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Abortion is not a holocaust, and feminism is not about convenience

a photo of a cute pig next to a 16-cell human embryo .

Pig (left) and human.

Quick, disorganized comment on abortion.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who opposes abortion rights, recently wrote in defense of the Kevin Williamson, fired from the Atlantic, for saying this, before he was hired:

Someone challenged my about my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that. In fact, as I wrote, what I have in mind is hanging.

Douthat thinks feminists are just as extreme as this, but even worse because they’re on the wrong side (the side in favor of the baby holocaust).

Douthat is concerned that abortion is “justified with the hazy theology of individualism.” When he says that what he’s insulting is feminism. He’s mocking us for being stupid (hazy) atheists who don’t realize secularism is just another theology (like Chris Smith does). And “individualism” refers to the idea that women have rights. Privilege is congratulating yourself for exposing oppressed people’s struggle for liberation as actually being about their individual self-gratification.

In claiming to make a moral argument, he pits this claim to women’s individualistic convenience against the holocaust:

the distinctive and sometimes awful burdens that pregnancy imposes on women have become an excuse to build a grotesque legal regime in which the most vulnerable human beings can be vacuumed out or dismembered, killed for reasons of eugenics or convenience or any reason at all.

There are no men, no patriarchy, in this telling, and that’s telling. It is important to say, which Douthat won’t, that abortion rights are women’s rights, that women’s rights are not about some decadent “individual” rights but about systemic group oppression perpetrated over millennia, especially by religion (especially by Douthat’s religion, Catholicism).

Douthat wants to take the abortion debate to the moral plane of “the killing of millions of innocents” (his phrase) versus feminist selfish self-indulgence. He is egging on his fellow anti-feminists, pushing them to take this extremist position while decrying the extremism of feminists. Organized anti-feminism doesn’t want to say abortion is really really murder because then women will turn against them, because women aren’t idiots. The mainstream abortion rights movement doesn’t want to say fetuses are human because it makes abortion seem worse, plus for early-term pregnancies it’s really not true. Still, we should argue about abortion as if it’s a decision that matters, not only as if it’s the restriction of the right to make that decision that matters. Unfortunately, Roe v. Wade was not decided on the principle that women can take a fetal life when it’s inside their own body, but on the principle of respecting women’s privacy rights to make personal decisions. This makes it harder to have the real feminist argument. I’m with Douthat that we should have a real moral argument, which he in his sneering at “individualism” actually refuses to engage.

Only religion can say all fetuses are instantly human; any scientific understanding exposes this incontrovertibly as just crazy talk. But abortion rights don’t depend on fetuses not being human at all. If you want to take the argument off the religious turf, you have to acknowledge that there is no moral instant when a fetus becomes human — science can’t locate that transformation more precisely than sometime between conception and birth. For that matter, there is no moral bright line between human and animal as far as suffering and death, that separates a human from a chimpanzee from a pig from a dog. (Many of us are, after all, not fully human ourselves, but part homo neanderthalensis.) There is moralizing, but not morality, in approving the grotesquely cruel slaughter of billions of sentient animals for “convenience or any reason at all,” while labeling women who abort sixteen-cell fetuses as murderers.

Ending life is a serious moral decision, of the kind Douthat and others are comfortable letting men take in many ways, in wars, and corporate decisions, and state policies, and slaughterhouses. Abortion rights mean women deserve that responsibility, too. Abortion rights don’t rest on the inconsequentialness of the decision but on the humanity of women. There is no reason to shy away from that. Catharine MacKinnon, who is aging well on this, wrote in 1983:

My stance is that the abortion choice must be legally available and must be women’s, but not because the fetus is not a form of life. In the usual argument, the abortion decision is made contingent on whether the fetus is a form of life. I cannot follow that. Why should women not make life or death decisions?

That’s my attempt to defend abortion rights without relying on euphemism and evasion or the hazy theology of individualism.

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How I engaged my way to excellent research success and you can too

kid on string phone in front of computer screen

Kid photo CC from MB Photography; collage by pnc.

