Part 3—In support of The Raleigh 43: Where do “journalists” like Nicholas Kristof acquire their various “facts?”
For those who find such questions intriguing, the former Rhodes scholar’s most recent column constitutes a fecund case study. Let’s examine a few more “facts” the pundit advanced in that piece.
Do college students disproportionately describe their female professors as “nasty?” If they do, does this represent a situation in which female professors must overcome a stereotypical “unconscious bias?”
Plainly, Kristof advanced both ideas in last Sunday’s column. These are the statements in question:
“[T]he evidence is overwhelming that unconscious bias remains widespread in ways that systematically benefit both whites and men...Female professors are disproportionately described as ‘nasty,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘bossy’ or ‘disorganized.’ ”
The first idea we cite above seems to be factually accurate, based on the new research tool to which Kristof linked in his column.
(To access that tool, click here.)
It’s true! When college students rate their professors at RateMyProfessors.com, the word “nasty” appears more often in reviews of female professors. This fact advances a notion which pleases Kristof, so he types it for his readers.
(Quite possibly, he draws on the work of a “research assistant” even more clueless than he is.)
It’s true! In their reviews at RateMyProfessors.com, college students use the word “nasty” more often in reviews of female professors, by a ratio of roughly two-to-one.
Kristof looks on their work and is pleased, so he puts this fact in his column. Here’s what his column didn’t tell you:
College students also use the word “pleasant” more often in reviews of female professors. In that case, the ratio is closer to three-to-one—and the word “pleasant” is used two to three times as often as “nasty.”
(Neither term is used especially often. The word “nasty” appears in reviews of female professors about ten times in each million words of text.)
Why did Kristof tell you this: “Female professors are disproportionately described as “nasty?” The most likely answer would seem to be fairly clear.
The notion that female professors are disproportionately described as “nasty” (and “bossy”) fits a pleasing preconception. For that reason, Kristof presented those facts.
He didn’t give you other facts—facts which would have made his picture cloudy:
He didn’t tell you that female professors are almost never described as “bossy” in those reviews. (The word appears less than once in every million words of text.)
He didn’t tell you that male professors seem to be described as “blowhards” substantially more often than that. (Tthough still not especially often.)
This part of Kristof’s most recent column should go straight to the Smithsonian. It’s one of the best examples we’ve ever seen of the way a certain type of “journalist” will pick and choose the facts you are allowed to encounter.
This doesn’t mean that female professors don’t confront punishing stereotypes which could even harm their careers. Consider where Kristof’s column went next, after he finished pretending to discuss the words These Kids Today use.
Are female professors damaged by stereotypes? In our view, it’s certainly possible. Kristof continued his typing:
KRISTOF (2/22/15): Consider a huge interactive exploration of 14 million reviews on RateMyProfessors.com that recently suggested that male professors are disproportionately likely to be described as a “star” or “genius.” Female professors are disproportionately described as “nasty,” “ugly,” “bossy” or “disorganized.”In the highlighted passages, Kristof describes a troubling situation. Students were asked to rate teachers of an on-line course. Ratings for the very same teachers were higher or lower depending on whether the students thought the unobserved teacher in question was actually female or male.
One reaction from men was: Well, maybe women professors are more disorganized!
But researchers at North Carolina State conducted an experiment in which they asked students to rate teachers of an online course (the students never saw the teachers). To some of the students, a male teacher claimed to be female and vice versa.
When students were taking the class from someone they believed to be male, they rated the teacher more highly. The very same teacher, when believed to be female, was rated significantly lower.
Is that really the way the world works? We don’t doubt the possibility!
On the other hand, we clicked the link from Kristof’s column to that experiment at North Carolina State. When we did, we found it was based on a very small “N” and seemed to have other possible methodological problems.
Can we trust the findings derived from The Raleigh 43? Especially given that very small N, no serious person would regard this “experiment” as settled science. When an account of the experiment was posted at the official “NC State News” site to which Kristof linked, commenters responded as shown below.
There weren’t a lot of comments. We can’t vouch for the apparent gender of the commenters:
Jill says: December 9, 2014 at 1:37 pmWe agree with the view expressed by one additional commenter. She said the troubling outcome of this experiment suggests a strong need for further study.
