Part 2—Enabler and consort of hacks: First question:
Do female professors sometimes confront unhelpful gender-based stereotypes?
Although we can’t really say that we know, we would assume that they do. We further assume that it’s the job of a serious journalist to clarify such matters.
Do college students describe their female professors as “bossy” in their reviews at RateMyProfessors.com?
Basically, no—they do not! Unless you’re reading Nicholas Kristof, who seems less and less like a serious journalist, more and more like a self-serving international brand.
In our view, Kristof is rapidly becoming the Nike of pseudo-liberal pseudo-journalism. We’ll guess that this process is good for Kristof, bad for everyone else.
More on that as the week proceeds. For now, let's return to that question:
Do college students describe their female professors as “bossy?” As we noted in yesterday’s report, that’s an impression Kristof peddled in his most recent column.
Rather plainly, he seemed to be cutting-and-pasting this pleasing impression—copying off the papers of other pseudo-journalists, including those who are many years younger than he is.
To read Kristof's column, click here.
Yesterday, we were happy to give you the news—college students almost never describe their female professors as “bossy!” According to the (problematic) research tool Kristof cited, the term appears less than once in every million words of text when students review their female professors.
Whatever they think about these professors, they don’t seem to think they’re “bossy!” Unless you’re reading Our Own Billy Sunday, or the many other hacks who have been pushing this pleasing new line.
As is becoming the norm, Kristof’s column this Sunday was full of poorly-examined claims and impressions. Tomorrow, we'll note another example. For today, let’s treat ourselves to a third question:
How bad can the hackistry get in the rapidly growing world of pseudo-liberal pseudo-journalism?
The hackistry can get very bad! Consider what happened when Professor Bartlett, a female professor, beat Kristof to the recent foolishness about RateMyProfessors.com.
As we noted yesterday, the current foolishness got its start on or about February 6, with a hapless post on a New York Times blog. The copycats were soon out in force. By February 10, Professor Bartlett was checking in, at the new/improved site of the new New Republic.
Professor Bartlett is an associate professor in gender studies at the University of Western Australia. She too had been fiddling around with the (problematic) new research tool. This is part of what she had found:
BARTLETT (2/10/15): So we know what’s coming next. As this is a gender mapping, women professors are consistently more likely to be described as feisty, bossy, aggressive, shrill, condescending, rude. You get the picture. We are also ahead on that vanilla descriptor, nice.Do female professors sometimes suffer from gender-based stereotypes? We would assume they do, although we can’t say we know.
In this instance, Professor Bartlett had been fiddling with the new research tool, and she had made some discoveries. Like the others who had preceded her, she said that female professors are “more likely to be described as bossy.”
Technically, that is accurate. Female professors are almost never described that way in the student reviews in question. But male professors seem to be described that way a tiny bit less often.
That said, Professor Bartlett forgot to tell you that this term is used in reviews of female professors less than one time in every million words of text. She also forgot to tell you this:
Male professors are much more likely than female professors to be described as “arrogant.” And this term is used about seventy times more often than “bossy” is!
Whatever! Reporting in from way down under, Professor Bartlett was on a roll. She seems to have tested a set of words which she finds stereotypically demeaning to women. She strung them out for us in that passage.
“You get the picture,” she said, and a lot of adepts presumably did. For ourselves, we got the picture of a pseudo-liberal hack who was making the liberal world dumber.
It’s true! The terms “feisty” and “shrill” are applied more often to female professors in the RateMyProfessor reviews. But the terms are almost never used in those student reviews.
Each term is used one time in roughly two million words of text! Female professors are almost never described in these ways.
Is the term “aggressive” disproportionately used in student reviews of women? Yes, it is. But the term is used almost as often in student reviews of male professors, and it appears less than five times in each million words of text.
(By the way, are “aggressive” and “feisty” necessarily terms of denigration? Not necessarily, no.)
The term “condescending” appears disproportionately in reviews of female professors; the margin is roughly 45 uses to 35 uses per million words of text. That said, the words “understanding” and “helpful” also appear more often in reviews of female professors, and those words are used many times more often than “condescending.”
Crackers, can we talk? The term “helpful” appears disproportionately in reviews of female professors. In those reviews, the flattering term appears about 1500 times per million words of text.
Although these data are problematic, college students seem to regard their female professors as helpful. But so what? Hacks like Bartlett prefer to zero in on terms which are almost never used by these students—words which help them paint a troubling, preconceived portrait.
It’s hard to avoid a basic conclusion here. Perhaps due to an unconscious bias, Professor Bartlett seemed to have her thumb on the scale as she penned her piece in the New Republic. She seemed to have hunted around, looking for words which would produce a preferred preconceived conclusion.
Was the professor picking and choosing her terms? This seems especially clear in her treatment of the dueling words “rude” and “nice.”
It’s true! The term “rude” is used more often in reviews of female professors. The term appears about 200 times per million words of text in reviews of female professors, only about 150 times per million words in reviews of their male counterparts.
Professor Bartlett wanted us to be upset about that. She then derided the fact that the word “nice” appears more often in students' reviews of their female professors.
The word “nice” appears roughly 1400 times per million words in reviews of female professors. The word “helpful” appears roughly 1500 times.
In each case, the words are used much more often than the word “rude.” In each case, the flattering terms appear more often in reviews of the female professors.
Professor Bartlett offers a derisive reaction to that fact. We’re supposed to get upset when female professors are described as “rude.” But when they’re disproportionately described as “helpful” or “nice,” we are supposed to roll our eyes.
“Nice” is such a tapioca term! A wag might even call it Vanilla Nice!
Can we talk? This research tool is highly problematic. It can tell us which words appear in the student reviews. It can provide rough ratios concerning the frequency with which the words are used in reviews of female professors, as opposed to the review of their male counterparts.
It can’t provide the contexts in which these words are used. The word “nice” can be used this way, for instance:
“Professor Jane Smith isn’t very nice to her students.”
Here’s an extremely significant point—this research tool is completely useless if partisans like Bartlett and Kristof completely ignore the frequency with which various words appear.
As the research tool makes clear, the term “bossy” is almost never used when students review their professors! But Bartlett blew right past this fact, as did the copy-cat Kristof.
In fact, we’ve seen no one make use of this type of information as a parade of pseudo-liberals have spread the latest gospel around. Here’s what happened instead:
Our tribunes created the latest horror story for pseudo-liberal consumption. They shrieked and yelled and tore their hair about the disproportionate use of words like “bossy” and “feisty.”
They failed to say that these words are almost never used in these student reviews. Meanwhile, they ignored an array of flattering terms which are disproportionately used in reviews of women—words which, in some cases, are used hundreds of times more often than the terms which have our tribunes upset.
In this way, we pseudo-liberals get even dumber and even more pseudo than we were before. Eventually, along comes Kristof! Rather plainly, he copied the work of his predecessors in this latest pseudo parade.
Increasingly, we think Kristof is an anti-journalistic joke. We see him as an international brand, as the founder of Kristof Inc.
Whatever he’s doing, it doesn’t much seem to be journalism. We’ll guess what he’s doing is good for him, bad for everyone else.
Tomorrow: Sipping drinks with a star on a sun-splashed terrace, Kristof does Port-au-Prince