Does Freedom Of The Press In The UK Include Just Making Things Up?
from the ah,-but-we-keep-being-told-we-need-the-press dept
The article reported that "Researchers claim that blondes are more likely to display a "warlike" streak because they attract more attention than other women and are used to getting their own way -- the so-called "princess effect."" The Times article quotes the evolutionary psychologist at the University of California -- Santa Barbara, Aaron Sell, and his findings are purportedly published in his article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, written with the two Deans of Modern Evolutionary Psychology, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby.Reading through the actual letter from Sell is really quite damning as he details one by one all of the false statements in the Times' article. Here's just a snippet (it goes on and on):
As it turns out, however, none of this is true, as Sell explains in his angry letter to the Times. He and his coauthors do not mention blondes at all in their paper and they don't even have hair color in their data. The supplementary analyses that Sell performed after the publication of the paper, as a personal favor to the Times reporter, show the exact opposite of what the Times article claims. After he presumably listened to Sell explain all of this on the phone, the Times reporter nonetheless made up the whole thing, and attributed it to Sell.
Mr. Harlow called to ask me about blonde women in particular. He said he was writing an article about blondes, and that he knew of other research showing that blondes feel more entitled. _I told him that my research did not look at blondes at all._ At his request, and as a courtesy to him, I reanalyzed our unpublished data to see if there was any relationship between being blonde and any variable I measured. There was not, and I told him so. (Although we had not taken hair color in the studies, being uninterested in it, I was able to recode the data retroactively based on photographs.)Of course, it's also noted that Reporters Without Borders ranks the UK higher than the US when it comes to freedom of the press, leading the professor to claim that perhaps the UK press is a little too free when it feels comfortable making such totally unsubstantiated claims.
Specifically, I told him, based on our data:
Blonde women do _not_ feel more entitled.
Blonde women are _not_ more prone to anger
Blonde women do _not_ feel more attractive than other women.
Blonde women are _not_ more militaristic.
(This last analysis about militarism controls for ethnicity, a necessary control because political attitudes are correlated with ethnicity and social class. Moreover, women of European ancestry constitute essentially the only ethnic group in the sample whose members could be blonde or not, and there is _no_ relationship among them between blondeness and attitudes toward use of the military. Any analysis of "blondeness" that does not control for ethnicity on questions about political attitudes creates the possibility that one could find a spurious correlation, because women of Asian and African-American ancestry (e.g.) are never blonde. I explained this to Mr. Harlow, and explained that this means _there is no evidence in my data that blondeness causes militaristic attitudes._)
The data aside, Mr. Harlow attributes statements to me, in quotation marks, that I have never said:
I have never published, researched, thought about, or used the phrase, "Princess Effect."
I did not refer to Southern California as the "homeland of the privileged blonde."
I never speculated on why blondes would be less likely to be in fights (which is not true anyway).
I have no evidence whatsoever on the effects of dying one's hair blonde.
I'd be curious if some of our UK readers could weigh in on all of this, as it does sound a bit extreme. We're all familiar with newspapers twisting stories or getting facts wrong, but the description here seems a bit ridiculous. Also, as we well know, the UK has very strict libel laws, and it seems like outright lying could get a reporter in trouble pretty quickly, so it sounds odd and surprising that it would be done often, if at all. In the meantime, if all of this is true, it again makes me wonder about those who seem to think that a strong press is important. What they really mean is that good reporting is important, and that does not appear to be the same thing.