Friday, July 29, 2005

Feminist "research" leads to bad law

A review of medical studies published from 1990 to 2003 in three prestigious journals -- the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA and Lancet -- has called the validity of approximately one-third of them into severe question. If a relatively 'hard' science (like medicine) has such difficulty with accuracy, then the results offered by the so-called 'soft' sciences (like sociology) should be approached with a high degree of skepticism. This is especially necessary since public policy and laws are often formed by such studies.

Consider the 'feminist' issues of rape or domestic violence. Studies that address these areas are often released in combination with policy recommendations. Indeed, they sometimes appear to be little more than a springboard from which advocates can launch a campaign for more law.

In turn, the laws that result often provide for more research. The Violence Against Women Act or VAWA -- now up for re-authorization before Congress -- is an example. VAWA includes provisions for more tax-funded research, for precisely the sort of research that created it in the first place. And, so, a re-enforcing cycle is established: studies lead to laws that lead to similar tax-funded studies, which call for more law. The cycle should be broken.

This does not mean that the law should be separated from the reality checks provided by solid data. Quite the contrary. It means that the current self-sustaining cycle tends to discourage contrary evidence and critical thinking about the data on which the laws rest. This is not a mere academic matter. Inaccurate studies become entrenched in laws that govern our daily lives. Using VAWA as an example again, the Act incorrectly assumes that women, and not men, are the victims of domestic violence, and it has been influential in denying men access to shelters. This denial often extends to the older male children of women who seek assistance. In the best of circumstances, research is unreliable outside strictly defined limitations; even within those limits, research generally provides only an indication rather than a proof.

The reliability of studies declines sharply when you move from the hard sciences to the soft ones. 'Hard science' refers to certain natural sciences, like physics and chemistry. These disciplines pursue accuracy and objectivity through observing and measuring objects or phenomena in order to produce results that can be independently replicated. In other words, hard science uses the scientific method. 'Soft science' refers to the social sciences, which include psychology, sociology, political science and other explorations of the human condition. Because human nature is not as easily observed or measured as objects, complex social interactions rarely offer replicable results. There are just too many unpredictable and unknown factors, too few research controls. It must rely more heavily upon interpretation of data. In short, the soft sciences produce less reliable results. Interpretation -- that is, the filtering of data through a researcher's assumptions, goals and beliefs -- is not unique to the soft sciences. It merely runs rampant there due to lack of controls. Nevertheless, all research is vulnerable to being skewed and deliberately so.

On July 11, the Associated Press reported, "Allegations of misconduct by U.S. researchers reached record highs last year as the Department of Health and Human Services received 274 complaints -- 50 percent higher than 2003 and the most since 1989 when the federal government established a program to deal with scientific misconduct." What motivates a researcher to bias a study, survey or report? There are many answers, from laziness to concealing incompetence and seeking prestige. In the hard sciences, the most common answer is probably "funding".

The scientific community is still reeling from recent revelations about Eric T. Poehlman, a leading researcher on aging and obesity. Poehlman simply faked the data on 17 applications for federal grants that totaled near $3 million. His 'findings,' published in prestigious medical journals, helped to define how medicine approaches the effects of menopause on women's health.

The soft sciences share all these research vulnerabilities. But, because they are less constrained by research controls, the most common answer there to what motives bias may well be "political belief." The foregoing statement will surprise few people. For example, 'feminist research' is notorious for arriving at feminist conclusions through research that includes clear political assumptions. It may surprise people, however, to hear that I don't think political agendas are inevitable within the soft sciences. Even on controversial subjects like rape, it is possible to find interesting studies in which researchers sincerely pursue solid data.

But you have to go back a few decades. In his book from the '70s, "Men who Rape: The Psychology of the Offender," Nicholas Groth offered a theory that sounds almost jarring to today's ears. He wrote, "One of the most basic observations one can make regarding men who rape is that not all such offenders are alike." That is, a drunken boyfriend who rapes because he does not hear the "no" being uttered should not be placed in the same research category as a back alley rapist who leaves his victim physically crippled for life.

A rape researcher could not make that statement today on a college campus. He would be fired, bludgeoned into silence, or his funding would be yanked. There is now only one acceptable view of rape; it is an act of power. There is only one research category of rapist: the oppressor. I believe the cycle of studies leading to laws leading to studies should be broken not because I am against solid research but because I am for it. Bring skepticism and common sense to all data you hear; withhold your tax dollars.


Maribel Cuevas: A Great American. Damned Near The Only One, It Begins To Seem

A comment from Fred Everything

Here, in the home of the free, the land of the brave, and suchlike prattle, I encounter this: "An 11-year-old girl who threw a stone at a group of boys pelting her with water balloons is being prosecuted on serious assault charges in California. Maribel Cuevas was arrested in April in a police operation which involved three police cars and a helicopter."

It seems that the rock gashed the little monster's forehead and, according to the BBC, he needed "hospital treatment." I suspect this means that he needed treatment that any general practitioner could have given him in his office, but ambulances don't take people to general practitioners.

