Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Our "liberal" media: science edition

There's an interesting editorial in the Dallas News about science reporting and how stories get spun in the media. Even though we're told non-stop about how the media is "liberal," it turns out that scientific studies that support conservative views get huge attention in the press (and can be distorted to say things they don't actually say), studies that support traditionally liberal views get virtually no traction at all.

[A parenting study] tracked the effects of good fathering on 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001 and found that by age 3 a child would have more emotional and behavioral problems if the father had not taken time off after the birth.

Don't recall reading about it? You don't remember seeing experts lined up on the morning news shows to explain how crucial the findings were, or advocacy groups noting how this proves it's important to support paternity leave?

That's probably because, although such a study was indeed published, it got virtually no media attention...

Over and over again, studies that appeal to anti-feminists and social conservatives gain media traction, while the ones that come to opposite conclusions languish in obscurity.

For instance, the traditionalists always like studies with results showing large gender differences that support the old-fashioned sex roles. A great example is the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which in 2005 found that women and men differ in their use of the Internet:

More men (30 percent) than women (25) said the Web helped them a lot to learn more about what was going on, while more women (56 percent) than men (50) said it helped them connect with people they needed to reach. These differences are statistically significant.

But when filtered through the media, these findings are interpreted as: "If there is an overall pattern of differences here, it is that men value the Internet for the breadth of experiences it offers, and women value it for the human connections..."

A difference of at most 6 percentage points became an absolute gulf between the sexes, and the media exclaim, "Women are relational; men are factual!"

I'm starting to notice this more and more, myself. When reading about something about science in the media, I often have to just wince because they get it fairly obviously wrong or draw inaccurate conclusions. I mean, does every article about media storage capacity have to tell us how many Library of Congresses will fit on this new media? Does every report on a new transistor design have to mention artificial intelligence?

I didn't realize this the first time I read through it, but the piece is written by J. Goodrich, who runs the feminist harlot blog Echidne of the Snakes. Score one for the bloggers.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Last night, David and I went to the Champaign Can't Stop the Serenity, a charity screening of Joss Whedon's Serenity to raise money for Whedon's favorite charity, Equality Now.

It was pretty impressive. Of the 29 cities holding such an event, Champaign was only one of five to completely sell out the theater. Pretty much everyone showed up, too. According to the website, this event raised about $2,200 for the charity, which is more than Pittsburgh, London, Charlotte, and Madison. Not bad for a little college town.

This is the second year for the event. Last year, Serenity showings raised $50,000. This year, the Champaign show opened by showing Joss Whedon's acceptance speech for an award he was given by Equality Now. In true Joss fashion, even his speech was pretty entertaining:

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Bad porn science

I hate bad science. What I really hate is someone using a thin patina of scienceyness to push some sort of political agenda. That's when people either cherry-pick data to support their position, or produce some ideological-driven "study." John Bambenek did that a few months ago, when he tried (and failed) to produce studies that showed sex caused depression in girls. Two of the studies directly contradicted in their text the very conclusion he was drawing, and the third wasn't even a credible study. I suspect Bambenek has not changed his position on this matter, showing it is ideologically driven and not rational.

Recently, a study is being flogged around by the press about internet porn addiction. Porn addiction is apparently about to destroy society. The study was run by, which claims to be the "most-visited Christian website in the world." The addiction results have been reported by mainstream news sites (here, here, and here) and Christian news sites (e.g. here, here, and here). Gay bloggers have also picked it up; both Pam's House Blend and Wayne Besen have commented on it.

Here's what the study says:

The poll results indicate that 50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography," said Clay Jones, founder and President of Second Glance Ministries whose ministry objectives include providing people with information which will enable them to fully understand the impact of today's societal issues. 60% of the women who answered the survey admitted to having significant struggles with lust; 40% admitted to being involved in sexual sin in the past year; and 20% of the church-going female participants struggle with looking at pornography on an ongoing basis.

Fifty percent of men are addicted to porn? Not just that they look at it, but they're actually addicted to it? That's an absolutely ridiculous statistic. If I told you that half of all men were addicted to heroin, you'd look at me with a "What you talking about, Willis?" look on your face. It's absurd on the face of it. What pisses me off is that this statistic is being reported without even a shred of skepticism.

So I thought that maybe the press was picking this up and making more of it than it really was or just flat-out misunderstanding it, as reporters often do with anything having to do with science. So I went looking for this study. What did I find? Crickets chirping. Nothing.

First, I went to This place hardly qualifies as a website at all. It's an Internet portal. How very 1998. It's mostly a collection of links to things like "Christian Home Loans" and "Meet Christian Singles." Their Blogs section is a hoot, too. Each blog entry consists of roughly two lines of text, plus a link to some other section of their site and an offer to send an e-card.

It turns out that this thing everyone is citing is an internet poll, not any sort of study. There's no information about what questions were asked, how people responded, or even what qualifies as internet port "addiction." I have the suspicion that the people running this poll would consider Michelangelo's David to be Renaissance porn.

