It Reinforces Gender Stereotypes So the Today Show Breathlessly Broadcasts Completely Fabricated Science
Language Log author, joint professor of linguistics and computer and informational sciences, and gender stereotype curmudgeon Mark Liberman crops up another example of the persistence of gender stereotypes...
Catherine Griffin, "Why Women Talk More Than Men: Language Protein Uncovered", Science World Report 2/20/2013.
You know all the times that men complain about women talking too much? Apparently there's a biological explanation for the reason why women are chattier than men. Scientists have discovered that women possess higher levels of a "language protein" in their brains, which could explain why females are so talkative.
Previous research has shown that women talk almost three times as much as men. In fact, an average woman notches up 20,000 words in a day, which is about 13,000 more than the average man. In addition, women generally speak more quickly and devote more brainpower to speaking. Yet before now, researchers haven't been able to biologically explain why this is the case.
Source: Language Log
In the face of quite a lot of computational linguistic research to the contrary
The stimulus for these little nuggets of nonsense was J. Michael Bowers, Miguel Perez-Pouchoulen, N. Shalon Edwards,3 and Margaret M. McCarthy, "Foxp2 Mediates Sex Differences in Ultrasonic Vocalization by Rat Pups and Directs Order of Maternal Retrieval", The Journal of Neuroscience, February 20, 2013. More on Bowers et al. later — this morning, I'll just take up the "previous research has shown that women talk almost three times as much as men" business.
- There has never been any "study" showing that "women talk almost three times as much as men", although the "research" in question has been cited by dozens of science writers, relationship counselors, celebrity preachers, and other people in the habit of claiming non-existent authoritative support for their personal impressions;
- Real-world studies of gender differences in language use indicate that men and women are about equally talkative. One large, relatively recent study (M.R. Mehlet al., "Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?", Science, 317(5834) p. 82 July 5, 2007) found essentially equal counts of about 16,000 words per day in six samples of university students in the U.S. and Mexico.
Notice also the further evidence that Patriarchy is a co-ed enterprise: Catherine Griffin, Andrea Canning on the Today Show, Brittany Silverstein of Central Coast News, are pfaffing as rapturously about God using genes to make women talk "up to 13,000 more words a day than men" as the more reliable patriarchal toolbags such as Glenn Beck economist John (guns are better than penises) Lott.
Just a little editorial note here from a guy who studied the history and philosophy of science in college: The lead researcher who's lab has found increased levels of a protein encoded by a gene called FOXP2 in little girls is claiming, for television cameras, that this "explains" why women talk more than men. Except, of course, people like Mark Liberman who research and measure how much men and women actually speak say, have said, and (based on computational surveys of databases of thousands of recorded conversations. And except, of course, that the one single researcher who made the original claim based, evidently, on zero actual research, retracted her claim the day after it hit the newspapers. (Turns out she may have gotten it from... a flipping puff piece in Cosmopolitan, which in turn got it from idle speculation from a... televangelist!!!) And except, of course, that the FOXP2 guy who's in the news today has been told and thus knows for a fact that women actually don'ttalk three times as much as men do.
Well so what? I mean except that it's a 100% falsehood that persists because for those who are completely invested in gender stereotyping the information is "fabricated but true." So again, so what?
Well. The guy really has detected elevated levels of that protein in little girls. And there really might be a reason for it. (Remember, I'll never say there are no differences between the sexes -- see, oh, say, penises and vulvas!) But if the guy's going to just go grab the first stereotype that crosses his mind, as he does here, and says "that explains it," and if the "explanation" is actually, um, a complete lie, then... whatever the real reason might be for those differing protein levels will go unexplored, unreported, and un-further-researched. Which is really a shame. Because the real reason, which we might never know because the fake one is so satisfying to gender bigots, might actually be interesting, useful, and even productive.
Point being here that gender stereotypes aren't just abstractly counterproductive. They get in the way of real science, real work, and real... um... reality!
Going even further, this kind of gleeful disregard for truth in favor of acknowledged bullshit raises the question what other human progress is our fondness for stereotypes interfering with? What other bullshit about, oh, say, men is propagated by assumptions that we already "know" so well we don't bother to find out? What other bullshit about women? Of children? Of trans people? And so on?
The only good news? Other people have been studying the FOXP2 gene for years. You'll just never hear about them on the Today Show or from Glenn Beck, though, because their findings don't luridly reinforce bullshit stereotypes about how men are "less fortunate" in their language skills or how women are "compulsive chatty cathys.") $%!@#!*&!!!!