Why are biosocial criminologists shunned by their field?

What is a “biosocial criminologist”. It is a scholar that studies the genetics and biology of criminal behaviour.

It is not easy being a biosocial scholar in criminology. The field is heavily dominated by left-wing academics, and there is animosity towards research areas that undermine the traditional narratives perpetuated by the field, (i.e. that social injustice, poverty and material inequality is the root cause of all crime).

Over at Quillette, Brian Boutwell, writes candidly about being a biosocial criminologist. He writes:

Everyone faces the trials of peer review but it is decidedly different for biosocial criminologists. The simple reason is that many in the field are unqualified to review your research [1]. Why? They have a minimal (and I’m being generous) understanding of biological concepts. Criminological curricula do not require biology classes to be taken. Does this stop them from trying to evaluate your work? It most certainly does not.

I recommend you read the rest of the article: How criminologists who study biology are shunned by their field.

A platform for free thought

A platform for free thought

I have a new online magazine coming out called Quillette. 


“At Quillette we respect ideas. Even dangerous ones. Our writers are a collection of individuals from across the political spectrum, with different life stories and backgrounds. We aim to bring our expertise together into one platform – to create an organic group committed to free thought.

How to Submit

We aim to provide a platform for original thought, dissident voices, and quality cultural criticism. We will feature writing from non-journalists including scientists and artists, and will strive to give writers freedom to take risks and express dangerous ideas.

But we can’t do it alone. We need you, the reader, to join us in creating a groundswell. At Quillette, we believe this is achieved through story. If you have a story to tell, that is original and exciting, please send it through to claire@quillette.com and it will be considered for publication. It may be a personal narrative, a scientific hypothesis, an opinion piece, or investigative journalism. The best pieces will be chosen, and featured on Quillette. Writers who are published will be remunerated for their work.”

Feminism Must Be Reclaimed From Radicals

Feminism Must Be Reclaimed From Radicals

Few serious thinkers will argue that the women’s movement is no longer necessary. Few would argue that the movement does not have a noble history. Liberal feminists however, need to reclaim it.

Although feminism has a noble history, it was hijacked in the 1970s, with motley crews such as the New York Radical Women and the Redstockings stealing the show. After that, “radical” feminism was propelled by the likes of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine Mackinnon. Dworkin, whose contempt for women matched her hatred of men, famously wrote that women who enjoyed heterosexual sex with men were “collaborators, more base than other collaborators have ever been: experiencing pleasure in their own inferiority.”[1]

These radical feminists incited a backlash against all of feminism, despite only ever representing its lunatic fringe. In contrast to radical feminism–built on the dubious theory of sexual castes– the philosophy of liberal feminism is empirical and straightforward. Under classical liberalism, women have the inalienable right to be educated, employed and self-determining, and within the broader feminist canon, there is a treasure-trove of pragmatic work done by women such as Arlie Hochschild, Mary Ann Mason, Janet Yellen, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The list goes on. 

Some years ago in 1991, Susan Faludi drew attention to a ‘backlash’ against feminism in a book of the same name. She argued that conservative media was biased against the movement, caricaturing feminists as family-destroying, man-hating shrews. Her thesis was that conservative commentators built a strawman out of feminism, which then contributed to an unwarranted pushback[2]. Faludi’s argument was strong, yet it was incomplete. It is true that all forms of media build strawmen out of certain targets. Often the most polemic and blustering voices on any topic are published, because editors know what mass audiences like. Subjects are simplified and nuance is tossed in the trash. Yet backlashes against feminism cannot be dismissed as mere media confections. To characterise them as such is intellectually lazy.

In 2013, and Amanda Marcotte wrote

There is no such thing as a “radical feminist” anymore. Don’t get me wrong! There was. In the 60s and 70s there were radical feminists who were distinguishing themselves from liberal feminists. Radical feminists agreed with liberal feminists that we should change the laws to recognize women’s equality, but they also believed that we needed to change the culture. It was not enough to pass the ERA or legalize abortion, they believed, but we should also talk about cultural issues, such as misogyny, objectification, rape and domestic violence. In other words what was once “radical” feminism is now mainstream feminism.

Despite her assertions, Marcotte’s description of ‘radical feminism’ is simply a dumbed-down, euphemistic trope of what radical feminism actually was. Talking about cultural issues is not, and has never been, radical. What defined it in the ‘60s and ‘70s was the radical view that society was split down the middle by sexual castes[3]. In this philosophy, nothing about gender roles is natural – not even sex or having children. According to the radicals, the male caste has oppressed the female caste to the point where anything that can be described as ‘feminine’ is evidence of oppression; from make-up to high-heels, to breastfeeding and pregnancy. The radicals wrote books such as Lesbian Nation[4], and argued that a nation state along the lines of a Zionist Israel should be set up just for women[5]. While liberal feminists wanted to ensure women and girls had equal opportunities to succeed in life, radical feminists were motivated by an unquenchable will to power.

The perception that radical feminism was ‘anti-male’ never came from conservative media. It was never a strawman argument. Anti-male ravings came from the women who stole feminism from the rest of us. And it must be taken back again. More than ever, we need to distinguish liberal feminists from the radicals who’ve hijacked the cause.

[1] Dworkin, A. (1987). Intercourse. Basic Books.

[2] Faludi, S. (2009). Backlash: The undeclared war against American women. Random House


[3 Firestone, S. (2003). The dialectic of sex: The case for feminist revolution. Macmillan.

[4] Johnston, J. (1973). Lesbian nation. Simon and Schuhster, New York.

[5] Dworkin, A. (2000). Scapegoat: The Jews, Israel and Womens’ Liberation. Simon and Schuster.

Activists should calm down. Science is not so sexist

Activists should calm down. Science is not so sexist

 “Academic Science isn’t Sexist” declared Wendy Williams’ and Stephen Ceci’s op-ed in The New York Times last October. Their piece summarised a 67 page review published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest called “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape”[1]. Working alongside two economists, they compiled data from several hundred analyses of women’s participation in sciences – from the life sciences such as psychology – to the more math-intensive disciplines such as engineering and physics.

The biggest barrier for women, they found, was that they saw academic jobs as being in conflict with family formation. Despite this, they found that the picture painted was one of “gender fairness, rather than gender bias”. Women across the sciences were more likely to receive hiring offers than men, their grants and articles were accepted at the same rate, they were cited at the same rate, and they were tenured and promoted at the same rate[2].

Just two weeks after Williams’ and Ceci’s op-ed was published, the online fracas ‘shirtstorm’ happened. The lead scientist of the Rosetta Mission, Dr. Matt Taylor, was ridiculed online for wearing a celebratory shirt with pictures of scantily clad cartoon women. After tens of thousands of tweets were generated by the subject, Dr. Taylor broke down in tears on a television interview and apologised. After his tearful appearance many high profile figures came to his defence including Richard Dawkins and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Even the prominent UK feminist Julie Bindel wrote a concerned op-ed in The Guardian warning that “feminism is in danger of becoming toxic”.

