Thursday, February 02, 2017

Sexists in Russia: Meet Satoshi Kanazawa. Or Why Being Battered Is Supposed to Be An Advantage For Women.

Welcome to the world of the Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  Actually, welcome to an even more sinister world.  Want to take my hand and wander through its door?

Let's begin with this tweet, having to do with the decriminalization of the "milder" forms of domestic abuse in Russia, the kinds that only leave bruises.  That just happened!  According to one proponent of the decriminalization, this allows parents to beat their children, and that child-beating is part of the Russian cultural tradition.*  Family values.  They often seem to be of that type.

But wait!  There are other reasons for the victims of domestic abuse to feel relieved, as this tweet tells us:

I cannot swear that the contents of that tweet did appear in the science section of a popular Russian newspaper, though that's what Alec Luhn's tweet (that this one links to) seems to suggest, because my Russian is not adequate for the task of searching for the source of Luhn's tweet.

But let's assume that all the above is true.  That tweet tells two things about some opinions about gender equality in Russia:

1.  Men should be allowed to beat women

2.  Boys are more valuable than girls

The year, by the way, is 2017.

Now to the core of the assertion:  If this statement actually was published in the science section of a Russian newspaper, what study was it based on?

You, my sweet and erudite and ferocious readers, are going to love this.  Love this!

Because the study is by one Satoshi Kanazawa, famous for really crappy research and misogynistic values, whose work I have often critiqued on this blog.**  The study in question was published in The Journal of Theoretical Biology in 2006.  Here is its abstract:

The generalized Trivers-Willard hypothesis (gTWH) [Kanazawa, S., 2005a. Big and tall parents have more sons; further generalizations of the Trivers-Willard hypothesis. J. Theor. Biol. 235, 583-590] proposes that parents who possess any heritable trait which increases the male reproductive success at a greater rate than female reproductive success in a given environment have a higher-than-expected offspring sex ratio, and parents who possess any heritable trait which increases the female reproductive success at a greater rate than male reproductive success in a given environment have a lower-than-expected offspring sex ratio. One heritable trait which increases the reproductive success of sons significantly more than that of daughters in the ancestral environment is the tendency toward violence and aggression. I therefore predict that violent parents have a higher-than-expected offspring sex ratio (more sons). The analysis of both American samples and a British sample demonstrates that battered women, who are mated to violent men, have significantly more sons than daughters.

I have bolded the relevant part of the abstract.

And that is probably as far as someone went in their research if that someone then published Kanazawa's arguments in a Russian newspaper.  But a little more digging could have told that someone about the troubles of Mr. Kanazawa.  And just a little bit more could have unearthed a repudiation of his thesis about battered women having significantly more sons than daughters, for some weird Trivers-Willard hypothesis reasons:

That is Andrew Gelman's**** 2007  letter to the editors of the Journal of Theoretical Biology.  The letter painstakingly explains why Kanazawa's methodology is faulty.  Gelman concludes:

Dr. Kanazawa has looked for some interesting patterns, and it is certainly possible that the effects he is finding are real (in the sense of generalizing to the larger population). But the results could also be reasonably explained by chance and by selection effects. I think a proper reporting of Kanazawa’s findings would be that they are interesting, and compatible with his biological theories, but not statistically confirmed.

Bolds are mine.

In short, there are no statistical findings based on a well-done study supporting the thesis that battered women are more likely to give birth to boys.

But if there were, what does it tell us about someone's values if they thought that this would be an advantage for battered women?  That they value boys and men more than they value girls and women, of course.

Given that Trump and Putin are Best Friends Forever, or at least until Putin makes Trump angry, are we going to get similar arguments in this country?  I would not have thought so two weeks ago, but today I just cannot tell. 


*  This is one example explaining why I'm not always an admirer of multi-culturalism.  All cultures have horrible traditions, and all thinking people should criticize them, even those outside any particular culture.

**  I have written so much about Kanazawa that I can't link to all the relevant posts.  But this series of posts (post 1, post 2, post 3, and addendum) might be a good place to start.  Then there's a series about how beautiful people have more daughters (they do not):  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 , an addendum and yet another addendum.  And here's a post about Kanazawa's racism.  He is still taken seriously, it seems.  Finally, about how men are polygamous but women monogamous, in Kanazawa's world.  Even other evolutionary psychologists don't believe that anymore.

***  Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science at Columbia University