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The Data Are In Regarding Satoshi Kanazawa

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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A Hard Look at Last Week’s "Objective Attractiveness" Analysis in Psychology Today

If what I say is wrong (because it is illogical or lacks credible scientific evidence), then it is my problem. If what I say offends you, it is your problem."—Satoshi Kanazawa

Satoshi Kanazawa has a problem.

It is hard to believe that it was merely a week ago today that I first encountered Satoshi Kanazawa; given all that I have read, thought and talked about him this week, it feels like a year. For those of you who haven’t been following this saga online, or aren’t regular readers of Psychology Today: last Sunday, Satoshi Kanazawa, PhD, Evolutionary Biologist and professor at London School of Economics posed (and purported to answer) an incendiary question on his Psychology Today blog: "Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?"

Though the post has been removed from the site, you can now see it here. In the post, Kanazawa promises his readers a scientific analysis of public data showing objective evidence of Black women’s status as the least attractive group among all humans. In other words, he promises to wave a magic wand, say "Factor Analysis!" and make racist conclusions appear before your (bluest) eyes.

As it turns out, Kanazawa is a repeat offender, with years of roundly criticized and heartily debunked pseudoscience-based shock-jockery under his belt. Despite this, he is still posting on the blog of a reputable mainstream publication, still teaching at a respected university and still serving on the editorial board of one of his discipline’s peer-reviewed research journals. Though, possibly not for long: this particular post’s racist hypothesis offended many, unleashing serious righteous outrage across the internet: social media users raced to blog, tweet and even petition demanding that Psychology Today remove Kanazawa as a contributor to their Web site and magazine. Psychology Today removed the post late Sunday night, and Monday morning the largest student organization in London (representing 120,000 students) unanimously called for Kanazawa’s dismissal.

Over the past week, a handful of Kanazawa’s fellow bloggers at Psychology Today have posted insightful and at times scientifically-grounded critiques of his research question and methodology. Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman has even done an independent statistical analysis of the data set Kanazawa uses to "prove" his theory, beating me to publication by a couple of days but coming to the same conclusions I have derived from my own independent analysis.

Independent evaluation of an article’s data analysis is a critical step in deconstructing scientific inquiry, and one the mainstream media rarely undertakes. As the founder of a science journalism nonprofit – and therefore an aspiring entrant into the mainstream media ranks – I am alarmed by this. Whether we agree with Kanazawa’s assertion or are horrified by it, we cannot report on it without actually comparing his hypothesis to the evidence. Yet, as the London Guardian warned us back in 2005:

…[s]tatistics are what causes the most fear for reporters, and so they are usually just edited out, with interesting consequences. Because science isn’t about something being true or not true: that’s a humanities graduate parody. It’s about the error bar, statistical significance, it’s about how reliable and valid the experiment was, it’s about coming to a verdict, about a hypothesis, on the back of lots of bits of evidence.

In his blog post, non-journalist Kaufman [and his co-author on the post, Jelte Wicherts, who also wrote up a much more complete, technical analysis of the dataset here] did a reporter’s job, explaining why Kanazawa’s statistical analysis was bunk, independently analyzing the Add Health data set (freely available here or here for anyone to analyze!) to find that Kanazawa’s conclusion that Black women are the least attractive was incorrect, even if you buy into his idea that the Add Health data set was a reasonable sample from which to ground such an assessment. See Kanazawa’s graph, which is magical thinking in the guise of factor analysis:

and Kaufman’s graph, which makes sense:

Like Kaufman, I take great issue with Kanazawa’s use of a study on adolescent health and behavior to explain human attractiveness or lack thereof. The Add Health Study begins tracking its study participants at the age of twelve, and Kaufman wisely limits his analysis to that including participants who could reasonably be considered adults.

I am disturbed by the fact that the Add Health study’s adult researchers even answered the question of how attractive they rated these youth. I am even more deeply disturbed by the idea that we are to extrapolate a general theory of desirability from these adult interviewers’ subjective assessment of the children’s attractiveness. Kaufman’s analysis may be correct, but having run the analysis as well, I feel even more strongly that this data set is a completely inappropriate basis for Kanazawa’s analysis.

Brian Hughes, of The Science Bit, agrees. Hughes’ critique focuses on the lack of race and sex data of the interviewers, as well as the ambiguity around the number of interviewers used – it is a worthwhile read. Hughes also points out that the Add Health data set fails to report the race of the interviewer, or any facts about the interviewer at all. For example, there is no data to analyze to help us determine if interviewers preferred interviewees of their same race.

As Robert Kurzban comments in his Psychology Today blog retort to Kanazawa, "Rhodes et al. (2005) argued that if people prefer faces that constitute an average of the faces that they experience, then, as they put it, faces ‘should be more attractive when their component faces come from a familiar, own-race population.’ They indeed showed some evidence for an ‘own race’ effect." Hence, in knowing the race of the interviewer and the interviewee, we might actually be able to learn whether this held true and add to the body of scholarly knowledge.

Kaufman and other bloggers also address Kanazawa’s painful contortion of factor analysis, which I agree is laughable. He looks at three measurements of the same test taken at three different time points and creates a one-factor model, with the one factor being "objective attractiveness." This is, of course, founded on the principle that an attractiveness rating handed out by interviewers in a study on adolescent health and well-being is actually measuring something that we can agree is "objective attractiveness."