Yet the tweets which sparked the online vilification of Dr. Taylor did not originate from professional agitators. They originated from a segment of the online science community. And this community is now publicly smearing the work of Williams and Ceci. Science blogger Emily Willingham reacted to their paper with incredulity, “how could anyone with any actual experience in academic science say something like that with a straight face?” PZ Myers took to his blog to liken male academics to ISIS, and female academics to refugees fleeing Iraq. Several commentators described their work as “victim-blaming,” trying to impart moral value to their empirical data. And Rebecca Schuman, education editor of Slate, declared that “work like [Williams’ and Ceci’s] will do little more than help to ensure that institutional bias in the academy endures for years to come.” [emphasis mine].


What exactly is going on here? To the general public, Williams and Ceci’s data simply confirms the obvious. Across the professions, such as law and medicine, women are not required to produce a tenure dossier to keep their jobs. Young women upon graduation are able to find permanent employment, and if or when they decide to have families, they tend to take maternity leave and arrange part-time hours on return. It’s not rocket science. Negotiating a biological clock at the same time as a tenure clock is simply not an appealing option for many intelligent women.

Yet while many female grad students opt-out of the academic career track early on (especially within the life sciences) evidence suggests that once women are in the pipeline, they are likely to persist[3]. And in a paper from Williams and Ceci published just this month, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), it was found that within controlled experiments tenured academics had a shocking 2:1 bias for preferring hypothetical female job applicants[4].

Williams and Ceci are far from the first scholars to be wary of narratives of oppression when it comes to women in science. Fifteen years ago Science published a paper in which Linda Gottfredson and Judith Kleinfeld questioned the ethics of trying to achieve parity in the sciences through social engineering[5]. And in 2002 The Blank Slate was published. Steven Pinker wrote:

Certainly there are institutional barriers to the advancement of women. People are mammals, and we should think through the ethical implications of the fact that it is women who bear, nurse, and disproportionately raise children. One ought not to assume that the default human being is a man and that children are an indulgence or an accident that strikes a deviant subset. Sex differences can therefore be used to justify, rather than endanger, women-friendly policies such as parental leave, subsidized childcare, flexible hours, and stoppages of the tenure clock or the elimination of tenure altogether.[6] (p358).

Some eleven years after the publication of Pinker’s seminal text, the scholars Mary Ann Mason, Nicholas Wolfinger and Marc Goulden asked if family formation mattered in the Ivory Tower. Their book was called Do Babies Matter? And they answered their question with a resounding “yes”[7]. Their research found that, in general, women who were successful in the academy delayed having children and had fewer children than they had hoped for[8]. And a significant proportion of women who had hoped to form families at some point forewent parenthood altogether[9]. Among graduate students that Mary Ann Mason surveyed, more than half of men and more than two thirds of women viewed academic careers as being in conflict with family life[10]. And when female graduates were asked why they didn’t continue on with academic careers after PhD completion, the most commonly reported reasons were having “other life interests” and “wanting to focus on children” [11].

Williams’ and Ceci’s analysis posits that early socialization – combined with the biological and emotional realities of motherhood – probably play a larger role in constraining women’s career trajectories than sexism. Yet their hypotheses are just that – hypotheses. It is plausible that social engineering will not produce anymore female physicists and computer scientists than what we already have. Why? Evidence regarding occupational preferences has found very large sex differences. While women in the aggregate tend to prefer social and creative work, men tend to prefer theoretical or mechanical work[12]. (This does not mean that women or men are any less capable in these areas, but simply that they are less interested in them). These sex differences become more robust the more people are surveyed. In a meta-analysis of over half a million people, the effect size of what is described as the “People–Things” dimension (where women prefer working with people and men with things) was found to be very large (d = 0.93)[13]. Even within professional fields the “People–Things” gender split can be found. In medicine, more women go into general practice and pediatrics and listen more empathically to patients[14] while men are more predominant in surgery. These sex differences don’t vanish when policies for gender equity are implemented, either. In fact, the evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt has marshaled cross cultural data across 21 sources which finds that sex differences on a range of variables are larger in nations with greater social and political gender equality[15]. For example there are more women graduating from computer science in Iran than in Norway or Sweden[16]. This is despite the greater gender egalitarian norms and policies of Nordic countries.

Fifteen years ago Gottfredson said that “if you insist on using gender parity as your measure of social justice, it means you will have to keep many men and women out of the work they like best and push them into work they don’t like”[17]. And Kleinfeld, declared:

We should not be sending [gifted] women the messages that they are less worthy human beings, less valuable to our civilization, lazy or low in status, if they choose to be teachers rather than mathematicians, journalists rather than physicists, lawyers rather than engineers[18].

Fifteen years later, perhaps it’s time we listened.

[1] Ceci, S. J., Ginther, D. K., Kahn, S., & Williams, W. M. (2014). Women in Academic Science A Changing Landscape. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 15(3), 75-141.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Miller, D. I., & Wai, J. (2015). The Bachelor’s to PhD STEM Pipeline No Longer Leaks More Women Than Men: A 30-Year Analysis. Name: Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 37.

[4] Williams, W. M., & Ceci, S. J. (2015). National hiring experiments reveal 2: 1 faculty preference for women on STEM tenure track. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201418878.

[5] Holden, C. (2000). Parity as a goal sparks bitter battle. Science, 289(5478), 380-380.

[6] Pinker, S. (2003). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. Penguin.

[7] Mason, M. A., Wolfinger, N., & Goulden, M. (2013). Do Babies Matter?

[8] Ibid.

[9] Mason, M. A., Wolfinger, N., & Goulden, M. (2013). Do Babies Matter?

[10] Mason, M. A., Goulden, M., & Frasch, K. (2009). Why graduate students reject the fast track. Academe, 95(1), 11-16.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Su, R., Rounds, J., & Armstrong, P. I. (2009). Men and things, women and people: a meta-analysis of sex differences in interests. Psychological bulletin, 135(6), 859.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hojat, M., Gonnella, J. S., Nasca, T. J., Mangione, S., Vergare, M., & Magee, M. (2014). Physician empathy: definition, components, measurement, and relationship to gender and specialty.

[15] Schmitt, D. P. (2015). The Evolution of Culturally-Variable Sex Differences: Men and Women Are Not Always Different, but When They Are… It Appears Not to Result from Patriarchy or Sex Role Socialization. In The Evolution of Sexuality (pp. 221-256). Springer International Publishing.

[16] Galpin, V. (2002). Women in computing around the world. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 34(2), 94-100.

[17] Holden, C. (2000). Parity as a goal sparks bitter battle. Science, 289(5478), 380-380.

[18] Ibid.

Our generation did not invent political correctness, but we can fight it

Our generation did not invent political correctness, but we can fight it

Political correctness is not a new phenomenon. The fact is that many dangerous questions are currently walled off by the baby boomers who dominate our universities (and large sectors of the media). Today’s culture war likes to scapegoat young people for the rise of the illiberal Left, but the responsibility really lies with the generation who came before us.