Too often sociologists think of social media, or online communications generally, primarily as a way of broadcasting their ideas and building their audience, instead of as a way of deepening their engagement with different people and perspectives. You see this when academics start a twitter account right when their book is coming out. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s very limited. A crucial part of being a public scholar, public intellectual, or a public sociologist, etc., is reading, listening, and learning through engagement, and digital communication can enhance the metabolism of that process. Especially important is the chance to learn from people you don’t normally interact with. For all the complaints about social media bubbles, some true, social media also offers huge efficiencies for meeting and learning from new people.

As I’m writing an essay about this, I thought of my work on divorce as an example. So here’s that thread, condensed.

A divorce story

In 2008 I was teaching an undergraduate Family Sociology course at the University of North Carolina, and included a section on divorce based on other people’s research. I was also developing a proposal for my own textbook, which at the time framed family structures and events, including divorce, as consequences and causes of inequality. I was reading research about divorce along with many other family issues that were outside of my formal training and experience (the closest I had come to a family demography or family sociology course was a seminar on Gender, Work & Family in grad school).

Then in 2009, I wrote a post on my pretty new blog criticizing something bad the Brad Wilcox had written about divorce. I was trying to be newsy and current, and he was claiming that the recession was lowering divorce rates because hard times pulled people together. We didn’t yet know what would happen in the recession. (In the comments, Louise Roth suggested it would take time for divorces “caused” by the recession to show up, which turned out to be true.)

I kept on that path for a while, criticizing Wilcox again for similar work in 2011. By then — prompted by the combination of my reading, the blog debates, and the news coverage around families and the recession — I was working on a paper on divorce using the American Community Survey. I presented it at a demography meeting in the summer of 2011, then revised and presented it at the Population Association of America the following spring. I blogged about this a couple more times as I worked on it, using data on state variation, and Google searches, each time getting feedback from readers.

A version of the paper was rejected by Demography in the summer of 2011 (which generated useful reviews). Although now discredited as not peer-review-publishable (which no one knew), my commentary on divorce and the recession was nevertheless featured in an NPR story by Shankar Vedantam. Further inspired, I sent a new version of the paper (with new data) to Demographic Research, which also rejected it. I presented on the work a couple of times in 2012, getting feedback each time. By August 2012, with the paper still not “published,” I was quoted describing my “divorce/recession lull-rebound hypothesis” in New York magazine.

The news media pieces were not simply my work appearing in the news, in a one-directional manner, or me commenting on other people’s research, but rather me bringing data and informed commentary to stories the reporters were already working on. Their work influenced my work. And all along that news coverage was generating on- and offline conversations, as I found and shared work by other people working on these topics (like the National Center for Marriage and Family Research, and the Pew Research Center). Looking back over my tweets about divorce, I see that I covered divorce and religion, disabilities, economics, and race/ethnic inequality, and also critiqued media coverage. (Everything also got discussed on Facebook, in a smaller semi-private circle.)

By 2014 I finally got the paper — now with even newer data — published in a paywalled peer-reviewed journal, in Population Research and Policy Review. This involved writing the dreaded phrase, “Thank you very much for the opportunity to revise this paper again.” (Submitted October 2012, revision submitted August 2013, second revision submitted January 2014, final revision April 2014.) The paper, eventually titled, “Recession and Divorce in the United States, 2008-2011,” did improve over this time as new data provided better leverage on the question, and the reviewers actually made some good suggestions.

Also in 2014 the descriptive analysis was published in my textbook. The results were reported here and there, and expanded into the general area of family-recession studies, including this piece in the Conversation. I also developed a method of projecting lifetime divorce odds (basically 50%), for which I shared the data and code, which was reported on here. Along the way I also did some work on job characteristics and divorce (data and code, working paper). When I posted technical notes, I got interesting responses from people like economist Marina Adshade, whom I’ve never met.

So that’s an engagement story that includes teaching, the blogosphere and social media, news media, peer-reviewed publishing, conference presentations and colloquium talks. I did research, but also argued about politics and inequality, and taught and learned demography. It’s not a story of how I used social media, or the news media, to get the word out about my research, although that happened, too. The work product, not just the “publications,” were all public to varying degrees, and the discussions included all manner of students, sociologists, reporters, and interested blog or Twitter readers, most of whom I didn’t know or wouldn’t have met any other way.

So I can’t draw a line dividing the “engagement” and the “research,” because they weren’t separate processes.

