knowledge/intelligence

Ellen B. found this birthday card for sale in Dublin.  The front cover reads “I wish for… intelligence, logic, and driving skills…”

Wait for it… … …

Gwen and my thought process as we moved from the first to the second image:  “…’POOF’… oh it’s not… it better not… oh no it did!”

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The phrase “pluralistic ignorance” refers to a situation where a large proportion of a population misunderstands reality.  They may all agree, but they are, nonetheless, mistaken.  This data on University of California-Santa Barbara students from the National Collegiate Health Assessment is a great illustration of this idea; it’s also a great illustration, however, of a terrible, terrible illustration.

Let’s get past the bad graphic first.  The white bars (which represent the percent of people reporting that they themselves used opiates, alcohol, or cocaine) are all the same height, despite the fact, for example, that 56.9% of students reported using alcohol 1-9 times in the last month, but only 0.3% reported using cocaine.  So the bars do not actually represent the percentages they are supposed to.  The red bars (which represent the percent of people that respondents think are using drugs and alcohol) suffer from the same problem.  In one case, the white bar should be even higher than the red bar.

But, if we can get past the poor graphic, then the information is really interesting.  In all but one case, the number of people reporting drug and alcohol use is smaller than the perceptions of how many people are using these substances.  For example, looking at the middle column, (almost) no one reports using opiates or cocaine 10-29 times last month, but students perceive  that 2.4% and 5.3% of the population (respectively) are; similarly, 21.1% of students report drinking alcohol 10-29 times last month, but they perceive that over half the population is drinking that frequently.

This pattern is consistently true in all cases except for the percentage of people who drank alcohol 1-9 times in the last month.  The majority of respondents who drink reported that they did so at that rate, but they perceive that others are drinking far more than they are.  The overall impact of the illustration, then, is correct.  On the whole, students perceive more drug and alcohol use than they report.

It’s possible that people are underreporting and their perceptions are more true than the self-reports.  If their self-reports are more true, however, than we have a case of pluralistic ignorance.  In this case, students agree that the rate of drug and alcohol use is higher than it actually is.  They may, then, feel pressure to drink and do drugs more frequently to fit in, even as doing so results in just the opposite.

Eager Eyes, via Flowing Data.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Google searches are (as far as I know) purely a function of their algorithm.*  A company, for example, is not supposed to be able to pay Google to increase its rank in the results.  Google does, however, sell something on its search results page.  If a company buys a search term, when a person searches for that term, Google will place a “sponsored link” at the top of its results page that is discreetly identified as advertising.  See the upper right corner of the very gently shaded link that appears at the top of search results for the word “dell.”  This is advertising purchased by Dell computers:

Keith Marsalek at nola.com alerted me to the fact that British Petroleum (BP) has bought a bunch of search terms and phrases such that, when one searches for information about the oil spill, the first thing that comes up is BP’s public relations website (selection below).  They are hoping that internet users, whether they recognize that BP has bought the top slot or not, will read their version of events and, perhaps, only their version of events.

Read nola.com’s oil spill page instead.

UPDATE: To clarify, I’m not suggesting that this is surprising or that BP is uniquely evil in doing this.  I’m simply pointing out that money buys the power to shape the distribution of information.  Many of you have commented that “sponsored links” are ads and just skip right over them.  But others might not.  The link and the shading is very subtle.  Even if a person sees the phrase “sponsored link,” they might interpret it to mean that Google thinks it’s a good link, one they sponsored.  Not everyone is a sophisticated consumer of the internet.  And, even if they know it’s an ad, not everyone is as suspicious of ads, nor of companies, as some.  So I think buying the ad will, in fact, make it so that more people will be exposed to BP’s version than otherwise.  And that’s all I was trying to say.  It’s just a simple example of the relationship between power and knowledge.

* I know there is plenty of controversy over there algorithm as well.  Feel free to discuss that in the comments.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Dan S. alerted us to an image, purportedly of an article from the May 13, 1955, episode of Housekeeping Monthly. In it there is a photo of a woman bending over an oven with a list of tips for being a good wife, such as “a good wife always knows her place.” We’ve gotten this image before and never posted on it, much like the list on “How to Be a Good Wife,” attributed around the web to a “1950s home economics textbook.”

So why haven’t we posted the image before? Because it’s a fake. According to Snopes, the list was circulating widely on its own long before it suddenly appeared with the damning image…which is a completely unrelated image from a cover of John Bull magazine (not Housekeeping Monthly) that appeared in 1957, not 1955. Notice the text along the upper right corner of the image–it says “Advertising Archives.” According to Snopes, no one has ever turned up the economics textbook the “How to Be a Good Wife” list supposedly comes from, either.

So what gives? Why do these hoax 1950s-era images/lists keep appearing? I think Snopes makes an interesting case:

It has become fashionable to portray outdated societal behaviors and attitudes — ones we now consider desperately wrongheaded — to be worse than they really were as a way of making a point about how much we’ve improved. When we despair over the human condition and feel the need for a little pat on the back, a few startling comparisons between us modern enlightened folks and those terrible neanderthals of yesteryear give us that. We go away from such readings a bit proud of how we’ve pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps and with our halos a bit more brightly burnished.

The juxtaposition of wonderful modernity with a tawdry past also serves to reinforce the ‘rightness’ of current societal stances by  making any other positions appear ludicrous. It reminds folks of the importance of holding on to these newer ways of thinking and to caution them against falling back into older patterns which may be more comfortable but less socially desirable. Such reinforcement works on the principle that if you won’t do a good thing just for its own sake, you’ll surely do it to avoid being laughed at and looked down upon by your peers.