Each one of us has the ability to generate a hypothesis. A hypothesis simply comes from asking a question about the world and then using our imaginations to answer it. Almost every advance in human history first came from a person willing to look at the world, or the status quo, from a different angle. But if questions and hypotheses are going to have any impact they must be articulated. Questions have to come out of our minds and into the world around us.

The problem with P.C. is that it constrains the questions that we feel we can ask both of ourselves, and our superiors. It allows orthodoxy to creep in (as it always does). There is, however, a continuing perception that arguments against P.C. are only made by those wishing to go around calling people racist or sexist names. The question is often asked: what exactly is wrong with P.C. if it makes us more civil? The short answer is nothing. If that were all P.C. were about, no-one would have a problem with it at all.

If P.C. meant that fewer ad hominem insults were used in public discourse, intellectuals across the board would support it. If it meant that individuals were not clapped in the stocks in sadistic public-shaming campaigns, P.C. would be progressive. But in practice, those who enforce P.C. standards seem to specialise almost exclusively in ad hominem attack. Twitter mobbing, which quite literally destroys people’s reputations and livelihoods, is the apotheosis of P.C. justice. There is nothing civil or redeeming about it.


After the transformation of society brought by the 1960s, a cohort of sentimental liberals naturally flocked to academia. Many of them set up shop in the humanities and social sciences and spread both post-modernism and blank slate fundamentalism (the ideological resistance to biology, genetics and evolution) far and wide throughout the academy. These two mutually reinforcing ideologies have had a massive effect on scholarship and the wider culture.

It would be prudent for us to remember that of the young people who police language and thought on campus today, many have not yet left home; their privilege has effectively kept them in a state of intellectual neoteny. While the political movements that their parents were involved in were creative, aspirational and good-hearted, many of these movements have now ossified into the most brittle of orthodoxies. P.C. students on campus today are simply foot soldiers for their parents’ ideologies. And before we attack young people for being censorious and priggish, we should remember that this kafkaesque political baggage is what this generation has to bear.


In 2005, when the president of Harvard, Larry Summers, hypothesised that women’s under-represention in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) might have something to do with men’s greater variance in IQ scores, his hypothesis was declared untenable. Touching on two taboos at the same time – intelligence research and sex differences – meant that he was met with the writhing apoplexy of the self-righteous mob. The scientific evidence was ignored, very few, even in the academy, defended his right to hypothesise, and he lost his presidency.

P.C. crusaders in the academy also have a long tradition of obstructing empirical work into sex differences. One psychologist repeatedly labels research looking at brain sex differences as “neurosexism” and “neurotrash”. And discouraging research into brain sex differences has very real consequences. In 2013, the drug administration of the U.S., the FDA, issued a statement instructing dosing for popular sleeping pills to be halved for women. Their decision implied that women had been overdosing on sleeping pills for nearly twenty years. Neuroscientists such as Larry Cahill, have described the situation as pitiful. P.C. dogma has stymied research into female neurobiology for years.

It is not my generation that is responsible for this kind of groupthink. Yes, original feminism was creative and brilliant in extending principles of humanism and universalism to women. But my generation were not bequeathed a political movement with an Enlightenment impulse. What we inherited was the intellectual equivalent of a dead carcass. Those of us born in or after the 1980s, who studied humanities at university, were told by our professors that “there is no universal truth”. We either dropped out – or became indoctrinated into a cult of epistemological nihilism. My generation did not bring the rot of post-modernism and blank slate fundamentalism into the academy. How dare the wider culture blame us for this. We are the generation left with liberal arts educations that have been trashed from the inside out.


It might serve us to remember that the enforcers of dogmas today would have been the enforcers of dogmas yesterday. Those who went after Dr. Matt Taylor of the Rosetta Mission for his shirt, would have happily brought Galileo before the Inquisition – and they would have thought it was for his own good. Whether they are warriors for God, or warriors for Social Justice, the moral certainty of holier-than-thou crusaders tends to remain the same.

Today’s “Stepford Students” are indeed disconcerting. But we ought not forget where and with whom their belief system originated. The Old Guard will eventually leave their postings in the academy (and the media) and it is up to us to make sure they take their P.C. dogmas with them. Of course, the baby boomers have made wonderful contributions –in art, culture, technology and science – but we should feel free to leave their orthodoxies, taboos and political baggage behind.

We did not invent P.C. but we can fight it. The first step is to drop our parents’ blank slate ideologies, including post-modernism, into the dustbin of history. The second step is to start asking questions, even if they offend. The third step is to get them down on paper (or the computer screen) and circulate them with other heretics. We all have the ability to generate hypotheses, and hypotheses are the engine of progress.

Happiness by Design – Paul Dolan (2014)

Happiness by Design – Paul Dolan (2014)

When we think about our ‘happiness’ we may think about the goals we have achieved, how much money we have in the bank, or how prestigious our job is. We may not think about our commute to work, our dreary co-workers or the fact that days at the office seem to drag along, uninspiringly. In doing so, Dolan argues, we privilege our evaluative self over the experiential self (Kahneman & Riis, 2005). And this goes a long way in making us less happy than we could be.

The tension between these two selves – the evaluative and the experiential – lies at the heart of Happiness by Design. In these pages, Dolan, a self-described ‘sentimental hedonist’, steps up to advocate for the experiential self. A self, he argues, that often does not have a voice.

In 2004–2005 Dolan took up an invitation from Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman to be a Visiting Research Scholar at Princeton; a decision, he says, that set him on the path of subjective wellbeing research. Originally trained as an economist, Dolan has worked in the UK office for National Statistics and the UK Government’s Behavioural Insights team – also known as the ‘nudge’ unit – and currently holds a Chair in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In Happiness by Design, Dolan synthesizes the two research areas of subjective wellbeing and behavioural economics. First, he points out that the research literature on subjective wellbeing suffers from methodological limitations (e.g. Dolan, Peasgood, & White, 2008). We do not have an accurate picture of how people feel moment-to-moment because we generally only ask global questions of individuals’ evaluative selves, and we fail to monitor experiential selves ( Kahneman & Riis, 2005). We also fail to recognize the production processes which transform inputs (such as money, marriage, more sex) into outputs (such as happiness). This production process, Dolan argues, is the process of what we pay attention to.

The first half of Happiness by Design describes how in the past two decades, research across multiple disciplines has shown us that automatic processes guide our behaviour (e.g. Kahneman, 2011, Ouellette and Wood, 1998 and Webb and Sheeran, 2006). In this context it should not be surprising that most glib self-help advice such as “be positive” almost always fails to work. The simple observation of behavioural economics that to encourage behaviour one ought to make that behaviour easier guides Dolan’s book. Making simple changes to one’s environment (such as eating on smaller plates in order to eat less, or installing music apps on one’s computer) do not require the brain to use extra resources. Dolan’s theory is that if attention is allocated efficiently, our mental energy will not be tied up with making difficult choices – and can focus on the pleasurable instead. By designing our environments in a certain ways we can allocate more attention to that which makes us feel good, and less attention to making hard choices which bring about worry, guilt, shame and remorse.