He then says that by merging these three measurements for each interviewee into one factor, he can use factor analysis to get at that "objective attractiveness" while minimizing any error. This is just plain false. Factor analysis cannot get rid of measurement error. If it could, we’d all be using it all the time, and we’d get rid of all measurement error, and scientific studies wouldn’t need to be replicated.

What his factor analysis might be saying is that over time, individuals were rated relatively consistently by interviewers on what the study called attractiveness. Without knowing anything about the interviewers, we have no idea whether this is significant. The beauty – and danger – of factor analysis is that the statistician running the analysis gets to define the factors, and there are an infinite number of factor solutions to any given problem – or at least, no unique solutions.

Kanazawa continues by looking at the attractiveness mean values for women by racial group, also as measured by the interviewer, and, seeing a difference in the overall attractiveness rating as broken down by these arbitrary racial groups (which somehow fail to include "Hispanic," despite all other study data including that category), concludes that since there are differences between groups, then the reason for that difference in the rating of attractiveness by interviewers over time is due to race.

But that is a logical fallacy. We have no idea why the interviewers felt differently about different youth in the study – correlation is not causation. In fact, according to Kaufman’s reading of the data, correlation might not even really be correlation:

 

The low convergence of ratings finding suggests that in this very large and representative dataset, beauty is mostly in the eye of the beholder. What we are looking at here are simple ratings of attractiveness by interviewers whose tastes differ rather strongly. For instance, one interviewer (no. 153) rated 32 women as looking "about average," while another interviewer (no. 237) found almost all 18 women he rated to be "unattractive."

 

Kanazawa also correlates Black female self-perception of attractiveness as being higher than Black female rated attractiveness, despite there being no one-to-one relationship between self-identification of race and perceived race. The two could be completely different: for example, I could self-identify as Hispanic but my interviewer, seeing my dark skin, might perceive me as Black. Hence, Kanazawa’s conclusions are nonsensical.

Kanazawa surmises that Black women’s lower attractiveness might be due to low estrogen and high testosterone. Yet, high estrogen levels and low testosterone is a leading cause of fibroids, which significantly impact Black women, especially Black women who are overweight. Also, Black women have been found to have higher levels of estrogen in a study on breast cancer. Finally, Kanazawa offended his fellow Psychology Today bloggers in 2008 with his post, "The power of female choice: Fat chicks get laid more." The thesis there contradicts his supporting theory here. It leads me to wonder if this is all just some grand practical joke.

I see a more central flaw with Kanazawa’s method beyond its creepiness, reliance on unscientific conjecture or abuse of factor analysis. Since the interviewers’ assessment data was never intended to be used for an analysis such as Kanazawa’s, the survey was not designed to capture that information. In fact, nowhere in the study monograph, nowhere on the website and nowhere in the study design materials is the interviewer’s assessment of the interviewee’s attractiveness mentioned. (I emailed the study designers to ask why they collected this information in the first place, and will update this post below if they answer.)

Why was the study undertaken? According to the study website, it was in response to a mandate by the US Congress inthe NIH Revitalization Act of 1993, where Congress asked a division of the NIH to "provide information about the health and well-being of adolescents in our country and about the behaviors that promote adolescent health or that put health at risk" with "a focus on how communities influenced the health of adolescents."

The Add Health study measures hundreds of variables. One has to wonder: why pick only race? Especially when the results of your "study" are so unabashedly weak? Seeing that Kanazawa based his findings on such a tenuously related study, I wonder how many other studies he scoured for evidence to support his point. This sort of "fishing" for results to support your finding leads to bad science, period.

I agree with Psychology Today blogger, Sam Sommers, PhD, of Tufts University, when he concludes:

Like it or not, the burden is higher when you’re a scientist blogging about science. And anyone who can only think of one explanation for an observed difference in a data set might simply be incapable of meeting that high burden.

To quote Kanazawa, a little bit of logic goes a long way. Seeing that his work is rife with logical errors, Kanazawa should be criticizing himself.

I drafted this post after spending a couple of days sorting through my emotions on Kanazawa’s work. Seeing that the man clearly relishes his role as an agent provocateur, I knew I could not impact him or those who respond to his work from a place of emotion. He has made that much clear.

From my incessant reading of blog responses and comments, I have encountered the sentiment that because Kanazawa’s question was immoral to ask, his results are invalid. I agree with my heart and soul that the way he framed his so-called "research question" is offensive, racist and harmful. As I tweeted after reading Kanazawa’s post, "Imagine a little Black girl reading this filth. [Toni Morrison's novel] The Bluest Eye is not history to her. It’s reality." I want to protect that little girl – and wish I could heal all the little girls that came before her and grew up into beautiful women like this one, made to feel ugly by a racist society. I stand in solidarity with Black women and hope you will heed this blog’s cry to stand stronger than ever in self-love.

The intent behind a question can establish an immoral line of inquiry and instigate immoral research methods (see the Nazi doctors’ experiments). But a question itself is not evil. Scandalous, offensive and sometimes frightening questions are often at the root of important scientific inquiry. When supported by data significant enough to support them, these questions drive us toward the truth (see, e.g., "the Earth is round").

