Friday, June 17, 2016

Sociological self-beclowning by purported social scientists

An interesting post from Philip N. Cohen, How broken is our system (hit me with that figure again edition). He is making a point about the practices and quality of research in the field of Sociology. Fair enough. I haven't dug in to the details of his argument but am in agreement on the broader issue and accept that this is likely an example of poor publishing practices in the field.

It wasn't his argument that caught my attention but the original research he is criticizing. His criticism is not about the quality of the research per se but about the publication practice associated with it (multiple papers in multiple publications reporting basically the same thing.) Cohen's description of the original research.
In a paywalled 2013 paper in Journalism Studies, the team used an analysis of names appearing in newspapers to report the gender composition of people mentioned. They analyzed the New York Times back to 1880, and then a larger sample of 13 newspapers from 1982 through 2005. Here’s one of their figures:

The 2013 paper was a descriptive analysis, establishing that men are mentioned more than women over time.

Shor et al. 2014 asked,
How can we account for the consistency of these disparities? One possible factor that may explain at least some of these consistent gaps may be the political agendas and choices of specific newspapers.
Their hypothesis was:
H1: Newspapers that are typically classified as more liberal will exhibit a higher rate of female-subjects’ coverage than newspapers typically classified as conservative.
After analyzing the data, they concluded:
The proposition that liberal newspapers will be more likely to cover female subjects was not supported by our findings. In fact, we found a weak to moderate relationship between the two variables, but this relationship is in the opposite direction: Newspapers recognized (or ranked) as more “conservative” were more likely to cover female subjects than their more “liberal” counterparts, especially in articles reporting on sports.
OK, lot's of interesting things in here.

The first thing that jumped out at me was the consistency of the range of female mentions over the 26 year period, 18-28%.

What is striking about that is the consistency with the working hypothesis I have documented numerous times in these posts, that in any particular field, observationally, women are 15-30% of the top achievers. The researchers are looking at news in general rather than specific measured accomplishments, but I suspect that it is a workable proxy to link mentions in the press to actual accomplishments. My working hypothesis is that women's 15-30% share is driven 1) the fact that excellence is a function of deep, purposeful practice/experience which equates roughly to continuous effort over long periods of time at high levels of effort (hours per day) and 2) women are 15-30% of the population who work continuously and excessively in any particular field.

Very interesting affirmation of my assumptions from a completely different angle.

The second thing that caught my attention was the lazy stereotyping of conservatives by the researchers. Sociology is a field overwhelmingly dominated by those who self-identify as left or far left in their politics. It seems that they are blind to the stereotyping and bigotry that they are displaying in their hypothesis: "Newspapers that are typically classified as more liberal will exhibit a higher rate of female-subjects’ coverage than newspapers typically classified as conservative." The unquestioned assumption is that stupid conservatives are inherently misogynistic and therefore they won't report on women as much. That is pretty revealing of academic stereotyping and bigotry.

I can only imagine their disappointed surprise when they discovered that in fact the left leaning newspapers were less likely to report on women.

The researchers reveal that the finding is apparently consistent with other research.
Some work suggests that conservative newspapers may cover women less (Potter 1985), but other studies report the opposite tendency (Adkins Covert and Wasburn 2007; Shor et al. 2014a).
The "conservative" tent is a pretty big one and very diverse. There are Burkean conservatives, Hayekians, Libertarians, Randian conservatives, economic conservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, free trade conservatives, Lockean conservatives, etc. There are many issues upon which they differ.

One topic on which there is a fair amount of overlap is a general inclination to focus on the individual rather than on identity/victim groups. You are who you are as an individual and not as a representative of a putative group. One would expect conservative papers to report people based on their competence/achievement and therefore that women would be 15-30% of the news since that is supported by other studies. Overly simplistically, they don't care about the race or identity of the achiever, just about the achievement.

The real mystery is why liberal papers are suppressing news about women.

In one of their related papers, the researchers double down on their bigotry. They cannot find the empirical evidence to support the stereotypes they want to hold about conservatives but they don't let that stand in their way. They are social scientists. Why should data stop them?
Notwithstanding these inconclusive findings, there are several reasons to believe that more conservative outlets will be less likely to cover women and women’s issues compared with their more liberal counterparts. First, conservative media often view feminism and women’s issues in a relatively negative light (Baker Beck 1998; Brescoll and LaFrance 2004), making them potentially less likely to cover these issues. Second, and related to the first point, conservative media may also be less likely to employ female reporters and female editors. Finally, conservative papers may be more likely to cover “hard” topics that are traditionally considered more important or interesting, such as politics, business, and sports, rather than reporting on issues such as social welfare, education, or fashion, where women have a stronger presence.
To recap the the researchers conclusions. Empirical analysis indicates that conservative newspapers report more news about women than do liberal newspapers but the researchers have good reason to believe that is simply wrong because the researchers believe that conservatives don't like feminism, conservatives discriminate against hiring women in newspapers, and finally, the researchers believe women are more involved in soft issues that are less newsworthy. Of course all three of these assumptions are not empirically supported. Because they aren't supportable. They are simply biases that the researches carry

Wow. I really wish they would quit digging. It's embarrassing what they are revealing about themselves.

I'll go with the actual numbers they produce. If you want good reporting about women, read conservative papers.

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