The second half of Happiness By Design departs from the first in that it is much less theoretical and much more practical. Dolan explains ways in which pleasure and purpose can be maximized using data from controlled experiments as well as personal anecdotes and stories. The second half is more proscriptive, but in general, Dolan avoids telling his audience what they should be doing. Instead, he simply offers an open-ended and rather flexible evidence-based toolkit.

Dolan’s proposal is that shifting our attention away from constructed narratives to actual experiences is likely to make us a lot happier. For some people this might sound a lot like mindfulness and Dolan concedes that there is a certain level of overlap between his observations and the gentler, “fourth wave” editions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (e.g. Hayes, 2004). But while the empirical differences between the proscriptions of Happiness by Design and fourth wave CBT approaches may be relatively minor, it is important to note that Dolan does not propose ‘shoving’ the mind into certain states. There is no recommendation to sit for 20 min a day just ‘paying attention’. He says that attention is allocated efficiently by switching off one’s phone when at dinner with friends, and turning off email notifications when working.

Modern technology seduces us with the promise that it will make our lives more expedient. Yet research from neuroscience is showing us that multi-tasking, including surfing the Internet and constantly checking our phones can lead to mental fog and fragmented thinking (e.g. Levitin, 2015 and Zhou et al., 2011). When we multi-task, we assume we are engaging in multiple tasks at the same time, but in actuality we shift attention from each task rapidly. Each shift in attention drains our mental resources. Even more ominous, multi-tasking has been associated with addictive dopaminergic feedback loops (Levitin, 2015). So distraction can make us feel good in the short-term, but in the long term it robs us of our cognitive performance. Dolan makes the point that mental fog and fragmented thinking also robs us of our happiness.

While the distinctions between the evaluative and experiential selves, and pleasure and purpose in Happiness by Design are useful and easy to grasp, one is still left with some unanswered questions. For example, the activities which Dolan says he finds purposeful – such as working and exercising at the gym – no doubt have long term payoffs which are going to be pleasing to Dolan’s future evaluative self. So it’s hard not to see these two ‘selves’ as having significant overlap. It also seems plausible that what we find purposeful is simply that which we know will give us pleasure in the long term. Despite this, Dolan warns against putting off pleasure today in the hopes of securing it tomorrow. “Time is our most precious resource”, he says. “Happiness is not a fungible commodity”, he warns. When opportunities to enjoy life today are gone, they are gone forever.

Overall Dolan’s prose is clear and relaxed. Happiness by Design is brimming with ideas that can breathe, without being weighed down with unnecessary detail. Footnotes of the hundreds of studies used for the book are provided in the appendix, but the main text does not get sidetracked. It will be interesting to see how research in this area unfolds over the next few years, and how subjective wellbeing measures will start to include the experiential self.

Despite Dolan’s cheerful optimism, Happiness by Design is not unrealistic. It points out that having a sunny disposition relies in part on our genes ( Lykken & Tellegen, 1996) and that individual differences are likely to play a large role in how we balance our attention. Nevertheless, he makes the case well that pleasure – whether it is aesthetic, hedonic or eudemonic – is a human need that requires sating and ought to be treated as such. Happiness by Design is persuasive in arguing that small, bite-size changes to one’s environment and can go a long way in maximizing quality of life. Most importantly, Happiness by Design is also pleasure to read.



Dolan, P., Peasgood, T., & White, M. (2008). Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), 94-122.

Hayes, S. C. (2004). Acceptance and commitment therapy, relational frame theory, and the third wave of behavioral and cognitive therapies. Behavior Therapy, 35(4), 639-665.

Kahneman, D., & Riis, J. (2005). Living, and thinking about it: Two perspectives on life. The science of well-being, 285-304.

Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16489-16493.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.

Levitin, D. (2015). The organized mind: Thinking straight in the age of information overload. Penguin UK.

Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7(3), 186-189.

Ouellette, J. A., & Wood, W. (1998). Habit and intention in everyday life: the multiple processes by which past behavior predicts future behavior. Psychological bulletin, 124(1), 54.

Webb, T. L., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Does changing behavioral intentions engender behavior change? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 249.

Zhou, Y., Lin, F. C., Du, Y. S., Zhao, Z. M., Xu, J. R., & Lei, H. (2011). Gray matter abnormalities in Internet addiction: a voxel-based morphometry study. European Journal of Radiology, 79(1), 92-95.


Video-games: a first world obsession

Video-games: a first world obsession

Video-games are a leisure activity, played by kids, sometimes adults. When they are played by adults, they’re generally played for enjoyment, not unlike having a cold drink after a hard day’s work.

Games in general are a release from the monotony and frustrations of real life. Their primary function is to provide psychological escapism, within a safe space. People buy them, and play them for the purposes of pleasure. And like all pleasurable pastimes, they are probably best enjoyed in moderation. Like the Japanese Otaku who sacrifice the real world for their online obsessions, critics of video-games can sacrifice their grounding in reality too.

Their obsession can sometimes lead them into the land of the bizarre –

Thanks to a new cohort of culture warriors, today video-games aren’t just a leisure activity. They are now a battleground of abstract theories and warring ideologies. Critics want games to be viewed as art, replete with as many “cutting edge” political messages about racism and sexism as a New York indie gallery. But the trouble is, they are not art. They are entertainment. They are not made to make a political statement; they are made to turn a profit. McIntosh is like a food critic railing against a packet of skittles because he wants it to be a soufflé.

At the centre of this new-age cultural war is Mr. McIntosh (@radicalbytes). He is known for co-writing and producing the videos of ‘Feminist Frequency’ (Anita Sarkeesian) who hit the mainstream press this year in the New York Times and Colbert Report. From a superficial perspective, Sarkeesian and McIntosh make reasonable criticisms of video-games. It is obvious to anyone that games are hyper-masculine. And games as well as the gaming community, would benefit from having more female designers representing the female perspective. This is a no-brainer.

Ultimately, however, the problem with the type of ‘progressive’ thought as spouted by McIntosh, is that it doesn’t lend itself well to real-life circumstances. Everything is ideological; almost nothing is practical. Instead of rolling up his sleeves and creating games himself, McIntosh simply moans from the sidelines. Meanwhile, the connection between video-games and real world behaviours is a spurious one. In fact, when I asked Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker earlier this year about how we can reduce violent inclinations in young men, he suggested that video-games were instrumental for this purpose. Empirical data shows that since video-games have been around, all categories of teenage crime have declined significantly. By most people’s standards, this is a good outcome.

Media and cultural studies grads specialise in the abstract not the empirical. And their obsession with pop-culture, at the expense of real life, leads them to think and say ridiculous things. Only a person with a non-trivial amount of economic privilege, living in the luxury of the first-world, would ever be able to say something this –

Someone seems to be forgetting about  all the people in the world who do not have a wifi connection. Or who don’t go to the movies, and who have never played a video-game. I hate to break it to McIntosh, but these people do exist. And it’s a special kind of first-world privilege to forget that not everyone lives in the same culture as you do.