I agree with Psychology Today blogger Mikhail Lyubansky, PhD, when he says, "[e]xtraordinary claims … require extraordinary evidence and editorial oversight." This does not lead us to censorship; it means requiring that an inquiry bring us closer to – not farther from – the truth. Kanazawa does not earn censure with the political incorrectness of his question, but earns social and scientific irrelevance through the weakness of his research. This irrelevance earns Kanazawa a special place in hell in today’s link-driven media economy – one where no one will hear him scream. One week later, neither Kanazawa nor Psychology Today‘s editors has published any official defense, apology or explanation. The silence is deafening.

About the Author: Khadijah M. Britton, JD, is founder of BetterBio, a Massachusetts-registered nonprofit and fiscally sponsored project of the 501(c)(3) Fractured Atlas whose mission is to empower journalism that reinforces the intimate connection between life and science. BetterBio provides a platform for comprehensive science reporting, challenging us to ask hard questions and debunk dangerous myths while addressing our collective social responsibility. Khadijah also serves as a post-graduate research fellow in antibiotic policy under Professor Kevin Outterson at Boston University School of Law while she completes her Master’s in Public Health at Boston University School of Public Health and studies for the bar exam.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

 

Edit (5-26-2011): Statement from Add Health regarding Kanazawa’s blog post to Psychology Today. Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

May 23, 2011

On May 16, 2011, Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist associated with the London School of Economics, posted a blog on the website of Psychology Today.  The blog, which was written for a publication called The Scientific Fundamentalist, made a series of contentious claims including that African-American women are, on average, less attractive than women of other races.  A flurry of responses ensued, and the essay was subsequently removed from the Psychology Today website.  Since then, commentators and members of the public have raised concerns about the source and quality of data upon which Kanazawa based his blog post.  Add Health would like to respond to these concerns.

The data Kanazawa used for his research were drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a congressionally-mandated study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Add Health data are available in two forms: a "public use" data set, which includes data from a subset of participants, and a "contractual" or "restricted-use" data set, which includes the full set of variables and participants. The "restricted-use" data are available to researchers who have appropriate research credentials (e.g., post-graduate degree) and an Institutional Review Board in their research institution that ensures their use of data security procedures required by Add Health to protect data and participant privacy and confidentiality. Kanazawa applied for and was granted access to these restricted data, as have thousands of other researchers. Because Add Health was congressionally mandated and funded by the National Institutes of Health, these data are a public resource. Add Health has sought to make its data widely available to the scientific community of qualified U.S. and international researchers while stringently meeting its obligation to protect the confidentiality of its participants.  Add Health does not stipulate what research topics can or cannot be studied and does not censor research findings.  As do other studies, Add Health relies on the scientific peer-review process to evaluate the merits of any given analysis of project data.

Regarding the merits of Kanazawa’s research, we note that this was not a peer-reviewed research article, but a blog. Kanazawa based his blog post on data derived from interviewer ratings of the respondents that were recorded confidentially after the interview was completed and the interviewer had left the interview setting. It is a widely-used and accepted survey practice for interviewers and researchers to include such post-survey completion remarks. These remarks provide both an additional observation about the respondent and data on the context of the interview for researchers to assess data quality.  In this instance, Kanazawa chose to present interviewer ratings of respondent attractiveness, one component of interviewer post-survey remarks.  Because Kanazawa chose to report his results in a blog, his methods and analysis were not subject to the mainstream peer review process that evaluates the scientific quality of research and determines the merit of the work. Because the methods that would be presented in peer-reviewed research are not included in the blog, it is not possible for other individuals to evaluate the soundness of his methods. However, the subject matter –  perceptions of others’ attractiveness – has been studied for decades in diverse fields such as social psychology, sociology, economics, and public health. Add Health chose to include these items – among others in the remarks section – for several reasons: 

Interviewer ratings of respondent attractiveness represent a subjective "societal" perception of the respondent’s attractiveness.  We included these items because there is a long line of research evidence that indicates that perceived attractiveness is related to important health and social outcomes, including access to health care, health education and instruction, job search, promotions, academic achievement, and social success in friendship and marriage.   For example, males who are rated more highly attractive tend to have higher wages, shorter periods of unemployment, and greater success in the job market*. In Add Health, we measure respondents’ self-perceptions and in the case of interviewer ratings, others’ perceptions.  Despite one’s own perception of one’s intelligence, identity and appearance, often societal perceptions matter as well, and matter in ways that research needs to understand to inform policies to prevent discrimination, unequal access to resources, and social inequality.

Because the interviewer’s perception is subjective, researchers need to account for the characteristics and life experiences of the interviewer in interpreting their ratings. A wealth of research on perceived attractiveness (that is, as perceived by others, not oneself) has shown that such ratings vary according to the characteristics of the rater. For example, a male interviewer might rate a female’s attractiveness according to different criteria than a female interviewer rating the same female’s attractiveness.  Other interviewer characteristics that are important to take into account are age, race, ethnicity, education, geographic location, and life experiences, in general. Notably, several characteristics of the interviewers are available in the restricted use Add Health dataset at Waves 3 and 4. It is these data (e.g., interviewer age, sex, race, ethnicity, education) that might more usefully inform an analysis undertaken to investigate the role of other-perceived versus self-perceived attractiveness on some outcome of interest (employment, health, etc). 

