic groups examined.


At all.

And again, I want to underscore something. Wave IV is composed of the same interviewees as the previous waves. So what the data really shows is that some (presumptively white) interviewers thought that the black adolescent girls in the study were a little less cute than the white, Asian, or Native American girls.

But when interviewers went back and spoke to the same women as adults, that “attractiveness gap” disappeared. Completely.

This isn’t just shoddy statistics. This isn’t just crap reporting. This isn’t just incompetence. It’s scholarly malfeasance.

It’s fraud.

Yesterday Yahoo put up a post on its search blog titled “Teens Don’t Know Who Osama Bin Laden Is, According to Yahoo! Search Trends.”

The story has been picked up by a long list of other outlets — PC Magazine and Gawker both claimed that “many” teens don’t know who Bin Laden was, while one site went so far as to claim that a “majority” are unaware. BoingBoing hedged its bets, claiming that “a non-insignificant number of teenagers in America do not know who Osama bin Laden is.”

But what did Yahoo’s published data actually show?

Not much, it turns out. According to the blogpost, “who is osama bin laden” was the fifth-most searched question relating to Bin Laden on Sunday, which made it more popular than questions about his height, but more popular than questions about his age. How many people searched that question? Yahoo doesn’t say. Could have been millions, could have been a handful. What it does say is that two thirds of those searching were between the ages of 13 and 17.

As for what this factoid means, I have a few thoughts. First of all, as I’ve suggested above, it doesn’t mean that large numbers of teens were asking this question. Again, we just don’t have any data on that. Also, even the fact that a high proportion of askers were young teens is ambiguous — I’d be inclined to guess that young people are more likely than older people to phrase search queries as questions. If that’s true, then the stat makes teens look comparatively less informed, because it excludes all the fortysomethings who didn’t recognize the name and just searched “osama bin laden” to find out.

I’d also question the assumption that anyone searching on “who is osama bin laden” has no idea who Bin Laden was. A Google search on the question shows that at various times in the last ten years it’s been asked by, among others, BBC News, the PBS Frontline documentary series, and the Canadian Broadcasting Commission.

“Who is Osama Bin Laden,” in other words, can be, and often is, used as a synonym for “Tell me some stuff about Osama Bin Laden.” And “tell me some stuff about Osama Bin Laden” is a perfectly reasonable request for a thirteen-year-old to have made last Sunday night.

Over at Mother Jones, Kevin Drum has pointed out that September 11, 2001 was almost ten years ago, and that for many of the folks in the 13-to-17 age bracket, it’s been a really long time since he was in the news. That’s a good point, and it would be worth pointing out if it had been demonstrated, as Drum suggests, that “a goodly number of teenagers don’t know who Osama bin Laden is.”

That’s the thing, though. It hasn’t.

Update | TechPresident covers much the same ground, with this lovely zinger: “We could just as easily reading the data as ‘Teenagers Eagerly Search Out Information on Current World Events, and Good for Them.’

Second Update | Inspired by Judith Butlertron’s suggestion, I just did Google searches on “who is barack obama” and “barack obama.” Turns out that adding the “who is” skews the results toward third-party, informational sources, and away from DNC/White House promotional materials. So the joke is on Yahoo, and everyone who promoted this meme — if you want to learn more about someone, starting your search with “who is…” appears to be the internet-savvy way to go about it.

Third Update | The ignorance being expressed in these snark stories really is astounding. Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper says, on no evidence at all, that teens “flooded … the internet” with “who is osama bin laden” queries, while Good magazine claims “thousands” asked the question. Good also claims that it’s “the fifth most popular Osama search,” rather than the fifth most popular Osama question, which is a very different thing. Glenn Beck has gotten into the act too, claiming — falsely — that the query “was one of the most popular tweets and searches over the past few days.”

Fourth Update | Oof. Megan McArdle of the Atlantic, who uncovered the fake MLK/OBL quote earlier this week, has fallen for the Yahoo crap. Worse yet, she’s titled her blogpost on the story “Youth Culture.”

The Good Men Project is something I’ve been vaguely meaning to learn more about recently. Some prominent feminist men (and women) have been writing for them, and they’ve gotten some good buzz from other folks I respect. So I followed them on Twitter a few days ago, and recently clicked through to a piece on their site for the first time.

Um, wow.

It’s a map of the countries of the world, color-coded by penis size, under the headline “Who Has the Biggest Penises in the World?”

A few things about this map.

First, it’s bullshit. I’ve done a spot check on about a dozen of the (vaguely identified) national data sources, and literally none of them have panned out. Some are completely fictitious, others are real people or organizations with no connection to this kind of work, still others combine the names of actual studies with made-up data. (None of this should be surprising, by the way, as the original compiler of the stats makes his living selling penis enlargement equipment and home laser hair restoration devices.)

Second, it’s racist bullshit. The map’s “data” portrays Africans and Latins as big, Asians as small, and white folks are somewhere in between. This isn’t necessarily racist in and of itself — some stereotypes are true, after all, and this may be one of them — but remember that the numbers in this map are made up. The folks who compiled it aren’t testing racial stereotypes against scientific research, they’re propagating them via fiction that masquerades as fact. And the implicit racism in the map is made explicit in the article it cites as the source for its data, which claims that “in Africa, where the temperature reaches high levels, people adapt to the conditions and their limbs are more slender, elongated, their outward growths have a greater area, and this applies to their lips, nose, ears, fingers, palms, soles, and also for men [sic] penis.”

That’s right. Black guys — according to the Good Men Project’s source — have big lips and big schlongs because they come from the steamy tropics. (Never mind that the site’s spurious data portrays the men of India, one of the world’s hottest countries, as having among the world’s smallest penises. Consistency has never been the “scientific” racist’s strong suit.)

Now, I know the Good Men Project doesn’t claim to be progressive, or feminist, or anti-racist. But as I noted above, they’ve signed up some biggish names in the feminist blogosphere to write for them recently, and they’re clearly making a play to be seen as a serious voice in contemporary discussions of gender politics.

This ain’t the way to go about it.

Update | Hugo Schwyzer, a male feminist columnist for the Good Men Project, responds on Twitter: “Sigh. It wasn’t the greatest choice to run the penis map. Hard to believe anyone takes it seriously tho.”

A couple of things in response. First, some folks clearly are taking it seriously, as a look at the comments thread at GMP shows. When researching this post, I found plenty of examples all over the net of people earnestly debating the stats’ validity.

Second, and more to the point, as a joke … it’s a racist joke. Again, just look at the comments at GMP: “I cannot help but notice that the guys with the smallest dicks own most of the world and it’s weapons/resources (at least for the moment). The guys with the biggest peckers are still waiting to find out about toilet paper and indoor plumbing.”

Second Update | The Good Men Project has linked to this post, noting my criticism of the data while maintaining that they haven’t seen proof of the map’s fictitiousness, so here are a few examples: [examples snipped].

Third Update | Now the GMP is admitting the map is fake, and linking to the sites I pointed out in my original piece as evidence, but they’ve pulled the link to this post.

They’re happy to give traffic to a penis-enlargement scammer, in other words, but they won’t give credit to an anti-racist feminist critic who pointed out their error. Cute.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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