Aside from the obsession with pop-culture, at the crux of culture-war mongering today is an undying conviction that women, as a class, are oppressed. And men, as a class, are “privileged”. It follows a long tradition of left-progressive thought where one group is held up as morally pure, while another group is painted as morally corrupt.

McIntosh explores this theme in depth in his latest video, the 25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male. At 1:11 one guy reads from the auto-cue: “If I enthusiastically express my fondness for video-games no-one will automatically assume I am faking my interest, just to get attention.” At 2:11 another reads: “When purchasing most major video-games in a store, chances are I will not be asked if, or assumed to be buying it for a wife, daughter or girlfriend.” These are examples of invisible male privilege.

Yet to any rational person with a three digit IQ, all these statements are evidence of, is the luxury that pop-culture critics get to live in. To imagine that the hypothetical assumptions made by a hypothetical store clerk in an imaginary store, are evidence of men’s supremacy, is to betray a deeply sheltered emotional life. In countries all over the world, the benefits of being male are not invisible at all. They include being able to work, leave the house un-chaperoned, vote, drive a car, and get an education.

Culture warriors need to realise that every time they talk about how oppressed women are when playing video-games, they are talking about a hobby which requires significant resources and time to pursue and is a sign of first-world privilege by definition. By prioritising the trivial, they ignore examples of discrimination which are profound. Women who are sold into slavery. Women who are barred from getting an education. Women who are brutally beaten for minor transgressions. Culture-warriors also insult Western women in their attempt to imagine us as delicate wallflowers in need of special protection.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when political and cultural debate is ceded to obsessives. Leisure activities are re-cast as battlegrounds of oppression. Trivialities and abstractions are put-forward as “evidence” in a war that relies more on the perceived sins of the imaginary “other side” than real-world data.

And stupid ideas get to live another day.



25 Invisible Benefits of Gaming While Male – Feminist Frequency, December 2, 2014

Video-games are not making us more violent, study shows – The Guardian, November 10, 2014

Are kids getting more virtuous? – Washington Post, November 26, 2014

The End of the World as We Know It – Steven Pinker at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, September 1 2014

False claims undermine good causes

False claims undermine good causes

Today is White Ribbon Day. It is an important symbolic event reminding us all to be aware of violence against women.

Domestic violence and family abuse are a scourge on all human societies. Events such as White Ribbon Day play an significant role in breaking down the shame and stigma which makes it so hard for individuals to seek help. I wholeheartedly support this aim. What I do not support, however, are dodgy statistics and false claims which belittle this good cause. On Monday, 25th November, 2014, SkyNews Australia published the following tweet:

This is a sensational claim that is easily fact-checked. Research institutions such as the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW), the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) keep records of causes of death, and rates of victimisation for people in this age group every year.

To fact-check SkyNews Australia’s claim, let’s break down the most recent data we have for causes of death for men and women under the age of 45 (see Table 2 in the AIHW summary). Keep in mind these statistics are for both men and women:

1. Suicide                                 2,769 deaths

2. Accidental poisoning        1,534 deaths

3. Transport collisions          1,388 deaths

4. Heart disease                        915 deaths

5. Breast cancer                         509 deaths

Death by homicide does not make the top 5, for men or for women.

ABS data tells us that on average, one woman takes her life via suicide each day. AIC data tells us that in 2012, 33 women died from homicide, nationally, while 67 men did. In contrast, 336 women aged 15 – 45 died from suicide. Our rates of suicide should be our national shame. Combined, suicide and drug overdose claim eighty people per week under the age of 45, a significant proportion of whom are women. But violence is the sensational social issue du jour, so we do not hear about it. In May, 2014, ABCNews ran a story which stated:

Domestic violence is the leading cause of death and injury in women under 45, with more than one woman murdered by her   current or former partner every week.

Yet almost one woman dies every day from suicide, and almost two from breast cancer. So how is domestic violence “the leading cause of death” for women in this age group? Where does this claim even come from?

Source of the Claim

The claim comes from a ten year old report by the Australian government body VicHealth  tabled for the World Health Organisation. In 2004, VicHealth teamed up with a group of women’s advocates for the purposes of quantifying the overall health burden inflicted upon women and more broadly, society, from domestic violence.

In quantifying the burden of disease, the researchers involved chalked up health problems of victims as direct outcomes of exposure to violenceSee the figure below.


Health outcomes contributing to the disease burden of intimate partner violence include mental health issues (73% of the total disease burden), tobacco use at 14% and cervical cancer at 1%.

In calculating the total “health burden” of violence, the study’s authors came to the conclusion that intimate partner violence was the leading cause of preventable illness, disease and disability for women aged 15-44. How they came to this conclusion is difficult to gather due to the report’s opacity. Yet astonishingly, at some point in our national discourse, the claim that intimate partner violence is “a leading cause of disease burden” has been replaced by this:

It behooves us then to take a closer look at the source of this claim, in order to see if it stands up to scrutiny.

Methodological Concerns

The VicHealth report is based on what is known as a cross-sectional design. Data was taken from pre-existing reports and in their analysis, health variables and exposure to violence were measured at the same time. The most fundamental limitation to such a design is confusing correlation with causation

Such a design cannot tell us whether or not violence came before the onset of mental health problems, tobacco use or cervical cancer nor any other health outcome.

While it is highly likely that victims of violence do go onto develop mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. It is also highly likely that individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions find themselves in circumstances where such victimisation occurs. Last year’s report from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health said the following:

Women in their 20s and 30s who report intimate partner violence experience poorer mental health prior to intimate partner violence, suggesting an inter-connected relationship; that is, intimate partner violence affects mental health status and likewise mental health affects intimate partner violence. [6 pp 83]

The only way to prove causality is to prove that violence occurred at a point in time prior to the onset of mental health problems. The authors of the report have not done this. They also have not proven any causal link between violence and cancer, or tobacco use either. When referring to this limitation in their ‘technical report’, they stated simply that they “decided” violence preceded such health variables as cancer. Take a look at their reasoning in their own words —

A cross-sectional analysis is a weak design to examine the relationship between a risk factor and disease outcomes because it cannot indicate whether exposure to the risk factor preceded the health outcome, a necessary condition to prove causality. A longitudinal study design would be better suited to study this issue. Despite the large overall study size of ALSWH the number of women who newly reported intimate partner violence between the first and second survey was too small and the health status information too limited to examine temporality. However, we decided that a causal relationship between intimate partner violence and health outcomes was much more plausible than a health outcome being the cause of intimate partner violence. [5 pp 742-743]

“We decided”

Let’s take a look at who “we” is. For the VicHealth report, “prevalence data review and expertise” was overseen by Melanie Heenan, from the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault. The “Health impact data review and expertise ” was overseen by Jill Astbury, of the Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society. These researchers have dual roles as political advocates.

The authors of the report “decided” that intimate partner violence caused negative health outcomes. But they did not prove it. They did not rule out alternative explanations for the relationship between violence and negative health outcomes. And they did not attempt to temper their study’s conclusions in light of these serious methodological flaws. They also looked at female victims only, despite the fact that intimate partner violence is known to affect men at significant levels as well.