In response to Kanazawa’s blog, Add Health publically addressed whether this was a valid scientific interpretation of the data.  Below, we post comments from National Public Radio’s interview with Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris:

    "The director of the Add Health project, Kathleen Mullan Harris, contradicted Kanazawa   on the nature of her project’s research in a telephone interview Tuesday. The longitudinal study, funded by the federal National Institutes of Health, also asked interviewers to describe their subjects’ behavior during interviews, ethnicity, and other characteristics.

    ‘He’s mischaracterizing the objectiveness of the data — that’s wrong. It’s subjective. The interviewers’ data is subjective,’ said Harris, who is also a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    ‘The empirical analysis does not account for the characteristics of the interviewers, which influence their observation,’ Harris said, listing such elements as race, ethnicity, sex, education and life experiences."

Add Health is the largest, most comprehensive longitudinal study of adolescents and young adults ever undertaken in the United States.  Add Health began with an in-school questionnaire administered to a nationally representative sample of more than 20,000 students in grades 7-12 in 1994-95.  The study followed the cohort into young adulthood with four in-home interviews, the most recent in 2008, when respondents were aged 24-32. Add Health combines extensive longitudinal survey data on respondents’ social, economic, psychological and physical well-being with rich contextual data on their families, neighborhoods, communities, schools, friendships, peer groups, and romantic relationships.  This provides unique opportunities for studying how social environments and behaviors in adolescence are linked to health and achievement outcomes in young adulthood.  There are more than 8,000 Add Health data users who have published thousands of peer-reviewed research articles, many of which have informed public health programs and policies to improve the health and well-being of young people in America.  More information about Add Health can be found at www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth.

Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris, 

Director and Principal Investigator of Add Health

_____________________________________________________________________________________

* Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G. & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but. . .: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110(1), 109–128.

French, M. T., P. K., Homer, J. F., & Tapsell, L. M. (2009). Effects of physical attractiveness, personality, and grooming on academic performance in high school. Labour Economics,16(4), 373-382. DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2009.01.001 

Hamermesh, D. S., & Biddle, J. E. (1994). Beauty and the labor market. The American Economic Review, 84(5), 1174-1194 http://www2.econ.iastate.edu/classes/econ321/orazem/hamermesh_beauty.pdf 

Hosoda, M., Stone-Romero, E. F., & Coats, G. (2003). The effects of physical attractiveness on job-related outcomes: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Personnel Psychology, 56(2), 431–462.






Comments 32 Comments

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  1. 1. dbtinc 11:04 am 05/23/2011

    Is it possible these days to ignore the pseudoscientist quagmire? Attractiveness ratings – I guess this idiot forgot that as the poet said "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

    Link to this
  2. 2. monkistan 11:51 am 05/23/2011

    as a statistician, i hate it when people misuse statistics to make conclusions that don’t exist in the data. by using "statistical" techniques, or at least "statistical" wording, essentially use misdirection so you don’t realize what they’ve done, or not done.

    there aren’t lies, damned lies, and statistics. really it’s that liars lie, they use statistics b/c most people don’t get stats, and so it’s easy to lie with them.

    kanazawa is not a scientist, or at least not based on his "science" blog.

    Link to this
  3. 3. colegerard 12:16 pm 05/23/2011

    What a great response to Kanazawa’s pseudoscience. I have to assume his only purpose in writing the original post was self promotion through provocation. I hope he will be remembered more for his poor science than his provocative claims.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Arikia 1:07 pm 05/23/2011

    Great post. Statistical analysis aside, I appreciate how this post puts Kanazawa’s contribution into the context of the Psychology Today network and includes rebuttals by other PT bloggers. When this first came out, lots of people perceived this as a "Psychology Today article" that was commissioned by the editorial staff there, failing to realize PT Blogs is a network of over 600 individual bloggers with who write with a certain degree of editorial freedom and the ability to publish at will. I hope though, that PT will finally exercise good editorial judgment in placing their magazine’s credibility over the desire for pageviews (Kanazawa is PT’s highest traffic blogger), and get rid of this joker.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Steve D 4:42 pm 05/23/2011

    Statistics are absolutely objective in that, if you crunch the numbers a standard certain way, you will always get the same result. It’s the analysis that’s wildly subjective. Even "objective" criteria, like requiring one standard deviation, two, p=.05, etc. are subjective in that somebody, or a group of somebodies, decided that that level of fit was "good enough."

    However, the quote by Kanazawa that opens the article is dead on. I am continually struck by how many people think "I’m offended" is some sort of proof. It’s a singularly inaptly chosen quote if the intent is to discredit his logical skills.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Squish 8:46 am 05/24/2011

    I was happy to read that the author stated that asking the question itself was not evil. Kanazawa, while he may be eager for self-promotion and up for any publicity, nevertheless does have some good scientific ideas (and many bad). Look at his post comparing the naturalistic vs moralistic fallacies. He has many hypothesis that are provoking, the refutation of which can aid science. To automatically shun his ideas is folly; surely the light of reason and science will wash away untruth much more than popular outrage. I do hope that in future science will be free to explore these types of questions and not be barred by political correctness.

