John Tierney is a right-wing libertarian science writer at the New York Times. Wikipedia describes him as follows:
In 2005 and 2006, he was a columnist on the Times Op-Ed page, before which he wrote a column about New York, "The Big City", that ran in the New York Times Magazine and the Metro section from 1994 to 2002.
Tierney identifies himself as a libertarian and has become increasingly identified with libertarianism. His columns have been critical of rent stabilization, the war on drugs, Amtrak and compulsory recycling. His 1996 article "Recycling Is Garbage" broke the New York Times Magazine's hate mail record.
Joseph J. Romm has written that Tierney is one of the "influential but misinformed" skeptics who have helped prevent the U.S. from taking action on climate change. In his 2007 book, Hell and High Water, Romm cites, and claims to refute, what he calls Tierney's "misinformation".
Say hello to Mr. Tierney:
I read him a lot during his Op-Ed page years, less after those. To me he presented a different angle from that reflected in the above quote: He seemed to be a man who had never found an anti-uppity-woman study that didn't desperately need wider dissemination.
But it's always possible that I just happened to notice those columns by our John which worked against my beliefs, right? It could have been that Tierney's writing over his career was much more balanced and impartial.
It could have been, but it wasn't. Rather, Tierney used the space he was given to work against anything that just might allow women to be uppity. The way he linked "science" to this was by lavish use of one sub-branch of evolutionary psychology, the kind I call EP or Evolutionary Psychology, the kind which is in favor in cocktail party debates about gender, the kind which ignores all cultural influences on human beings and which often results in JustSo stories about human evolution (1).
Over time, the percentage of Tierney's columns which were on the topic of what's-wrong-with-uppity women or on the topic of gender-equality-is-scientifically-proven-to-be-impossible is far too high to happen by accident, and neither is it a random drawing from the gender studies which were published in any particular year (2). No. Johnnie just wanted to share with all the New York Times readers his views on women and so he picked those studies which support the same views.
Why would this matter? After all, everybody knows that Tierney writes opinions, not facts. He's like his brother-in-ideas, David Brooks, or like his sister-in-the-hatred-of-uppity-women, Maureen Dowd. Just what the New York Times thinks us women might find fascinating on those kinds of opinions, right?
I wrote this post to answer those questions (which I asked myself, in a deep-and-heated political debate!):
First, it is salutary and enlightening to see what Tierney has written about us womenfolk over the last decade or so, in one place, in short lists, with the basic contents highlighted. History brought to life! Facts gleaned from the dreck and pure noise of actual time passing, dinners, work, other articles and politics intervening! Just pure Tierney, bright as transparent glass! And it is great to see whom Tierney uses as experts on the "woman question." People like Christina Hoff Sommers and Roy Baumeister.
Second, it shows you how the culture around us will affect us, will affect the information we hold, the ideas we agree with and our general beliefs about what others believe. Sometimes those cultural effects are orchestrated, and hearing the orchestra and who is conducting it (Tierney! New York Times paying for the performances!) is an interesting and fun phenomenon.
Third, putting together the work of one influential science writer in one influential place tells us something about the way various voices are given microphones at newspapers, something about the way "the balancing" of Democrats and Republicans and libertarians etc. in the stables of writers works out in practice, and what it's possible consequences might be.
I decided to write this post now for no particular current-events related reasons, but because I want to clean up my never-posted archives, to tidy up everything, to tie up all the loose ends, and while doing that I found research I had started into Tierney's career (3). It seemed too good to waste, even though the research is not complete and doesn't pretend to reflect on the whole career of John Tierney (4). So I'm tossing it out by first tossing it here.
Before we move to Tierney's work itself, I want to stress this:
There's nothing wrong with Tierney covering certain opinions and studies which support those particular opinions. What's wrong, in the context of opinion writing in science, is ignoring other studies which don't support those opinions, over-using certain experts and not using others at all, and, in general, giving the impression that the studies one covers are somehow the consensus of all researchers in a particular field.
TIERNEY BY THE YEAR OF PUBLICATION
The rest of this post is a long list of links to Tierney's work at the New York Times between 2005 and 2013, with the last three years covered more spottily. Each year has links to certain columns, articles and posts with short quotes from the material and links to responses at the time they were published. Most of those responses are by me. This doesn't mean that others didn't also criticize or disseminate or discuss Tierney's opinions. It reflects the unfinished research I carried out a few years ago (5).
