Chronicle review article

Chronicle review article - From the issue dated September 3...

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From the issue dated September 3, 2004 Men Are From Earth, and So Are Women. It's Faulty Research That Sets Them Apart. By ROSALIND C. BARNETT and CARYL RIVERS Are American college professors unwittingly misleading their students by teaching widely accepted ideas about men and women that are scientifically unsubstantiated? Why is the dominant narrative about the sexes one of difference, even though it receives little support from carefully designed peer-reviewed studies? One reason is that findings from a handful of small studies with nonrepresentative samples have often reported wildly overgeneralized but headline-grabbing findings about gender differences. Those findings have then been picked up by the news media -- and found their way back into the academy, where they are taught as fact. At the same time, research that tends to debunk popular ideas is often ignored by the news media. Even worse, many researchers have taken untested hypotheses at face value and used them to plan their studies. Many have also relied exclusively on statistical tests that are designed to find difference, without using tests that would show the degree of overlap between men and women. As a result, findings often suggest -- erroneously -- that the sexes are categorically different with respect to some specific variable or other. Yet in the latest edition of its publications manual, the American Psychological Association explicitly asks researchers to consider and report the degree of overlap in statistical studies. For good reason: Even if the mean difference between groups being compared is statistically significant, it may be of trivial consequence if the distributions show a high degree of overlap. Indeed, most studies that do report the size of effects indicate that the differences between the sexes are trivial or slight on a host of personality traits and cognitive and social behaviors. 1
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Because of such serious and pervasive problems, we believe that college students get a distorted picture about the sexes, one that overstates differences while minimizing the more accurate picture -- that of enormous overlap and similarity. It is easy to understand why college professors might spread myths about gender differences. Many of the original studies on which such findings were based have been embraced by both the academy and the wider culture. As Martha T. Mednick, an emerita professor of psychology at Howard University, pointed out in an article some years ago, popular ideas that are intuitively appealing, even if inadequately documented, all too often take on lives of their own. They may have shaky research foundations; they may be largely disproved by later -- and better -- studies. But bandwagon concepts that have become unhitched from
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Chronicle review article - From the issue dated September 3...

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