Political biases do not always undermine the quality of research, but they can and sometimes do. This study (which has not been replicated) contains major limitations. Published in a WHO newsletter, as opposed to a scientific journal, the report has never passed what is generally considered an acceptable standard of peer review. It is a government report, overseen by bureaucrats, funded by taxpayers. In short, it is an example of bad research performed for a political agenda. And now it is the basis for sensationalist false claims promoted in Australia by Sky and ABC News.

On White Ribbon Day, or any other day, we do not need false claims about the impact of intimate partner violence to know that it is a shocking thing, and a scourge on our society. We do not need to be told that domestic violence is the leading cause of death for women aged 15 – 45 in order to take it seriously.

The more false claims are publicised about violence against women, the more community cynicism will grow.

We do not do women any favours by producing bad research, and making exaggerated claims in their name.



Reader Stu makes the following comment.

More data from the ABS here:


From this we actually can break down the actual data to females between the ages of 15 and 44.

In all age subgroups (15-24,25-34,35-44), the top cause of death is suicide, although if you combine cancers into one group, cancer tops the 35-44 list. 

Overall the breakdown is similar to the gender-neutral one above – it is still suicide, followed by poisoning, then traffic accidents, then various subgroups of cancer and heart disease.

It’s hard to tell whether the false claims are deliberately dishonest or just carelessness, but they’re only harming the credibility of those who make them.


Further Links

ABC News – Domestic violence of epidemic proportions a ‘national emergency’: campaign groups

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research – New South Wales Recorded Crime Statistics 2013

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research – Trends and patterns in domestic violence assaults: 2001 to 2010

Carlson, M. D., & Morrison, R. S. (2009). Study design, precision, and validity in observational studiesJournal of palliative medicine12(1), 77-82.

The health costs of violence: Measuring the burden of disease caused by intimate partner violence: A summary of findings“, VicHealth, Carlton South, Australia, 2004

Holden L, Dobson A, Byles J, Loxton D, Dolja-Gore X, Hockey R, Lee C, Chojenta C, Reilly N, Mishra G, McLaughlin D, Pachana N, Tooth L & Harris M. “Mental Health: Findings from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health.“, Report prepared for the Australian Government Department of Health & Ageing, June 2013.

Vos, T., Astbury, J., Piers, L. S., Magnus, A., Heenan, M., Stanley, L., … & Webster, K. (2006). Measuring the impact of intimate partner violence on the health of women in Victoria, Australia. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 84(9), 739-744.

Post-modern assumptions about gender harm women

Post-modern assumptions about gender harm women

Until last year, women in the US had been unwittingly overdosing on sleeping pills for nearly twenty years.

In January 2013, the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered drug companies to slash the dosing of Zolpidem (an insomnia drug known as Ambien) by half for women. Side-effects from over-dosing on Zolpidem (known as Stilnox in Australia) include impaired thinking and reaction time, sleep-driving and sleep-eating.

The FDA ordered the makers of Ambien to provide different dosing instructions for males and females. Prior to their decision, the instructions for men and women were exactly the same. Why? Because we still don’t have enough information about how men and women metabolise drugs differently.

Phyllis Greenberger, CEO of the Society for Women’s Health Research in the US wrote just last month in a blog for Huffington Post: “the reality is that we do not know whether a drug will harm women until after they have started taking it.”

It is the year 2014 and women are at risk of harm from easily preventable biomedical errors. How on earth did we get here?

Firstly, drugs are tested on animals before they make it to human trials. Female animals are more difficult to test on, due to a more complex hormonal profile. The neuroscientist Larry Cahill is on record saying that the scientific understanding of women’s neurobiology is pitiful. He explains that 93% of the animals used in neuroscientific research are male, simply because they’re easier to study.

Secondly, medical and health researchers, including neuroscientists and psychologists, avoid studying sex differences out of a fear of being labeled “sexist”. One psychologist consistently name-calls neuroscientists publishing work on sex differences, dismissing such work as “neurosexism” and “neurotrash”. Researchers wanting to enjoy controversy free careers understandably avoid the sex differences arena.

In the field of medicine, heart disease, the number one killer of women in Australia, is known to affect men and women differently. More women die from heart attacks than men and females are at higher risk of extensive bleeding after heart surgery. Women’s brains are also more sensitive to neural deterioration. This leads Alzheimer’s to be more prevalent amongst women compared with men. It follows that research focusing on sex differences at the level of the neural substrate, is a pressing women’s health issue. Implying that it is a niche interest of “neurosexists”, in 2014, is simply reprehensible.

The dismissing of sex difference research stems from a deeply ingrained false assumption – that males and females are the same in matters of biology. To understand this probably unconscious assumption, we have to go back to Rousseau and his idea of the tabula rasa. The “tabula rasa,” means in Latin, “scraped tablet” or to us, that a baby is born with no preconceived ideas, his or her mind being a “blank slate”.

According to the assumption, culture writes upon this blank slate, shaping an individual until they conform to social norms. Tabula rasa thinking has been around for a long time, but it reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s when post-modern philosophy became popular.

The post-modern theorist Michel Foucault famously eyed biology and medicine with suspicion. He characterised “knowledge-producing” institutions, such as the medical clinic as potential tools of oppression. According to post-modernists, traditional research agendas were racist, classist and sexist, (albeit often unintentionally).

These ideas have been incredibly influential. In many undergraduate humanities courses – such as English Studies or Gender Studies – a student learns that the scientific method is biased for the fact that “if you ask certain questions you get certain answers”. Simply asking a question about sex differences reinforces a potentially constraining cultural dichotomy.

Today anti-vaccination advocates cite post-modern arguments in their suspicion of the pharmaceutical industry. Anthropologist Anna Kata has written:

Anti-vaccination protestors make postmodern arguments that reject biomedical and scientific “facts” in favour of their own interpretations…these postmodern discourses must be acknowledged in order to begin a dialogue.

Post-modern ideas are often presented in a very complicated language. At their heart however, lies an implicit manifesto of questioning socially received “binaries”, dichotomies hitherto thought to be self evident, such as male versus female, normal versus abnormal, or biology versus culture. Post-modernism tells us that these binaries are arbitrary, that gender is fluid for example, and in doing so has helped many men and women who don’t fit into straight-laced ideals of masculinity and femininity explore sex and gender with an open mind.

Unfortunately however, post-modern philosophy and the cultural baggage of the tabula rasa has not helped women in areas of health and medicine. In fact it has harmed us. This is simply because there is much more to biological sex than reproductive anatomy. And when it comes to testing biomedical hypotheses or interventions, we need to apply strict binaries. We need to test control groups against experimental groups, and women against men, to eliminate noise and bias, so that we can make causal inferences.

Zealous activists may argue that incorporating sex differences in studies may provide ammunition to those wishing to make sexist generalisations about women. However we also need to be aware that a dismissive attitude towards sex differences research constructs an arbitrary binary. If sex differences research is automatically viewed as “bad” while proof of similarities is viewed as “good”, then we are failing to think critically. (If Foucault could see how rigid his inheritors have become, he’d be turning in his grave).