    As a Caucasian living in Japan I had a Japanese friend – obviously interested in this stuff and with relatives in California – who said that of all mixed-race American couples the largest subset was Caucasian male and East Asian female. We speculated on why: the basic colour is about the same, and people often find their parents’ colour more attractive so this is natural perhaps. Also, Asian women are objectively considered more ‘baby-faced’ or neotanized, in regards to having lower nose-bridges, and these petite features may be signalling youth and be naturally attractive to males. Or many other reasons.

    This is all speculation and I do not think it is racist. Attractiveness may be largely socialized. But there is an objective element: how many models have asymmetric faces or have for example limbs out of proportion? And testosterone and other genetically-mediated factors can influence face development which humans naturally react to from infancy (just as we naturally respond to smiles, and scary masks are almost universally recognized as scary outside of their culture). ‘Eye of the beholder’ only goes so far.

    My friend lamented that Black women were not attracted to Asian men, but felt the contrary was not true. I have no problem with any study that tries to uncover a scientific reasons for this or even to see if it is true. Ultimately, though interesting, I wonder is such knowledge does any good, and I think that is part of the reason for the outcry.

    Link to this
  7. 7. flueedo 12:26 pm 05/24/2011

    Sorry to post links here, but I think RationalWiki got Kanazawa’s work pretty much summarized in one page, a must-read. :)
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Satoshi_Kanazawa

    Link to this
  8. 8. JoshuaTrein 5:47 pm 05/24/2011

    If it’s true as Arikia claims that Kanazawa is Psychology Today’s most popular blogger, does that say more about the readership of that magazine/website, or the degree to which scientific "results" can become subject to bastardization?

    Wonderful article, Ms. Britton.

    Link to this
  9. 9. rwstutler 10:57 pm 05/24/2011

    This is "Proofiness" on Parade. The use os the mantle of authority that come with being a "Scientist", combined with numerical legerdemain to advance a baldfaced lie. Why Kanazawa still has a job as a working scientist, and why he will still have one next week is … inconceivable. Until Psychology Today deals with this, in a very public way and in no uncertain terms, they can no longer be considered as a reputable authority.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Mong H Tan, PhD 4:02 pm 05/25/2011

    RE: Satoshi Kanazawa: The greatest pseudo-psychologist of the 21st century — the pseudoscientist who has had been indelibly influenced by neo-Darwinism of the 20th century!?

    This is a great analysis of a pseudoscientist at work by Khadijah Britton above!

    Whereas it has come as no surprise to me: as I have had also encountered many types of pseudoscience pursuits, and writings, and authors, before; and Kanazawa — whose works vaguely based on misreading, and misrepresenting, and attempting to extend the great naturalist (not neurologist) Darwinism of the 19th century — was one among them; as I duly years ago analyzed here [ http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/11/africa_is_filled_with_people_t.php#comment-257970 ]: a response to "Africa is filled with people too dumb to live, according to the LSE" (ScienceBlogsUSA; November 6, 2006)!

    Best wishes, Mong 5/25/11usct3:02p; practical science-philosophy critic; author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (iUniverse; 2006 — http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore/book_detail.asp?isbn=0595379907 ) and "Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now" (blogging avidly since 2006 — http://www2.blogger.com/profile/18303146609950569778 ).

    Link to this
  11. 11. griffito 9:09 pm 05/25/2011

    Please consider signing this petition to hold Psychology Today accountable for its content (http://www.change.org/petitions/hold-psychology-today-accountable). Over and above the content of the recent blog post, which just so happens to be race-related, this is an act of abuse and irresponsibility. This was not "a study." This was not "research." The findings were not "objective." Conjecture is not "proof." And credible research does not use language such as "I think" and "I believe." I am a psychologist and it takes me YEARS to get research published. There is integrity in my work and how I disseminate that work. Kanazawa’s rantings were purely editorial, coupled with rather primitive statistics and presented as credible. It was a joke. And it should have never, ever been presented as scientific. Psychology Today should be held accountable.

    Link to this
  12. 12. kmbritton 11:26 pm 05/25/2011

    Hello, everyone, and thank you for your insightful comments. I wanted to share these comments, below, with permission from Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris,
    Director and Principal Investigator of Add Health.

    Statement from Add Health regarding Kanazawa’s blog post to Psychology Today
    Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    On May 16, 2011, Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist associated with the London School of Economics, posted a blog on the website of Psychology Today. The blog, which was written for a publication called The Scientific Fundamentalist, made a series of contentious claims including that African-American women are, on average, less attractive than women of other races. A flurry of responses ensued, and the essay was subsequently removed from the Psychology Today website. Since then, commentators and members of the public have raised concerns about the source and quality of data upon which Kanazawa based his blog post. Add Health would like to respond to these concerns.

    The data Kanazawa used for his research were drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), a congressionally-mandated study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Add Health data are available in two forms: a “public use” data set, which includes data from a subset of participants, and a “contractual” or “restricted-use” data set, which includes the full set of variables and participants. The “restricted-use” data are available to researchers who have appropriate research credentials (e.g., post-graduate degree) and an Institutional Review Board in their research institution that ensures their use of data security procedures required by Add Health to protect data and participant privacy and confidentiality. Kanazawa applied for and was granted access to these restricted data, as have thousands of other researchers. Because Add Health was congressionally mandated and funded by the National Institutes of Health, these data are a public resource. Add Health has sought to make its data widely available to the scientific community of qualified U.S. and international researchers while stringently meeting its obligation to protect the confidentiality of its participants. Add Health does not stipulate what research topics can or cannot be studied and does not censor research findings. As do other studies, Add Health relies on the scientific peer-review process to evaluate the merits of any given analysis of project data.