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Trump Twitter suit argued in federal court

pnc-holding-blocked-phone

My showing how I’m blocked by Trump on Twitter. Photo by Miesha Miller.

With updates.

Yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute and the Department of Justice argued the lawsuit against President Trump and his staff for blocking us on Twitter, in which I’m a plaintiff.

After the two-hour hearing, just like in Law and Order, the news media met us with cameras and microphones as we came down the stairs of the courthouse, and I realized I hadn’t prepared what I would say. The first questions focused on a suggestion by the judge that Trump should just mute his critics on Trump instead of blocking us. Was this the solution? I hadn’t had time to consider it carefully, and we haven’t received any kind of settlement offer. So I said this:

Honestly I don’t know if muting is really the solution. But if all they really care about, which they say, is that he just doesn’t want to hear from us, then he would mute, but obviously he wants to suppress our speech. Obviously he doesn’t want us to be participating in the forum. He wants to look out at the world on Twitter, and see that everybody agrees with him and everybody thinks he’s great – and the fact is that’s not true – and that’s why he blocks us. He literally blocks us so that we won’t be seen to be expressing our views against him, and I think that’s outrageous and I’m glad that it’s apparently illegal.

Here are a few media links.

Columbia Journalism Review: In downtown New York, a First Amendment fight over Trump’s tweets

“I never thought he would block me. I tweeted at him all the time,” Cohen told CJR outside court. He’d just watched attorneys from the Knight First Amendment Institute tell a federal judge that in blocking Cohen because he didn’t like his tweet, the president had engaged in unconstitutional discrimination based on viewpoint. The Knight Institute, which is based at Columbia University, is representing Cohen and six other plaintiffs—a surgeon, a comic, a musician-activist, two writers, and a police officer—in a bid to qualify Trump’s Twitter as a public forum; part of a broader push to protect the First Amendment from a president who clearly does not respect it.

New York TimesJudge Floats Idea to Settle @realDonaldTrump Twitter Blocking Case

A federal judge in Manhattan had plenty of questions for lawyers representing a group of Twitter users who sued President Trump in July after he blocked them on the social media service. And she had even more for the government.

The seven users, who had been blocked by the @realDonaldTrump account after criticizing the president, were joined in the lawsuit by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. Their lawyers claimed that Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed is an official government account and that blocking users from following it was a violation of their First Amendment rights.

Lawyers from the Department of Justice insisted that the Twitter feed was not, in fact, a public forum. Furthermore, they argued, no one had been meaningfully excluded from it.

Courthouse News, with the courthouse steps statements:

New York City Fox 5 news, with some followup interviews:

Agence France Press, published by Daily MailTwitter-blocked by Trump? Judge hears ‘free-speech’ case

Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, said he was summarily blocked in June 2017 after he reacted to a Trump tweet by replying with a photo of the president superimposed with the words “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian”.

“At first I was kind of proud, like ‘oh he cares about me,'” Cohen said.

“But then very quickly I realized that a lot fewer people were seeing my tweets and my political efficacy, my ability to speak to my fellow citizens, was impaired by that. And I think that’s not the way our government should act.”

New York: The Newest Frontier in Jurisprudence is Trump’s Twitter Feed

What’s private catharsis for the rest of us can be rightly seen as government retaliation when it’s a public official who goes on a blocking spree.

And a photo by Scott Matthews:

pnc courthouse steps 3-8-18

Photo by Scott Matthews.

These are just a few clips, mostly my scrap-booking for the day. I’ll write more later. Read all the case documents and statements, including those of the other plaintiffs, from the amazing Knight First Amendment Institute here.

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Campus sexual harassment coverage, UMD circa 2003

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a powerful story about the Harvard professor Jorge Domínguez, who has kept his tenured job — and moved up within it — for decades despite repeated, substantiated claims of sexual harassment. That goes back to the early 1980s, surely a different world. Of course, after #MeToo, 2016 seems like a different world. But it’s not really.

Anyway, here’s a story to consider. This is from Page 1 of the Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s independent student newspaper, from November 19, 2003. (And thanks to the McKeldin Library staff for reminding me how to use the microfilm machine.)