He's Got Facts, She's Fascinated
ANOTHER gender gap has appeared, this time on a poll testing men's and women's knowledge of issues in the presidential campaign. On the eight-question quiz administered to 1,845 adults, men were more likely on every question to give the right answer.
What Women Want
Suppose you could eliminate the factors often blamed for the shortage of women in high-paying jobs. Suppose that promotions and raises did not depend on pleasing sexist male bosses or putting in long nights and weekends away from home. Would women make as much as men?
The Urge to Win
But the evolutionary roots of it seem clear to anthropologists like Helen Fisher of Rutgers University.
''Evolution has selected for men with a taste for risking everything to get to the top of the hierarchy,'' she said, ''because those males get more reproductive opportunities, not only among primates but also among human beings. Women don't get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top. They're just as competitive with themselves -- they want to do a good job just as much as men do -- but men want to be more competitive with others.''
Evolutionary psychologists see two kinds of payoffs that traditionally went (and often still go) to victorious men. Women have long been drawn to men at the top of a hierarchy (a clan leader, Donald Trump) who have the resources to support children.
And when women pursued what's called a short-term reproductive strategy -- a quick fling -- then presumably evolution favored the woman who was attracted to a man with good genes, as manifest either in his looks or in some display of prowess. If the theory's right and the unconscious urges persist in women, you can begin to understand why some women wait in hotel lobbies looking for rock stars.
For a response to this column, see here. My post on it is here, though I was just getting my running shoes on.
The Doofus Dad
Ward Cleaver has been replaced by a stock character known in the trade as Doofus Dad. Explaining this change isn't easy, but if Ward were still around, he could puff his pipe and offer several theories.
The most obvious is that the television audience has splintered along gender lines, and sitcoms are now a female domain. Four out of five viewers of network sitcoms are women, and they apparently like to see Mom smarter than Dad.
Another explanation is the rising number of mothers with paying jobs. Now that they have their own paychecks, the old bread-earning patriarch is less essential and therefore more mockable. And TV writers no longer have an easy stereotype of Mom to work with. Jokes about daffy middle-class housewives like Lucy Ricardo and Edith Bunker seem dated now that so many women work outside the home.
Bolds are mine.
Male Pride and Female Prejudice
When there are three women for every two men graduating from college, whom will the third woman marry?
Men's Abortion Rights
There is, of course, one big physical inequality between the sexes in this regard: it's the woman who must either have the abortion or go through the pregnancy.
But as Goldscheider points out, women also have more power than men to prevent the pregnancy because they have exclusive control over some forms of contraception. It's not fair, she says, for a woman who lies about being on the pill to be able to trick a man into marrying her or making child-support payments for 18 years.
If it were just a question of the woman's rights versus the man's rights, I'd go along with Goldscheider's proposal. But if the man gets a financial abortion and the woman goes ahead with the pregnancy, someone else's rights still need to be considered: the child would suffer because of the parents' decisions.
Goldscheider's solution to that problem is for the government to provide financial support in place of the father. But would this new public subsidy encourage more single-parent homes? To avoid that risk, I'd rather stick with the current system, unfair as it is, of making all men pay.
But there's no reason that it couldn't be a little fairer. As Alito ruled, it's not an undue burden for a wife to notify her husband before an abortion. And it's not unfair, as Goldscheider proposes, for a single woman expecting child support to be required to tell the father as soon as she decides to keep the baby. If men are going to pay to play, they should at least know the score.
My take on that column can be found here.
Valentine's Day Homework
And for those husbands daunted by the long To Do lists, he offers one more useful bit of advice: Don't be fooled by feminist rhetoric about women's powerlessness.
Yes, husbands may usually make more money on the work front, but wives still typically make the important decisions on the home front, like where the children go to school or how to spend the family's money. Wives also (and Haltzman presents supporting data here on the gender gap in libido) tend to make the decision on whether to have sex.
Bolds are mine. The bit about wives making the important decisions on the home front is unlikely to be true, but I'd have to dig in my archives for more on that. It's true that women do most grocery shopping and such, which some interpret as meaning that women make most consumer choices in heterosexual two-partner relationships. But an alternative theory rears its ugly head pretty fast.