    (continued)

    Link to this
  13. 13. kmbritton 11:27 pm 05/25/2011

    Regarding the merits of Kanazawa’s research, we note that this was not a peer-reviewed research article, but a blog. Kanazawa based his blog post on data derived from interviewer ratings of the respondents that were recorded confidentially after the interview was completed and the interviewer had left the interview setting. It is a widely-used and accepted survey practice for interviewers and researchers to include such post-survey completion remarks. These remarks provide both an additional observation about the respondent and data on the context of the interview for researchers to assess data quality. In this instance, Kanazawa chose to present interviewer ratings of respondent attractiveness, one component of interviewer post-survey remarks. Because Kanazawa chose to report his results in a blog, his methods and analysis were not subject to the mainstream peer review process that evaluates the scientific quality of research and determines the merit of the work. Because the methods that would be presented in peer-reviewed research are not included in the blog, it is not possible for other individuals to evaluate the soundness of his methods. However, the subject matter – perceptions of others’ attractiveness – has been studied for decades in diverse fields such as social psychology, sociology, economics, and public health. Add Health chose to include these items – among others in the remarks section – for several reasons:

    Interviewer ratings of respondent attractiveness represent a subjective “societal” perception of the respondent’s attractiveness. We included these items because there is a long line of research evidence that indicates that perceived attractiveness is related to important health and social outcomes, including access to health care, health education and instruction, job search, promotions, academic achievement, and social success in friendship and marriage. For example, males who are rated more highly attractive tend to have higher wages, shorter periods of unemployment, and greater success in the job market*. In Add Health, we measure respondents’ self-perceptions and in the case of interviewer ratings, others’ perceptions. Despite one’s own perception of one’s intelligence, identity and appearance, often societal perceptions matter as well, and matter in ways that research needs to understand to inform policies to prevent discrimination, unequal access to resources, and social inequality.

    (continued, below)

    Link to this
  14. 14. kmbritton 11:28 pm 05/25/2011

    Because the interviewer’s perception is subjective, researchers need to account for the characteristics and life experiences of the interviewer in interpreting their ratings. A wealth of research on perceived attractiveness (that is, as perceived by others, not oneself) has shown that such ratings vary according to the characteristics of the rater. For example, a male interviewer might rate a female’s attractiveness according to different criteria than a female interviewer rating the same female’s attractiveness. Other interviewer characteristics that are important to take into account are age, race, ethnicity, education, geographic location, and life experiences, in general.

    In response to Kanazawa’s blog, Add Health publically addressed whether this was a valid scientific interpretation of the data. Below, we post comments from National Public Radio’s interview with Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris:

    “The director of the Add Health project, Kathleen Mullan Harris, contradicted Kanazawa on the nature of her project’s research in a telephone interview Tuesday. The longitudinal study, funded by the federal National Institutes of Health, also asked interviewers to describe their subjects’ behavior during interviews, ethnicity, and other characteristics.

    `He’s mischaracterizing the objectiveness of the data — that’s wrong. It’s subjective. The interviewers’ data is subjective,’ said Harris, who is also a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    `The empirical analysis does not account for the characteristics of the interviewers, which influence their observation,’ Harris said, listing such elements as race, ethnicity, sex, education and life experiences.”

    Add Health is the largest, most comprehensive longitudinal study of adolescents and young adults ever undertaken in the United States. Add Health began with an in-school questionnaire administered to a nationally representative sample of more than 20,000 students in grades 7-12 in 1994-95. The study followed the cohort into young adulthood with four in-home interviews, the most recent in 2008, when respondents were aged 24-32. Add Health combines extensive longitudinal survey data on respondents’ social, economic, psychological and physical well-being with rich contextual data on their families, neighborhoods, communities, schools, friendships, peer groups, and romantic relationships.

    (continued, once more, below)

    Link to this
  15. 15. kmbritton 11:29 pm 05/25/2011

    This provides unique opportunities for studying how social environments and behaviors in adolescence are linked to health and achievement outcomes in young adulthood. There are more than 8,000 Add Health data users who have published thousands of peer-reviewed research articles, many of which have informed public health programs and policies to improve the health and well-being of young people in America. More information about Add Health can be found at http://www.cpc.unc.edu/addhealth.

    Please note that in the Add Health data, in addition to the (subjective) interviewer ratings of the respondents’ attractiveness (as part of a larger group of ratings completed in the post-survey comments section), several characteristics of the interviewers ARE available in the restricted use dataset at Waves 3 and 4 (which Kanazawa has access to). It is these data (e.g., interviewer age, sex, race, ethnicity, education) that might more usefully inform an analysis undertaken to investigate the role of other-perceived versus self-perceived attractiveness on some outcome of interest (employment, health, etc).

    Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris,
    Director and Principal Investigator of Add Health

    _____________________________________________________________________________________

    * Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G. & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but. . .: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110(1), 109-128.

