Science Reporting Gone Wild
OR, are blonde women really “born to be warrior princesses”?
When scientific research is written up in the press — particularly sexy scientific research — always keep your eyes on where on earth its coming from. Now, Neuroworld has undoubtedly discussed less-than-rock-solid studies. As in, we’ve discussed them, taking care to note their origins and their deficiencies. What we try to avoid doing, obviously, is reporting a shaky study as from-the-mouth-of-God fact. No study, truth be told, can give us facts. Science can only give us observations and testable theories that tie together what we observe.
All of which is a very long preamble to pointing you toward this remarkable article in The Sunday Times: “Blonde women born to be warrior princesses.”
I was all set to write up a post for you, the lovely and attractive readers of this blog, when I realized… I could not find this study. Not just “I couldn’t find a free version to link.” I couldn’t figure out what the article was talking about. So, I fired off an email to the supposed study’s author. And I received this in reply, from a ticked off Aaron Sell: “I’m afraid you, and thousands of others for that matter, have been badly misinformed. I have never done any research that shows blondes are more aggressive, entitled, angry or ‘warlike’ than brunette or redheads.”
That’s right: The study doesn’t exist.
What does exist is a study, “Formidability and the logic of human anger [PDF]” finding that men who are stronger and women who view themselves as more attractive are more prone to anger and feel entitled to better treatment. The study contains nothing about blondes versus those of other hair colors.
The author of the Times article, apparently, asked Sell to break down the study by hair color — something that was not done for the published version. According to Sell, he was able to do this, using pictures of the participants to code for hair color.
What he found:
based on our data:
Blonde women do _not_ feel more entitled.
Blonde women are _not_ more prone to anger
Blonde women do _not_ feel more attractive than other women.
Blonde women are _not_ more militaristic.
These findings are, to put it mildly, not what was reported. And they are not what made it into other versions of the story [UPDATE: The BBC story linked here has "corrected" — without any acknowledgment of the earlier, incorrect version — to make the article just about "attractive" women as opposed to blondes] that have been picked up.
I certainly can’t speak to how such an utter disconnect grew during the course of the Times article between what the scientist was saying and what ended up being reported.
All I can say is be skeptical — especially, for whatever reason, when it comes to the British press — and always look for the source of the information you’re being sold. If it’s not immediately obvious where something appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, break out the jumbo salt grains.
As for the story itself, it’s a shame that a study that was interesting enough on its own (HOT WOMEN FEEL ENTITLED AND GET ANGRY MORE QUICKLY!!!) had to be sensationalized to a ridiculous degree in yet another shoddy science story that leaves the public to wonder what they can and can’t trust from the press.
If I were a blonde woman, I can’t even imagine how angry I’d be.