Perhaps it’s not really “pseudoscience” — which connotes the promotion of definitely false beliefs — but “junk science,” where research studies are done by academics who cloak themselves in the authority of Science but actually commit logical fallacies in promoting their work to appear to confirm the beliefs they already hold about the world.
My earlier post, “Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!”, reporting on the feminist junk science study trying to associate 50 Shades of Grey with anorexia and abusive relationships has company in two much-more-detailed critiques in Psychology Today blogs. Both are worth reading in full, but I’ll quote some points. First, we have this piece by Robert James King, Ph.D.:
Let’s start with the so-called eating disorders. What was actually measured? Two things.
Q1 “Have you ever fasted for a day (or more)?”
Q2 “Have you ever used diet aids?”
That’s the lot. No. Calling the use of diet aids an eating disorder is just scare-mongering. These people didn’t have eating disorders—at least not that we know of. I could have got the same results by dividing the group into “gym members” and “non-gym members”
The binge-drinking measure (“Having 5 or more drinks on 6 or more days in the last month”) was technically correct. For doctors, five or more drinks is a binge. For most of us—it’s a quiet night in—but let’s pass over that one to the juicy stuff, “risky sexual practices”.
The criteria the authors use for prevalence of risky sexual practices were two:
Q1: “Have you had five or more sexual partners?”
Q2: “Have you ever had anal sex?”
Really? Boy, you young people! These are the criteria for risky sexuality? ….
Running a bunch of correlations without having any controls is a thing that we scientists call (and stop me if I’m getting too technical here) “Not doing science”.
Let’s say I have a hunch that there is a nefarious plot that links people who have been killed by falling out of bed and the number of lawyers in Puerto Rico. It correlates .96 over twelve years—I bet you didn’t know that. Well, how could you? It’s a plot by Puerto-Rican Lawyers…
Well, I can search around for some correlations—but all this really tells the world is that I am obsessed with Puerto Rican lawyers (for some reason). (3) That’s why scientist control for certain factors. Here are some possible ones that don’t seem to have occurred to the authors:
Did their sample read other books? Other erotic books? Do they even have sexual partners? Have they ever had sex at all?
Here’s the thing—if you build in your assumptions at the start (that kink is bad) then maybe you can find a correlation there. Without controls all the authors have done is import their moralising and attached some numbers to it.
The next piece is by Jen Kim (who has read the books!):
“The study did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books.”
Lead researcher Amy Bonomi says it’s a potential problem either way, but I have to disagree.
The distinction is quite important, because one interpretation suggests that girls who read the book already have a proclivity for certain behaviors, while the other suggests that the book creates such behaviors.
As a reader of two (!) out of the three books by E.L. James, I have a difficult time seeing the latter case.
Ana Steele, the dimwitted ingénue of the story, chooses to participate in a consensual S&M relationship with handsome stalker, Christian Grey. As far as I can recall, she enjoys (or is at least, open) to this arrangement. Furthermore, Christian has more of a predilection for physical spanking than verbal abuse, right?
For some reason, Ana forgets to eat. It is certainly never implied that she is purposely trying to lose weight or suffers from an eating disorder. The girl just doesn’t like to eat.
I haven’t read the third book, but I believe Ana gets drunk once in the first book (to the point of getting sick) and then gets tipsy a few more times. How does this behavior differ from any other 21 year old’s?
Ana’s only sexual partner was and is Christian, which hardly makes her as promiscuous as this study claims its readers to be….
A lot of this criticism is reminiscent of the blowback against violent video games and films like The Matrix in the wake of the Columbine shooting. Keanu’s kung-fu skills were to blame, not the shooters’ mental health or upbringing.
But, a recent study from the University of Oxford, The University of Rochester and the company Immersyve, has found that playing so-called violent video games (e.g., Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto) do not give rise to real-world aggression.
Previous post on topic: Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
For more on pop culture:
“Game of Thrones” and the Problem of PowerThe Lessons of Walter White
The Morality of Glamour
“Mockingjay” Propaganda Posters
“Big Bang Theory” — Aspergers and Emotional/Social Intelligence
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
Reading “50 Shades of Grey” Gives You Anorexia and an Abusive Partner!
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
“Raising Arizona” — Dream of a Family
The journal article has some very serious problems, both methodologically and in terms of the references the authors are using.
Methodologically, besides the glaring problems with the questions they asked and their irresponsible extrapolations, there is a problem of setting up the experimental paradigm of readers (of FSOG) vs non-readers. Without investigations into readers of other texts, or at least one control text, it is impossible to conclude whether the content of the work, or simply the act of reading 3 volumes of anything, would give them same results. Perhaps the villain here is simply bad narrative prose? The implication that the content of the novels has any bearing on the behaviour of the readers is not sustained by their methodology.
They have also cherry-picked their references rather shamelessly, ignoring larger scale, latitudinal studies that strongly dispute the results of the porn/violence against women studies referenced by the authors of the journal article.
As an academic, a woman, and a feminist, it disturbs me to see this kind of shoddy research being a) financed and b) given legitimacy by a peer reviewed journal and worse, c) presented to the public as ‘science’ in mainstream newspapers.
It’s frustrating when there is so much important research that needs doing that this kind of junk science gets funding. I’m all for equity feminism (equal opportunity, strong women reaching their potentials, etc.) but this kind of thing gives it a bad name (thus the current political struggle over Third Wave Feminism.) I go after academics a lot, but we do need rigorous thinkers working on long-term problems. How to fund them through a political process that now pays more attention to geography and politics than excellence?