Saturday, October 07, 2006

Science journalism contest!

Hey, I know. Let's have a quiz! Here's a story, with heds, as it appeared today on the Web site of a major metropolitan daily. There's a brief quiz (true-false and multiple guess) at the end. Post your answers as comments or send 'em to the address at right.

Extra credit: One point for finding a copy of the abstract by first-edn deadline (let's say that's 9 p.m. Saturday in whatever time zone you're in). Two points for finding the article itself by that deadline.

I'll post answers when I'm done pounding nails into my skull.

Media erode men's self-esteem
Study links TV to risky behavior, aggression

NEW YORK -- That guy in the Abercrombie & Fitch ad has an upper body that's all chiseled muscle and washboard abs.

On billboards and in magazines everywhere, it seems, there's a male Adonis -- buff, sleek, hairless. But how does it make the average guy feel?


Maybe not so great.

"Body image is not just a concern for women," says researcher Deborah Schooler, who's looked into the adverse effects such media images can have on male self-esteem.

In the past, when looking at men, researchers asked the wrong questions, Schooler argues.

"Asking men about just weight or size misses the boat," said Schooler, a research associate at Brown University. What men are more concerned about, she says, are other "real-body" factors, like sweat, body hair and body odor.

In a study published last spring , Schooler, then at San Francisco State University, and a colleague looked at 184 male college students. The more media these young men "consumed" -- especially music videos and prime-time TV -- the worse they felt about those "real" aspects of their bodies, researchers found.

Further, such negative feelings impacted their sexual well-being, in some cases leading to more aggressive and risky sexual behavior. (The study appeared in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.)

Ready, steady, go:
1) This study measures "self-esteem" in men.
a) True
b) False

2) Consider the image in the lede. Did the study find that men who read lots of fitness and porn magazines have:
a) More positive body esteem?
b) Less positive body esteem?

3) How many times would you estimate the words "aggression" or "aggressive" appear in the study?
a) None
b) 2-5
c) 6-10
d) 11 or more

4) Findings from this study can confidently be generalized to:
a) Men
b) Men aged 18 to 35
c) Straight male undergraduates in introductory and general psyc classes at Michigan State
d) None of the above; generalizing from convenience samples is inappropriate

5) How would the researchers characterize the "real body comfort" measure used here?
a) Well established in a number of social science fields
b) New and not yet broadly established as valid
c) Well known in experimental psychology but new elsewhere
d) Hypothetical and used here for the first time

6) Among subjects in this study, comfort with "real body" factors predicts:
a) More sexual assertiveness and less sexual risk-taking
b) Less sexual assertiveness and less sexual risk-taking
c) Less sexual assertiveness and more sexual risk-taking
d) More sexual assertiveness and more sexual risk-taking

7) The only significant demographic predictor of risky sexual behavior in this study is:
a) Religiosity
b) Being Asian
c) Own body comfort
d) Comfort with women's bodies

8) The study found a causal relationship between negative feelings about the "real body" and aggressive sexual behavior.
a) True
b) False

9) The study found that men are more concerned about "real body" factors than about weight or size.
a) True
b) False

10) The strongest predictor of whether men in the study were comfortable with their own bodies was body-mass index.
a) True
b) False

7 Comments:

Blogger Mark Liberman said...

My answers are given in
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003649.html

Now I have a question for you:

The journalists whose work is typified by this story are
a) stupid
b) lazy
c) cynical and dishonest

This is not a rhetorical quiz-question -- I'm genuinely puzzled. It's clear that such people can read and write and think -- so why do they appear to misunderstand so completely? And I'm sure that you can't become a successful journalist without years of hard work -- so why don't they bother to take a few minutes to look up original articles and read what they say?

The only answer that I can come up with is (c) -- they think that the real story would not be nearly as interesting to their readers (and perhaps to their editors?) as the crap that they make up is.

Or am I misunderstanding something here?

12:09 AM, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous Robert said...

The survey questions were a bit misleading, because they don't differentiate between what we think the survey says, and what the newspaper article makes us think.

For example, you can read between the lines and conclude that question 1 is clearly false (it only measures how they felt about their bodies).

And questions 2 and 6 don't let you choose an answer like "none of the above". So my answers, based on what I think the survey probably said, are:
1 b
2 b
3 b
4 c
5 d
6 a
7 c
8 b
9 b
10 b

2:03 PM, October 08, 2006  
Anonymous ken said...

Got here from LanguageLog

Trying to read between the lines I guess:

1) a) True
2) b) Less positive body esteem?
3) a) None
4) d) None of the above; generalizing from convenience samples is inappropriate
5) b) New and not yet broadly established as valid
6) a) More sexual assertiveness and less sexual risk-taking
7) a) Religiosity
8) b) False
9) a) True
10) b) False

8:47 AM, October 09, 2006  
Anonymous ken said...

... and now I read the rest of Mark's post, and look at the abstract (it wants me to be a member or pay 11 dollars to see the whole article) and find, as expected (for why else post the quiz here) that the newsitem misrepresents the paper.

I suspect Mark's (d) is most relevant here: "In some cases, scientists (or the PR agents of their institutions) may promote research in very different terms from those in which they describe it in their formal pubications [...] And maybe journalists tend to take them at their word..."

Or perhaps the journalists charitably assumed that Ms Schooner, being a Real Scientist and all, must be basing her social and political opinions on her research. So if she thinks that men care more about their smell than their shape, and she has also published a scholarly paper with Hard Sums in it, they misconnect the two.

Its like the strange resentment of Richard Dawkins that's blown up again over his recent book. Some people who dislike his atheism, or his (admittedly often ill-informed) attitudes to theology seem to get angry because he is a scientist. As if the position or status of Being A Scientist conferred some authority on him which he is abusing by talking about subjects other than his own.

9:22 AM, October 09, 2006  
Blogger language said...

As if the position or status of Being A Scientist conferred some authority on him which he is abusing by talking about subjects other than his own.

But that's exactly the case. Scientists have tremendous authority in our society, and he is indeed abusing that authority by bloviating on subjects he's not equipped to discuss intelligently. People also get annoyed when religious authorities say stupid things about science, as well they might.

10:23 AM, October 09, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

he is indeed abusing that authority by bloviating on subjects he's not equipped to discuss intelligently ...

Is that a fact or your opinion?

11:39 AM, October 09, 2006  
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