I tried to find more information about the poll on their website. Not only isn't there any mention of it on the Christianet website that I can find, there's no contact information for anyone at Christianet. Absolutely zero. No email address, no "Contact us" page. I wrote the admin in the WHOIS entry, but no response.

What's almost worse than this thing getting this level of attention is that it's being looked at with complete credulity. Even though it concluded that half of all men have this addiction, no one even batted an eye. In fact, people mostly just seemed to find it amusing that Christian evangelicals were caught in a bit of hypocrisy. The Stuff article called them "porn-again Christians." (OK, I admit I got a laugh out of that.)

This is how things get caught up in our collective consciousness. Someone reads about this poll in a news article on some website, but no one ever looks up the details. It gets generally accepted as true, even though it's just propaganda from one small group with an axe to grind.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Things that make you go, "Who cares?"

I've been working a bit on a Big Important Blog Post in my head for the past couple of days. Tonight I decided to make Indian food, so you get this, instead.

Over On Matt's Planet, a commenter mentioned that he hadn't heard of Paris Hilton for a couple of months. Other commenters asked how recently he arrived on Earth.

So here's my question: is the constant media fixation on Hilton driven by the fact that people watch the news when she is on it, or is it that people watch the news when she is on it because the media is fixated on her? Discuss.

On a related note, the photographer that took the iconic picture of Paris weeping in the car as she was driven off to jail also took another famous picture exactly 35 years ago. You gotta feel for that poor photographer.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A couple of gaming notes

I'm not trying to move in on Billy's turf, but there are a couple of gaming related notes I thought I would share.

First, Blizzard has announced Starcraft II. If you haven't played the original Starcraft and it's expansion Brood War yet, you really are missing out. Starcraft really is one of the juggernauts of gaming history. Not only does it have really great RTS gameplay, but it has an entertaining plot and characters. The multiplayer action is supposed to be real good as well, but I've never used that.

As part of the announcement, Blizzard has released several movies for Starcraft II. There is a cinematic movie and a gameplay movie. The cinematic is just visually very impressive; there were times when I honestly was unable to tell if it was animation or live-action. It doesn't have a lot of content, though. The gameplay movie shows off the new game engine, and some of the units that will be in the game. Again, it just looks stunning (get the 500 MB high-res movie) and they seem to be putting a lot of effort into balancing the units very well.

All the movies are distributed through BitTorrent through a small BT client dedicated to downloading just that file. Blizzard also distributes it's World of Warcraft patches the same way. This, combined with their the Easter eggs they like to include and their new in-game anti-spam feature, has led me to believe that Blizzard Gets ItTM. If there is a better way of distributing multi-hundred-megabyte files to thousands of people across the Internet, I don't know it.

Speaking of World of Warcraft, Blizzard also released patch 2.1.0. They actually made a cinematic movie to advertise a game patch, which I find stunning. (To be fair, the patch included quite a bit of new content along with the usual fixes.) Making these things can't be cheap, and that they will go to that extent shows, I think, just how big a deal WOW is.

Oh, for those that care, Starcraft II and WOW are available for both the PC and the Mac.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Our what media?

Driving across the country, I've learned that listening to the radio is, not surprisingly, a good way to make the time pass. Music is OK, but what really makes the miles go by is listening to news and talk radio. There also seem to be roughly two kinds of radio stations.

It seems that non-music radio can be divided into two types. Listening to the first type of radio station, I learned:

  • about the first post-Taliban beauty school in Afghanistan and how it was teaching women a skill they can use to support their families
  • how a musician is using his music to teach the current generation about their unique ethnic group, descended from shipwrecked African slaves and local Indians
  • about an Army chaplain, how he is working to help re-integrate soldiers and veterans into civilian society, and how combat can damage a soldier's spirit and soul (on Speaking of Faith)

On the other type of radio, I learned:

  • how FOX News is mainstream; CNN is "liberal"
  • CNN and Law and Order are pro-homosexual; these three guys had a real thing for L&O, mentioning it at least three times in the space of fifteen minutes
  • that, when Rosie O'Donnell says the silly things she does, it's because she "hates America" (Bill O'Reilly)
  • that the New York Times editors want completely unchecked immigration in order to destroy the white, male, Christian power structure (again, Bill O'Reilly)
  • how Catholics are not "real Christians"
  • how the ACLJ is running a petition to get Congress not to pass a stem cell bill that would allow the "killing of babies"
  • that adult stem cells are far more useful than embryonic stem cells (no mention of the fact that research on adult SCs has been going on for more than three times longer than embryonic SCs).
  • that the ACLU plans plan to eliminate and outlaw Christianity in this country

We are constantly told that one of these types of media outlets is "biased." Determining which of these is biased is an activity I will leave up to the reader.

(By the way, I self-censored and didn't even put the real kooks into the second group. These were the mainstream stations. For some of the real right-wing nuts, check out the Republic Broadcasting Network.)