The Happiest Wives
But it turns out that an equal division of labor didn't make husbands more affectionate or wives more fulfilled. The wives working outside the home reported less satisfaction with their husbands and their marriages than did the stay-at-home wives. And among those with outside jobs, the happiest wives, regardless of the family's overall income, were the ones whose husbands brought in at least two-thirds of the money.There are, of course, also studies which suggest that feminist relationships are, happier than non-feminist ones, but those tend not to get much limelight. (This one is from 2011 but I don't see Tierney covering it then.)
These male providers-in-chief were regarded fondly by even the most feminist-minded women -- the ones who said they believed in dividing duties equally. In theory these wives were egalitarians, but in their own lives they preferred more traditional arrangements.
Who's Afraid of Polygamy?
Polygamy isn't necessarily worse than the current American alternative: serial monogamy.
Elizabeth Joseph, a lawyer and journalist who was married to a polygamist in Utah, says her experience handling divorce cases made her appreciate the stability of her marriage. She also appreciated other perks, like the round-the-clock day care that enabled her to keep an unpredictable schedule at work and to relax when she came home.
''If I'm dog-tired and stressed out, I can be alone and guilt-free,'' she explained in a speech to the National Organization for Women. ''It's a rare day when all eight of my husband's wives are tired and stressed at the same time.'' She told the NOW audience that polygamy ''offers an independent women a real chance to have it all'' and represented ''the ultimate feminist lifestyle.''
Let the Guys Win One
When Title IX was enacted in 1972, women were a minority on college campuses, and it sounded reasonable to fight any discrimination against them. But now men are the underachieving minority on campus, as a series by The Times has been documenting. So why is it so important to cling to the myth behind Title IX: that women need sports as much as men do?I missed that column when it came out, but some of the reasons why someone might want to support Title IX could be, because it is...err...about gender equality in higher education in general, not just in sports. For more, see this post.
After decades of schools pushing girls into science and universities desperately looking for gender diversity on their faculties, it’s insulting to pretend that most female students are too intimidated to know their best interests. As Science magazine reported in 2000, the social scientist Patti Hausman offered a simple explanation for why women don’t go into engineering: they don’t want to.
“Wherever you go, you will find females far less likely than males to see what is so fascinating about ohms, carburetors or quarks,” Hausman said. “Reinventing the curriculum will not make me more interested in learning how my dishwasher works.”
My take of this column is here.
The next three columns are all on the very same piece: Roy Baumeister's "Is There Anything Good About Men?" To give that piece so much column acreage is indicative of Tierney's basic views.
Is There Anything Good About Men? And Other Tricky Questions
Culture is not about men against women. By and large, cultural progress emerged from groups of men working with and against other men. While women concentrated on the close relationships that enabled the species to survive, men created the bigger networks of shallow relationships, less necessary for survival but eventually enabling culture to flourish. The gradual creation of wealth, knowledge, and power in the men’s sphere was the source of gender inequality. Men created the big social structures that comprise society, and men still are mainly responsible for this, even though we now see that women can perform perfectly well in these large systems.
Tierney really whitewashed Baumeister's speech. I wrote a post about the actual speech here. And a series of posts on some additional work Baumeister carried out with Kathleen Vohs. Part 1 is here, part 2 here and part 3 here.
The Missing Men in Your Family Tree
“Is There Anything Good About Men?” Roy Baumeister asked the American Psychological Association, and he came up with a few suggestions. My post about the speech generated lots of comments and questions — and, I was glad to see, not too many knee-jerk denunciations from readers angry to see anyone suggest that gender differences aren’t due simply to oppression by patriarchal males. Dr. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, told me he was glad to see such a stimulating discussion, and he’s written a response to the readers. So has has one of the researchers he was citing, Jason Wilder, a biologist at Williams College.The "missing men" theory of Roy Baumeister argues that only the "best" men were able to procreate in the past whereas almost all women were. That makes men, on average, superior to women in all sorts of important ways, This theory also requires that only sons inherit the great stuff from their fathers and that no son inherits any of the mediocrity from their mothers and the reverse for all daughters. I discuss the basis for the theory in some detail here.