The bottom line is that women’s health needs to be taken seriously. While sex differences research should be treated with a healthy skepticism (like any other research agenda) if we are too afraid to ask the questions, we will end up with no answers.


Denying the Tribe

Denying the Tribe


“When I asked him, fifty-three years after the event, “Mr. Lucas, why did you jump on those grenades?” he did not hesitate with his answer: “To save my buddies.”

James D. Bradley, Flags of Our Fathers

Sunni rebels fight a sectarian war across the Middle East. In Texas, gun lovers stockpile their weapons. In Europe, white nationalist, right-wing “euro-sceptic” parties surge at the polls. These groups are held together by something they share in common: it’s called male tribalism.

Western psychology (which is really American psychology) has had difficulty explaining what drives young men to sacrifice their lives for each other, and for their tribe, since its inception. Even evolutionary psychology, which has developed frameworks for understanding parochial altruism, and within-group dynamics, has largely avoided empirical investigation into the relationship between maleness, tribal culture, and inter-group conflict. The Male-Warrior Hypothesis (2012) takes a step in the right direction, but it still remains mute on the relationship between culture and tribal identity.


The discipline of psychology has reified the Northern American “ideal” of personhood, a person who is rational, materialistic, analytic, self-determining, and not tied down by communal obligations or allegiances. In 2010, cultural psychologists Joe Henrich, Steve Heine and Ara Norenzayan exposed the extent of this bias in their paper called “The Weirdest People in the World?” The article shattered psychology’s greatest implicit assumption: that people from Western cultures are representative of all people throughout the globe. (By “weird” they meant both unusual as well as Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic). Dozens of studies have now shown that people from Western, compared to non-Western cultures, think differently. And even among Western cultures, North-American people stand out as being the most different, the “weirdest” of all. In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt summarises Henrich, Heine and Norenzayan’s key finding like this:

The WEIRDer you are, the more you see a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships. (p. 96).

In other words, Western psychology views people as separate units. Even Australian culture, which is Western, rich and democratic, is less competitive and less hyper-individualistic compared to that of the US. (While for Americans freedom is sacrosanct, in Australia egalitarianism and fairness is prized above liberty, for most people).


Inter-group conflict, specifically male groups fighting other male groups, is something that happens everywhere in every culture, and has all throughout history – it qualifies as a “human universal”. But it is also a cultural construct. The symbols and values that groups of people organise themselves around, vary from group to group. They might be religious symbols, landmarks, emblems of national history or football teams. The symbols change, yet the tribalism remains the same.

Explanations for tribalism from the perspective of evolutionary psychology have typically focused on signaling theory and reproductive opportunities for individuals. Natural and sexual selection produces males with evolved “warrior” abilities because the rewards equate to fitness payoffs. But such explanations do not account for the bonding rituals that take place between males during tribal activities. Or the fact that more men than women watch sport. They do not explain why women are often excluded from tribes, and what the importance and function of male loyalty is – (what we in Australia call “mateship”).

Explanations for such phenomena must incorporate culture. A holistic explanation needs to take a holistic approach, with multiple levels of analysis, from the biological and evolutionary to the social and symbolic.


The most extreme form of tribalism manifests itself in terrorism. Psychologists have struggled to explain the psychology of terrorists, and no psychopathological profile exists which explains terrorist behaviour.

While personality disorder, poverty and extreme hardship are not predictive of terrorist activity, what researchers have called “heightened coalitional commitment” is. In 2008 Ginges, Hansen and Norenzayan published a paper which demonstrated that Palestinian Muslims who attended mosque, most frequently, had the highest levels of support, for the most extreme forms of parochial altruism: suicide attacks. Frequency of prayer was not predictive. Likewise, priming synagogue attendance (but not frequency of prayer) for Jewish Israelis, predicted the likelihood that they would find a suicide attack carried out against Palestinians to be “extremely heroic”.

If we want to understand the motivations of Islamist jihadists, European white nationalists, or anti-government gun-nuts, we need to understand tribalism. If we deny the pull of the tribe, and only focus on its negative consequences, we set the stage for it to flourish in the most anti-social and destructive of ways.

Many of us think that tribalism is at an all-time low, and most likely it is. Steven Pinker’s Better Angels of Our Nature describes how violence has drastically reduced, in large part, due to the suppression of tribalism throughout the world. Yet tribalism is still with us. Right now it is flourishing in the Middle East, with a globalised terror organization wreaking havoc throughout Iraq. Online, tribalism flourishes in the “manosphere”, “Neoreaction” and “Dark Enlightenment” movements.

Despite how civilized and peaceful we become, we can be sure that male tribalism will find a way.

See more

Ginges, J., Hansen, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2009). Religion and support for suicide attacks.

Psychological science, 20(2), 224-230.

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. Random House LLC.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world?. Behavioral and brain sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological review, 98(2), 224.

Amanda Hess discovers women have control over their lives. Pop- feminists everywhere are confused

Amanda Hess discovers women have control over their lives. Pop- feminists everywhere are confused

A few months ago, pop-feminist Amanda Hess, wrote an Op-Ed in which she accused scientists of doing research that reflected their “masturbatory tendencies”. This month, she has spilled ink on science again, this time with another Op-Ed in Slate’s The XX Factor attempting to “debunk” the ovulatory-shift hypothesis.

Hess concludes her piece with the following words:

Women’s endocrine processes have officially taken a back seat to our  own mental and physical capacities to regulate our preferences and our cycles to better contribute to our societies.”

Yes. One would hope all human beings over a certain age, who are fortunate enough to not be brain-injured, or drug-addicted would be able to regulate certain biological processes. And contribute to society. But being unable to “regulate” “endocrine processes” is not what the ovulatory shift hypothesis is about.

The hypothesis holds that like all other primates, human females change their behaviour during oestrus. Specifically, it predicts that women, on average, will find high-testosterone and socially dominant men more attractive for short-term mating (one night stands) when fertile. The shifts, however, a theorised to be subtle. And of course, there are exceptions to the rule. The hypothesis also only predicts which men women will find attractive, not which men women will actually have sex with (something which a whole lot of other factors influence).

But the fact that women have the ability to regulate their biological processes, does not rule out the ovulatory shift hypothesis. That would be like saying that because some people are able to regulate their appetites, this “contradicts” the neurobiology of hunger. Women choose to act on their desires, just as men do.

Hess’s Op-Ed attempting to debunk the ovulatory shift hypothesis was based on a meta-analysis (a synthesis of data from multiple studies) that was published in March this year in Emotion Review. It was conducted by Wendy Wood and colleagues and found that the relationship between menstrual cycles and mating preference to be negligible. It was supposed to answer once and for all if women’s menstrual cycles really do affect their mating preferences. But it didn’t.

