Worst Science Article of the Week: Shut That Mouth

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | July 9, 2007 11:55 am

bad article!There is a widely held belief that women, those chatty creatures, utter far more words per day than men. Last year in her book The Female Brain, psychology professor Louann Brizendine tossed out the figures 20,000 (womanly words) versus 7,000 (motes of manly monologuing), which became a kind of informal consensus. As with much Men-are-from-Mars psychologizing, there was never much data to back up what was essentially an old wives’ tale.

Last week, Science published a paper by some researchers who finally looked into the matter and delivered what one hopes—though suspects will not be—a knockout blow to this rumor. In the study’s fairly large (though admittedly homogenous) sample group, both men and women said about 16,000 words per day.

Just a few days before the media blitz over the debunking paper, The Times of India published an earnest, credulous opinion piece that not only accepted the soon-to-be-disproven rumor but tried to explain exactly why it is that women speak so much more than men: because they do more manual work and they have more cells dedicated to emotion and communication. Judging by what we know now, this logic train must have been derailed by terrorists before it ever left the station.

I do admit that giving The Times this booby prize is a bit of a raw deal; many publications repeated the exact same theory before. But this was one magnificent flourish of bad timing.

(Some publications deserve credit for trying to debunk the rumor last fall.)


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