Jane says: December 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm
How on earth did this get published? The methodological errors in this are dreadful! Sample sizes of 8-12 students and 2 professors are woefully small, for starters...Then, why weren’t the professors blinded to the gender they were presenting to the students? How do we know they didn’t (even subconsciously) bias the results in their interactions? It’s poor science like this that lets the rest of us in sociology down, and makes us look like poor scientists when compared with our colleagues…
Dan says: December 27, 2014 at 5:57 pm
So true, Jane. Ridiculous that the professors were fully aware of their “perceived gender” in each scenario.
Rebecca says: December 9, 2014 at 6:02 pm
Do you have something substantive to say, Jill?
NAG says: February 23, 2015 at 1:06 am
It’s been said above by Jane. This is a terrible example of “scholarly” work.
James Driscoll says: December 10, 2014 at 9:33 am
Serious scientists at respectable institutions would be embarrassed if they published conclusions based on such a small sample size. Do your homework. Readers must feel that you got the result that you wanted, so you stopped. We try to teach students to wait and publish only what is statistically meaningful, and there are mathematical rules that define meaningful.
Real Scientist says: December 18, 2014 at 7:18 pm
Yikes if I have an N of less than 1000 for this kind of loosy goosy study, I would be embarrassed to talk about it. Woah!
Morgan Leigh says: December 10, 2014 at 5:36 pm
I agree that this study is way too small a sample size to be useful on its own. However it does raise the important issue of teaching assessment in universities. In my institution, student feedback is the only measure of teaching performance. Hiring and firing decisions are based on it...
That said, further study will rarely be sought when high-minded scribes of a certain type assemble their ten-minute columns. Their research assistants span the globe, looking for studies which seem to support pre-selected conclusions. The pundits jam these studies and “experiments” into their piece, thus providing their target audience with a pleasurable reading experience.
No concern will be expressed about an N which many be strikingly small. Although many small studies can’t be replicated, no questions will be raised about this well-known problem.
Quite routinely, Nicholas Kristof stitches his columns together in these ways. He then appends a haughty headline, fleshed out with a condescending framework which has been designed to flatter his tribal readers while driving wedges everywhere else.
Liberal commenters rush to thank him for his high ideals and his magnificent work. In these and similar ways, bogus facts become known by all and international brands get established.
There’s a great deal more a person can say about The Columns of Kristof County. We often think back on the pandering columns he wrote about the role of great teachers in our public schools—columns in which he pandered to conservative experts about a set of concerns he seems to know nothing about.
In recent months, Kristof seems to be flipping on a range of issues—although even now, he can’t bring himself to stop sliming public school teachers through his comments about their infernal unions.
As he flips, he talks down to us, his liberal readers. And we his readers love it:
(Last week, he told us that he has just realized, at age 55, that corporate tycoons can be greedy too. We liberals are so eager to accept tribal flattery that we rushed into comments to praise him for this obvious pap.)
In our view, Kristof’s columns in recent months have bordered on the journalistically obscene. In fairness, Sunday’s column did provide a wonderful study on where our “facts” may come from.
That said, we’ve been trying to move ahead to a discussion of Kristof’s recent PBS series, A Path Appears. We were puzzled by various things we saw in the segment from Port-au-Prince.
On a purely journalistic basis, how in the world can PBS get away with the story it told?
Tomorrow: Puzzled, but also disgusted, by various things we saw
Where do “facts” come from: If you click the link Kristof provided, you’ll find the comments we posted above about that NC State “experiment.”
Sadly, you’ll also see this recent Pingback amid the comments:
Pingback: Students See Male Professors As Brilliant Geniuses, Female Professors As Bossy And Annoying—Trendingnewsz.com.Students see female professors as bossy! Thanks to the efforts of people like Kristof, this is becoming a “fact.”
Does reality “have a well-known liberal bias?” Steven Colbert offered that as a comment about phony pseudo-conservative claims.
Thanks to the efforts of people like Kristof, Brother Colbert’s comical world seems to be fading out fast.