    French, M. T., P. K., Homer, J. F., & Tapsell, L. M. (2009). Effects of physical attractiveness, personality, and grooming on academic performance in high school. Labour Economics,16(4), 373-382. DOI: 10.1016/j.labeco.2009.01.001

    Hamermesh, D. S., & Biddle, J. E. (1994). Beauty and the labor market. The American Economic Review, 84(5), 1174-1194 http://www2.econ.iastate.edu/classes/econ321/orazem/hamermesh_beauty.pdf

    Hosoda, M., Stone-Romero, E. F., & Coats, G. (2003). The effects of physical attractiveness on job-related outcomes: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Personnel Psychology, 56(2), 431-462.

    Link to this
  16. 16. kmbritton 11:32 pm 05/25/2011

    I applaud the Add Health investigators for their response. It was thorough and added to my understanding of their data. Kudos to them and their good science!

    Link to this
  17. 17. flueedo 7:23 am 05/26/2011

    Is there a link with a webpage holding this statement from Dr. Kathleen Mullan Harris? I wanna share this, but in some places it’s better if I just post a link, they won’t like me copying and pasting long sections of text.

    Link to this
  18. 18. kmbritton 7:35 am 05/26/2011

    I am sorry to say that I don’t have a link to the comments – they were sent to me via email.

    Link to this
  19. 19. flueedo 7:39 am 05/26/2011

    Ok, thank you so much for sharing it with us anyway. :)

    Link to this
  20. 20. fightignorance 3:46 pm 05/26/2011

    I think that the whole study of human sexual selection is full of flaws and biases. Your statement that you believe asians to be so attractive to white men because you believe they have more neotenous features illustrates such bias. Any question of "what is the most attractive race" is likely to have similar flaws. What needs to be determined is which physical features are linked to greater survival and reproductive output, but because of the unnatural way that humans live, these traits may no longer be possible to determine. I am also highly skeptical of any study that claims people are naturally attracted to people of skin tone similar to their parents. I think social factors are so important, and in many cultures inbreeding is actively promoted. However in more sexually liberal societies, racial mixing is inevitable because of the enormous benefits of heterozygosity. Dogs have no inclination to mate only with members of their own "breed." Over time stray dog populations come to resemble the same standard, wolf-like mutt. Mutts are also significantly healthier than pure-breeds. Its hard to evaluate attractiveness across race, it is likely that populations evolve particular criteria for attractiveness that enable them to adapt best to their own environment. I just wanted to point out that asian women are most attractive by your specified criterion, neoteny (though I am skeptical to believe that asian women are more neotenous). However by other measures, such as the deposition of gluteofemoral fat, which is believed to correlate with health and intelligence, black women are undoubtedly the most attractive. It all depends on what is "chosen" to be the most important trait.

    Link to this
  21. 21. FromSlovenia 9:27 pm 05/26/2011

    Mr Kanazawa is clearly in the wrong and this article communicates that very well. He became too substantial in the world today to fudge together such material … meaning he has too many ears listening to him and too many eyes reading his work. If he really believes in what he is saying with this case he is in for trouble. As effective as his ways of writing and promoting himself might be in the long run he will probably prove to be his own worst enemy.

    Link to this
  22. 22. sleeprun 2:14 am 05/30/2011

    Authors always have the right to be wrong — and offensive. That’s how knowledge advances.

    How many scientists, artists, intellectuals and writers have offended the pop notions of their day and been condemned or worse.

    Protecting people’s (supposed) feelings by censoring a distasteful and perhaps mistaken exposition of ideas and research stunts problem-solving and is patronizing. What people of certain physical characteristics are so fragile and misbegotten that they need to be protected from distasteful and angering ideas!?

    Offensive articles and information are far better left to the court of public scrutiny, discourse and argument. Repressing bad ideas never works.

    Now the editors of PT have taken away an opportunity for the community to test the ideas posted and learn far more than the original post ever could have taught us. All of us.

    Hopefully, another publication will have the courage of it’s journalistic principals — publish the article and let us all have a crack at it — pro/con or in between.

    Lastly, personalizing disagreements about facts and ideas is just a rhetorical trick that deflects real information sharing and argument — we discuss ideas, not the people behind them.

    Link to this
  23. 23. sleeprun 2:20 am 05/30/2011

    (it appears) Our minds seem hard-wired for instant and unconscious fear reflexes when encountering people not from our "in-group." Easy/quick visual cues seem to evolved to be the most powerful. Skin tone fear-reflexes are universal. Dress and accents are others. This may have been adaptive millions of years ago. Now it’s likely maladaptive.

    Here is an interesting study discussing the biology of all this skin color thang.

    Sexual Selection and the Psychological Architecture of Race Prejudice
    CARLOS NAVARRETE, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY & EVOLUTION, ECOLOGY, AND BEHAVIOR PROGRAM
    Intergroup aggression perpetrated by men has been a persistent feature of human societies for centuries, and may have been common enough over evolutionary time to have allowed selection to shape the neural circuitry underlying the psychology of prejudice. Because intergroup aggression poses different adaptive challenges for men and women, the psychological adaptations that operate to cope with such threats may differ between the sexes as well. Because racial categories are often mentally represented as group-like entities, modern race bias should be understandable within this general framework. Results from several studies are consistent with this perspective, and show that (a) race bias is primarily directed at male exemplars of racial-outgroups, (b) men are more likely to be aggressively prejudiced than women, and (c) women are more likely to be fearfully prejudiced than men, particularly during the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle. Illustrations of how these systems may be operative in political attitudes and voting preferences for Barack Obama are presented. These results are consistent with the notion that the psychology of intergroup prejudice is generated by different psychological systems between men and women.

    http://bec.ucla.edu/presentation.php?id=201

    However, let’s get it on the table, in all it’s ugly and uncomfortable forms and argue about it — at length.

