SurveyFail redax: Downey adds to Lende

Daniel did a posting earlier today on Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail that explores a research project that self-immolated through bad design, horrible conflict management, and a number of other character flaws. I’m really glad Daniel did this because he’s the more tech-savvy half of this duo. I just saw this yesterday and started to read up on the commentary but quickly realized that I was over my head, having pretty much exhausted my ability to navigate communication technology and resulting subcultural movements with a Twitter-related post a while back.

But I did want to add a couple of points because I’m particularly interested in research design and ethics and because I like kicking researchers when they’re down. No, no, just kidding — because I find the focus of ‘evolutionary’ theorists on the supposed ‘hard wiring’ of sexuality to be one of the more irritating and, well, hard-wired theoretical assumptions, even in the face of OVERWHELMING evidence to the malleability of human sexuality.

I apologize for not putting up some clever graphic, but I spent most of today helping friends build their mud-brick house and then went to a Showground Association meeting, where I was elected president (that’s kind of like the County Fairground in my town). My brain’s fried, but I don’t want to let this post sit for too long or it’s moment will have well and truly passed.

Research ethics

In my brief and incomplete survey of the discussions of this research, it became obvious that slash fans were particularly irritated, not just by the initial bad research design, but also by the seeming inability to apologize, learn from criticism or even simply back off on the part of the researchers.

Continue reading “SurveyFail redax: Downey adds to Lende”

Sex, Lies and IRB Tape: Netporn to SurveyFail

Slash Fail
Neuroscience researchers Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam have done a massive FAIL through bad research, failed ethics, and greed. They created an online survey targeted at slash fiction fans that was a debacle start to finish.

Slash fiction takes prominent characters from movies, television, and fiction and explores their relationships in unconventional ways. The founding example is Kirk/Spock, where the slash indicates a story about Kirk and Spock getting it on. The creators and consumers of slash fiction are generally women.

Earlier this year Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam signed a deal with Penguin for a popular book with the initial title “Rule 34: What Netporn Teaches Us about the Brain.” Rule 34 is simply that online “If it exists, there is porn on it. No exceptions.”

Slash fiction fans became one of their “netporn” targets. Ogas and Gaddam created and distributed their online survey that aimed to prove their basic premise (well, my take on it): “When in doubt, the brain causes everything. When that’s something we don’t really understand, then it must be the primitive parts of the brain.”

Here’s how I derived that premise. First comes shaggirl’s description of Ogas’ response to criticism (Note: Ogas took down the survey and the livejournal that discussed the project, so I am relying on people who have captured their words):

He defends his comparison of women liking slash to straight men liking transsexuals because “some deep sense of pleasure or satisfaction ultimately rooted in subcortical circuits” compels us to seek out slash/transsexuals despite fearing exposure to society at large.

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What do these enigmatic women want?

25desire_6002In this week’s The Times Magazine of The NY Times, Daniel Bergner has a piece on women’s sexuality and research that’s already in preprint causing a bit of controversy as well as a convulsion of 1950s era humor in the online response. The title, ‘What do women want?’, that nugget of Freudian wonder, no doubt will raise the readership, as will the pictures of models simulating states of arousal (Greg Mitchell is in a bit of snit about them in, Coming Attraction: Preview of ‘NYT Magazine’ With Semi-Shocking Sex Images on Sunday. ‘Semi-Shocking’? I can imagine how that goes… ‘Are you SHOCKED by these photos?’ ‘Well, I’m at least SEMI-shocked, yes!’).

In particular, Bergner gives us thumbnail portraits of women engaged in sex research: Meredith Chivers of Queens University (Kingston, Ontario), Lisa Diamond of the University of Utah, and Marta Meana from UNLV, although there’s also commentary from Julia Heiman, the Director of the Kinsey Institute, and others. As with so much of contemporary science writing, we get researchers as characters, with quirky personal descriptions and accounts of meeting the author, each one standing in for a particular perspective in current scientific debates.

Chivers is portrayed as arguing that women are existentially divided ‘between two truly separate, if inscrutably overlapping, systems, the physiological and the subjective,’ Diamond is made to stand in for the ‘female desire may be dictated… by intimacy, by emotional connection,’ and Meana stands in for the argument that women are narcissists desiring to submit. Whether or not these are accurate portrayals—and they might be—the model is prevalent in science writing: get characters to represent lines of thinking, even though many of us are not so clearly signed on with a single theoretical team. Here, we know the score: Diamond arguing women want intimacy, Meana that they want a real man to take them, and Chivers that women want it all, even if they don’t realize it and contradict themselves.

The irony is that, with such a tangle, the conclusion is foreordained: women will seem enigmatic, inconsistent, and irremediably opaque. As I’ll suggest in this, I think that the conclusion is built into the way the question is being asked. If a similar question were asked about nearly any group, in nearly any domain of complex human behaviour, and then a simple single answer were demanded, the questioner would face nearly identical frustration.