A typical vessel for this sort of comparison is the fabricated or misrepresented bit of text from the “olden days,” some document that purportedly demonstrates how our ancestors endured difficult lives amidst people who once held truly despicable beliefs.

Of course, as the Snopes article goes on to discuss, all kinds of very sexist stuff existed in the ’50s, and there were home-ec textbooks, magazines, etc., that included suggestions along the lines of those listed above.

Given that, it’s not shocking that when we see images of this sort, they immediately seem authentic, and get re-posted around the web despite the sketchy aspects of their origin stories. It’s not like we’ve never posted anything on Soc Images that we later figured out was a hoax (we also get things that we hope, desperately, are hoaxes but turn out to be real).

So there’s a truth behind the general gist of these types of lists, but many of the images themselves are fakes, created to make fun of our hopelessly, and hilariously, sexist past. And given how many real examples of sexist propaganda you could find from the 1950s, it’s worth pondering we find so many fake ones, and how, for some people, they may function to delegitimate concerns about gender inequality or sexism today, because come on, ladies — look how much better we have it than our grandmas did!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.


French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized the notion of the habitus. The term refers to both the knowledges and physicalities that maintain distinctions between groups (examples in a sec). It’s a great concept for helping us understand the reproduction of class differences without relying strictly on economics. It takes more than money to make money, it also takes knowing the right things, the right people, and the right way to act.

The habitus, then, is one way to show that you “belong” to the group. Imagine being on a really fancy job interview for a really fancy job. Can you talk knowledgably about what vintage of which wine was really excellent in any given year? Do you know which fork is the salad fork? What parts of your body are allowed on the table? When? How quickly do you eat? What is the sign that you are finished with your food?

People who grow up in wealthy families that prioritize these things tend to absorb this knowledge naturally while growing up, just as a kid who grows up on a farm knows how to wrassle a lamb for fixin,’ mend a barbed wire fence, and spot a good steer at the auction. Both of these types of knowledges are useful, but they don’t transfer; my colleagues, for example, are forever unimpressed that I can tell the breed of most horses just by looking.

In any case, while these examples refer to class and rural or urban upbringings, Missives from Marx offered a great example of the habitus as a marker of religious belonging.

In the video below, made by evangelicals, the evangelical habitus is satirized. “Lost at an evangelical meeting?” the video asks, “Here’s how to do evangelicalism!”

* Title, post idea, and video stolen from Missives From Marx.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

We talk about a lot on this blog about how things that having nothing to do with genitals are, nonetheless, gendered. Some sociologists are noting that a cluster of ideas related to intellectualism–liking school, studying hard, being smart, reading, and even caring about ideas–have become feminized. As a result, boys and men express less interest in and invest less in school, and girls and women are kicking their asses, scholastically speaking.

We previously featured an advertising campaign for Wrangler that told men to “stop thinking.” And this week Monika P. and Kat B. sent in an ad campaign for Deisel with the slogan: “be stupid.”

There’s a whole commerical (embedded below), but the general thrust is that smart people are doin’ smart stuff, but Diesel is “with stupid.” Because “stupid is the relentless pursuit of a regret free life.”  And while smart people may have “the brains,” stupid people have “the balls.” Besides, they say, “if we didn’t have stupid thoughts, we’d have no interesting thoughts at all.” Which doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense, but whatever.

And in case that doesn’t convince you, they concede that “smart has the authority,” but stupid has “one hell of a hangover.” Sign me up.

Ultimately the message is that smart people are repressed and confined, they have no fun, and nothing exciting ever happens to them.  So being smart is framed as (but isn’t) the opposite of all these things.   They leave you with the thought: “You can’t outsmart stupid.”

 

 

UPDATE! That said, Reader Kyle Munkittrick offers a compelling rebuttal at his blog, Pop Transhumanism.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In an earlier post I discussed how men, these days, are less likely than women to enroll and graduate from college.  One theory for why involves an anti-intellectualism that is specifically male.  That is, many men learn that to be a real man means rejecting prissy intellectual pursuits.  Thinking is for chicks (and fags).

This commercial for Wrangler, aimed at men specifically, asserts this exactly:

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

A 1926 eugenics poster (from autistics.org):

1926exhibit

From left to right the boxes say (and the left two are what we need less of, the right two what it says we need mroe of):

This light flashes every 48 seconds. Every 48 seconds a person is born in the United States who will never grow up mentally beyond that stage of a normal 8 year old boy or girl.

This light flashes every 50 seconds. Every 50 seconds a person is committed to jail in the United States. Very few normal persons ever go to jail.

This light flashes every 16 seconds. Every 16 seconds a person is born in the United States.

This light flashes every 7 1/2 minutes. Every 7 1/2 minutes a high grade person is born in the United States who will have ability to do creative work and be fit for leadership. About 4% of all Americans come within this class.

Here’s another example of the use of pseudoscience to make racial arguments (via):

racism science

Notice that the “woman mulatto” is draw to appear extremely unattractive, and that while the white man and mulatto woman have a “pass-for-white” daughter, the son on the far left isn’t “pass-for-black”–he really is black. The idea of “passing for black” made no sense at the time, while “passing for white” was a major concern. I am surprised to see here, though, that the baby of the pass-for-white woman and the white man is defined as entirely white.

Of course, none of this makes any logical sense at all, but lots of supposedly scientific studies at the time applied many statistical and other methods to prove various racial arguments.