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Mind the gap

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April  September 27, 2007 05:03 PM

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Linguist Mark Liberman, scourge of pop statisticians, debunker of myths about sex and language, has a post at Language Log dismantling yesterday’s story in the New York Times on the “growing happiness gap between men and women.”

According to new research, says Times reporter David Leonhardt, women now spend more time than men at tasks they don’t enjoy -- the reverse of the situation 30-plus years ago.

But which women, and how many of them? Liberman reprints the graph from the study that supposedly demonstrates the trend. “When I show readers of the NYT article the graph of the data . . . they're flabbergasted,” he writes. And no wonder:

happy%20graph.gif

The words paint a very different picture, he says:

What people take away from the journalistic description of this study is that women used to be happier than men, and now men are happier than women -- and they think of this as a fact about all men and all women. In fact, we're talking about effects whose size is such that perhaps the happiest half of the population, on an optimistic reading of a complex statistical reconstruction, contains a couple of percent more of one sex than the other!


You’ll also want to catch up with Liberman’s pursuit of the latest junk science in the sex-differences realm: The discovery of the (aptly named) “crockus,” allegedly a brain region that makes girls better at detail work.

There is a real guy, Dan Hodgins, out there spreading the gospel of the crockus to parents and teachers. But his sourcing for the existence of that organ -- a so far nonexistent Dr. Alfred Crockus and the definitely fictional Boston Medical University Hospital -- is looking increasingly shaky.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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