How Media Pervert Science to Reinforce Gender Stereotypes

I know that having your research findings taken up and reported by popular media must be very flattering to a scholar. However, one has to have some responsibility and make sure that one’s research doesn’t get used to perpetuate all kinds of ridiculous stereotypes that it doesn’t even support.

A case in point: a researcher at the University of Missouri conducted a study about “how girls and boys expect talking about problems will make them feel.” In the conclusion, the study states that gender differences it uncovered were negligible. (This is what every single study into the supposed gender differences usually uncovers: they do not exist.) However, when it came to signing a press release about the findings, it was worded very differently.

The University of Missouri produced a press release (and Rose confirms by email that she approved it) with the title “Males believe discussing problems is a waste of time, MU study shows”. In the transition from academic journal to attention-grabbing press release, the self-reported feelings of a minority of boys have been transformed into something that’s generally true of males as a whole. It’s almost as if no one was that concerned at all about overstating sex effects.

Note that the researcher in question approved the sensationalizing wording of the press release.

The study was immediately taken up by two popular rags. One of the published a piece titled “Housewives, shut up”. Another one is titled “Girls at Risk of Talking Too Much, Scientists Find.” It is needless to say that the study in question never suggested anything even remotely similar.

P.S. For more insightful reading on the topic of how popular media invent gender differences on the basis of studies that say the exact opposite can be found in Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender.

4 thoughts on “How Media Pervert Science to Reinforce Gender Stereotypes

  1. What ever did happen to journalism? When did it get replaced with this kind of asinine idea that it’s too hard to find out why we’re wrong, and instead rehash untruths, even when they are blatantly false?
    We need fewer “journalists” and more iconoclasts.


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