18 June 2008

Biological Determinism, Essentialism, and You

Cheryl noted that some new studies are best read in conjunction with Ekaterina Sedia's recent analysis of some older, similar studies. Now a post by Mark Liberman at Language Log takes a look at not only the stats in the new studies, but the way those studies have been reported:
If we do the same calculations for the means and standard deviations reported for the other categories, we get predictions that might have been presented as follows:

Rightward hemispheric asymmetry was found in the brains of 14 of 25 heterosexual males and 11 of 20 homosexual females, but in only 13 of 25 heterosexual females and 10 of 20 homosexual males.

How much media play do you think the study would have gotten, if the results had been spun like that?

Or to put it another way, how many readers of the media descriptions do you think understood the story in those terms?
I've just begun reading Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, which is a similar critique of essentialism and gives some perspective on the history of these studies. (Also valuable, as I mentioned in the comments to Kathy's article, is Science and Homosexualities, which presents various sides of the debate and history.) I have a natural (essential!) bias against such studies, and very little capability with stats, but I expect that even people who are not so odd and stubborn as I will find the Language Log article fascinating reading.