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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:


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.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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