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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Catching bad science in the news

There are dangers in giving the uneducated numbers, and thus it happens that many a study gets press by people who have no idea what it means. Thus emerged Bad Science, a blog for taking on the idiots (apparently in the British press). He has a nice article from last week on a survey purportedly reinforcing social norms about color preference (girls like pink and boys like blue). He guts it. And offers some fascinating context:
Back in the days when ladies had a home journal (in 1918) the Ladies Home Journal wrote: “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
He also notes that these supposed "social norms" differ across cultures, something that the researchers found but that the media left out. The biggest leap beyond data was the idea that color norms (a social construct) could be measured by color preference - the subject of the actual study.

Perhaps a better title would have been: "girls prefer red, boys prefer blue. At least, Anglo ones do."

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