Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Dissing Science: It's Not Just a GOP Thing UPDATED

I’m a little disturbed that I have to write this diary, but I must.  In writing this, I am going to reveal more about myself than I am ordinarily comfortable revealing, but I feel like I have to do this.


In their study, they had participants (the PC word for subjects that psychologist now use) write a few sentences about a picture of either Angelina Jolie or Sarah Palin.  Half of the participants were told:  “Please take some time to write your thoughts and feelings about this person’s appearance. Please focus on both positive and negative traits.”  The other half were told:  “Please take some time to write your thoughts and feelings about this person. Please focus on both positive and negative traits.”

In their study, they found that participants rated the target–both Jolie and Palin–as less competent when they were asked to write about her appearance.  They also found that they reduced her “humanness.”  Participants in the appearance condition who rated Sarah Palin expressed less willingness to vote for the McCain/Palin ticket if they were asked to write about her appearance.

The point of this study was to show that focus on a woman’s appearance leads to her objectification.  However, the media have jumped on this story to show that “Palin’s Appearance Hurt Her.”  My colleagues have been attacked for their research from the right and the left.  A story at the Huffington Post by someone claiming to have a doctorate in sociology is riddled with errors.  I will go toe-to-toe with the best of them on experimental design and research methods.  This person does not understand sampling and statistical power and he misused the term “reliability.”  He has a political agenda and a very weak grasp of social science research methods, but that hasn’t stopped him from calling their work “voodoo social psychology.”  The comments from the right are actually a little amusing.  I posted a comment on the facebook wall of one authors, jokingly denouncing him as a “homo libtard,” inspired by a comment at the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.

It’s the vile coming from the left that bothers me the most.  For a long time, I thought that denouncing science because of inconvenient results was something that Republicans did.  Sadly, some on the left went crazy today because they read something about research that wasn’t even true.  They dismissed it on its face because they didn’t like what they thought they were being told.

This makes me wonder.  Are we really any better than them?


  1. but possibly not in this instance.  but may i ask a question?

    However, the media have jumped on this story to show that “Palin’s Appearance Hurt Her.”

    if the results of the study indicate that focus on a woman’s appearance leads to her objectification – as most certainly occurred with palin – is the media not right?

  2. louisprandtl

    Geoffrey Dunn had any problem with the technical and scientific aspect of the paper, he should have written a “Letter to the Editor”. This process is standard for any reputable journal and allows the authors to respond in a scientific forum. Instead he chose a write a blog attacking the study where he knows that the bar for scientific review is pretty low or non-existent. His comment about sampling methods followed by the authors is inaccurate and misleading.

  3. Yes and no. We are all human. Did you really believe that all Dems were perfect and all Repubs were evil? Shame on you.

    The study sounds interesting. Do you have a link to anything other than the HuffPo article? I don’t want to read that before I view the study results for myself.

    When I read your description of the study, my first instinct was to say, “Of course…” Why would it be a surprise to find that people are more apt to objectify someone when you ask them to do just that by focusing on appearance? That would be like asking someone to rate a type of food by focusing solely on the smell and ignoring nutritional value, appearance, and taste then saying that people who focused on smell reacted differently to that food than people that were asked to rate it overall.

    But that’s neither here nor there until I actually see the study.

    I doubt this is the same study, but I saw something like this just the other day. In that one, men were shown pictures of women and the parts of their brains that come into play when viewing objects became more active. Well, pictures are objects. What did that prove? That men view women as objects or that men view pictures of women as objects?

  4. that doesn’t mean all academics are either intelligent or rational.

    Or moreso, it doesn’t mean being academic or Left makes anyone correct.

    Hubris comes before a fall, as I feel obligated to keep reiterating to my lefty friends during this time of Ultimate Power.  Being Liberal is by no means a throttle on being an ignorant boob.

    The study does sound interesting.  Has an identical study been done yet with the genders reversed?  I’d love to side-by-side the two…

  5. i take issue to another part of the huffpo piece.  the author argues that palin participated in her own objectification due to a photo shoot she did in vogue. (although her own responsibility could be argued in other ways)


    sebelius also participated in the same vogue shoot and yet was not subjected to the same sort of nonsense that palin was.  in fact – if anything sebelius shoot was by far more “glam” and beauty oriented than palin’s was.  if anyone is interested ill try and dig up the photos of both – they are quite lovely.

  6. was the choice of subjects. Angelina Jolie in a study of objectification? Give me a break. She’s the most objectified woman on the planet. Wouldn’t that affect the results? Sarah Palin was also objectified by many. All politicians and celebrities are objectified. In many ways they are objects. We never see them as people. They are images in magazines or a bunch of colored dots on a television or computer screen.

  7. Neef

    People don’t understand statistics. They don’t understand probability. It’s hard to blame them when the phrase “30% chance of rain” implies so many assumptions and caveats.

    In lieu of actually understanding the science, I think most people simply pick someone they trust and go with that person’s opinion. I certainly do that in fields I am unfamiliar with – how many of us understand Krugman’s economic arguments, versus just accepting them?

    More fairly, how could we be expected to follow what I assume is graduate-level economic theory?

    Because the process of digesting scientific revelation has devolved into simply trusting scientists (with reason in many cases), the terms of the debate have shifted. It’s not about the quality of the message, it’s about the reliability of the messenger.

    I remember trying to get a progressive to read Christina Romer’s economic paper. He couldn’t be bothered, but asserted that Ms Romer was wrong because of her past associations. Sounds like you’re seeing that play out here.

  8. creamer

     And I am not.

    In my mind it seems that if Palin didn’t come across like an idiot, her looks would have been a plus. But her interviews and the SNL parody that followed made her appear cute and dumb.

    On the totaly politicaly incorrect side, I think if Hillary was better looking she might be president.

  9. Neef

    This recent kerfuffle with Mike Steele (RNC dude) started me thinking about it anew. Are people piling on him 100% because he’s a moron, or 90% because he’s a moron and 10% because he’s a black one? 99%/1%? I have no idea.

    It has helped me see how women might have viewed the Palin situation differently than I did. Everyone has great radar for their own “ism”, not so much for other people’s.

  10. HappyinVT

    article because I was put off by the title.  (And I’m tired of Sarah Palin.)  My own non-scientific study would show that her looks helped her with some and hurt her with others.  It is hard, though, to separate her looks from what we know of her personality and her policies.  Rich Lowery saw starbursts during the VP debate; I certainly didn’t.  Lots of people say that she is very attractive and charismatic.  I don’t get either vibe from her.  In both cases my opinion is based more on her policies than on her looks.

    It is also true, I think, that how professional someone looks plays into how effective they are.  Sarah pulled out some rather sexy suede boots and lots of above-the-knee skirts that, rightly or wrongly, may have made her look less than qualified.  Women with long hair who leave it down may be seen as messy and disorganized.  Hillary, by contrast, despite the matchy-matchy pantsuits looks more professional (although some may say dowdy).  But going on looks alone (as much as I can knowing their policies) I’d go with Hillary.  May make me shallow, but I never said I was perfect.  🙂

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