Aaron Sell, a researcher at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, recently published a paper on human anger and the proclivity toward using anger to get one’s way, finding that attractive women and physically strong men tend toward aggression moreso than others to get their way.
As Scicurious puts it, in her post on the media coverage of this study, this is an interesting result in itself. It’s even newsworthy, and challenges some pre-conceived notions that such people get their way so often because they are willingly deferred-to by others, rather than because their temper tantrums cause people to defer to them.
But the BBC posted an article about the study, claiming “Blonde Women are Born to be Warrior Princesses”. They’ve since scrubbed this article, but the headline and content was picked up by Gawker and Times Online, both of which making explicit claims that the study found that blondes considered themselves more attractive, and therefore were the “more aggressive” ones in the results. The Gawker article even goes so far as to suggest Sell might have been recently dumped by a blonde woman.
The trouble with this is, Sell’s paper produced no evidence of these claims whatsoever. There was some mention that the expectation going into the study was that blondes would be in a position of privilege, since the study was done in southern California, “the natural habitat of the privileged blonde”. However, TrueSlant was smart enough to actually contact Sell prior to publishing a story on the tarted-up-by-the-media version of study, and discovered that when Sell broke out hair color which the original study did not do, he found:
based on our data:
Blonde women do _not_ feel more entitled.
Blonde women are _not_ more prone to anger
Blonde women do _not_ feel more attractive than other women.
Blonde women are _not_ more militaristic.
This is a big blow to my confidence in BBC’s reporting. They’re still a far cry from FOX “News”, mind you, but until now I have had no reason to suspect their coverage of science-related news items. Serves me right for giving them the benefit of the doubt, I guess.
Slightly related: an open letter to the media, from science.
Update on Jan. 24th: Dr. Sell has corrected me on the fact that the incorrect, tarted-up version of this story started in the Times and was picked up by the BBC, rather than the other way around. The fact that the BBC has corrected the record but the Times has not, is good for my opinion of the BBC, if only marginally so, in that they uncritically re-ran the Times’ newsbite. This update also totally scuttles any trust I had in the Times on matters of science.