I’ll get to the idiotic “black women are ugly” thing in a bit. First, let me step back and give you some background.
One of the best known long-term studies of adolescents is the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health—known colloquially as Add Health—in which thousands of teens have been regularly surveyed on a wide variety of topics as they moved from adolescence to adulthood. I’ve always had a lot of respect for this giant and audacious research project, but I’m having second thoughts.
According to several articles, interviewers for Add Health also rated the interviewees on personality, grooming, and physical attractiveness. Yup, no way that could be subjective. That’s some good objective science there!
Yeah, that last bit was sarcasm. I can think of, oh, a thousand or so ways that it could go wrong and I’m not even a statistician or researcher! One article I read said that “the ratings were normalized by the sheer number of responses.”
I…what? Seriously? I can’t even handle that. I think my brain just exploded. Because having thousands of biased responses obviously makes it all better, right? Right?
Well, it’s good to know that there is one standard of attractiveness and personality! That sure makes everyone’s life a lot easier, I think. We just need to get hold of the book that tells us exactly what we should look like and how we should act in order to have the one “good” personality and…
I told you my brain exploded. I’m having trouble being even vaguely coherent about this, because it simply boggles my mind. I’m just hoping that the reports I’ve seen are misunderstanding what Add Health was doing. Maybe there’s a good explanation. I hope.
Now, I don’t follow Add Health very closely (not since I got out of government relations work), so I don’t know if I ever would have heard about rating interviewees by appearance if not for a ridiculously bad blog post on the Psychology Today website, which has since been removed in an apparent fit of sanity on somebody’s part. (If you have trouble seeing the image I linked to, try the article version here. Unless you value your brain cells and wish to avoid the whole thing.)
Yes, this is the second time I’m ripping up a blog post over at Psychology Today. Pretty soon they’re going to be on my no-go list to keep my blood pressure down. (Also on that list: Age of Autism and Worldnet Daily. It’s not good company.) By the way, for the record, the lovely professional organization I consult for does not own that magazine. Just so there’s no confusion 😀
Okay, back to Satoshi Kanazawa, who used the Add Health ratings to conclude that black women are objectively less attractive than other women. Yup, you read that right. Did your head just explode? Sorry ’bout that.
First problem I see is that Kanazawa’s an evolutionary psychologist, so he’s already got one strike against him in my book.
Second, he claims the ratings are both objective and subjective, but never gives any explanation of what part of random interviewers picking a number between 1 and 5 is objective. As PZ Myers notes, just because you can make charts and graphs, that doesn’t mean it’s science. I can make a beautiful chart showing the number of people I know who think Satoshi Kanazawa is a giant poopyhead vs. the number who think he’s a dickwad, but that doesn’t mean it’s a scientific finding. (Although it is a fact that I think he’s a giant poopyhead.)
I’m not even going to touch Kanazawa’s contention that “women on average are more attractive than men.” But what about the idea that because the Add Health interviewers rated them as less attractive, this somehow proves that black women are objectively less attractive?
Let’s start with what I think is question number one: What was the race of the interviewers? I’m going to take a wild guess that they were mainly white. Isn’t there just a tiny possibility that might affect the results? (She says with considerable sarcasm.) What about the gender? Do men and women rate appearance and personality similarly? Seriously? And I’m sure there are dozens of other objections that I’m too blinded by rage to see.
However, I thought the most interesting thing in his post was data that Kanazawa and I interpret entirely differently. Here’s how he sees it:
It is very interesting to note that even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others. In Wave III, Add Health asks its respondents to rate their own physical attractiveness subjectively on the following four-point scale: 1=not at all, 2=slightly, 3=moderately, 4=very.
::boggles:: No, seriously, that’s what he says. There’s just one tiny problem with his first sentence: If you look at the scale, participants weren’t asked to compare themselves to other people, they were asked if they considered themselves attractive! I hate to disturb his little dream of “objective” science, but an individual rating themselves as 3 might still consider themselves less attractive than someone else who rated themselves as a 2.
Kanazawa looks at his fancy-shmancy graph and says “Oh, black women think they’re so hot, but they’re wrong!” and I say “Hey, that’s some damn good self-esteem among black men and women and good for them, considering the dumbasses out there telling them they’re objectively less attractive than white or Hispanic or Asian women!”
If the interviewees had been asked to rate themselves along a scale of, say, “much less attractive than average” to “much more attractive than average”, then you could say who considered themselves more attractive than others. But that’s not what Add Health asked.
I think I’m going to try and give Add Health the benefit of the doubt. I hope that when they added these subjective ratings to their plan, they understood they were subjective. And I hope that other researchers using data from Add Health will speak out against misuse of the data to “prove” that black women are ugly.
I’m just gonna go stare at some more pictures of Gina Torres now. ::dreamy sigh::