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Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

What Good is Science in the Media?

At the time of this writing, there is a “hot” news story about how the myth of women’s intuition is wrong and that men may actually be more intuitive. The media loves to jump on “studies” like these because they’re controversial and have unexpected results (at least as far as what the media calls “results”—these results may not be the actual conclusions the studies’ scientists came to).

There are a few problems with coming to the conclusion that men are more intuitive than women based on this new study. First of all, the differences in results of correct responses 1% for spotting real smiles and 9% for spotting fake smiles. The news stories don’t specify how many people were involved in the study, but it’s fair to say that even most comprehensive studies usually have at least a 2% margin of error, if not more. So, basically, men and women have the same intuition… which leads to the next problem with this study: who says that being able to spot a fake or real smile off of pictures of people you don’t know measures “intuition”?

Now, when we were in college, I remember there was a time when I mentioned something about having used my intuition, and my (now) wife smarmily replied, “Men don’t have intuitions.” I don’t believe this to be true, of course, but I also don’t think these new scientific studies—claiming men not only have intuitions but are actually more intuitive than women—are of any value.

Intuition, as I’ve seen it commonly used, anticipates an outcome or reassesses a situation in light of its possible outcome. In my readings about acquaintance and date rape, intuition is often mentioned as a good indicator that one should get out of uncomfortable situations that could eventually become rape. I don’t know if women are actually more intuitive or not, as a group, but I would see intuition as being able to sense when in a group that some in the group may feel awkward or need comfort. Intuition may be that gut feeling that you should check for a lost item in a place no one else would have thought to look. I never see someone look at a picture, say “That’s a fake smile,” and hear others oo and ah over her intuition. (“Wow! You really spotted the fake smile in that photo. You’re very intuitive.)

Intuition isn’t the larger issue, though; the larger issue is how the media skews sometimes real and balanced scientific studies to be conclusive and shocking, simplistic news. “Water may be more dangerous than dehydration!” “New study shows classical music makes you smarter!”

I don’t know how many people read these “scientific” news stories and get taken in by them, but I wouldn’t trust the news to report accurately about science any more than I would trust it to report accurately on education.

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