This concerns Maryland sociology professor David Segal and a female graduate student in our program at the time; the story includes comments from Mady Segal, David’s wife, who was also a professor here. Both are now retired with honorary emeritus status at the university. (The student, who is not named, although she was identifiable to people familiar with the program at the time, consented to my posting this story.)

It’s important to think about the context, both institutionally and historically, that would produce a story like this, and what that means for women reporting harassment then, and now. (The Diamondback reporter did not respond to a request for comment.)

Because the photocopy from microfilm is hard to read, I extracted the text and include it below, but here is a PDF of the copy, too. A few questions follow the text.


Permanent open-door policy: Sociology professor says flawed sexual harassment policy ruined his reputation

Photo caption: Sociology professor David Segal now fears being accused of sexual harassment if he closes the door to his office when talking with a female student.

By Megan Watzin, Senior staff writer

When students visit David Segal’s office now, he either leaves the door open or explicitly asks the student if it is OK if he closes the door.

The sociology professor accused of sexual and ethnic harassment by a female graduate student two years ago said he never got to defend himself because of flaws in the university’s process for handling sexual harassment claims.

Segal was eventually found innocent of all five charges against him – bias, conflict of interest, discrimination, sexual harassment and ethnic harassment. However, he maintains the charges – which he insists are false – have permanently damaged his reputation and career. He is pushing for the University Senate to make significant revisions to the university’s sexual harassment process and policy this year.

Segal said he was accused in 2001 of telling a Mafia joke and a sexual joke involving Italian food that offended the graduate student, who is Italian. The other three charges were quickly dismissed by the university attorneys as impossible to prove.

The graduate student’s identity is protected by the university, and she could not be reached for comment for this story.

He insists the graduate student made up the charges, which is a violation of the student code of conduct. However, Segal was unable to file a complaint accusing her of violating the student code of conduct because of a single piece of paper, a detailed signed statement of the accusations against him, that may never have been completed when the harassment charges were initially filed.

“The accusations were lies and I could prove they were lies, but I couldn’t get the statement from the accuser,” he said. “It was like the Spanish Inquisition and the Stalinist purges during the Cold War. There was no justice.”

John Zacker, director of the Office of Judicial Programs, which handles about 600 cases of alleged misconduct each year, said the burden of evidence that false claims were made is the responsibility of the claiming party.

Segal said he suspected the university attorneys were hiding the statement from him, so he asked the associate provost, the provost, the faculty ombudsman, university President Dan Mote’s chief of staff and Mote himself for their help in getting it. None were successful – the statement may have never existed.

Segal said the statement would have provided the necessary evidence to file a complaint against his accuser, but it remains unclear whether it should have been completed in the first place because the procedures for filing a harassment claim are vague.

There are two avenues for filing a sexual harassment claim – formal and informal. The graduate student officially filed an informal claim. Senate Chair Joel Cohen said the problem with the current policy is there is no clear difference between the two processes, and therefore it is unclear what steps should be followed.

Two years later

The graduate student remains in good standing at the university and was also granted several requests after she made the accusations, Segal said. He said she asked for continued funding for her assistantship under him, and extension for taking her two doctoral exams and for Segal and his wife, who also works in the sociology department, not to be allowed to sit on the panel that creates and grades her doctoral exams.

Two years later, she has not taken her doctoral exams, Segal said. She had originally been preparing to take an exam in military sociology – Segal’s specialty area – but said she could no longer take that test because of him, so she was granted extra time to prepare for a different exam.

Segal noticed he was still listed as her adviser a few months ago, he said, and immediately asked sociology department Chair William Falk to assign her to a different adviser.

Segal and his wife, Mady, who also mentored the student, said she had been performing poorly shortly before the accusations were made. Segal sent her emails telling her she was not doing her job and was at risk of failing.

“This is a graduate student who is not fulfilling her work requirements and was not making adequate progress toward a degree, and was looking for a way to blame someone else and postpone her doctoral exams,” Mady Segal said. “She was trying to excuse her failings.”

Time for a change

Segal was summoned to meet with university attorneys Sept. 24, 2001, and was informed he had been accused of sexual harassment. That same day a tornado touched down on the campus and significantly damaged the Segals’ nearby house. At that point, there was already an ongoing investigation, which Segal said he only found out about from Falk.