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Girls gone guilty: Evolutionary psych on sex #2

A while back, I posted a piece on recent evolutionary psychology research on human sexuality, specifically Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1. The previous post discussed a couple of research projects that have found a correlation between the ‘dark triad’ of narcissism, psychopathology, and manipulative Machiavelianism at low levels and the number of sexual partners that college-aged men reported having. The conclusion, baldly stated: chicks dig jerks, according to the researchers.

Today, I’m going to discuss a different set of articles, this time on ‘female guilt,’ sparked by research done by Prof. Anne Campbell, a psychologist at Durham University. Prof. Campbell surveyed people online and found that women regretted ‘one-night-stands’ more than men. This has led her to argue that women are ‘ill adapted’ for promiscuity, that the ‘sexual and feminist revolutions’ didn’t work because women couldn’t shake their inherent nature, which is to long for committed relationships and loathe themselves if they act like cheap floozies.

I delayed posting on this because I cannot get to the original article (my university library has a six-month delay on the journal Human Nature; Springer press release here). I hate posting on second-hand versions, but I feel like I don’t want to wait six months to write #2 in my series on ev psych stereotypes…. I mean, ‘perspectives’ on human sexuality or to put in my own two cents worth of opinionation. So I have to base most of my discussion on the press release from Durham University about Prof. Campbell’s recent article.

I can’t imagine that I’m EVER going to persuade the hardened core of evolutionary psychologists that there is not a thing called ‘human nature’; I’m not opposed to the concept for political, feminist reasons but because I don’t think living organisms have ‘essences,’ especially when it comes to behaviour. Nothing I can say, no theoretical point or comparative data from around the world of human variation, will convince the evolutionary psychologists because they know, they just know, that human nature — especially sex — has been shaped by evolution, hardened and set in our genes (or brains or hormones…), to rear it’s head when we do something against our nature (like a woman having sex and not trying to find a mate).

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Sex differences in the brain

Graphic from Slate
Graphic from Slate
I fear that I don’t link enough to Mind Hacks because I kind of assume that anyone who regularly reads us also checks out Vaughn’s excellent work over there. But he’s clued me into a series of articles on Slate that are excellent in his piece, Selling the ‘battle of the sexes.’ I won’t write something derivative here: you should really go read the piece by Vaughn and then link through to the series on Slate, starting with The Sex Difference Evangelists on several recent books that push the ‘sex differences are in the brain’ argument despite conflicting data. Vaughn nicely sums up the series by Amanda Schaffer:

Of course, there are cognitive differences between men and women, but the punchline of almost all sex difference research is that the extent of the difference between any two individuals, be they male or female, tends to vastly outweigh the average difference between the sexes.

Furthermore, while some of these books suggest the differences are innate many studies have found the differences change markedly over time and are influenced by cultural or social factors.

The series is well-researched, easy to digest and looks at the areas of communication, empathy, maths ability and development during childhood. It’s also accompanied by a three-part video discussion, which tackles similar issues.

And, as a bonus, when you link through to the material on Slate, there’s heaps of other links, including related book reviews, video segments, and other items (although some of it is not as solid as Schaffer’s work).
Graphic from Slate: http://www.slate.com/id/2194486/entry/2194488/.

Chicks dig jerks?: Evolutionary psych on sex #1

In our continuing exploration of facile examples of ‘evolutionary’ explanations for human behavior (usually described instead as ‘human nature’), I have another couple of exhibits: Do Jerks Get Laid More?, a great attack on recent research by Jill Filopovic at Feministe (h/t: Alternet); and Science Daily‘s story, Women Have Not Adapted To Casual Sex, Research Shows (which I’ll discuss in the next posts). Daniel already discussed some of the recent research on homosexuality in The Gay Brain: On Love and Science, but this piece, the first of two, is dedicated to recent ‘evolutionary’ work on male-female relations, especially arguments about what is ‘natural’ in sexuality including that all-important question, ‘What do women want?’

Some of the problems that beset these articles are pretty general objections a person could have to evolutionary psychology, so I feel like I want to go over them a little bit (but I’ll try to keep it short).

Why women like bad boys: ev psych explains

Jill Filopovic discusses a story, Do Jerks Get Laid More? Good news for psycho-narcissists, by Jessica Wakeman, which is commentary on a story in New Scientist, Bad guys really do get the most girls (a similar piece also appeared on ABC News). In other words, this story has been ricocheting around the Internets for a while, getting reposted and commented upon all over the place (such as here, here, here and, my favourite, here, where democracy confirms ev psych stereotypes). With all sorts of people having things to say, some share a bit too much about their own personal lives and some involve cueing up familiar cliches (‘nice guys finish last,’ for example, is a favourite).

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