Men and Women, Different but Equal: What’s the Problem?
Note: This column lets Roy Baumeister speak and he explains his concern for men, as opposed to women (do read the giving birth example in my post to see how he expresses that concern!) For Baumeister, "different but equal" probably wouldn't rule out the gender rules of ISIS as unfair. But whatever:
I realized that most men below the age of 50 have never experienced masculinity as a positive thing, especially given the relentless stream of messages about male misbehavior and ostensible male oppression of women, plus the mass media depiction of men as villains and buffoons. When was the last time you heard a news story that depicted men, collectively, in a positive light? And before I gave this talk, many colleagues warned me that it would elicit huge protests and get me into trouble. (Fortunately they seem to have been mostly wrong.) It is sad to think that people expect a message of gender equality will elicit protests from women, and it shows how deeply our society has embraced the taboo against saying anything positive about men. Hence my title, “Is there anything good about men?”
The Waif From Ipanema
My post on changing body fashions in Brazil prompted readers to raise and debate an excellent question: Why do women suffer to look like skeletons even when men don’t want them to?
“I find it incredibly curious,” wrote Stephen de las Heras, “that women’s aesthetic judgments are so influenced by other women. Men prefer the wider hips, and most likely could care less about high heels and handbags. Yet for many women all these things are essential to marking their beauty status with other women.” (He was quickly corrected by another reader about the high heels – although men don’t care if Jimmy Choo made the heels, they definitely like what the heels do to the legs and derriere.)
“I feel like women never want to be happy,” one woman wrote despairingly. “They just want to torture themselves and therein is a near happiness.” A male reader suggested that the pressure to appeal to the opposite sex isn’t as strong as peer pressure: “Women are more embarrassed being naked in front of other women than in front of men. That’s because other women are critical while men are simply grateful.”
Politically Incorrect Soccer Injuries
Adolescent girls are even more prone to injuries in cross-country running than in soccer, as Eli Saslow of the Washington Post reported in a 2006 article about the struggles of female runners in high school who slow down as they gain weight and their hips widen. Some respond by trying to starve themselves back to their prepubescent weight: Mr. Saslow cited estimates that a third to a half of female cross-country runners on the top college teams suffered from eating disorders. He quoted Ed Purpura, the coach of a girls’ high-school team that won the Maryland state championship, on the difficulties faced by juniors and seniors who can’t match their freshman times:
“It’s kind of heartbreaking for the girls to realize that they can try as hard as ever and the performance still isn’t there. It’s always the elephant in the room in our sport. Nobody likes to talk about it, but everybody knows that’s often how it works.”...
No one is suggesting female soccer players or runners shouldn’t have just as much right as male football players to risk injuries in return for whatever rewards they’re seeking. But why not acknowledge gender differences and let them make the decision themselves? And why not alert them to some of the trade-offs?
As Barriers Disappear Some Gender Gaps Widen
When men and women take personality tests, some of the old Mars-Venus stereotypes keep reappearing. On average, women are more cooperative, nurturing, cautious and emotionally responsive. Men tend to be more competitive, assertive, reckless and emotionally flat. Clear differences appear in early childhood and never disappear.My take on this column can be found here.
Male Bias or Female Choice?
In my column I review evidence that women’s own preferences explain their relatively low numbers in fields like physics and engineering and computer science.
Do Single Women Seek Attached Men?
Researchers have debated for years whether men or women are likelier to engage in “mate poaching.” Some surveys indicated that men had a stronger tendency to go after other people’s partners, but was that just because men were more likely to admit engaging in this behavior? Now there’s experimental evidence that single women are particularly drawn to other people’s partners, according to a report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by two social psychologists, Melissa Burkley and Jessica Parker of Oklahoma State University.
Bolds are mine.
The next column turns that one upside down:
Why Poach Another’s Mate? Ask An Expert
That expert is David Buss, an Evolutionary Psychologist. Buss is allowed to have his say in the column:
A couple important distinctions are worth introducing. The first is the distinction between poaching for short-term sexual encounters versus poaching for more committed mateships. The first scientific study of mate poaching (Schmitt & Buss, 2001) found that substantially more men (60%) than women (38%) admitted to having attempted to poach an already mated person for a sexual encounter. The sex difference was smaller for long-term mate poaching, but still present—60% of the men and 53% of the women.