Mady Segal sat on the Committee on Professional Issues in 1987 when it authored the current sexual harassment policy. She said the way the policy was carried out in her husband’s case was not the way it was intended to work.

“The original intent was there would be an informal resolution process when there is a complaint,” she said. “I think because of the perception of legal requirements on campus, they have eliminated an informal procedure, because any time there is an allegation, it goes straight to the president’s attorneys.”

The Segals advocate a clear informal process be laid out for filing a complaint – one in which the accuser is made aware they can contact the department head or human relations department to mediate the situation. Under the current policy, as soon as a complaint alleging harassment is received by a university employee, that employee is required to contact university attorneys, according to Senate documents.

“The process that’s being used now is bypassing an informal mediation by getting the attorneys involved,” Mady Segal said.

Mote’s chief of staff, Ann Wylie, made recommendations to the three-member Senate panel now examining the policy. The panel is expected to make a report outlining recommended changes by the end of the semester.

“I looked to see … how they handled cases, and the fact of the matter is the whole system that we have in place now is set up to protect the person making the complaint,” Wylie said. “It is appropriate with all policies to just sit down and go back over it and make sure it protects the innocent.”

After being accused and not being able to make charges against the accuser, Segal wrote to the Senate a list of recommended changes that stressed the student code of conduct be more strictly enforced in the cases of false allegations. He also suggested a written form stating the accusations be filled out in both formal and informal sexual harassment cases, and that the accused have access to it.

“People can file false claims and get away with it,” Segal said. “And people who file justifiable claims become victims again.”

The Senate Human Relations Committee found that similar questions needed to be addressed before assigning the panel the task of examining the policy.

Roger Candelaria, the campus compliance officer, said the number of sexual harassment claims that turn out to be false or the result of a student attempting to abuse the system represents only a very tiny portion of the roughly once-a-week complaints.

‘Damaged goods’

Segal said he doesn’t feel he can have close relationships with female students anymore. He stopped enjoying teaching – his one true passion – for two years. He said this semester is the first time since the allegations he has started to enjoy being in the classroom again.

“As this all unfolded, the campus became a frightening place for me. I go into the field with soldiers. I’ve been to dangerous places. The university was a sanctuary,” Segal said. “I had trouble preparing for classes and sleep disturbances.”

Segal has worked at the university since 1976 and has constantly received job offers from other institutions. He said he always turned them down out of a loyalty to this university. After the sexual harassment allegations, he considered for the first time leaving. But at that time, all the job offers stopped.

“I’m damaged goods,” he said.

Mady, who has been married to him for 37 years, said she doesn’t think her husband will ever be the same.

“It was a terrible blow to his reputation,” she said. “Nothing very serious was alleged, but it was a big deal to him. David has always been a very happy person … He was always cheerful. He has lost a lot of that cheerfulness.”


Questions an editor today might ask the reporter before running this story:

  • What does it mean that he “never got to defend himself”? Actually, what was the accusation, specifically, and how was it adjudicated to produce an “innocent” result?
  • Was the sexual harassment accusation really about a single joke involving Italian food, and if so, how is keeping his office door open relevant?
  • Is there some emergency that requires printing this story before the student can be reached to offer her version of events?
  • Did you verify with anyone the student’s academic status, which is offered as her motive to lie?
  • Followup question: How does this compare with more recent debates about due process for accused sexual harassers, such as those described by Laura Kipnis in Unwanted Advances?
  • Lots of questions.

Some related posts:

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A miracle of wrong: Hanna Rosin error reborn in Mark Regnerus book

I’ve been working on my review of Mark Regnerus’s new book, Cheap Sex, in 10-minute power bursts. Here’s one funny thing I noticed: Hanna Rosin’s most prominent error from The End of Men apparently repeated telephone-style by Regnerus.*

In the Atlantic article, which led to her TED Talk and then book (full review), The End of Men, Hanna Rosin’s editor chose two dramatic statements that were wrong to lead with:

rosin-wrong

That year, 2010, women were not the majority of the workforce, and most managers were not women. And they still aren’t. What was true was that for 10 months women outnumbered men in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports as the “nonfarm payroll,” from June 2009 to March 2010. In every month before and since, men have been the majority. Here’s that trend, by month:

nonfarmpayroll

The nonfarm payroll number is:

a measure of the number of U.S. workers in the economy that excludes proprietors, private household employees, unpaid volunteers, farm employees, and the unincorporated self-employed. This measure accounts for approximately 80 percent of the workers who contribute to Gross Domestic Product.