Now, if I had a son who was ganging up with other boys to torment a girl who didn't speak English, or did (apparently Maribel barely did), I'd slap him across the room so hard that he would think he was an astronomer, and the next time the idea of doing such a thing occurred to him, he would reflect, "Maybe this isn't a good idea. Dad doesn't seem to like it." No, Dad doesn't. If he came home with a gash where she had belted him in trying to defend herself, I'd say, "Son, you go to school to learn things. You just did." Ask and ye shall receive. Actions have consequences. There are things kids need to know that you don't do, especially boys, who are pack animals.

I said, "Little monster." In fairness, this isn't fair. Kids are mean-girls as much as boys, though they go about it differently. A civilizing duty of parents, and of society, is to make clear that there are limits, and what those limits are. One of those limits is that sorry little jerks do not gang up on girls.

But.but.what leaves me gasping in wonderment is the police. First, why the police at all? Schools and parents can't manage children who haven't even reached adolescence? What is wrong with these absurd, weak, contemptible, anemic larvae? I can be charitable to sniveling parsnips, yes. I mean, worms are people too. But not when they run the schools like Oprah grubs from under a rock.

When I was a kid in high school in rural Virginia, the principal, Larry Roller, didn't need cops to control a school full of rowdy country boys. These were kids who could hurt you. They cut cordwood in the mornings. If you don't know what that means, you need to go to a gym. My girlfriend Gloria, pretty as a flower, could pull a crab boat onto a mud flat by herself, and did. We all had guns.

No serious discipline problems. Ever. Anywhere. The concept was like presidential grammar: unheard of. Nobody bucked Chrome Dome Roller. Anyone who did would have been expelled in three seconds, and would have known better than to go home, ever. His father would be waiting.

How is it that the police department needs three squad cars, an ambulance, and a freaking helicopter to subdue an annoyed girl of eleven? In my many years of riding with the police, I knew them to be men, gutsy, hard-core, willing to go to bad places full of bad people. You might like them or you might not, and you might have reason either way. But they weren't pansies. Real cops would be stone embarrassed to arrest little girls on assault charges. Not these cops, though.

Yet the use of police when frightened mushroomy little purported teachers get upset is becoming the custom in American schools. I like this one:

"Yahoo News, Fri Apr 29: "CLOVIS, N.M. - A call about a possible weapon at a middle school prompted police to put armed officers on rooftops, close nearby streets and lock down the school. All over a giant burrito. Someone called authorities Thursday after seeing a boy carrying something long and wrapped into Marshall Junior High."

Yeah. The kid, one Michael Morrissey, had made a thirty-inch burrito for some sort of assigned project, presumably of preternatural stupidity and unrelated to the purposes of school. Anyway, jalape¤os, tomatoes, things like that. Scary things. Armed officers on rooftops? Snipers? I imagine the chief talking by radio to a swatted-out rifleman. Chief: "You see him, sergeant?" Sniper: "Yessir. He's got the weapon under his arm. It's wrapped in newspaper. I got a clear headshot. Do I have a green light?" Chief: "No, not yet. If he does anything threatening.." Sniper: "Hold on! Hold on! He's unwrapping the weapon." Chief: "Green light! Take him out!" Sniper. "Roger that. Wait. He's eating it.."

If I were a cop, and had to take part in something so clownish, I wouldn't admit it. Instead I'd tell my wife I'd spent the afternoon in a brothel. These cockamamie stories are legion, like illiterate federal workers. I've followed any number of them. A little boy swats a little girl on the backside on the playground, and he is arrested by cops, charged with sexual harassment, and put into compulsory psychiatric counseling. Another kid draws a picture of a soldier with his rifle, and gets suspended. On and on.

What twisted circus of social decay is going on here? Have these people's minds, if any, been taken over by extragalactic flatworms? That is my guess. We are seeing the first step toward cocooning us. They plan to feed us to their starving wiggly populations on some croaking planet knee-deep in bloodsucking phyla unknown to science. Gurgle gurgle glop. I'm serious.

Now, I may not know what is really going on, but I sure as hell know what is really not going on. None of this is about security. At least, it is not about security in any sane way, having some minor three-generations-back relation to reality. We are a nation frightened of our daughters of eleven? Are girl kids that dangerous? Does any other country, anywhere, fear its daughters? Give me a break.

It is truly weird. America, the most aggressive nation on the planet, the grr, bowwow, woof superpower, is also the most timid. Sure, I know, aggressive because frightened, the bully terrified by sock-puppets that might wait in the closet. But, my god, a kid with a burrito? In Mexico, where I live, lots of kids have burritos. You can carry one, concealed, without a permit. No helicopters and no snipers.

That's us. The country of Davy Crockett, John Singleton Mosby, Apollo Thirteen, now somehow scared of our own sprats, unable to teach them to read, absolutely absurd in the eyes of the world. Of course,the schools being what they are, lots of us have never heard of the world. It wasn't always this way. Anyway, I guess the Chinese will be merciful. Maybe they will put us in special homes, with soft walls.


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