This has been a bad summer for the whiz-bang TED set. First Jonah Lehrer falls, then Fareed Zakaria, and now sociologist Philip N. Cohen takes Hanna Rosin to task for her wildly misleading TED talk. Basically, it seems that Rosin cobbled together a bunch of bogus or exaggerated statistics to come up with what Cohen calls “the myth of looming female dominance”:
There is a TED talk featuring Hanna Rosin from the end of 2010, and I finally got around to watching it. Without doing a formal calculation, I would say that “most” of the statistics she uses in this talk are either wrong or misinterpreted to exaggerate the looming approach of female dominance. For example, she says that the majority of “managers” are now women, but the image on the slide which flashes by briefly refers to “managers and professionals.” Professionals includes nurses and elementary school teachers. Among managers themselves, women do represent a growing share (although not a majority, and the growth has slowed considerably), but they remain heavily segregated as I have shown here.
Rosin further reports that “young women” are earning more than “young men.” This statistic, which has been going around for a few years now, in fact refers to single, child-free women under age 30 and living in metropolitan areas. That is an interesting statistic, but used in this way is simply a distortion. (See this post for a more thorough discussion, with links.)
Rosin also claims that “70% of fertility clinic patients” prefer to have a female birth. In her own article in the Atlantic, Rosin reports a similar number for one (expensive, rare) method of sex selection only (with no source offered) — but of course the vast majority of fertility clinic patients are not using sex selection techniques. In fact, in her own article she writes, “Polling data on American sex preference is sparse, and does not show a clear preference for girls.”
Finally, I don’t think I need to offer statistics to address such claims as women are “taking control of everything”and “starting to dominate” among “doctors, lawyers, bankers, accountants.” These are just made up. Congress is 17% female.
This is what is happening to public debate: Religious and moral considerations are disparaged in favor of the finding of science, which, far from telling us what to do, is twisted in order to tell us whatever its interpreters were hoping to hear. Rosin and those like her ought to be loudly, publicly shamed for their abuse of science and of their undeserved cultural authority.