It’s not “the workforce,” but it is a good indicator of shocks to the economy — private companies may lay people off immediately, while self-employed people still consider themselves employed even if they’re suddenly losing money.  Anyway, in the BLS’s household survey that asks people if they are working, the Current Population Survey, there were about 10 million more people counted as employed, and men’s majority have never been threatened. This is a reasonably called “the workforce.” Note the time trend here is longer, and it’s annual:

cpsemp

The source of the wrong statement about managers is just Rosin combining managerial and professional specialty jobs into “managers,” which she also did in the TED Talk, which is just wrong. Professionals include a lot of women, like nurses and teachers. The managerial occupations have never been majority-female either. Both are important, but only one fit her narrative.

Anyway, the point of this is that Mark Regnerus picked up this meme — which Rosin popularized but lots of other media repeated — and stated it as current fact in his 2017 book. So powerful (among those not powerfully applying themselves) is the idea of automatic gender progress in one direction, that this is not the kind of thing they think they will ever have to check again. Once women pass a milestone, it’s passed, period. (That’s why Rosin’s full sentence was this: “Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs.” She was misapplying the clickbait concept of “tipping point” to imply that the change will now continue and accelerate in the same direction.)

This is why Regnerus apparently felt no need to recheck his facts when he wrote, “there are now more women than men in the paid labor force.” He didn’t cite Rosin (or anyone) for this fact, but it appears during a passage sandwiched between parts that cite her book, so I assume that’s what he was borrowing from, and maybe just changed “workforce” to “paid labor force” to sound different or sophisticated.

Anyway, Rosin doesn’t feature prominently in the Regnerus review (you’re welcome), but this was an interesting nugget, because for all their differences, there are some similarities between Regnerus’s fanatical religious anti-feminism and Rosin’s sophisticated postfeminist antifeminism. Both think feminism has gone too far, and both see the rise of women as resulting from a technological change — Rosin from deindustrialization and Regnerus from the Pill. Also, they both use facts not to learn from but to demonstrate things they think they already know.


* To read the whole Regnerus story, follow his tag on the blog, or check out the whole story told in one chapter of my new book, Enduring Bonds: Inequality, Marriage, Parenting, and Everything Else That Makes Families Great and Terrible.

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Prince Charles and Princess Diana height situation explained

(With media updates)

They were the same height. More or less.

The most incredibly popular tweet of my life was this:

Many people, assuming I was making some kind of argument about sexism, complained that the tweet was a mountain towering over a molehill, that rules of photographic composition, philatelia, ergonomics, or royal succession somehow required the stamp to be composed this way. In response, I composed the new most incredibly popular tweet of my life:

By then it hit the international press, which apparently has had the same decimation of the reportorial workforce that we’ve had here, so they write articles about tweets where the only background information provided is from other tweets in the thread. So we got:

The last one had this awesome graphic:

stampmistake

The Italian service of Huffington Post even produced the definitive video record of the tweet. Anyways.

Actual facts

The actual facts are that we don’t know exactly how tall they were. Like with popular athletes, the biometric data we have about royalty should be considered suspiciously. At the time of their wedding, in July 1981, everyone saw that they were of similar height, and saw the stamp depicting his head above hers. In response, Buckingham Palace put out a statement announcing that he was an inch taller than her. It was reported in the Stamps column of the New York Times on July 26 like this:

stamp2

To me that seems like a Trumpian lie. “You say I was caught lying, but because of this other untruth my original lie is in essence true.” Making a taller person look even taller seems less egregious than reversing the height advantage. But I don’t know for sure.

The funny thing about resurrecting a 36-year-old scandal is it seems that, among those interested, half nod knowingly and say, “That always annoyed me!” and the other half say, “mind blown.” It’s not just memories, of course the milieu has changed; anger at “masculinity so fragile” that it requires trick photographs has replaced the routine acceptance of trick photography in the service of propriety. And of course the legacy of Diana as unhappy wife to unfaithful creep — and virtual saint — has changed the tone.