This is because another meta-analysis by Gilversleeve et al was also published this year which came to very different conclusions. Featured in psychology’s flagship journal Psychological Bulletin, this analysis found that ovulatory-shifts in mating preference were “robust,” and “without bias”. It has also been noted that the Wood et al meta-analysis did not distinguish between “short” and “long” term mating, in accordance with sexual strategies theory.

Presumably unaware of these complexities, Slate’s editors went on to publish their Op-Ed with the following title:

Study Finds That Women Aren’t Run by Their Periods. Scientists Everywhere Are Confused.

In part, the piece argued that because women have free-will, and are also culturally conditioned, ovulatory-shifts in mate preference are implausible. Again, just because women have the ability to override their impulses, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.


Imagine choosing a meal to eat. Just because a person finds the combination of sugar and fat tasty, (it activates that reward centers of the brain), doesn’t mean that person eats cheesecake and ice-cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Not eating cheesecake or ice-cream for every meal could be partly due to cultural conditioning, partly due to self-control, and partly due to other factors.

The point is we make choices that override our innate preferences everyday. Having more information about our biology and psychology, does not lead one to be “ruled” by anything. On the contrary, it leads us to be more reflective, and more in control.

This is not the first time that psychological research has come under attack from Amanda Hess, or pop-feminists more widely. In a piece published last year, feminist writer Ruby Hamad made the bizarre comparison:

“Whereas once religion was used to control women and define their role and status in society, more and more, we are finding that science is being used in exactly the same fashion.”

If the pop-feminist worldview seems anti-intellectual and self-serving, that’s because it is. There is no pop-feminist writing championing women’s free will in the face of radical post-modern theories which deny female agency. The extremists of the feminist movement who characterise all heterosexual sex as “rape,” or portray women’s choices as “illusions” get off scot free.

In fact, pop-feminists have been duplicitous in attempting to convince an entire generation of impressionable, young, (mostly white, middle-class) women that they don’t have agency. Like astrologers before them, they ply readers who are prone to fatalism with their ideological fairytales. Instead of Mars aligning with Venus, the ‘Patriarchy’ colludes with ‘Hegemonic Masculinity’ to obstruct women’s ‘true’ destinies.

Yet despite all the rhetoric and hostility , I suspect that Hess and her ilk have known that women enjoy free-will in their lives all along. They just admit it when it suits them. The irony is that gaining insight into biological and psychological processes only enhances women’s capacity to live how they want to. It is sad that feminists feel they must protect women from that.


See also:

Gildersleeve, K., Haselton, M. G., & Fales, M. R. (2014). Do Women’s Mate Preferences Change Across the Ovulatory Cycle? A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin, doi: 10.1037/a0035438

Ferguson, C. J. (2014). Comment: Why Meta-Analyses Rarely Resolve Ideological Debates. Emotion Review, 1–2. Retrieved from: http://www.christopherjferguson.com/Emotion%20Review.pdf

Wood, W., Kressel, L., Joshi, P. D., & Louie, B. (2014). Meta-analysis of menstrual cycle effects on women’s mate preferences. Emotion Review, 1-2.

Bad Feminism

Bad Feminism

“Pop-feminism,” as a movement, valorises feelings above reason, cynicism above hope. It has regressed to a point where anything at all, no matter how irrational or how narcissistic, can be celebrated as ‘feminist’. Articles such as: I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorryor How Accepting Leggings as Pants Made Me a Better Feminist are shared wide and far on social media as feminist political statements.

Anyone can identify as a “feminist”. Even men who openly admit to domestic violence, such as Hugo Schwyzer. There are no boundaries, no benchmarks and no standards to which feminism will hold itself accountable.

It was not meant to be like this. In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published The Vindication of the Rights of Women. Her basic hypothesis was that women are capable of reason; just as men are. Yet because women are denied a rigorous education, this capability is rarely expressed.

Wollstonecraft’s achievement was to extend Enlightenment principles to women. Women were rational. Women were not innately ignorant, or naive, but socialised to be that way because their educations were neglected. She wrote that the more educated women became, the better off society would be.

Yet, despite the gains women have made in public life, the model of female empowerment held up by the media, today, is pop-feminism. In magazines and online news-sites, feminism and fashion intermingle. Humanities graduates, who specialize in snark, but not much else, now claim to speak on all women’s behalf.

In 1797, Thomas Gisborne wrote An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female SexStating the case for women to be confined to the home, he argued: The science of legislation, of jurisprudence, of political economy; the conduct of government in all its executive functions; the abstruse researches of erudition … the knowledge indispensable in the wide field of commercial enterprise … these, and other studies, pursuits and occupations, assigned chiefly or entirely to men, demand the efforts of a mind endued with the powers of close and comprehensive reasoning, and of intense and continued application. [emphasis mine].

Fast forward to 2014, and in the pages of ‘proudly female biased’ online news-sites, beauty is showcased over technology and business. Instead of evidence-based feminism, we get anecdote and science denialism.

In December last year, pop-feminist Amanda Marcotte, wrote a piece titled Are Men Hard-Wired to Show Off Around Women? written in response to a Wall Street Journal article about the Cheerleader Effect (the tendency of men to modify their behaviour in the presence of women). Typical of a pop-feminist anti-science piece, Marcotte provides zero links to any of the studies discussed.

Like most pop-feminists, she builds a murky picture of a body of “studies” with dubious outcomes and a sinister premise. We never found out the titles of the studies, authors, or journals from which they are sourced. She writes, “no doubt the data is accurate, but it does not follow that it’s necessarily hard-wired.

After a quick perusal of the studies (some of which can be found here, here and here) I found that the term “hard-wired” is absent from all of them; as one would expect. Psychologists tend not to talk about the brain’s wiring; that’s what neuroscientists do. Psychologists look at function. Neuroscientists look at structure. Despite this ignorance, Marcotte has the gall to “debunk” an entire body of scientific work. Work, it seems, she may not have even read. Work, she has also hidden from the reader.

Almost every time a pop-feminist critiques science or a scientific study, their argument is built on a strawman. In general, pop-feminists misrepresent published scientific work without providing links to primary sources. Pop-feminist articles (found here and here) are generally put-together wholly from second-hand material – stories about studies – not the studies themselves. Not only is this bad feminist critique; it is bad journalism.

It is ironic that in 2014, the women who confirm Thomas Gisborne’s eighteenth century sentiments are feminists who enjoy the most media privilege. (Academics in gender tucked away in universities all over the world, have used close application to develop nuanced ideas). Pop-feminists have not.

And it is sad that we have reached a point where to criticise anything labelled as “feminist” is to invite a slur on one’s character. Slurs of  “sexism” are ubiquitous. Any disagreement – no matter how sensible – is “trolling,” “abuse” a “backlash” or a “silencing”. Women like me, who simply call for feminism to rediscover Enlightenment principles, are labelled “female misogynists” on Twitter. But the slurs really must stop. Writers who wear their ignorance as a badge of honour are not models of empowerment. News outlets should not have to disrespect women’s intelligence to make their platforms viable.

Women should be respected for the originality of their thought – regardless of their conformity to media-sanctioned ideologies. And the feminist label should not protect ill-conceived ideas with impunity.



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