Friday, August 15, 2008

David Brooks - caught again

Incredibly, David Brooks is paid to write nonsense. I do it for free

Happily I can read James Fallows, who is a superb journalist. He points us to the Language Log's annihilation of Brooks. 

In addition to the obvious blunders, pay attention to the basic structure of the experiment. It's insane that people are able to publish this junk, and hilarious that Brooks transcends the junk ...
Language Log David Brooks, Social Psychologist

Those who've followed our previous discussions of David Brooks' forays into the human sciences ("David Brooks, Cognitive Neuroscientist", 6/12/2006; "David Brooks, Neuroendocrinologist", 9/17/2006) will be able to guess what's coming.

In this case, Mr. Brooks has taken his science from the work of Richard E. Nisbett, as described in his 2003 book The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently and Why, and in many papers, some of which are cited below. I was familiar with some of this work, which has linguistic aspects, and so I traced Brooks' assertions to their sources. And even I, a hardened Brooks-checker, was surprised to find how careless his account of the research is. ...
... Is it correct that if you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing, while if you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim?
Answer: In principle, yes. But first of all, it wasn't a representative sample of Americans, it was undergraduates in a psychology course at the University of Michigan; and second, it wasn't Chinese, it was undergraduates in a psychology course at Kyoto University in Japan; and third, it wasn't a fish tank, it was 10 20-second animated vignettes of underwater scenes; and fourth, the Americans didn't mention the "focal fish" more often than the Japanese, they mentioned them less often.

The research in question was reported in T. Masuda and R.E. Nisbett, "Attending holistically vs. analytically: Comparing the context sensitivity of Japanese and Americans", J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 81:922–934, 2001.

The subjects were 36 Americans at the University of Michigan and 41 Japanese at Kyoto University, who "participated in the experiments as a course requirement"...
Who's more absurd - Maureen Down or David Brooks? It's a tough contest.

What does it say about America that both are very influential and widely read?


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