But never mind! We can still make this about women, as defined in Evolutionary Psychology, because Buss argues:
The cross-cultural record reveals that 83% of cultures practiced some form of polygyny (one male with two or more wives). In these cultures, single women are often attracted to mated men, and it’s often not considered mate poaching. Single women in these cultures typically find mated men with high status, resources, and a wife or two more attractive than single men who lack the status or desirability to attract a mate. Women’s sexual psychology evolved in the context of a mating system with some polygyny. Modern women have inherited the sexual psychology of their successful ancestral mothers. They carry with them an attraction for men who have demonstrated an ability to attract other women.
Then how does one explain men's greater attraction to already attached women? Use a different theory, duh.
Daring to Discuss Women in Science
When Dr. Summers raised the issue to fellow economists and other researchers at a conference in 2005, his hypothesis was caricatured in the press as a revival of the old notion that “girls can’t do math.” But Dr. Summers said no such thing. He acknowledged that there were many talented female scientists and discussed ways to eliminate the social barriers they faced.
Yet even if all these social factors were eliminated, he hypothesized, the science faculty composition at an elite school like Harvard might still be skewed by a biological factor: the greater variability observed among men in intelligence test scores and various traits. Men and women might, on average, have equal mathematical ability, but there could still be disproportionately more men with very low or very high scores.
These extremes often don’t matter much because relatively few people are involved, leaving the bulk of men and women clustered around the middle. But a tenured physicist at a leading university, Dr. Summers suggested, might well need skills and traits found in only one person in 10,000: the top 0.01 percent of the population, a tiny group that would presumably include more men because it’s at the extreme right tail of the distribution curve.
“I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong,” Dr. Summers told the economists, expressing the hope that gender imbalances could be rectified simply by eliminating social barriers. But he added, “My guess is that there are some very deep forces here that are going to be with us for a long time.”
It's worth noticing that the same column tells us:
Meanwhile, the seventh-grade girls outnumbered the boys at the right tail of tests measuring verbal reasoning and writing ability. The Duke researchers report in Intelligence, “Our data clearly show that there are sex differences in cognitive abilities in the extreme right tail, with some favoring males and some favoring females.”
Yet there is no corresponding excess of women leading the fields where verbal reasoning and writing ability were important. In short, a right tail (extreme high values) story is applied to only one field as the correct explanation. For more on that general theory, see this post of mine.
Legislation Won’t Close Gender Gap in Sciences
The gap in science seems due mainly to another difference between the sexes: men are more interested in working with things, while women are more interested in working with people. There’s ample evidence — most recently in an analysis of surveys of more than 500,000 people — that boys and men, on average, are more interested in inanimate objects and “inorganic” subjects like math and physics and engineering, while girls and women are more drawn to life sciences, social sciences and other “organic” careers that involve people and seem to have direct social usefulness.
You can argue how much of this difference is due to biology and how much to society, but could you really affect it by sending scientists and engineers off to the workshops mandated by the bill now in Congress? Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of a recent book “The Science on Women and Science” (AEI Press), says the workshops’ main effect would be to provide jobs for researchers and advocates promoting a myth of gender bias.
The previous column argued that women can't do the work, this one argues that women don't want to do the work.
The Threatening Scent of Fertile Women
It may seem hard to believe that men could distinguish a woman who’s at peak fertility simply by sitting next to her for a few minutes. Scientists long assumed that ovulation in humans was concealed from both sexes.
But recent studies have found large changes in cues and behavior when a woman is at this stage of peak fertility. Lap dancers get much higher tips (unless they’re taking birth-control pills that suppress ovulation, in which case their tips remain lower). The pitch of a woman’s voice rises. Men rate her body odor as more attractive and respond with higher levels of testosterone.
For general comments about what the most likely findings of the ovulation field in evolutionary psychology actually are, see this post. It was also fascinating to see which sites popularized this Tierney piece further! You can make an informed guess on that.
A Cold War Fought By Women
The old doubts about female competitiveness derived partly from an evolutionary analysis of the reproductive odds in ancient polygynous societies in which some men were left single because dominant males had multiple wives. So men had to compete to have a chance of reproducing, whereas virtually all women were assured of it.
