The Language log isn’t all about language. Sometimes they’ll publish a nice little bit of sanity regarding the reporting of scientific work in mainstream media. Like this, on a widely reported study which allegedly shows that women are becoming more and more unhappy, and men happier.
People love this story. They love to speculate about the reasons for the trend — the favorites are variants of “too much feminism” and “not enough feminism” — and to tell us about their own happiness or lack thereof. Tens of thousands of readers, across the repeated reprises of this story in the mass media, have commented on various newspaper and weblog sites. In a certain sense, this tidal wave of response validates the story, which clearly resonates with something in the spirit of the times. But in fact, the empirical basis for all this fuss is so thin as to be practically non-existent.
Two pieces of advice from yours truly: suspect any story of a study, survey, or lab finding which makes a strong and controversial statement about the human condition; and read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, a clearheaded, focused, infuriating (and somewhat uneven) account of different ways complicated issues get distorted when translated to mainstreamese.
A thousand kids will fall in love in all these clubs tonight. A thousand other kids will end up gushing blood tonight. Two thousand kids won’t get all that much sleep tonight. Two thousand kids they still feel pretty sweet tonight. I still feel pretty sweet.