Years ago, my partner read some of Nicholas Wade’s NYT articles and shook her head at the shallowness of his analysis. It hasn’t gotten any better since. The NYT is running a lot of articles right now about sex, gender, and sexuality, and Nicholas Wade’s latest article is crap. He writes like the answers have been found, and, surprise, they’re exactly what people a hundred years ago thought, too. Conflicting evidence? Why bother? This is the New York Times, not actual science.
Sigh. Remember Gina Kolata? She was good. Why can’t we have good science writing again? (In fairness, the single line from the Wade article that annoyed me the most wasn’t Wade’s, but a quote from J. Michael Bailey: “If you can’t make a male attracted to other males by cutting off his penis, how strong could any psychosocial effect be?” Indeed. Because when I think about how to raise a gay man the first option that occurs to me is cutting off his penis. Jackass.)
The video is also annoying: My invisible lesbian partner and I sat with open-jawed amazement as they talked about straight boys, gay boys, straight girls, and … let’s move on to another topic altogether, the sweaty t-shirt experiment (No, not the menstrual cycle-synching armpit sniffing experiment; the women sniffing men’s sweaty tshirts that shows that women may develop even emotional attachments to men with different immune systems.) So a total fluff piece with little useful content.
Natalie Angier’s article on sexual desire, as ever, is much better. (I especially liked the quote from the psychologist in her 50s: “Listening to Noam Chomsky always turns me on.” I hear ya, sister.) Angier treats some of the same subjects as Wade, but much more reasonably. Wade reports that scientists have found X, we now know Y, and other very definitive statements of Objective Scientific Truth. He describes the experiment in the terms of the conclusion, thus making it appear foregone, unquestionable, certain. By contrast, Angier describes experiments in detail, pulling out the findings, and then labeling the assumptions and hypotheses. She reports the uncertainties as well as the findings and (tentative) conclusions. The reader has a chance to understand the experiment and draw their own conclusions, and compare those to the conclusions of the scientist or commentator or writer of the article. … And she’s not just a better science writer, she’s actually a better writer. Her prose is actually enjoyable to read.