But even in those societies, women were not passive trophies for victorious males. They had their own incentives to compete with one another for more desirable partners and more resources for their children. And now that most people live in monogamous societies, most women face the same odds as men. In fact, they face tougher odds in some places, like the many college campuses with more women than men.
To see how female students react to a rival, researchers brought pairs of them into a laboratory at McMaster University for what was ostensibly a discussion about female friendships. But the real experiment began when another young woman entered the room asking where to find one of the researchers.
This woman had been chosen by the researchers, Tracy Vaillancourt and Aanchal Sharma, because she “embodied qualities considered attractive from an evolutionary perspective,” meaning a “low waist-to-hip ratio, clear skin, large breasts.” Sometimes, she wore a T-shirt and jeans, other times a tightfitting, low-cut blouse and short skirt.
In jeans, she attracted little notice and no negative comments from the students, whose reactions were being secretly recorded during the encounter and after the woman left the room. But when she wore the other outfit, virtually all the students reacted with hostility.
They stared at her, looked her up and down, rolled their eyes and sometimes showed outright anger. One asked her in disgust, “What the [expletive] is that?”
Most of the aggression, though, happened after she left the room. Then the students laughed about her and impugned her motives. One student suggested that she dressed that way in order to have sex with a professor. Another said that her breasts “were about to pop out.”
I write about that study in a series of posts. Part 1 is here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and the finale here. For the hip-to-waist ratio argument, check out this.
(1) My archives give me 185 posts which talk about "evolutionary psychology." A proper treatment of what I say above would probably require reading all of them (and more, because one search term doesn't bring up all my posts on the topic), but here are a few snippets to get you going:
- On my definition of the term Evolutionary Psychology (EP), as opposed to evolutionary psychology, see here, here, here, here, here and here. (I grew tired of searching for more).
- On the JustSo aspect of many of the studies, read here, here, here, here and especially here.
- On how the sub-field of EP is used and by whom, see here for an example. And this post, while demonstrating the cocktail-party-chatter aspect of the field, is also particularly interesting, because the study the commenter uses was later withdrawn by its author.
(2) For example, the years that are covered in this post had many gender discrimination studies come out. Tierney didn't cover those.
(3) There is no "hook" to this post. It is not a response to some current event or scandal or new study. Hooks hurt, by the way, as the fishes can tell us. Sometimes I even write my post headlines as unappetizingly dull as possible, to keep away certain types of trolls. I'm the goddess of anti-marketing.
(4) For one thing, I stopped the careful scrutiny of his work about two years ago.
For another thing, I chose the pieces I have highlighted here on my own criteria : The overall impression, which studies were dragged into the limelight, which "experts" were consulted and which were not consulted, and the final level of negativity towards the idea of uppity women. not on some word-count or other type of scientific analysis.
Because my way of selecting the pieces is by its very nature subjective, I omitted all those posts which could be viewed as borderline, even though they smelled a bit of the idea of kicking the butt of feminists or of wishing to ignite simplistic type of gender wars. Examples here and here.
I also actively searched for posts which would have bashed men (or uppity men???), rather than uppity women, to avoid the kind of bias which would omit discussing those. This one might qualify, though I wouldn't call it exactly male-bashing, given the quote that "Previous researchers had found men on average to be less neurotic, or emotionally responsive, than women".
For another example, this post (Jackasses and Fashionistas) bashes both men and women, but saves the day by applying the silly kind of evolutionary psychology (EP). Tierney loves EP, popularizes it, and it's the most likely research he uses to support most of his views on gender as being based on innate sex differences.
Note, also, that the Doofus Dad column that I list for 2005 sounds like it might be bashing fathers. But it isn't, as you can establish by reading the piece.
Finally, it's possible that Tierney has changed in his woman-problem opinions since 2013 or so, and that I just haven't recorded that change. Or perhaps he has a second set of columns and articles elsewhere that I haven't read. What that means, for the reading of this post, is to remember that what I write about is only the contents of Tierney's articles in the New York Times and only for certain years.
(5) Some articles don't have any comments attached to them. This doesn't mean that I wouldn't have any comments, just that digging all the sources for them is too much work right now. The point, after all, is to show what it is John Tierney has selected for publication, not address each and every one of those pieces in great detail. Which I could probably do.