Monday, March 3, 2008

Science! It means whatever you want it to!

As my friend Lauren put it, there are grocery lists that are written better than this piece in the Washington Post.

There is so much I could say about this article (and much of it has already been said). I'd like though, to address (the author) Charlotte Allen's point about women drivers.

Depressing as it is, several of the supposed misogynist myths about female inferiority have been proven true. Women really are worse drivers than men, for example. A study published in 1998 by the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine and public health revealed that women clocked 5.7 auto accidents per million miles driven, in contrast to men's 5.1, even though men drive about 74 percent more miles a year than women. The only good news was that women tended to take fewer driving risks than men, so their crashes were only a third as likely to be fatal. Those statistics were reinforced by a study released by the University of London in January showing that women and gay men perform more poorly than heterosexual men at tasks involving navigation and spatial awareness, both crucial to good driving.

Run for your lives! It's a woman driving!

Let's re-write this paragraph shall we:

"Depressing as it is, several of the supposed myths about male inferiority have been proven true. Men really are worse drivers than women, for example. A study published in 1998 by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Public Health revealed that men were three times more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash as women. Although women get in slightly more accidents then men (5.7 women car accidents/million miles to 5.1 men car accidents/million miles), men take many more stupid risks. [I'll get to the whole spatial/navigation thing]"

I haven't read the study. However, I don't think either of the above paragraphs accurately represent the study, mainly because they take the findings (as I understand them--that men's car accidents are more fatal and women get in more car accidents) and draw the conclusion that one sex is a better driver than the other sex, a conclusion that I don't really think is supported by the findings. I mean, take a look at this abstract of a study from Spain, which says that Spanish men are more likely to be in a car crash than Spanish women. (BTW, this study was published in May 2001, in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which is the same journal [I think] that published the Johns Hopkins' study that Allen references.) What does that mean for Allen's little theory? Being Spanish effects a man's ability to perform task involving navigation and spatial awareness?

The thing is, even though I haven't read the study, I'm pretty damn certain Allen hasn't either. After all, she says that she has no use for math ["I am perfectly willing to admit that I myself am a classic case of female mental deficiencies. I can't add 2 and 2 (well, I can, but then what?)"], so I'm sure she can't really bother with a silly little thing like fact checking.

I don't know why men are involved in more fatal crashes than women and I don't know why (American?) women are in more car crashes than men. But neither does Allen. Maybe she was going for a whole meta-"this article is so illogical that it proves women are stupid because I am a stupid women" thing. Whatever it is, the Washington Post never should have published it.


Alison Hymes said...

Wait, if the # of accidents is per miles driven, than the fact that men drive more miles than women is completely irrelevant, isn't it?

secondhandsally said...

Hi Alison,
Yeah it is. Just another way she either screws up or distorts the statistics to fit the conclusion she wants to make.

lauren said...

Well that woman pictured just proves the point-- she's driving with her eyes closed!!!!

secondhandsally said...

@Lauren: And she looks like she's about to laugh! There's no laughing while driving!