Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Margaret Wente: Even if they come from the same place, the cute guy’s numbers are better than the Feminists’

Question: Why are statistics from the same organization (the U.S. Bureau of Justice) “the best there are” when Steven Pinker uses them, but “ridiculous” when used by the American Association of University Women?

A few things to add to this.

Of course, the question requires knowing that the figures are from the same body – something Wente doesn’t disclose when she again condemns the AAUW for “cooked up” stats.

Ethical? Professional? (“It is dishonest to base an editorial on halftruth”, says the code of conduct of the Ontario Press Council. “The Press Council supports free expression of opinion that purports to be based on statistics but believes that readers have the right to know where the statistics come from.”)

Maybe Margaret just likes guys better. In an interview on TVO’s “The Agenda”, Wente says she’s a ‘huge fan’ of Steven Pinker (who she also calls Stephen Harper). “First of all, he looks cute” (agreed - definitely cuter than Harper).

One other attribution question, highlighted by the TVO segment: In the Globe, Wente doesn’t clearly attribute an observation about a magazine ad found in Peter Singer’s NYT review of Pinker’s book. Instead, she presents it in a way that leaves readers wondering whether it’s her own observation about changing mores (like examples about a local team logo which follow).

Singer, NYT: “The final trend Pinker discusses is the ‘rights revolution’…. domestic violence was tolerated to such a degree that a 1950s ad could show a husband with his wife over his knees, spanking her for failing to buy the right brand of coffee”.

Wente: “It’s easy to forget how dramatically attitudes toward rape and wife abuse have changed. As recently as the 1950s, light-hearted magazine ads depicted husbands spanking their wives for buying the wrong kind of coffee. Police treated rape as a joke, too, and the victim and her reputation were routinely put on trial. The great rights revolutions that gathered steam in the second half of the 20th century put an end to all that”.

In the TVO clip, her seeming ownership is more pronounced. Paikin begins by asking Wente if any of the trends Pinker describes “have occurred to her” “before knowing about the book”.

They ramble on about Wente’s views. At about the 6 minute mark, with no reference to either men, Wente offers the same advertisement as one of her own examples of changing mores, saying, “within my lifetime…here’s how far attitudes have changed…within my lifetime, you could run a humorous magazine ad…(she goes on to describe the ad, and continue with “within my lifetime” examples).

Conclusion? I’m no expert, but it seems odd not to mention the source. But it also seems in keeping with the history of recent attribution errors.

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