Anyway, I’m in the category of people who’ve been talking about this for years:

  • I first raised it in 2010, using the picture of the stamp and others as an example of the taller-man norm: “But the rigid adherence to this norm results in a daily, intimate interaction among almost all couples that reinforces the bigger-stronger/smaller-weaker gender dichotomy.”
  • In 2011, on Sociological Images, Lisa Wade said of the photos: “This effort to make Charles appear taller is a social commitment to the idea that men are taller and women shorter. When our own bodies, and our chosen mates, don’t follow this rule, sometimes we’ll go to great lengths to preserve the illusion.”
  • In 2013 I returned to the issue, this time with data showing that U.S. men and women sort themselves into couples that exacerbate the existing difference in average height between them.

height6

Finally, I included the stamp picture and the data analysis in my textbook, The Family, writing:

The taller husband conjures up images of the protective, dominant man (“Let me reach that for you”) with a nurturing, supportive wife (“Can I fix you a sandwich?”). To choose a high-profile example, such an image was apparent in many official photos of Britain’s Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Although Charles was actually 1 inch taller than Diana, he often looked shorter than her in candid pictures. But when they posed for portraits, he usually stood on a box or step, as in the picture for the stamp commemorating their royal wedding (Currie 1981). The idea of women as the weaker sex corresponds to the pattern of male domination in modern society, as symbolized by the muscular male athlete and the taller husband.

The reference there is to a news article that uncritically accepted the official heights reported by the authorities. People like to use Google and Wikipedia to find and debate the “official” heights, and to find photos that show them side by side. There may be no true answer.
candd2

This who line of criticism eventually led me to the issue of actual fantasy, in the form of sexual dimorphism in animation. That’s a whole nother tag.

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More bad reporting on texting and driving, and new data

The New York Times‘ problem of misrepresenting the relationship between phones and traffic fatalities, which seems to have begun with Matt Richtel, has just gotten worse.

Richtel sells books on the fear of texting and driving (which, of course, is dangerous), and the website for his book still — despite my repeated entreaties, public and private — leads with the bad, false, unsourced Internet meme, that “the texting-while-driving epidemic continues to claim 11 teen lives per day.” (As a reporter, how could you sleep one night with that BS up under your name? Mind boggling.)

Anyway, the new entrant is David Leohnardt. At the heavy risk of jeopardizing future opportunities to publish on the Times op-ed page, I tweeted that his recent column included “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever read in the NYTimes.” Washington Post WonkBlog writer Jeff Guo pointed out Leonardt’s column, which claimed that, with regard to the recent spike in traffic deaths, “The only plausible cause is the texting, calling, watching, and posting that people now do while operating a large piece of machinery.” The column contained not a piece of evidence to support that claim (though there were some awful anecdotes), which is why I said it was dumb.

Which is too bad. But even though the spike in traffic deaths is concerning, reporting should not be wrong.

Early estimates from the National Safety Council (which uses a different method than the Federal NHTSA) show a 6% increase in traffic fatalities for 2016. Leonhardt, working really hard to make that absolutely as alarming as possible, produced this graph, showing percent change in fatalities over successive two year periods going back to 1980:

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Because it’s hard to add up the pluses and minuses in your head, It would be really easy — really really easy — to look at Leonhardt’s chart and think fatalities are higher now than they were in 1980. But rather than pointing out that fatalities per person have fallen by half since 1980, he instead writes, “It’s the first significant rise in a half century,” which would be true except for the significant rise in every single decade of the last half century.

This is a lot like when Richtel described the 2015 rise as, “soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years.” Not that the rate was not seen in 50 years, of course, just that the soaring of the rate hadn’t been (or so the NYT Science Desk told me when I complained).

Adding 6% to the NHTSA numbers for 2015, I get the follow graph, showing the trends in deaths per person in the population, and deaths per mile traveled, as changes since 1970. (The deaths per mile haven’t been released for the whole year yet; click to enlarge.)

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That is a troubling spike, which takes us all the way back to 2009 fatality rates. We should make the roads safer, by using them less and using them more safely. But come on, NYTimes.

Read the whole, completely aggravating series, under the texting tag.

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