    Here’s some interesting research

    Link to this
  24. 24. tsbrownie 3:54 am 05/30/2011

    "I drafted this post after spending a couple of days sorting through my emotions on Kanazawa’s work. Seeing that the man clearly relishes his role as an agent provocateur, I knew I could not impact him or those who respond to his work from a place of emotion. He has made that much clear."

    I don’t subscribe to SI for "emotions", provocation nor emotional attacks one way or the other, nor "PC". That stuff I can get for free anywhere on internet. People *pay* for *premium* content, in this case science content. Is there a most attractive / least attractive "race"? Statistically that’s probably answerable. Is there science value to such a study? Maybe, maybe not. Is the author’s work valid, repeatable, reliable…? Can’t tell.
    Anything outside of solid science reviews detracts from SI’s credibility.

    Link to this
  25. 25. kmbritton 9:06 am 05/31/2011

    I am sorry this last commenter feels that my post detracts from Scientific American’s credibility.

    Notably, the format for this article was a blog post. The topic was one that has raised significant emotional responses. Hence, I honestly addressed my own emotions, and their role in my bias. I think it makes me a better scientist to acknowledge the way my personal feelings play into my reading of the piece, instead of masking my subjectivity as scientific objectivity the way Kanazawa did. Also, this is not paid content – it is open to all, free online, and written to generate discussion. I was not paid to write it, and it will not appear in the print edition. I hope that the commenter above will keep reading SciAm – but recommend to steer clear of the blogs if repelled by the discussion of emotion. -KMB.

    Link to this
  26. 26. bucketofsquid 4:59 pm 06/1/2011

    SI would be Sports Illustrated. Anyone that can’t tell that American starts with an "A" as opposed to an "I" isn’t likely to be someone with an opinion that matters to very many people. Had you subscribed to "SA" or "SciAm" then perhaps we would take you seriously. At the very least we would expect some attempt at proof reading of a post from someone that claims to value science and accuracy over emotion.

    Now that I think about it tsbrownie, do you get the concept of "blog"? If you want cold hard facts then why are you reading a blog? Did you even read the entire post before wigging out? Go back and review the part that discusses what a blog post is as compared/contrasted with a peer reviewed article.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Peter K 7:33 am 06/15/2011

    "this particular post’s racist hypothesis offended many, unleashing serious righteous outrage across the internet"

    The outrage is NOT because the hypothesis is "racist", most people (especially black ladies) know that black women pull the shortest straw in the sexual marketplace. The outrage is because somebody dares to tackle this subject without the obligatory condemnations of society, and even dares to conclude that black women are (on average) OBJECTIVELY less attractive.

    Consider this research:
    http://blog.okcupid.com/index.php/your-race-affects-whether-people-write-you-back/
    “Men don’t write black women back. Or rather, they write them back far less often than they should. Black women reply the most, yet get by far the fewest replies. Essentially every race–including other blacks–singles them out for the cold shoulder.”

    Men who use internet dating just shun black ladies. And this phenomenon is the same offline.
    Interracial couplings between black women and white or asian men are very uncommon. Rape of black women by white or asian men is VERY uncommon. Black men who are very succesfull (an thus have options) go disproportionally for blond bombshells. There are always complaints about the lack of black (super)models. Given the huge presence of liberals and gays in the fashion industry, this rules out racial bias.

    Black women know this better than anyone. They complain about it on their chatrooms and message boards. But they don’t like to have it slapped in their faces the way Kanazawa did.

    So Kanazawa is unsensitive. Big deal. Firing somebody because people choose to be offended is a bad idea. It encourages more and more persecution until nobody dares to say anything about race at all.
    Should he be fired for his purported sloppiness and "bad science"? Come on, is was a blog post for christsake, not a manuscript for publication in a journal. Kanazawa is an extraordinary creative guy who asks the question other people are afraid to ask because of society’s taboos. We need less likeminded pc drones in the academea and more like him.

    Link to this
  28. 28. jefdix 1:47 am 12/15/2011

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  29. 29. SamMaxsus 2:41 am 09/4/2012

    They complain about it on their chatrooms and message boards. But they don’t like to have it slapped in their faces the way Kanazawa did.

    Link to this
  30. 30. DonaldPoteet 5:28 am 09/6/2012

    Because science isn’t about something being true or not true: that’s a humanities graduate parody. genericvigratab.com

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    http://www.yatan-ayur.com.au/Diseases/sinusitis

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  32. 32. Nicolas111 8:49 am 10/27/2014

    Since the questioner’s observation is subjective, analysts need to record for the attributes and backgrounds of the questioner in deciphering their appraisals. An abundance of exploration on saw appeal (that is, as seen by others, not oneself) has demonstrated that such appraisals fluctuate as indicated by the qualities of the rater. For instance, a male questioner may rate a female’s allure as per distinctive criteria than a female questioner rating the same female’s appeal. Other questioner qualities that are essential to consider are age, race, ethnicity, instruction, geographic area, and backgrounds, as a rule.

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